The Genuine Article
A Dark and Scary Place
It's nearly forty years since THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES mini-series hit our TV screens in the UK, and approaching the celebratory seventieth anniversary of the original book's first publication in the US. we ask the question: Did the TV version achieve what it originally intended?
Based on the 1950 (in the US) novel, The Silver Locusts, by Ray Bradbury, one of the most prolific science fiction and suspense writers of our time, the attempt to adapt it for live action has been an ongoing effort virtually from first publication - with little success.
Bradbury was approached shortly after publication by producer John Houseman at MGM Studios who discussed the merit of a feature film based on the book. His choice for director, Vincente Minnelli, never materialised and no doubt this was one of the main reasons why it was finally considered unfeasible.
Seven years later Bradbury worked alongside short story writer Sidney Carroll to make it work as a Broadway musical. Also involved in this version was REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE composer, Leonard Rosenman. After a few months of intensive writing, the project coordinator, David Susskind decided to turn it into a comedy. Bradbury failed to convince him it should be treated seriously, and so returned the advanced money to escape the contract.
Actor Kirk Douglas' company, Byrne Productions, purchased the rights for one year, with the intention of creating a series for TV, but this one hardly progressed beyond the original idea.
In 1960, Bradbury returned to MGM. This time he penned a screenplay. As expected by the writer, when he presented the finished product he was promptly dismissed. Likewise, in 1962, a script written for Alan Pakula and Bob Mulligan - who were connected to the film, TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD - was received at the time of the first Viking photos from Mars. The pictures showed no canals or vegetation, causing the studios to quickly lose interest.
A few years afterwards the story was picked up yet again for a stage production in Paris, presented by Jean-Louis Barrault. Bradbury was excited with the sets being built, and drawings showed prospective gigantic marionette Martians. Everything looked promising until students raided the venue, L'Odean, and it was decided that all future projects would be scrapped. However, it was retrieved in an alternative play which ran for several months. Bradbury also had his own stage format production which played in America during the mid- to late-seventies.
Now we reach the version in question. It was 1976 when Ray Bradbury was contacted by NBC television - amid the news of the Viking craft's touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet - who were keen to film a definitive adaptation. One of his conditions of acceptance was that they employ Richard Matheson to write the screenplay.
Matheson's pedigree was almost legendary. His previous credits included for the big screen: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, and many Roger Corman films, incorporating, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, and FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. There was also DUEL, written for Steven Spielberg's directorial début. For the small screen he contributed countless short story scripts for THE TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT GALLERY. During the seventies Matheson was considered one of the best fantasy writers of America.
Named as executive producers were Charles Fries - famous for his 1970's live action THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN series; or should that be infamous! (Actually, I quite like it) - and Dick Berg. The producers were Andrew Donally and Milton Subotsky (screenplay and producer of the two Dalek movies), although the latter withdrew from the project prior to its release. Special effects and photography were handled by two previous Oscar winners, Briton John Stears and Ted Moore, respectively. The direction was by Michael Anderson.
The overall line-up was already beginning to look impressive, but the inclusion of certain well-established and household names made this look increasingly like the ultimate professional representation of classic science fiction. These faces included Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowell, Gayle Hunnicut, Darren McGavin, Robert Beatty, John Cassady, Fritz Weaver, Barry Morse and Nyree Dawn Porter.
The official go-ahead was given by NBC in 1978, and filming commenced March of the following year. Around June of 1979 it appeared on US TV as a mini-series of three two-hour parts. With advertisements this was closer to ninety minutes each. With the help of a quite stunning poster, the completed product was edited down in the Spring of 1980 for film release in Europe. The BBC, who had purchased the original format around July of 1979, finally screened it on BBC 1 between 9-23 August 1980.
The three parts of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES were titled, The Expeditions, The Settlers, and The Martians. The first, set during 1999, follows the fate of three manned expeditions to Mars. A female native, Ylla, experiences a series of dreams about the arrival of men from space. When the visions become obsessive, her husband dons a war mask and dispatches the new arrivals from the Zeus Project. The astronauts of Zeus II land to discover a village identical to the one they grew up in. In it they find friends and deceased relatives which separate the men and lull them into a false sense of security. The third expedition, led by Col. John Wilder (Rock Hudson), finds the Martian people dead from a chicken pox epidemic. Jeff Spender (Bernie Casey), a crew member disturbed by the realisation of such a wonderful culture destroyed, becomes psychotic, and believing himself to be the last Martian survivor, begins killing the crew to protect his false homeland.
The Settlers is set in 2004, and centres on the mass colonisation of Mars, and more primarily on several characters each looking for the answers to their problems on another planet. A fresh start. Anna and David Lustig seek their missing son, Sam Parkhill (Darren McGavin) and wife Elma want a successful restaurant business, and Father Peregrine (Roddy McDowell) desires to meet the physical existence of Christ. All are granted their wish in a quite unexpected manner. Then all life on Earth is desecrated by nuclear holocaust.
