Space exploration was really big in the 1960’s during the great space race. Science fiction was huge during this time, but by 1969 once man landed on the moon, interest began to wane. Lots of space programs were canceled, toys which had once been hot properties were destroyed and space was no longer of much interest to most people. Fast forward a little less than a decade to 1977 and space science fiction was hot again. Star Trek had become so popular in reruns that Paramount was planning to re-launch the show and make it the flagship of a network and Star Wars was bursting onto the big screen changing the landscape of the genre and much more.

Which led small toy company Ideal, to dust off some of their old 1960’s space toys and rebrand them all under one big generic umbrella. S.T.A.R. Team was just that, using a NASA-like logo and a variety of repuprosed old toys like Zeroids to serve as a catch-all to the popular trends of the day and draw in new fans who liked space and sci-fi again. Their most interesting creation however, was a reworked Captain Action figure, who became the chief villain of the toy line and was named Knight of Darkness!

S.T.A.R. Team had a variety of toys, which were mostly old space exploration roleplay toys reworked to be slightly more sci-fi. However the S.T.A.R. Team action figure line was much more creative in it’s scope. In addition to the Knight of Darkness, there was Zem-21, who was sort of like C-3P0 and the re-released Zeroids who were a bit like R2-D2. There was also a goofy guy named Kent, who showed up at the tail end of the line.

The real star of the line to me is the Knight of Darkness. He is definitely inspired by Darth Vader, but has a more phallic design that likens him a bit closer to Darth Helmet. While his design is definitely different, it’s not hard to imagine many parents being confused by this character and giving them to a youngster thinking this was the Sith lord. Kenner was barely cranking official Star Wars toys out at this point and those early Kenner Vader dolls didn’t exactly look like on screen replicas either.

Over time the Knight of Darkness has gotten a bad reputation by collectors and fans alike as just a poor ripoff of Darth Vader. Personally I think he has a lot of charm. Vader himself is nothing more than a mishmash of previous villain ideas all rolled into one. So why is the Knight of Darkness so bad?

This guy can usually be found loose on Ebay for about $20, but rarely complete. He came with a Captain Action Flash Gordon gun and Captain Action boots. These items have usually been lost or taken from him. No matter, I found an old pair of boots and an even cooler space ray gun for mine. If you’re looking for one MIB, you can expect to pay over $100 and have to search a lot more.

His chest typically has some deterioration as the silver has a tendecy to fall off with age. Beyond that, these guys hold up quite well. Since this is using a black version of the Captain Action body frame, it’s actually much more poseable than any actual Star Wars figure of the era.

According to the official Marvel Comics promotional book that came out featuring this character, the Knight of Darkness is an evil overlord of the Shadow Warriors. They have come from the Black Nebula to take over Earth. Pretty simple stuff, but classic and fun nonetheless.

The S.T.A.R. Team line only lasted a little over a year and despite Ideal’s best efforts, wasn’t enough to make the company a player in the toy business again. Ideal would be sold in 1982 to CBS Toys and eventually to Tyco, who would then be sold to Mattel. Interestingly the rights to the Zeroids along with Captain Action are now owned by a new company which is once again bringing Captain Action to the market… Could the Knight of Darkness follow suit?

Speaking of suits, George Lucas actually tried to file a lawsuit against Ideal over the S.T.A.R. Team and the Knight of Darkness in particular. However the case was almost instantly thrown out because 95% of the toyline was simply repurposed old toys. The Knight of Darkness defeated George Lucas… If that doesn’t make him a badass, what could?! I love the knock-offs with charm and the Knight of Darkness is that, plus much more.

Dr. Who and the Daleks
Released by Anchor Bay DVD
Starring: Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey

If you’re a Doctor Who fan (and who isn’t anymore?) chances are you’ve run across references to a mysterious set of Doctor Who movies that were only released in England in 1965, and have a completely different set of actors in they. If you actually tried to find this movie you’d no doubt be disappointed to find that A) Copies in the United States are few and far between, and B.) most copies that are out there are stupidly expensive (used, beat up copies costing up to $20, and new, unopened editions costing anywhere from $50-100 on Amazon and Ebay).

