Saturday, 23 July 2016

451 The Martian Chronicles

First  viewed  :  9  August  1980

This  is  the  first  ( largely  ) American  mini-series  to  feature  here.

The  Martian  Chronicles   was  an  adaptation  of  the  sprawling  Ray  Bradbury  collection  of loosely-linked  short  stories  about  the  colonisation  of  Mars, originally  published  in  1950. It  was broadcast  as  three  97  minute  episodes   on  a  Saturday  evening  filling  the  gap  between  the   end  of  Knots  Landing  and  the  return  of  Dallas.

The  action  starts  in  1999. With  nuclear  war  threatening  to  destroy  humanity, NASA  turns  to  Mars  as  a  way  to  escape  the  carnage. As  the  first  mission  approaches  the  planet  we  meet  our  first  Martians , telepathic  humanoids  in  skimpy  clothes  who  speak  perfect  English  in  a  monotone. The  first  astronauts  are  killed  by  a  jealous  Martian  husband  almost  before  they've  got  out  of  the  the  spacecraft. The  second  expedition  is  eliminated  more  elaborately  in  a  telepathic  hoax  where  the  astronauts  believe  they're  meeting  lost  loved  ones  in  their  home  town. Before  their  deaths  however  one  leaves  a  parting  gift  of  chicken  pox  which  nearly  wipes  out  the  Martian  population   so  the  third  expedition  led  by  idealistic  Colonel  Wilder  ( Rock  Hudson )  finds  merely   a  deserted  civilisation. This  turns  the  head  of  Major  Spender  ( Bernie  Casey ) who  declares  himself  "the  last  Martian"  and  starts  shooting  the  rest  of  the  crew  before  Wilder  gets  him.

That  was  the  first  and  probably  best  episode . The  second  focuses  on  the  early  settlers  and  the  inevitable  disappointment  with  their  new  home. Each  have  some  contact  with  the  remaining   few  Martians. One  is  trapped  by  his  own  telepathy  into  manifesting  according  to  the  humans'  desire  so  he  appears  as  a  dead  son  to  a  mourning  couple  and  then  Jesus  Christ  himself  to  a  priest . Sam  Parkhill  ( Darren  McGavin )  the  only  other  survivor  from  Wilder's  expedition  ends  up  with  a  land  grant  from  the  Martian  survivors  after  a  desert  chase.

In  the  third  episode  the  nuclear  war  has  happened  so  the  Martian  colony  is  pretty  much  all  that's  left  of  humanity. Wilder  mooches  around  the  survivors  looking  glum  and  philosophising  before  deciding  to  make  the  best  of  things.

The  screenplay  was  necessarily  a  condensed  version  of  Bradbury's  opus  and  he  didn't  like  it   describing  it  as  "just  boring ".  Some  of  it  was -  the  storyline  about  Hathaway  ( Barry  Morse )  creating  an  android  version  of  his  family  wasn't  very  interesting  and  seemed  disconnected  from  the  rest  of  the  narrative   - but  on  the  whole  it  was  a  worthy  attempt  at  bringing  a  difficult  book  to  the  screen.      

It's  been  repeated  twice , as  a  late  Saturday  night  item  on  BBC One  in  March  1983  and  then  an  early  evening  feature  on  BBC  Two  in  1984.

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