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Doctor Who – The Wheel in Space (1968)

wheelinpaceA despondent Jamie tells the Doctor to pilot the TARDIS wherever he likes. When the TARDIS lands at its next location, the Doctor has trouble getting a visual until the monitor bombards him and Jamie with images of beaches and waterfalls. The Doctor remarks that the TARDIS has landed somewhere dangerous and is trying to get them to leave – which raises the question of why it hasn’t done that many, many, many times before or since, but in this case it may be really justified since the TARDIS literally overheats. Outside they find themselves on a spaceship that seems deserted and drifting in space. The Doctor wants to leave, but can’t since he needs mercury to repair the TARDIS. Suddenly, unseen by Jamie or the Doctor, a robot jettisons several pods from the ship and begins piloting the ship toward an international space station. Catching attention of the stowaways, the robot menaces the Doctor, but Jamie disables it using a torch-like device of the Doctor’s, the time vector generator. Unfortunately, the TARDIS has been sealed behind the door and the Doctor was injured when the ship was accelerated.

On the space station, the crew finds out that the ship approaching the station is an off-course supply ship. The station’s controller, Jarvis Bennett, wants to use the station’s laser to destroy it, afraid that it may collide with the station. The debate over whether or not the ship should be investigated or destroyed between Jarvis and the station’s doctor Gemma Corwyn is interrupted when the station’s communications are overwhelmed by static. It’s Jamie trying to use the generator on the ship’s defective communication equipment to try to let out a signal. The Doctor, who has fallen unconscious, and Jamie are rescued and tended to Dr. Corwyn. Jamie nervously tries to convince Dr. Corwyn that they were passengers, but she isn’t convinced, especially when Jamie calls the Doctor “John Smith.” Dr. Corwyn enlists the station’s librarian, Zoe, to show Jamie around the station and see if he shows any suspicious behavior. Dr. Corwyn and Jarvis suspect the Doctor and Jamie might be saboteurs from a fanatical group back on Earth that opposes all space travel. Jarvis’s suspicion are inflamed when Jamie sabotages the laser when it’s about to be used to destroy the supply ship in order to protect the TARDIS.

One of the crew members sees a Cybermat, which infiltrated the station through the pods jettisoned by the ship’s robot, and, in a stupid moment worthy of a slasher film, thinks it’s an alien bug from one of the fauna he takes care of for the station and puts it in a closet, where it destroys the material bernalium needed to power the laser. Meanwhile the Doctor meets Zoe, who calculates through her knowledge of mathematics that the ship could not have flown off-course all the way to the station without an outside agency to guide and refuel it. Finding out about the Cybermat invasion, the Doctor pleads with a skeptical Jarvis to believe that the Cybermen are involved, but the Cybermen are completely unknown to him and evreryone else. At the very minute, the Cybermen, under the broadcast directions of a Cyber Controller, have brainwashed two crewmembers checking the ship for bernalium and stowed away in the crate.  Later the Cybermen and the brainwashed crewmen repair the laser, insisting that an incoming meteor shower must not harm the station. Their plan is to convert the station into a base that could transmit a signal for their fleet, helping them to invade the Earth and strip it of raw materials. When the Doctor finds out that crewmen had been to the rocket, he deduces that the Cybermen have infiltrated the station – too late, though, as one of the crewmen under their control kills himself in order to short out the station’s communications.

Jarvis has had a breakdown, basically leaving control of the station to Dr. Corwyn who oversees while the crew uses the now repaired laser to fend off the meteor shower. The Doctor suspects the Cybermen had deliberately caused the meteor shower; indeed it was, just in order to test the type of weapons Earth has. Dr. Corwyn is killed by the Cybermen, but not before she manages to tell the Doctor that the Cybermen are planning to poison the station’s oxygen supply, allowing the crew to switch to a protected emergency supply. Seeing Dr. Corwyn’s corpse snaps Jarvis back to sanity, only for him to be killed as well. But before the invasion can really get under way, the Doctor uses the generator to boost the laser to the degree that it could be used to blow up the Cybermen’s flagship. Meanwhile Jamie and one of the crewmen manage to jettison a few invading Cybermen out into space. After all is said and done, Zoe insists on traveling with the Doctor and Jamie, but the Doctor is reluctant and, to show her what she would be in for, the Doctor uses a device to project images on the screen to warn her how dangerous his travels is (and specifically uses scenes from “The Evil of the Daleks”).

