Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tales from the space commune

From Kolchak:

So… where were we?

During the recent unpleasantness—otherwise known as the 2010 mid-term elections—I found myself thinking about how they made decisions on Earth II.

Earth II is a made-for-TV science fiction film from 1971. As a movie, it has a lot of problems, but I still have a soft spot for it. I recently bought a quick-and-dirty copy of the movie from the Warner Bros. Archive Collection, and most of the things I liked then, I still like now. Whether that’s a good thing, I’ll leave to you to decide.

The title character in Earth II is a manned space station, orbiting the Earth in the near future. It has the status of an independent country and has a strict no-weapons policy. Not even toy guns are allowed on board. This policy is called into question, though, when Earth II’s leadership is forced to take possession of a nuclear bomb placed into orbit by Communist China.

Although the Warner Bros. archives is known for its no-frills products, the Earth II DVD includes what appears to be a theatrical trailer for the movie. In the classic trailer tradition, the announcer refers to Earth II as a “space commune.” In this case, however, the description is not totally inaccurate.

Not only are the citizens of Earth II trying to give peace a chance, they’re trying to perfect an interesting form of participatory democracy. We are told that any citizen who “disagrees with a policy of government,” can call for a Discussion and Decision meeting to review the matter. Anyone interested in the topic can watch the meeting on television and vote on the issue, after registering via fingerprint scan. The population of Earth II is never given, but we’re told that 92 percent of the population watches the first meeting about the Chinese bomb. It’s a voter turnout that may put the movie in the category of fantasy, rather than science fiction.

New resident Frank Karger—played by ‘70s movie veteran Tony Franciosa—argues that the only way Earth II will be respected by the world below is by keeping the bomb, and joining the nuclear club. David Seville, the force behind the Earth II movement, says that it would go against everything that the habitat stands for. Seville is played Gary Lockwood, and, yes, that’s his name. On some parallel Earth, it seems, Seville is not a two-bit record producer, exploiting singing chipmunks, but a pioneer of space colonization. Who knew?

But the voters aren’t the only ones watching this debate. There’s a computer, evaluating the arguments as they’re given. So, during the meeting, the computer is correcting factual errors and making comments like “emotional appeal” and “no evidence to support this conclusion.” Eat your heart out, PolitiFact.

Earth II was written by William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter. According to IMDB, they worked regularly for Mission Impossible and Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea, among other TV shows .Earth II reflects this weird mix of politics and science fiction, and I’m not sure it qualifies as a good movie. But I still admire its willingness to try something different.