Films I Love, Page To Screen, Science Fiction

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

In 1968, a film was released which blew the minds of all the people who saw it. That film was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fifty years after its original release, Kubrick’s film remains a film which has the power to fascinate, to stun,and to leave people scratching their heads in confusion. This film also leaves the viewer open mouthed in awe at what they have just witnessed on the screen.

Photo0786
The space station. Screenshot by me.

There are so many memorable moments in the film. The space station swirling in space to the strains of The Blue Danube Waltz; the gravity defying walking scenes inside ships and shuttles; the trippy stargate sequence, which surely must have inspired the makers of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Many people even went to the cinema to see 2001 back in the 60’s and 70’s and dropped acid during the stargate sequence, they called the film the ultimate trip.   

This is very much a film that will divide audiences. Some will love every second of it and will hear no word against it. Others will find it slow, incomprehensible and even boring. I remember when I first saw this film. It was on VHS and I had no idea what I should expect from the film. It was a film I was coming to completely blind. I had only been told it was a film I should watch because I was starting to really get into classic era cinema around this time. When the film finished, I just sat in a stunned silence for quite a while. I remember being both very impressed and VERY confused by what I just seen. I also thought (and still do) that the dawn of man sequence didn’t need to be as long as it is. A couple of days later I watched it again, and that is when I came to appreciate it much more.  

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Kubrick as a director though. I admired his skill but found his approach to filmmaking to be quite cold and detached. Over the years he has ended up becoming a favourite of mine. His films have a unique look to them and are very visual and immersive, they are not traditional films in any way. His films are powerful and so well made. He may well be the best director of all time due to his preparation, his directorial eye, and because of the themes and issues which his films tackle.  

I think that on a first viewing this film is actually quite an overwhelming experience. It makes you think and then what you’re thinking about just blows your mind (I’ll come to my interpretation of some things in the film a little later on).  Kubrick also bombards you with images, music and sound effects to the extent that the film becomes more of a sensory experience than an ordinary film viewing. I think this is what makes Stanley Kubrick such a master of his craft, his films were events and they were special. If you watch just one film of Stanley’s to get a sense of what he could achieve, then I would recommend that this is the one you choose to watch. 

Photo0801
Bowman prepares to leave the ship. Screenshot by me.

I also like how Stanley brings a reality to this film. Nothing in 2001 seems like it couldn’t happen, or that it couldn’t ever be invented. I also like how he moves away from the incorrect depiction of there being sound out in space. In the scenes where Bowman and Poole go outside The Discovery, all we hear is them breathing in the oxygen being pumped through their suits. In reality this is what it is like when taking a space walk. Apart from the inclusion of Pan American spaceflights and 1960’s fashion, there isn’t really anything that dates this film when we watch it now. 

This is a film which inspired many future filmmakers including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. This film changed the visual look of Science Fiction films forever. The effects look real and spectacular today. When the film was first released, the effects completely blew peoples minds because nothing like these visuals had been seen in films before. The effects in this film still look realistic when they are viewed today. I think that there is nothing in this film which screams out to you ” I am a special effect”, apart from the stargate and space baby scene at the end.

Photo0815
A stewardess walking upside down. One of many shots that makes you wonder how they achieved it. Screenshot by me.

Some people consider present day special effects to be amazing, personally I find current special effects to be very fake looking and way too overused. When it comes to effects, nothing that we see today even comes close to what we see in 2001: A Space Odyssey.   

I also think that this film feels fresh and relevant when viewed today. It makes us think about human evolution and where we rank in the universe. It looks at the positives and negatives of artificial intelligence. It shows us how human beings are always striving for something more, and are always up for adventure and exploration. It shows us how humanity is always trying to be something more than it is. The film also shows young filmmakers just what they could achieve if they put their minds to it and put in the effort and focus.

Interestingly this film also predicted technology that we have now as a part of our everyday life. The videophone that Floyd uses is obviously the precursor to technology like Skype, webcams and FaceTime.  

Photo0788
Floyd calls home using video technology. Screenshot by me.

We now have artificial intelligence that we interact with. Although these are not as advanced as HAL is, they never the less do exist and they are quite remarkable achievements. Lots of manual jobs are now done by automation.

Photo0799
HAL. Screenshot by me.

We see devices that look like big Ipads being used by Bowman and Poole. The two astronauts are also seen enjoying a TV dinner long before that really became the norm of an evening for most people. In this scene they are both sitting next to one another, and both of them has their own device and they are watching the same programme! This is now sadly a norm in many homes as people sit next to one another on their mobiles and Ipads instead of sitting talking to each other. 

Photo0800
Bowman and Poole each looking at an Ipad type device, watching TV while eating dinner. Screenshot by me.

We also have an international space station now (much smaller than that we see in the film of course)and have gone to moon (although we have no bases there).  

Kubrick was a very visual director and he always had a crystal clear image in his head of how all his scenes should look. He was a perfectionist and would work extremely hard until he got the shots he wanted. I think that this film is possibly his greatest achievement behind the camera. The film plays out like a Silent film in many parts, and it falls to the images in the film to draw us in for a large portion of the film. This is also a film where pretty much every shot is memorable. I think that you could walk away from this film for twenty minutes, come back and you would walk back in as another impressive scene/shot was getting underway. Most films only have a handful of standout moments, but with this film, pretty much every scene standouts and remains in your mind after viewing. 