Choice Quotes

Doctor:  Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority.

Our Future History

In this unspecified future, not only is there a massive space station and space travel is fairly routine, but mind control is apparently a common enough issue that there is specialized equipment for treating and sensing it.

Continuity Notes

No one the Doctor encounters in the space station has heard of the Cybermen. Nor has Zoe heard of the Daleks, even though this story, despite not taking place in a specified time, almost certainly has to take place after “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” (unless there was a giant space station when all the bad stuff went down in that series and no one wanted to come down to Earth to deal with the Daleks, which is understandable).

The Doctor remarks at the start that he’s caused the TARDIS’s interior to “become an ordinary telephone box again”, which really doesn’t fit with…well, anything. Seriously, I got nothing.

Mercury is also what the Doctor needs for the TARDIS in “The Daleks.” It’s the first time the Doctor goes under the alias “John Smith,” although it’s completely Jamie’s idea.

Comments

An isolated compound, a stern authority figure who is suspicious of the Doctor and has a breakdown under stress, monsters organizing a siege…is it possible to come down with a fatal case of deja vu?

To be fair, there are things about “The Wheel in Space” that make it stand out. The new companion  Zoe gets a good introduction, even if her complaints that she had a “blind reliance on facts and logic” was a cliche even at the time of the episode (especially for female science-y characters).  And for the most part the crew of the station are well-defined, more fleshed out than they needed to be.

And yet…maybe it’s because I’m biased against the Cybermen as villains, still not finding them that interesting or even all that different from the Daleks, but the whole saga fell flat to me.  The most enjoyment I had was from the effects they used to show the Cybermen falling into outer space, which, with all due respect to the special effects crew on “Doctor Who” and the harsh limitations they had to work through, looked like they were smeared under a microscope glass slide.

To end on a positive note, this is the first outing for the most popular companion/Doctor team of the Second Doctor era, and it’s already a strong one with good scenes already between Jamie, Zoe, and the Doctor (the Choice Quote above being from one of them).  Plus it’s not only the first appearance of Zoe, but of fan favorite, Zoe’s butt, which, yes, has its own Facebook community.

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Uncategorized

Trash Culture Goes to the Movies – Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991)

To be honest, I’ve really been kind to the first two Puppet Master movies, solely because I’m inclined to be generous to Full Moon Video. Only Chaos! Comics rivals them in my nostalgic slack-giving. Come on, these were the closest things I had to friends when I was growing up!

Anyway, while I did genuinely have a fondness the last two movies in the series, III is the first I’ve seen that I’d really recommend to people, even those who aren’t huge b-movie buffs. The story is better constructed with no out-of-nowhere elements and well-rounded characters that are more than just plot devices, the puppetry is even better with maybe only one or two brief moments where the effects wizardry falters, and it’s even the rare prequel that actually adds something substantial to the mythos. Well, okay, there’s still a lot of continuity clumsiness, but a Puppet Master movie without inconsistent continuity would be like, well, a Puppet Master movie without puppets.

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For instance, this movie opens in Berlin in 1941 (what is it with Charles Band insisting that Toulon’s death take place exactly fifty years before the viewing audience’s time?). Toulon is putting on a puppet show that shows a new puppet, Six Shooter, who has six arms with one gun each (hey, NRA, I found you a mascot!), threatening and then shooting at a Hitler puppet. So, yeah, Toulon is putting on a show…where Hitler cowers while being shot…in Nazi Germany…at the peak of World War II…although to be fair you wouldn’t know that part watching the movie. I mean, freedom of speech is great and all that, but it does look like Andre Toulon is begging for a one-way trip to a concentration camp.

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This does raise one question:  is the Hitler puppet animated? If so, what happens to him? And why can’t we have a sequel where the puppets battle Hitler-puppet?

Admittedly, it’s not just the openly held puppet shows with the Führer getting shot that seals Toulon’s fate. A Doctor Hess (it’s Mr. Pitt!) has been commissioned by the SS to devise a formula that will animate the corpses of fallen soldiers in order to use them as human shields. However, the bodies are only reanimated briefly and, well, basically act like post-Romero zombies. Breathing down Dr. Hess’s neck is a SS commander, Krauss (Richard Lynch!), who himself is feeling the pressure to produce results from General Mueller. Given that in at least half his scenes General Mueller is enjoying orgies, it looks like he’s on loan from a typical Nazisploitation movie. Really, if this movie has one flaw, it’s that it lacks a cameo by Dyanne Thorne.

