Destruct that ship, General!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Episode Spotlight: "The Premonition" (1/09/1965)



“The Premonition”
Season 2, Episode 16 (48 overall)
Originally aired 1/09/1965


Fifty years ago tonight, The Outer Limits was facing cancellation. It's probably appropriate that this, its penultimate offering, would dwell on the nature of time.... since the show's time was just about up.


Ace Air Force pilot Jim Darcy is in the cockpit of an experimental X-15, testing the limits of speed and maneuverability. He reaches Mach Six and breaks not the only the sound barrier but the time barrier, the resultant shock wave of which forces him into a  crash-landing. Once on the ground, he’s shocked to discover that everything appears to be frozen--- not “frozen” in the ice-encrusted kid-friendly Disney sense, but “frozen” as in rock-solid and immovable… people included.


He’s also shocked to discover his wife, Linda, who has wrecked her car near the crash site. She isn’t frozen in time, which leads him to speculate that she was caught in the shock wave and carried along with him to… where, exactly? They return to Jim’s base, where everything and everyone is frozen… including their daughter, Janie, who they find right in the path of a delivery truck, which is rolling straight toward her thanks to an errant driver who forgot to engage the parking brake.


Comparing the X-15’s chronometer against the one in the base’s control room, Jim deduces that the couple were displaced in time and thrust several seconds into the future. Time isn’t actually frozen---- it’s just moving extremely slowly, and will eventually catch up with them. They encounter an iridescent man (the “Limbo Being”) who explains that he, like them, was once displaced in time; however, because he missed the moment of time's re-synchronization, he is eternally trapped in nothingness. The Darcys must be in their respective places--- Jim in the X-15’s cockpit, Linda in her car--- at the precise moment time corrects itself or they’ll face a similar fate.




Finally! That MacGyver prequel everyone's been clamoring for.
This unfortunately means that neither of them will be anywhere near Janie to prevent what will almost certainly be a fatal accident. Jim cuts the seat-belts out of Linda’s car (which, like his downed X-15, isn’t frozen in time) and rigs a makeshift emergency brake of sorts that will hopefully, when time resumes its normal pace, stop the truck and save Janie. They assume their places just as time catches up with them.



Jim ditches the X-15 into the sand, and Linda crashes into the boulder. Both are unhurt but have no memory of their experience. An intangible feeling--- a “premonition”--- sends them rushing back to the base, where they find Janie unharmed.






.
RANDOMONIUM

“The Premonition” began as “Gordian Knot,” a story treatment by Ib Melchior, who wrote “Water Tank Rescue” and “Voice of Infinity” for TV’s Men into Space, plus the screenplays for 1959’s The Angry Red Planet (which he also directed)  and 1964’s Robinson Crusoe on Mars (a film directed by Outer Limits six-timer Byron Haskin). Said treatment was expanded into teleplay form by Samuel Roeca, who would go on to write several episodes of Mission: Impossible and serve as story editor on the third and final season of Land of the Lost (which was an awesome show if you were a kid when it originally aired, which I was… those Sleestaks were fucking cool).


Gerd Oswald, who helmed more Outer Limits episodes than anyone else (a whopping fourteen), is back for one more ride in the director’s saddle. I wish I could say his final offering was on par with his earlier brilliance… but it most certainly isn’t. There’s really not much here: lots of Air Force stock footage, lots of running around, and a lot of freeze frames depicting frozen time… nothing impressive. However, I do like the scene with the Darcys walking through the control room, weaving in and out of frozen folks (which are actually actors standing still; there's a really nice overhead shot of this tableau in act three), so I guess that’s a good staging effort. The crashed X-15 mockup looks good, but that’s more of a set design success than a directorial one. There’s definitely some production value added by shooting on location at a real Air Force base at Paramount Studios, which looks enough like a military base to fool your average TV-watching idiot (like me; thanks as always to David J. Schow for correcting me), and Director of Photography Kenneth Peach captures it all ably with minimal flourish… except for some extreme close-ups of William Bramley’s mouth during the countdown, which is a bit off-putting.


