Opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the author, David C. Matthews (unless otherwise indicated). Images used are copyrighted by their respective owners, and appear under the "fair use" provisions of the copyright laws.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Episode Review EXTRA: Space Ghost, "The Molten Monsters of Moltar" - Sept. 16, 1967

(Warning! Spoilers, Will Robinson!)

Title card: Space Ghost - The Molten Monsters of Moltar


(NOTE: "The Molten Monsters of Moltar" is Episode 4 of the six-episode "Council of Doom" story. This episode resolves the previous installment's cliffhanger, and ends with a new cliffhanger to lead into the next episode.)

The Council of Doom - Brak, Creature King, Zorak, Spider Woman, and Metallus (unseen for now) - eagerly watch on a crystal viewscreen as their sixth member, Moltar, traps Space Ghost, Jan, Jace and Blip in a funnel-shaped oven.


"I've prepared a 'warm welcome' for you, Space Ghost," gloats Moltar as he pulls a lever on his control panel that sends a stream of molten metal - or perhaps lava - down a chute that empties into the top of the funnel.

lava chute

lava fills oven

As the molten metal fills the funnel, it glows red-hot, swells, then bursts open…

Protected by a 'freeze field'

…to reveal Space Ghost et al safe; the molten stream runs over an invisible force-field projected by Space Ghost's power bands. Space Ghosts blasts a hole through the side of the cavern, through which he, the twins and the monkey escape.

Moltar launches his 'molten fire rockets'

The molten fire rocket

But Moltar sends his "molten fire rockets" after our heroes. "Now, seek and destroy!" he orders, as the three rockets launch one after the other.

A "scatter ray" breaks their formation, after which Space Ghost's "destructo-ray" destroys them. "I'm going in after him!" Space Ghost announces. "Turn on your inviso-power and stay clear!"

The senso-thermal rockets

Moltar launches six bird-like "senso-thermal robots", but orders them to "Get the ones who travel with Space Ghost!"

Inviso-power is no good

Jace is at first confident that their invisibility will protect them - until the robots begin firing on them! Jace, Jan and Blip attempt to evade the robots, but are cornered on a rocky spire.

Moltar gloats over Space Ghost's helplessness

Space Ghosts blasts his way into Moltar's control room, only to be confronted by the sight, on Moltar's viewscreen, of his crew surrounded by the birdlike robots. Moltar demands Space Ghost's surrender, "or they will be blown into heat vapors!"

Space Ghost, the Molten Monsters, and Moltar

Moltar's ultimatum: "take a long trip" accompanied by Moltar's two giant, humanoid "molten monsters". "Take Space Ghost to the planet Amzot," Moltar orders the monsters. "And remember, Space Ghost, if my ship is not back within the hour, your friends are finished." Reluctantly, Space Ghost agrees.

Approaching Amzot

Landing on Amzot

The Herculoids at last

Landing on Amzot, Space Ghost and his two "escorts" are confronted by The Herculoids.

Zandor demands answers

Zandor demands to know "Why have you come here? And why are you holding that man prisoner?"

Space Ghost, captive of the Molten Monsters

A Molten Monster fires an eye-beam

One of the molten giants fires a ray-beam at the humans…

Gloop deflects the beam

…Gloop forms a shield that deflects the beam. "Run!" Space Ghost warns. "Or these molten creatures will destroy you!"

Igoo, with one of his favorite weapons

But Zandor is determined to rescue Space Ghost, and orders Tundro to fire energy rocks. The explosive stones take out one of the giants; while a boulder thrown by Igoo stuns the other.

Zok attacks!

Zok finishes the job by destroying the giant with his eye- and tail-beams.

Space Ghost bids the Herculoids farewell

"Thank you, Zandor," says a grateful Space Ghost as he shakes Zandor's hand. "And thanks to your animals, the Herculoids. But I must hurry back!"

Space Ghost boards Moltar's rocket

"Good luck, Space Ghost," replies Zandor as Space Ghost boards Moltar's rocket to save his own friends.

Moltar watches as his ship returns

Watching the return of the rocket, unaware that Space Ghost is aboard, Moltar evilly laughs. "With Space Ghost taken care of, I can dispose of my hostages anyway!"