Rather than let you spend the money, only to find out you’ve not quite found a diamond in the rough (but instead a cubic zirconium) I threw myself on the financial grenade and picked up a copy for 30 bucks on Ebay, and made myself watch it for you guys. Here’s the skinny!
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Man From Earth

Director: Richard Schenkman
Running Time: 87 minutes
Studio: Anchor Bay
Starring: David Lee Smith,
John Billingsley, William Katt,
Ellen Crawford, and Tony Todd
Year released: 2007

What do you get when you combine a cast of second string nobodies with a 200,000 dollar budget, a director whose best know work is the abysmal Divas Christmas Carol, and the author of one of the most well know Star Trek stories of all time? Why, you get The Man from Earth of course, a film which in its 87 minute, special effects free, running time does a better job at being compelling science fiction than anything that George Lucas has put out since Empire.

I want to be kind of careful with this one. I really like this movie and do not want to spoil some of the surprises, so just be forewarned that there are some spoilers here. You have been warned!

The Plot:
Professor John Oldman (his name is a bad pun, you’ll see) is leaving his job at the university and moving away. Before he can go, however, a group of his friends surprise him with a small going away gathering. The cast is composed of a group of real second string actors, including Dr. Phlox, the Candyman, and the Jump-to-Conclusions guy from Office Space, which is must say is impressive, because each of them gives a performance worthy of top billing. It just goes to show what happens when you have really strong material to work with what you can get.

As I was saying, John’s friends join together to throw him a party, and in the course of their discussion John begins asking a strange series of questions about Human DNA and the aging process. At first his friends play along, but then begin to grow rather perplexed as to why John is asking about this. Eventually he makes a decision and reveals that he is actually a prehistoric man who has lived for over 14,000 years.

His friend, of course, do not believe him, but as he begins weaving his tale together for them more and more they find themselves getting sucked in, despite the fact that what he says is impossible. And before too long they increasingly find themselves believing what he is saying.

The tales takes a few twists and turns from there, with John revealing some things that upset more than a few people (Hint: it’s connected to the Bible, and John’s connection to one of its important players) and eventually John tells everyone that he was just making up the story and sends them all home. Some people think he’s crazy, and some think he was telling the truth. I won’t tell you which of his friends were right, but I will tell you this: you will get a solid answer before the film ends.

The Review:
What’s the deal with this film?

The story of how this movie was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. The script was written by Jerome Bixby, the same guy who wrote the famous Mirror, Mirror episode of Star Trek (remember evil Spock? This guy wrote that) The script itself was begun in the 1960’s, but wasn’t completed for years after, and was eventually finished by Bixby on his deathbed (I’m not sure if he actually finished it there, but that’s what all the taglines say, so who am I to question?)

Despite this high pedigree script, the film seemed doomed to flop. A small budget, no special effects, hardly any theatrical run, and a cast whose lead actor doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry doesn’t really sound like a winning formula.

And yet? Well, in a strange twist of fate, this film was pirated on the internet. I know, I know, every film is pirated on the internet, but this time instead of the studio going after the pirates, they encouraged it!

Yep, you see, the producers of the film could have been pissed that their only chance at making any money off this film was being taken away from them by internet pirates. However, instead of lashing out, producer Eric Wilkinson actually thanked the pirates for getting the word out about the film. And it worked. The film became a cult classic in a very short period of time, and has gotten a heck of a lot more attention than probably anyone connected with the film expected. It’s even up for a Saturn Award!

The Specs:
Just so we are clear, as much as I love or hate a movie, what matters most to me as a consumer is whether or not the DVD is worth it. With that in mind, we shall begin!

Packaging: I’m kind of disappointed by the box here. It’s just too slick and shiny for the film it contains. Not that I don’t understand it, mind you. I doubt your average DVD shopper was going to pick this film up if the box just showed a bunch of people sitting around a fire place, but still, something doesn’t feel right about it. The movie spends all of its time trying to give a logical and realistic view of what it would be like to live as long as John did, and then they slap a big old alien laser light outline on the cover.