.
It feels like a good five or ten minutes of screen time is used up just showing the Darcys running back and forth repeatedly from the crash site to the base and back again. It doesn’t help that the same few camera angles are used each time (I assume all these sequences were shot together, so Dewey Martin and Mary Murphy--- or maybe their stunt doubles--- must’ve been hot, tired and a bit pissed by the end of the day). Since I have so much time on my hands (ha! Get it?), I threw together a super cut of all the repetitive shots for your amusement (or irritation):

video

Okay, so it wasn’t quite five or ten minutes. Sure seems like it, though. Y’now, Linda’s car didn’t look totaled by any means. Shouldn't they have at least tried to start it before spending all that time and energy running back and forth? And how far is it from the crash site to the base? I’m assuming it’s at least a couple miles.


“The Premonition” feels a lot like one of the hour-long fourth season Twilight Zone episodes due to the glaring amount of padding and repetitiveness. It never quite gets boring, but it never really moves at a sufficiently brisk pace, either. Unfortunately, the long silences gave me a chance to start mulling things over and picking things apart. If time is frozen, or at least moving in extreme slow motion, how are the Darcys able to breathe? Wouldn't the air be solid as well? Nothing can be moved in this rigid, motionless environment, so I guess it’s lucky for the Darcys that virtually every door on the base was left wide open so that they can go wherever they please (which seems pretty unlikely for a military installation). And how the hell did that lady ever get the babysitting job? She leaves the kids alone and unsupervised immediately after Linda drops Janie off with her, which directly leads to Janie’s dire predicament. And then... hoo boy... there’s that Limbo Being fucker.

The Limbo Being is, hands down, the single stupidest “creature” in the entire series run. It’s not even monstrous… it’s just a guy painted silver behind a blur filter (at least that’s what it looks like; I have no idea how the so-called “effect” was actually achieved). He has some kind of weird aura around him that separates him from the rest of the limbo environment.... too much, actually. We never see him interact with the Darcys, which makes me wonder what a shot would look like with all three of them in it... is the aura just some kind of cloud that follows him around? He’s wearing a snazzy blazer, so at least he looks presentable. And for some unfathomable reason that has no bearing on anything, he shares Frankenstein’s Monster’s deathly fear of fire.  Why? I couldn’t tell you.

I get that he’s a “prisoner in time,” and that he got that way through similar circumstances (Darcy’s X-15 is presumably the fastest plane ever built, so I’m not sure how this sad sumbitch ever managed to go that fast, but whatever), but that doesn’t explain why he’s at the Air Force base at the exact time that the Darcys have their time-out-of-whack experience. Did his time barrier violation event happen there too? Or or did he walk there from… I dunno, wherever? I guess it’s possible that existing outside of normal time has some spatial advantages (instantaneous teleportation, maybe), but the fact that he can’t get past a fucking flare or pass through solid walls suggests otherwise (however, since every door on the base is open, I guess he could just exit the building another way, right?). And he’s clearly articulate, so why does he make those creepy boogeyman sounds when he first appears? He’s a clumsy, ill-conceived convenience, placed in the Darcys’ path for the sole purpose of telling them (and us) exactly what is happening and how they can escape (which seems counterproductive, since being so open with them dramatically reduces his odds of horning in on their escape to facilitate his own), but his presence only serves to detract from the story. He does, however, give a damn-near poetic (and admittedly well-delivered) summation of his wretched existence:

LIMBO BEING:
If you miss your chance to return, one-millionth
of a second behind time, time will pass you by, and
leave you where I am now, in forever now. Black, motionless
void. No light, no sun, no stars, no time. Eternal nothing.
No hunger, no thirst. Only endless existence.
And the worst of it? You can’t die!


