Ray Bradbury Theater – Let’s Play Poison (S5E7)

bradbury02A pretty slight episode from a pretty slight 5-page short story.

Moe Mr. Howard (Richard Benjamin) is watching his pupils playing in the schoolyard below his classroom window.  He turns to see a new student has entered his class. Young Michael McDonald, dressed in suit and tie, is at the board presumptuously correcting some math problems by the other students.  Howard likes the cut of his jib and says he thinks they will get along.

On his way to school the next morning, Howard sees Michael on the sidewalk. He explains his lack of books by saying that he did his homework yesterday at recess. Howard tells him that is a sure way to make the other kids hate him.  And they do, having broken all the pencils in his little red tartan plaid pencil bag.  First of all, I am anti-bully, but toting around a little purse of pencils is just asking for trouble; why didn’t he just wear a slutty skirt, too?  Secondly, why is he bringing the broken pencils back to school with him, anyway?

Howard tells him he can’t interfere because it will just make matters worse.  He advises Michael to not be so perfect, muss up his hair, not get all the answers right, maybe not wear a tie to school.

The bullying continues, sometimes in scenes I can’t even figure out.  One morning when he enters the classroom, the entire class says, “Good morning, Mr Howard,” and howls with laughter, pointing at Michael.  All the boys are wearing ties which I see as more a joke on them than on Michael.

rbtplaypoison08One day, after writing some questions on the chalkboard, Howard turns to see all the students with their books up like they’re reading.  One punk says, “We all want to get A’s too” and glances at Michael.  These are the most ineffectual bullies in history.

One day as Michael leaves school, Howard hears the punks taunting him.  They take off running after him.  Despite stopping at the street, he again takes off running and is hit by a car in a stunningly misguided bit of up-close product placement by Oldsmobile.

I fault the bullies, but he really should have looked both ways.  In the short story, on the other hand, he didn’t have much of a chance as the kids threw him out a 3rd floor window.

Mr. Howard retires from teaching until seven years later he is approached to fill in as a substitute.  He comes in like Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket telling the kids what ignorant monsters they are.  He tells them they are not human.  They “are invaders from another dimension and it is my task to reform your uncivilized little minds.”  Sadly he left out the part about tearing off their heads and shitting down their necks, but he made his point.

rbtplaypoison11He continues “that children are as far removed from adults as monkeys are from men.  It is my duty to forge that link.  And that link is, of course, made of iron.  It is called discipline.” How can you not like this guy’s jib?

Well, the kids find a way — they hate him.  He is lured by another tie-sporting student on the sidewalk, Charles Jones.  When they get to the school, his class is standing outside laughing and waving at him like chimps.  I don’t get it.

They begin taunting him at home, throwing rocks, knocking on his door and running away, making prank calls, etc.  He is knocking back a fair amount of alcohol.  When he finally chases them outside, he falls into an excavation which was being jack-hammered the day before. He looks up and sees the kids standing around the hole with shovels.

The principal comes around in a few days to see why he disappeared.  One of the kids warns him not to step in the wet cement outside Howard’s house.

rbtplaypoison10There was some good stuff here, Richard Benjamin’s performance being the stand-out.  Even some of the kids were great in quieter moments.  The louder they were, the less threatening they became.  The last punk at the end with the little girl who left a flower on Howard’s RIP carved in the cement could easily grow up to be one of the psychopaths in Funny Games.

Post-Post:

  • First published in Weird Tales, 1946.

Ray Bradbury Theater – Colonel Stonesteel and the Desperate Empties (S5E4)

bradbury02Young Charlie is bored.  Soon, he will not be the only one.

For reasons unknown, he runs to Colonel Stonesteel’s house.  Charlie complains that nothing ever happens in their town. Stonesteel reminds him that Labor Day is coming up — four cars, floats, fireworks, the mayor.  Charlie is right, this is a dull town. At least in the short story there were seven cars.

Stonesteel takes Charlie into his house in search of excitement, and asks him if he is interested in the Graveyard (the basement) or the junkyard (the attic).  Charlie opts for the attic.  The old man constructs a mummy out of wire and old newspapers.  They then hide it in a farmer’s field.

The farmer finds it and brings it into town, interrupting the Labor Day parade with some real excitement.

And it goes on and on.  Harold Gould can pull off Bradbury’s words like few others, but the boy is a boring as the Labor Day parade; even the one with four cars.

The episode wraps up like the end of Stand By Me.  Charlie has become a famous author, and we see him finishing off a book about his childhood.  Now an adult, he sees one of the neighborhood boys out the window and invites him in.

I can’t even work up the enthusiasm to point out how strange it is that these men like to hang out with 13 year old boys.

Kind of a snoozer, unworthy of the polysyllabic title.

Post-Post:

  • Original short story title: Colonel Stonesteel’s Genuine Home-Made Truly Egyptian Mummy.
  • Just a whole lotta nothing.  I thought maybe there was an historical figure named Stonesteel, but I found nothing.  Thought maybe “desperate empties” was a pre-existing phrase, but found nothing again.

