A George R.R. Martin twin spin!
From now on, he will be permanently known for Game of Thrones, but long before that, Martin had done some anthology work on the revivals of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. He only provided the source material for this one, which is unfortunate because the episode deviates from the short story in many ways. Standing alone, it is good episode — just not what I signed up for.
First of all, if you’re casting a brilliant scientist, Beau Bridges should not be high on your wish list. Jeff Bridges? Lloyd Bridges? Todd Bridges? On the list before Beau.
In a better bit of casting, his wife is played by 80’s babe Helen Shaver. This is doubly welcome as she is not in the short story at all.
After one of his science experiments (tiny martians brought back in a soil sample) escapes the nest, the government shuts down his program. Beau does the sensible thing, smuggles one of the creatures out of the maximum containment facility — where it still nearly escaped — and secures it in a barn. But it has a padlock, so no problem.
Newly unemployed, Beau has plenty of time to observe the alien insects he brought home; and they are more entertaining than sea monkeys. He feeds them mice, they build their first castle. And then a 2nd castle as they begin choosing up sides — ha, they think they’re people!
Beau starts to get concerned as the ripples under the sand get larger, and some nasty pincers start sticking out. But once he sees they revere him as a god, that seems OK.
The sandkings begin to demonstrate psychic abilities as they lure the new family dog down to their place for dinner. Beau finds the dog’s collar in the their cage and makes it a little more secure by electrifying the cage. He also tells them, no more snacks even though he will clearly have some Milk Bones going to waste.
After poor Helen Shaver is then given the traditional sci-wife scene of nagging her genius husband, Beau goes to the barn for some peace and quite. There he sees now two larger castles, with one sporting his face. The castles are quite well-designed, although I think the face looks a little more like Lloyd Bridges. Understandably, he smashes the one castle without his face on it, and tells its occupants to “get with the program”.
When one of them bites the hand that isn’t feeding them, he realizes that there might be trouble. Things really go south from here as his family bails, a co-worker meets a bad end, the sandkings get feisty. Actually, in rewatching parts of it, I think I liked it even more the 2nd time.
The short story has several differences and is also quite good. It won both a Hugo and Nebulae, so it is a little surprising so many changes were made. I think the SS had more of a horror vibe, and maybe they wanted to sci-fi it up more for the 1st episode of the revived Outer Limits.
Beau’s character (Simon Kress) in the SS is not a scientist, but an arrogant rich guy with a sadistic streak the size of King Joffrey’s. On a planet that is not earth, he buys the sandkings at a pet shop. The strange shopkeeper, and her willingness to sell these murderous creatures (who will clearly dominate the world) to some yahoo really made me think of Gremlins.
Kress takes great pleasure in starving the sandkings, forcing them into battles for the entertainment of guests. They oblige by demonstrating great strategies, forming alliances, coordinating attacks, and making him some big coin betting on matches.
About halfway through the SS, the sandkings turn on Kress. The last half is really straight-up horror as Kress tries to contain the problem and fails at every turn. Someday that will also make a great show.
- If you ever have the need to take notes while watching Hulu, get what you need the first time around. They will make sure you watch every bloody commercial again if you try to review!
- I refuse to call this a novelette.
- A little in the episode, and more in the SS, you can see hints of Game of Thrones. The sandkings are ruthlessly political in their alliances and battles. They have their god, and his face on the castle might even be considered their sigil.
- Kim Coates as yuppie dweeb?
- Sadly, I was unable to work in The Dude.
- The two women most involved with episode both have interesting stories. Writer Melinda Snodgrass studied voice at a conservatory in Vienna, practiced law, wrote for Star Trek TNG, ran a natural gas company in New Mexico, and is now an accomplished equestrian.
- I only knew of Helen Shaver as one of many 80’s babes that you never see anymore. Now I see that she has kept busy as a director on a long list of TV shows including 6 episodes of The Outer Limits and several current shows.
- Meanwhile, I’m in my underwear writing a blog post on Friday night.