Speaking of The Twilight Zone, they tackled the “frozen time” idea with “A Kind of a Stopwatch (right),” a pretty dismal entry starring the normally-delightful Richard Erdman as an obnoxious dweeb who ends up with a magical stopwatch that… well, you know. Rod Serling and Company also gave us “Elegy” and “Still Valley,” neither of which deal expressly with frozen time, but do feature large groups of frozen people. The 80’s revival series (unofficially known as The New Twilight Zone) mined the idea twice: “A Little Peace and Quiet (below left)” is essentially a pointless remake of the aforementioned “A Kind of a Stopwatch,” while the clever “A Matter of Minutes (below right)” depicts a couple getting stuck in a limbo state between two moments in time and witnessing crews of workers constructing the minute to follow.


.
Check this out: after Jim climbs out of his X-15, he doesn’t notice Linda’s crashed car nearby until he hears her moaning behind the wheel. But here’s the thing: her car is directly in his line of sight two or three times before this moment. The most obvious example can be found at time stamp 11:41, which is supposed to be Jim reacting to the sight of the frozen coyote chasing the jackrabbit, but if you pay attention to the angles and spatial geometry and whatnot, he's actually looking directly at her at this moment, which becomes apparent once you see where exactly her car is. Nitpicking? Yeah, maybe a little. This is what y'all pay me for.



.
As much as I like Dewey Martin, his Jim Darcy comes off as a bit of a dick when you examine his interactions with his family. After he rigs the seat-belts in the runaway truck, he takes a quick look at his daughter and says, simply and emotionlessly, “All we have now is hope.” A few minutes later, when Linda gives him a last “I love you” before time catches up with them, he doesn’t bother to return the sentiment. After time re-synchronizes and he climbs out of his wrecked X-15, he makes sure somebody puts the fire out before he even bothers to see if Linda survived her car crash. And, most egregiously, he provides The Outer Limits with its first and only count of spousal battery when he “takes charge” of Linda’s hysteria by straight up smacking her across the face (talk about putting the "palm" in "Palmville"). There are a few women throughout the series' run that had it coming (I'm looking at you, Vera Finley), but I think Linda's reaction is perfectly acceptable (I'm pretty sure all of us--- male or female--- would lose our shit if everything stopped moving). And don't forget that, just moments before, she was in a car accident and hit her head... so she may very well have a minor concussion. Macho prick.

Being Top Gun means you can look directly into the camera without doing a retake.

I love the subtle homo-eroticism on display during Jim’s test flight. The pilot flying behind him jovially remarks that he's “looking real good from back here,” to which Jim replies, “I'm glad you're enjoying the view.” I can just picture these two engaging in some spirited grab-ass in the locker room, and I’m pretty sure this brief exchange inspired 1986's Top Gun, a film positively drenched in sweat, hair gel and ironic machismo.


.
AURAL PLEASURE

“The Premonition,” like all second season efforts, is scored by Harry Lubin, drawing from his vast library of pre-recorded music (much of it came from his previous stint on One Step Beyond). This week’s assortment includes a few of the more familiar pieces we’ve been enjoying all season, among them: "Dark and Scary," "Dreamy Lullaby," "Haunted Mansion," "Hidey Hole," "Footsteps of the Killer 1" and "Destitute."

“Hidey Hole” is a quick little vibe flourish which, while initially effective for reinforcing the strangeness of the frozen people the Darcys encounter, quickly becomes tiresome because it’s used, oh I dunno, about fifty or so times throughout the episode. I considered watching it again for the express purpose of getting an exact count, but I came to my senses just in time (ha! See what I did there?).

.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE

I know Dewey Martin (Jim Darcy) from his portrayal of a thirsty--- and murderous--- astronaut in the Twilight Zone episode “I Shot an Arrow into the Air.” Genre fans may remember him as Crew Chief Bob in 1951’s The Thing from Another World, or as Mike Apollo (fitting name, given his other genre work) in "Leona" on Mission: Impossible. He also enjoys a coveted Robert Culp connection thanks to his appearance on I Spy (“One of Our Bombs Is Missing”).