The box itself has a slipcover, which I do like, even though it’s the same image as the dvd cover. The slipcover does serve to mute the effect somewhat though.

Inside the case you get the DVD with the same image on it, and a chapter insert card. I really like it when DVD’s include this. I always feel a bit disappointed when I open up a case and there is nothing there. Putting in a little card with the chapters and some additional artwork not only makes the box a bit nicer, it also shows that the people who put this film together actually care about it and are not just slapping it out in a rush for the money. It also shows a commitment to the fans that they take the time to spruce it up a bit before they put it on the shelves.

Bonus Features:
First off, we have 2 commentary tracks here, one featuring the Richard Shenkman and actor John Billingsley, the other with the author’s son Emerson Bixby and sci-fi scholar Gary Westfahl. Both tracks will amuse, as well as give interesting insight into the process of making this film. What is nice to hear is just how much genuine love went into making this movie, and how much it meant to Bixby to get his father’s last work onto the screen. What would have been nice is getting a track with just the actors, or one that included David Lee Smith, but for a movie like this we’re lucky to get anything bonus at all.

I’ll freely admit I am a DVD commentary nut, and I’ve passed on buying some DVDs of movies I love simply because there is no track included. To me, it really shows a lack of interest in their work or lack of commitment to a project when the director doesn’t take the time to sit down after the movie is made and kind of talk the audience through their film. I also like it when the actors sit down too and talk about what is was like making the movies.

I know a lot of people who have tried to make their own films and write their own scripts, and a lot of them use DVD commentary tracks as a kind of low budget film school to help figure out how to do certain things like trim dialogue and shoot angles. It shows a nice commitment to the craft when the people involved with the films are able to help others who are interested in this profession by offering insight in this way.

The DVD also includes 4 (very) short behind the scenes featurettes about the making of the film. With a low budget film like this it’s not surprising that all four are very short, but they do offer some good insight into the process for those interested in film making, including how to deal with both a location that doesn’t have a bathroom, and with a dirt bike track next to your set. There is also a nice feature on how the script came together, and on the sci-fi street cred of the author, and the actors involved in the project.

Score Recap:
Packaging: 7/10
Film: 9/10
Commentary Track: 8/10
Bonus features: 7/10
Total Score: 8/10

My Recommendation: This one is a definite buy. The movie is great, and the special features are a nice addition to a rather lo budget film. Anchor Bay does a nice job with this type of film, and the box shows their usual level of care. Plus, and I cannot stress this enough, this is good science fiction in the vein of classic Twilight Zone type productions. No special effects, no flashy gloss, just a realistic conversation full of intriguing possibility. This is what good sci-fi is supposed to be. If fans of good sci-fi don’t support films like this, then they have no right to complain when studios throw big budget flash and bang at us and call it a movie (cough, cough, Transformers 2, cough).

Hello all, I’m Rob, inaugural column and all, very exciting! What I’d like to do with these is to offer reviews of sci-fi movies, released on DVD for fans of the site who might want to consider buying them, but don’t know if they are worth the value, in the same way the Newt and his crew review toys and other pop culture paraphernalia. While I will occasionally review newer DVDs, I also want to give some love to older, less known movies that the casual watcher may not be familiar with. My rating system will break the DVDs down into 3 categories: Skip it, Watch but don’t buy, or Pick it up now.

So here we go! My first review 🙂

Doctor Who
The Movie
Special Edition

What’s that, you say? A New Doctor who movie! Does this contain the death of beloved, bow-tie wearing Matt Smith all ready? Has the series been restarted once again?

Let me explain.

New Doctor Who fans might be confused by this release, especially American fans for whom Doctor Who is only recently exploding in popularity. Sure, a portion of American Who fans have seen some of the older Who episodes, and for most of them images of the scarf bedecked 4th Doctor Tom Baker, or celery garnished 5th Doctor Peter Davidson may be as familiar as leather clad Chris Eccleston or besneakered David Tennant, but even the most dedicated new American Who fan has probably never seen, let alone heard of Paul McGann, other than in quick flashes in a few New Who episodes, and as a bonus figure in the 11 Doctors’ toy pack.