The film was based upon a 1948 short story called The Sentinal. This was written by the British author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke would later expand on that story and publish it as a novel called 2001: A Space Odyssey. He would write several sequels to this story over the coming years. Clarke co-wrote the screenplay of the film along with Stanley Kubrick.

Clarke explains in the novel what the star baby is, but in the film it is left unexplained. I actually prefer the ending of the film because it is the moment that audiences always talk about the most after watching the film. You can really draw your own conclusions about the end of the film. If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend that you read Clarke’s novel and the other novels in his 2001 series. 

The film is split into three sections. The first section focuses on apemen (played by actors in very convincing ape costumes, mimicking ape behaviour) and how they are merely a part of the land around them. One day a smooth rectangular black monolith appears on the ground. The apemen are wary of this object, but then curiosity becomes too much for them and they all touch it. Shortly after this one of them picks up the bone of a dead animal. He realises that he can wield this bone and use it as a tool to harm and kill others.

This shot also shows the exact moment that man started to move away from being an animal and started to become aware of things beyond itself; human beings minds from this moment on are opened to  bigger thoughts and ideas. The ape throws the bone into the air and we cut from the past to the future. The shot of the bone cuts to a shot of an orbiting space satellite. This is what this one spark of realisation by the apeman has led to.

Photo0785
The apemen encounter the Monolith. Screenshot by me.

The second section shows us the great achievements that man of the future has made. Man has created technological wonders and moved off the earth and ventured out into space. Man has become civilised and sentient. If these men were to be seen by the apemen, then I think they would be perceived by them as god like figures. 

Dr. Heywood Floyd(William Sylvester)is a scientist who is flying out to an American base on the moon. Floyd spends some time on the international space station before travelling over to the moon. He is there to look at what has been discovered on the surface of the moon. A monolith identical to the one the apemen saw has been found.

Tests indicate that the monolith has been buried there for millions of years, and it is concluded that it was deliberately buried. When the science team walk up to the monolith they are overwhelmed by a piercing high pitched sound emanating from the monolith. The film then jumps forward again in time. 

The third section finds us eighteen months on from the moon incident. Astronauts David Bowman (Keir Dullea)and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood)are onboard the new deep space vessel, Discovery One. The ship is the first manned mission to Jupiter. Also aboard in suspended animation are three scientists who will be awakened upon arrival at the planet. Bowman and Poole have lots of work to do onboard, but the overall running of the ship is done by HAL 9000. HAL is an advanced artificial intelligence (spookily voiced by Douglas Rain). HAL is supposed to be incapable of harming or endangering human life.

Photo0795
The Discovery. Screenshot by me.

As the months go on, HAL becomes concerned about the mission and behaves erratically. He kills Poole and the three scientists, and then attempts to kill Bowman who manages to survive and disconnects HAL’s circuits. After this Bowman discovers a prerecorded message from Dr. Floyd explaining the real reason for the Jupiter mission. The signal from the moon was detected as being sent out to Jupiter. The crew were going to be instructed to investigate for signs of life on the planet.

Bowman leaves the ship and comes into contact with a monolith. He travels through some sort of stargate or star tunnel. This experience is beyond his comprehension. We next see him in a strange room, and he ages and is transformed into a star child. The film ends with the star child orbiting earth.

I interpret the film as telling us that mankind is small and child like in comparison with the vastness of the universe, and also in comparison with the awesome power and inexplicability of the circle of life. We have learnt much, we have created some remarkable things which would have been considered impossible centuries ago; and yet we still have so much to learn and comprehend. We act as though we are in control of all we do, when actually we are not and our lives are short and fragile. We know we will all die, and yet we still react with surprise and horror at death when it arrives.  I also like that the humans are very much secondary characters in the film in comparison with the mystery of the monolith and of all the scenes showing the vastness of space. We are so small in comparison with the universe as a whole and the film shows us this fact. 

The film makes me think about some very big things. I believe that none of us will ever know for certain if there is a god or not until we die. I also have a theory that god is simply the name that mankind has come up with in order to explain the unknowable force that is the circle of life. When we don’t understand something, we have a tendency as as species to have to try to explain it. Isn’t it far easier for us to say that some all powerful being created us and gave us life by magic? than to admit that we don’t know how we came to be, and that we have no idea why we are here or how and why we evolved how we did? The life cycle is something to revere though in the way that people worship god, because it is the life cycle which brought us into being. Life sustains us, it ends our lives, and it is something far beyond our comprehension.   

There are so many big questions still unanswered in life. Why is our planet set up to sustain our life? Why is there gravity? Why are our bodies and organs set up the way they are? Why do most animals have shorter lives than humans? How come everything on the planet exists for a specific reason? How come we have so far been unable to find other lifeforms of equal or advanced intellect elsewhere in the universe? Why do we seem to be the only species on the planet who seem to be aware of our own mortality and ask big questions about who we are and where we came from? Why do we insist on wasting time killing and hurting each other instead of working together to cherish our planet and help increase our understanding and knowledge? This film makes me think of these things and ask all these questions.

