Judge Gordon Sullivan prefers the strange old world.
Explore a world populated by clones, savages, and the most beautiful women on Earth!
Maybe I don't hang out with enough Star Trek: The Original Series fans, but I never got the sense that Gene Roddenberry gets quite the same hero worship as other sci-fi film autuers. Don't get me wrong, he's gotten a lot of credit through the years, but not the same cultish veneration as say George Lucas, despite the wealth of interesting ideas he brought to his science fiction. During the lull, while syndication was growing the Star Trek cult, Roddenberry tried to sell other ideas for a sci-fi show to networks, and Strange New World is the third attempt (the second was Genesis II) to bring his vision of astronauts returning to Earth to prime time. It's a rather odd little piece, a feature-length pilot that's really two episodes stitched together. It's really only for the serious Roddenberry fan or sci-fi nut, but those who appreciate Strange New World will be delighted by this Warner Archive release.
Anthony Vico (John Saxon, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and two colleagues have been placed in suspended animation on a trip away from Earth. Partway through their journey, Earth is devastated by a serious asteroid shower, so their suspension is elongated, after which they will return to Earth to help the survivors. In the first of the two narratives here, Vico and crew encounter a utopian group who seem to have conquered death. Naturally, there's a price and Vico isn't willing to pay it. With that done, the group encounters warring groups of savage survivors and must fight to save themselves.
By the time Strange New World went into production, Roddenberry had detached himself from the project, and it's not hard to see why. This was the third time he'd tried to get his basic concept on the small screen, and although one attempt was almost picked up (it lost out to Planet of the Apes apparently), it's a tough sell for a recurring dramatic series. The idea has potential for a one-off film or miniseries (and it worked well in the aforementioned Planet of the Apes), but Strange New World lacks a solid core that a continuing series could develop. The premise doesn't have the structure that an exploratory ship like the Enterprise has, but because there can only be so many survivors on Earth, there's also a lack of variety in the idea as well.
Then, there's the implementation of the "episodes" here. The first, a somewhat nonsensical take on the impossibility of utopias, has some interesting ideas about aging and cloning. However, that interest isn't allowed to build because the audience is trained to be suspicious of these people from the start, and the revelation of their big plans simply doesn't impress. The second story, about warring bands of survivors that look something like America, is also bit trite (although it does have some decent action). The stories might have been salvageable, but the presentation isn't. We're talking the height of cheesy sci-fi: goofy special effects, stupid costumes, and a generally "cheap" feeling to the sets. For most viewers that's going to be a serious drawback, but fans of crappy sci-fi will get a kick out of the technological aspects of this production.
The real draw for Strange New World is the on-screen talent they managed to muster. We've got John Saxon, cult favorite, leading the cast. For those who have always wished they could see the beefcake himself in a red toga, Strange New World is an answer to your prayers. He's not given much more to do that look steely eyed and strong-jawed, but he does so with aplomb. The ladies aren't the only ones who will enjoy Strange New World. No, for the men we have Catherine Bach of The Dukes of Hazzard fame, Martine Beswick of Thunderball, and 1974 Playboy Playmate of the Year Cynthia Wood. It's TV so they're not quite as scantily clad as many would like, but nothing's perfect.
Strange New World is being released under the auspices of the Warner Archive Collection. These are niche films that are being put out as DVD-Rs on demand. Rather than investing in printing up several thousand copies of a disc that might have very low sales potential, this allows Warner Bros. to make a simple transfer of the film and burn the disc when the customer pays, so everybody wins. On the upside, cult titles that aren't going to sell more than a few hundred copies get to see the light of day; on the down side, the audiovisual cleanup is minimal and extras nonexistent. Strange New World is the perfect candidate for such a release. The curious or completist fan can pony up the cash for this disc and get to see what all the fuss is about. Considering no extra effort was put into cleaning up the film, Strange New World looks pretty good. There is some print damage, and some scenes are a little darker than they could be, but overall the film is certainly watchable. The simple mono audio keeps dialogue audible, even if subtitles are occasionally missed. There are, of course, no extras.
Strange New World is only likely to appeal to hardcore Gene Roddenberry fans who've exhausted all the available Star Trek merchandise. Otherwise, fans of Seventies cheese might get something out of it, but that's a slim chance. Pretty much everyone else should stay away.
Strange New World is a little strange, but doesn't offer anything new. Guilty.
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