Jan, Jace and Blip surrounded by senso-thermal rockets

Space Ghost exits the ship

Space Ghost flies out of the rocket, shouting orders to Jan, Jace and Blip to "Quick, jet up!" They do so just before the rocket smashes into the robots, destroying them.

Space Ghost fires on Moltar's lair

"Now, let's see if Moltar can stand a little of my heat!" Space Ghost fires a beam into the open peak of Moltar's mountain…

Space Ghost's heat ray causes Moltar's pits to overheat

…the beam overheats one of Moltar's molten pits. Moltar runs for his life as the pits boil over.

Spider Woman is not happy.  Not happy at all.

The Council of Doom watch, frustrated and angry, as a column of fire erupts from Moltar's mountain lair, signaling the defeat of yet another member of the Council.

Brak, back when he was still evil

But Brak is confident that his "arsenal of rays" will "destroy him for good!"

Jace and Blip

Space Ghost and company make their way back to the Ghost Ship - "and it won't be too soon for Blip," laughs Jace. "He's tired!" - when they are confronted by a "space cyclone" controlled by Brak.

Space cyclone!

As the cyclone engulfs our heroes, the narrator implores us to "Watch next exciting episode" to find out if they escape!

Comments: I'm featuring this episode of Space Ghost at this point in the review queue because this marked the fifth appearance of the Herculoids, after two shows (four episodes) of their own.

This episode is notable for being the first reference to "Amzot" as the name of the Herculoids' planet. Other than that, not really a whole lot to say about this, the Herculoids' first (and, until the 1981 Hanna-Barbera Space Stars series, only) guest appearance in another series. Their role occupies a whole minute and five seconds of a six-minute thirteen-second cartoon; not a whole lot of time to introduce new characters, showcase their abilities, and show them interacting with the series' star (since they also have to resolve the previous episode's cliffhanger, tell the story of this episode, and set up the next episode). So to save time, they have to have Moltar's rocket land literally next to where the Herculoids happen to be standing, all gathered in a group, within shouting distance.

So we get really brief samples of the Herculoids' powers: Gloop stretches out and forms a power-beam-proof shield over the humans, Tundro fires a few energy rocks, Igoo pitches a boulder, and Zok zaps an enemy with his "laser" beams. (And since Gleep is a smaller version of Gloop, we can infer that he'd have the same abilities.)

And poor Tara doesn't even get to speak! Why couldn't she have been the one to deliver the line "Good luck, Space Ghost!" spoken by Zandor as SG departs? Would it have killed them to have had Virginia Gregg (the voice of Tara) speak that one extra line during her recording sessions for their own series? Hell, Dorno gets a line! "A strange ship is landing, Zandor!" (Yeah, I know I gripe a lot about how criminally underutilized Tara is during the original series.)

But I do have a few choice words about the rest of the episode, heh heh heh…

Don't get me wrong: as a kid, I loved Space Ghost; until The Herculoids came along, it and Jonny Quest were my favorite cartoons. As a matter of fact, I still like the series enough that I could not stomach what they did to him years later in Space Ghost Coast To Coast. I still consider that egotistical buffoon to be an imposter. Or, to paraphrase Sen. Lloyd Bentsen during his 1988 vice-presidential debate: "I knew Space Ghost. I was a fan of Space Ghost. You're no Space Ghost."

Having said that…

There's still a lot about this episode that just doesn't work. Most of what's wrong (but not by any means all) stems from the restrictive time format (if nine to ten minutes isn't long enough to tell many of the Herculoids' stories effectively, think how much worse six minutes is!), and the decision to feature the stars of another series as guest stars.

In fact, the entire "Council of Doom" story arc suffers from what must have been an executive decision (perhaps even promulgated by the network, CBS) to use these Space Ghost episodes as introductions to the stars of the new Saturday morning shows debuting that year (1967). So you get Space Ghost meeting The Mighty Mightor in the second part, "Clutches of Creature King" and the genie Shazzan in episode 6, "The Final Encounter" (as well as the Herculoids here in episode 4), and Jan, Jace and Blip encounter - I'm not kidding - Moby Dick in the third installment, "The Deady Trap".

So instead of what could have been a gripping mega-saga of Space Ghost's arch-enemies pooling their talents to destroy him, we get a "tag-team" series of encounters in which each villain takes on Space Ghost one at a time! What's worse is that these people seem to have forgotten everything they knew about Space Ghost's abilities, and the variety of rays and force fields at his command via his power bands. Witness the fact that Moltar is surprised that Space Ghost and his companions survived his molten oven*; didn't it occur to him that SG would use some kind of force field to protect them from the boiling lava?

