Tag Archives: sci-fi

Five Things – 1.30.17 – I Guess You’d Look Like A Garden

Isaac Asimov’s Robots VHS Mystery Game

This 1986 VHS game envisioned a murder mystery set in the universe of Isaac Asimov’s Robot books.  Loosely based on the book Caves of Steel, it’s an ambitious effort and carries a high production value – particularly for the mid-1980s, when so many were getting away with so much less.

Robots follows Detective Elijah Bailey, an Earthling, as he is assigned to the murder of a member of a rival faction, the Spacers.   Was an Earthling behind the killing? A Spacer? A (gasp) robot? The Earthlings have their own robots, but they’re pretty crude.  Sorry, really crude.

Bailey’s  got 24 hours to solve the case before the Spacers destroy the Earth. Ok.  He’s sent to “Old New Jersey”, a city that’s been modernized as a Spacer embassy on Earth, and is paired up with one of the Spacer robots, a much higher grade of production.

The sets of “Old New Jersey” are pretty impressive, for a mid-80’s production. They look positively ’90s!

Unlike some VHS games, there’s no fast-forwarding or rewinding around to different points of the tape to play the game. The story plays out pretty linearly, with prompts to pull clue cards at significant plot points throughout.

Depending on the clues selected, and your keen eye at noticing details during the episode, you either convict a legit criminal or an innocent person.  There’s no video payoff, though – it’s all up to the cards at that point. The game box boasts 256 possible storylines, but that’s a stretch.  There are really only a few outcomes, and the general consensus seems to be that there’s no replay value to this game.  A shame, given the clear effort to make this a big production. Here’s the VHS:

And here’s an ad for the game:

Call me when there’s a Foundation VHS game.

(Seriously. Call me.)

 

The Prom: It’s A Pleasure (1961)

Coca-Cola sponsors this short film filled with instruction on how to properly prepare for and attend the high school prom.  Who knew etiquette was so by-the-numbers? I have the feeling that any attempt to turn a high school prom into a formal cotillion generally ends in disappointment.  Still, the film gives good general advice, like don’t give a flower corsage to a girl who’s got a dress with daisies on it.  Tips that anybody can use.

Do NOT forget to say goodnight to the chaperones!

 

Polaris Nuclear Submarine

I’m fairly certain that this “Nuclear Sub” was little more than a pointed cardboard box, but I’d probably have fallen for this ad.  “Controls That Work” is a particularly bold feature.

 

Evel Knievel Commercial

From the motorcycle to the drag racer to the skycycle, this is a pretty impressive array of Evel Knievel toys.

 

Batman & Superman Sesame Street Ad

On the surface, it’s interesting that Batman and Superman are promoting the premiere of Sesame Street. It’s charming – they hold up the CTW letters, they refer to themselves as stars.  But, really, what are they watching? Themselves, promoting Sesame Street?

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Five Things – 12.26.16 – Top Five of 2016

Those polls at the bottom of each Five Things post? This is why they’re there. Here are the top Five things of 2016, selected by a very unscientific combination of votes, comments, email feedback and good old personal bias. Looks like old TV shows were mostly what resonated with you guys this year. Me, too!

Yars Revenge Theatrical Trailer (5.2.16)

This 1982 trailer for Yars Revenge on the Atari 2600 puts the premise into its proper, ridiculous perspective.

 

1987 NBC Saturday Morning Preview (4.25.16)

“ALF Loves a Mystery”, and I love an original fabric woven with characters and elements from a half-dozen different Saturday Morning shows.  These things are the dream of the eighties, and this is probably one of the best of the bunch.

 

Twin Peaks Newspaper Ads (2.1.16)

Hard to believe now, but there was a time when the TV itself didn’t offer a lot of information as to what was coming on so you had to consult print media to see what the viewing layout was for the evening.  Alongside those programming guides were ads for prime time shows, just above and below the horoscope and Jumble puzzles. The Twin Peaks ads were uniformly fantastic, in both layout and tone.

 

Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (3.14.15)

This failed detective show starring Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldbum (an accountant who knows karate) gave us little more than a great intro and some amazing print ads in its own right. I mean, come on.

Love that “New York Seltzer” font on the Title!

