Destruct that ship, General!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "A Feasibility Study" (4/13/1964)



“A Feasibility Study”
Season 1, Episode 29
Originally aired 4/13/1964


There’s a crater in Beverly Hills, roughly six city blocks in size, and nobody knows what the hell happened. Was there some sort of bomb that decimated every house and person? Is it a government conspiracy? Or is it…. an alien heist of epic proportions? Fifty years ago tonight, Outer Limits viewers got the inside scoop on the most audacious (and technically impressive) theft in human history.


The residents of Midgard Drive wake up one Sunday morning and quickly realize that something is seriously off. The phones don’t work, they’re surrounded by a thick fog, and there’s a strange humming sound in the air. Ralph Cashman, an attorney who focuses too much energy on his career and not enough on his wife Rhea, attempts to drive to work and passes through a wall of fog. He is subsequently intercepted by three hideous creatures.



The Cashmans’ next-door neighbor Dr. Simon Holm, whose marriage to his wife Andrea is in the proverbial toilet, is confused by the strange weather. Cashman shows up out of nowhere, inexplicably covered in silver pustules, and collapses. “We’re not on Earth,” he intones before a beam of light bursts through the cloud cover and removes him from the premises.


Someone is watching the proceedings from the Cashmans’ tool shed. Holm goes to investigate, and finds a surly teenager who has passed “through the shield,” and fears he’ll be “punished if (he) spoils the experiment.” He is covered in the same silver blemishes as Cashman, and forces Andrea to drive him “back” on the threat that he’ll touch her. She drives away with the teenager; Holm chases after the car and passes through the same foggy barrier as Cashman. He is quickly captured by the same creatures that Cashman encountered.



Holm is brought before the Elder, who explains that the humans’ neighborhood has been transported part and parcel to the planet Luminos. The Luminoids are afflicted by a “hot organism” that causes their bodies to become covered by a silvery rock-like shell, robbing them of physical mobility. The abduction is part of an experiment to test the viability of using Earthlings as slave labor. The Elder assures Holm that that they will live a life of comfort, and that the rest of Earth’s population will be similarly abducted in time.




Holm is returned to his home, where he finds Andrea waiting for him. Her close proximity to the Luminoid teenager has caused her to become infected too, just like Cashman.  The humans congregate at their local church, where Holm makes an impassioned plea that they all become voluntarily infected, which will prove that enslaving humanity is infeasible. All join hands with Andrea and Cashman, spreading the contagion.


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RANDOMONIUM

Joseph Stefano contributes one of his best Outer Limits scripts with “A Feasibility Study”; in fact, it’s his very first one. I see the blank stares among you. Let me explain: “A Feasibility Study” was the first Stefano script produced (the 9th in the production cycle); however, it was the 29th episode aired. In his Outer Limits Companion, Schow explains that network approval was unusually slow due to the controversial ending, which I suppose is understandable given the censorial bullshit of the time (which has really only recently started to loosen but, even now, American television remains controlled by Madison Avenue and reluctant to piss off the Religious Right). The core idea is fascinating, and the themes of liberty and sacrifice are expertly explored. It's a nice contrast with his earlier (later, technically) "Nightmare," which depicts humans held captive by aliens who are unable to control their baser, animal tendencies. Here, the humans exhibit love and compassion, and save humanity in the ultimate act of courage.

In the director’s chair is Byron Haskin, who hit us with the 1-2 punch of “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” and “The Architects of Fear” back in September. This is the third and final season one episode helmed by Haskin, which is a real shame (he’s second only to Gerd Oswald in my book, who directed nearly a third of the show’s first season). I can’t think of a single gripe here…. “A Feasibility Study" is a marvelous work.


The low shot of the church steeple reaching up toward the swirling, ominous clouds in act one is breathtaking. In act four, as the humans congregate in the church, we get a lovely view of Rhea shot through a candelabrum. I’m reminded of similar religious (albeit strangely ominous) imagery in Ingmar Bergman’s late 50’s-early 60’s films.

Left: The Seventh Seal (1957); right: Winter Light (1963).




