Category Archives: Ark II

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Balloon" (December 4, 1976)

In this episode of the Filmation Saturday morning series Ark II, the crew runs smack into a society that, as a whole, suffers from xenophobia, a fear of outsiders or “foreigners.”  Captain Jonah’s (Terry Lester) initial log entry describes people who “refuse to have contact with the outside world.”

But from somewhere deep inside the isolationist village, someone is sending out distress messages tied to floating balloons…written in Greek.  After deciphering one message, the Ark II crew comes to understand that the very people who have so calculatingly cut themselves off from the rest of humanity are suffering from a terrible plague, one they can’t cure on their own.

The Ark II team finds the messenger — an old man working a printing press near “the place of the Iron Birds,” a destroyed air-field — and learns that this is indeed the case.  The messenger says: “We have a new enemy now…disease.”

While Ruth returns to the Ark II via hot air balloon to work on a cure for the new disease, Jonah attempts to convince the village’s leaders to “open” their hearts and minds to others.  Unfortunately, he and a young boy fall prey to the disease, and only reinforce the fear of strangers.  Now outsiders are disease carriers.

Meanwhile, Ruth and Samuel must clear a path to get the Ark II inside the village, and deliver inoculations to all the sick people.

Like its predecessors, “The Balloon” is a message-heavy installment of this Saturday morning series.  In “The Tank,” we met people who shunned machines because they believe machines caused war.  Here, we meet characters who refuse to deal with outsiders, because they fear attack from them.   In both cases, people have responded to a terrifying situation irrationally, by a blanket rule about the things they perceive caused them harm.

In real life, of course, America has witnessed periods of intense xenophobia over the last two centuries, not the least of which has been in the decade following the 9/11 terror attacks.  Yet the rampant fear associated with xenophobia is ultimately counter-productive, as this episode of a 70s kid show rightly points out.  If you close yourself off, you also close yourself down to certain options, to new solutions, and to improvements your life.  When you come from a closed place, everything – even learning – comes to a stop.  It’s not a healthy response to fear, even if it is, on some level, understandable. 

It’s very interesting that Ark II chooses to tell this particular story, about a place that has sealed itself off from the world and in its insularity faces extinction.  “By talking instead of fighting,” says Jonah “we can move forward.”

In terms of Ark II continuity and lore, this episode reveals that the Ark II can fire a focused beam from its fore section, but the beam is still defined as “a force field,” keeping in tune with the idea of self-defense and no aggressive weaponry.  Intriguingly, the force field is also quite a limited device.  In trying to move heavy stones from the vehicle’s path, the force field’s power grid short circuits…

Although “The Balloon” carries a laudable message, it plays, at this point, as fairly routine.  The series is in something of a rut, with tiny villages constantly being shown the error of their primitive ways by the Ark II team.  The civilizations of the week – battling superstition (“The Slaves”), xenophobia (“The Balloon”), cruelty to the weak (“The Rule”) and technophobia (“The Tank”) – are a bit too predictable and one-note at this point.  But the series is about to mix it up with some infusions of more science-fictional elements, from robots and suspended animation to telepathy, and that’s a good thing.

Next Week: “The Mind Group”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Slaves" (September 18, 1976)

In “The Slaves,” the Ark II team catches wind of a nearby village using slavery, a “miserable and immoral practice,” and Jonah sets out to observe.  Unfortunately, he is captured by the forces of Baron Vargas (Michael Kermoyan), a tyrant who deploys magic tricks to keep the slaves from attempting escape, banding together, or asserting their rights.

In particular, Baron Vargas has convinced many of his exhausted slaves that he possesses the power to turn people into mindless animals.  The people, having no education or experience with such things, cower in fear.  One man, Gideon, has even become an informant for Vargas, because he believes his sister has been transformed into an animal.

When Jonah stands up to Vargas, the devious Baron stages a fire and light show in which he appears to transform Jonah into a rooster.  In truth, Jonah is simply put in prison, abducted in a cloud of smoke, out of the eyes of the crowd. 

Seeing the deception for what it is, Ruth and Samuel at the Ark II decide to out-magic the evil magician.  They rescue Jonah, and assert their own technological magic to free the slaves.  

In “The Slaves,” written by David Dworski, the audience gets to see a bit more of the grand Ark II’s interesting capabilities.  In this case, the vehicle projects a force field beam; one that is able to make it look like Jonah is actually walking on air.  The force field beam looks dangerous, like a laser, but like all of the Ark II’s devices is entirely defensive in nature. 

