Archive for the 'Television' Category

Contemplating the silver-screen impact of various science fiction masters, part 2

September 17, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 17, 2016

Yesterday, I took a quick survey of the number of feature films based on the work of several different science fiction grand masters, taking into account some of their TV adaptations as well. Now, I conclude that all of the stuff I wrote about adds up to…

Well, not very much, I guess.

The truth is that numerous factors make it difficult to adapt many of these novels and stories properly. For one thing, to be blunt, some of the science fiction grand masters’ writing just isn’t very good. Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, to single out two, were not exactly known for their lively characterizations.

Moreover, much of the grand masters’ work offers little in the way of cultural and sexual diversity. This is especially true of the oldest stories by the oldest writers. (A notable exception is Le Guin’s many explorations into radically different future societies.)

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Contemplating the silver-screen impact of various science fiction masters, part 1

September 16, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwobotites.wordpress.com
Sept. 16, 2016

In 1975, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America presented its first ever Grand Master Award to the prolific Robert Heinlein, who ultimately authored 32 novels and 16 anthologies. The writer, who died in 1988, is probably best known for his novels Stranger in a Strange LandThe Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Starship TroopersLocus, a trade magazine for the science fiction, fantasy and horror publishing industry, named Heinlein its all-time best author in 1977, 1987, 1988, 1998 and 1999.

Stranger in a Strange Land, which was published in 1961, was a precursor to the sexual revolution and helped define the free-love hippie aesthetic; it also introduced the word grok (to understand profoundly and intuitively) into the language. Just two years ago, Heinlein was the subject of a 624-page authorized biography.

Heinlein was one of the indisputable legends of 20th-century science fiction, but he’s had surprisingly little influence on the world of movies. In the 35 years preceding his death, only a single Hollywood production was openly based on his work — 1953’s Project Moon Base. (That said, The Brain Eaters, released in 1958, was an uncredited adaptation of Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters; the author sued the producers and settled out of court, according to the invaluable Internet Movie Database.)

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Memo to Donald: Everyone loves a mischievous television scamp

June 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 18, 2016

Yesterday, I surveyed the troubled state of the campaign of New York real-estate mogul and reality-TV star Donald Trump. Today, I wanted to offer a modest proposal aimed at revitalizing his run for the presidency.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Trump is a master at grabbing the attention of the news media, largely because he says a lot of outrageous things. It’s a truth nearly as widely accepted, however, that an alarmingly high proportion of the outrageous things he says earn him condemnation.

My solution is simple: Turn the candidate’s liability into an asset by casting Trump as an archetypal sitcom character that everyone recognizes and loves.

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That was the championship that was

April 8, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 8, 2016

Going into Monday night, it had been an entire year since a team from the Research Triangle — the cities and surroundings of Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh — had won an NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship game. The top-seeded University of North Carolina Tar Heels hoped to end our region’s long title drought when it took on underdog Villanova, a No. 2 seed that had upset No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight and steamrolled fellow No. 2 Oklahoma in the Final Four with a 95-51 win Saturday evening.

Because I’ve been suffering from a low-level cold and/or mid- to high-level allergy attack for much of the past two weeks, I considered not watching any of the title game. (I don’t have a television at home, and I forgot that the game was available online.)

After some hemming and hawing, I decided that I would watch the game at a local bar. At that point, the contest had already started. Since I didn’t want to watch the end of the first half, I noodled around on my phone on a bench at one edge of Durham Central Park before strolling over to my destination: Motorco, which was showing the game for free in its main hall and which has a late-night restaurant that it calls Parts & Labor. (The building housed a car dealership for nearly two decades.)

I ordered some food and set myself up at a high table on the patio where I could watch one of the projection-screen televisions. I ate a couple of chicken sliders while the second half got under way; once that was done, I grabbed my glass of water and the remnants of my bottle of Miller High Life and walked over to the music hall. I picked out a seat on one of the tables that had been arrayed there.

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The promising but forgotten pilot ‘Earth Star Voyager’ delivers moderately entertaining science fiction content

January 29, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 29, 2016

My illness-induced quest for mindless entertainment extended beyond watching the dire Star Wars Holiday Special. Thanks to the magic of YouTube’s algorithms, I stumbled upon Earth Star Voyager, a three-hour television pilot from 1988 that I believe originally aired under the rubric of an anthology show known either as Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color or The Wonderful World of Disney.

I’m not sure whether the program was first broadcast on ABC, CBS or Disney’s cable channel. What I do know is that at some point, I saw at least part of it, and I remembered it fondly.

The premise is pretty straightforward: In 2088, the powers that be assign 115 mainly young officers and hands to the Earth Star Voyager, a new ship that features the Bowman drive, a cutting-edge propulsion system that can make crewed interstellar flight practical. Because Earth is a toxic, overcrowded dump, humanity is in desperate need of a new home, and a potential site has been found. Earth Star Voyager’s mission is to embark upon the first crewed excursion to another star so it can evaluate the candidate planet firsthand. Because the trip will take decades, the crew will spend nightly sleep periods in suspended animation; the ship also has a nursery to accommodate the children who will be born en route.

