DVD Review: Genre TV Movie Classics from The Warner Archives

Awhile back, Warner Brothers announced The Warner Archives, a new division that put a lot of Warners-owned movies out for either download or DVD-on-demand release, basically, you won’t find these in stores and other than through illegal means, the only ways I’ve seen at present to get them are either through Warners themselves or Deep Discount, and you’re best bet is through Warners directly because Deep Discount charges even more for them.

There’s a lot of good stuff available through them, but recently, I saw it pointed out through the Geek Radio Daily messageboards that the original pilot film for NBC’s Man From Atlantis was being offered there. Now I was intrigued, but not quite ready to pull the trigger on that right away, but checking into their selection, I found four things that I just couldn’t say no to… these were all pilot films from the early 70s, all of which were real staples of mine back in the day. I caught them when they were originally aired and re-aired on the networks, and then again when they’d show up on a couple of St. Louis stations which at the time were not affiliated with any networks. These stations used to show things like Abbott & Costello movies, Bowery Boys movies, Tarzan movies and a smorgasbord of various classic horror and science fiction films, all of which seem to be gone now, except for the occasional thing that might show up on either Turner Classic Movies or Fox Movies.

The four movies are:

Genesis II
Planet Earth
Earth II
City Beneath The Sea

Warners offered a deal on buying both Genesis II and Planet Earth together and I managed to find a discount code that got me a further $5.00 off the whole order, so I pulled the trigger. Within a week, everything was delivered, and I had a small thing that happened with my billing in the end. I e-mailed Warners about it, and within the hour, I’d been replied to and everything was taken care of to my satisfaction, so a thumbs up for their service.

Now here’s the deal on the movies:

Genesis II and Planet Earth both come from the fertile mind of Gene Roddenberry who of course will be eternally known for giving the world Star Trek. Genesis II originally aired on CBS back in 1973 as a 90 minute pilot film. At the same time, CBS was enjoying some terrific ratings for showings of the Planet of the Apes movies, and thus this pilot was passed on, with CBS opting for a Planet of the Apes series and using the reasoning that it could only have one sci-fi show on the air at a time. The main protagonist of this is a scientist from the year 1979 named Dylan Hunt (played by Alex Cord, better known for his work on Airwolf) who’s working on a new cryogenics system designed for astronauts in deep space travel. He uses himself as a test subject for the process deep in scientific complex located in Carlsbad Caverns, and of course, an accident happens and Hunt finds himself trapped there, only to be discovered in the year 2133 by a completely new society called Pax. Amongst those of Pax who discover Hunt, is a recent new addition, a mutant female known as Lyra-A (with the last part pronounced Ah) who has her own motives in retrieving Hunt. And of course hijinks ensue. Of note here was the fact that Lyra-A was played by actress Mariette Hartley who turned up all over the place back in the day, but was better known for being James Garner’s “wife” in a series of commercials for Polaroid and Ted Cassidy as the Pax member Isiah, who was better known for playing Lurch on The Addams Family. CBS, as I said above, passed on the pilot, but they aired it at least twice in primetime and again when they had a late night Friday night movie series. I still remember how they promoted it, in particular showing off Lyra-A’s mutation being dual navels! As a kid this was great stuff, and seeing it now again after all these years, it’s still a lot of fun, though it’s certainly stilted in a lot of it’s dialogue, and low budget in it’s look and so ripe in being made fun of, but at the same time pleasing in seeing what we used to get in a simpler time…