 

Man from the 25th Century (7.11.16)

Another failed show, but this one didn’t even make it past the pilot. In 1968 Irwin Allen sent future alien Tomo on a mission to then-present-day Earth, and then sold him out and attacked Earth, forcing Tomo to defend what was apparently his new homeland. Fantastic premise that never bore fruit. Yes, I blame Irwin Allen directly for Tomo’s misfortune.

and my personal favorite of 2016….

 

The Starlost

This series has taken up residence in my brain more than any other Thing I covered this year, and for good reason.


A farmboy who questions his reality just enough to trigger events that cause him to discover that he’s an astronaut on a generation ship that’s malfunctioned and is headed straight into a star, and that there are countless other pods of isolated societies on that generation ship, unaware of the existence of both the ship and of any other society? Sign me right up.

I seriously chew on this premise at least a few times a week.  Unfortunately the reality of the show itself doesn’t shine as brightly as the idea going into it, but there’s a lot there to love.

And that’s 2016.  For those of you who have read, commented, tweeted, sent me feedback, I can only say thank you. I’m delighted that someone out there gets as much of a kick out of these as I do. Happy New Year.  More to come.

 

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Five Things – 08.29.16 – The Universe Is Wide

Prisoners of Gravity

A guy in space, all by himself, broadcasting his thoughts on society to the people below.  This thoughtful 1989 public television show celebrated nerd-dom long before it became cool to do so.

PoG Intro

Prisoners of Gravity was hosted by comedian Rick Green. As the title sequence tells you, his character was sick of all of the bad news on Earth and launches himself into space. From his satellite he sends out a weekly transmission exploring all sorts of subjects in the science/technology/comic/fantasy realm.

Rick 2

Most episodes featured several interviews; they occupy the bulk of the show.  Novelists, actors, comic book writers and illustrators were all given lengthy interviews conducted via satellite link from space.  Thoughtful questions were raised and, particularly in Harlan Ellison’s case below, both sides of the coin were presented.  Topics like first contact with aliens, the good and bad side of fandom, and questions like “Do you have to like science to like science fiction” are treated as actual discussion topics, not fluff, and Prisoners of Gravity deserves credit for creating a forum to discuss them pre-internet.

PoG Interview Harlan

I can’t help but get an MST3k vibe from the ‘guy alone in space on TV’ premise, but the similarities end there.  It’s its own thing and it’s clear in every aspect of the show that it was a labor of love.  The show ran from 1989 to 1994, for five seasons, extending out into the US from season two onward.  Then, for some reason, it was cancelled.

Here’s an episode. Harlan Ellison’s so salty in his segment! The sting of The Starlost probably never went away.

 

Virtual Boy Commercials

There’s one common thread in all of  these commercials for Nintendo’s Virtual Boy: the fact that this console came from and transports people to an alien wasteland devoid of life or enjoyment, fraught with conflict. Why would we bring this thing to Earth?

 

1980s General Foods International Coffee Magazine Ad

I love the horizontal placement of the different flavors along the bottom. See? Earth’s doing just fine without the Virtual Boy.

General Foods Ad

Star Phone 10,000

This plays like a parody commercial from Saturday Night Live.  The guy even looks a little like Phil Hartman. The “features” that this phone has!

Now I miss Phil Hartman.

 

Phil Harman Bloopers

Now I miss him even more. The one with Phil and Jan in the bar. Oof.

Friend of mine?

 

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Five Things – 02.15.16 – Eye Popping Moves Like The Centipede

1. Hot Fudge

This 1974 kids’ show from Detroit has a little bit Muppet, a little bit Pinwheel, and a little bit Great Space Coaster all lumped together.

Hot Fudge Title

Originally hosted by comic Arte Johnson, Hot Fudge featured humans interacting with puppets (called “Mits”), lots of music, and segments where kids narrate things out in the real world.  Johnson was replaced by Larry Santos and Seymour the hip, green puppet after the first season, and continued to host through the rest of the series.