Other than that touch, this episode, directed by Hollingsworth Morse, hammers home the worthy point that fear stems from ignorance, and that knowledge can overcome ignorance, and thus fear.  The villager slaves are all superstitious and terrified, but Jonah and his team pull back the curtain, to use a Wizard of Oz metaphor, to reveal the truth about the manipulative Vargas.  It’s a worthwhile point, especially because so many tyrants in today’s world use ignorant beliefs (usually of a religious nature) to hold back their populations. 

Watching this episode of Ark II, I understood, perhaps for the first time, what’s missing from the series format: a sense of how Ruth, Jonah and Samuel are educated and trained, and what kind of organization, specifically they hail from.  What are their skill-sets?  How did they become trained?   How were they chosen for these assignments?

It would have been great if the makers of Ark II had provided a bit more detail about these adventurers, and why they became involved with the Ark II mission, and what skills, precisely, they bring to the table.  It would have been neat to get an episode where they check back in at home base, as well. I’d love to see the society they hail from, and what it is like.

I also got to wondering, perhaps because this episode is a little dull: is Ark II the only vehicle in the fleet?  Is there also an Ark III or Ark IV out there, patrolling a different area of the post-apocalyptic terrain?

Of course, I realize that this Filmation series was designed for children.  But the episodes create an interesting enough world that as a viewer, you want to know more about the characters, their backgrounds, and the world they inhabit.  This is truly a series that would benefit from an intelligent remake:  You could take the core series concept, the characters, the production design and the world-view and then spin out new details about all of them, significantly deepening the Ark II-iverse.

Next week: “The Balloon.”

Ark II Bumper & End Credits with 1976 Commercials

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Tank" (October 16, 1976)

In this episode of the Filmation bicentennial era TV series Ark II, the moving “repository of scientific knowledge”—the Ark II — cruises Sector 18, Area 93 and finds an “old battleground” there.  Captain Jonah’s stated mission is to make sure that “nothing dangerous still exists” there.

Nearby, scavengers attack and abduct a young woman named Jewel (Bonnie Van Dyke). She was visiting the battleground with her friend Zachery (Christopher S. Nelson) in defiance of their village’s laws.  There, Jewel’s dad — the leader – has decreed that all machines are forbidden because they are “evil.”

Jonah visits the village to tell the village leader of Jewel’s abduction, and responds that machines are “just tools” and that “good and bad exist in the men” who use them.  This opinion doesn’t sway the leader, but when he and Samuel and Adam are also captured by the scavengers, Jonah and Ruth deploy a pre-apocalypse tank to help free the captives from a mountainside jail.

After the scavengers are successfully dispatched, the village changes its rules about machines, and the tank – an ancient war machine – is converted into a useful farming vehicle.  It’s a literal reading of the notion of turning swords into ploughshares, and a terrific final image for the episode.  Jonah’s final log entry in the episode reminds viewers that men can “seek out the good or bad in anything.”

Like all Ark II episodes featured thus far, “The Tank” is heavily moralistic and didactic in tone, but again the series was oriented towards children and these social messages were part of the Filmation formula.  What I appreciate so much about the program is what Ruth notes explicitly in this episode: “We don’t carry weapons.  We don’t believe in them.”  Instead, the Ark II team again uses that defensive weapon I mentioned last week: a hand-held light device which momentarily blinds enemies, a nice variation on the ideas of phasers set to stun, you might say.  It’s nice to see, each week, that the Ark II crew lives up to its values and don’t carry guns.

In terms of visuals, the opening of “The Tank” is a little intense for kids.  A group of male scavengers snatch a protesting, wriggling, screaming woman, Jewel.  This abduction looks and plays like a moment more appropriate to The Road Warrior (1982) than a children’s TV series.  The implication, at least at this point, is that Jewel is going to be physically assaulted.   Like I said, tough stuff for a kid’s program of the 1970s.

Once more, the Adam character is a bit of a stumbling block for me.  The talking ape is used often as comic relief, and here he makes banana on bread sandwiches for the crew’s lunch.  Again, I really wish they wouldn’t have the monkey preparing the food for the humans.  I’ll be blunt: this series would be a heck of a lot better without the talking chimp, especially since the series writers make no effort whatsoever to explain him.

Finally, there are some new sound effects featured in this week’s installment, and they all sound like they are borrowed from the original Star Trek.  Aside from that, “The Tank” features some nice new footage of the Ark II activating its force field, and of the vehicle roaming the battlefield of ruins.

Next Week: “The Slaves.