But the ship has only just gotten under way before Captain Forbes (Ric Reid) is ejected from an airlock, apparently due to the deliberate malice of an unknown crew member. That leaves the ship in the hands of its untested 21-year-old executive officer, Jonathan Hays (Brian McNamara), and his highly trained but inexperienced command team: Hays’s close friend, the 14-year-old computer specialist and all-around young super-genius Jessie Bienstock (Jason Michas); cocky navigator Huxley Welles (Tom Bresnahan), age 18; the 24-year-old ship’s doctor, Sally Arthur (Julia Montgomery, the female lead from Revenge of the Nerds); and the 22-year-old psychiatrist, Leland Eugene (Bruce Harwood, who went on to become one of The X-Files’s Lone Gunmen).

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Ask not for whom the sharknado tolls…

August 2, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 2, 2015

My contributions to the Sharknado canon, courtesy of some late-July Twitter brainstorming. Get at me, Syfy!

Sharknado 4: The Sharkening

Sharknado 5: Just When You Thought It was Safe to Leave the Storm Cellar…

Sharknado 6: Sharklahoma!

Sharknado 7: Into Sharkness

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A brief history of ‘Star Trek’

March 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 10, 2015

Author’s note: I know the blog has been Star Trek–heavy lately, thanks to all the musings prompted by the recent death of actor Leonard Nimoy. As it happens, I recently acquired DVDs of the four movies starring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, and I watched one of them the other night. But before I wrote about the film proper, I wanted to put it in the context of the Star Trek franchise.

Also, I recently read two books: Sweet Tooth, a spy novel by Ian McEwan, and The Lecturer’s Tale, an academic satire by James Hynes. Please bear with me… I’ll get back to non-Trek programming soon, I promise! MEM

Creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned the television show now known as Star Trek: The Original Series as being a “Wagon Train to the stars.” Despite its status now as a pop-culture icon, the program — which chronicled the 23rd-century adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock and the crew of the starship Enterprise — got off to a rocky start. In 1968, two years after its debut, NBC executives decided to commission a third season only after fans mounted a letter-writing campaign. But the show was canceled for good in 1969.

The franchise limped along over the next decade. A cartoon version featuring most of the original cast, which is now called Star Trek: The Animated Series, was produced for the 1973-74 TV season.

But Trek survived mainly in the form of reruns; this was how (and when) I first came to know the show as a young child. Trek fans were also able to enjoy print adaptations of the TV episodes, original stories told in novel and comic-book form, and a variety of franchise-themed toys and clothing. After the cartoon show was scuttled, however, there were no new television or cinematic adventures to be seen.

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After Genesis: More notes on the evolution of ‘Star Trek’ and Spock following ‘The Wrath of Khan’

March 9, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 9, 2015

The recent death of actor Leonard Nimoy prompted me to watch and think about the ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanThat 1982 film, which was written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards and directed by Nicholas Meyer, is probably the high point of the Star Trek franchise.

(Note: As with my previous post, this blog entry contains mild spoilers. Of course, it’s for a 33-year-old movie, but anyway, you’ve been warned: There be spoilers ahead.)

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Farewell to Spock: Notes on the poignant denouement of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

March 6, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 6, 2015

After hearing that actor Leonard Nimoy, famous for portraying Mr. Spock from Star Trek, had died last week at age 83, I did the same thing as many thousands of others, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of others: I watched this clip from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

If you’ve never seen that movie, and if you care nothing for the Star Trek franchise, then move on; this blog post will be of no interest to you. If you like Star Trek but haven’t seen The Wrath of Khan, then by all means bookmark this page and put off reading the rest of this blog entry until you’ve watched the entire film.

(Yes, friends: There be spoilers ahead.)

If you’ve seen the movie, then you know the grim climactic details that I avoided spelling out in my post about the afternoon I went to watch Star Trek II in the movie theaters.

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Farewell to Spock: On seeing, and suffering through, ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

March 4, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 4, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, died Friday morning. That sad occasion prompted me to mull the first time I watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which many (including me) consider to be the best of all the Star Trek films.

The Star Trek universe is largely a positive place, especially as depicted in the original TV series, which aired from 1966 through 1969. Yes, conflict exists, but in general, Star Trek was a much more family-friendly milieu than that depicted in landmark 1970s science-fiction entertainment such as AlienOutlandCapricorn OneSaturn 3 or even Star Wars. (Granted, George Lucas’s universe is pretty PG-friendly. But there’s very little in early Star Trek that approaches the seediness that the first Star Wars film displayed in the scenes at the Mos Eisley cantina and the Death Star trash compactor.)

Star Trek II takes a very different approach from earlier Trek. In many ways, the film — written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards and directed by Nicholas Meyer — is a rehearsal of mortality. In the opening scene, the Enterprise is brutally attacked by Klingons while on a rescue mission; Spock, chief communications officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), helmsman Sulu (George Takei) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) are killed before the ship’s master, a fresh-faced female Vulcan named Saavik (Kirstie Alley) gives the order to abandon ship.

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