Thursday, June 5, 2014

“Marooned” and the Challenger disaster . . . unavoidable connections, fair or not

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 12:31 PM

One of my all-time favorite SF movies was on Turner Classic Movies last night, “Marooned,” which is the harrowing story of three American astronauts trapped in their orbiting ship, after a mishap traps them in orbit. Unable to return to Earth, it is up to NASA to somehow figure out a way to get them safely home before they run out of air.

“Marooned,” filmed a year before the Apollo 13 mishap, was based on a novel by Martin Caidin, a man who knew a thing or two - or several hundred things - about not only flying, but about the space programme in general.

Ultimately, the decision is made to send an older rocket up to rendezvous with the Apollo-style capsule.

All of which brings me to my Challenger moment . . .

At one point, a frazzled NASA crew chief says to Gregory Peck, playing the head of the space organization, that there is simply no way they can get the rocket ready on time, what with the hundreds of pages of checklists they have to go through.

“I’ll show you how you’ll get it done,” says the NASA administrator, who promptly leans over and rips page after page after page out of the book. “That’s how you’ll get it done.”

It’s one of my all-time favorite movie scenes, but honestly, every time I think of the space shuttle Challenger, I remember that scene, and am more than a little weirded out.

******
NASA and the Freemasons

On the cable channel still laughingly referred to as the “History Channel” I learned this week that many of those connected with the early days of America’s space programme were . . . gasp! Masons!

Thus, the goal of the Mercury program was less about beating the Russians in the Space Race than it was fulfilling some ancient prophecies, or contacting ancient space people that only the Freemasons/Knights Templar knew about.

Something like that. After a while, the less sense it makes, the more your eyes glaze over and you sink into your recliner in a stupor . . .

Well, what can you expect from a channel which treats Alex Jones like he is an expert on anything?

*****

Dive! Dive! Dive!

My father was stationed in England in the mid-1960s, so I was already a big science fiction fan, courtesy of “Fireball XL5" and “Doctor Who.” But when “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” began running, I just fell in love with the whole notion of Monster-of-the-Week shows.

The series was based on the movie of the same name, though I didn’t see the movie for many years afterward. It concerned the adventures of the futuristic research submarine Seaview, and its creator, Admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart - “The Satan Bug”). It was captained by Lee Crane (David Hedison - “The Fly,” “The Lost World”).

Every week the Seaview and her crew would face foreign spies, monsters from the depths and whatever other evils that producer Irwin Allen could find to throw at them. The first season, for those who keep track of such things, was the best of the four. Shot in black and white, the stories were often fairly gritty tales set in a cold-war background, along with the occasional science fiction elements. Later seasons were shot in color.

And what a submarine! It had transparent steel plating in the observation room, so that the crew - and TV viewers - could see what was happening outside the ship, and it came equipped with a diving bell and a mini-sub for exploring.

Of course, later seasons saw the advent of the magnificent Flying Sub, a vehicle which operated both in the air and under the sea. Sadly, though, the later seasons of the program were marked by inferior writing, and Irwin Allen’s bizarre belief that if we did meet aliens, they would somehow have skin that looked like it was spray-painted on.

It’s not “Run Silent, Run Deep,” but it is pretty good Saturday afternoon fare, especially for an Irwin Allen production. Allen seemed to start out strong on shows, and then sort of lose interest in their quality as time went on.

Too many irons in the fire, perhaps?

The show was able to use many of the props and footage from the movie, and from other Irwin Allen films. In fact, one episode, “Turn back the Clock,” is a silly mishmash of a minimal plot using scenes from “The Lost World,” in which Hedison also starred.

The extras are minimal, though amusing. The pilot episode, “Seven Days to Zero,” is shown in color, and there is a wonderful promo film that Irwin Allen made for ABC execs touting “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” showing scenes supposedly from the upcoming season.

But they aren’t. They are all from previous Irwin Allen films. I guess the executives just weren’t paying attention. Network executives not paying attention?

Gee, go figure.

Those interested in reading novels about the Seaview crew can find three novels. Two are simply called “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. ” The first, by Theodore Sturgeon, is a novelization of the film. The other, put out by Whitman Publishing Company, in their “Authorized TV Adventure” line, is written by Raymond F. Jones, whose writing served as the basis for “This Island Earth.” This novel is not only the best that Whitman ever put out, but is superior to most of the episodes of the show.

If you can find this book, you are in for a real treat. It’s a book that both adults and young people can enjoy, even 40 years after it was first published. It’s hard to find, though.

The last book, “City Beneath the Sea,” is total garbage, written by a man who once wrote a novel called “Rape is a No No,” for The Man from O.R.G.Y. spy novel series.

It’s just Saturday afternoon stuff, but you know what? It’s better than a lot of what passes for entertainment on the Sy Fy Channel these days. Sad to say, that’s kind of like my yardstick when I review some of these shows.


****

Quote of the Day

I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. - Oscar Wilde

rsdrake@cox.net

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