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Old April 8 2010, 01:28 PM   #1
23skidoo
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Rediscovering the Starlost

Over the Easter weekend I treated myself to finally picking up the DVD set of The Starlost, the infamous low-budget TV series of the 1970s.

It was primarily a nostalgia purchase. I know all about the story of how creator Harlan Ellison was so PO'ed at how the show turned out that he had his name taken off the credits and his personal "Alan Smithee" name, Cordwainer Bird, put on. And how the show has come to be a bit of an embarrassment to SF fandom. But I didn't care. I was born in 1969 and the earliest TV series I ever remember watching were Planet of the Apes and The Starlost. And I hadn't seen an episode of Starlost since I caught a rerun in the 1980s.

I've watched the first two episodes and so far I'm finding myself enjoying it. The super-cheap, chromakey special effects are pretty bad. But then again, I've watched dozens upon dozens of episodes of Doctor Who, Blake's 7, Sapphire and Steel, and other UK-based SF shows and the effects are no better, no worse than what these popular, classic shows were putting out in the 1970s. In fact there were a few effects in Starlost that actually turned out quite well for the time. Apparently it was recorded in a local television studio in Toronto -- not much different than how early Doctor Who was produced in various corners of BBC TV studios in London!

And while it may be the most ungainly SF vessel ever created (surpassed only by the Millennium Falcon), the Earth Ship Ark was still pretty cool to look at.

Also, I found it amusing that I watched the first episode of Starlost only a couple of days after seeing the start of the new V's "spring season". And in 1973 the actors spent most of their time on virtual sets, acting to green screen and being superimposed onto miniature sets. And in V they do exactly the same thing! Morena Baccarin and her aliens spent most of their time in empty rooms with computers placing them into virtual sets. The only difference is you can see the join a bit easier on Starlost.

The writing on the first couple of episodes wasn't bad. I always give shows benefit of the doubt their first few weeks as they settle down. The stories follow the "people first, science second" approach that made Star Trek work. And I just started watching the third episode -- based upon a story by Ursula K Le Guin, of all people! -- and aside from the (unintentional?) gay innuendo that I found rather surprising, the basic plot was classic Star Trek. John "Kor/Baltar" Colicos plays the leader of a group of men who somehow managed to genetically remove women from the mix, until Rachel (the female lead) turns up and is forced to marry him -- in Star Trek the only difference is you'd have Kirk on a planet of women. Silly, yes, but no more so than some first-season Trek TNG!

And yeah yeah, I know all about the chortling that emerges whenever terms like "solar star" are uttered. I remember my science-teacher Dad going ballistic about that way back in 1973. There's also a reference to a "radiation virus" in the second episode that's just as bad. But frankly if you can accept the idea of starships going faster than light, explosions being heard in space, and the idea of a police box travelling through time, a few weird terms aren't that big a deal in the end.

The acting? Well, that too is variable. Keir Dullea tries his all, but Gay Rowan (Rachel), while still as hot as I remember her, is very green as an actress and isn't helped by the fact she spend much of her time "acting to nothing" in front of the green screen (or blue or purple or whatever color they used back then). Robin Ward played the muscleman of the group and looks, sounds, and acts just like Peter Lupus in the old Mission Impossible. In fact as this aired on NBC after M:I went off the air I'm sure some people thought he WAS Peter Lupus.
The first episode had Sterling Hayden of Dr. Strangelove fame as the villain, and I kept expecting him to begin ranting about precious bodily fluids!

The last piece of the puzzle is William Osler, who plays the Ark's computer. He plays it with a bit of a smart-ass quality that immediately called to mind Holly from the later Red Dwarf. In fact, I think the creators of that show had to have been inspired by Starlost in some way.

There's a Trek connection here too as Walter Koenig appears as a recurring villain in later episodes. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

A cool extra feature is a "presentation reel" showing how Starlost was originally planned to look. Obviously budgets got slashed because the reel looks nothing like what was finally broadcast!

