One of the best things about the craze of DVD Box Sets containing entire seasons of TV series is the ability to sit down with old friends and get acquainted again. In this particular case I’m talking about the original Outer Limits series, which is available in two boxes from MGM. When I’ve been working late and feel the need to unwind in front of the tube, but a movie would take too long, an episode of OL is perfect at about 48 minutes in length. The show had some glorious high notes; it also had some dismal failures. I find myself revisiting the oddest entries…

You see, I was only a child when the series first ran, and the series generally terrified me, especially in the grim, darker first season. I rediscovered it as a teenager in south Texas when the CBS affiliate in Corpus Christi started showing it on weekend afternoons. It would crop up occasionally in syndication through the 80s, then a black-and-white anthology series suddenly became the kiss of death for programming. Somewhere in there, the infomercial was invented, too, but we are not here to discuss Satanic activity today.

So, now having access to all those episodes, instead of hoping and waiting for broadcast schedules and free time to coincide, do I visit award-winning stories, like Harlan Ellison’s “Soldier” and “Demon With A Glass Hand”? Do I visit the surreal, elegaic “Shape of Things Unknown” episode/pilot film? Do I once again watch Macbeth in sci-fi drag as “The Bellero Shield”? Do I bupkiss. I watch the episodes that scared me as a kid.

Robert Duvall as a government agent disguised as a crash-landed alien in “The Chamelion” (still pretty freaky). “Fun and Games”, starring Nick Adams and those freaky boar-faced aliens with the saw-toothed boomerang(ditto). And the terrifying beastie in “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork”, now revealed as a simple three-frame animation with a hell of a freaky sound design. Given the relatively harmless things that scared me as a kid, I guess I should be thankful I didn’t see “The Zanti Misfits” back then – I might not have survived.

One episode that didn’t send me screaming to the next room was from the second season – “The Premonition” – and it was with some interest that I sat down and watched it for the first time in – what? Forty years, at least?

It held up better than others, which is not to say there weren’t holes my older, weaker eyes discovered. The story concerns a test pilot who flies an experimental rocket plane at Mach 6, somehow breaking the time barrier and creating a chronal sonic boom that projects himself and his wife – so startled by the incipient crash of his plane, that she was in the process of smashing their car into a boulder – into a limbo state 10 seconds into the future. Everything seems to them frozen in place (as if they were photos, hmmmm…). Investigation proves that everything else around them is moving, just very slowly, at the rate of an hour (to them) for every second passed.

It’s here that the “bear” – the mandatory monster of the week, the basis for the network picking up the series – shows up. Filmed in negative, it’s merely a man, another person unstuck in time, who didn’t get back in place when time caught up with him. He intends to take the place of either the pilot or the wife and escape his prison of “endless nothingness”. One of the problems with the script is that this menace is dealt with very quickly, and never shows up again. Most of the tension in the episode derives from their daughter, left at the Air Force base’s nursery, who has slipped from her keeper and is now in imminent danger of being killed by a runaway truck when time snaps back into place.

The series’ low budget is in very sharp focus through much of the episode – the obvious photographs, the entire teaser before the opening credits and much of the first ten minutes is stock footage… and time is eaten up as the pilot and wife run back and forth between the crash site and the base, over and maddeningly over again. The wife’s character is in keeping with the era, alas, having to be slapped out of a panic, deferring to her husband when she’s not imploring him to do something. There were a number of strong female characters in the series, but she, unfortunately, is not one of them.

Still, it’s a very novel concept, and one which stayed with me for years and years; characters having to puzzle out an incomprehensible situation crops up over and over again in my writing. I’m glad I finally got to see it again, and am intrigued by the possibility that it had much more to do with shaping my creative endeavors than I had originally thought.

Grand Theft Auto Saves the Day

The Galveston County Daily News has a story where stupid crooks in a home invasion intersect with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City , to their detriment. Nice to see video games on the right side of the law in the media, for a change.

