Friday, 1 July 2011

Review; Earth II

Earth II (1971)

Some productions never have a chance.  Producer William Read Woodfield was certain that the success of 2001: a Space Odyssey  could be transferred to television, so he pitched to MGM the idea of a series set on the space station from the Kubrick feature with visions of reusing all those expensive props and models to give it a real 21st century feel.  He managed to sell the studio on it, but when MGM asked for the models and other materials from 2001 for the series only to learn that Kubrick had ordered everything destroyed to prevent just such a thing, Woodfield had to start from scratch and the result was the 1971 pilot movie Earth II.

It's the very near future and the United States launches an Apollo spacecraft, but this isn't meant to be another moonshot.  Its mission is to set up an orbital space station that will be a new sovereign nation called Earth II.  We jump forward several years and Earth II is now a rotating complex supporting some 1900 citizens.  Following the newly arrived Krager family, we learn that Earth II is a self sufficent, hi-tech space colony that even raises its own cattle.  And that it's also a smug California liberal place dedicated to international niceness that is so pacifistic that they've even outlawed toy guns.  Oddly, we later see that children may not be allowed Tom Mix revolvers, but they can play with plastic P-38s, so there's a bit of inconsistency there. 

This last bit is something of a sticking point because Earth II is not only completely unarmed, but the Red Chinese have parked a satellite loaded with H-bombs on their doorstep.  David Seville (Gary Lockwood) the leader of the colony is so devoted to his Ghandiesque principles that he's happy to do nothing while newcomer Frank Krager (Tony Franciosa) is all for disarming the thing and confiscating it.  So, the conflict is set up and the question is who will win the argument about what to do and what happens afterwards.

Earth II  is a beautiful film to look at and the model work is very impressive for a television budget, though the director should have avoided so many close shots of the station that revealed its lack of detail.  It also doesn't hurt that Lalo Schifrin's score gives the right air of importance to the film that hides its television origins.  Unfortunately, where Earth II falls down is with a script that doesn't live up to either the visuals or the quality of the actors.  The story is lacklustre with much of the action taking place around meeting tables and in lounges that could be in any insurance office of the 1970s for all we care.  The plot often grinds to a needless, talky halt as the much too large cast goes through it's paces.  This is a film that should speed up as the plot progresses or build mounting tension as the clock runs out. Instead, it strolls from point to point as if there wasn't any real hurry.

This lack of priorities is due largely to the script's wearing its left-wing desires firmly on its sleeve.  The attitude aboard Earth II is  strictly that strain of American '70s liberalism marked by a sanitised counterculture that leaves the characters forever going on about "peace" as if it was some strange abstraction hanging about waiting to be caught like a brass ring.  It sometimes gets so bad that Lisa Krager (Mariette Hartley)  gives a speech about her family moving to Earth II to experience the "peace" that they lacked back home that is so impassioned  that one wonders if the very American Kragers had just moved from Angola.  However, the writers are experienced enough not to make those who oppose the Earth II ethos into straw men and Tony Franciosa seems to be the only one in the cast who is enjoying himself as he plays devil's advocate.  He sometimes makes star Gary Lockwood look like the supporting player, which isn't hard because Lockwood later revealed that he hated the production.

Needless to say, Earth II never made it into production as a series.  If nothing else, the effects and set budgets must have been staggering and the format with its emphasis on hard science fiction and political musing wouldn't have had many legs to it as the BBC's Moonbase 3 demonstrated two years later.  Still, it's fun to look at and so long as it isn't taken as seriously as the producers hoped it would be, it's a fun 100 minutes.

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