I think the mysterious monolith represents all that we have yet to learn (be it about life, or the universe etc)and all that we don’t yet understand. I think it also represents man’s evolution and our ability to change and to grow. The monolith appears in the film at key points in mankind’s evolution. I think the space baby represents us as being as a child in comparison with the size of the universe and with the power of creation and life. At each point in human existence we think we are all powerful and are in control of what goes on around us, this film shows us that is not the case at all and we are not as invincible or powerful as we like to think we are. 

I have to mention HAL now. He is actually the most developed and interesting character in the entire film. The human characters are not all that well developed and they are secondary to the story and the visuals. Perhaps this was done to emphasise their lack of importance in the face of what they get caught up in and discover?

Photo0803
Bowman and Poole speak with HAL. Screenshot by me.

I also think that the scene where Bowman disconnects HAL is very disturbing to watch. We hear and see this entity slowly lose his mind as Bowman pulls out his computer chips. We are seeing Bowman literally kill HAL in order to save his own life. As scary and dangerous as HAL has been up to this point, we have never the less been able to connect with him in some way and we consider him as much of a real being as Bowman and Poole are. The disconnection scene makes for very difficult and uncomfortable viewing. 

Photo0807
Bowman disconnects HAL. This kills HAL. Screenshot by me.

The inclusion of HAL in the film also poses the question about whether or not artificial intelligence is capable of thinking beyond its programming. Can it feel emotions or not? Should it be considered as much a lifeform as we are? HAL also makes us see that technology can sometimes be promised as being perfect and safe, and yet can often break or malfunction. This is an issue we are experiencing right now as greater advancements are being made in the creation of artificial intelligence. 

Fifty years on, and there are still no definitive answers to any of the questions and issues found in this film. We still have so much to learn and to do. For all our intellect, for all our ability to create and change, mankind is still sadly very primitive. We are still governed by animalistic instincts and urges (to procreate, to survive, to kill)to the extent that we hinder any meaningful progress because we’re hating each other over things like racism and religion. If only we could all come together to ponder the bigger questions in life. If only we could come together to work as the one species we are (there is no race, we are ALL human beings)and work towards a world where we live as one and share the planets resources equally. 

Stanley Kubrick’s film was a game changer in film history. His film made Science Fiction a genre to be taken seriously. It pushed the boundaries of what could be made possible on screen. Planets, ships and stars all look like they are the real thing in this film. Scenes such as that featuring the stewardess walking upside down as she moved around the ship were really unlike anything seen before.  This film also inspired the realistic look found in later Science Fiction films such as Star Wars and Alien.

This film also highlights the power of film to transport you to another place and how it sucks you in completely. I would say to someone who hasn’t seen this before to prepare to surrender themselves to the film. 2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t merely a film, it’s an immersive experience and it will make you ponder some VERY big and deep issues and questions. If you’re after films that cater to short attention spans, then this really isn’t the film for you. If you don’t like long films, then again, this isn’t the film for you. If you appreciate a well made film by a master of his craft, then this is one to check out.

My thanks go to Stanley Kubrick and all his crew and cast for their hard work in creating this film. That it looks new, and feels relevant fifty years on, is really a testament to the skill and genius of Stanley Kubrick. 

If you want more of the story, then do check out the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. I think this sequel (starring Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren and Kier Dullea)is highly underrated. While the sequel isn’t in the same league as 2001, it is a very good film and people who didn’t get on well with the first film may like this one better. 

Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough I think. What do you think of this film? What do you make of the ending of the film?

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Classic TV, Science Fiction

The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)

In 1959, a TV series aired in America that was quite unlike anything else airing at that time. This series tackled the big issues of the day. Issues such as racism, individuality and conformity, hatred and war.

The series also looked at what it even means to be human. It was scary, moving, shocking, powerful and very thought provoking. The series stands up very well when viewed today and more than retains its impact and ability to make the audience think. That series is The Twilight Zone.  

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into The Twilight Zone!” Rod Serling’s opening narration for seasons 4 and 5.

I love this series! Growing up I had heard and read a lot about this series, but I had only ever actually seen a handful of episodes from it. That all changed a couple of years ago. I treated myself to the complete series on Blu-ray(the episodes are beautifully cleaned up and look like they could have been made today). It is now one of my favourite series.

Photo0714
Gig Young takes a trip down memory lane in Walking Distance. Screenshot by me.

In addition to it being one of greatest Science Fiction series ever made, I also think that The Twilight Zone is the most human TV series I have ever watched. What I mean by that is that this so perfectly captures just what it means to be human.

The series shows us our weaknesses, our strengths, our desire to better ourselves or to change a situation we don’t like. It reflects humanity back to us by showing us the best and worst of humanity. The series also contains some very moving performances and scenarios which have the ability to really touch the viewers heart.

I especially love the episodes where we in the audience are made to think what we would do if we were in a particular characters shoes. Who among us wouldn’t love to be able to go back and offer advice and support to our younger selves? Well, by watching Gig Young in Walking Distance we can feel like we have done. By watching No Time Like The Past, we can see that the good intentions in trying to chance historical events may not be possible or even advisable.

The Twilight Zone series was created by Rod Serling. Rod was a WW2 veteran who despised hatred, war, bigotry and cruelty. He poured his heart and soul into this series and it shows on screen. He not only created the series, but he also produced it and wrote many of the episodes. 

Photo0710
Martin Balsam and William Bendix in The Time Element. Screenshot by me.

