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

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…

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Now we're all wanted by the CIA. Awesome.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
(SPOILERS) There’s a groundswell of opinion that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the best in near 20-year movie franchise. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but only because this latest instalment and its two predecessors have maintained such a consistently high standard it’s difficult to pick between them. III featured a superior villain and an emotional through line with real stakes. Ghost Protocol dazzled with its giddily constructed set pieces and pacing. Christopher McQuarrie’s fifth entry has the virtue of a very solid script, one that expertly navigates the kind of twists and intrigue one expects from a spy franchise. It also shows off his talent as a director; McQuarrie’s not one for stylistic flourish, but he makes up for this with diligence and precision. Best of all, he may have delivered the series’ best character in Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust (admittedly, in a quintet that makes a virtue of pared down motivation and absen…