(On Blu-Ray Tuesday, July 10th)
Clearly the universe is paying attention. I’ve had a strange craving to rewatch Outland for several weeks, and now it’s finally hitting Blu-ray. Sometimes described as a “space Western” several decades before Firefly was a glimmer in Joss Whedon’s eye, the 1981 film Outland starred Sean Connery as Federal Marshall William O’Niel, finishing up his assignment to a mining station on Jupiter’s moon of Io before retiring and heading back to Earth. After several workers die under mysterious circumstances, O’Niel discovers that each of the men had a specific drug in their system, and uncovers a conspiracy that stretches all the way up to the upper management of the station. Needless to say, those involved don’t take kindly to O’Niel’s snooping, and the film eventually becomes an SF version on High Noon. As of a few years ago a remake was in the works (naturally), but it seems to have descended into development hell. That’s fine by me; I’ll be adding the original to my collection soon enough.
Eureka (Syfy, 9/8c) – “Double Take”
“The town’s communications systems go haywire because the SmartDust control unit is broken. Meanwhile, the bio-printer vanishes; and Holly behaves strangely.” See, that’s why God gave us regular old Stupid Dust. If He’d wanted it smart, He would have done it himself.
Altered States (Blu-Ray)
Outland isn’t the only old-school SF flick hitting Blu-ray this week. Altered States is actually based on a 1978 novel by Paddy Chayefsky…but Chayefsky was so irritated with the final film that he slapped a pseudonym on it, Harlan Ellison-style. At the very least this tale of a scientist who begins regressing to a primal state features the film debuts of both William Hurt and Drew Barrymore. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
The Astronaut’s Wife (Blu-Ray)
Speaking of underwhelming SF movies, here comes The Astronaut’s Wife. The movie is ostensibly about an astronaut (Johnny Depp) who returns from a mission not quite himself, and his wife’s (Charlize Theron) growing suspicions that something mysterious happened to him. It is primarily noteworthy, however, for my having taken my future wife to see it on an early date, and her having graciously continued dating me in spite of that fact.
Most notorious for starring Natalie Wood, who died during the film’s production, Brainstorm tells the story of an inventor (Christopher Walken) who creates a device that lets you record and play back someone’s experiences, emotions and all. After a colleague records her own mysterious death with the device, the scientist begins to investigate the circumstances of her demise.
Destination Truth (Syfy, 8/7c) – “Vietnam’s Bigfoot/Return to the Haunted Forest/Belize Goblin”
Easily the most entertaining of Syfy’s crop of “reality shows,” Destination Truth is a silly concept — traveling the globe in search of mythical creatures and “cryptids” — that is buoyed by the charm and self-effacing humor of host Josh Gates. While he may genuinely believe that some of these critters are out there waiting to be found, he’s never above a sardonic crack to point out how ridiculous his job can be. And the show is often worth it simply to see the circumstances Gates and company get into, such as when the roof of their hired plane ripped off shortly after takeoff. Tonight launches the season with two eps back to back.
Doctor Who: Death to the Daleks (DVD)
The third Doctor (John Pertwee) and companion Sarah Jane Smith are stranded on a remote planet after the TARDIS suffers a power failure. Unfortunately the Doctor and Sarah aren’t alone — the planet also holds a downed vessel full of Daleks.
Doctor Who: The Krotons (DVD)
No, not the crunchy things they put on salads. Second Doctor Patrick Troughton lands on a planet where a race called the Gonds are enslaved by the Krotons. The Doctor decides that that will simply never do, and decides to get involved in local politics. And no, that doesn’t mean he’s running for office.
“The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln,” by Stephen L. Carter
Carter imagines what could have happened had Lincoln survived Booth’s attempt on his life. Unfortunately for Lincoln, things still don’t turn up all sunshine and rainbows. From Amazon:
Stephen L. Carter’s thrilling new novel takes as its starting point an alternate history: President Abraham Lincoln survives the assassination attempt at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Two years later he is charged with overstepping his constitutional authority, both during and after the Civil War, and faces an impeachment trial . . .
Twenty-one-year-old Abigail Canner is a young black woman with a degree from Oberlin, a letter of employment from the law firm that has undertaken Lincoln’s defense, and the iron-strong conviction, learned from her late mother, that “whatever limitations society might place on ordinary negroes, they would never apply to her.” And so Abigail embarks on a life that defies the norms of every stratum of Washington society: working side by side with a white clerk, meeting the great and powerful of the nation, including the president himself. But when Lincoln’s lead counsel is found brutally murdered on the eve of the trial, Abigail is plunged into a treacherous web of intrigue and conspiracy reaching the highest levels of the divided government.
Here is a vividly imagined work of historical fiction that captures the emotional tenor of post–Civil War America, a brilliantly realized courtroom drama that explores the always contentious question of the nature of presidential authority, and a galvanizing story of political suspense.
“A Once Crowded Sky,” by Tom King
Written by King, a former CIA counter-terrorism author, A Once Crowded Sky puts a new spin on the post-modern deconstruction of comic-book fiction by presenting a world where all the superheroes have been rendered mortal and lost their powers in the course of saving the world. Unfortunately, a new threat has arisen, and so former super-guy Soldier is forced to enlist the aid of PenUltimate, the only hero who retained his powers.
“Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury,” Edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
The timing of this book’s release takes on a bittersweet quality in light of Bradbury’s recent passing. Still, how better to honor Bradbury than by sharing stories penned by writers whose lives and careers were influenced by the man? From Amazon:
What do you imagine when you hear the name . . .Bradbury?
You might see rockets to Mars. Or bizarre circuses where otherworldly acts whirl in the center ring. Perhaps you travel to a dystopian future, where books are set ablaze . . . or to an out-of-the-way sideshow, where animated illustrations crawl across human skin. Or maybe, suddenly, you’re returned to a simpler time in small-town America, where summer perfumes the air and life is almost perfect . . . almost.
Ray Bradbury—peerless storyteller, poet of the impossible, and one of America’s most beloved authors—is a literary giant whose remarkable career has spanned seven decades. Now twenty-six of today’s most diverse and celebrated authors offer new short works in honor of the master; stories of heart, intelligence, and dark wonder from a remarkable range of creative artists.
Warehouse 13: Season Three (DVD)
With the show’s fourth season set to premiere on July 23rd, there’s still time to catch up on Warehouse 13. While the show is often as formulaic as its spiritual sibling, Eureka, for some reason I haven’t yet tired of its affable goofiness like I did that show. Plus, the lovely and talented Jamie Murray as H.G. Wells. (He was a girl, didn’t you know that?)
“Year Zero,” by Rob Reid
Anytime the book copy makes a comparison to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I automatically become wary, because that’s a pretty ballsy boast. When the book also includes a cover blurb by John Hodgman, however, I become interested. Plus, I actually chuckled while reading the synopsis, so that’s something. Via Amazon:
An alien advance party was suddenly nosing around my planet. Worse, they were lawyering up…
In the hilarious tradition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Rob Reid takes you on a headlong journey through the outer reaches of the universe—and the inner workings of our absurdly dysfunctional music industry.
Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. And boy, do they have news.
The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on humanity’s music ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), when American pop songs first reached alien ears. This addiction has driven a vast intergalactic society to commit the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang. The resulting fines and penalties have bankrupted the whole universe. We humans suddenly own everything—and the aliens are not amused.
Nick Carter has just been tapped to clean up this mess before things get ugly, and he’s an unlikely galaxy-hopping hero: He’s scared of heights. He’s also about to be fired. And he happens to have the same name as a Backstreet Boy. But he does know a thing or two about copyright law. And he’s packing a couple of other pencil-pushing superpowers that could come in handy.
Soon he’s on the run from a sinister parrot and a highly combustible vacuum cleaner. With Carly and Frampton as his guides, Nick now has forty-eight hours to save humanity, while hopefully wowing the hot girl who lives down the hall from him.
Futurama (Comedy Central, 10/9c) — “Zapp Dingbat”
“Leela’s mom begins dating Zapp Brannigan, much to her daughter’s dismay.” But think of the babies! The gorgeous, one-eyed babies!
Planetoid #2 (Image Comics)
This new series from Image finds soldier-turned-space-pirate Silas stranded on a strange, junk-strewn world. As issue #2 begins, Silas is searching for a settlement called “The Slab,” but the question is whether he’ll survive long enough to find it.
Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman (Science, 10/9c) – “Can We Resurrect the Dead?”
“What if death wasn’t the end? Resurrecting bodies isn’t enough. To truly live again, we must also resurrect our minds. Scientists are developing ways to digitally preserve the contents of our brains.” Maybe we’ll all get to live on as Futurama-style heads in jars! No, wait, that would be terrible…
Comic-Con International (Thursday – Sunday, San Diego)
It needs no introduction, except to say that if you’re planning on going and don’t already have a hotel room, you’re screwed. For those of you going for the first time, I envy you. There is truly nothing quite like going to the “Nerd Prom.” This year’s programming includes events focusing on new TV shows such as Revolution and Cult; movies such as Iron Man 3, Dredd, and Pacific Rim; and even a Firefly reunion!
TRON: Uprising (Disney XD, 9/8c) – “Price of Power”
“Beck intercepts a secret weapon that gives any program who wears it increased strength and agility, but it also makes the program more aggressive and reckless.” What do you want to bet they’re already making a toy of that “secret weapon?”
Dark Matters: Twisted But True (Science, 10/9c) – “Lindbergh: American Nazi?, Suicide Song, Living Organ Donor”
The Science Channel’s travel guide through Weird-ville returns for a second season. “Stories about a suicide song and an organ donor are featured in the Season 2 premiere. Also: A possible Nazi link to a famous American aviator is discussed.”
Breaking Bad (AMC, 10/9c) — “Life Free or Die”
Not remotely science fiction. Just the best show on television, returning for a new season. You know what to do.
Falling Skies (TNT, 9/8c) — “Homecoming”
“Hal happens upon bodies of de-harnessed kids and encounters a person from his past. Elsewhere, Tom and Anne inch closer together; and health issues plague Weaver.” I wonder if the skitters subcontract the harness removal to the Predator? He seems to be pretty good at that thing.