Monday, January 3, 2011

Spotlight on "The Galaxy Being"

by Gary Gerani


THE PROMOS

Like most fans of my generation, I fell in love with the Galaxy Being months before seeing the original show that introduced him to the world. Those ascending notes of “the New ABC” blared at TV viewers like crazy before the Fall season began, with heavily-promoted Outer Limits apparently the ultimate gift for monster-craving kids. And what a monster! This “front man” gargoyle was like the best of those ‘50s-style, rubber-suited sci-fi creatures we were accustomed to, but with an early ‘60s special effects facelift (he shimmers!). "The Galaxy Being" is still a remarkable, one-of-a-kind screen entity even in this CGI-ridden 21st Century we currently find ourselves in. Those ABC promos back in ‘63 gave us some quick but unforgettable glimpses of what was just ahead: a taloned space creature emanating shock waves, blasting terrified people, speeding cars, and countless newspapers with the force of a hurricane. Needless to say, all the kids at P.S. 186 knew where they were going to be on the night of September 16th.

THE PREMIERE

Much to my annoyance, mom and dad planned to watch Love is a Many Splendored Thing on Monday Night at the Movies (beginning at 7:30—crap!), which meant the living room TV was “reserved.” So I viewed the network premiere of Outer Limits on my 19” black-and-white portable, which sat on a rolling cart in my bedroom. I got comfortable, snapped open a bag of potato chips, and directly faced the glowing screen…

OPENING TITLES/TEASER

We all knew “The Galaxy Being” was the first episode of this newfangled Outer Limits TV series, which had obviously been created to give Twilight Zone a run for its money. Now I was very loyal to TZ; it was a show I watched with my parents every week, and we made a fun game of trying to guest the twist endings, the choice of still image in the end credits, etc. Rod Serling was practically like a beloved member of the family at this point. But hey, tough as it was to follow the seminal greatness of Zone, “Galaxy Being” certainly got everyone’s attention and became a case of must-see TV (except for mom and dad, of course). So… the episode begins, presenting viewers with “There is nothing wrong with your television set” for the very first time. It was that slightly extended version of the opening (“If we wish to make it louder…”), a tad pedantic maybe, but the graphics were cool and the absence of an actual host intriguing. We could tell right off that this was a sci-fi show that took itself very seriously. Okay, fine, cool; but Where’s the Being? Didn’t have to wait long for his first dramatic appearance, which occurs within the first few moments of the teaser. A great view of KXKVI’s transmitting tower is enhanced by the superimposition of an oscillating static field -- the series’ signature graphic—which finally settles into Maxwell’s 3D receiver, providing an elegant cinematic touch. And before we can even catch our breath, there’s the Being taking shape inside that receiver, with face of humanity Cliff Robertson (we all knew he was a classy actor) looking on open-mouthed. Yes!!

ACT I

So cool to hear Dominic Frontiere’s doom-laden version of the OL theme as credits come zooming out at us. We’re now introduced to two annoying civilians: disc jockey Gene “Buddy” Maxwell (Lee Phillips, originally cast as the lead) and our protagonist’s long-suffering wife, Carol (Jacqueline Scott). It’s funny. These opening scenes in the sound booth have the texture of 1957; we’re practically in Jailhouse Rock territory. For those too young to know such things, the fabulous ‘50s lasted until around 1964, as Kennedy’s assassination and the arrival of the Beatles ushered in the “real,” protest-driven 1960s. Anyway… Before long Carol trundles over to her husband Alan Maxwell’s makeshift lab, kind of like a Tom Edison version of Radio Shack, but with cool, incessant sound effects generated by that 3D receiver unit. Here’s where we finally get to meet explorer Alan in earnest, and quite an earnest fellow he is. Robertson is worth his weight in gold. He happens to be one of those actors who radiates decency, intelligence, and a sense of childlike wonder—exactly what this role requires. Just about everything idealistic Alan says is poetry. He admits he’s a nobody, then goes on to explain that “the mysteries of the universe don’t mind. They reveal themselves to nobodies…who care.” Never has Stevens’ dialogue been more evocative and inspiring. Contrast this with wife Carol’s relentlessly conventional approach to everything in her orbit. She’s like a nagging mom (at least that’s how she came off to us kids) who wants to ruin Alan’s playtime because the laundry needs to be done, or something like that. Maxwell clearly considers a wife to be a grudging necessity, like paying the bills, as these two have precious little in common. Carol reminds Alan that a testimonial dinner is being held in his honor (I wonder why, exactly?) and that he’d better be all dressed up and ready on time, or else. The act fades out avoiding a high-intensity Frontiere music cue, one of the few times OL goes for subtlety in this regard.