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Krauss, however, is too much a hardass for even the Nazis, probably because he’s played by Richard Lynch. He wants to kill Toulon tout suite, despite Hess’s protests that Toulon might fill in the missing step that keeps his experiments from being successful. So when Krauss’s SS squad is dispatched to capture Toulon, Krauss ruthlessly guns down Toulon’s beloved wife, Elsa, when she spits at him, much to the surprisingly naive and delicate Hess’s horror. On the way to prison, Toulon manages to escape from his Nazi captor thanks to his killer puppets. Finding refuge, he vows to his puppets, “No mercy, my friends! No mercy!”  Indeed, Toulon quickly proves his ruthlessness by sending his puppets into a mortuary and they kill an innocent worker while Toulon takes the brain fluid of his late wife, injecting it into a puppet those who’ve seen the last two movies would recognize as Leech Woman.

Does this mean the puppets contain at least part of the consciousness and personality of the people whose brains were harvested for their animation?  Yes, yes it does, but we’ll get to that.

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After Toulon sends Six Shooter to take out General Mueller (who dies post-coitus, of course), he takes the identity of a beggar and hides out in an alley. There he runs into Peter, an adolescent fan of his show, and Peter’s father, who are also on the run from the SS after Peter’s mother was arrested as a spy. Toulon allows them to take refuge too, but this proves to be a mistake – doubly so. Peter’s father goes to Krauss to try to bargain for his wife’s freedom in exchange for Toulon’s location, while Peter is tricked by Hess into leading him to Toulon.

Here Toulon (who, by the way, doesn’t discount that he wouldn’t send his puppets to kill Hess later) does reveal to Hess the origins of his puppets as he explains that for the animation process to work the brain fluid has to come from an individual with the will to continue living. They’re not only fueled by brain fluid, but, at least in some sense, they do absorb the personality of the individual whose fluid is transferred to them (which really makes Leech Woman’s fate in II extremely dark, as well as confusing considering that Toulon also thinks he’s found Elsa’s reincarnation, but anyway…). Not only did Toulon transfer his late wife’s mind to Leech Woman, but the other puppets (except maybe Torch, who is conspicuously absent) were animated from the remains of friends of Toulon’s who were all killed by Nazis.  First, damn, does this put events in II in a whole new light (no wonder the puppets turned on Toulon so violently!). Second, it even darkens Toulon’s character in this movie. We don’t really see how much of the original people’s personalities and memories are retained by the puppets, or if any of the people turned puppets gave their consent before dying (we know Elsa didn’t, unless it was agreed upon in one of the most awkward conversations between spouses in history!). Whether or not the screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner meant it, Toulon doesn’t exactly come across as heroic, even if you do find yourself rooting for his bloody revenge spree.

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When Krauss and his SS goons show up, both Peter’s dad and Hess are killed, but Toulon and his puppets manage to flee. This (and not making for the Prussian countryside ASAP) proves to be a fatal oversight for Krauss, who meets the puppets face-to-face in his own office, including Blade, who presumably has been animated through what’s left of Hess and has a face ironically modeled after Krauss’s. The meeting doesn’t last long, as Toulon puts his skills toward giving Krauss a particularly agonizing death as the star of his very own “puppet show.” Next we see Toulon using Krauss’s papers to leave Germany with Peter for Switzerland and then the United States, unaware that the Nazis are still hunting him…

I know it won’t last – trust me – but so far the sequels have been topping the other. And for a series notorious for chucking continuity into the trash, III‘s presentation of Toulon does make it believable that he could turn into the madman, callous toward human life and even his beloved puppets, we encounter in II – no longer having the vaguest of Eastern European accents in III notwithstanding. At least it’s more believable than thinking the villain in II is the same guy as the kindly, meek old man in I. Making Toulon a morally ambiguous hero even in the shadow of the Nazis (and Richard Lynch being his most deliciously psychopathic) does set up a pretty interesting narrative that goes beyond its “avenging my dead wife” premise. It definitely makes for a better horror movie. In that regard, it also helps that the movie, beyond the requisite gore, actually has a few genuinely disturbing scenes:  a zombified suicide who shot himself in the head trying in vain to repeat his fatal action, and Toulon looking on passively as the newly animated Leech Woman, carrying what is left of his beloved wife’s consciousness, convulses and groans on a table.

