Posts Tagged ‘’60s’

‘The Invaders’ invades DVD

May 26, 2008

One of the creepiest of ’60s TV series, The Invaders makes its long-awaited DVD debut with a first-season box set from CBS Video. Since the show was a mid-season replacement, debuting in January of 1967, that first season, or half-season, ran 17 epsidoes, but by today’s standards that’s virtually a full season. The Invaders would return that fall for a full season and another 26 episodes.

Its premise echoed the “running man” setup of another series produced by Quinn Martin, The Fugitive. Only in this case, it wasn’t a man unjustly charged with murder but architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes), who was in the wrong place at the right time and witnessed a saucerlike spacecraft landing on Earth. (We’re told in offscreen narration it’s from “another galaxy.” Riiiight. Try “interstellar” or “another star system”. It would take the aliens millions of years traveling at light speed to cross the gulfs between galaxies.)

Naturally, hardly anyone believes Vincent, and it doesn’t help that the aliens, when killed, instantly disintegrate. Even so, Vincent utterly devotes himself to his mission to track down and thwart the furtive alien invasion.

This premise often echoes It Came From Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in that the aliens walk among us in human form. And the production is first-rate, including impressive guest stars such as Suzanne Pleshette, William Windom, Roddy McDowall, Ed Asner and Dabney Coleman. Thinnes also is a strong lead character, known more for steely resolve than frantic desperation. In other words, he didn’t overact. He also looks good — cool, even — as a dapper 70-year-old in onscreen interviews for the new DVD (which also offers commentary, network promos and an extended version of the original pilot).

Also impressive is the show’s first-season composer, Dominic Frontiere. He’s the same man who composed perhaps the greatest TV score ever, for the first season of The Outer Limits (1963-64). In fact, that music was so good that he used it again throughout The Invaders’ pilot episode (as he’d also done in 1965 film Incubus, and sometimes in The Rat Patrol). But after that he used mostly new music.

One piece of Outer Limits music persists on The Invaders. Just as the theme music to Star Trek: The Motion Picture became the theme to TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, Frontiere’s theme for a single Outer Limits episode became the theme for The Invaders as a series.

I’m speaking of the opening musical theme, used throughout Season One. That music was first used in the final Outer Limits episode of Season One, The Forms of Things Unknown. It was actually shot as a pilot for a new anthology show (which never was produced) called The Unknown (clearly geared more toward gothic fantasy than Outer Limits’ sci-fi). Since Frontiere never got to use it as an ongoing theme for The Unknown, he made it the theme for The Invaders.

By the way, Frontiere’s ex-wife, who recently passed away, was Georgia Frontiere, owner of the Los Angeles — then St. Louis — Rams.

At any rate, The Invaders is quality sci-fi TV from a time when the only other such worthy series was the original Star Trek (which also shares many Outer Limits elements). So savor Thinnes’ running man. He may not have won much support while defying invaders, but he’s certainly worthy of yours.

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‘Trek’ refit is winning enterprise

December 3, 2007

I know what you’re thinking: You love classic ’60s Star Trek, but you’ve seen it — and bought it — over and over. First you taped it off the air, even editing out commercials, while chafing at the minutes you lost from increased ad breaks. Later you picked up single-episode VHS tapes, as sale-priced as you could find them, but still averaging $10 or so. Finally you got all three seasons on DVD when they debuted in 2004, and at under $70 each. At last!

Yet you still haven’t seen and owned Star Trek at its best — not until you’ve glommed its first season on its new Combo HD and Standard DVD.

Yes, it’s pricey, costing $132.95 on amazon.com when marked down from an SRP of almost $195. But how much did those first 29 episodes cost on individual VHS tapes?

Besides, any previous release of Trek is like a horse and buggy compared to the new set’s Ferrari. This is what fans — if not purists — have been waiting for since Paramount began enhancing the show for renewed syndication months ago.

Purist? I’m not one. I love what George Lucas did with his original Star Wars trilogy in Special Edition form. (Well, most of it, anyway.) I also love what the late Bob Wise did six years ago when reworking Star Trek: The Motion Picture for a Director’s Cut DVD. And I’m a defender of ST: TMP in large part for the enormous improvements it offered for the first time in music and special effects.

Now such light-years advances are an even bigger part of ’60s Trek’s refitting for syndication and DVD, from painstaking cleanup of the original negative to faithful re-recording of  Alexander Courage’s theme to the most important change of all: creating new footage for virtually all effects shots.