ACT II

Okay, now we’re talking. Or rather, Alan and his finally manifested, three-dimensional alien visitor are talking. And such cool things they’re saying to each other! “Where you come from, is there death? War? God?” It was all pretty daring for 1963, and that heavily browed-and-high cheek-boned Being looks compelling in every shot he’s showcased in. “Infinity is God, God infinity. All the same…” is not only spoken with reverence, but with an actual bowed head. Ingenious, Mr. Stevens. Significantly, both human and alien are breaking society’s rules to achieve contact; these guys are clearly kindred spirits, self-contained loners, misunderstood by their respective cultures. Unfortunately, this remarkable gabfest is interrupted by a testy Carol, who pretty much tells Alan, “Look. I don’t care if you’ve made the greatest discovery in human history, we are LATE FOR DINNER!” Even in this moment of complete illogic (would you leave an actual ‘first contact’ experience for roast beef and stringbeans?), Robertson is wonderful, his face aglow with giddy excitement as he revels in his astonishing discovery while trying to placate his nagging wife. So Alan tells the understandably concerned Being to hang out for a while until he returns. Fair enough. Now we know someone’s going to do something stupid in order to propel this plotline into crisis mode. That someone turns out to be a vain substitute record spinner who amps up KXKVI’s transmitting power, forcing the agonized Being into our sphere of existence. WHAM! There goes the glass to the sound room’s circular window, with a formidable, perhaps even angry alien monster peering through. Wow. I mean, DOUBLE WOW. Great way to usher in a commercial.

ACT III

It’s monster movie excitement all the way as our Being takes a memorable stroll through 1963 suburbs, thunder and lightning accompanying his every move (an idea Mark Carducci and I ripped off for Pumpkinhead, btw). Cars are sent tumbling, a night watchman is assaulted by astral turbulence, and, best of all, an antique shop is invaded by the inquisitive extraterrestrial. Not only is this a great visual set-piece (dig those glowing binoculars when GB stares into them), but it speaks volumes about the entity’s personality; even caught in a catastrophic (and ultimately fatal) visit to a small planet, his sense of wonder is briefly held by the curious objects of art he inspects. Let’s face it, the Galaxy Being IS Alan Maxwell. Searching for his “other half,” this slip-sliding visitor somehow finds his way to that numbing testimonial dinner, and both Alan and (thankfully) fainted Carol manage to follow him back to the station. Befuddled cops and Frontiere’s neat, ascending cue usher in the final commercial break.