CBS Ark II Promo (1976)

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Rule" (October 30, 1976)

In the second episode of Ark II, entitled “The Rule,” Captain Jonah (Terry Lester) makes log entry 1441, which puts this episode ahead of last week’s “The Flies” in terms of internal continuity.  Making the entry as the Ark II patrols “Area 32, Sector 16” Jonah notes the presence in the area of “primitive cave dwellers.”  

His team’s mission: “to improve the quality of their lives” in “any way” the crew can.

While Adam and Ruth (Jean Marie Hon) are out patrolling in the Ark Roamer, local scavengers attack the Ark II, and Jonah orders Samuel (Jose Flores) to activate lateral and vertical force fields.  As the scavengers hurl rocks at the advanced vehicle, the force fields repel them, sending the stones back in the air.  This effect is achieved by reversing the film, a cheap technique but one that still looks stunning.

When Ruth is injured in a Roamer crash and Adam goes to look for help, a young man named Jeff (David Abbott) rescues her and takes her back to his village.  Unfortunately, Jeff’s father is the ruler of the village and he imposes a draconian “rule” upon all citizens.  Anyone who cannot work to support the village must be “cast out” into the wilderness.  On this day, the ruler plans to exile a blind man and an old woman for their inability to toil in the fields.

After Jeff himself is injured while attempting to build a hang-glider, his father adheres to the mandatory rule, and exiles his son.  Though Ruth complains about a cruel society that doesn’t care for its most vulnerable members, Jeff’s father is unmoved.  He is stuck in tradition, and can’t see outside of it.

Soon, scavengers steal the livestock and food from the village, leaving it without supplies to survive the coming winter.  Ruth, Jeff and the other exiles team with Jonah, Adam and Samuel to set a trap for the scavengers and recover the stolen supplies.   When the cast-out members return to the village with the missing resources, the ruler finally recognizes their worth — and the error of his ways — and promise to abolish “the rule” from this day forward.

In the second episode produced, though the eighth aired (on October 30th, 1976), Ark II gazes intently at the price of survival.  In a difficult, post-apocalyptic setting such as this one, everyone must contribute to the communal good, but human (and humane…) societies must also care of the elderly and the disabled.  In this village, that’s explicitly not the case, and the Ark II team arrives to remind the cruel villagers that “each of us – young and old alike – has a skill” to contribute.  Civilization forgets that fact at its own peril, and could take a “giant step backwards” according to Jonah in his log entry.

Although aired nearly thirty years ago, “The Rule” grapples with ideas that are still important in contemporary American society. Do we live by the law of the jungle, or the laws of humanity?  Even in times of austerity and want, can mankind still be civilized and care for those who can’t care for themselves?  Some people see that kind of “care” is actually a hand-out to be disdained, while others view it as a sacred duty.  “The Rule” also suggests that some “laws” must be applied flexibly, or human society could lose its sense of compassion and devolve into cruelty.

In terms of the development of Ark II’s fictitious world, this episode shows us more of the Ark Roamer, and the Ark II’s powerful force fields.  “The Rule” also reveals a unique hand-held device: a defensive weapon of some kind, which can cause brief blindness in an opponent long enough to distract them or make an escape.  I don’t remember if it shows up again in the series, but I’ll be looking for it.

Probably the big question in this week’s episode involves Adam.  In case you forgot, he’s the super-evolved chimpanzee, the one with the capacity to speak.  Oddly, when Ruth is knocked unconscious in the Roamer accident, Adam does not choose to verbally respond as Samuel attempts to contact the vehicle.  Doesn’t he know how to use the radio?  Why does Adam leave Ruth alone and go in search of Ark II, when he could open a channel to the vehicle and report, verbally, what occurred?  That’s something of an inconsistency.  We’re not meant to view the character as an uncommunicative animal but as an intelligent character.  He plays chess, after all, as we saw in “The Flies.”

The coda for “The Rule” also brings up a question that probably should not have been raised at all.  We see Adam wearing a chef’s hat and preparing dinner for the human crew in the Ark II’s kitchen area.  Really…a chimpanzee preparing meals?  I’m not entirely certain about the hygiene aspects of this.  Would you fix food prepared by an ape?  Is Adam smart enough to understand hygiene?  

Does he shower or otherwise bathe?  Does he wash his…paws?

Once more, the very worst aspect of Ark II is the strange inclusion of a talking monkey as a crew member.  It would have been wonderful and worthwhile if the makers of the series had chosen to define Adam’s capacities and characteristics a bit more clearly, early on.

Next Saturday: “The Tank”

Poetry in Motion: The Ark II gallery