So what’s the deal with this film?

This movie is a perfect example of why Doctor Who is, and always should be, a British institution. In the mid 90’s Doctor Who had fallen on rough times. Incomprehensible plotline and poor budgets lead to the series ending in 1989. Who fans were crestfallen, although it did mean that a lot of really bad story ideas were kept from ever seeing the light of day.

And so the series was in limbo, until 1996 when the BBC decided to team up with hip, American TV network Fox to produce a back door pilot for a new, joint US/Britain Doctor Who series to be shown on Fox and the BBC. A noble idea, and one that could have worked, if the BBC had more control over it, and Fox never came near it.

The Plot:
The 7th doctor, Sylvester McCoy, is summoned to the Dalek home world of Skaro to pick up the remains of his old foe The Master, who has been sentenced to death by the Daleks. The Doctor, travelling in a TARDIS whose revamped interior looks more like a steam punk wet dream than the hodgepodge control rooms new fans know today, gathers up the remains of his old foe inside a small box, which he locks with his sonic screw driver, and goes off to read a copy of The Time Machine, whilst munching on some Gummi Jelly Babies.

While in mid flight, the Master, now a transparent CGI snake, breaks free of the box, and gets into the TARDIS’ controls, forcing it to crash land in San Francisco, smack dab in the middle of an Asian gang war. Upon walking outside of the TARDIS to investigate what happened, the Doctor takes several bullets to the chest, and collapses on the ground.

Not the most dignified of Doctor Who deaths, you say? Hang on, it gets worse. The Doctor is rushed to a hospital where beautiful Doctor Grace Holloway, who has rushed from an opera performance in a low cut dress that would have made Peri Brown proud, attempts to save his life. Now, why call in a cardiologist to help a gunshot victim? Because he has two hearts of course, and since no one knows this until later, Grace botches the surgery, and the Doctor dies thrashing on the table to a wonderful opera sound track.

Later, his regeneration delayed by the anesthetic, the Doctor emerges from the morgue as the 8th Doctor Paul McGann, whose memory has been lost due to the long regeneration time. Stumbling around the hospital, he manages to find a Wild Bill Hitchcock costume, bond with Grace, and then run afoul of the new Master, played by Eric Roberts. Yep, old sneaky snake slid down the throat of Eric Roberts and took over his rapidly decaying body, hoping to capture the Doctor and steal his remaining regenerations for himself.

What follows is a nonsensical romp through San Fran, with the Master infiltrating the TARDIS and the mind of the young Asian street punk Chang Lee, who helps the Master in return for not killing him, er, I mean, for bags of gold dust, er, I mean, because they’re friends. Yeah, not real clear on why these two team up in the first place. Eventually the Doctor is captured by the Master, who, having discover that the Doctor is half human (yep, that was part of the plot) uses Chang and Grace to open the Eye of Harmony, the black hole at the center of Gallifrey that has, for unexplained reasons, been placed inside the Doctor’s TARDIS. Chang and Grace are killed, but the Doctor manages to escape and force the Master into the black hole, destroying him for now. Then, for reasons that no one can explain, Grace and Chang are brought back to life, and they leave the TARDIS, and the Doctor, who fails to tempt Grace to stay with him, leaves Earth, while listening to music and finishing reading the book his last incarnation had started.

The Review:
This film is, in a word, a mess. Not that it doesn’t try hard to pull it together, but it just has too much going on to make it really worthwhile. The problem is it tries too hard to try to connect to too many people. For fans of the old Who, it tried to drop in too many little bits and pieces of the classic show to try to show its street cred. But at a certain point you stop caring how many sly references they make to Tom Baker, and start wondering if they know anything of substance about the actual show itself. The fact that Skaro is still around (it was destroyed in Remembrance of the Daleks), the Eye of Harmony is in the TARDIS ( It was under the capital on Gallifrey. Apparently the Time Lords just gave it to the Doctor, a disgraced Time Lord, to power his outdated TARDIS with?) the Doctor is half human (on his mother’s side) and the Master is a goo spitting baddie in a big leather coat and sunglasses (who goes from menacing foe to campy diva) and you get a film that really just kills it for classic fans.

