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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Planet Earth

Gene Roddenberry was not one to give up easily. His series idea, Genesis II almost happened in '73, but not quite. He mooshed some things around with the premise and characters to try it again as Planet Earth (PE). Dylan Hunt (John Saxon) is still the 20th century scientist awakened in the year 2133, to a post-apocalyptic world. The PAX people are still there, and most of the same themes. The sets and shooting locations are reused too, so PE is almost a remake more than it is a sequel to G2. This pilot also did not result in a series, but Roddenberry did not give up. He would be back with another remix. This time, Dylan Hunt is played by John Saxon. Janet Margolin plays Harper-Smythe. Ted Cassidy returns as the "white Indian" Isiah. Diana Muldaur plays the ice queen Marg. Majel Barrett gets a tiny tiny role as a central command officer.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A narrator recaps the first quarter of Genesis II to explain Dylan Hunt, 20th century man, revived in 2133, now a member of the peace-loving people of PAX, the only city not destroyed by the nuclear war. They explore the strange new planet earth via their Sub Shuttles. On one such recon mission, their patrol is ambushed by Kreegs -- a brutish militaristic race of mutants. Pax's leader, Pater Kimbridge is gravely wounded. Hunt and his team must find a particular surgeon to save him. That surgeon was lost in a land of Amazons who keep men as servile slaves. Hunt has Harper-Smythe pretend to want to join their Amazon confederation, with Hunt posing as her captured male slave. Marg, the alpha-female, decks HS and steals Hunt to sell him in the slave market. There, Hunt finds the rest of his team, drugged into frightened servility. Don't eat the food, warns Baylock. Hunt avoids the food. However, he gets drugged directly by Marg. She buys him, but HS returns to challenge Marg for ownership. They fight like girls. HS wins. Marg invites her and Hunt to her ranch. Hunt fights the drug. There, they find the missing doctor, Conner, who pretends to be drugged. He gives Hunt the antidote. They plot an escape. Conner spikes the tainted gruel pots with his antidote, then leaves. Hunt flirts with and tries to seduce Marg, except the wine puts her to sleep. The next day, the Kreegs attack Marg's ranch, having captured HS and Conner too. The male slaves, no longer drugged, join Hunt and his team in fighting the Kreegs to protect the women. They win. The women then agree that maybe 'real' men could be handy and agree not to drug them anymore. Hunt and his team return in time for Conner to operate on Kimbridge and save him. Smiles all around. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
There is a nostalgic sort of movie serial quality to the setting and the action. This would be fitting since PE was intended as a television series. The script still offers some more thoughtful undercurrents that keep it interesting. There is an earth-bound Star Trek quality to PE.

Cultural Connection
Evil Military -- In keeping with the cultural mood of the early 70s, the villains are an almost flagrant caricature of the military. The Kreegs (a play on the German word, Krieg, meaning "war"?) dress in uniforms (jumpsuits), wear battered helmets painted gold and tote rifles. The Kreegs are said to be dim-witted mutants left over from the old pre-apocalypse world with an aptitude only for machines and warfare. They speak in broken english, have dull faces and call each other "soldier." The Kreegs give an interesting picture of how liberal post-Vietnam America saw soldiers.

Non-Violence -- An overt theme in PE is that of heroic non-violence. Only the Kreegs shoot to kill. Hunt's team have tranquilizer dart pistols. In a very representative vignette, Isaiah picks up one of the fallen Kreeg's rifles. He almost uses it to fire back at the Kreegs who pursue them, but doesn't. Instead, he smashes the gun against the cave walls. There ya go. Swords into…scrap. In another scene, HS is shocked when she thinks Hunt is going to stab and kill a fallen Kreeg. Viewers may recall from G2 the vow of non-lethality the Pax folk have. Fists and fighting, however, seem to be okay. Even petite HS is shown as pretty good in a fight.

Subtle Chauvinism -- Despite the overt facade of women-in-charge, the script of PE is quietly male chauvinist. The women talk of female domination as "the natural order," but rule the men by drugging them. Despite the high minded words about the superiority of woman-rule-culture and the terribleness of male-rule-culture, the women's world is no better. There's oppression, disrespect and even petty fighting over just about anything. Then too, note how the ladies paw admiringly at the bodies of the hunky Pax team while on the auction block. The women might rule, but a hunky shirtless male body melts them into kittens. Then there is the implied reality that all women -- even Amazons -- ultimately want to be mothers. "I'd give half my fields for a baby," says one. Their drugged males have no…um…zip, so the birth rate has been falling. In the end, it is the hunky outsider men who show the women what "real" men are like. Hunt, in the Kirk-esque role, is the super-suave male who defrosts even the ice queen, Marg, turning her into a silly giggling girl.

Trek Underground -- The "glue" that would connect the various episodes was to be the Sub Shuttle. Like the starship Enterprise, the Sub Shuttle system would whisk the characters off to strange 'new" places each week. The post-apocalyptic world would be imagined as isolated islands of strange wonders, each handily located near a Sub Shuttle node. The Pax science teams would be a repeat of the "Away Team" format so successful in Star Trek. That is, if the series had been picked up.

Losing to Apes -- Network execs did not opt to put PE into production. Instead, ABC went with Planet of the Apes. This series did not fare too well and was dropped. It is interesting that the Kreegs were much like the gorillas in the Apes saga -- brutish and militaristic.

Never Give Up -- Roddenberry would not give up yet. He would re-recast his idea for another try, this time with the title, Strange New World a year later. His concept in G2, PE and SNW would be re-cast yet again to spawn the television series Andromeda in 2000. There, a Captain Hunt (!) and his crew are frozen at the edge of a black hole, only to return to normal time to see their Commonwealth has been taken over by brutish militarists. They strive to restore the utopian order. Sound familiar? Roddenberry (and family) had tenacity.

Gas Power -- A minor point of interest is that the Kreegs use wood gasifiers to make the old automobiles run (since gasoline refining would have long since disappeared.) The old cobbled-together vehicles (no newer than the mid-60s, one can note) have a Mad Max quality to them. Curiously, after 150 years, all the rubber parts (tires and belts) are imagined to still be working fine.

Bottom line? PE is perhaps the weaker of Roddenberry's attempts, though still entertaining. The acting is pretty good for a television pilot. While some of the messages are overt to the point of being hammy, others are neatly subtle. PE is worth a watch if one is a Trek fan, or a fan of post-apocalyptic movies.