And really just seeing a Puppet Master movie that pits the killer puppets against Nazis is a lot of fun, bottom line. It will be interesting to see what directions the franchise goes in now, and hopefully Full Moon won’t just mine the same old ground over and over again…

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Oh, dammit…

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Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – Fury from the Deep (1968)

furyfromthedeepThe TARDIS lands in the ocean near an English shore, causing Victoria and Jamie to remark (in rather annoyed tones) that they always seem to show up in England. They find a steel pipe funneling gas mined from the ocean and a lid which the Doctor opens using his sonic screwdriver (first time!). The Doctor becomes interested in a strange heartbeat-like sound, but his investigations are interrupted when the Doctor and the companions are shot by a tranquilizer gun. Right as they wake up they find themselves inside a control center whose manager, Robson, accuses them of being saboteurs hired to tamper with an emergency release valve. Less hostile is a chief technician, Harris, who explains that they lost contact with one of their rigs and the pressure in the pipelines has been dropping. Harris gets interested when the Doctor explains he heard a strange noise indicating movement in the pipes, but Harris swears it’s impossible for marine life to get inside them. Nonetheless, Robson has the Doctor and the others detained in a cell. Victoria is able to jimmy open the lock with a hairpin and stumbles across a masked man releasing gas from the pipes. The man locks her in, where she’s seemingly attacked by foam coming in through an air vent just before the Doctor and Jamie release her. Meanwhile Harris’s wife, Maggie, is stung by seaweed while retrieving a file for her husband and becomes ill.

Robson arrogantly resists the efforts by Harris and others to slow down production, despite the mounting evidence that something is causing the pipes to be blocked. In the living quarters of the complex, two strangely acting workers, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, enter Maggie and Harris’s apartment claiming that they’ve come for an inspection. The men emit a gas (from their mouths, you juvenile) that causes Maggie to lose consciousness. The Doctor, who Harris brought to check on his wife, deduces that Harris was the intended victim of both the stinging seaweed. As Robson continues to lose his sanity under the crisis, the Doctor and the companions in the TARDIS run tests on the seaweed, finding that it’s capable of movement and feeds on the natural gases on the floor of the North Sea, converting them into a toxic gas. In the TARDIS library, the Doctor finds references to such creatures in the North Sea from the eighteenth century. Later the Doctor deduces that the seaweed is parasitic and can control its host. The Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie return to the Harris’s apartments to report their findings, only to be attacked by foam that fills the apartments, but they narrowly escape, which still unnerves Victoria. Less lucky is Robson, who gets some gas courtesy of Oak and Quill. When Robson disappears, Harris is forced to take charge.

The Doctor and Jamie try to investigate a shaft and rescue a worker who fell into it, but are forced to flee when they encounter the creatures and more foam. The emergency reaches such a crescendo, with more rigs falling out of contact, that Megan Jones, the director of the gas company, comes to the control center. Megan is skeptical, but Harris still tries to convince her to get the government to bomb the rigs. Robson interrupts them, shouting “We won’t allow it!”, the oddne of which erodes Megan’s doubt. After Robson rushes away, the Doctor appears and theorizes that Robson is being controlled. Jamie finds an unconscious Victoria, who identifies her attackers as Quill and Oak. A convinced Megan listens as the Doctor theorizes that the seaweed is trying to form a massive colony out of the rigs and that its ultimate goal is to invade the surface of the British Isles. The Doctor advises against involving the military and having the rigs bombed, since the rig workers might be needlessly killed and the seaweed might survive and only be spread. Instead the Doctor, seizing on the fact that Victoria saw a seaweed-controlled person, notes that the seaweed acted to avoid pure oxygen. Meanwhile Jamie pursues Oak and Quill, who have been trying to release the control center’s supply of oxygen, and fights them, with Quill getting knocked out. However, the Doctor thinks it was the sound of Victoria’s scream, not the Doctor’s punch, that took out Quill. Using an amped-up recording of Victoria screaming and the pipes themselves as a transmitter, the Doctor drives the seaweed back and a mission to strike at the seaweed’s “nerve center” is a success, despite the Doctor’s awful attempt at flying a helicopter. Robson, Maggie, and all the others controlled by the creatures are freed and unharmed. Still, exhausted by the constant fear and danger she has been subjected to, Victoria elects to stay behind with the Harrises, noting that she lost her home and family in her own time. After she and Jamie say goodbye, the TARDIS leaves while Victoria watches from the beach.

