Planet Earth – tape 1883

This tape opens with some Gardener’s World.

Then there’s a trailer for Goal TV – a whole night of football for BBC2 viewers. Gosh, the 90s was a wasteland, wasn’t it?

Then a trailer for Later with Jools Holland.

Then, we’re off to DEF II, BBC2’s youth TV strand. It’s Planet Earth. Not, as I had assumed, the nature documentary by David Attenborough, but another lesser known work by a different TV behemoth, Gene Roddenberry.

It’s introduced by Craig Charles as part of DEF II’s Spaced Out season.

Planet Earth was a pilot produced by Roddenberry in 1974, and starred John Saxon as a 20th century man who had been awoken in the 22nd century after an accident with suspended animation – shades of Buck Rogers.

For a pilot, it doesn’t attempt to introduce the characters much, opting instead for a voiceover describing the post-apocalyptic future where only the inhabitants of the city Pax are enlightened and wise, and everywhere else are at various levels of non-development.

The film seems to open mid-story, as Saxon and his team of action scientists are in the middle of an ambush during a routine scientific survey of the new California inland sea. They’re set upon by Kreegs, “that mutated form of human capable of understanding only machinery and warfare” It’s 1974’s version of Mad Max Fury Road.

Planet Earth Fury Road

They make it to the entrance to the subshuttle – which was constructed in 1992.

Subshuttle

But their leader is shot by the Creegs and critically injured. He has 80 hours before he dies of his injuries – their modern medicine is obviously very accurate. And the only doctor who might possibly be able to fix him was last seen near an uncharted sector, where there are rumours of an ‘amazon-like’ society. Not a group of people running a tax efficient online bookshop, but a place where ‘males are bought and sold like animals.’ Saxon’s comment: “Women’s lib? Or women’s lib gone mad?”

Saxon decides to try to infiltrate their society by having the woman on the team take him as a slave and tell the first woman there that she believes strongly in their society and wants to join. The first woman they encounter is Roddenberry favourite Diana Muldaur, Dr Pulaski off of Star Trek the Next Generation.

Diana Muldaur

But Muldaur decides she likes the look of Saxon and takes him for herself.

If we’re to learn anything from this feminist utopia, it’s that, when men are used for all the labour, the women obviously have a lot more free time to attend to their hairstyles. Check out those Princess Leia buns.

Nice hairdos

The women put something in the food to subdue the men, but Saxon finds this out from his other two teammates and doesn’t eat it.  But Muldaur ties him to a table and feeds him the extract directly, and pretty soon he’s flinching with the best of them.

From a socio-political point of view, this is about on a par with The Two Ronnies’ The Worm That Turned.

But Saxon’s female team-mate turns up and challenges Muldaur to a fight, and wins him back.

They find the doctor they were searching for, and he just happens to have developed an antidote to the extract, so Saxon is back to normal. Then he plans to distract Muldaur while the doctor adds the antidote to the gruel she uses to keep the men submissive. So Saxon distracts Muldaur with his most effective weapon: seduction.

“But mistress. The males in my country  are trained from childhood in certain practices which,,, make us different.”

“Practices?”

Next morning, wouldn’t you know it, the warlike Creeg appear and round up all the men, then demand Muldaur’s secret formula. But luckily, all the men had eaten the antidote gruel, so when they see their mistress beaten by the Creeg, they pile on, and there’s a big brawl. This is a revelation to the women, and it turns out they quite like it, so the extract is retired, and Muldaur has even taken a shine to Saxon.

This is total bobbins, even by the standard of 1974 TV. And all the sexual subtlety of an episode of Mind Your Language.

BBC Genome: BBC Two England, 23 May 1994 18.00

After this, recording switches, and we’re over to Sky Movies, for a very famous film that I’ve never watched. It’s The Bodyguard, with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. A huge film when it came out, helped enormously by Whitney’s massive hit single I Will Always Love You staying in the charts for eons.

Perhaps it was the song that put me off, because I haven’t ever watched it. And that’s odd because the film ticks a lot of boxes for me. Directed by Mick Jackson, director of some of my favourite TV programmes of the 80s and 90s. Photography by Andrew Dunn, who shot Edge of Darkness. Written by Lawrence Kasdan, writer of Raiders and Empire. And Costner at the time was on a roll, and I’d enjoyed him in The Untouchables and No Way Out.