The series first came into being with a script written by Serling, called The Time Element. This unofficial pilot episode for the series was first aired on the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, on the 24th of November, 1958.

Martin Balsam(who would go on to guest star in the official series)and William Bendix were the stars.

This pilot episode focuses on a man who claims to be able to travel back in time to Pearl Harbor, just before the infamous attack there. This episode really sets the tone for the series we all know today. This episode is included as an extra with the Blu-ray boxset.

Photo0712
Earl Holliman in Where Is Everybody? Screenshot by me.

The official series aired a year later, on the 2nd of October, 1959. The first episode of the official series was called Where Is Everybody? This episode finds a man (Earl Holliman) discovering an abandoned town and not remembering who he is.

The series would continue on the air until 1964.  The series is primarily classed as Science Fiction, featuring many stories of time travel, alien invaders and alien worlds.

I like many of the time travel and alien focused episodes, but my personal favourite episodes are the creepy ones; episodes such as The Grave. Thirty- Fathom Grave. The Hitch-Hiker(the first episode that I ever saw). Deaths-head Revisited and The Howling Man.

Photo0716
Some shocking information is revealed at the end of The Silence. Screenshot by me.

The powerful performances and different weekly settings ensured that Serling’s series became very popular with audiences. The series real claim to fame though was the twist ending to each episode.

These endings are the series trademark, and these twists often leave us reassessing the previous 25 minutes that we have been watching.

I love that no matter how many times I watch the episodes that those twists still retain their shock factor, even when I know full well what’s coming next they still work.

It is a credit to Serling and his superb regular writing staff of Charles Beumont, George Clayton Johnson and Richard Matheson, that the series is still as powerful and impactful today as it was when it first aired. Many other famous writers including Ray Bradbury took turns writing scripts for the series.

Photo0713
Ed Wynn and Murray Hamilton have an important talk in One For The Angels. Screenshot by me.

The scripts are real quality too and they are very good character pieces. They really knew how to write back then and how to put so much into a simple 25 minute episode.

You just don’t see anthology series like this any more. You also seldom get script writing of this quality anymore, which is a real shame I think.

I also like how you never know where you’ll end up next in this series from episode to episode. One episode could be set on an alien world, another set in the old west, and another in the present(50’s and 60’s).

Serling’s series also bravely tackled the big issues of his day – particularly racism, fear of nuclear war, fear of people and places unknown to another set of people etc. The morality tales still pack quite a punch and sadly make you see that in some ways not much has changed since the series aired. Humanity is still intent on killing one another, there is still racism, and there is still fear of other cultures etc.  

Photo0718
Rod Serling in one of his introductions. Screenshot by me.

I can also think of no other series where the creator became such an integral part of their own series(not even Alfred Hitchcock on his anthology series.) Serling is the heart and soul of the series I think.

He provides the voice over narration for all episodes and he filmed intros and outros to the episodes. The face of Serling is as much a part of the series as the famous theme tune and the twists.

In the Blu-ray boxset, Serling’s intros and outros are included for all the episodes. I really enjoy watching those and seeing Rod introduce each episode.

I consider the first three seasons to be the best. I’m in the minority of fans who actually quite likes season 4(locks self in sealed vault to escape onslaught of season 4 hate 😉 ). While I will agree with the season 4 critics that the format change from 25 minutes to 50 was a mistake; I do strongly disagree that the episodes found here are the weakest of the series.

Photo0720
Robert Duvall becomes fascinated by a doll house in The Miniature. Screenshot by me.

Some of my favourites from season 4 are The Thirty-Fathom Grave. On Thursday We Leave For Home. Miniature(one of the most moving of all the episodes, and featuring a memorable performance by a young Robert Duvall).The New Exhibit. Jess-Belle and Printer’s Devil.

I actually think that season 5 is the worst of the series. So many of the episodes in this are terrible(what went wrong with the writing here?)or bear too strong a resemblance to earlier episodes. There are a few gems to be found though such as In Praise of Pip. Nightmare at 20,000 feet(perhaps the best known of all the episodes).An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. The Masks. Living Doll. Night Call and Stopover in a Quiet Town.

Throughout the series there are many fan favourite episodes. Time Enough At Last. Five Characters In Search Of An Exit. The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street(although I personally think this one would have worked better as a paranoia story without the alien involvement that we later discover). Nightmare at 20,000 feet. The After Hours. And When The Sky Was Opened. The Invaders. In Praise Of Pip. Walking Distance. It’s A Good Life. The Silence. The Masks. A Stop At Willoughby and The Odyssey of Flight 33.

There are also somewhat lesser appreciated episodes to enjoy. The Last Flight. Nick of Time. People Are Alike All Over. One For The Angels. Printer’s Devil. The Hunt. The Passersby. I Am The Night,Color Me Black. The Sixteen Millimetre Shrine. I Shot An Arrow Into The Air(surely the origins of Serling’s film The Planet of the Apes?).Judgement Night. The Obsolete Man. Passage For Trumpet and Mirror Image.

I also love how many big film stars feature in this series. I envy classic era audiences who got to tune in weekly not knowing who would appear next. A handful of these stars made more than one appearance on the series: Jack Klugman(superb in several deeply moving episodes), Burgess Meredith, William Shatner, Martin Balsam etc. I think the quality of the work is evident given the amount of film stars who agreed to guest star in these episodes.