These bookend scenes serve as the sacred to the Luminoid assembly’s profane. The Contemplative Energy Plant, its rocky outcroppings echoing with demonic laughter and seething with toxic smoke, is probably the darkest, scariest environment The Outer Limits has to offer. If “Mars Is Heaven,” as Ray Bradbury claimed, then Luminos is almost certainly hell. The contrasting schemes, taken as a whole, are startlingly potent. “A Feasibility Study” is the most visually arresting episode in the entire series… and shock of shocks, Conrad Hall didn't shoot it! John Nickolaus, take a bow. Hell, take two.

A good writer can tell a big story with few words, and Stefano does just that with regards to the marriage between Ralph and Rhea Cashman. Their interplay in act one is sweet and believable; his faux exasperation with her continual use of the phrase “Really, Ralph!” is adorable. When he reappears in act four and starts crying before his peers, she rushes to comfort him without fear. They only have these two scenes together, and yet their relationship is fully realized and authentic.

Meanwhile, Andrea describes her marriage to Holm as slavery, and “a dead-end world” (perfectly unaware that she’s also describing their new surroundings). The Luminoids offer their human captives an illusory freedom, complete with familiar creature comforts to cushion their new reality. 1999’s The Matrix postulates that modern life, despite its luxuries and advancements, is a structured kind of slavery because of its societal requirements to function within an elaborate economic machine. In Jack Finney’s classic short story “Of Missing Persons,” the protagonist complains of “selling (his) days to stay alive.” If you hate your job, but can’t quit because of your financial obligations, you've probably feel like a glorified slave at times. I sure as hell do; quite regularly in fact.

As Holm develops his Jamestown solution, he wonders aloud about the nature of the soul: “That’s the whole bright mystique of life, isn’t it? Choice. Maybe that’s what the soul is: choice.” The sentiment may seem trite or corny in any other episode, but it works here (and quite beautifully at that) given the episode’s light-versus-dark trappings, not to mention the deeply moving (and yes, quite spiritual) climax a few minutes later.



For being mostly immobile, the Luminoids seem to get around okay, since they manage to abduct six Earth blocks in one shot. How exactly are they able to pull off such a monumental feat (seriously, it makes the Great Pyramid of Giza look like a Lego project) if they can’t move? Is the badminton birdie teleportation ship (c’mon, you thought it too) completely automated? The logistics of the abduction, whether accomplished by physical bodies or programmed machinery, must have been profoundly complex. If the Luminoids are rocking that level of technology, they could surely create artificial life forms to do their bidding. Robots rarely commit suicide, after all (Asimov’s Third Law of Robotics; read up, kids).

For all their impenetrable rigidity, the Luminoids don’t seem to be in danger of extinction. The logistics of their mating remains a mystery (not sure how intercourse is possible if your entire body is covered with rocks, but whatever), but the existence of teenagers indicate that they are indeed able to procreate. The guys can clearly still get their rocks off, and I’m guessing they have no trouble remaining rock-hard throughout the copulation process.


A lone Luminoid managed to appear in the low-budget 1971 horror film Blood Thirst. There doesn’t seem to be anything connecting it to The Outer Limits, Daystar Productions or even ABC,* so I can’t even begin to imagine how they got their hands on the mask. But it’s a cool little trivia item nonetheless. And hey, maybe having a big ass knife on hand might've been the tipping point the Luminoids needed to keep their human captives in line.







The 1998 film Dark City (a favorite of mine, incidentally) has a somewhat similar premise, in that it concerns a city full of abducted humans who labor beneath an alien race’s bizarre experiments (that’s pretty much where the similarity ends, I guess; both share a congruous vibe more than story specifics). The dense wall of fog that surrounds the relocated chunk of Earth predates Stephen King’s novella The Mist (first published in by 15-plus years (more cool trivia: the Zanti-like insect creatures in the 2007 film adaptation were created by Outer Limits fan and Walking Dead executive producer Greg Nicotero, who also sculpted a couple of Dimensional Designs’ TOL model kits. Damn, I love these kinds of connections!).

Three places you'll find King's The Mist. There are many others.




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Showtime’s updated Outer Limits series (1995-2002), a polarizing endeavor to be sure, remade the episode in 1997 as, simply, “Feasibility Study” (sans ‘A’). It stars David McCallum, star of “The Sixth Finger” and “The Forms of Things Unknown,” but most of its classic TOL cred stems from the fact that Joseph Stefano himself wrote the updated teleplay (it’s a kick seeing his name flash across the screen; here’s a link to a Chicago Tribune piece on the episode). The updated version isn’t bad, necessarily, but it can’t touch the original.

