Ray Bradbury Theater – Silent Towns (10/10/92)

We open on a rocky red landscape but we know this is Mars because there are blue skies and this is Ray Bradbury Theater.  The barren Martian desert gives way to a small frontier town.  It has been deserted, and we know this because a lone newspaper sheet is blowing down the street.

The camera stops at the Mars Irrigation Board.  Employee Walter Grip is calling in to complain that no one has come to relieve him in 2 weeks.  He tells the answering machine he’s coming in to town to rip somebody a new one.  We see him hustling through sewers and treatment plants and up ladders, finally exiting on the side of a red mountain.  Whether this is a real location or a model, it is one of the most impressive things seen in this series.

Image 021In a car that seems to be made from corrugated Quonset hut surplus metal, he tears through some rugged terrain to get to the town.  The art direction on this episode really is a step up.  Along the way, he notices that, like NASA, there is not a single rocket left at the base.

Seeing the town completely empty and with newspapers frequently blowing by, he pulls over to the curb. Getting out, he notices a sign that says MARS EVACUATION DEADLINE SET, and decides he needs a drink.  He has quite a few and begins a conversation with himself like Nicholson in The Shining, about how beautiful his girl Clara is.  Although, to be fair, Nicholson did not have such a conversation about Shelley Duvall.

Image 024After making himself a salami sandwich with meat that has been sitting out for God knows how long, he goes back out into the street, where the newspapers continue to blow by.  Wouldn’t they all eventually be on the other side of town?  They are not a renewable eyesore like tumbleweeds.

Trudging past some Mars tract housing, he hears a phone ringing.  By the time he gets to it, it is dead.  He hears another phone down the street, several houses down.  He breaks a window to get in, but again just misses the connection.  Apparently star-69 is not a thing on Mars; but phones that can be heard a quarter-mile away are huge.  A few more houses down, another call.  It is a recorded message about the last rocket leaving Mars.  I wonder if the politicians would have carved out an exemption for this in the Do Not Call Registry?  Sure, it would save lives, but there’s no real opportunity for graft.

Grip decides to be proactive and goes to some sort of station where he is able to scroll through the names and numbers of all of the rImage 037esidents.  It sounds much more daunting than it really is — the phone numbers on the screen appear to only have 3 digits.

He is desperate to find his beautiful girlfriend Clara, but strangely never seems to call her number.  He gives up before he is out of the A’s and thinks to himself, “Where would Clara go?  Where would she be?” Despite all his big talk about how beautiful she is, his bright idea is to begin calling beauty salons.

He gets several recorded messages — just to let patrons know the shop will be closed. You know, what with the planet being evacuated.  However, he does miraculously reach a live woman, the last one on Mars.

The other big face on Mars.

The woman is thrilled to hear him. He is happy to hear that she is named Genevieve because all Genevieves are hot.  Also Heathers — you could look it up.  Walter immediately forgets Clara and sets out on the 900 mile journey to meet Genevieve.

He leaps from the car and enters the Martian Mystery Beauty Salon.  He calls for Genevieve and . . . well, apparently the hot-Genevieve rule only applies on earth.  It is interesting that they didn’t make her grotesque or morbidly obese, but she would definitely be a disappointment to any blind date.

She leads him to a cafe where she has set up a little dinner for two, although I suspect she was doing this every night before she met him too.  She asks him to wait, and she returns a few minutes later wearing a wedding gown.

Gripp, not one to settle, high-tails it back to his Quonset car and speeds back home leaving her standing in the street in her wedding gown.

Post-Post:

  • An unusually cruel story from Bradbury who is usually so naive and goodhearted that it’s like he was born in another century.  I mean millennium.  I mean . . .aw crap.
  • Kudos for the local newspaper being called The Martian Chronicle.
  • Walter Gripp also gets a mention in short story The Long Years, but oddly, no connection is made to his actions here.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Martian (S5E8)

rbtmartian02Phobos and Deimos — so far so good.  Bradbury might give Mars earth-like gravity, blue skies, and breathable air, but he did at least keep the 2nd moon.  I suspect they would never be in that configuration in the sky, but why quibble.

Down on the Martian surface, LaFarge and his wife Anna are having a restless night, both dreaming about their dead son.

Anna says, “We should have brought him with us.”  Her husband quite reasonably says, “Anna, he’s been dead 5 years.  What would be the use?”  Hers sounds like a crazy comment, but she misses driving to his grave on Sunday and talking to him.  Although I think he is just as likely to hear her on Mars as on Earth no matter what your belief system.

A strange ball of light appears the next night and a disembodied voices says, “Let me go. You caught me.  Let me go.”  LaFarge opens the door and it is his dead son Tom.  He beelines for his mother’s bedroom quicker than Buster Bluth.

rbtmartian04The next morning, LaFarge awakes to hear his wife and dead son having breakfast.  Anna is treating Tom as her real son, but LaFarge is suspicious.  He has heard that the few remaining indigenous Martians can read minds and imitate relatives, which is why we killed the Indians.

The three of them go to an outdoor bazaar that night.  Tom gets separated from his parents.  When LaFarge looks for him, he sees a girl reuniting with her parents — clearly Tom has taken a new form.  All over the Martian town, people are seeing their dead relatives.

LaFarge finds the girl and convinces her to turn back into Tom.  There are so many people around with so many memories of dead friends that he can’t maintain his form as Tom. He turns into several different people, and is finally seen in the act of changing.  Finally he is overwhelmed by the crowds and vanishes completely.

rbtmartian05Not a great ending to the season.  Although it is great that the season had only 8 episodes.

Post-Post:

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Earthmen (S5E1)

rbtearthmen03The third expedition has arrived at Mars.  Although, for some reason, in the published Martian Chronicles, the third expedition was the basis for Mars is Heaven.  And the earlier episode And the Moon Be Still as Bright was about the fourth expedition.