The series also features one of the most instantly recognisable themes in TV history. Chances are if you’ve never seen an episode, you’ll have heard that intro tune at some point in your life. The original theme tune for the series was composed by Bernard Herrmann, this theme can be heard in season 1. As much as I do love the later theme, Herrmann’s theme is very eerie and mysterious and I love it very much indeed because it’s so atmospheric. The theme that we all know today didn’t make its debut until season 2, that iconic later Zone theme was composed by Marius Constant.  

Photo0719
Joanne Linville and James Gregory in The Passersby. Screenshot by me.

I suppose there is also the big question as to just what exactly The Twilight Zone is and what it means? I take it that it is a phrase that perfectly sums up the weird and unexplainable events in life, be it our current life or in a time back in the past or forward in the future. I have often found myself saying “I can’t believe this, it’s like I’m in The Twilight Zone”, when faced with bizarre or horrible situations in my life.

My ten favourite episodes are: The Passersby(featuring a heart wrenching performance by Joanne Linville, as a woman left in deep emotional distress following the American Civil War). Walking Distance. The Last Flight. The Grave. Printer’s Devil. The Odyssey of Flight 33. The Changing of the Guard. In Praise of Pip. The Howling Man and One For The Angels.

Similar series to this which I like are One Step Beyond and Thriller. I have also seen a few episodes of Rod Serling’s later series called Night Gallery; this is a much darker series than The Twilight Zone and I highly recommend it to horror fans. 

Please share your thoughts on the series. What are your favourite episodes?

Never seen an episode? What are you waiting for? The Zone awaits you. Just make sure you get a return ticket though, because you wouldn’t want to get stuck there. Would you? 

 

 

Blogathons, Classic TV, Science Fiction

Time Travel Blogathon: The Odyssey Of Flight 33 & Once Upon A Time

Time Travel Banner

Rich at Wide Screen World and Ruth at Silver Screenings are co-hosting this blogathon about time travel. Be sure to visit their sites to read all of the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself.   

I have long been fascinated by time travel. What would it be like to actually be able to go forward or backwards in time? What would you do, and where would go if time travel were a reality? Once you travelled through time, would you be able to return to your own time afterwards?

If you went backwards in time would you try to save loved ones from death? Would you try and stop things from happening that would cause misery and death to millions? Should you try and interfere in past events at all?(I don’t think you should, as you would end up changing the future and further negative things could occur because of what you did.) These are all big questions and that is why I love these types of stories so much because they really challenge you to think about what you would do if you were the character travelling through time. 

I’ve decided to write about two of my favourite time travel episodes from the TV series The Twilight Zone. Long time readers of my blog will know of my great love for this series. I love the blend of genres found within it. I love the famous actors who agreed to guest star in it, and I love how the series makes you really think. My favourite stories from this anthology series are the horror and time travel ones.   

The two time travel episodes I’d like to write about are The Odyssey Of Flight 33 and Once Upon A Time. Both take a very different approach to how they tell a story of time travel.

 

If you’ve not seen either of these episodes, then please don’t read on any further as there will be spoilers!

 

 

 

The Odyssey Of Flight 33 (Season 2, Episode 18)

 

Photo0369
The flight crew notice something is amiss. Screenshot by me.

There are no easy answers in this episode and I think that is precisely why I love this episode so much. The anomaly which causes the plane to move through time is completely unexplainable.

The anomaly is simply one of those weird things that exists in our world (like the Bermuda Triangle for example)and if you get caught up in it, then you will be in for a very weird experience indeed.

If you went through what the passengers and crew of this flight are about to, then I think you would be very scared and would be left speechless about the whole experience.

The episode begins up in the air mid flight. A passenger plane is on its way to land in New York.

Towards the end of the flight the Captain begins to feel a very strange sensation, it feels to him as though the plane has drastically increased its speed.  He gets quite concerned about this weird sensation. At first the other crew members don’t feel it, but then they do and become convinced something isn’t right.

      The flight crew can’t believe their eyes. Screenshot by me. 

When the passengers and crew next look out of the windows they are not where they expect to be at all. The land they see down below is empty of all signs of human existence.

Then they see that a dinosaur is down there happily chomping on a tree. They all realise then that they have taken a very strange detour indeed.  

Photo0375
They see this dinosaur on the ground. Screenshot by me.

Everyone panics. Some people refuse to accept what they are seeing. Then the plane speeds up again and everyone looks out and sees they are back in New York. The crew slowly begin to stop celebrating though when they can’t contact their destination airport on the radio. They also soon see down below them the 1939 World Fair. The plane has come home, but this is not their New York, it is the New York of over twenty years earlier.

They obviously can’t land here either. So, with fuel supplies running dangerously low, they keep on flying, desperately hoping to keep speeding up and hopefully finding themselves back in their own time period. 

This episode is in my top 10 favourites from the whole series. I love the setup for the story and how it has a realistic look about it. There have been many stories and reports of planes vanishing. Many stories of pilots reporting seeing strange things while flying, or experiencing strange events mid flight. I think that those stories make you accept that this story is perhaps not so far fetched as it might sound. 

Photo0372
Captain Farver. Screenshot by me.