Arte and Mit

Seymour Mits Song Mits

For every neat thing about this show – the groovy star power, the typography, the sweet lessons – there seems to be something that didn’t age well.  The songs aren’t great for the most part, the human puppets are difficult to look at, and the production just feels flat at times compared to other kids’ shows from that era.  Still, it’s impressive for what it is – a local Detroit production gone national, and it’s certainly unique.  And I’m nuts for the design and fonts used.

Write On Arte Seymour Graphic

Here’s an episode:

 

2. Fifth Element Concept Art

Iamag’s got some stunning concept art from The Fifth Element up.  I’m a sucker for this stuff, and it’s remarkable to see how close the movie came to some of these concepts! Hit the link for more, but here are some of my favorites.

fifth-element25 fifth-element24-1024x648 fifth-element13 fifth-element4 fifth-element28-1024x911

Amazing!

 

3. Breakin’ and Poppin’

Before he was Carlton, Alfonso Ribeiro was Ricky Schroeder’s super-hip pal in Silver Spoons.  He was a pretty hot item back in 1985 – he did a killer Michael Jackson impersonation complete with moonwalk. His breakdancing was remarkable, too; so remarkable that someone thought it’d be a good idea to package him up and put a price tag on it.  Here’s a commercial for his video, “Breakin’ and Poppin'”.

 

It even comes with a foldout cardboard mat!

 

4. Alvin and the Chipmunks

This mid-’80s magazine ad for Alvin and the Chipmunks toys takes me back.  I had the stuffed Alvin in the middle there, and took him everywhere with me.  He’s in a box in my 2-year-old’s closet right now, and I’m still debating whether he’ll ever get to touch him.

Alvin

Collect all the cute and WHAT? Unfortunately, I could only find page one of this two page ad.

 

5. How Long

It’s hard to describe my feelings for this.  This looks like a parody video of a 1975 hit song, but it’s real and it’s terrific.  I almost wish it were a parody though.

 

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Five Things – 02.8.16 – What Is Planet…Planetearth?

1. The Starlost

This is pretty great.  A 1973 Sci-Fi series created by Harlan Ellison, The Starlost has a fun premise and a lot of promise.  Unfortunately, it fell pretty far from its original intentions and we’re left with a 16-episode glimmer of what might have been.

Starlost

The Starlost follows Devon, a young man raised in a farming community who questions the truths he’s been taught.

Cypress Corner

He discovers that the leader of their community is faking the voice of their God, and when he tries to expose him is forced to escape.  With the help of one of the older residents of the community, he’s shown a tunnel through which to flee.

Caught

The tunnel turns out to be an industrial hallway, with technology that borders on magical.

Hallway

Transport

Devon comes across a computer that looks like one of Dana Carvey’s characters from The Master of Disguise, and he learns the real scoop: his community is one of several biospheres aboard an ark which departed a dying Earth 500 years ago.  There was an accident 100 years into the voyage, and the ark got off course and became lost.  For the past 400 years the ark has been on a collision course with a sun, and Devon learns that someone needs to go to the bridge to correct the problem.

Computer

Computer 2 He returns to his community to tell them what he’s seen, but is immediately gagged and imprisoned.  He escapes with the help of his friend and takes his girlfriend who is engaged to his friend who helped him escape (it’s complicated) back into the belly of the ship.  The friend follows them to bring his fiancee back, and the trio comes together at the bridge to find the crew long dead.

Crew

Bridge 2

The bridge empty, the entire future of humanity on a collision course with a star, and a host of unique environments attached to the ship to explore and search for clues.  Pretty great setup for a series, right? Well, here’s the thing: the show is slow. Really slow.  They started with a new approach to filming, a way of matching an actor’s movements on a bluescreen with simultaneous camera-tracking on a model set, but that didn’t pan out.  As a result, the bluescreen technology that is there is pretty obvious.  There are good design ides, but poor implementation – the result of the original camera technique falling through as well as other budget cuts.  Ellison went on record as citing budget cuts as the reason his original story was dumbed down for the series.  Bit by bit, it added up to a less-than-ideal show.

But it still has charm. See for yourself.

 

2. Interceptor

From the same folks who made The Crystal TowerInterceptor was a 1989 game show that takes two contestant, gives them two locked briefcases, blindfolds them, sends them to remote locations via helicopter, and tasks them with finding the keys to each others briefcases and meeting up to unlock them.  Also there’s someone chasing them the entire time: The Interceptor.