In other threads I've remarked that I got myself a plasma 720 HDTV over Christmas, in part due to the fact I love watching older shows, most of which won't look very good on LCD or 1080 sets. Starlost, which has been remastered (as in picture quality improved, not TOS-style revision) looks quite good on the big set, given its all-video production style.

Starlost isn't a classic by any means, but so far I'm enjoying revisiting it. It gets knocked about quite a bit -- some criticisms being just, and others I think a bit unfair given the era in which it was made -- but I think it's worth checking out as a noble if failed experiment by North American producers in creating what is basically a UK-style SF serial. Frankly, I think if this had been made by the BBC, with Terry Nation's name in the credits, and produced exactly the same way it was, we might consider it a cult classic. But in the world of splashy, US-style shows that existed at the time -- like Planet of the Apes, Six Million Dollar Man, etc. -- Starlost came off looking like the bastard child, which is a shame. If you look closely at the Ark, you can see one of the "biophere domes", for some reason, sits at a 45-degree angle to the rest. It makes the Ark look a bit off-kilter, and that's a good way to describe the series: off-kilter.

Unless you're as nostalgic as I am, I wouldn't necessarily recommend buying the DVD set as a "blind buy", but if you approach it with an open mind (and, preferably, some experience with BBC SF shows of the 1960s and early 70s), I think it's worth a Netflix rental or checking it out if it happens to be available on Hulu or similar service.

Alex
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Old April 8 2010, 04:21 PM   #2
Vonstadt
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

Wow a major blast from the past. I remeber this show from when I was a kid, and I always kind of liked it. I would pick it up and watch it....prolly will look for the DvD's and watch it, see it from an adult perspective now.

Like I did with U.F.O., which turned out to be a lot of fun doing.

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Old April 8 2010, 05:11 PM   #3
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

I watched the series last year, I think there was a thread about it. Its not as bad as one might think, and any SF fan should watch it once. I watched Pandorum thinking about Starlost...its a modern, action retelling of the show...with a couple of twists at the end.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1188729/



PS There was an effort to revive the series on CTV!


http://thecanadianpublic.com/?p=26

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Old April 8 2010, 06:09 PM   #4
Forbin
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

OMG, you're right about the Peter Lupus thing! I hadn't realized it until you said it!

I just finished watching the show a few weeks ago. It was as I remembered it - "nice try," but, at times, pretty laughable. The miniature scenery was SO obvious, a problem that was only exacerbated by using a video camera with almost NO depth of field. I asked my wife if she wanted to watch some episodes with me and she said "God no, seeing it once 30 years ago was more than enough!"
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Old April 8 2010, 09:24 PM   #5
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

RAMA, where did that picture come from? It looks really cool.
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Old April 8 2010, 09:32 PM   #6
King Daniel Into Darkness
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

The Starlost really makes you appreciate every single other sci-fi show in the history of man.

"Horrible" isn't the word.

Space Amish.

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Old April 9 2010, 12:05 AM   #7
Gary Mitchell
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

I'm too young to have seen the show when it aired. I rented the first dvd when Netflix got it. I really wanted to like it but I couldn't even get through the first episode.
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Old April 9 2010, 12:08 AM   #8
Mr. Adventure
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

When the DVDs came out I was excited to try out an interesting "unknown" 70's series but it was pretty terrible.
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Old April 9 2010, 12:20 AM   #9
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

I remember when the show debuted. Some in the media even called it "the son of Star Trek."

Yeesh! I watch the first two or three episodes and it was an embarrassment then.
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Old April 9 2010, 01:04 AM   #10
RAMA
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

Mr. Laser Beam wrote: View Post
RAMA, where did that picture come from? It looks really cool.
http://www.cinemagia.ro/filme/pandorum-34356/imagini/

http://static.cinemagia.ro/img/resize/db/movie/03/43/56/pandorum-469992l-imagine.jpg
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Old April 9 2010, 01:20 AM   #11
Nerys Myk
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

I have only dim memories memories of the show. Perhaps for the best?
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Old April 9 2010, 02:19 AM   #12
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Re: Rediscovering the Starlost

Nerys Myk wrote: View Post
I have only dim memories memories of the show. Perhaps for the best?
Consider yourself fortunate.
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