The Enterprise need never again look like a wooden model photographed from fixed points of reference. Now, thanks to CG creativity, it can look state-of-the-art, swooping at varied angles and even disgorging satellites from a bomb-bay door as it orbits what look like true planets, with elaborate land masses and cloud covers, not globs of green or orange. Old mattes also have been replaced with far more vivid settings, while minute details have been added, such as giving Kirk’s lizardlike Arena foe blinking eyes.

Such work is assessed on a 20-minute disc-one featurette, Spacelift: Transporting Trek Into the 21st Century. It was previewed recently at theaters showing special screenings of the rebooted two-part episode The Menagerie (a sellout, here in Houston). In effect, that served as an infomercial for the new DVD set, but no matter. If those 20 minutes don’t convince you of the love and care which went into this project, nothing will. The creative types show true reverence and enthusiasm for Gene Roddenberry’s vision, and say they only enhanced the effects because that’s what he’d have done if he had the capability 40 years ago.

Sure, Trek still comes down to the stories and characters. That’s why we love it. That’s what sets it apart. But for a show shot on a relative shoestring and with limited resources in its day, getting this kind of facelift — or “spacelift” — is a remarkable upgrade, providing the series a vibrant new look and an invigorating new life. In fact, for me, this is what purists really should be about: savoring a favorite show in its finest form imaginable. Forty-one years after its bold birth, Star Trek has achieved this.

Cry ‘UNCLE’ on Nov. 27

November 8, 2007

High-concept filmmaking may be a function of this era’s corporate-controlled studios (Titanic = “Romeo and Juliet on a sinking ship”), but it also stretches back to early network TV.  In the ’60s, The Man From UNCLE was conceived, quite simply, as “James Bond for TV.” Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo seduced and sauntered in lady-killer Bond mode as a spy guy for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, with David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin as his patient and steady Felix Leiter from another country. Only thing is, as upcoming DVDs for the series show, McCallum quickly evolved into more of a co-star, because Solo didn’t go solo, as in the pilot’s first concept, when the show was even named Solo.

Due Nov. 27 as a full-series box (though the first season also is sold separately, as with Get Smart!), UNCLE’s new Time Life set has a featurette explaining these origins. Turns out Bond creator Ian Fleming was involved in UNCLE’s gestation — even suggesting the name Napoleon Solo for its hero. When Fleming dropped out, the name stuck. But when UNCLE’s creators realized Fleming had a character in his novel Goldfinger also named Solo, they backed off on calling their series that. Enter The Man From UNCLE, and enter McCallum as a charismatic young actor suddenly given co-star status.

Of course, 41 discs and four seasons of UNCLE is a lot to sit through, especially given the show’s sometimes bare-bones production values and leaden pace by today’s standards. If you caught any of TCM’s screenings this week of UNCLE “movies” (two episodes cobbled together), you know what I mean. Still, it was a cool concept for TV in the swingin’ ’60s, and Vaughn and McCallum were stellar leads — treated like rock stars when their fame crested. What’s more, Jerry Goldsmith’s music can’t be beat, and I’m lucky enough to have it on CD. This is a man who went on to win an Oscar (for The Omen) and earn 18 Oscar nominations. For UNCLE, he wrote action and love themes equally well and produced some of TV scores’ strongest melodies.

The new UNCLE set also has a featurette on the show’s many prominent guest stars, and two in particlar pop out: Bill Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, both guest-starring in the same episode, 1964’s first-season “The Project Strigas Affair.” It was their first acting together on screen, a couple of years before Star Trek. Nimoy played a bad guy, and Shatner was an innocent who got to behave spectacularly drunk in one scene. What a great excuse for him to serve up an even bigger plate of steaming hot ham than usual. But hey, I still love his heroic Captain Kirk and his brassy rejuvenation as Denny Crane.

UNCLE’s Vaughn had his Trek ties, too, having starred in short-lived series The Lieutenant for future “Great Bird of the Galaxy” Gene Roddenberry. McCallum was more of an Outer Limits man (a series also with close ties to Trek), via two superb episodes: “The Sixth Finger” and “The Form of Things Unknown.” I’ve interviewed hundreds of actors, including Shatner and Nimoy, and I can tell you they get most enthused about a meaty character “arc,” where their role has significant changes. If you know of another single TV episode with a greater character arc than McCallum had in The Sixth Finger (brutish coal miner to sudden genius to cruelly godlike being to omniscient peacenik), I’d like to hear it. And if you’re right, all right — I’ll cry “UNCLE!”