This is the first episode of the fifth season, and they seem to have gotten a few bucks for special effects.  It ain’t Avatar, but it is a step up from the usual quality.  The ship lands and the four crewmen start across the desert looking like Reservoir Dogs, except they are all Mr. Orange.  And with about the same life expectancy.

rbtearthmen05The men find an appropriately alien-looking house.  Captain Williams knocks and an appropriately alien-looking woman answers the door.  She has a strange purple/bronze skin which doesn’t seem quite right, but it could be the lousy transfer.  Her manner of speaking, however, is very effective — very manic and halting. Kudos to ever came up with it.

She tells Williams that Mr. T is very busy, and it is Mr. A at the next farmhouse that they should see although she pities the fool who bothers him.  She then gives them a metallic card for A and slams the door on them.  Mr. A is not thrilled to see them.  He pulls out a gun and says he is going to kill Mr. T.  In the mean time, he tells Williams that the man he really needs to see is Mr. I.

rbtearthmen15Mr. I is a little calmer than his neighbors (or neighbor, if Mr. A has already killed Mr. T).  He at least invites them into his house.  Mr. I uses telepathy to learn about Williams and Earth.  He gives Williams a paper to sign.  Williams asks if his men should sign, and Mr. I gets a laugh.  He gives them a smile, a handshake, and a room for the night.  And a chance to meet Mr. X in the morning.

When they open the room, it is already filled with people although there are apparently only 26 families on the planet.  Mr. U welcomes them, and the crowd hoists the men on their shoulders in celebration.  After introductions, Mr. U claims to be from Earth.  From the crazy reaction of the crowd, it is clear that they have been put into a “lunatic asylum.”

One of the inmates tells Williams he can open the door with his mind.  Sure enough, he can, but Mr. X is waiting for him.  He has judged Williams to be insane and that his three crewman are illusions, projections that Williams has manifested.

They take Mr. X to the ship to prove that they are all real and that the ship is real.  Mr. X is very complimentary of the illusion and proclaims Williams a “psychotic genius.”  He then shoots Williams and his crew with a very cheesy laser.  He is baffled that the crew and the ship did not disappear as Williams died.

rbtearthmen33Then Mr. X kills himself with a laser blast to the head.

As the men lay dead, the ship’s radio says, “What’s going on there?  Come on guys, stop horsing around.”

Post-Post:

  •  First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1948.
  • Mrs. T really stole the show as the first alien we see. The others just aren’t in her league.

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 – And the Moon Be Still as Bright (S4E7)

bradbury02In a story from The Martian Chronicles, the fourth expedition has landed on Mars to discover that all the Martians are dead. Their bodies have been desiccated and crumbled down to ash-like leaves.

This is due to chicken pox brought by the Earthmen.  Hey, just like the evil Europeans brought disease to the Indians — get it?  Actually, PC horseshit aside, it is a great basis for a story, even if it was used earlier in War of the Worlds.  In a nice callback, the disease was possibly brought by Captain Black’s crew from Mars is Heaven.

rbtandthemoon04Spender (David Carradine) is the only one of the crew that takes the time to reflect on the devastation they have caused, the destruction of an entire civilization.

The yahoos immediately begin giving the Martian landscape earth names.  Crewman Biggs proclaims this to be Biggstown and immediately throws a can on the ground as the first litter.  All that’s missing is an Italian Martian shedding a single tear.  Spender punches Biggs, devolving to the violence inevitable to progressive, utopian types; although it usually takes more than 3 seconds.  He really had it coming, though.

rbtandthemoon05They discover a structure with hieroglyphics, which turns out to be a library.  Captain Wilder points out the lack of books.  Spender holds up one glass volume and says they’re all in here — a Martian Kindle.  Naturally Biggs tosses it to the ground, smashing it.

Spender disappears for 3 days, and who wouldn’t want to get away from these idiots? Much like the crew of Prometheus, these guys seemed to have been loaded onto the back of a pick-up in front of Astronaut Depot rather than being recruited from the scientific community.

Our favorite imbecile Biggs is having a good ol’ time shooting cans.  Aside from littering the area, it seems irresponsible to start blowing holes in water bottles when you’re in a desert, and don’t know if or when another ship will ever come.  For God’s sake, will someone just shoot this guy?  Happily, Spender does just that.

rbtandthemoon06Back at the camp, he shoots 2 more members of the crew.  He spares the one man who has Cherokee ancestry — and Bradbury makes sure we get this by naming him Cheroke.

Because of his Indian heritage,    Spender expects him to understand his vengeance on the Earthmen for destroying the Martians.  Cheroke, not being the caricature he is set up to be, can’t go along with Spender; so he is also shot.  Luckily his family — Commanch, Apach and Pawn — were not there to see it.

The rest of the crew hunts down Spender.  He plans to meet every expedition that lands and kill them.  He figures he can keep Mars pristine for about 80 years.  That will require some vigilance, one dude protecting an entire planet.

Spender points a gun at the Captain forcing Wilder to shoot him — suicide-by-astronaut.  It then falls to the Captain, somewhat sympathetic to Spender’s theories, to protect the new world.

A pretty good story.  Carradine is good in his usual role of self-righteous outsider. Even the minimalist , budget-driven sets work.

The episode sticks pretty close to the short story.  However, the story is really in Bradbury’s wheelhouse and he knocks it out of the park (to mix metaphors).

Post-Post:

  • First published in Thrilling Wonders Stores, June 1948.
  •  It also includes elements from another story in The Martian Chronicles — The Settlers.
  • Title Analysis: I don’t get it at all, but then I’m not much into poetry — based on a poem by Lord Byron.