I think that the actors all do a terrific job here. The ones playing the cabin crew all convince as pilots, navigators and radio operators who are all veterans of their jobs. Rod Serling’s brother Robert actually wrote several books on aviation, and he helped Rod write the cockpit dialogue and make it sound realistic. 

John Anderson delivers my favourite performance as the calm and rational Captain Farver, who slowly begins to realise that he and his flight are trapped in something far beyond his control.

This episode always leaves me wondering what happened to the people on this flight. Will they ever make it back home? Or are they doomed to fly around the planet, moving between time for eternity? It’s almost like this plane could become an air version of the Flying Dutchman. Thought provoking and quite sad really.  

 

 

Once Upon A Time (Season 3, Episode 13)

 

We now move on to a very different type of episode. This one is much less serious and I think it has an uplifting and warm feeling about it. This one also tells a time travel story, but it tells it in a completely different way to The Odyssey Of Flight 33.  

The episode is basically there to grant Buster Keaton an opportunity to show us all that he still had his comic skills, and that he was still more than capable of performing stunts. The first time I saw this episode I was overjoyed to discover Buster was in it.  

Photo0378
Woodrow arrives in 1960. Screenshot by me.

Buster plays Woodrow Mulligan, a grumpy caretaker who lives in 1890. A professor he knows has invented a helmet. This helmet has the ability to transport whoever wears it through time.

Trying on the helmet himself, Woodrow gets transported forward in time to the year 1960. He has no sooner arrived there when he quickly realises he wants to get back to his own time. He certainly marvels at what he sees in this new era, but he really misses his own time. 

Woodrow meets Rollo, who is also a scientist and who is fascinated by the possibility of time travel. When the helmet gets damaged, Rollo and Woodrow work together to try and get it fixed. Once that’s done Rollo returns with Woodrow to 1890. When he arrives he soon wishes to be back in his own time too. He realises that his time is more advanced and therefore can better accommodate the sort of work he needs to do. So Woodrow helps send Rollo back to his own time.

I find that this episode makes you value what you have in the present. You may wish to visit another time but never forget that there is no place like home. The episode also shows you that technology may advance and change, but some things such as human behaviour and the need for money seldom ever change for the better.

The episode is also very funny with Buster getting to perform stunts (love the scene where he gets lifted up to put on some trousers in mid air) and make us laugh with his grumpy deadpan routine. He had still got his comic gift right up to the end.

I also love Buster’s performance in the scene where Woodrow sees a TV for the first time. At first he thinks it is a window, then when he turns it on, he thinks that the TV presenter is speaking directly to him and that the TV is a window and the guy is actually there. Buster is so funny in this scene. 

                         Woodrow reacts to seeing a TV for the first time. Screenshot by me.

The 1890 sequences are filmed like a Silent movie, while the 1960 sequences are filmed in the normal sound era way. I really liked the decision to film the different time periods like that.  

These two episodes also both serve to show you just how different this series could be each week. One week a story could be scary and thought provoking, the next it could be funny or moving. This is another reason why I love this series so much. You just never know where the zone will take you next.

Here are my picks for the five best time travel episodes from this series. 

1- The Last Flight

2- The Odyssey Of Flight 33

3- Execution

4- No Time Like The Past

5-A Hundred Yards Over The Rim

If you have seen these episodes what did you think of them? What other time travel episodes of this series do you like? 

 

 

 

 

 

Films I Love, Science Fiction

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Photo0479
The ship lands on the planet. Screenshot by me.

This is one of the greatest Science Fiction films ever made. At the time it was made this film was about as far away from a typical Science Fiction film as you could get.

This film also makes you think and it has a nice blend of horror, action, and romance to enjoy. I love the set design and futuristic look of the film too. 

Forbidden Planet changed the look of Science Fiction films forever. It also showed filmmakers and audiences that Science Fiction could be more thought provoking than they may have previously imagined.

Before this film, many Science Fiction films of the time looked very much like cheap B Pictures (not saying that there is anything wrong with B Pictures)and it has to be said that the quality of the effects were usually not very good at all. This film changed all that. The effects and ship in this film looked more realistic.

I also love the sound effects in this film. There isn’t a traditional music score, instead we have the otherworldly electronic music score by Bebe and Louis Barron. Their sound work adds a great deal of atmosphere to the film. Their work makes the film unsettling at times and mystical and exciting at others.  Their sound effects are really quite unlike anything heard before or since. 

The film also features some of the most unforgettable images in the history of the genre. The special effects in this were extremely impressive for the 1950’s, and I firmly believe that they still impress audiences when viewed today. This is one that really makes you think about what should be feared more, unknown alien beings, ideas, and words? Or our own minds, and the terrible things that we’re capable of doing and creating with them?

The film entertains us certainly, but it also poses some very big questions to which there are no easy answers. Should our quest for improving ourselves and increasing our abilities be undertaken with extreme caution? In case we should ever grow beyond what we are now, and end up losing what makes us human(compassion, rational thought etc)in the process? Or should we move beyond ourselves no matter what the cost in doing so could be?

Photo0482
Commander Adams. Screenshot by me.

Fred M. Wilcox directed the film. It was based on a screenplay by Cyril Hume. Some viewers have said that the plot of the film reminds them of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

Leslie Nielson plays the heroic, always ready for action, Commander Adams. Adams and his crew are sent out to the planet Altair-4 to investigate why there has been no contact with the human colonists who settled on this planet some years ago.

