Tales of Tomorrow

” Well …so this is Mars? You know something I’m dissappointed.” (not really)

Oddly enough I am not a fan of “believable” science fiction. That applies to Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, Firefly or the like. It just doesn’t bond my ions, or excite my electrons if you will. But what does fuel my proverbial jet engine is really ridiculous, misinformed, …what shall I call it? How about “science-ease”. Science-ease filled often with talks of atomic this or that, death rays, or re-animation. I find some of the finest specimens are in campy episodes of the original “The Outer Limits”, “Star Trek” and even less frequently in the generally well written “Twillight Zone”. Ah but many are not aware of one of my most favorite specimens showcasing the finest of science-ease, “Tales of Tomorrow”. Originally the pilot aired in 1951 on ABC. It featured many of my favorites like Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and even Leslie Neilsen. They are only a few of the luminaries in one of the 85 gems you can still watch for zero dollars on Hulu. Which make it a favorite for my second monitor when I work late at night. What could better set the mood for a late night in the office than brilliant titles like “Plague From Space” or “The Fury of the Cocoon” or the classically camp “Read To Me, Herr Doktor“.

Tales of Tomorrow

Tales of Tomorrow

The Evil Tesla Coils of Doom!

Tales of Tomorrow

Electric coil of doom AND uber-creepy type. ooooo

Like the “Twillight Zone” the open is brilliant, I’d venture to say more elegant in many ways. Simple, (surely a product of budget, excellent foley and all around mysterious and spine-tingling. You don’t hear that word enough these days “spine-tingling”, but I digress. The sequence opens to a machine with a huge pull switch, purpose unknown. A huge gloved hand reaches in for a lever on the machines face…

…then pulls the lever, the sound of electricity fills the speakers while the camera pulls back to reveal a fairly simple if brilliant matte painting of what seems to be a massive Tesla Coil! Imposing voice over rings out over the electric noise and the music crescendo, Tales of Tomorrow, in a oozing text, goopy enough to make the blob feel inadequate, zooms into the frame. For the next half hour buckle up for some of the most poorly informed tech/science jargon you may ever have the privilege to guffaw at.

“Appointment on Mars”

Astronaut 1: ” Well …so this is Mars? You know something I’m dissappointed.”

Astronaut 2: “Whaaaat?!”

Astronaut 1: “Well I mean I expected something different”

Astronaut 2: “Disappointed? All we did was come to Mars and your dissappointed”

Astronaut 3: “Yeah!”

Astronaut 1: “No I”m happy about it don’t get me wrong, It’s just that …it’s kinda strange that’s all, nothing here.”

Astronaut 2: “There are rocks.”

Astronaut 1: “Yeah but no people, no intelligent life! Why not that’s what I’d like to know.

Astronaut 2: “That’s silly, this is Mars you can’t expect to find a life like our own.”

Astronaut 3: “Yeah he’s expecting to find the green skinned monsters you know.”

Astronaut 2: “Oh sure”

Astronaut 3: “like bugs, with fire coming out of their mouths (miming monster here) Arrrrrggg!”

Is this how scientists talk? I mean it’s how fanboys talk about episodes of Star Trek that’s true…

As the dialogue progresses we get some creative talk about chlorophyll plants that are on mars and that surely means intelligent life must be near. And the other guys are all “Dude stop giving us a science lecture”. Because apparently scientists get bored by such things and just want to tool around mars on a dune buggy. Then astronaut 1 gets all melancholy and laments it’s a wasteland void of life. Sad christmas astronaut 1. Hey buck up little camper I hear there is a ton of Uranium in them there hills. Don’t worry it’s not a spoiler, the uranium is a minor diversion and seemingly just a reason to get Astronaut 1 to STFU and quit whining for a bit. Oh and this is how you dress for mars, pretty practical minus that persnickety issue of oxygen. They look a bit like space mechanics to me. Oh and you may not be able to tell from the fuzzy screen cap but that’s totally Leslie Neilsen in the foreground.

Tales of Tomorrow

What to wear for your “Appointment on Mars”.

Camp factor aside, one of the greatest things about “Tales of Tomorrow” is watching the evolution of a medium unfold in front of you. No one really knew what they were doing with television then. Up till then most folks were barely out of radio and theatre. So there is this splendid alchemy between the two. The sets are usually static, the delivery is often stilted, but the foley is usually great and the sound cues better. Oh sure you might get some accidental shadows of microphones on sets, and maybe someone misses their cue or a line, or both, oops what gives is that the second cameraman! Honestly though, questionable science dialogue, campy sets, and all around rough edges, the stories are still strong. You don’t even notice the snafus, really you don’t. Partly I suspect because it’s this beautiful time capsule. You love the fact that the cardboard robot in Herr Doktor is clearly just some tall dude lumbering about in that flimsy getup, and you are kinda mesmerized by the fact that everyone watching was probably pretty cool with this. They were groomed by a steady theatre diet or perhaps imagining the places and characters in a radio broadcast. Every detail didn’t require seamless special effects and costumes, the audience was a-okay filling in the blanks.

I bet most of them got the allusions to modern social malaise and war fears too. Over and over again social roles between men and women are played out to great effect. In one a woman is given is a serum that makes her an all-powerful, intelligent super villain with no conscience. Yes clearly a smart woman is a dangerous thing kids. Oye… In another a woman berets and nags her out of work husband, and laments that all her friends are doing things and traveling but no not her, she’s married to a failure! Message? Don’t nag your husband? If the old phrase were to be retooled for the time I suspect it’d be something in line with, “You’ve got a long way to go baby”. It’s like stepping back in time via the metaphor express. Ah but sometimes it’s the omnipresent fear of nuclear annihilation that’s always a great storyline right?! A martian enemy plague is eradicated with an A-bomb minutes before it can spread it’s toxic death. Uhmmm yeah not much subterfuge there…

It’s simple to me why I love “science-ease” or why I can watch “Tales of Tomorrow” episodes over and over. I can’t speak for everyone but it inspires me every single time I watch one to look around me. What existing content can I maybe fuse together into something altogether new. Or perhaps on a more esoteric level how can I contribute to an evolving media culture? Most importantly it reminds me not to sweat it if the chemistry isn’t perfect, because it’s almost always worth the experiment.

*Author’s Note: Scouts honor I’ll come back to “Tales of Tomorrow”. I mean I can’t put it to rest until I do a montage of 4 dollar alien costumes right?