Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox. Okay. A friend of the Collective brought this documentary to my attention, and having enjoyed the Bronner labels for several years, I was interested enough to throw it on my Netflix queue. It’s a bit of a ramble, which is probably fitting for the topic, but does make it a little too easy to do other things while watching it.
I enjoyed the second series of Alfresco more than the first, and suspect that that enjoyment is related to Fry and Laurie writing enough of it that they now share credit with Ben Elton. Emma Thompson seems to have been given one sketch per program, apparently to demonstrate that Bob Newhart’s telephone bits are harder than they look.
Also included on this disc is the three-episode run of Nothing to Worry About, which served as something of a pilot and is correspondingly rougher even than the first series. I still can’t recommend the series for any but historical purposes.
We finished with The Starlost last night, and I think the best part of the four discs was the seven-minute pitch reel included as an extra on the final disc. It was clearly made before shooting had started, as evidenced by the different name for Keir Dullea’s character and substantially different pilot plot described. They also laud Douglas Trumbull’s Magicam system, which apparently didn’t make it into production (neither did Trumbull), but might have made the miniature sets other than laughable (see the Wikipedia Starlost article for more detail—I’m pretty sure they mean “did not work reliably”).
Alfresco. Tolerable. Put together the amazing talents of Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton, and Robbie Coltrane (and Siobhan Redmond, whom you’ve likely not heard of) in 1983, and what do you get? A sketch comedy show that, in 2009, is rather disappointing. I’ll get the second series, but mostly out of contractual obligation. I don’t know how to apportion the blame among youth (of the cast), Ben Elton’s domination of the writing (if the credits are to be believed), and age (of the work); I expect all of them play substantially in its failure to completely delight this audience. Nevertheless of historical interest.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Bad. I don’t hate this movie as much as it probably deserves, maybe because I spent a lot of time looking into its history instead of watching it. I don’t know whether it could have been good, but it hamstrings itself by not choosing a lane: it wants to be a beautiful wildlife documentary, and a voiced-over quasi-cartoon, and a fair capturing of Richard Bach’s monster best-seller; and in being unwilling to let go of any of those, it fails at all of them.
Shot before routine Humane Society supervision of animal treatment, the film reportedly was responsible for dozens of gulls’ deaths. Those sensitive to animal abuse should definitely take a pass.
Fortysomething. Okay. While I don’t hate anything about this UK family comedy series, I don’t feel like it reaches deep enough to be actually good. Hugh Laurie is charming (and it’s something of a relief to hear him not doing the House American accent, impressive though it is) in befuddlement, and gets to direct a few of the episodes.
Groom Lake. Awful. It may have been slightly better than I expected from a movie called Groom Lake directed and with a story by William Shatner, or it may just be that I stopped paying attention about midway through. I Netflixed it because it features Amy Acker, and her charm, professionalism, and ability were a definite bright spot. Among the dim spots are the abundance of shot-on-DV footage, the audio editing (ADR is not a substitute for having shot the footage or thought out the scene), and just about every other actor’s performance.
The story wasn’t what I expected; on the other hand, neither was Chevy Chase exploring the horrible loneliness of invisibility.
Human Traffic. Tolerable. This doesn’t really succeed as a movie, but it’s not too horrible as a series of vignettes. I’ve liked John Simm in everything I’ve seen him in so far, and the rest of the primary cast pulled their weight; otherwise, this would probably not have been tolerable.
The Starlost. Awful. I was happy to see this available on DVD, and happier still to see it available on Netflix. I vaguely remember its original appearance, and have read The Starcrossed and Ellison’s essay about the horrors that were its production. Ellison being Ellison, I suspect not every impartial witness who observed the events would have described them as he does; but however horrible the production was, the end product is worse: Awkward pauses fill the space between leaden dialogue, chroma-key is brutally substituted for sets, and blank stares seem to pass for introspection. I’m going to watch all of them, because that’s my contractual obligation, but unless you are a masochist or Ellison completist—or you want to hone your MST chops—there’s no reason you have to. Read Phoenix without Ashes, Edward Bryant’s novelization of the excellent original pilot script, or The Starcrossed, Ben Bova’s Roman à Clef recounting the production stupidities. Watch the first episode if you must, but trust me that it doesn’t get any better.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. Awful. There is nothing good about this movie, from the load-bearing column clumsily galumphing across the screen in the opening shot, to the inadequate lighting, to the amateur sound, to the ridiculous excuse for a plot. I’m not saying don’t watch it; I’m just saying there’s nothing good about it. Thanks to Patton Oswalt for the recommendation.