One of the two briefcases contained $1000; the other contained weights.  Each briefcase had five infrared targets on them, and the Interceptor had twenty ‘bullets’ that he could use to take the targets out.  If they were all taken out, the case couldn’t be opened.

Here’s an episode.

 

3. Space Puppets

A beautiful ad for some spacey hand puppets…

Space Puppets

 

4.  Weebles Commercial

…and a beautiful commercial from the 1970s for those weirdly compelling Weebles dolls.

 

5. Nerds Plushes

I have to admit, I spent a lot of time as a kid convincing myself that the sugar nuggets inside of the Nerds boxes did resemble the characters on the outside.

Nerds Plushes

 

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Five Things – 1.11.16 – This Isn’t Gonna Be Your Ordinary Opportunity

1. Otherworld – This short-lived sci-fi series ran for three months in 1985 on CBS.  It sits in the bucket of failed 1970s and 1980s science fiction shows, but like many of them it’s kind of charming and has a fun idea.

Otherworld

While in Egypt, the Sterling family takes a tour of the Great Pyramid of Giza during a celestial event in which several planets are in alignment.  Somehow this transports them to another world.

Spinning

Otherworld 2

The family stops an officer to ask for help, but it turns out this world’s got a crazy class structure and all of the provinces are closed off from each other and no travel’s allowed.  The officer (actually Commander Kroll, a real bad dude) treats them belligerently and in the ensuing scuffle is shot by the Sterling son. Interesting note: Kroll’s played by TV’s Jonathan Banks, better known as Mike from Breaking Bad.

Kroll

The family takes Kroll’s transport into the city, where they cheese some papers and get indoctrinated into society.  It’s clear that this society is far advanced from where 1985 Earth was,  and it turns out for good reason – they’re all androids.  There’s a radiation present that affects the human Sterlings and nobody else, and they end up having to leave the colony and set out on the road for answers.  It’s not an easy departure, what with Kroll on their trail, but they make it out and pave the way for a glorious series of discovery and fun.

Or 8 episodes.

Car

The world, Thel, is actually pretty interesting.  There’s high technology, a totalitarian religious government, and myriad isolated zones each with their own culture, technology and customs.  The production is no slouch either, there’s decent effects and good set design and fashion.

Grid

It seems like a fertile ground for a science fiction series, but apparently it just wasn’t in the cards.  Here’s the pilot episode. It’s actually pretty fun!

 

2. Partridge Family, 2200 A.D. – If the Bradys did it, you know the Partridges couldn’t be far behind.

PF2200AD

This animated series aired on CBS in 1974, and looking at it I have to admit that I gave The Brady Kids too hard a time.  They at least had a somewhat inventive premise; Partridge Family, 2200 A.D. is just a Jetsons ripoff.  Seriously, they made this series instead of making a teenaged-Elroy version of Jetsons.

Sandwich

Here’s the intro; episodes are a little harder to find.  Still kind of catchy, no?

 

3. Buster Sales – Thrill as a teenage Blockbuster Video employee is taught to recognize and make the most of sales opportunities by a creepy guy trapped in a video monitor!

Remember all those tapes?

 

4.  Pizza Hut Back to the Future – Pizza Hut was a pretty big licensing partner for Back to the Future II‘s theatrical release.  They had a pretty nifty set of sunglasses you’d get with a purchase. They also had this over-the-top futuristic commercial.  Now that we’re out of 2015, I can safely say they were way off base.

 

5. Howard Johnson’s Commercial – Meanwhile, in a simpler time, Howard Johnsons just wanted to sell fried clams to children.

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Five Things – 12.28.15 – Top 5 of 2015

Here are the most viewed, voted, and commented-on Things from the past year.  There’s a pretty great mix here of corporate cheese, baffling games, retrofuturism, and Leonard Nimoy; it provides a good glimpse of the scope of the Timid Futures embrace.  Here we go, in reverse order…

 

#5 – How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race – Mechanix Illustrated gave us this chilling look at an impossible future back in 1953.