The "Oh, Come ON!" Moment comes near the end of the episode: Space Ghost returns from Amzot to find his wards Jace and Jan trapped against a spire of rock by Moltar's six senso-thermal robots. The twins (and Blip) are surrounded on every side - horizontally, at least - and sense somehow that the robots are seconds away from firing on them at point-blank range. So how does Space Ghost rescue them? He shouts to them, "Quick, jet up!" And they do. Because there was nothing preventing them from doing so. There were no robots above them. Which means that they could've "jetted up" anytime they wanted. But, durrhh, they have to wait for Space Ghost to tell them when to escape. (It's actually hard to tell who's having the bigger "idiot moment" here: Moltar, for not having one of the robots cut off their possible vertical escape route, or Jan and Jace for not taking advantage of it sooner.)

I try not to pick on anything in these cartoons that I feel is merely the product of low budgets and tight schedules (so criticism of the animation, for the most part, is off-limits). But this was just poor storytelling! Maybe having Space Ghost destroy the robots with a destructo-ray, or projecting a force-shield around Jan and Jace, was just too "been there, done that".

I notice, also, throughout the "Council of Doom" arc that their spaceship is referred to as the "Ghost Ship". Did the writers forget that its name is "The Phantom Cruiser"? And I can't help but wonder if Gary Owens, the voice of Space Ghost, remembered that and brought it up during the recording sessions, only to be told "don't worry about it, just recite what's written."

Looking back, maybe it's a good idea that the second "season" of Space Ghost consisted only of the six Council of Doom" episodes. The writers, I think, were running out of ideas for challenging opponents and situations for SG; better to just rerun the first season episodes for one more year.
*Geez, everything's "molten" with this Moltar guy - molten pits, molten ovens, molten fire-rockets...

Friday, August 6, 2010

"King" Zandor??

Has this happened to you? You've Googled "herculoids", and start browsing websites that purport to have information about The Herculoids. From professional repositories of television history to small one-or-two page fan sites (maybe that's how you ran across this blog!) And when you reach the inevitable descriptions of the cast, you see the leader of the Herculoids referred to as… "King Zandor."

And if you're like me, your reaction is always "King" Zandor?? WTF?!

Because I certainly don't remember Zandor ever being referred to as "king" during the original series. (There's one reference to Zandor's "rule over this planet" in the first episode, "The Beaked People", but none since then.) And yet, site after site will add this title to Zandor's name (usually because they've simply regurgitated the info they picked up from another website). Some even take it a step farther, referring to Zandor's wife and son as "Queen Tara"* and "Prince Dorno".

But what are they supposedly the "king" and "queen" of? The whole planet of Amzot? If so, wouldn't you expect their living quarters to be a little more, shall we say, substantial? That weird-looking tree (or whatever that is) shows absolutely no sleeping quarters, no kitchen, no pantry… or, most important of all, no office space in which to conduct the official Royal Business of whatever it is they're supposed to be rulers of.

(Although you do have to admit that Zandor certainly looks the part of king of a jungle planet. Tall, muscular, red-haired and square-jawed, with that commanding Mike Road voice. So masculine he can make a Wonder Woman tiara look macho!)

Now, it can easily be inferred from the original episodes that Zandor and Tara (and, perhaps to a lesser extent Dorno**) are personages of some importance: the peace-loving races of Amzot come to The Big Z for protection from invaders (as happened in "The Beaked People" and "The Raider Apes"); and the warlike nations want Zandor and Co. out of the way, because they know he and the rest of the Herculoids are not gonna just stand by while freedom is at risk!

Even the extraterrestrial invaders will often state the explicit goal of eliminating Zandor before putting their plans for invasion and pillage into motion; seems Zandor's reputation has spread to other solar systems.

So it's fair to assume that the Herculoids are the protectors (unofficially, at least) of Freedom and Justice on Amzot. But that wouldn't require Zandor or Tara to be royalty.