ACT IV

Now back at his work shack, Maxwell tries to undo the harm he’s caused, but the Being explains that his people “know I have broken law. They will come for me…” Stevens wisely snips the second half of that statement (“…destroy your planet.”), probably because it seemed a tad extreme, and also because it may have conjured memories of one-dimensional alien invaders from ‘50s movies. Speaking of the 50s, “Galaxy Being” borrows from The Day the Earth Stood Still just as Star Trek is obviously informed by Forbidden Planet (The Being is Klaatu and Gort rolled into one). This parallel becomes even more apparent when a few tanks close in on KXKVI, complete with the prerequisite trigger-happy soldier. Their assault allows our Andromedan “hero” to save Carol’s life, certifying his status as miraculous good-guy monster (and providing a variation of Klaatu’s awe-inspiring resurrection). It’s during these scenes where Carol strives to be more than just the obligatory boring ‘60s spouse; “Destroy you?” she asks the Being with some concern, and that’s even before he saves her life. Might’ve been cool if Carol had been given an even more palpable arc, but I’m grateful for the suggestion of personal growth we see. Anyway, the Being makes his big speech to the assembled authorities, tells us trouble-prone humans that “we must explore… we must reach out,” while at the same time destroying the transmitting/receiving tower that would enable us to do just that… contradictory advice, to say the least, coupled with a grim warning, again echoing Wise’s film. So what does it all mean? The end narration tells viewers flat-out that we’ll be meeting up with some “profound and inscrutable” aliens in future episodes… but before we can make sense of these grotesque strangers in our midst, “we must first learn to understand ourselves, and each other.” Amen to that, folks.

IN CONCLUSION

This is a sober, straight-forward, beautifully directed episode, arguably the finest film Leslie Stevens ever made. Although we’re denied the juicy German Expressionism of those Conrad Hall-shot entries, John Nickolaus is no slouch as a visualist; he and Stevens put their camera in curious, unexpected places (Alan and Gene checking the car radio), have figures enigmatically rise into frame with their backs to us (the night watchman), and those compelling close-ups of the Being, along with Maxwell’s, are chosen very carefully for maximum effect. Not as wild as some later episodes, “The Galaxy Being” nevertheless serves as an ideal primer for Outer Limits, combining the pleasures of ‘50s-flavored sci-fi thrills with an introspective analysis of perplexing human behavior. Along the way, it gives us one of the best damned alien entities ever conceived for the screen, large or small.


Top 100 Horror MoviesGary Gerani is the author of Fantastic Television, the first book to focus on science-fiction, fantasy and horror TV. In association with IDW, Gerani recently launched a new publishing company, Fantastic Press, with November's TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES. Next up is TOP 100 SCI-FI MOVIES in April. His graphic novel, BRAM STOKER'S DEATH SHIP (which takes on that famous nightmare voyage from Varna to Whitby, as you-know-who feeds on the crew of the Demeter), is available now and has garnered several nice reviews.

24 comments:

  1. Wow, Gary. What an amazing memory of the premiere. And a spot-on (Spot! Get it?) breakdown of the episode that, in just a few minutes, I plan to watch for the first time in about a year. Thanks for the fresh perspective that this EFX-rotted brain sorely needed.

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  2. I also liked this episode, though it didn't quite measure up to the later masterpieces (you refer to the expressionism of Conrad Hall et al.) It is nonetheless an excellent launching of a series that primarily slanted to sci-fi, during a time of astronomical curiosity and wonderment. The special effects were of course primitive (but heck they were also as much in the great DEMON WITH A GLASS HAND) but the thematic underpinning was a table setter for the entire series.

    Wonderful reflections here of a special time.

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  3. Gary--

    Like, WOW, man...a fine summary of the episode itself PLUS what it meant to you on a personal level. It's important for the young'uns to get a feel for the era in which OL was created, and you set the stage brilliantly. Hope you'll be doing more of these.

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  4. Damn, I mean ... DAMN. Gary's recall of time, place and mood shames me. It's like he had all this memory, pent up for years, decades, and finally found a place to express it, right here.

    One thing that needs to be emphasized amid all this recollect is just how odd, how strange, how different and intriguing this series appeared to young, impressionable minds when it was brand-new. Viewers weren't nitpicking the seams on a costume or debating cutting rhythm and tone; they were watching with their mouths hanging open ... and thankfully, I still feel a twinge of that magic whenever I re-watch this episode, which I have easily seen several hundred times. (I do recall thinking that the alien reminded me a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock — compare Hitch's walk-on silhouette to Spotty's gait and you'll see.)