How Nuclear Radiation Cover

How Nuclear Radiation Cover 2

The article links our inevitable nuclear doom with a rapid and widespread mutation that splinters the human race.  The new race loses a toe but gains much more: height and head-size.  And because of their larger heads and the presumably larger brains within those heads, they may have intellect and powers far beyond our own.  We will either be enslaved by them, hunt them down and exterminate them, be hunted down and exterminated by them, or learn to work together.  Yes, the article lists every possible outcome of a society with two similar races.

Check out the rest of the “article” here: Five Things – 3.23.15

 

#4 – Windows 95 Training Video – When producing the world’s first Cyber-Sitcom, Microsoft dug a hand into the ‘what’s working’ bucket of the day and plucked out Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston.  It was a reasonable move, I guess, but I can’t see how this worked out well for anybody involved.

Windows Guide

Aniston and Perry are brought into Bill Gates’ office to audition for a Windows 95 training video. Meta enough for you? What follows are a lot of stereotypes, a ton of dad jokes, some distorted views of what “cool” kids those days were like, and a lot of delicious cheese.

Matthew Perry and Jennifer AnistonInsideHere’s the video. Also check out the original writeup here: Five Things – 8.17.15

 

#3 – Pie Face – Basically the family version of Russian Roulette.

Pie FaceI noticed in the holiday blitz this year that they brought this awful game back! Now a whole new generation can make pointless messes!

(Five Things – 1.26.15

#2 – Dune Activity Books – With activities like “Weigh the Big Baron” and “Color The Dead Guys”, the Dune activity books are right up any child’s alley.  Pretty sure this is exactly what Frank Herbert intended for his series.

Dune Activity BookWeight Baron Halleck Dead(Five Things – 2.2.15)

 

#1 – Magnavision – Finally, here’s a meeting between Leonard Nimoy and the space rock that has bestowed laserdisc technology upon our species.

Magnavox

This is a really beautiful example of Nimoy’s seemingly “up-for-anything-ness” when it comes to selling things in a sci-fi light. That’s not a dig; I genuinely love whenever he used a vague Spock association to sell anything.

NimoyThis one’s not so vague.

Conversation Laserdiscs ApartmentHave you seen that episode of Futurama where Leela speaks with Nibbler for the first time and spends the whole scene paraphrasing what Nibbler’s saying for the audience? This whole video is basically that. It’s great.

(Five Things – 7.27.15

That’s… that.  It’s been a great year, and I want to thank you all for your likes, comments, and emails about all of this stuff.  I’ve got some fun stuff in store for 2016, and I really look forward to sharing it with all of you.  Happy New Year!

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Five Things – 11.02.15 – I’m a Bear Called Jeremy

1.  The Solarnauts – Here’s the UK’s almost-answer to Star Trek, the 1967 pilot for The Solarnauts.  While Star Trek‘s a pretty good title, I think I actually prefer Solarnauts.

Solarnauts Title

While both shows are very of-the-era and there are a lot of similarities between the two, the jazzy and brassy soundtrack of Solarnauts really sets it apart and traps it in the sixties.  Star Trek didn’t really suffer the same fate; for all its camp and dance scenes and female alien fashions, it’s a pretty timeless show in comparison.  The set design is great.  There are a few neat “what-if”s, like this egg-cushioned pilot’s chair:

Pilot Chairs

For the most part, though, it’s a broadly inspired design that comes up a little bland on details. Still, beautiful stuff.

Solarnauts Set Solarnauts 1 Planet Set 2 Console Wall

It’s a flat tie with Star Trek on the planet sets, though. Solarnauts wins in the costume department, but comparing their outfits to Star Trek‘s uniforms seems like an unfair fight. These helmets!

Planet Set

Solarnauts Costumes

It’s easy to see why this show wasn’t picked up – there’s not much to like about the characters, the action’s kind of iffy, and the whole thing just kind of falls stylishly flat.   Still, it’s charming, and it would have been interesting to see what the series grew into if it had been picked up.  Alas, this is all we have.  This brassy intro song is serious business.

 

2.  Jeremy – Here’s an adorable stop-motion children’s show from TV Ontario featuring a bear called Jeremy.  This show aired in the 1970s and 1980s, and it’s beautiful and impressively light on dialogue.