Which still leaves the question: where did this "King Zandor" stuff come from? My guess: probably an off-hand reference from a poorly-vetted press kit promoting the original run… I can easily believe that the promo materials might have been produced by staffers who weren't familiar with the show they were promoting, and couldn't be bothered to find out. (Especially if the prevailing attitude is "it's just a damn kids' show, who cares if it's accurate?")

*or worse, "Queen Tarra" (with the incorrect excess "r")!

**or "Doorknob", as a commenter at my deviantART site once referred to him, which I thought was hilarious!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Episode Review: #4, "Sarko the Arkman" - Sept. 16, 1967

(WARNING: Spoilers. Sorry I couldn't find a more creative way of saying it this time…)


A mysterious spacecraft plies the skies of the jungle planet.

It lands in a clearing; a large hatch opens in the side, and something shoots along an energy beam that issues out of the hatch.

Title card:

From behind a bush, a short, frog-faced alien watches as Igoo approaches. "Good! A perfect specimen for my experiments!" Bad luck for Igoo: he's standing directly over the "trap area".

The alien punches a button on his remote-control device…

and the ground falls out from beneath Igoo's feet. Igoo falls into the pit…

...only to rise a moment later, encased in a bell-jar-like container.

Igoo's roars of distress draw the attention of Zandor, who commences his bouncing-between-the-vines-stunt, and Dorno, riding atop Tundro accompanied by Gleep.

Another press of a button on the remote control opens the hatch in the spaceship's side, from which levitation beams appear to pull Igoo's trap into the interior. "That was even easier than I expected," gloats the alien.

"But you didn't expect me, did you, Arko?"

Arko turns to face Zandor. "Yes, I did, Zandor. You warned me never to return to this planet, so…"

A button-press opens a small hatch in the ship's side; Zandor is overcome by a burst of sleep-gas, and falls unconscious at Arko's feet. "Yes, Zandor, you warned me," laughs Arko.

The growls of the charging Tundro attract Arko's attention. Tundro comes to a stop - atop another of Arko's traps, as it turns out…

...and he, with Dorno and Gleep still on his back, ends up encased in a trap as well. "Gleep! Go get help!" orders Dorno.

Gleep separates into several small copies of himself, escapes through the ventilation holes ringing the bottom of the cage, and reassembles, bouncing off to summon aid.

That aid comes in the form of Tara, to whom the wildly-gibbering Gleep tells of the events of the past few minutes. Zok flies Tara, Gleep and Gloop to the scene of the trouble.

They find Zandor just regaining consciousness - but no sign of the spacecraft. "Arko must have used some kind of sleep mist on me," Zandor explains.

"Arko!" exclaims Tara. "Then that means they must have been taken to the planet Zodan!"

Zok screeches; "That's my feeling, too, Zok." Zandor resolves to go after Arko, and rescue Tundro, Igoo and Dorno. "Gleep, you know what to do." Indeed he does: surround Tara with multiple Gleeps for protection, as Zandor, Gloop and Zok take to the sky.

Commercial time-out…

On the planet Zodan: a rocky hillside, into which huge cages for Arko's newest "acquisitions" have been hollowed.

From his hovercraft, Arko delights in Igoos' and Tundro's futile attempts to break down the metal bars over the caves' openings: "It is useless! You have great strength; but my bars are stronger!"

He then flies up to the cage holding his third trophy: Dorno, whose cage is suspended several yards over the ground. "The animals I can use; but for you, son of Zandor, I have no use… except to control Zandor!"

"Who by now is on his way!" challenges Dorno. "And I will be ready for him," Arko gloats as he flies over to a small building from which protrude two deadly-looking ray cannon.

As Zandor, Zok and Gloop appears in the skies over Zodan, Arko unleashes a barrage of energy bolts at them.

One especially powerful bolt, even though deflected by Zandor's shield, still carries enough kick to knock Zandor and Gloop off the dragon's back!

Dorno cam only watch helplessly as Zandor plunges to certain doom -

- until Gloop forms himself into a parachute to lower Zandor gently to the ground.

Zok attacks the bars of Igoo's and Tundro's cages with eye- and tail-beams, weakening the metal enough to allow the mighty creatures to break the bars down. Safely on the ground, Zandor and Gloop watch as Igoo and Tundro charge toward Arko's fortification. "So… the creatures are loose. Which means their finish!" he says as he aims the ray cannons at the approaching Herculoids.

But Zandor pitches his shield, severing the electrodes and causing an energy backup which destroys the cannon.