The Martians - who are now the humans, of course - set in late 2006, sees the colonists isolated from their native Earth. No more ships (the Silver Locusts) arrive carrying people and supplies. The Parkhills have a restaurant adjacent to what was to be the major highway; but now they have no customers. The corrugated iron town constructed by the humans quickly becomes a slum, with litter, graffiti and seedy nightclubs. John Wilder begins to despise the influence of such negative human culture on a world that is not their own. A true Martian makes his presence known to Wilder, explaining his resigned attitude to the desecration with "out with the old, in with the new" philosophy.
THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES had all the ingredients of a classic show, without ever quite pulling it off. It's difficult to analyse exactly just what went wrong. The effects, although not outstanding, were passable. The make-up and particularly the Martian face and glittering eyes was impressive, as was the Martian war mask, costume and stone architecture. There were some nice moments, as when the missing son, Lafe, appears to the Lustigs during a thunderstorm; when Spender loses his grip early on; and the scene where the priest is visited by a vision of Christ.
However, these magic moments were few and far between, so it's logical to assume that the original Richard Matheson teleplay containing Bradbury's heavy influences was drastically altered. This, along with an apparent desire to force the concept down the throats of mainstream viewers, left the finished product barely comprehensible (even Rock Hudson, the star of the show, left the strong impression he was disorientated throughout the filming).
Ray Bradbury himself was said to be greatly disappointed by the way it turned out. Many of the comments he suggested for improvements were graciously accepted before being ignored.
There was an obvious effort to produce something of high standard, but as so often happens with adapted Ray Bradbury material, the fantasy quality of childlike wonder is simply not there. For evidence of this simply read the novel, preferably before watching the mini-series. Alternatively, check out THE RAY BRADBURY THEATRE television series (a DVD boxset is available on region 1) for the best yet live action representations of classic Bradbury short stories.
*See below for The Martian Chronicles film version poster
The Genuine Article
A Dark and Scary Place
PREPARE YOURSELVES FOR THE SINGLE MOST EXCITING EVENT IN BRITISH TELEFANTASY HISTORY!
It has recently been revealed that DOCTOR WHO and THE TOMORROW PEOPLE will combine for a never to be repeated one-off television extravaganza.
A reliable source within Amblin has illicitly announced that the notion was forwarded by one individual, an avid childhood follower of the seventies format of the latter programme. This person persuaded production chiefs, searching for tight and professionally written new scripts and reworking of established classics, to attend a private screening of The Rameses Connection and The Living Stones, the most recent stories in the updated and subtly altered version. Impressed with high production values and competent special effects for a relatively low budget children's drama, they eagerly adopted the idea, contacting Central TV here in England.
Central agreed the combination in principal, but refused to compromise the copyright to them, even temporarily. Therefore, a joint venture was proposed, which means an English crew will work with an American production company to create a collaborative juxtaposition for two of Britain's best loved telefantasy serials.
A rudimentary premise has the present day quintet of Tomorrow People, joined by a handful of "New Race" original characters, accompanying the new Doctor in the TARDIS to the near future to aid him in dealing with a rogue faction of Tomorrow People which has forced its way into uncompromising positions of power. Although virtually all studio work will take place in America, it is hoped that location camera work will take place in both England and the USA.
Due to the obvious commitment involved in the Anglo-American project, the running time will be extended from the standard fifty-minute episode proposed by Fox TV to a two- or even three-hour feature length show. This little piece of history will be dropped inconspicuously into the middle of the forthcoming series, and should hit our small screens towards the latter part of the year or early 1996. Alternatively, in the event Fox decides against running with the series, this storyline will be televised individually as a second pilot in a bid to generate further interest in DOCTOR WHO. The emphasis is to be placed firmly on convincing acting ability and above average production, rather than an effects-laden piece. The production team is to consider commissioning a maximum of three universally known quality actors/actresses to offer the process significantly greater pulling power.
The unknown quantity currently resides with the BBC, which has reserved judgement pending examination of a finished script.
Our insider, who to avoid obvious repercussions must remain nameless, also states that certain established cast members have already been approached. Kristian Schmid, Naomi Harris and Christian Tucker, the nucleus of the five latest Tomorrow People are said to have all expressed enthusiasm at the prospect. Kristian Schmid is a fan of DOCTOR WHO, particularly the seventies, and saw many of the Tom Baker's back in Australia.
Incredibly, the project has been shrouded in secrecy to avoid premature publicity and so no further information is forthcoming at present. However, this arrangement promises to be one of the most significant in telefantasy history. It might offer widespread popularity stateside for THE TOMORROW PEOPLE, and it could make or break DOCTOR WHO.
The reason for it not being printed is that the magazine already had an April Fool in place for that year. My piece was very time-specific and so could not be used again. The 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie arrived in 1996, and The rights to The Tomorrow People had been licensed-out to America who made an instantly drab and forgettable series.
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