Sunday, June 19, 2022

Pitch Black (2000).

For the longest time, I thought this was a Dan O'Bannon film.  I'm pretty sure of where I got the idea.  Over at the Moria Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Film Review site, there is a neat set of retrospectives taking a look at movies such as Dark Star, Alien, Heavy Metal, and Total Recall.  The one thing each of these films have in common boils down to just a name: O'Bannon.  He's become something of a known-unknown quantity for today's filmgoers.  He's a name that sounds familiar, like a memory on the very tip of the tongue.  It's just that no one can think of a good reason why that should be the case.  These days almost everybody can recall the impact left on them by Ridely Scott's haunted house film in space.  They might have a bit of trouble recalling every last scrap of that film's opening credits, however.  

No matter how iconic the damn thing is.  If any names stick out among that film's cast and crew, then it's a pretty short list, mainly consisting of the usual suspects.  There's the First Lady of Cinema Badasses herself, of course: Sigourney Weaver.  Then there's our favorite Chest Burster victim, the legendary John Hurt.  Beyond that, the memory palace is sometimes able to reserve reservations for the rest of the film's cast who lent their talents on-screen.  Names such as Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, and Veronica Cartwright.  A few may even recall the name of H.R. Giger, the man responsible for bringing the Xenomorph to life.  Beyond this, the rest is a blank, including who wrote the damn thing.

Such is the ironic fate of Dan O'Bannon, the man who wrote the original screenplay for Alien.  The fact that he has to dredged up from the clouded swamps of the attic storage files means that not only has the man (if not his legacy) been half-forgotten, it's also sometimes easy to confuse his own work with that of others.  This is what happened to me in the case of David Twohy's Pitch Black.  What happened is Richard Schieb, the owner and operator of, posted the following question at the start of a review:

"One of the great mysteries of the 1990s and 00s was “What ever happened to Dan O’Bannon?” As scriptwriter, Dan O’Bannon made two grandslams in the 1970s with the scripts for Dark Star (1974) and Alien (1979). O’Bannon then went on to deliver some fine hard-edged scripts, including the likes of Dead & Buried (1981), Heavy Metal (1981), Blue Thunder (1983), Lifeforce (1985) and Invaders from Mars (1986), before making an excellent directorial debut with Return of the Living Dead (1985), which inverted George Romero’s Dead trilogy with a cheerful punk cynicism. However, in the 1990s, Dan O’Bannon almost entirely dropped from the cinematic radar. There were a number of scripts with his name attached – Total Recall (1990), Screamers (1995) and Hemoglobin/Bleeders (1997) – but all of these were old scripts that had been reworked by other writers (web)".

In just a single paragraph, Schieb has given the reader what has to be one of the most succinct summaries of the ups and down's of one of the most distinguished, yet unjustly neglected careers in the history of movies.  For the purposes of this review, however, what it did was get cross-wired somewhere in the old memory banks.  The result is that I labored until just recently under the assumption that O'Bannon was the one responsible for helping to bringing Vin Diesel to a wider audience awareness after his first big break with Spielberg the year earlier.  Turns out I was dead wrong, while also being kind of right.  It's true that O'Bannon never had a thing to do with Pitch Black, however, I'm not the first one to see a link between him and the Diesel film.  Perhaps I'd better explain.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Cage of Light (1984).

Not long ago, I made first introductions to an obscure piece of media.  It was a long forgotten radio program, known simply as Nightfall.  One of those fly-by-night creative experiments of the early to mid-1980s.  Looking back now, I almost want to call it the last Golden Age of artistic achievement.  It was a time when there always seemed to be enough loose change lying around, with enough imagination left over to spare.  The result was this brief, yet vibrant span of time for the entertainment industry worldwide.  It was a window of opportunity where the basic rule of thumb was, if you can dream it, try and see if you can make it real.  As a result, part of the charm of the 80s was that it was something close to the last time anyone thought of trying to take a chance on the now rare, anthology show format.  That's the kind of show where there's no single cast of characters, or plot, and instead each episode of the show is dedicated to a simple, stand-alone story with a definitive beginning, middle, and end.  It's became a near endangered species in an age devoted to franchise tent-poles of higher budgets and lessening returns.

While the format is practically a collector's antique these days, it still remains one of my favorite types of programming.  I think part of the charm of the anthology format is that it's the one media style that comes closest to the experience of reading a story in its purest form.  By that I mean simply that the best thing about an anthology series is that it comes closest to the experience of picking up one book, living within its pages for a span of time, and then being lucky enough to find another story, just as good as the one that came before, just for different reasons.  There must have been some sort of mutual wavelength going on back then.  As the 1980s appears to have been something close to the last final bow for the genre anthology.  I think part of what explains this is that a lot of the people who grew up as young kinds watching shows like The Twilight Zone, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents came away inspired by what they saw, and now that they were established names in the industry, they wanted to revive the particular creative thrill each of them got out of  the efforts of format pioneers like Rod Serling.