.
Mary Murphy (Linda Darcy) shares in the Robert Culp connection glory, as she too appeared on I Spy (“Any Place I Hang Myself Is Home”). Other notable genre roles include stints on The Fugitive (“Nicest Fella You’d Ever Want to Meet”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“A Secret Life”) and Circle of Fear (“Creatures of the Canyon”). She also appeared in the 1951 George Pal film When Worlds Collide, the cast of which also included Peter Hansen from last week’s “The Brain of Colonel Barham. TOL Babe? Most definitely. Yum.



.
Other than The Twilight Zone, William Bramley (General “Baldy” Baldwin) hits all our usual genre connections. He appeared on Star Trek (“Bread and Circuses”), The Fugitive (“The 2130” and “A Clean and Quiet Town”), The Invaders (“Nightmare”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“The Test”), and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“The Tender Poisoner” and “Return of Verge Likens”).





.
Kay Kuter (the unfortunate Limbo Being) has lots of genre television credits outside of The Outer Limits, but they didn’t occur until the late 80’s and beyond. You’ll find him in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Nth Degree”), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (“The Storyteller”), the 80’s Twilight Zone revival series (“Grace Note”), V: The Series (“The Overlord”), The X-files (“The Calusari”), and the short-lived Brimstone (“Mourning After”). On the big screen, he enjoyed an uncredited bit part as a priest in 1956’s The Mole People and, later, appeared in 1984’s The Last Starfighter and 1989’s Warlock.


.

Li’l Emma Tyson (Janie Darcy) only has one other genre credit of note: she appeared in “The Trap” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. (however, because the series isn't available in even semi-decent quality, I'm using a Green Acres screen cap below... and before you get bitchy, let me just point out that the star of Green Acres, Eddie Albert, also starred in "Cry of Silence" earlier this season; so it's at least an approximate connection). Dorothy Green, here credited as “Matron” (which we’d call a child care provider today), also appeared on Boris Karloff’s Thriller (“Rose’s Last Summer”) and the pilot movie that launched The Six Million Dollar Man. On the big screen, she can be found in the 1954 Giant-Ants-on-the-Rampage opus Them!, the noir classic The Big Heat (1953) and the decidedly non-classic Help Me… I’m Possessed (1976). Finally, Christopher Riordan (Frozen Soldier) is the only TOL vet in the cast this week (he played “Young Doctor” in season one’s “The Chameleon,” plus he’ll back next week as “Young Scientist”). Three Outer Limits episodes is impressive, but he topped that number on The Fugitive with a total of four: “Man in a Chariot,” “Ballad for a Ghost,” “Brass Ring” and “The Old Man Picked a Lemon.” Two years later, he’d play another Young Scientist on the big screen in 1966’s Fantastic Voyage.









.
HOME VIDEO RELEASES


MGM’s home video releases of Outer Limits episodes initially followed the series’ production order… for the first three episodes. After that, they pulled at random from both seasons (though they did focus on the more familiar, generally superior episodes early on). When they dumped the final dozen episodes onto the market in 1991, the red-headed stepchildren that comprised the latter half of the second season--- a group which includes “The Premonition”--- finally saw the light of day.

The VHS series in its entirety is a beautiful collection, and most of the covers therein quite adeptly capture the spirit of their respective episodes quite well (and are gorgeous to behold). And then there's this boring "effort," which probably took all of five minutes to throw together. Yawn. Jim looks like he's falling asleep there... which, now that I think about it, is probably totally appropriate for the episode. Ahem.Here are the two shots from the episode used:



In Columbia House’s mail-order exclusive Collector’s Edition series, the episode was paired with next week’s “The Probe.”



“The Premonition” was not among the lucky 28 episodes chosen for LaserDisc release; however, it was present and accounted for when the series hit DVD in 2002 (season one) and 2003 (season two). I guess this isn’t really a special honor, since all 49 were right there with it. Anyhoo--- in 2007, MGM released the series again, this time splitting it up into three volumes (two for season one, one for the abbreviated season two). In 2008, they bundled those three volumes together for a so-called “45th Anniversary Collection.” In a diabolical act of contempt for their customer base--- or extreme laziness--- they used the identical discs from the original ’02 and ’03 releases, which means no matter which ones you buy, you’re gonna get the same shitty DVD-18s (double-sided discs) that nobody uses anymore because they’re delicate and prone to failure. The same DVD-18s were foisted upon the Australian market as well, but at least the folks down under were treated to some neat packaging variations (thanks to David J. Schow for these).