Ray Bradbury Theater – Zero Hour (S5E2)

bradbury02Memory: Read as a kid and remember being disappointed at the unsatisfying conclusion.

It is morning in a sunny cul-de-sac dotted with McMansions and a poorly placed park where the kids play, but is impossible to get to without crossing a street.

Pinked-hatted ten (?) year old Mink (Katharine Isabelle (Torment, American Mary, and the almost homonymic Ginger Snaps)), is elated when she finds what the kids have been searching for.

Inside, Mink’s mother Mary Morris is having a work-at-home Saturday.  She gets a call on her futuristic (in 1992) 27-inch picture-phone from her husband — a great technology allowing people on opposite sides of the earth to communicate visually in real-time.  He is calling her from the kitchen, though, so not really a great use of the tech.  He too has to work, and goes to his office.

rbtzerohour17The kids huddle around a spot in the park.  All at once, they scatter to their homes and begin collecting a seemingly random pile of items — spoons, colanders, camera tripods, cheese graters, pliers, etc.  Mink’s mom asks what kind of game these items are for and Mink says, “Invasion!” as she runs out.

The kids reassemble in the park and Mink takes the lead in putting the parts together.  A couple of older boys, maybe 13, start to be dicks in the way only 13 year old boys can be.  And 13 year old girls.  Also older boys and girls.  And most grown-ups too, for that matter.  Mink tells them they are too big to understand and they should beat it.

MInk’s mother has the TV on and the big news is that no country now has possession of any nuclear weapons.  They are all being held by an organization called Earth Mutual Defense.  Meanwhile her daughter is outside telepathically receiving instructions, words and formulas that she doesn’t comprehend.

rbtzerohour14Mink is called in for lunch.  She runs in, grabs a hexagonal cookie cutter, and runs out again.  She says it is for her new friend Drill.  Her mother is impressed at all the big words Drill seems to know.  Mink, not exactly tight-lipped tells her mother that Drill has a plan to use kids to invade earth because adults are too busy to notice.

Mary gets another call on the picture phone, from her sister on the other coast.  Her little boy is also looking for a hexagon and mentions his friend Drill.  Mary hears a scream and goes outside to check on the kids.  Apparently one of the girls has gotten to old for the game during lunch, and starts crying as she realizes what is happening.

Mink starts a gyroscope spinning on her hand, and in a few seconds, it just disappears. After seeing that, Mary starts to worry and runs back inside.  When her husband gets home, she frantically drags him up to the attic and locks the door.  He naturally thinks his wife is crazy — and not just from the insane hair-do she has had the whole episode — until he hears a lot of footsteps downstairs.

Footsteps.  A little humming sound.  The attic lock melted.  The door opened.  Mink peered inside, tall blue shadows behind her.  “Peekaboo,” said Mink.

rbtzerohour33That is the end of the short story which underwhelmed me long ago.

It worked much better for me this time around as I absorbed the entire story and not just the last three words.  The episode follows the short story almost exactly, a rarity with no padding and nothing significant left out.  One of RBT’s best.

Post-Post:

  • First published in Planet Stories, Fall 1947.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Long Years (S4E11)

bradbury02The Hathaways are the last people on Mars because they missed the last ship back to Earth.  They were in the mountains on an archaeological dig.  When they returned a week later, Mars had been evacuated.

John Hathaway stares at the stars each night hoping to see a rocket ship streaking among the unmoving stars.

One night, he takes his regular walk up to a hill where there are three graves.  In a quick pan, we see only the name Tom Hathaway (1988 – 2007).  At this point, we don’t know Tom is his son.  He asks their forgiveness for what he did.  He reflects on 20 years spent waiting for another ship from Earth.

rbtlongyears04Returning to his house, he sees a light moving across the sky.  He calls the family out and tells them, “We’re going home!”  To be sure they are spotted, Hathaway is able to remotely switch on every light in nearby New New York City.  In the short story, he just burns the city down.

Hathaway and his son take a golf cart to meet the ship.  The crew is descending the ladder, and hey — it’s Captain Wilder from And the Moon Be Still as Bright!  Hathaway takes them home to meet the wife and kids who they had last seen 20 years ago. Wilder comments that Cora has not aged a bit in 20 years.  Maybe it is just the way she is styled, but unfortunately the actress playing Cora doesn’t really look that much younger than Hathaway.

rbtlongyears05One of the other crewman knew the kids and comments they they also appear exactly as they had 20 years earlier on Earth.  Son Tom evens says he is “twenty-one” in his only dialogue in the episode.  He is in several scenes, but just stands there looking a lot like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, never uttering another word.

But he is positively loquacious next to the female crew member who gets not a single line of dialogue.  She is even seen speaking in a couple of scenes, but in the background where we can’t hear her.

As Hathaway visits the graves again, Wilder joins him.  Hathaway explains that a virus killed his whole family in a week.  So he built robots to recreate his family.

