Skip to main content

You could crush them like bugs.


The Fantastic Journey
5. A Dream of Conquest

A Dream of Conquestis yet another episode where a corrupt leader needs tasking. Special guest star John Saxon warmongers while a hideous furry pig dwarf is filled with hideous furry pig love for Sil-El. McDowall appears to have fully supplanted his co-stars, as yet again he takes advantage of the episode’s juiciest material. It’s a good thing too, as there’s little nourishment elsewhere.

Willaway: It never seems to change. Not even here.

This time, the society encountered is from another planet (Matteran?) Consul Tarrant (Saxon) is planning to lead an army to victory over other zones (hence the title). He rules in place of the natural leader Luther (Robert Patten), who has been stricken with a seemingly terminal illness (we later learn that this was Tarrant’s doing, as was poisoned en route to Earth).

Little effort is made to flesh out this colony; presumably they are peaceable enough in their natural state, but the divide between the militaristic Tarrant and the approach of Luther is uncertain. It’s doubtful the army suddenly came into existence under Tarrant’s watch. And everyone seems to consider the hideous furry pig man to be a mindless animal, so there’s hardly a surfeit of enlightenment outside of Tarrant’s circle.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tarrant is courteous to the travellers (we’ll see this again in Turnabout), and instructs that they should be escorted to the boundaries of the next time zone. But, before this can happen, he has to reluctantly allow Fred and Varian to take a look at Luther (“And their fees are very reasonable”, jokes Willaway).

Yes, it's the hideous furry pig dwarf. 
Fortunately, he doesn't become a travelling companion.

Meanwhile, Liana telepathically communicates with the hideous furry pig dwarf (a Neffring). Willaway, always surprising in his motivations, attempts to inveigle himself with Saxon. The reason he does this? A sexy lady (Lenore Stevens; she doesn’t appear to be Luther’s wife, maybe just his crumpet) is saddened by the war plans but knows there is only a chance of stopping Tarrant if the secret location of the army is discovered (yes, it’s all rather thin). Willaway, the charmer, says he will get the information but on the condition that, “… would you promise never to frown again?

Willaway: Best we had was a bomb, based on a thermo-nuclear principle.

Willaway playing Tarrant’s stooge is a lot of fun. It gives him a chance to show off his knowledge and simultaneously piss of Tarrant’s Number Two, Argon (Morgan Paull), as he appeals to Tarrant’s vanity.  McDowall has a run of humorous dialogue. “I don’t like to take the full credit”, he comments of the creation of the atomic bomb. He also dismisses his friends with “Oh, they are an idealistic group”. And he and old pro Saxon play off each other enjoyably; they’re complementary opposites in demeanour, so every scene featuring the pair is lively.

Didn't we see these guns last week?

The problem is, Saxon is stuck working with a wafer-thin character. Tarrant is bad because he is bad. He wants to wage war because that’s the kind of thing he does. This is the kind of society that only exists on the page during the day the travellers visit it; no one has given it much thought.

Fred's playing doctor. Again.

Scripter Michael Michaelian is credited for the rewrites of Vortex. He would also pen the far superior Funhouse. Other credits include Logan’s Run, Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Martin-starring War of the Worlds. Aside from the Willaway element, and Saxon’s performance, this is a disappointing piece. Yet another episode where Fred and Varian are stuck practicing medicine, and a convoluted secret that needs to be revealed (I’m still not that clear why Tarrant needs to keep his army’s location a secret, given that power resides with him).

Varian: Willaway, was I mistaken about you?

Inevitably, the doctor’s plan falls apart when his friends inadvertently expose his game. His conspiring has not gone unnoticed, and the discussions of Willaway’s motivation provide the most continuity with previous episodes (Willaway also talks about the zones visited in the series, perhaps unwisely, informing Tarrant that they represent no threat). Fred refers to him as a “turkey”. Varian’s infallible abilities seem progressively on the blink as the series progresses (perhaps his less evolved chums are contaminating him? I’ve read that NBC got cold feet over his Jesus-like healing powers so faded them out). You have to groan as he and Fred slowly come to the conclusion that Willaway has been working undercover.


WillawayYou could crush them like bugs.

There’s a scene where cruel tyrant Tarrant uses the hideous furry pig dwarf for target practice. Evidently, it’s designed to elicit our sympathy for the beastie. But this grunting little booger is more of an irritant than a cute Ewok type. He’s just the sort of cheap creature design work you expect to see in a ‘70s series, where the producers know that aliens get the kids watching but are faintly embarrassed that they have to go there. 


Jared Martin was unbeatable at the 100-yard dash.

Still, on the plus side the sequence establishes that Katie Saylor runs very well.

Fred: I cannot imagine Willaway as 007, superspy.

Naturally, all is okay come the end. Despite the series’ overt moralising, it seems that it is acceptable for the hideous furry pig dwarf to exact (underwhelming) mortal revenge on Tarrant. Hooray! One also gets the impression the Neffring would get a little too intimate with Sil-El, given half the chance. Fred cures Luther of his leukaemia-like condition with a blood transfusion. Hooray! Acceptable order is restored.

A totalitarian regime, or just misunderstood?

Willaway: Ah, the generals. They are numerous but not good for much.

At least Willaway furnishes the week’s moral in a classical context, quoting Aristophanes’ The Acharnians. It slightly makes up for the general lack of sophistication throughout. As for Sil-El, I’m a huge fan (and of his owner); he has a good showing, better than most of his companions Unfortunately the poor pussy is frequently mauled by the hideous furry pig dwarf.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

They seem to be attracted to your increasing nudeness.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was put in mind of Shazam! watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu, another 2019 tentpole that somewhat underperformed based on expectations. Not particularly due to any plot resemblance, but because both movies fall apart under the weight of an overblown and underwhelming finale. In the case of Shazam! that may be more damaging to its prospective sequels (if they keep the team of super-adult kids), whereas Detective Pikachu will simply have to struggle with a whole heap of unnecessary expositional baggage attempting to imbue the proceedings with emotional resonance.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

You’re a slut with a snake in your mouth. Die!

Mickey One (1965)
(SPOILERS) Apparently this early – as in, two years before the one that made them both highly sought-after trailblazers of “New Hollywood” – teaming between Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn has undergone a re-evaluation since its initial commercial and critical drubbing. I’m not sure about all that. Mickey One still seems fatally half-cocked to me, with Penn making a meal of imitating the stylistic qualities that came relatively naturally – or at least, Gallically – to the New Wave.