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Monday, October 26, 2009

GENESIS II -- DVD review by porfle

Talk about a trip down memory lane...I don't think I've seen GENESIS II since it first aired way back in 1973. In those days we Trekkers went coo-coo whenever anything Gene Roddenberry-related was shown. After all, the original "Star Trek" was it--there were no movies, no spin-offs, no new episodes, nothing like the Trek glut that would come later. So the occasional failed pilot film from the Great Bird of the Galaxy would be aired, and we in our fervent Trek-fueled deliriums would wail: "Why? Why won't those idiots at the networks pick these up and make TV shows out of them? Why won't they ever learn?" Now, however, after a decades-long cooling off period and with considerably more hindsight, I can watch a Roddenberry pilot film like this and think, " that's why."

Not to say, however, that watching GENESIS II isn't lots of fun in a nostalgic sort of way, because it is. For those of you who have never seen it--and who probably think it's the sequel to some movie called GENESIS--it's about a scientist (one of those handsome, action-guy scientists with a cool moustache, that is--not the boring, real kind) named Dylan Hunt (Alex Cord) who offers himself as the guinea pig in his own experiment in suspended animation which, if successful, will someday allow humans to travel great distances in space. But something goes wrong, and Hunt's pressurized chamber deep within Carlsbad Caverns gets buried during an earthquake. Dylan Hunt's experiment is a success, all right--he sleeps for 154 years, until he's discovered by people from the future.

They're a boring bunch, these members of the Pax group--a collection of pacifist, unisex intellectuals dedicated to restoring culture and civilization to a world ravaged by nuclear war. All, that is, except for the alluring and exciting Lyra-a (Mariette Hartley at her most alluring and exciting), who nurses Hunt back to health and then informs him that Pax is really an evil organization out to subjugate the weak and take over the world. She helps him escape Pax's Carlsbad Caverns headquarters and takes him via underground shuttle to her own city that's populated by genetically-superior mutants.

Yes, Lyra-a is half-mutant (Roddenberry always liked having a character who was half-something), meaning that she has two hearts and thus two navels. My main memory of GENESIS II from my younger days is Mariette Hartley casually stripping down to her undies to reveal her double navelage to Hunt (which was Roddenberry's revenge for not being allowed to show navels on "Star Trek") and announcing, "I'm a mutant." Hey, I was going through puberty--that sort of thing tended to stick in my mind.

Lyra-a's city bears a striking resemblance to the University of California campus (because the movie was filmed there) and is filled with snooty chicks and perfectly-coiffed guys who look like dungeon masters in a gay S&M club. ("Star Trek" alumnus Bill Theiss must've been watching ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW when he designed their campy costumes.) These butch dudes are none too subtle--their preferred method of keeping slaves in line is a rod (known as a "stim" because it stimulates pleasure and pain nerve centers) that springs erect (hello!) when activated (yeah, baby!)

Anyway, Dylan discovers that Lyra-a's people, the Tyranians (tyrants--get it?) are really the bad guys after all, and, along with some wimpy-looking Pax commandos, passes out a bunch of stolen stims to the slaves (who, for some reason, all have mall-hair) and leads a revolt. In a thrilling action sequence, the revolting slaves run around tackling mutants and poking them with their stims. Fist-pump!

Poor Liam Dunn pops up as one of the sniveling slaves in one scene, looking as though Mr. Hilltop from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN has taken a really wrong turn somewhere. As for these Pax characters whose adventures we were supposed to want to follow every week, they're rather unlikable and I didn't have the slightest desire to hang out with them. (I'd never say that about the crew of the Enterprise. Except for Chekov.) They don't even believe in having recreational sex, for Pete's sake. Oh, I'm sure that, given half a season or so, Dylan would've eventually warmed up the dormant libido of cute little Harper-Smythe (Lynne Marta) with his manly 20th-century charms.

Percy Rodriguez is okay as their leader, and naturally Majel Barrett gets shoehorned in as a council member. You'll also recognize familiar character actor Titos Vandis as another good guy. The only really cool Pax dude is the great Ted Cassidy as "Isiah", and he looks embarrassed in the goofy wig and toga he's forced to run around in. As for Alex Cord, I'd forgotten what a dull actor he was. Thank goodness Mariette Hartley is still as hot as I remembered--I felt a little envious of her chamber slaves.

The Carlsbad Caverns headquarters of Pax looks pretty neat but has kind of an Irwin Allen vibe, although that underground shuttle is just plain awesome. There are some nice exteriors, too. But most of the interior sets are drab, and so is the photography by Trek vet Jerry Finnerman. John Llewellyn Moxey's direction is similarly uninspired.

Kind of like Homer Simpson banging on his TV and shouting "BE MORE FUNNY!!!", I can remember watching this back in the 70s and trying to will it to be better. The concept seemed pretty good, or at least it seemed like a way to make vaguely "Star Trek"-type stories on Earth instead of in space. The different countries which had evolved into strange, unknown civilizations since the big war would be kind of like alien planets...the sleek sub-shuttle that spanned all the continents of the world was sort of like the Enterprise...the Pax organization was a little like Starfleet...the sleep-dart guns were similar to phasers.

That is, if you really, really used your imagination. But wouldn't it be nice if Gene Roddenberry had used his imagination, so we wouldn't have to? That is, instead of coming up with something that was not only a bland rehash of "Star Trek", but pretty much a rip-off of "Buck Rogers", too? BANG BANG BANG--BE MORE GOOD!!!

Deep down, I knew that no matter how much I banged on my TV set, GENESIS II wouldn't be anywhere near as good as "Star Trek" even if it ever did became a series, which I also knew wasn't gonna happen any more than either SPECTRE or QUESTOR were going to become a series. "Is this it?" I thought at the time. "Was 'Star Trek' the whole load? No more goodies from the Bird?"

To make things worse, the film ends with the Pax leaders forcing action-guy Dylan Hunt to promise that, from now on, he'll never hurt or kill anyone. Somewhere along the line, Gene Roddenberry got the idea that totally non-militaristic and non-violent heroes would be irresistible to the viewing public. He even tried to retroactively convince us, and Paramount, that "Star Trek" had always been this way and that the upcoming movies should reflect this wonderfully pacifistic attitude. I don't know about you, but a bunch of non-violent wimps running around not hurting the bad guys isn't exactly my idea of action-packed thrills. (Harve Bennett and Nick Meyer didn't think so, either.) Besides, Captain Kirk used to beat the hell out of any green, scaly sucka who looked at him wrong!

The DVD is part of the Warner Archives Collection, in which films that would normally languish in their vaults are dusted off and burned to disc sans restoration. This means that the (1.33:1) picture and (mono) sound quality are about on the level of a late-night viewing on your local TV station. But since your local TV station shows infomercials now instead of movies like this, these no-frills DVDs are a nice way to be able to see obscure titles.

As a one-shot TV-movie that we were never in any danger of revisiting every week anyway, this attempt by Gene Roddenberry to get another sci-fi series on the air is still a novel experience for the old-school Trek fan or the young Trek-curious, and it's better than the follow-up, PLANET EARTH, with John Saxon. Less forgiving viewers will be tempted to rip into it MST3K-style. And even if you have fond, hazy memories of GENESIS II, don't be surprised if it disappoints.

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