Planet Earth was aired by ABC in 1974 and it was Roddenberry selling Genesis II all over again- it’s the same premise but with some significant changes, I’m figuring that ABC wanted the show to more resemble Star Trek. John Saxon was cast as Dylan Hunt, and I always figured that if William Shatner never played James T. Kirk, John Saxon was probably the guy next in line to play him (Saxon was in all sorts of movies, but in my estimation is probably best known for co-starring with Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon). Two of the other planned recurring characters were also re-cast (though Ted Cassidy was retained). In Genesis II, Pax was a society based underground, but the setting was changed for ABC. And more sci-fi-type of uniforms were given to the Pax team. The story here actually grew sort of from a throwaway bit in Genesis II involving another society on this future earth in which women were overtly dominant over their men. Basically a member of Pax is shot on a mission and the only person who can immediately save him is another Pax member who was last seen infiltrating this female society- now Dylan Hunt and his team have to find this guy, and in the process bring a different sort of “enlightenment” to this female society, headed up by actress Diana Muldaur. These series probably represent Roddenberry at his free-wheeling horniest, though he was always trying to be a little on the saucy side with the original Star Trek as well. Again, like Genesis II I thought this was and still is some great fun, though some of that fun now can also be had playing with this in an MST3K style. ABC passed on this and went with The Six Million Dollar Man instead…

Earth II was originally broadcast by ABC in 1971 and was very much influenced in a small screen way by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Earth II tells the story of a multinational space station, called appropriately enough Earth II, that is it’s own sovereign nation in respect to the other nations of Earth. As this starts, the three astronauts who are in charge of Earth II are beginning their first steps in it’s construction, being launched in space and flying over the United States and by scanning the lights left on at night, determining if the nation favors Earth II becoming it’s own sovereign nation. Well, of course they get the green light, and so our scene shifts to the constructed Earth II, and how one man Frank Karger who helped with those opening steps is now bringing his family to live to Earth II. Frank has his own ideas about what they should be doing there and can’t wait to get cracking, though he’s meeting with some resistance from the original founders. This all gets accelerated though when Red China launches it’s own orbital nuclear missile launch platform, threatening the entire world with World War III. Earth II was proudly stating how scientifically accurate they were trying to be at the start of the show and I do believe they were trying their level best. Again, lots of 70s mainstays in this, Gary Lockwood (from 2001), Scott Hylands, Hari Rhodes and Gary Merrill serve as some main principals with Tony Franciosa playing Frank Karger and Mariette Hartley (yet again- see you couldn’t trip over anything in TV in the 70s without coming across Mariette Hartley) as his wife. Fun stuff and probably the best story of the four that I ordered.

City Beneath The Sea aired in 1971 on NBC and was from another icon in science fiction and disaster movies, Irwin Allen. Out of the four of these, visually, this was the most ambitious at least to me. It’s 2053, and Admiral Michael Matthews has been ordered by the President of the United States to re-assume his old job as the leader of the underwater city of Pacifica for a couple of different reasons and in addition a meteorite is headed straight to Pacifica’s location and threatens it’s destruction unless drastic action is taken! This is pure Irwin Allen schlock but also a lot of fun- lots of things come in from other Allen series, including the flying sub from Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, actor Richard Basehart (also from Voyage) and actors Robert Colbert and James Darren from The Time Tunnel. Stuart Whitman stars as Matthews, and he’s rock-solid here, and the cast also includes Robert Wagner, Rosemary Forsyth and Joseph Cotten. probably the coolest part though was a character named Aguila, played by actor Burr DeBenning. Aguila was a mutant who could breathe and speak underwater, and DeBenning actually plays him with quite a bit of conviction. Fun stuff all around…

Now I don’t necessarily think these would fly with an audience that’s more weened on movie and TV after 1980, but for those that do remember these, it’s at least good to know that they’re still out there, and it certainly gives me hope that a few other things from the day might manage to make it out someday, in particular for me, two of Gene Roddenberry’s other failed pilots The Questor Tapes and Spectre.

As to the physical releases themselves, well the picture quality is actually pretty good here, probably the best that these have ever seen. Genesis II, Planet Earth and Earth II are all full frame, but City Beneath The Sea is in anamorphic widescreen. Both Earth II and City got international theatrical release, and near as I can tell, those are the versions shown here. In addition for both Earth II and City the disks also carry theatrical trailers for both movies.

For my first experience with the Warners Archives, this was a pretty good one, so for those that have been interested in trying them out, they certainly get a big thumbs up here.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

20. November 2009 by Darren Goodhart
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