Energy rocks fired from Tundro's horn batter the sturdy metal door leading to Arko's control room…

…Igoo pushes the door in, and they both charge down the corridor. But a quick press of a button on Arko's console drops three more doors into the hallway, separating Tundro and Igoo from their target.

Between Tundro's energy rocks and Igoo's brute strength, however, the doors are soon dealt with, and Arko finds himself confronted by his two erstwhile victims, and Zandor, slingshot at the ready, demanding his surrender.

"You win, Zandor… and you lose! With this switch, I release the cage containing your son!" Zandor launches an energy rock at Arko just as Arko pulls the lever; the control room is destroyed in a mighty explosion...

...but not in time to prevent the bottom from dropping out of Dorno's cage!

Quick action by Gloop, forming himself into a mattress, saves Dorno from a deadly fall.

Arko's spaceship once again leaves Zodan; but this time it's Zandor at the controls, as Zandor, Dorno, Gloop, Igoo and Tundro fly home.

"Are they all strapped in?" Zandor asks. "All but Zok," answers Dorno. "He's flying escort!"

Comments: So why is the episode titled "Sarko the Arkman" when the character is referred to throughout the show as "Arko"? The most likely explanation: the character's name was changed sometime during the cartoon's production, but after the vocal tracks were recorded, and rerecording those lines was not possible for some reason. Perhaps the actors were unavailable at the time, perhaps the budget and/or schedule wouldn't allow for the corrections to be made.

But I think I can guess why the change was made: someone in a position of authority didn't like the redundancy of the title "Arko the Arkman", and I can't say I blame them. The name "Sarko" is actually pretty cool; it's a name I wish I'd come up with.

I am absolutely certain this time that that's Paul Frees giving voice to (S)Arko. Frees is one of my favorite voice actors, and I've heard him use that voice, or something similar, for other characters. If you're not familiar with Paul Frees, I know you've heard his voice before: he's the "Ghost Host" for the Disney Parks' Haunted Mansion attractions; he's the voice of Disney's Ludwig von Drake, of the aliens from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, of Ben "The Thing" Grimm and the Watcher from Hanna-Barbera's version of Fantastic Four (which also debuted in 1967, the same year as The Herculoids) and… of the Pillsbury Doughboy(!) Frees didn't do a lot of work for H-B, but he was the narrator of the opening titles for Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, as well as the voice of Fluid-Man in that same show. (You can find the theme here at Toon Tracker in RealAudio; scroll down about a quarter of the page.)

I think this cartoon was just about the right length for the story being told. But the story I would have liked to see done as a single half-hour episode was the first encounter between (S)Arko and the Herculoids. It's obvious this is not (S)Arko's first visit to Amzot; Zandor has warned him never to return, and even Tara knew, not only his name, but his planet of origin (Zodan). PIty they never told that story…

So Zandor, Zok and Gloop travel through interplanetary space to reach Zodan without the protection of pressurized craft or even space suits. That might have thrown me for a loop, even at the age I watched this show originally, had I not been watching Space Ghost the year before. With Space Ghost, Jan, Jace and Blip traveling the spaceways sans space suits as a matter of course, the viewer comes to accept that, for whatever reason, the Hanna-Barbera version of space is not an airless vacuum against which elaborate precautions must be taken, lest our heroes die a painful death upon leaving their planetary atmosphere for the first time.

OR, maybe Space Ghost's power bands, and Jace, Jan and Blip's inviso-power belts generate a force field that protect them from the airless vacuum of space. And just maybe Zok generates a similar force-field to insulate himself and his passengers from hard vacuum. Tundro, Igoo and Dorno have to use (S)Arko's spaceship to travel back to Amzot because Zok can't fit everybody on his back!

The ease with which Zandor pilots (S)Arko's ship tells me that there's a lot more to this man than just a Tarzan-like figure who lives in the wild with his family and a cadre of super-animals. Zandor has dealt extensively with technology in the past, but chooses to live a primitive existence for whatever reason. Wouldn't the reasons behind that make an interesting story!

Speaking of Space Ghost (we were, weren't we?): the next episode review will be of a Space Ghost episode! Why, you ask (as if you didn't know, or couldn't guess, the answer)? Because it's the occasion of the first Space Ghost/Herculoids crossover!