Movies Till Dawn: TV Archaelogy (Part 2 – Martian Sentai Octopus Edition)

The Martian Chronicles” (1980, Kino Lorber) Six-hour, three-part miniseries attempts to translate Ray Bradbury‘s collection of short stories and prose poems about the fallout of an attempted colonization of Mars by Earth astronauts. Screenwriter Richard Matheson uses mission commander Rock Hudson as the unifying element to pull the source material into a single, cohesive plotline, but the canvas is too vast in regard to tone, language, and perspective to string together without sacrificing cohesiveness. British filmmaker Michael Anderson (“Logan’s Run”) is further hampered by some very low-wattage special effects, but benefits from exceptional locations (Malta, the Canary Islands) and an all-pro cast that includes Roddy McDowall, Darren McGavin, Bernadette Peters and an adolescent Laurie Holden (“The Walking Dead”). Kino’s Blu-ray includes a saucy interview with character actor James Faulkner (“Game of Thrones), who relays the challenges of playing an extraterrestrial, and trailers for other Kino sci-fi titles, including “The Earth Dies Screaming.”

Super Sentai – Chojin Sentai Jetman: The Complete Series” (1991-1992, Shout Factory) Facing an attack from the inter-dimensional (and outrageously appointed) Vyram, the defense agency Sky Force initiates its J-Project, which uses “birdonic waves” to transform soldiers into superhuman Jetmen. The experiment is a success for square-jawed officer Ryu, but an attack by the Vyram sends waves across Japan and unwittingly turns an heiress, a schoolgirl, a grumpy farmer and a saxophone-playing card sharp into additional Jetmen. After learning to operate planes and cars that can transform into giant fighting robots, the Jetmen face off against the Vyram’s plan for global domination, which involves transforming everyday objects – a traffic light, a hair dryer, an old teddy bear and in one jaw-dropping moment, a bowl of Ramen noodles – into city-wrecking monsters. Surreal tokusatsu series – one of 15 such action/sci-fi programs produced by the Toei Company and toy manufacturer Bandai, including “Kyoryu Sentain Zyuranger,” which became “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” in the States – is a novel variation on the mecha vs. kaiju scenario and further distinguishes itself by balancing the bizarre special effects with a decidedly serious tone, most notably in a love triangle between Ryu, heiress Kaori and badboy gambler Gai. That approach will probably get the gas face from younger viewers, but makes for a more involving (if weirder) experience for grown-up tokusatsu fans. Shout Factory’s eight-DVD set includes all 51 episodes of “Jetman,” all featuring English subtitles and previews for upcoming episodes.

Also available: a gargantuan binge-watch for crime and international TV fans awaits with MHz Networks’ DVD box set for “La Piovra” (“The Octopus”). The Italian series, created by Ennio De Concini and Damiano Damiani, starred Michele Placido (“Romanzo Criminale”) as a police inspector investigating widespread corruption linked to the Sicilian Mafia, was a phenomenal success at home and throughout Europe thanks to its labyrinthine plotting and high body count, as well as an international cast of film and TV stars (among them Martin Balsam, Bruno Cremer and Luca Zingaretti) and high production values, including original music by Ennio Morricone and Riz Ortolani. MHz’s 21-disc (!) set includes restored image from RAI’s original masters and interviews with cast and crew.

There’s also some positively antediluvian TV from MVD in its “Television’s Lost Classics” Blu-ray series, the first volume of which features two live teleplays from the mid-1950s, both starring independent film pioneer John Cassavetes and directed by Sidney Lumet (“Dog Day Afternoon”). Cassavetes is a hood trying to go straight in 1955’s “Crime in the Streets” (he would reprise the role for the 1956 film version) for “The Elgin Hour,” with Robert Preston and a pre-teen Van Dyke Parks as his kid brother, while in “No Right To Kill” (1956), an adaptation of “Crime and Punishment” for Chrysler’s “Climax!” series, his Raskolnikov is a TV comedy writer who commits murder.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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