    Also, the amplified clarity of modern media exposes backdrops, sets, zoom-boxed shots and rear-projections more nakedly. None of this was visible at 525 scan lines received via rabbit ears (and sometimes, trusty tinfoil), where the darkest black was received as a light gray.

    And the zombiatic compliance of the dispersing crowd still bugs me, to this day.

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  5. Thanks, guys. A little rougher than I'd like, but what the hell, at least it brought us back. Yep, I'll be doing a few more... Can't wait to see what other goodies Peter and John have in store for us (clips from THE HAUNTED, maybe?)

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  6. The dispersing crowd issue: Yeah, it is great to consider what those two old ladies are saying in that casual, nonchalant way as everyone walks off. "Y'know Ruthie, that murdering space monster has a point..." Two other funny bits: When the Being crashes Allan's testimonial, everyone's screaming and flailing about... except for that one dude on the right, with his eyes half-closed, who simply continues to dance! I mean, this guy is SO into it. Finally, when Allan doesn't get an answer on the phone, he hangs up, the coin comes tumbling back, and he darts off without taking it. But before we cut away, we have that fascinating moment of Gene retrieving his brother's dime, which is what we'd all do on reflex... yet it's something we never see in the movies, unless a special point is being made. This always gets a big laugh from audiences, who aren't sure if it's a clever touch or a dumb one. Even with all of the above, btw, I still stand by my statement that "Galaxy Being" is a beautifully directed little film. And while there may be certain technical flaws in actual execution, the special effects conception of the Being is still pretty amazing, even by today's standards.

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  7. Not only that, but I'm wondering how often Gene "Buddy" Maxwell plays that record album of military marches we see in the booth ...

    "The Galaxy Being," above all, makes the point that there would be no OUTER LIMITS without Leslie Stevens, though Leslie got downplayed when Joe Stefano creatively rose to the challenge. Leslie was happy Joe grabbed the reins to the degree he ultimately did. And Joe's hard work helped solidify OUTER LIMITS in public memory. It's interesting to speculate what Leslie might have captained, had he become the Quinn Martin-type figure he aspired to be. Either way, he sure as hell did not deserve to have his name removed from the "new" Canadian iteration of the series, mere weeks after he died -- a measure of the disrespect that makes the modern series unfit to bear the OUTER LIMITS name.

    Leslie ALWAYS knew how to deal with the Suits.

    There's a writer on the East Coast currently working on a book-length biography of Leslie -- most interestingly, his career PRIOR to OUTER LIMITS.

    And Dominic Stefano -- Joe's son -- keeps teasing us with the promise of a Stefano biography, as well as the long-overdue publication of Joe's first and only novel, LYCANTHROPE.

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  8. Holy cow! To think I almost missed this--glad I went back.

    Gary, thank you for such a vivid and entertaining recounting and review.

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  9. Now, how perfect would it be for Gary to simply be able to add his wonderful commentary here to a TOL Blu-Ray set. Schow and Gerani commentary on Outer Limits Blu-Rays...again, a dream.

    Gary, I have been buying the new Twilight Zone Blu-Rays as they are released and your commentaries on them are wonderful. Thanks!

    - Whit

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  10. Hey Gary, you really capture what it must have been like in 1963 to have seen OL for the first time. If only we could have that time machine!! Your book, Fantastic Television, was the first book I ever had on all those great TV Series. It really got me curious about many of those shows (I was already familiar with OL, but not all of the others). Unfortunately, I lost the book through a misfortune, but not before Vincent Price signed it for me (on the page as Egghead in Batman) when he appeared here in Victoria B.C. back in the late 70's.

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  11. Your memories are a lot like mine, Gary. I remember the ascending notes of "The New ABC" commercials with footage of the being the summer of 1963, when I was 8 years old. I remember the excitement of waiting for "The Outer Limits to premier. Finaly, September 16th came. My parents usually didn't watch science fiction, but they watched this with their mouths open.
    There are a few technical problems. Our nearest star is 4.3 light years away. It would take years to transport the being from another galaxy. Can you really transport somebody or something via a radio wave? ALso, once the being was on Earth, he knew the game was up. Why didn't he just do himself in? He didn't have to look for Cliff Robertson.
    Despite that, a good story with beautiful special effects and well acted. MY favorite of all the OL episodes. I'm surprised it's not rated higher by most OL fans.