 Across the pond in the UK, MGM released season sets basically identical to the original US sets… except that they used single-sided discs. This injustice continues to boil my blood and steam my clam (don’t ask).


I assume most of you already own the DVDs, but if you don’t… well, I can’t really recommend that you buy them at this point, unless you can get them really cheap (and even then I would avoid used copies like the plague, given the tendency of DVD-18s to fail over time). If you’re a Hulu Plus subscriber (at $7.99 a month, why wouldn’t you be?), you’re already covered: as of two weeks ago, the entire series is available for PC, TV and mobile streaming.

.
MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT

Dimensional Designs has created high-quality model kits of nearly every Outer Limits monster and alien imaginable… but there are a few omissions. The Limbo Being is one, but you might get a different impression if you visit their website: they have a listing for a Limbo Being (actually, their name for him is "Limbo Man"; DD/OL/LM-41), sculpted by Sean Samson and Danny Soracco in the usual 1/8-scale size… however, there’s no picture of it, no box art, and no option for ordering. It was clearly planned at some point, but does it exist? I couldn’t tell you. Should it exist? Probably not.

.
THE WRAP-UP

“The Premonition” is ultimately frustrating because there’s a great idea at its center, but it’s muted considerably by a muddy, repetitive narrative and an underwhelming, superfluous supernatural being. It’s certainly not terrible, but it’s nothing close to what it could have--- should have--- been. But The Outer Limits was limping toward its network-imposed finish line at this point, so I suppose it’s a minor miracle that it turned out as good as it did.




Woah, I just thought of something: what if the spacious, ponderous narrative is in fact intentionally slow and repetitive, a Christopher Nolan-esque construct designed to convey the desolate emptiness of timelessness? If so, this just might be smartest, most subversive offering of the Brady regime. Okay, probably not. But what if…?

11 comments:

  1. Once again, time after time, another excellent blog entry. For your "slowed down time" edification Craig, read H. G. Wells' The New Accelerator. And by the way, I saw this episode in January of 1965 when I was 9 years old and it is the ONLY episode I have NEVER re-watched.

    ReplyDelete
  2. John Mcgee: Good choice.

    Anyway, I've been waiting a long time (ha!) for this column to arrive, because I wanted to get something about this episode off my chest. The Limbo Being (as unnecessary as he may have been) was The Outer Limits' most sympathetic "monster", and Jim Darcy was its most repulsive, asshole-ish "hero".Once the Being is introduced, his chilling (and, thankfully, scientifically impossible) fate throws the rest of the story off balance, hanging over everything like a heavy fog of depression. You can't help but symphatize with him--unless you're Jim Darcy, that is. Mr. Wrong Stuff doesn't even consider trying to help the Being out--by, say, putting him next to Linda in the convertible. Instead, he threatens to set the Being on fire--forever! (Does that clear it up for you, Craig?) Then, he leaves OL's answer to Jacob Marley behind while he and his family escape using the information he forced the Being to provide. Add to that Jim's rudeness toward Linda and Janie (thanks for pointing that out, Craig!), and you see that Jim Darcy is one heartless motherfucker. Yeah, this episode upsets me--for all the wrong reasons.

    Oh, and a little more about Kay Kuter. He was yet another Green Acres veteran; he played Newt Kiley, one of the recurring Hooterville townspeople on both that series and Petticoat Junction. I corresponded with him for a while in the late 90s/early 2000s, and he was a wonderful gentleman. Oh, and you left out his most impressive sci-fi credit: On a 1995 episode of the Fantastic Four cartoon, he played no less than Ego, the Living Planet!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It's been my habit to post my original (or close to original) thoughts on TOL episodes that I jotted down when I bought the original DVD sets when they were released a decade ago. It's been fun to see how they line up with yours, but they are far less thought out and were really only written as my own personal notes. Anyway, here were my initial thoughts from back then...