Choice Quotes

“You always seem to land on this planet!”
“And it’s always England.”

-Victoria and Jamie.  (Characters pointing out odd things in the plot is not unique to our postmodern, ironic age.  It does seem like later on and in the “new” series writers get around this by implying that there are lots of TARDIS trips that we don’t see.)

“Doctor, why is it that we always end up in trouble?”
“Why, Victoria, it’s the spice of life, my dear.”

Continuity Notes

Victoria leaves the TARDIS crew.

This is the last of the “lost episodes,” but it’s also one of the hardest hit by the BBC slashing and burning its own archives. Pretty much the only way to experience the episode is through finding a fan reconstruction online or through the BBC’s official audio play.

Comments

Okay, so “mind-controlling seaweed that spews foam” does sound intolerably goofy, but here…it works. I don’t know if it’s the black-and-white or just how the show handled it, yet it’s true. Even though this story taps into many tropes that have already become well-worn in this era of the show (highstrung authority figure who is paranoid and has a breakdown, the Doctor and the companions being suspected as the enemy at first, monsters attacking an isolated complex, any one of the survivors might be a traitor/under mind control), this serial actually has an effective, creepy atmosphere – just see any scene with the ominous Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill – with a threat that’s truly completely alien, no matter how you describe it. The Second Doctor really did have a penchant for Lovecraftian villains (even if it was largely because Lovecraftian villains, depending on what interpretation you run with, tend to be budget-friendly).

If a particularly nerdy genie offered me a wish but limited that wish to which of the lost serials I’d like to see completely restored, it would be this one – well, next to Evil of the Daleks. It’s episodes like this that help explain why the show in its humble beginnings had the reputation of giving British kids nightmares.

As for Victoria, she generally isn’t well-remembered, at least compared to Jamie and Zoe, who we’ll meet next time. She was sort of a backwards-looking heroine, in the sense that she screamed and was captured and menaced a lot, although I am convinced it was deliberate on the writers’ part – after all, she was a woman from the 19th century named “Victoria.”  It is interesting to note that she does get more of a sendoff than any past companions except arguably Susan – by which I mean, she gets a sendoff at all.

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Video Games

Home Improvement: The Game: Part 1

It’s been a while since I indulged myself in the medium of video games. But, as any Trash Culture historian knows, while today the argument that video games are an art form is stronger than ever with hundreds of indie designers and games having ample memory to convey complex stories, there was a time when the video game market was flooded with shameless cash-ins, some more bizarre than others. This makes that era of gaming rich in trash culture fertilizer. Hence we have Home Improvement:

Home Improvement (U) [!]000Yep, they made a game out of family-friendly sitcom Home Improvement.  Sadly it’s probably the closest we will ever get to a real-life Full House: Tournament Fighter.

Alas, it’s not a tournament fighter, or a dating sim where Jonathan Taylor Thomas has to lose his virginity before he graduates high school, or a Grand Theft Auto clone where Al, pushed too far by Tim’s abuse, goes on a rampage through the Detroit suburbs’ upper-middle-class white ghetto. No, this was the age when most cash-ins were platform jumping games in the Super Mario Bros. vein, no matter how little sense it made compared to the source material. As a result, you can supplement your Wayne’s World experience by having Garth leaping around and firing lasers at walking drums! Okay, to be fair, they weren’t all like that; as teethgrindingly bad as the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Nintendo adaptation was, at least it actually did have you play Bill and Ted traveling to different time periods and looking for historical figures. As for how they handled Home Improvement…well, was there ever an episode where Tim Taylor fought animatronic dinosaurs with a chainsaw that can produce deadly sonic booms?