It helped in no small part that the original Big Three TV networks who were responsible for giving us shows like The Outer Limits, and One Step Beyond, were now eager to try and see if each of these old war horses still had some life in them.  Could the old, gray mare still run with the input of some new blood, in other words?  By and large, the answer to that question seems to have been, pretty much, yes.  That's how we wound up with a slate of new and improved anthology shows, such as the first (and so far, the most successful) reboot of the Zone, along with new offerings such as Tales from the Darkside, or Steve Spielberg's Amazing Stories.  Even good ol' Uncle Freddy Krueger got his own Tales from the Crypt style series for a brief span of time.  In fact, however crazy that sounds, let it at least stand as a good example of just how the networks were willing to take risks on real, actual creative challenges.

This spurt of creativity didn't apply solely to the Idiot Box, however.  The format of dramatic radio, what some have referred to as the Theater of the Mind, was also able to get in on the act.  In addition to shows like The Ray Bradbury Theater, the full cast audio performance began to find the start of a new footing for itself, after a long span of dormancy, which started sometime in the early 60s.  By the time the 80s rolled around, the OTR format was beginning to show signs of stirring back to life.  It was a revival composed of many parents.  For the purposes of the article, the creator we have to focus in on is known as William Lane.  If the name has any familiarity to a few of you reading this, then it's because we've already covered his efforts once before.  Lane was the primary wunderkind behind the Nightfall radio dramas.  A good way to sum up his achievements there is to claim that Bill Lane might have been the man responsible for bringing the legitimate Gothic story of Horror and the Supernatural back to the airwaves.  It's the sort of achievement that no one ever talks about, and barely anyone remembers, all the while going on to leave ripple effects across the genre and various mediums for ages to come.

I suppose it's safe to claim that Nightfall remains Lane's chief claim to fame.  It was his baby, and he found the right way of raising and treating it that catapulted them both into a minor, yet genuine, form of the stratosphere.  Even if that's the case, it's still a mistake to treat him as the radio equivalent of a one-book-wonder.  In addition to Nightfall, Lane seems to have had one other long lasting endeavor to his name.  Much as he'd done for the Horror genre in his first big breakout series, he then went on to pay the same compliment to the related, literary strain known as Science Fiction.  The title for this new, spaced out anthology was The Vanishing Point. In many ways, this seems to have been a natural outgrowth of Lane's earlier efforts.  The Nightfall series ran from 1980 to 83.  By that time, Sci-Fi and Horror where reaching a height that they've never been able to achieve since.  Lane picked up on all this, and his successful effort in audio Tales of Terror must have left him eager for more of the similar.

It's been difficult, if not impossible, to find a sufficient amount of background material to this anthology.  In that sense, Vanishing Point is very much in the same boat as its earlier, sister show.  Each of them is an unjustly neglected, under-documented aspect of real life history, and so we've let each of them slip way back in the corridors of memory.  This makes the critical historian's task a bit more difficult, though not always insurmountable.  The most reliable facts available are that "Vanishing Point was the CBC’s follow-up to Nightfall, which had instilled new life into its many regional drama centers.  Like that series, Vanishing Point drew from the CBC's entire coast to coast network, gathering together the CBC's finest production, engineering, writing, and acting talent to mount one of the better radio dramas in CBC history.  

"While primarily a science fiction series, the anthology presented a wide range of genres, including thriller, horror, detective, psychological drama, comedy and even the occasional musical.  A number of episodes were adaptations of short stories from famous authors like Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl or Evelyn Waugh, but many were original plays from Canada's top talent.  Bill Lane workshopped plays from the winners of various Canadian literary competitions as a way of "reaching the audience by developing the talents of new playwrights (web)". And that, believe it or not, is all the background information I can find on the whole thing.  The only other interesting piece of trivia I've been able to find was something dredged up by accident.  It was a brief promotional line for the show.  It's tagline was promoted as: "The point between reality and fantasy (web)".  One critic goes on to describe it in the following terms: "Don’t expect to make sense of -these- as you would any other show. These stories are taken from the dream state that you slide into at night, just out of grasp of your senses, completely surreal, but in the dream, it makes every bit of sense… The shows are designed to confuse and twist; they have small meanings that resonate only with the dreamer’s subconscious (ibid)".

What's interesting about this circumstance is the way it can have of creating a proper sense of mystery surrounding the whole production.  It's one of those neat little unsung endeavors that fly under the radar during its moment in history.  Then it re-emerges as a relic of time at some later date, leaving an interesting enigma for people to wonder about.  That seems to have been the legacy of Vanishing Point.  In order to get better acquainted with it, maybe the best way of making first introductions is by taking a look at one of the show's sample offerings.  It's a first contact yarn, known simply as, Cage of Light.