New Who fan will also be confused by this film. Especially because those fans who have seen Doctor Who rebooted correctly, and John Simms play a fantastic new Master to make any Whovian proud will not understand how the directors got this film so wrong. Plus, even new Who fans with little classic knowledge of the show will be confused by the inconsistency of the film, and by the several elements that just do not seem to belong.

Bonus Features:
This is a special edition re-release, although for US fans this is the only release. Fox and the BBC argued for years about distribution rights, meaning that only British fans could buy the original DVD release, and US fans had to pirate it off the internet, or get a region free DVD player like me.

To be fair, this DVD is chocked full of bonus material, including 2 commentary tracks, one by director Geoffrey Sax, and one featuring Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy, moderated by Nicolas Briggs. Why Briggs? Because in a movie where you barely mention the Daleks, you want the guy who voiced them to have his say.

This DVD also includes several documentaries, although most are rather short. There is a brief tour of the new TARDIS, chocked full of throw away hidden features that show that the producers did their research into what was in the show, but not what actually made the show work.

The one feature that is worth watching is the The Doctor’s Strange Love, where a group of fans and writers sit around and chat about the show for 15 minutes. They do address some of the problems with the film, but in the end they all love it, even though they raise some serious problems with the episode, including the fact that it ends on such a strange point no one knew where the story would go from there.

Score Recap:
Package: 5/10 (it’s shiny)
Film itself: 2/10
Commentary tracks: 7/10
Bonus features: 6/10
Total Score: 4/10 (yes I rounded down, it deserves it)

My Recommendation: Watch it. What!? I know what you’re thinking, but if you really call yourself a true Who fan you have to pay your dues and watch this film, if for no other reason than the fact that if Davies ever gets focused enough to do a movie over the Time Lord/ Dalek Time War McGann is going to be in it, and you need to know some things about the guy. Plus, if it is any consolation, McGann’s doctor is not bad, he’s just trapped in a bad movie.

The casual fan will probably want to skip this, and I do not recommend buying this unless, like me, you enjoy forcing your friends to watch old Doctor Who episodes to MST3K them together.

Hunter Prey
Directed by Sandy Collora
Available Now on DVD

It’s been a while since we’ve done a movie review here at Infinite Hollywood, but that’s a trend I hope to buck in the new year. The film we’re looking at today is a low budget science fiction movie that just saw it’s DVD release a couple months back. Hunter Prey is from director Sandy Collora and although you may not know the name, you’ve probably seen at least one piece of his work. Collora is most famous for Batman: Dead End, the short film that’s been a hit with fanboys and cinefiles alike for some time.

Batman: Dead End has it’s problems but managed to have the single best Joker ever put on film in my opinion, despite the limited nature of his appearance. Collora has done a few other of these small features, including World’s Finest. Without getting too much into my thoughts on those little films, Sandy is without a doubt “one of us”. He’s living the dream (perhaps the nightmare at times) and he still loves toys. He’s a big Mego maniac and generally a cool dude. That’s not something you can say about most directors out there.

Hunter Prey is to my knowledge, his first feature length film and is a sci-fi story with a pretty basic premise. The crew of the Prometheus crash land on an unknown planet in route to transfer a prisoner. In the crash, all hell breaks loose and the prisoner escapes, killing several of the crew in the process. As the crew try to get rescued they must reacquire the prisoner and keep him alive. A cat and mouse game begins between the remaining members of the Prometheus and their alien captive. As we learn later in the film, the prisoner has information that could lead to the destruction of the entire world, which is why his safety is so important.