Home Improvement (U) [!]018To be honest, the show wasn’t really my bag.  I know it still has a following and actually got some credit for doing a better job of handling the husband-wife dynamic than other sitcoms of the time, but I was never a fan, so who knows? Maybe Tim Taylor was inept at household repairs but was proficient at turning power tools into highly advanced death-dealing devices that can take out entire armies. Now that would be a Very Special Episode.

As for the game itself…it pretty much makes almost every list of Crappy Video Game Adaptations out there, so of course I had to play it. My initial impression was, meh, I played worse. The prologue, which rivals today’s epic cut scenes in its length, tells a tale that actually shows that somebody at least gave ten minutes of thought to the plot rather than the customary two minutes you usually see in these adaptations. Tim Taylor and Al are about to have a special episode of “Tool Time” where he introduces a new line of power tools made by his sponsor, but they’ve been stolen right when the show’s being aired! Naturally they’ve been hidden on different neighboring television show sets, the first of which is populated not by any staff, but by killer animatronic dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures.

Home Improvement (U) [!]002Two thoughts:  1)  I didn’t think, “Wait, “Tool Time” is filmed alongside some show with million-dollar animatronics that are left to run amok?  I say, that’s preposterous!”, but, “Wait, the audience has to sit around while Tim fights dinosaurs with a nail gun? I say, that’s preposterous!” 2) If Al doesn’t turn out to be behind the tool theft and is the game’s final boss, I will be sorely disappointed.

Once you grab your first weapon, a nail gun (meaning the game could double as a very loose adaptation of Nail Gun Massacre!), you find you can actually aim in most directions. The controls are fairly fluid.  But then the crap begins to seep in. The first enemy you encounter is a tiny caterpillar that can be tricky to see because of the colorful background and which can be tricky to kill because, surprise, you can’t really aim at a downward angle.

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Even that’s excusable, but then you see how much punishment the bigger enemies, especially the T-Rex, can take. It takes what feels like 20 shots to take down the T-Rex, which kind of sucks because they charge at you on top of spewing not very scientifically accurate fireballs and you usually encounter them in areas where you can’t really maneuver yourself well.

But your real enemy is…the stone walls. In Stage 1-1, they’re almost everywhere, hiding both items and sections where you have to go to get through the stage. It probably takes about as much time to smash through a real stone wall as it takes to shoot your way through in this game.

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And as you might have noticed, you have these obstacles and apparently steel-plated enemies and then there’s a time limit, the bane of old-school video games. Oh, and I forgot to mention, your goal isn’t just to get from one side to the other side of the stage. No, you have to find five boxes, containing Tim’s missing tools which are hidden around the stage. The game does give you a bit of saving grace by giving you, if you stand still for a few seconds, an arrow will point you in the general – very general – direction of the box you’re closest to.  Unfortunately, even Stage 1-1 is a bit of a maze, with multiple levels and quite a few nooks and crannies.

If having to run through mazes searching for specific items, shooting your way slowly through walls, fighting enemies with weapons that barely hurt them while having a time limit dangling over your head already sounds like “fun”, well, what clinched it for me was this little pitfall.

There’s an underground part in the bottom left corner of the stage.  There’s a pit on the leftmost side that looks like it would let you drop down to another section, but you’d be wrong…DEAD wrong (to the programmers’ credit Tim can sort of look down, but it only really works when the game feels like it). It almost looks like you can jump back up to a higher ledge, but, well…

Home Improvement (U) [!]012You have to nab one of the essential tool boxes down in this section, so it can’t be a spectacularly cruel beginner’s trap. It turns out the solution is…

Home Improvement (U) [!]015How was I supposed to know Tim could do that?! “Find the instructions online and read them, jackass,” you might say. Funny you should (hypothetically) mention that…

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Okay, it’s a cute (and weirdly accurate) nod to the show, but, yeah, real man or not, you do kind of need them to get that you have a grappling hook (and have to use it pretty much at the start).  And that you don’t have a life meter, but that your “health” is determined by how many screws you’re holding (kind of like Sonic and his rings).  And that you can make an arrow helping you find the tool boxes appear by standing still, which I probably wouldn’t have figured out myself if I didn’t have to make Tim stand still to take screenshots for this write-up.

So is there any reason to turn to this game to get your nostalgic 16-bit platformer fix?  Well, the controls aren’t bad and…that’s about it.