Once on the planet, Adams and his crew soon discover the only survivors from the colony – the highly intelligent scientist Dr. Morbius(Walter Pidgeon). Morbius’s equally intelligent, mini-dress clad daughter Altaira(Anne Francis), and their loveable companion Robby the robot – part butler, cook, bodyguard and friend.

Altaira becomes very fond of the crew, but Morbius is distrustful of them and he is openly hostile towards them. Morbius just wants himself and his daughter to be left alone in peace. Things get complicated when Altaira and Adams fall in love, and when the crew are attacked by the terrifying unseen creature responsible for the deaths of the other colonists.

Photo0485
Morbius comforts his daughter. Screenshot by me.

I love this film so much. It is a groundbreaking film in the genre, and I think it would be fair to say that this must have strongly influenced the creator of another Science Fiction favourite of mine, the Star Trek TV series.

The device that the crew step into during the approach to the planet resemble the Star Trek transporters. I also think that Adams is a very similar character to Captain Kirk.

I also love how this one isn’t your typical alien monster film either. When you learn the identity of the monster, and where it actually comes from it is pretty mind blowing stuff.

That reveal  really adds another layer of complexity and wonderment to what you’ve been watching. This is a film I never get tired of watching, and it always impresses me no matter how many times I’ve seen it before.

Photo0483
Altaira. Screenshot by me.

The only thing about this film I don’t really like that much is the romance between Adams and Altaira. She is basically a child in a woman’s body. She is very trusting and innocent and within a couple of days of meeting these two have supposedly fallen in love. If their growing romance had taken place over a longer period, then I think I would believe it more. It just comes across as being very rushed to me.

I also found it a bit creepy when Altaira meets the three crewmen for the first time and they flirt with her and stare at her like they’ve never seen a woman before. Considering she has never been to earth, or been around young men, it’s a bit unfair for them to be so sexual with her when she clearly has no idea what they are doing. If that had happened later in the film when she is getting curious about them and wanting to be with them I think that would have worked, having it happen right away though just comes off as lecherous. 

Walter Pidgeon is excellent as the tragic Morbius. A strong and clever man who is unrelenting, and who is also utterly powerless to resist what he has unleashed. Pidgeon was always a likeable actor and I love that here he gets to show he could play more complex and unlikeable characters too. I like how he conveys Morbius’s desire to keep his daughter with him at all costs. This man doesn’t like the idea of strangers taking her away from all she has ever known.
It’s also nice to see Leslie Nielson in a serious role as the heroic lead character. He makes Adams heroic, and also someone who is calm and rational under pressure. For more serious Nielson performances, check him out in a guest appearance in The Streets of San Francisco as a boozing detective, and in the 1958 Western, The Sheepman. Nielson is one of my favourite screen comics, but I have really enjoyed seeing him in serious roles, I wish he had played more dramatic roles.
Warren Stevens is terrific as Doc Ostrow, Adams close friend. Stevens is an actor who I haven’t seen in very many other things, but I really like him here and think he had it in him to become a big star. If you like him here check him out in an episode of One Step Beyond called The Riddle.

Anne Francis is superb as the ethereal Altaira. Anne perfectly conveys her characters innocent, pure and trusting nature, and also her growing desire to spend time with someone other than her father.

Photo0480
Robby The Robot. Screenshot by me.

Robby the robot is one of the most instantly recognisable characters in film history. He’s a loveable individual who is probably the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions this film. He has become one of the most recognisable characters and creations in Science Fiction history.

My favourite scenes are the ship landing on the planet. The whirl of dust crossing the horizon which signals the approach of Robby. Meeting Morbius. Adams protecting Altaira from a potential tiger attack. The attack on the ship. Altaira’s first meeting and flirting with Adams, Ostrow(Warren Stevens)and Farman(Jack Kelly).

What do you think of this film?

 

Dystopian, French Cinema, Page To Screen, Science Fiction

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

Francois Truffaut’s 1966 film is an excellent adaptation of the acclaimed 1953 novel of the same name. The novel was written by the American Sci-Fi author, Ray Bradbury. Both the book and the film highlight that the desire to open yourself up to new ideas will never (hopefully not)die.

Books give us access to new cultures, worlds, ideas, and perspectives. Both the film and the novel also highlight that when something is forbidden to us, that ban only increases our curiosity about, and a strong desire to seek out the banned thing.  Fictional novels also allow us to relax and to take a break from reality. How is that break different to watching a drama on TV? Reading exercises your brain and imagination, you see in your head the characters, the locations, the clothes etc.

Reading is an experience unlike any other as it is your mind which brings the words to life. Written words are among some of the most powerful things to be found on this earth, some people don’t like that fact, and they want to silence some of those words and control access to them.

Photo0587
Books are burnt by the firemen. Screenshot by me.

This is a film that made a very strong impression on me when I first watched it a few years ago. As a book lover it makes me so mad to see books being destroyed in this film. It makes me even more angry to see the gaining of knowledge, and the use of ones own imagination, being denied and controlled by the state.

The film also depicts people addicted to drugs, and when they run out, more drugs are given to them by the state. Many people have to take stimulants, most likely to stave off the frustration and dullness of what the reality of this life is. 