The movie has several twists, which I won’t spoil here. The best one comes about 30 minutes into the film and changes the entire pace of the movie. I hesitate to say that it makes the film uneven, but it definitely blurs the line of who is a good guy and who is the bad guy. The prisoner and Centauri 7 (the toughest member of the Prometheus crew and a dead ringer for a NeoSapien from Exo-Squad) do battle with wits, skill and intestinal fortitude. Who is really the Hunter and who is the Prey?

Throughout it all, the special effects and costumes are quite well done. We get some Boba Fett/Clone Trooper inspired costumes and one set of clothes even reminded me of Logan’s Run. It never feels “low budget” in the traditional way that low budget movies can. Instead the budget is restrained by having one set throughout 99% of the film (a desert) and a very small cast count. Your appreciation of the film will hinge on these two things. There is a certain repetitive nature with the characters sort of chasing each other around the desert planet with no real end destination. We’re just waiting for them to capture one another and for the rescue shuttle to come and pick them up.

That would probably be my main problem with the special effects. We see a moon or another planet superimposed on the landscape background over and over. This was a neat trick in Star Wars and I appreciated it here, but it’s overused. By the 15th time I’ve seen it, I’m annoyed. Obviously they were put there to let us know that this was an alien planet and not Earth, but it was a tad overused.

Collora is smart for the most part however and uses the introduction of new characters and elements at the exact moment where you start to get bored. Because of the limited budget, the pacing is stretched, but I think he manages to introduce just the right spice to kick things up. I did find the ending a bit contrived and the last 15 minutes or so I wasn’t as interested in these characters anymore.

Ultimately I think some of that can be blamed on the script as the constant flip flopping between who is the hero and who is the villain. We’re never given a clear cut bad guy and I think that takes away from the finale. Without spoiling too much, we’re sort of told that one faction is bad, but it’s only vaguely hinted at. Perhaps had the film focused a little less on creating anti-heroes and twists, it would have been more successful.

This movie has no “stars”. The most famous two people in the film, we never see. Isaac C. Singleton Jr. has been in many movies and you’d probably recognize him as “that guy” if you saw his face, but his small part is obscured by makeup effects here. The other known actor is Erin Gray, who has been in everything from Silver Spoons to playing Wilma Deering in Buck Rogers. She is simply the voice of a computer program Clea, which has an important role in the plot of the film.

Honestly, it’s probably for the better that we don’t see them. Singleton’s character is flat and unrealistic and when he’s removed from the plot, it’s better. Clea herself I found particularly annoying and I think that subplot was more of an unnecessary burden than a delightful treat. Despite these minor issues, the movie is good and definitely worth a rental. Of course buying the film would be a great service to independent filmmakers everywhere, but I digress.

This movie is good, not great, and if you liked 80’s-90’s low budget sci-fi, you’ll likely find yourself right at home. It’s got a certain charm and knows it’s limitations. I can say this for certain, it’s a hundred million times better than any movie that the SyFy (Sci-Fi) channel has churned out in the last decade or more. Granted that’s not a high bar to set, but it seems that most low budget sci-fi these days is on that level. This far exceeds that drek and if you liked movies like Arena (1989), Robot Jox or Robot Wars, you’ll probably enjoy this.

I came into this movie with an understanding of what it would be about, it’s budget limitations and a good impression of the director. I’m certain that makes me slightly biased, but my thoughts on the film are still pretty unhampered. I should mention though, that my GF tried to watch the movie and fell asleep about 20 minutes in. The first 10 minutes or so of the film are a bit slow. She also told me she didn’t like it. She didn’t see most of it, but she didn’t like it. Of course, I think she was biased as well, because once I told her that the movie was from a guy on one of my toy forums, she lost interest.

I’d be lying if I told you this was the perfect low budget sci-fi thriller. It’s not, but it’s not just a rehash of Enemy Mine as some has dismissed it. It gets a decent recommendation from me. It’s not a big budget adventure, but it’s small scale done reasonably right. If nothing else check it out on Netflix when you run out of stuff to watch. I’ve killed an hour and half watching worse stuff.