When you lose a life you get a quick scene where Tim’s sons revive him like a beaten boxer, so…you can’t even play to get the satisfaction of killing Tim Taylor over and over again.

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Like with Spiritual Warfare, I’m going to sail this ship all the way to the iceberg. So see you next time!

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Literary Corner

Trash Culture Literary Corner: Batman & Robin, Chapters 6-7

It’s pretty much a matter of rare nerd consensus that the most unpleasant incarnation of Batman is Frank Miller’s version in All-Star Batman & Robin, or “Crazy Steve” as Linkara christened him.  Now that I’m seeing him fleshed out in this book, though, I think Batman & Robin‘s Batman might be a contender.

“Where’s Alfred?” they asked simultaneously.
The bell rang a third time.
Suddenly, Alfred appeared behind them.  “I must have dozed off,” the butler explained – and not without a certain embarrassment.  As he confronted Bruce, he looked painfully contrite.  “My sincerest apologies, sir.”
Bruce held up a hand and smiled.  “First time in thirty years, Alfred.  I think we can find it in our hearts to overlook it.”

Okay, I get that the intent here is to show Bruce trying to ease Alfred’s discomfort with humor, but still, it’s almost like joking, “Oh, Alfred, do it again and I’ll have you shot like the worthless, crippled horse you are!”  Ah well, at least he didn’t ask if he was retarded.

On second thought, maybe having that particular interpretation of Batman involved would be the best thing for this book.  Can you imagine post-insanity Frank Miller’s ASB&R going up against the punny movie Mr. Freeze?  Get a fan fic writer on that, stat.

I know I’ve been hard on Michael Jan Friedman, even though he’s really just the victim of an unenviable writing assignment – and the need for an artist to get a paycheck in a capitalist, post-industrial society, of course.  He won over my sympathy especially because he needed to have this scene introduce Barbara Gordon Wilson, who is on a technical level the film script’s own walking, talking biggest misstep, what with her entire introduction and character feeling like an afterthought.  As much as I still love the Tim Burton movies, they did leave B&R in the lurch in this regard, making Commissioner Jim Gordon such a non-entity that introducing his daughter as Batman’s new partner could only come flying at the speed of sound out of left field.  Still, there were various ways a good scriptwriter could have gotten around all that.  But, alas, a good scriptwriter B&R did not have. Making her instead Alfred’s niece was a lazy patchjob that, as we’ll see, robs any drama from Barbara’s decision to become Batgirl.  (As with so much of the Joel Schumacher movies, comparing the big-budget Hollywood movies to what the plucky animated series was doing with the same material, in this case making Barbara Gordon first becoming Batgirl a desperate bid to save her father, is helpful. Or depressing. Let’s go with depressing.)

Batgirl

 

Part of the problem too is that Batgirl’s character, fitting to her “Oh damn, I just finished an entire draft of the script but the studio just said we gotta throw in another element of the franchise here” secret origin (so I presume), is that she’s so cookie-cutter. She attends a snotty boarding school, yet she secretly does stunts on motorcycles!  Yep, she’s got Strong Independent Woman (TM) written all over her tights.

And, to give him credit, Michael Jan Friedman does what he can here. He fleshes out Barbara’s connection to Alfred, elaborating that Barbara isn’t really Alfred’s niece, but the daughter of his lost love, Margaret Clark (not a character from the comics, but I think the name does come from a DC editor). Of course, how Margaret’s husband and Barbara’s actual father handled his wife’s old flame having a paternal relationship with his daughter isn’t explained, although I like to think Friedman is hinting that Barbara might actually be more than Alfred’s niece. At any rate, it is a nice bit of characterization for Alfred – leaving some things to the reader’s imagination, while detailing both Alfred’s sense of honor and feelings of regret.  Too bad it doesn’t really do much for Barbara “Wilson.”

On the villains’ side, we find out that Mr. Freeze commits crimes to try to save his cryogenically frozen wife, who was dying of a rare disease. But he might also be a little bit insane.

“Do you think I’m mad, Frosty?”
Frosty wrung out his sleeves. “That’s really a judgment call, Boss. Not for me to say.”

Okay, I genuinely liked that bit, notwithstanding that Mr. Freeze dubbed his henchman “Frosty.” Too on the nose, doctor!

