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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ultimate Geek Fu

by Avery L. Maxwell

I was five years old in 1979. Just old enough to sit through an entire film at the theater, and sensible enough to keep my mouth shut so that I wouldn't get kicked out of one.

Movies were different from everything I knew. Our television was small and poorly tuned; film was large and technicolor, and aside from an occasional speck of super-magnified dust or hair burned into the negative, or an undeveloped blob in the acetate stock (ever get nostalgic for those, when you are sitting in a digitally-projected screening?) they were perfect. Sound filled the enormous room, coming from either side of a massive, brilliantly white screen. The experience was a far cry from the hollow, monaural sounds that emanated beneath the cathode ray tube of our poor set.

Remember '79? You should. It birthed a great number of science fiction films, like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Alien, and Little Orbit the Astrodog and the Screechers from Outer Space. A few of that year's offerings, such as The Muppet Movie, and a little film originally called The Great American Chase, were marketed to my demographic, so I was able to see them in the theater.

Oh, you don't recall The Great American Chase? You might know it better under another name: The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie.

Remember now? Bugs Bunny awoke from a severe mixed-drink hangover (radish juice and carrot juice don't mix, kids!), climbed out of his hole and into the underside of a rocket, and kept climbing. Said rocket blasted off and carried our lop-eared hero all the way to someplace that was definitely not Albuquerque, or anywhere left of there. And way out in space, Bugs Bunny encountered... Marvin the Martian, with a whole gumball machine full of Instant Martians (just add water) and an Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator.

Marvin the Martian. He wasn't just "a" Martian, but Every-Martian. He was the bowling ball wearing a spittoon that could give any five year old kid the sort of nightmares that would make him eager to go to sleep again, because the five year old kid knew Bugs Bunny would find a way to outwit the enemy. Or, if Bugs wasn't available, there was always... Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century!

And there they were on the screen, Marvin and DD battling for a new planetary supply of Illudium Phosdex (quite a different substance from the PU-36 isotope), twenty feet tall and aiming disintegrating pistols at each other. And brother, when those things disintegrate, they disintegrate.

Okay, so after two shorts that film quickly veered from science fiction into historical fantasy, myth and "Kill the WAAAAABIT," but the hook was set. There was golden, animated science fiction to be mined every Saturday morning for the next six years of my life, and I didn't want to miss a drop of it.

Bugs fought duels with mad scientists, and gave manicures to hairy, orange monsters named "Gossamer." Duck Dodgers and his eager young Space Cadet did a brief stint as character actors in a futuristic remake of Dragnet, before returning to
the 24½th Century just in time to shave Gossamer within an inch of his life, and beyond. Marvin got a green dog, and kept Acme in business while one of nature's most accident-prone predators recuperated. And the Instant Martians turned out to have origins on Jupiter, because that's where they were from when they tried to kidnap Porky and Sylvester.

Confused? Don't be. A chronological analysis of Looney Tunes isn't necessary for an appreciation. I was picking up pieces hither and yon, and it was decades into the quest before it finally dawned on me that Hare-Way to the Stars and Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century were animated five years apart, and the second one had been done first. You don't analyze things like that when you are five.

So I began to dig in and learn the history, and the deeper I went, a seemingly-endless parade of aliens, gremlins, super-ducks (and rabbits), and everything that crawled, sprung, slithered, or woo-hoo'ed its way out of Wackyland served as ample evidence that Roswell had been a mere distraction. Warner Bros. Cartoons Inc. had been subverted years before Roswell, and the invasion had been carried out with much mirth.

But the question remains: With such a rich history, why have the two big-budget Looney Tunes films (Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action) dropped the science fictional ball so badly?

More to the point, which examples of classic Warner Bros. science fiction stand out in your mind, and why?

Let the arguments begin!

Avery L. Maxwell is currently on a pilgrimage to Wackyland, in his Acme Illudium-Propelled Autogyro.
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