When Wilder tells Hathaway that they can only take him back to Earth, not his family, he tries to explain it to them.  “What is goodbye?” asks his robot wife in the sci-fi trope where a non-human speaks perfectly throughout an episode, but then doesn’t know a key common word.  What if they had been humans, would there still only have been room for Hathaway?

rbtlongyears10While he is trying to explain “going away”, he ironically does the big “going away” as he has a heart attack and dies.  They bury Hathaway next to his real family, and the crew leave them on Mars.  The episode has a much better ending, a great ending — the robot family uses the same tools which created them to create another John Hathaway.

In the last scene, they are all sitting at the dinner table and Cora has made John’s favorite chicken dish.  Although, I don’t know what he’s going to do with it as it was strongly suggested that robots do not eat.

In the short story, the robots are deemed too human to kill, so they are left to do the same repetitive mundane tasks forever.

Post-Post:

  • First published in Macleans, September 1948.
  • Just to confuse things, in the episode, the father is John and the son is Tom.  In the short story, the names are reversed.  Also, the wife in the episode is named Cora instead of Alice, and they have an extra daughter in the short story.
  • Directed by Paul Lynch who also made Prom Night.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Toynbee Convector (S4E8)

bradbury02I’m not sure if this series is wearing me down, or if it was just a late bloomer — I’m actually starting to like some of the episodes, or at least I can appreciate them when I can see through the figurative filter of 80’s style and the more literal filter of an awful DVD transfer.

It also helps to not go in expecting The Twilight Zone.  As much as Serling was praised for his humanity, it is Bradbury that really digs into it.  The science is given a complete pass, sometimes there is a lack of twist, irony or even closure; sometimes it is just a slice of slightly askew life.

The evidence in this case is that the twist is obvious almost immediately — yet it still kept me interested.  It was well-cast and well-acted; Bradbury’s rambling prose was appropriate to the story and was well executed.

Craig Bennett Stiles (James Whitmore) is looking out at a beautiful day.  There are boats sailing on the blue waters, people are hang gliding in clear blue skies.  A helicopter is flying in carrying reporter Roger Shumway.

rbttoynbee02In the control room, they are running tapes of “burning rain forests, smog alerts, gridlocked cities, sea birds caked with oil — that’s how it was as we entered the [19]90’s”.  But 100 years ago, in 2000, Stiles became the first and only man to travel through time.

After his trip 100 years ago, Stiles went into seclusion after showing the world the pictures he took of the pristine future where man had conquered the ecological chaos he had created in the late 20th century.

Stiles selects Shumway out of the pool of reporters because he has a reputation of telling the truth — that would certainly make him unique in 2015 also.  At 4 pm that afternoon in the year 2100, the world will see his ship whiz by on the time-travel journey he made 100 years earlier.  Stiles and Shumway enter his home.

Stiles shows off the time machine, the Toynbee Convector.  Styles tells us it was named for Arnold Toynbee who said, “If a people, civilization does not rush to meet the future, the future will plow them under, kill and bury them.”

rbttoynbee03I’m not sure if that is an exact quote. Wikipedia summarizes his study of civilizations as “he concluded that they rose by responding successfully to challenges under the leadership of creative minorities composed of elite leaders.”  Which seems pretty self-evident — if they don’t meet the challenges, they fade away.  And there will always be a certain segment of any society that is the smartest or most creative.  Unfortunately, today “elite” has come to mean politicians and actors, both groups which have more than their share of criminals and imbeciles.

Stiles recalls his return to ticker tape parades and the people as he showed them the pictures of the future that was possible for them. “We cleaned and made fresh the air we breathed, we replanted the forests, reclaimed the oceans, lakes and river.”

When Stiles fly-by does not occur at 4:00, Shumway realizes that the whole story, for 100 years, has been a lie.  Seeing the shape of the environment, Stiles came up with the idea of the time-travel to inspire people to change their ways.  He faked tapes, even built tiny perfect fake towns under blue paper skies.  Seeing this beautiful future, people know it was possible and made it happen.

Stiles crawls into the time machine and just seems to die; in the short story, it is more like a suicide.  In the episode, Shumway edits the tapes of his talk with Styles so his deception is cover up, and his words are inspirational,  He even uses laser technology to simulate Stile’s fly-by.

In both versions, Stiles lie is covered up.  The episode is a little more uplifting though, further establishing Stiles as a world-changing hero.  It is nice for a change in sci-fi seeing someone’s lie or hubris actually work out well, and have them be elated at what they have done.

Post-Post:

  • Short story first published in Playboy, January 1984 (by which time its incredibly poor photographic style had literally made the magazine into the joke that it had always inspired — worth a purchase only because of the articles).
  • The plan could have easily backfired.  When presented with tapes of the clean, beautiful future, people could have thought that if they keep doing what there were doing, things would still turn out fine.
  • In any event, maybe we could have kept Al Gore off TV for the past 10 years. That’s gotta be worth something.