    "The Premonition" takes an interesting story idea about being transported into the very near future and reduces it to a lame race-against-time yawner. This could have been so much better if the episode had just stuck with the wonder of arriving at a place 10 minutes in the future. What we get instead is a lot of running back and forth between a test plane's crash site and a military base. And there is a lot of footage we are forced to sit through that shows the husband (a test pilot) and his wife galloping and stumbling their way to where their daughter is frozen in time on her tricycle, just before she is about to be run over by a truck.

    There is also a "monster" who is simply a man grieving over being trapped in time himself, which is what will happen to the couple if they don't get back to the crash site in time. I think the monster is trying to switch places with the couple but can't because he is for some reason, afraid of fire or flares or light or something. Anyway, this episode is a mess and really exemplifies the upcoming end for the series.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "because he is for some reason, afraid of fire or flares or light or something."

    To reiterate: If he gets sets on fire, he will burn FOREVER. Hope that explains it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Craig, thanks again for these excellent blogs, which most of us will re-visit from time to time. Fifty years ago, it was depressing to watch the last few dwindling weeks of the series, especially once the word was out that it had been cancelled. My dad was my guide to TOL during its first run, and we stuck it out to the bitter end out of loyalty. I had the same experience with this episode as John Mcgee (also the same age). After TOL, I was sad to be forced (at nine years old) to move on to something else. I chose the Boy Scouts (don't laugh... well, OK, laugh if you want), and most other people turned the dial back to Jackie Gleason.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not a great episode Craig, but a great idea about how quirky time could be.
    It really does feel like a fourth season Twilight Zone episode what with all of the endless running back and forth.
    This episode could have worked so much better if it was only a half hour long.
    Anyway, the series is certainly limping to the finish line.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You guys missed the entire point of "The Premonition". Here's my take: http://wp.me/p2FjTj-7pi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So, Hsaive... do you listen to Alex Jones a lot?

      Delete
    2. Okay, Hsaive's link no longer works, but I went to his site and found two links referring to "The Premonition". Here they are for the curious:

      https://chemtrailsplanet.net/2015/07/17/outer-limits-chemtrails-predictive-programmig-in-1965-tv-show/
      https://chemtrailsplanet.net/2016/05/13/nasa-portrays-chemtrails-sprayed-through-nozzles-in-1965-tv-show/

      You'll notice that the site is called ChemtrailsPlanet.net. If you read the articles, you'll find clips from "The Premonition', plus writings about how chemtrails are shown in the episode and how this ties in to the New World Order, as well as "UN authority on civilian disarmament of firearms, global warming pseudo-science", etc. You get the point.

      Delete
  8. What a fabulous blog! Even when I don't agree with you, YOU ROCK! Actually I love season two way better than season one and I prefer Harry Lublin's sublimely weird sonic-scapes over D. Fromtierre's orchestral sweep (though both are great). Like you I have a thing for off-the beaten trail babes like Salome Jens and Jan Shutan. Your work on tracking down the minutiae of this spectacular series is beyond stellar, it is downright gloriously brilliant and vital! Alas, I love "The Premonition!" I find it incredibly compelling and appropriately spooky. And the love element that, for me, places The Outer Limits over every sci-fi show, is here passionate and moving. Those caveats aside, your website is dazzling. Are there small ways we can support you? Let me know. I think The Outer Limits, in its original run, was one of television's great triumphs. Your website is a worthy companion to it. I don't think it can be bettered! Thank you so much!

    Keith
    kwboseman@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. In the "Fantastic Voyage" photo, your arrow points to a young (pre-Marcus Welby, pre-70's movie star) James Brolin, not Christopher Riordan. Nor is the other guy in the photo Christopher Riordan; it's Proteus pilot William Redfield, later of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fame.

    ReplyDelete