It is not hard to see the eerie similarities in the film to the notorious book burnings in Nazi Germany. That state also controlled what was taught, what people did and didn’t do. It also ensured that all citizens followed a strict and controlled life. As we know, if anyone didn’t conform, or anyone took a stand against the Nazi’s they were killed or imprisoned.

This film is also very interesting to look at from a visual perspective. The futuristic buildings look sleek and very Art Deco, yet they also look cold, and there is nothing unique about them (reflecting the confirmative society the film is set in.)  The suspended monorail on which people travel to and from work is also very interesting visually. I think that reflects the futuristic leaps made in engineering/transport in the future. This sequence was filmed at the SAFEGE monorail test track in France.

When I watch this film it makes me think of what books mean to me. Books are a vital part of life for me, just like breathing in the air is vital for me to survive. I simply cannot imagine being without books. It sickens and scares me when access to books is denied, or when they are destroyed.

I’m not a fan of E-books, or of Kindles either, they hurt my eyes, and I find them very impersonal. While this technology may encourage some people to read (which is always a fantastic thing to achieve)I do not want them to ever replace real books.As far as I’m concerned nothing will ever be able to replace the special feeling of holding a book, or of borrowing a book from a Library, knowing that many readers before me have turned these same pages and gone on the journey I’m about to embark upon.   

Francois Truffaut’s superb film is set in a future where books (and the reading of them)are banned by law. Some citizens still read books in secret though, if they are discovered they are reported to the authorities. Firemen are then sent after these people. The firemen seek out and burn the books in these peoples possession.

With public libraries being closed all around us (or threatened with closure), with younger people being hooked on their phones, TVs, and computers instead of reading physical books or engaging face to face with other people; I would say that this film is terrifyingly relevant for our society today. Too many people are nowadays content to sit back and binge on the rubbish being churned out online or on TV instead of engaging with real life and using their own brains and imagination. 

                Julie Christie as two very different women. One is a TV addict, the other is a book lover. Screenshot by me.

Many in society are now just like the TV addicted zombie like people who are depicted in this film. Many young people now don’t even read, and they have zero interest in ever doing so! Their loss I say, but doesn’t it worry anyone else how dumbed down things are becoming in society at large? It seems like fewer and fewer people are avid readers, and that technology is taking over our lives. If this is the future, then it is not one I’m looking forward to being a part of it.

In the future society seen in the film, books and the reading of them are banned. The state controls the lives of its citizens, and all are expected to watch TV for all (or for most of the )day. Some people still read books in secret, if they are discovered the authorities send firemen after them. These men, clad all in black, search for books, and when they find them they burn them. The title of the book and film refers to the temperature at which book paper burns at.

Photo0589
Montag gets curious about books. Screenshot by me.

Montag (Oskar Werner) is one of the firemen, he is a yes man (like the majority of his society)and he sees nothing wrong in destroying books. When he meets schoolteacher Clarissa (Julie Christie)he starts to question his entire way of life. He himself becomes a hunted fugitive after he is caught reading.

Montag must also make a choice between the two women in his life. Should he make a new life with Clarissa, or remain with his TV addicted, glamorous, drug dependent wife, Linda (also played by Julie Christie. ) This man must make a choice between living a restrictive life, or living in seclusion and being allowed to have intellectual freedom.

Oskar is superb as the man who slowly begins to have his eyes opened to the cruelty and evil being committed daily around him. He starts of as a very closed off character emotionally, and then turns passionate, angry and horrified. His performance is all in the eyes, keep watching him closely throughout.  This is one of my favourite performances by him.

Julie Christie shines in a duel performance. She is vibrant, passionate, and outgoing as Clarissa. As Montag’s wife Linda, she is self centred, brainwashed, chic, and so very dull.

Photo0588
The sadistic Captain. Screenshot by me.

Cyril Cusack is marvellous as the loathsome and cruel Captain who is Montag’s superior officer. This man takes sadistic pleasure out of burning books, and in causing great distress to the people who read them. Cusack is excellent and he steals every scene he is in.

Bernard Herrmann composed the music for the film and it adds greatly to the film. It is a mystical, beautiful and very ominous soundtrack, and its presence is a big part of the overall film experience.

Excellent performances, and striking images abound in this terrifying vision of a possible future for mankind. This is my favourite Truffaut film, and it is one that contains a story that will impact viewers very strongly. The way in which Montag discovers books can be shared without getting caught is very powerful as yet (thankfully)nobody can read your thoughts, and they also can’t eradicate your memories or emotions.

My favourite scenes are the following. The first time we see the firemen. The opening title sequence (this shows us that this is a TV controlled and conformist society.)Montag reading his first ever book. The old woman burning herself alive so she can die with her books. Clarissa asking Montag if it was true that firemen used to put out fires, instead of starting fires. The finale in the woods. Clarissa and Montag’s discussion in the cafe. Montag being pursued by the flying policemen. Montag’s wife participating in the nationwide TV programme. The Captain getting what he deserves.

Interestingly the film also depicts something that has now become a reality for us today. TV is now such a major part of life, and many people are sadly glued to a screen more than they take part in real life. Many people now have big flat screen TVs, many also now have multiple TVs in their home (one isn’t enough obviously), and some people even watch tiny TVs (now phones)at times too. Knowing that all of this was predicted by Bradbury and depicted by Truffaut decades before it came true, is something that I find to be quite spooky.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.