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AURAL PLEASURE


“A Feasibility Study” is another stock affair, meaning that its musical underscore is comprised of cues composed by Dominic Frontiere for other episodes. Said cues include:

Prologue (aka Galaxies) (from “Nightmare”)
Building Terror, The Key, Love Theme (from “The Human Factor”)
Double Vision (from “The Architects of Fear”)
Andro Revealed, Andro and Noelle, Andro Meets Reardon, The Outer Limits Signature Loop
To the Rescue (from “Tourist Attraction”; composed by Robert Van Eps)

I’m not sure if this counts as a sound effect or part of the musical score, but there’s a persistent noise that permeates the entire episode. It’s basically the sound of wind mixed with a faint, reverbed pinging sound. It’s as if the ever-present roiling fog emits an audible sound, which is creepy all by itself, independent of the increasingly creepy things we’ll see as things progress.

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Sam Wanamaker (Dr. Simon Holm) has a fairly impressive resume, but I’ll be damned if I can find any notable genre connections for him. He did appear “The Night of the Howling Light” on TV’s Wild Wild West (which is kinda sorta sci-fi, I guess) and 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Oh, and he directed 1977’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. And… that’s pretty much it. I would've sworn he did a Twilight Zone, but my research indicates otherwise.


Andrea Holm is played by Phyllis Love; she also popped up on The Twilight Zone ("Four O'clock") and Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Backward, Turn Backward").


David Opatoshu is quite good as Ralph Cashman in his only Outer Limits appearance. His resume includes stints on The Twilight Zone ("Valley of the Shadow"), I Spy ("Tonia"), Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("On the Nose" and "Strange Miracle"), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ("The Magic Shop"), and Star Trek ("A Taste of Armageddon," which also guest-starred TOL alum Robert Sampson).


Joyce Van Patten (Rhea Cashman) first worked for Daystar Productions on Stoney Burke (the "Joby" episode, which also guest-starred TOL alum Robert Duvall); they liked her enough to utilize her services again here as Rhea Cashman. Van Patten also appeared on The Twilight Zone ("Passage on the Lady Anne"), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ("The Lonely Hours"), and the TV mini-series adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.


Frank Puglia (Father Fontanna) doesn't have much sci-fi/fantasy/horror in his resume,but he did have a memorable role as Dr. Leonardo in Ray Harryhausen's 1957 film 20 Million Miles to Earth.





If Ben Wright's Elder of Luminos sounds familiar, it's because we also heard him voicing the Grippian refugees in "Moonstone." He also played General Benton in "Nightmare," and he'll return in season two's "Wolf 359"; he was already friendly with Daystar thanks to his work in the "Point of Entry" episode of Stoney Burke. Wright can also be seen in three Twilight Zones: "Judgment Night," "Deaths-Head Revisited" (below) and "Dead Man's Shoes." Oh, and he also appeared on The Invaders in "Summit Meeting: Part 1."


Finally, the unnamed Luminoid teenager is played by Glenn Gannon, whose only other notable genre credit was an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Cop for a Day"). Until just a few years ago, that is, when he appeared in two different episodes of ABC's Lost: he was a priest in "The Moth" and an old guy in a scooter (does that make him a scooter cooter?) in "Exodus: Part 2" (below).



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HOME VIDEO RELEASES



“A Feasibility Study” originally hit home video in 1989 (above), which was relatively early in the four years it took for MGM to release all 49 episodes to the retail market. When the series was made available through Columbia House (remember them?), the episode was paired with “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” (below). In the UK, a paltry eight two-fer VHS tapes were released; “A Feasibility Study” and “Fun and Games” comprised the fourth volume (further below).




“A Feasibility Study” showed up on the third LaserDisc volume in 1994, along with “The Man with the Power,” “The Sixth Finger,” “Corpus Earthling,” "Don’t Open Till Doomsday,” and season two’s “The Duplicate Man.” Volume 3 is notable because, of the four total LD collections released, it’s the only one without any duds (volume 1 includes “Cold Hands, Warm Heart,” volume 2 includes “The Brain of Colonel Barham,” and volume 4 includes “Specimen: Unknown,” all of which range from mediocre to crappy).


