Emmy Award–winning CBS television crime drama series
When you think of epic space opera science fiction motion pictures, it’s unlikely the company perhaps best known for their theme parks and an icon named Mickey Mouse will be the first to come to mind. However, Disney has actually taken a couple stabs at the genre, the most popular of which followed hot on the heels of the Star Wars phenomenon (1979’s The Black Hole). Nine years later the company would give it another go, this time in the form of a made-for-tv miniseries featuring a cast of young relative unknowns and special effects that were surprisingly solid for 1988 standards (and a television budget no less). It is this second film that I’ll be critiquing today in the hopes of spurring the memories of those who were there when it happened and perhaps to conjure up enough renewed interest to get the Diz to consider finally putting out an official DVD release.
The story, which is actually surprisingly rich, goes something like this: In the year 2082, the earthen deep-space vessel Vanguard Explorer has apparently suffered heavy damage, thanks to the efforts of Captain Jacob “Jake” Brown trying to keep his ship out of the hands of mutineers led by his second-in-command, Vance Arthur. Fleeing in an escape capsule, Jake Brown blasts away from his own ship to certain doom in the depths of space.
Six years later, back on Earth, a crew of young military cadets receives the order to serve as the crew of the Earth Star Voyager, the planet's latest interstellar vessel and last hope. Due to diminishing ecological conditions on Earth, a governmental plan in out into motion to colonize a distant world with conditions believed to be very similar to our own thanks to data relayed back to Earth from Probes launched six-years earlier by Vanguard Explorer on the planet called Demeter, which orbits the distant Berenson's Star.
The mission of the young crew of the Earth Star Voyager is to travel to Demeter, perform a planetary survey and return with the information collected in the hopes of beginning a planetary exodus. Interesting the plan to colonize Demeter is said to have already begun regardless of the crew’s findings with ships to transport the population under construction; a task said to take forty years. It works out for the best though as the roundtrip to Demeter, even with the benefit of plasma-thrust engines like the ESV’s and the Bauman Drive (think Star Wars’ light speed) will take 26 years. Hence the logic behind the choosing such a young crew from the Academy for the job: they would be in their “prime” for the return trip home while the experienced captains would likely be too old for the task. As if all that weren’t enough, ESV is indeed equipped with cryo-sleep chambers, not unlike those made famous in the ALIEN franchise, which would offer the crew the benefit of delayed aging while they slept.
To summarize the events of the film to their absolute simplest incarnation, the show focuses on the exploits of the unique crew and the set backs (and adventures) on route to their destination, in essence avoiding the snafus that would accompany attempting to accurately display their having aged along the way. While the beginning segment (Jake Brown & his Vanguard Explorer) may seem a bit out of place the first time through, the entire story thread comes back into play at about the halfway point (when the ESV locates the long-presumed dead captain Brown) and bring him onboard.
A deep space environment throughout most of the film, there are some brief planetary (in this case artificial heavenly body) exploration not the least of which involves some of the crew being captured and caged and even a sort of high-tech duel the likes of which should bring the warm fuzzies to Star Wars lightsaber aficionados.
Surprisingly, the core of the story is driven by deception and the benefit of outwitting an opponent rather than simply blasting them into space dust. The production team was brilliant in their ability to weave their tale without the benefit of big budget effects. In fact, perhaps it could be argued that this was the epitome of the age where space science fiction films had to rely upon their story telling rather than simply dazzling the viewer with eye candy. The exterior space shots are all well done even still, with crisp star fields and model (miniature) captures very reminiscent to what one might expect from Star Wars or the Star Trek motion pictures that existed up until then.
However, those interested in a rip roaring, effect-laden modern day fiction will probably be disappointed by the reality that ESV did what it could to keep the visuals in the background of what is really a human-driven adventure.
In all, it would be very, very easy to recommend Earth Star Voyager to science fiction fans the world over, if only such a DVD purchase were possible. As it stands, the only way to relive the adventure is through a rare DVD burn of an old VHS recording; Youtube clips, or free Torrent downloads scattered about the web. Here’s hoping Disney does the right thing and offers an official release; as solid science fiction like this deserves far better than to have its film stock rot away in the back of some warehouse.
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