 

3.  Baby Boomer – This unlicensed NES game has you manning the Zapper to shoot down threats to a baby that is crawling through heaven and hell to find….something? I guess he’s just exploring.  Anyway, awful.

 

4.  Weebles Treehouse – Enjoy this commercial for the Weebles Treehouse playset.

 

5.  Gobblin’ Food! – I know its a few days late but here’s a gorgeous Halloween themed print ad for Sugar Crisp.

Sugar Crisp

 

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Five Things – 08.17.15 – Taskbars and Email and Shortcuts, Oh My

1.  Microsoft Windows 95 Video Guide – Microsoft really went overboard with this goofy tutorial video on the then-new features of Windows 95.  There were a lot of changes from Windows 3.1, and what better way to display those changes than through an overacted, borderline offensive corporate training video? I’m sorry, I mean a cyber-sitcom. That’s what they call it.  The world’s first.

Windows GuideWho better to bring us into the brave new world of cyber sitcoms than the do-no-wrong stars of Friends, Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry? Nobody, that’s who.  And do-no-wrong? They did wrong.

Matthew Perry and Jennifer AnistonThe premise of the sitcom is that these two show up to audition for a Windows 95 training video. How Seinfeld-esque! The writers of this bit seem to be keenly aware of that fact, as there’s a funky bassline that provides the ‘rimshot’ to just about every joke in this video.

Anyway, Matt and Jen show up to Bill Gates’ office and Bill’s not there, but his personal assistant tells them to just go right into Bill’s office and use his computer. Because that’s what would happen.  This is Bill’s office.

Bill's OfficeI have a hard time believing his screen is that small.  The assistant seats the two down at Bill’s desk, and they get down to business.  “Business” being explaining the basic functions of Windows 95 as Matthew Perry coughs out one-liners on any term or phrase he can get a hold of.

TrioEventually the cast expands, and this is where it gets a little offensive.  There’s an Eastern European window washer (Microsoft’s “windows expert”. Get it?) who shows how to use plug and play, a Chinese food delivery guy named Jeff Li who demonstrates right clicking (?) by use of an overly halting tone of voice, a kid named Joystick Joey who can’t be beat at 3D Pinball and the Chipster, Microsoft’s email expert.

Chipster

There’s also a grunge band and a music video and some other stuff.  It’s pretty ridiculous.  Early on in the video they introduce a big red button, which Jennifer Aniston is warned not to touch under any circumstances.  They forget about it for about twenty minutes and then out of nowhere Aniston decides to push it.  This Tron’s the secondary cast into the computer and Matt and Jen leave.  The secondary cast is pretty excited about this development, which begs the question of why the button shouldn’t be pressed in the first place?

InsideThen there’s about 30 minutes of legitimate tutorial explaining the things discussed in the “cyber-sitcom” and 20 or so Frequently Asked Questions.  A real snoozefest after the gold of the first half-hour. Here it is.

 

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Five Things – 07.27.15 – Gourmet Video, For People Who Know And Love Video

1.  Magnavox Magnavision Demo Video – In 1981, Leonard Nimoy held a secret meeting with an alien emissary that appeared in his apartment and translated specific instructions on how to operate a Magnavox Magnavision Laserdisc player.  Thankfully, this meeting was recorded and is now available for everyone on YouTube.

MagnavoxNimoy’s never looked better than this, and his apartment is pretty much the apartment I dreamed of having as a kid.  That late ’70s/early ’80s ‘futuristic’ style really gets me.

NimoyApartmentThe video mostly consists of this rock that lights up and beeps, and Nimoy repeats what it said back to it to confirm his understanding.  It’s their one trick, and they stick with it.  There’s a few examples of Laserdisc technology, like rewinding and slowing down an epic football tackle or skipping to your favorite moment in an ABBA song (there’s a LOT of ABBA here), but for the most part it’s beeps and words.

Laserdiscs ConversationIt’s a charming video, for sure – this disc was included in the packaging of the Magnavision so that users could get a quick tutorial on the ins and outs of the machine.  I can’t really tell if it succeeds or fails at that, but it’s got a lot more character than it probably should have.  Here it is:

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