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  12. 1,000 Days of the Dragon as one of the top 10? I disagree. Here's my list:

    The Galaxy Being
    The Architects of Fear
    The Man Who was Never Born
    OBIT
    The Bellaro Shield
    A Feasibility Study
    Demon With a Glass Hand
    Soldier
    Cry of Silence
    I Robot

    Seriously, thank you for doing all this. I love this site! It's a gold mine of information.

    Reese

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  13. Gary Gerani says: "This always gets a big laugh from audiences, who aren't sure if it's a clever touch or a dumb one."

    This kind of thing always infuriates me. For example have you heard this one: When modern audiences are shown the scene in The Day the Earth Stood Still where just after the doctors have commented on the exceptional lifespan of Klaatu, they are seen to be lighting up cigarettes. I have heard that at this point the audience will "howl with laughter", presumably at how ridiculous/stupid these '50s filmmakers are (i.e., unintended humor). It just doesn't occur to most of the really so-much-more-knowledgable audiences of the 21st Century that maybe the people making the movie in the '50s KNEW that cigarettes were bad for you and they were making an ironic comment in the film, a little joke. But modern audiences can't laugh at those little in jokes, they have to laugh at it in a MST condescending kind of way.

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  14. these outer limits dvds of the 1 season are framed tighter its like a pan and scan why do think heads are cut off why hasnt anyone else seen this mgm sucks the outer limits are the best but this dvd sucks its on zoom dont you all see what im talking about compared to vhs these are chopped around the edges why did they do this.

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  15. Cliff Robertson passed way over the weekend. RIP, Cliff. Thank you for your outstanding performance in this episode.

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  17. RIP, Cliff. My condolences to your family.

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  18. From me too. Among so many other things, he was the Big Kahuna himself.

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  19. Hi Peter & John, You'll recall that we were able to give you a nice review of theThriller project a while back. If you'll now check #792, you'll see a new pat on the back for WACT. Keep up the (very) good work!

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  20. Peter & John---we forgot to "sign" our just-posted comment. It Is Us: bobbrakemanmovies.com

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  21. “we must explore… we must reach out,” while at the same time destroying the transmitting/receiving tower that would enable us to do just that… contradictory advice, to say the least

    I'm pretty sure Andy/Spotty knew that we had more than one antenna on Earth (and that Allan's could be cannibalized to use as a target for his awesome powers demo).

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  22. Even though I'm referring to it very late, I really liked the comments by ZZZZZ about intentional vs. unintentional humor. When it comes to that, there's seems to be a really annoying rule that people go by - if the piece of entertainment is from another decade, any SUBTLE kind of funny moment (like those smoking doctors) is probably UN-intentional, because of how incredibly naïve everyone was "back then." Even people who were around THEMSELVES "back then" do this! Which can be a really aggravating rule to hear people go by, just as ZZZZZ says.

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  23. When Alan Maxwell asked the Andromedan as to the existence and/or nature of God, the Alien answered "God is Infinity, Infinity is God." How does one interpret that? Well, the way I would interpret it is that God is Not a Being but instead an IMpersonal FORCE. It seems to refer to HINDUISM in which it is believed that ALL of us, i.e., we humans, the planets, the animals, the plants are ALL God. I don't know how the others among you interpret it.

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  24. Thanks for the memories, Gary. I saw The Galaxy Being first run, too.

    BTW, do you know when The Outer Limits shortened the introduction? I like the longer one. It's how I remember the series, yet I believe they only actually used it for the first few episodes of the first season.

    I wonder what the first episode was that didn't feature that fluttering screen, the somewhat truncated intro...

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