Puppets, a princess, a puzzle and Potemkin: this week’s viewing

For British kids of my generation, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Century 21 TV was a big deal, providing SF adventure puppet shows including Supercar, Fireball XL-5, Stingray and Thunderbirds. FILMED IN SUPERMARIONATION (2014) is a documentary about the company and its creations, starting when a children’s book author hired the Andersons to adapted her Adventures of Twizzle for TV. Before long the production company was doing its own original work, with innovations including manipulating the puppets from high overhead (allowing for more elaborate backdrops) and “supermarionation,” which electronically lip-synched puppet mouths with actor voices.This era in kidvid ended with the 1960s: puppetry was out of fashion on British TV, the Andersons’ marriage was breaking up and Gerry Anderson had always wanted to do live-action (some of y’all may remember his 1970s series UFO). For a while, though, they were pretty damn cool. “I don’t know if I felt pleased, relieved or sad when it ended — probably all three.”

Century 21’s biggest hit was probably Thunderbirds (the “cast” is in the photo above): TV reports on efforts to rescue some trapped miners in Germany inspired Gerry Anderson to create International Rescue, an elite team equipped with advanced rescue vehicles that could save lives anywhere from underground to the depths of space. The show also made the leap to the big screen with THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO! (1966) in which the first American Mars mission is beset by the sinister schemes of series villain the Hood, to say nothing of the Martians turning out quite unfriendly. This reminds me how much I liked the show (I downgrade it in my memory, I think), but it’s not a success, being several only marginally related parts. First we have the fight with the Hood (put down by International Rescue’s superspy, Lady Penelope), then we have a dream sequence with a puppet Cliff Richard, then there’s the Mars flight, the battle with the Martians and the return home; we never even learn what the Hood was up to. Fun, but flawed. “Be very still doctor — there’s something wrong with your face.”

SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER wrapped up its fifth and final season this year: with Hordak’s master Horde-Prime crushing the princesses and the rebellion and plotting to seize the Heart of Etheria, can Adora, stripped of She-Ra’s power, rally the good guys? Does Katra have a shot at redemption? Can Glimmer escape Horde-Prime’s orbiting fortress? This was superbly done, and Horde-Prime is very creepy, seeking to bring the entire universe into absolute order and peace — or you know, blow it the shit up. I do hope we see more from show-runner Noelle Stevenson before long. “Why does it always have to be you who sacrifices themselves for everyone else?”

The puzzle was the location of the Hardy Boys’ dad in THE HARDY BOYS NANCY DREW MYSTERIES two-parter, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula. Fenton Hardy disappears while investigating an art-theft ring in Europe; following him, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew end up in Transylvania where a vampire is attacking people — but that’s impossible, isn’t it (like a lot of shows from that era, they keep things mundane until the very end implies that it is possible). Pamela Sue Martin plays Nancy but much as I remember, she’s an incredibly bland actor; I used this as a talking lamp rather than really paying attention. Lorne Green and Paul Williams guest star. “This place is so old you can almost feel death!”

STEPS (1987) by Polish filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczynski is a short film in which a group of American tourists get to enter the classic Odessa Steps sequence of Sergei Eisenstein’s silent classic The Battleship Potemkin. The borders between reality and film soon thin, but I’ve seen this gimmick done better. The second short on the DVD, The Fourth Dimension was just pointlessly arty.  “There’s nothing to be afraid of, that was just a scene shift.”

#SFWApro. All rights to Thunderbirds image remain with current holder.

 

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