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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Genesis II

Gene Roddenberry tried (a few more times) to launch another sci-fi television series. Genesis II (G2) is the pilot approved by CBS. The premise is a 20th century man wakes up 154 years later to find a post-WWIII world. Things looked promising. A season's worth of scripts were written. But the nod went to a rival project, a series based on Planet of the Apes. G2 wasn't a theatrical release, but a made-for-TV movie. (hence the script cover in lieu of a poster) TV movies are normally outside the scope of this project, but G2 is included as a nod to Roddenberry and his Star Trek creation that would be many theatrical releases. There is also a root, in G2, to the 1979 film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Alex Cord and Mariette Hartley star. Many actors from the original Trek series also appear.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Scientist Dylan Hunt has new suspended animation process which might allow people to explore distant stars or save sick people until cures are discovered. He tests the chamber out himself. While suspended, an earthquake buries the chamber (in Carlsbad Caverns). He is found in 2133. He is nursed back to health by a pretty woman, Lyra-a (Hartley). She tells him how after a third world war, the underground-dwelling people who found him are called The PAX, but are really war mongers trying to repair 20th century weapons so as to dominate peaceful surface dwellers, the Tyranians. She is a Tyranian spy (and a 'mutant' with two belly buttons, for no good reason). She convinces Dylan to escape PAX. They travel on horseback to her city of Tyrania. Dylan surprised and put off by how the Tyranian underclass are fearful of their masters. The Tyranian council demand that Dylan fix their aging nuclear reactor. He refuses, so becomes one of the slave class. There he meets a revolutionary cell, by PAX spies. They want to spirit Dylan back to PAX. Dylan tricks Lyra-a into admitting that she loves him. So, now she's conflicted. Using a chaotic uprising as cover, they flee. Dylan lets himself be captured so the PAX team can escape. He agrees to fix their reactor. Later, Dylan shows up at PAX headquarters. They fret that the Tyranians will be arming old nukes that will destroy PAX. Dylan says he rigged a warhead to blow up nuclear plant. It blows up. The PAX leaders scold Dylan for taking any lives. He somewhat agrees to become a pacifist, and flirts up a new girlfriend. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The look and feel of G2 is very reminiscent of Star Trek, TOS. For fans of TOS, that's fun. Many of the actors and actresses had parts in TOS episodes, adding to the reunion feel. Roddenberry's wife, Majel Barrett, for instance, has a minor role as female Primus. She played nurse Christine Chapel in TOS and many of the movies. In TG, the ambiguity of just who can be trusted, adds some depth that is rare in television scripts. The zoomy "sub-shuttle" was clearly Roddenberry's new solution (in lieu of a starship) for getting his characters into far-flung adventures around the globe.

Frozen Roots -- The opening premise, that of a man 'frozen' and awakened later in the future, was far from new. Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle slept 20 years and awoke to a post-revolutionary America. H.G. Wells wrote of his time traveler who zaps into earth's dark future. A technology race lives below and a 'rustic' race lives on the surface. Comic strip Buck Rogers, of 1928, was frozen (suspended animation), to awake in 2419 A.D. Rogers finds a rebel group who want his help fighting the oppressor group, the Hans. Just Imagine ('31) had "Single-O" wake after 50 years to the amazing world of 1950. The Man With Nine Lives ('40) had Boris Karloff waking after 10 years. Return of the Ape Man ('44) had a caveman thaw to a new world. World Without End ('56) had a crew of earthlings zap ahead in time to a post-WWIII world, which also featured a group of sciencey 'normals' living underground, and cavemen / mutants living above. Of course, the whole Planet of the Apes cycle began with another crew of earthlings zapped ahead to earth's post-WWIII future. The second film, Beneath also featured a group of science-y humans with cavemen on the surface. Roddenberry wasn't blazing any new trails with G2, but reviving a traditional trope.

Sex is Saved -- It is amusing to see 70s swingerism reassert itself. The people of PAX were all happy with their "unisex" culture. No more lust, passion and all the conflict that caused. So says the mousey Harper-Smythe. Perhaps the children Dylan heard singing were all in-vitro. Dylan's hunky shirtless bod (scientists must have done some serious gym time back in the 70s, apparently), manages to melt the ice queen, Lyra-a, into a blabbering doubt-riddled school girl. Then, not long after Dylan, the leaven of lust, contaminates the sexless PAX society, young people start necking again. Though it's worth noting that the Primus who points out the neckers did not seem too upset at sudden abandonment of their decades-old sexless philosophy. Oh well. Even the formerly frosty Harper-Smythe, looks Dylan up and down, smiles and blushes at Dylan's flirtations. Yay, sex is saved by a hunky 70s scientist !

Mariette's Two Navels -- Legend has it, that network executives would not let Roddenberry show Mariette Hartley's navel in the Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays." As a sort of inside-joke comeuppance, Roddenberry directed makeup to give Mariette TWO navels this time and he showed them. The whole double-circulatory system bit had no other role in the story. It seems it was all just a tweak to get a full-frontal shot of Mariette in a plaid bikini, showing off TWO belly buttons. Take that, network execs!

Roots of V-Ger -- G2 provided some material for 1979's Star Trek, The Motion Picture. One of the (unused) episode scripts, "Robot's Return," featured cyborgs coming to 2133 earth looking for the "gods" that created them. The cyborgs were 20th century astronauts who got cyborg-ized along the way. Even this 'lost' episode seems to draw from a TOS episode, "The Changeling" (1967) with hybrid space probe "Nomad" finding (it thought) its creator. All this factors into the plot of ST:TMP and the return of long-lost Voyager.

Try Again, and Again -- Roddenberry did not give up on his future-world series idea. Undaunted that CBS chose apes over his idea, he went to ABC. They liked the idea enough to authorize a pilot. Roddenberry reworked one of G2's scripts. It aired in '74 as Planet Earth. A falling out between Roddenberry and ABC execs scuttled the series. A third iteration was created, retitled as Strange New World ('76). Still, no series. But, it was clearly not for lack of Gene trying.

Bottom line? G2 is very Trek-like in many ways, including the cast, so Trekkies will find things to like. It's a notch above average for a made-for-TV sci-fi movie. The pacing is brisk enough, and the plot twists enough to keep it from being too predictable. It's not cinematic art, but it is entertainment.


Randall Landers said...

Excellent analysis, and extreme bonus points on mentioning STRANGE NEW WORLD!

The double-belly button thing never made any sense, and I'm glad you pointed that out.

Lastly, good move to point out ST:TMP came from "Robot's Return" from G2 which came from "The Changeling."

Nice work!

Nightowl said...

Glad you liked the write-up. G2 turned out to be more interesting than I thought it would. It's Star Trek roots run deep, but since it's a Roddenberry creation, there's no surprise in that, eh?

Randall Landers said...

Even The Questor Tapes has strong Star Trek roots. G2, PE and SNW are Star Trek with a Buck Rogers-style beginning, the subtrain replaces the starship, and the different villages the PAX team encounters replace the different planets.