“A Feasibility Study” can be found on three different DVD sets: the Complete First Season (released in 2002), Volume 1 of 3 (2007) and the Complete Series (2008). I’d love to report that each release represented some kind of improvement, maybe some remastering or the inclusion of new supplemental material…. but I’d be lying. Each release contains the identical discs. Insulting? Perhaps. Disappointing? Definitely.



If you’re sufficiently incensed to deny MGM your money, I have good news for you: you can still watch all 49 episodes without shedding a dime. Point your browser at Hulu, where you can stream the entire series at your leisure. Gee, ain't modern technology great?


TRADING CARD CORNER


The Luminoids were depicted on four of Topps’ 1964 Monsters from Outer Limits trading cards, where they were reborn as subterranean rock people who plan to take over the Earth, but end up falling to their deaths from a mountaintop after being blinded by the sun. Y’now, that’s actually not half bad (better than the plot of “Specimen: Unknown,” anyway).



MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT


Dimensional Designs has (by far) done the most comprehensive plumbing of the Outer Limits depths from a merchandising standpoint, as they offer high-end model kits of almost every single alien/monster seen on the series. Chris Choin is responsible for sculpting more of them than anyone (a whopping 15, if you count the maybe-it-exists-or-maybe-it-doesn’t Grippians kit), including the Luminoid (1/8-scale, DD/OL/LN-05; $49.95 plus shipping). It’s actually one of my favorite Choin contributions; have a look at what an expert like Mr. Enamel can do with it….



I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m all thumbs and lack patience, so model building is not an option for me (plus my eyes are starting to go; the optometrist tells me my next pair of glasses will be bifocals). However, I do have a short list of kits that I covet most… and the Luminoid is definitely on that list. I'm considering hiring somebody to do 'em for me.... any volunteers? Hit me up.


THE WRAP-UP


I’ve steadfastly refused to numerically rank the episodes, but I am willing to state that “A Feasibility Study” is one of my top ten favorites. Stefano’s script is both exciting and thought-provoking, the performances are uniformly good, and the visuals are among the most compelling in the entire series (in a show typically filled with unforgettable images, that’s high praise). In short, the episode totally…. rocks (rimshot!).




* Schow informs me that Blood Thirst was edited by TOL editor Tony Di Marco, so there's your connection. It doesn't quite explain the mystery, but at least we now have a prime suspect.


15 comments:

  1. Excellent reading, as always. Ah, but you missed the "Stoney" Burke pun!

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  2. John Mcgee noticed a pun you didn't? Craig -- disgarace in the blog-o-sphere. But we'll blame it on fatigue, as you've written about almost the entire first season. I have been consistently persuaded by your point of view and by your comparative "ranking" of episodes (non-numerical though it is), even when I thought differently at first. As your first season blogs draw to a close, I am more aware than ever how remarkable it is that The Outer Limits ever happened at all. I am dreading going through the mostly depressing second season, despite its memorable high points (thank you, Mr. Ellison -- and there are a couple of other good ones, too). In the more immediate future, I am curious as to how you will, uh, explain away "Production and Decay".

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    1. I've already done some preliminary work on "Production and Decay," and I will say this: I think I like it a bit more than "The Borderland." Just a bit. That's really not saying much, though.

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    2. Check out the Mexican comic book cover. First Picture I put on Google. eh..

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  3. Stated above twice was "Vivian" or "Vivian Cashman" What you really meant was "Rhea", right. Because if not I need to get hold of the episode where "Vivian" is the wife because it would be one I missed and I couldn't live with myself if I missed an Outer Limits TOL episode.

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    1. I have no idea why I intermittently thought her name was "Vivian." I'm getting pretty fatigued the further into the series we get. Fixed.

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  4. I loved the opening space sequence with planets and stars passing by the camera.

    Yes, the Luminoid spaceship looks like a badminton birdie, but its teleportation of the Earth neighborhood is effective, anyway. It is difficult to interpret the "borders" of the teleported community. When the doctor walks through the fog, I guess it represents the end of the Earth neighborhood and the beginning of the planet Luminous. The scene that shows the Doctor wandering through fog and past large rocks is neat. It features more mobile (yet still slothful) Luminoids, who pop up from behind the rocks. This comes off as a pretty silly attempt to scare the viewer. I assume these are younger Luminoids who have not yet been immobilized by their advancing age. The infected Earthlings are disappointingly reminiscent of zombies with shiny sores on them.