So now’s my chance to put this omission right.

It’s a strong opening, with Costner just having saved the life of his current charge. It swiftly establishes him as good at his job.

He’s approached to protect a pop star, Houston, after a bomb was sent to her. He doesn’t want the job, but agrees to meet her at her house. There’s a nice scene where he comes to the house, and sizes up all the security (such as there is) and keeps giving fake names to each person who asks who he is and who he’s there for.

Gary Kemp plays Houston’s manager – I can’t tell if he’s playing it as shifty, or if he’s just like that naturally, but I don’t trust him. Also, he’s British in an American movie.

The film’s first big setpiece is in a club, where Houston is performing, and the crowd gets a bit hands on. It’s a clever scene – Houston gets to perform, which we need to see as much as possible, otherwise she might as well be anyone, but Costner gets to do all the scoping out of the crowd. And when they rush the stage, and she does some impromptu (and unwilling) crowdsurfing, we can see from her point of view that it’s scary and threatening, but in the context of the club, it’s not.

It’s a nice touch that the movie itself gives a context for I Will Always Love You being the big power ballad. They first hear it when Houston takes Costner out on a date, to make up for having been difficult earlier, and to thank him for rescuing her from the club.

They go to a country bar, and the song is playing when she asks him for a dance. They even laugh at how depressing the words are.

Whitney get an Oscar nom – and I have no idea who the other four actresses are.

Oscar nominations

Costner’s father is played by Ralph Waite, Pa Walton himself, which seems fitting. Last time we saw Ralph Waite was in Cliffhanger, where he was killed by John Lithgow, so when a gunman is lurking around their snowy retreat, I’m afraid for his life, but he makes it through this one unscathed.

Then we’re on to the big climax, at the Oscars. Once again, the announcers are just saying a bunch of made-up names – the Bodyguard universe is clearly completely different to ours, and there’s no crossover of actors.

It’s nice to see one of the two winners for Best Sound is a woman – doesn’t happen often in that category. Still, at least Robert Wuhl, as the host of the Oscars, gets to make a lot of sexist jokes.

And yay! There’s Richard Schiff as a stage manager at the Oscars.

Richard Schiff at the Oscars

 

It’s a smart move setting the climax at the Oscars. It doesn’t matter how competent Costner is, that would be the worst possible environment for him to work, so there’s genuine tension at work. And because we don’t know who the bad guy is yet, and there are a couple of possible suspects, we’re doing the same as Costner, looking for threats in the maelstrom of people.

It’s genuinely exciting, and the climax hits a lot of emotional notes very well. And the coda is lovely, wrongfooting us with Whitney’s version of I Will Always Love You providing the commentary on the on-screen action, but then confounding our expectations as Houston can’t leave without a last-minute kiss. And the last shot is lovely, a long dolly in to a priest giving a benediction, and holding the crucifix Costner gave to Houston earlier in the film, which contains a transmitter. The callback to the crucifix, and the words of the benediction fuse together perfectly.

“Even though we may pass through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with us, guiding and protecting us.”

Guiding and protecting us

Freeze frame.

Then the song hits the key change.

Cheesy? Maybe. But it works for me. I was in tears

Another thing I liked, before we finish with it, was her original bodyguard, Tony. A bit of an oaf, and early on, he takes a few swings at Costner, because he’s feeling squeezed out. But by the end they’re working together, and he even gets to tell off Gary Kemp. I like it when stock characters like that have some growth.

Oh, and Robert Wuhl wasn’t the only ‘real’ person at the Oscars. Debbie Reynolds was there too.

After this, the recording continues, and we get the start of another famous film I’ve never seen. Fast Times at Ridgemont High made a star of Sean Penn, and featured a fair few other stars of the 80s – Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold. But it’s one I only know by reputation. It was Cameron Crowe’s first film as a writer. I’d be interested to watch it if it were all here, but the tape runs out about half an hour into it.

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  • trail: Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story
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2 comments

  1. Proof that “The Bodyguard” is in an alternate universe – the Oscars start in L.A. at NIGHT (the real thing kicks off in the afternoon on the West of the US, as any fule kno).

    Terribl

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