But it doesn’t help that we get hints of the tragic version of Mr. Freeze, yet buried under an avalanche (see, I can do it too) of puns.

Freeze scowled.  “To be frozen. To never change. A life of perfect ice-olation.” [Ow. -Ed.] He shook his head. “There is no perfection in that.”

As for Poison Ivy and Bane…ah, I didn’t really talk about Bane last time, did I? That was probably B&R‘s greatest sin among the fanbase: turning a villain who was a genius bruiser, who broke Batman’s spine, into a mindless, voiceless henchman. Personally I thought it was even worse that the whole implication was that Poison Ivy couldn’t be a threat unless she had a superstrong thug at her beck and call.

The driver hesitated for a moment. Then he chuckled and turned around in his seat. His nostrils flared, drinking in what he must have thought was some exotic and expensive perfume.
“Okay,” he said. “what is it?”
“Don’t look now,” she whispered provocatively, “but I think you’re about to be replaced.”
The man looked at her quizzically. “Huh?”
Suddenly, a hand reached in through the open window – a huge hand – and snapped the driver’s neck. Then his door opened, and he was dragged out onto the pavement.

Basically, it really didn’t take long for the mousy and somewhat ethical scientist we met to become a serial killer. I know that’s an issue with villain origin stories in movies, but…well, I’d be the first to admit that if I ever got superpowers I’d probably go on a revenge spree, but even I’d probably feel a little bad about offing bystanders (well, at least at first).

[Bane] was about to put the engine in gear when the door beside Pamela opened again – and a man in a business suit slid in. […] “I’m sorry,” he said weakly. “There must be some mistake-” Pamela smiled. “Silly darling, there’s no need to pretend in front of the driver.” Grabbing his face, she kissed him passionately. By the time she let go, the man was dead. As he slumped to the floor, Pamela reached over and opened the door. Then she pushed him out with her foot. He slid to the ground beside the limo driver. “Love hurts,” she advised the corpses as she closed the door. “In my case, it kills.”

Groan.

Although, of course, I wonder, would Poison Ivy’s powers of pheromone seduction work on lesbians? Or conversely would they work on gay guys? I guess we’ll find out. (Sorry, it’s Joel Schumacher, so…I had to work that joke in somewhere).

Finally, the two chapters conclude with what was actually a deleted scene from the movie, where Pamela confronts Bruce Wayne at the ceremonial opening of the Giant Chekhov’s Gun…I mean, Gotham Observatory. We meet Julie Madison, who was Bruce Wayne’s love interest and even fiancee way back in the early years of the franchise when Batman was fighting werewolves and breaking criminals’ necks. But she basically just exists as a walking reference, so we can move on to Poison Ivy, who tracked Bruce Wayne down because he had at one time funded Woodrue’s research but stopped because Woodrue was a “lunatic,” manages to hand him a proposal for environmental reform, which appalls Bruce.

“Your intentions are noble,” Wayne conceded. “But with no diesel fuel for heat, no coolants to preserve food…millions of people would die of cold and hunger alone.” Pamela shrugged. “Acceptable losses in a battle to save the planet.”

So, I guess in Schumacher’s DC Universe Wayne Enterprises is the only business in the world that provides fuel and refrigeration? Anyway, Pamela has a public breakdown worthy of a PETA member.

“You’re so smug in your towers of stone and glass,” Pamela went on. “So ignorant of Mother Earth and her ways, so blind. A day of reckoning is coming. The same plants and flowers that saw you crawl from the primordial soup will reclaim this planet. Earth will be a garden again,” she told them. “Somehow, I will find a way to bring your man-made civilization to its knees. And there will be no one to protect you. No one.”

I really don’t want to turn these posts into “Ways In Which the Animated Series Handled the Franchise Better than the Schumacher Movies,” but…

Plus I know I complained about how even the animated series characterized Poison Ivy as an ecoterrorist, but even that worked out better than what we have here.  When Poison Ivy is introduced, we see she spent years planning to murder a man simply because his actions indirectly threatened an endangered species of flower. That at least makes her warped view of environmentalism into a pathology worthy of Arkham Asylum. Here, though, she just comes across as a bad political blogger’s strawwoman of an environmentalist or a reverse “Captain Planet” villain.

Oh well, at least she’ll be inexplicably acting like Marlene Dietrich soon, which is…an improvement?

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