1. Gemini Man – In 1976 someone had the bright idea to make an action series on TV based on H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man.
Called Gemini Man, it featured established TV actor Ben Murphy as a special agent who had had some sort of accident which turned him invisible. He wore a watch which helped him control this, allowing him to become invisible for 15 minutes every 24 hours. What a weird restriction to a super power.
The show itself lacked a defining edge, and fell into a vat of similar sci-fi-themed action television shows of the 1970s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; there’s a lot of awesome stuff about those shows. The “future” technology is usually a pretty fun variant on an already-extinct technology, like reel-to-reel computers that filled up an entire room, and the futuristic outfits are usually the same way. Plus, these shows are a font-lover’s dream.
Gemini Man lasted one season and then was no more. In that year, it spawned a couple of gorgeous magazine covers:
The Annual included a comic intro, linked from fourcolorcraic:
In 1981, somebody slapped two episodes together and called it a TV movie. Titled “Riding with Death”, the movie was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is how it got on my radar. I loved the episode so much that I found and watched (some of) the first season.
Stick with the MST3k episode.
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1. Dungeons and Dragons Ads – Came across this Retrospace post (from ages ago) that features some ’70s and ’80s print ads for Dungeons and Dragons.
Not surprisingly, a few seem to reinforce the ‘loner’ stereotype that was given to D&D players back then (and is still given today, I guess) – either overtly like the one above or more subtly like some others that use pretty ladies to sell the game or monster manual. Wonder how well that angle worked out for them. A few others use the party/group angle too, to be fair.
Regardless, the layouts and color choices are great on all of them. Here’s an ’80s commercial for D&D – which angle did this use?
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1. Krull Video Game – One of my favorite places to go as a kid in the ’80s was the video store. Video stores were a different thing before the Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos of the world homogenized the industry with their “sterile interiors” and “cleanliness”. Before that, video stores were little holes in strip malls whose walls were plastered with posters for things that weren’t the big blockbuster movie of the month. The lighting was poor and the stock was not guaranteed, but the variety of titles available was pretty impressive. I loved going, not just for the movie that my parents would allow me to rent, but also because I had a chance to look at the covers for movies that I had no chance of going home with. As I grew up some of these movies had a special place in my heart just because I had held their covers for years, and I took some of them home as soon as I was able. Krull was one of these movies.
I’m not sure what my parents’ specific hesitation with this movie was other than it looked more sinister on the box than it actually was. Here’s an alternate cover, maybe to better sell it to my parents?
Or maybe Krull sounded like “cruel” and that was all it took? Either way, the day I brought that home was a proud one. But this isn’t about the day I was finally able to rent Krull, it’s about the Krull video game. The link is the artwork – Krull’s poster and VHS box-art are fantastic and that great art translated to the marketing for the video game. Here’s the arcade cabinet:
…and here’s some of the arcade gameplay. Pretty good, especially for 1983!
(for more fun VHS covers from the video store’s golden age, check out this post by Robert over at Tor.com.)
1. Mystery Science Theater Hour – You’re probably familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000, the cult show from the ’90s that featured a guy and his robots making fun of bad movies. I’ve posted about it several times, as I’m a pretty big fan. Growing up with MST3k I was a little frustrated with the fact that it didn’t seem to “do well” or get more widespread acclaim, but at the same time I felt a more personal attachment to the show partly because nobody else liked it. It was mine.
Aside from the niche content and the unique style, one of the more formula-based reasons the show didn’t perform well is its length. It was a 90-minute program, occupying a 2-hour block – how many weekly 2-hour entertainment programs can you remember? That’s a huge chunk of time in your programming schedule for something that someone may not like. If a viewer’s not into MST3k, they’re gone for at least 2 hours. Comedy Central did something about this in 1995 by slicing episodes in half – airing part one one day and part two the next.