Though I have to note that the woman’s grandchild was likely too young to be playing GTA…

Quick Catch-Up

I’m working semi-feverishly, trying to get all my work-related writing done (or at least this phase of it) by the weekend of the 18th so I can take a week off for Christmas travel with a clear conscience. Don’t think I’ll quite make it, especially since I came home today to find my wife vomiting in the downstairs bathroom, and I’ll be pretending I’m a single parent (with one surprisingly mature and very sick child along with the standard six-year-old) for the next couple of days.

Not to mention that Half-Life 2 is teh awesom. As the young folk say.

In a mad attempt at writing something not related to nutrition or video games, I’ve put up a review for the bizarre Indonesian horror movie, Mystics in Bali, at my other endeavor, The Bad Movie Report. If you see only one movie about a woman’s head flying around with its entrails hanging below, looking for newborn babies to eat, this should probably be the one. Or maybe Polar Express, which I think is the same thing.

Holiday Gift Guide, Part One (and hopefully only)

Lightning Reaction – Shocking Game of Skill was found, appropriately enough, at Apparently one of a series, as there is a special deal if you buy Lightning Reaction along with its companion game, Shock Roulette. It’s like that video game the Bond villain had in Never Say Never Again, only horribly, horribly real.

It’s not all destructive lawsuits-waiting-to-happen, though. Stupid also sells a nifty zero blaster that will work very well in the retro SF movie I plan to make. And believe it or not, I’ve been looking for one of these for a couple of years now.

Wow, Another Personal Milestone

When you’re like me, pushing 50, new personal milestones don’t tend to be good in nature – in fact, they’re to be actively dreaded. Oh, there are some upsides – first grandchild (still years in my future), perhaps – but rarely do they come as such a surprise, as did last night’s.

A bit of background: for close to six years, I worked at a dinner theater that performed murder mysteries on the weekend. I quit last summer, but agreed to sub in as needed over the holiday season. Last night was such an occasion, at a private party. Now, over the holidays, when a lot of offices hold their Christmas parties, the mystery of choice is one called Let’s Kill the Boss (big surprise, right?). Like a lot of these comedy murder mysteries, it’s populated by cartoon characters and humor less sophisticated than a Looney Tune’s. I had the peach role, the hateful boss of the title, which means I exit, festooned with various plastic knives, at the end of the second act and spend the remainder of the evening listening to my Nomad Zen.

But not last night. At the end of the first act, one patron came backstage (luckily, when no one was dressing – I nearly came to blows with a drunken patron last year over that particular breach of etiquette and good sense) and asked us to “tone down the sex stuff”. Now, the Boss show is considered our most blue show, and prime time television still meets or exceeds most of the stuff on display there, but heck, we figured out what needed to be excised in the next act.

We never got to it. In the middle of a complex comedy bit which was to lead up to my murder, two people rose from their seats and physically stopped the show. After a moment of confusion and no small amount of anger and bewilderment on my part, we changed into our civvies and eventually retired to the hotel bar, waiting for the patrons to finish their meals and leave so we could go in, pack up our show, store it, and go home ourselves.

Intriguingly, some of the folks in the room made a point of seeking us out and – well, not apologizing, as “I don’t know what their problem was, I was enjoying it” isn’t exactly an apology, but it went a long way toward dispelling my resentment. Doubtless the actual problems will eventually filter down the grapevine to me, but whatever the reason, the result will always be the same:

After 27 years of working in professional theater, I have played to houses that dwindled through the night. I have done shows for a house that started with twelve people and were reduced to five by show’s end (at curtain call, I shook each and every one of their hands). I have been at shows that have been cancelled due to sudden illness or lack of audience. But last night was the first, the very first time that an audience has risen from their seats during the show and called, “Hold! Enough!”

Then again, last night was also the first time I’ve had an apple martini, and that was good. Not quite balance in the universe, but I’ll take what I can get.

Even More Rumble Roses in the News

The Brits may not get Rumble Roses for PS2 until next year, but they do get models doing cosplay, at least according to The Sun Newspaper Online – UK’s biggest selling newspaper. This may not be safe for work, considering one picture of a model wearing a costume that’s little more than body paint.

That photo of the model dressed as Miss Spencer, the kneepad-wearing shoolteacher, though – that one I want as wallpaper.

