Breaking News
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Info Post
"My name is Dylan Hunt. My story begins on the day on which I died." 

In the early 1970s, Star Trek became an unprecedented success in television syndication. Though not considered a success during its initial network run (despite surviving for three seasons), the unexpected - and unexpectedly profitable - popularity of Trek in the after-market and as a merchandising bonanza, surprised more than a few TV executives, and changed their perception of the show's creator somewhat. After several years as something of a TV industry pariah, Gene Roddenberry now found himself to be a desirable commodity... if he could deliver another cash machine like Star Trek.

Well, he gave it a shot - several times.

Warner Brothers Television and CBS decided to give him his first chance, and financed a science fiction pilot film called Genesis II. The premise borrowed liberally from the old Buck Rogers movie serial as well as from Trek - but eschewed the exotic outer space locales prominent in those sources,  and the expensive special effects that they would have required.

The story begins in 1979, where, deep in a government facility built in Carlsbad Caverns, NASA Scientist Dylan Hunt (Alex Cord) is the subject of a suspended animation experiment. Unfortunately, the experiment has just begun when a tremor triggers a cave-in that  buries his hibernation chamber under tons of rock.

In 2133, the chamber is uncovered and Hunt is revived by members of a community called PAX - descendants of survivors of a nuclear war who have made the Caverns their home. The leaders of PAX (as their name would suggest) claim that they are a pacifistic society that works to preserve human civilization.

Hunt is placed in the care of Lyra-a (the lovely Mariette Hartley), a member of PAX who joined them from a mutant race known as Tyranians. The Tyranians are genetically superior to humans, with double circulatory systems (like Time Lords!) and thus, two navels.

Although suspicious of her, the PAXians are unaware that she is a spy for her people, and whenever they're not around, she works to discredit PAX to Hunt. She actually manages to convince him that they're bad guys - and he's rather easily convinced, because, like most Roddenberry heroes, Hunt's a horndog, and Lyra-a is the hottest chick in the cave - and they "escape" from the PAX complex via the high-speed underground subshuttle, which was part of the 1979 Carlsbad facility, and is somehow still working.

Anyway, to make a long synopsis short, Hunt discovers that the mutant Tyranians are (imagine!) a decadent, evil race that keep humans as slaves and their only interest in Hunt is in his value as a scientist. Their city is powered by a 20th Century nuclear generator, and they need Hunt to repair and maintain it. Hunt is rescued by an undercover team from PAX - one of many teams that the PAX group sends out to secretly "help" other post-Apocalyptic societies - and with their assistance, starts a slave revolt before escaping the Tyranian city....

The show possesses a lot of Roddenberry hallmarks, like a sometimes creepy preoccupation with sex (it isn't spelled out, but it's clear that sexual stimulation is required to bring Hunt out of his hibernation state, which is why Lyra-a got the job as his nurse), and the idea that the war-ravaged Earth is now divided into a multitude of isolated, diverse cultures - each of which can be used to comment on some modern-day issue. But it also exhibits an interesting reversal of Star Trek's "Prime Directive;" whereas Kirk & company were expressly forbidden to interfere in the development of other cultures, PAX instead sees themselves as 22nd Century Mary Worths, with  a  responsibility to "guide" (even through covert infiltration and acts of subversion) other societies toward their idealistic, pacifistic view of "civilization."

It's an interesting - if morally questionable - premise, with a lot potential to be explored in an ongoing series.

 The look/production design of the show isn't bad. The citizens of PAX are shown wearing very "Earthy," almost Medieval peasant-looking clothes, while the Tyranians favor pseudo-Roman togas. The Carlsbad Cavern setting for PAX is rather nicely designed, with colorful stalactites and stalagmites, and the subshuttle is a cool-looking transport.

Upon my most recent viewing of Genesis II, however, I was struck by how much Roddenberry's pilot borrowed from the 1939 Buck Rogers serial produced by Universal Studios. Not only do both storylines deal with revived 20th Century men in a post-Apocalyptic Earth setting, but both feature good guys living in a hidden underground mountain complex, bad guys (who keep slaves) living in a futuristic city... and the Buck Rogers serial even features the characters using an underground subshuttle similar to the one seen in Genesis II (the Buck shuttle was located on Saturn, but, still)! Hmmm...

Unfortunately, in a repeat of his experiences in trying to sell Star Trek a decade before, the network found the Genesis II pilot "too cerebral," and, as directed by veteran John Llewellyn Moxey, too talky and lacking in action (although, to fair, the climactic slave revolt is pretty well staged and shot). They also found lead Alex Cord to be too intellectual, and lacking the charisma desired in a TV series hero. CBS passed on the show, choosing instead to go with Fox's small-screen version of Planet of the Apes

But Warner Brothers seemed to still have some faith in Roddenberry and his concept, and persuaded ABC to finance a second pilot, this time called Planet Earth, the following year. (I'll be covering that one when my disc arrives next week).

The DVD-R of Genesis II from Warner Archives is extraordinarily good-looking, even on my HD-TV. The 1.33:1 "full-frame" transfer is remarkably strong, considering its age, with virtually no distracting print damage or dirt. Colors are bright, and details are sharp. No extra features are provided.

The Warners archive site still doesn't accept my debit card, so I ordered it through a third party dealer at Amazon. Even with shipping, I got a brand-new, unopened disc for about the same price as buying it directly from the Warners Archive site.  You can buy it direct from Amazon, too, of course: Genesis II

Dylan Hunt will return... in Planet Earth, the second installment of the "PAX Trilogy!"


Post a Comment