Called The Mystery Science Theater Hour, the MST team created custom intros and outros for some of their greatest hits . Head writer and star Mike Nelson reprised his role as then-Biography host Jack Perkins and offered meandering sometimes-but-not-always-true trivia about the movies and it was just great. It’s like a stoned TCM.
I don’t think it made the show any more successful, but maybe it didn’t need to be. It’s got a special place in my heart and the hearts of the handful of people I still share the show with. Also, it gave us some awesome bonus content that seems to have fallen between the cracks. Here’s hoping it makes it to a DVD.
1. Magnavox Odyssey – In 1972, three years before Pong, Magnavox released the first home video game console.
Called the Odyssey, the system relied on users placing overlays on the television screen that were unique to each game. The system was (understandably) primitive, generating basic blocks that moved around the overlays. The overlays did the heavy lifting of making each game unique, and were actually pretty gorgeous:
That dinosaur one!
The Odyssey also offered some peripherals, including the first light-gun shooting game. Unfortunately, it seems for everything the Odyssey offered there was something that it lacked. For one, there was no sound. That’s a pretty big whiff. It also suffered from poor marketing and the misconception among consumers that it would only work on Magnavox televisions. The Odyssey was discontinued in 1975, but not without setting the stage for Pong’s success and its own successor, the Odyssey 2.
Although the marketing effort was poor, the design of the ads was astounding:
And here’s a commercial for the Odyssey:
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In Knoxville at the 1982 Expo, a train would make its way around the fairground blaring a synthesized anthem of energy. The train was called The Energy Express and it began its nightly voyage at 9pm, singing this catchy tune:
Kind of has a “poor man’s EPCOT” feel to it, in a good way. Anyway, this song was put on a record and sold about half a million copies at the fair. Bets on how many of those records still exist?
1. Pryor’s Place – In 1984, the Kroffts teamed up with Richard Pryor to rip off Sesame Street.
The result was a bizarrely charming show called Pryor’s Place. As you can see from the poster, it occupied part of CBS’ Saturday Morning lineup alongside Supercade and Get Along Gang. Only 15 episodes were created (man, the Kroffts had some misses!) and the series was cancelled after 3 months. Here’s a spot for it and some footage!
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So I mentioned Power Lords in this week’s Five Things. Well, apparently the video game based on the franchise is the rarest game released for the Magnavox Odyssey 2, a pretty rare console in and of itself. I thought I’d follow up Monday’s post with some box art for Power Lords and a little gameplay footage.
Here’s the box – that’s some pretty intense artwork:
And here’s a video of the gameplay. The snake with the laser eyes, while awesome, is unkillable and the game doesn’t really end. Still, for its day and age this is a pretty gorgeous game as Odyssey 2 games go:
Also, a Power Lords game was developed for Coleco that never got released. This page goes into more detail about it and even has a downloadable ROM of the prototype. Here’s a tiny screenshot of the improved graphics:
Now THAT’S a laser-beam snake!
Expo 2010, held in Shanghai, had a record attendance at 73 million people. The Spanish pavilion was particularly interesting at this expo, a huge wicker facade over a steel structure:
Even cooler is what’s inside. A tunnel featured 3D footage of bits of Spanish history on the way in, and in another exhibition hall there was a GIANT ROBOTIC BABY:
I’m not sure what the statement was that this baby’s presence was supposed to make, but I’m glad it was there. Here’s some footage of it in action:
I can only hope that this is the first of several giant robotic babies to come out of Spain in the interest of international goodwill.
1. Power Lords – Released by a toy model company called Revell in 1983, the Power Lords was a line of sci-fi action figures that look pretty awesome. While it was obviously an attempt to cash in/compete with He-Man’s success, the Power Lords carried their own lore and had a pretty cool look. Here’s an ad featuring the main guy who, rather un-creatively, is called Lord Power:
The Power Lords effort spread into comic books, video games, board games, and even puzzles with fantastic box art:
I don’t know how these guys never made it onto my radar. I was pretty obsessed with He-Man and action figures in 1983, but I’ve never heard of this line of toys until now!