Hey, I Know – Let’s Talk About Movies For A Change

The Houston Chronicle picked up a Knight-Ridder wires story: – Fed-up film fans getting interested in geography. The story itself doesn’t have much to do with film fans, past a desire for the alliteration of four f-words in a row. Rather snarky in delivery, it’s about a growing discontent among filmmakers who are told to make Toronto stand in for various American cities.

You know, I’m a sap. I’ll generally buy in to whatever pack of lies a moviemaker asks me to swallow, just like if I go see a theatrical presentation of 12 Angry Men, I know I’m not looking into an actual jury room. Movies that are awash in genuine location and atmosphere tend to rely on that locale as an uncredited actor. It’s nice if you can do that, but is it always necessary? In the back of my head I know that a lot of CSI:NY I am seeing is not shot in New York, but it doesn’t stop my enjoyment of the series.

This bears all the markings of a slow media news day.

UCC Commercial Flap Revisited

Nathan Shumate, who seems at times to be responsible for half the writing on the Internets (well, the good parts, anyway), sent this link about the Universal Church of Christ commercial semi-controversy that is burning up the Blogosphere, if not your local news outlet: The Baron of Deseret: Church Advertising. It is, indeed, as Nathan promises, a thoughtful Mormon take on the matter, and manages to put forth a rational, fundamentalist religious statement without the screeching hatred present when most Protestant fundamentalists address homosexuality. A lot of people who consider themselves spokesmen for Christ should read and consider this.

The matter has also been getting a lot of secular play at Joshua Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, where the point of contention is not so much inclusivity as a maddeningly vague network policy: what is and is not “advocacy”?

Field Trip Time

My wife is one of two women running a private school for children with dyslexia. Currently the school is located three or four blocks from a BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, or temple, which has been under construction for some time… the grounds are, in fact, still under construction. The temple itself was blessed a few months ago and services have been ongoing for some time.

This photo in no way does the temple justice. Posted by Hello

The kids have been studying India, so my wife decided a field trip to the nearby temple was in order. I tagged along to take pictures for their website. That wasn’t hard, given my longtime interest in Eastern religion.

With unerring accuracy, we arrived during the tour guide’s lunch hour, but the security guard, obviously having heard the spiel many times, did a very good job of guiding us around to the various parts of the temple, and explaining the iconography.

It is requested that photos not be taken inside the temple. Respecting their wishes, I powered down the camera – but I could have easily filled up my SD card inside. Words are a poor substitute for the beauty within, where every square inch of marble seems to be full to overflowing with intricately detailed carvings of gods and demigods. Look up, and be overwhelmed by the magnificent sculptured domes, where representations of the lotus blossom, a cosmic spider web, or sixteen separate gods look down benignly upon you.

Everything in the temple is of current vintage – the marble still pristene and white – but the tradition of centuries seems to wrap itself around you as you enter. There is a marvelous feeling of peace there, though the kids were mainly confused by the concept of polytheism – but it was, overall I think, a positive experience for them.

Though not according to one mother, who upon hearing of the field trip, demanded to know if my wife was going to tell the Hindus working at the temple that “they’re wrong”. Another heavy sigh-provoking moment for me. My wife also reports that there was some bad feeling toward the temple in her church discussion group… after all, this graven-image packed place was obviously an abomination. This is the sort of thing that makes my head throb violently. I may be one of the few heathens actively looking forward to Judgement Day (in whatever form your religion says it will come), simply because it will put a stop to all this useless bickering and proselytizing. I’ll be the one laughing over there, especially if it turns out that Mumbo Jumbo, the Lord of the Jungle was pulling the strings the whole time.

Well, this entry got very dark very quickly. Perhaps I need to go back to the mandir, to partake again of the peace of ages, or to take that long put-off trip to the local Buddhist temple, in the rather forlorn hope that simply walking in will provoke a mighty incense-laden wind, blowing away all this bad emotion and karma hanging about me. I’d stand a little straighter, I imagine, and breathe more easily.

Be nice if it worked that way.

Heavy Sigh Time

Jesus accepting gays too hot for NBC, CBS – Dec. 1, 2004

“It’s ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all major networks, an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial,” said Rev. John Thomas in the statement.