    What keeps this episode from being more enjoyable is the casting. The two main female characters played by Joyce Van Patten and Phylliis Love seem lost here, and the male leads of Sam Wanamaker and David Opatoshu are bland. The ending portrays a great sacrifice made by the abducted neighborhood residents.

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  5. Your erectile dysfunction meme was hilarious and I am amazed at how you manage to bring a fresh new bitch to MGM's double-sided DVD, triple-dip disgrace every week. I bought the original set the day they hit the shelves back in the early '00s and repurchased the entire series when MGM offered the same repackaged discs as a double-dip (I needed a backup set anyway). I haven't tried to watch any episodes from the first set I bought ten years ago. I remember one of the discs not wanting to play any of my DVD players. Maybe that's why I bought the second set. Regardless, I did manage to rip every episode to hard drive.

    If there is anything that I can do to hasten the delivery of a Blu-Ray set with extras (including Luminoid-style slave labor), let me know.

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    1. whitsbrain, Yes the reluctant-to-play disc you encountered within your 1st set was likely from Season 2. I'd seen it reported that MGM/UA inadvertently released as many as 26,000 defective sets of Season 2 like that, and were quite unrepentant about it. I can tell you it took me three tries until I got a Season 2 set that was fully functional. Disgraceful!

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  6. Hey, thanks for the accolades Craig...I'm constantly building the DD Outer Limits, either for myself or others, you can see them at flickr.com/photos/mrenamel. Feel free to use any you like. Also, you mention that you would like a buildup of the Luminoid. I would be happy to build the Luminoid if you wish. I actually have one in stock, but it will set ya back 49.95 (cost of kit) and 105.00 to build and paint. If you've ever done any building you'll probably realize that's a very reasonable price. On occasion I list a buildup service for OLs on Ebay under mrenamelsmodels for 115.00. Thanks again for the wonderful comments, and great job on the blog.

    Yours Truly, Al (Mr Enamel)

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  7. I just discovered your blog -- wonderful work! So great to see another salute to this great TV series! This is right up there in my top five or so episodes. Gets better every time you see it. One thing that really bothers me is that Mrs. Cashman didn't take Mr. Cashman's hand at the end -- he needed some human contact and he really loved his wife and vice versa. They missed a poignant moment there...but otherwise, what an episode! I wrote a long comment on this one on the WATC website; don't want to repeat it here but I love Phyllis Love in this. Very adult relationship and sexy, too with the great Sam Wanamaker. Again, wonderful blog and I will be furiously catching up on all the posts!

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  8. Probably in my Top 3 or 4 episodes. Just has the "It" factor going for it. Good dialog, perfect atmosphere. I keep binge watching this and a few others, once every several weeks. Boy, when TOL was good, it was and still is, unbeatable.

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  10. This was a truly memorable episode when I first saw it back in 1964. It became even scarier for a nine year old because, on the west coast at least, ABC broadcast it at 9:00 PM instead of the usual 7:30 PM because of presidential campaign coverage. The only real problem I have is the performance of David Opatoshu as Ralph Cashman. He's fine up until he's confronted by and contaminated by the Luminoids, after that he overplays and he's truly painful to watch and listen to. The show dates itself when Dr. Simon Holm (Sam Wanamaker) tells his wife Andrea (Phyllis Love) that "Marriage has become insignificant in this troubled world of ours. Maybe that's why the world is in such big trouble." This being 1963, and months before even the JFK asassination on 11/22/63, I'm not sure what trouble writer Joseph Stefano would have been alluding to. From my memory, marriage was still pretty significant in 1963. The show gets a bit heavy handed in a scene near the end, when the people are huddling inside the church waiting for instructions from Dr. Holm. There's a loud knocking from outside the church door, and two big, burly guys who look and act more like secret service agents than frightened townsfolk stand in front of the door, arms folded, grim, not speaking and unsmiling. They refuse to let anyone open the doors until the church Father, with a hand gesture, waves them away, a gesture they apparently were unable to defy. I'm not sure what Stefano meant by all of this but in my opinion it would have been better left out of the show.

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