Thursday, March 15, 2007
Ark II… the Safe Apocalypse
I’ve often wondered where my fascination with the post apocalyptic genre began. For a longest time I just figured that it must have been Planet of the Apes with a little bit of Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards thrown in. But I’d always had this vague recollection of the Saturday morning 70’s show Ark II. I was pretty young when I saw it, so I didn’t really remember much beyond the helpful characters driving around in a big RV and that civilization had been destroyed some how. Despite my love of the genre, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the Ark II DVD collection when it was released in November 2006 based solely on foggy memories. You see, a lot of the 1970s kiddy stuff is really cheesy and not cheesy fun but cheesy bad. However after meeting Andy Mangles at the Portland Comic Book Convention, I decided to pick it up as Andy had expressed that the Ark II DVD project was a particular joy for him to work on.
Well, after delving into the DVDs, I’m glad to report that Ark II is cheesy good. This Filmation show is based on the premise that by 25th century pollution has destroyed the fertility of the earth and humans have been reduced to a Dark Ages level of subsistence. To bring hope to this shattered world, the few scientists left have pooled their knowledge into making a mobile laboratory, the RV-like Ark II. Yeah, it’s named after Noah’s Ark. Keeping with the biblical theme, the crew of the Ark II includes: Jonah, the white, bearded commander; Ruth the good-looking Asian; Samuel, the Latino boy-genius; and Adam, the talking chimp (a swipe at creationism no doubt). The multi-ethnic (multi-species) crew travels around on various missions to help primitive communities help themselves or overcome oppression. Additionally, the series also utilized a smaller vehicle called the ark rover and a Jet pack to assist the heroes on their missions. As Ark II is a kid’s show, the crew never uses lethal force and guns don’t appear.
Ark II is an interesting cross between a program crammed with tons of great sci-fi ideas and a kiddy show in which the creative folk are really pressed because of time and money. The visual look of the program is quite good from the spacey suits and vehicles of the Ark II crew to the dirty appearance of the survivors they encounter. The fact that the show was shot in the same place as Planet of the Apes instills the show with some visual apocalyptic validity. But often the dialog is stilted and the plotting is weak. It is a kind of time capsule of 1970s TV filmmaking, so many of the underwhelming aspects of the show are understandable if one looks at Ark II with that perspective. Strangely enough the “message” aspects of the show actually aren’t too heavy-handed. The overarching theme of the show is obviously environmentalism, but there are also lessons of friendship, non-violence, and co-operation. So if you’ve been looking for an apocalypse that is safe for the whole family Ark II is it. Also, its important to note that Andy Mangles’ group has done a superb job with the DVD content, as the documentary, menus and bonus features really multiply the value of the whole package.
Of course I can never be sure if Ark II alone got me interested in the post apocalyptic genre, that’s lost in the mists of the nuclear winter (yuk yuk) but it certainly is a piece of my childhood that I had nearly forgot. For a live action, 1970s kid’s show, Ark II is about the best it gets. It’s not a perfect show, but it really has a great concept that I believe kids would still enjoy especially the talking chimp and that jet pack. Plus, the diversity is a nice bonus, proving somebody was paying attention at Filmation. The mission of the crew of Ark II was to provide hope, something that was much needed in the 1970s and now for that matter, see the parallels? So, if you’re into sci-fi, want a stroll down memory lane or need a show for the kids, check out the DVD set of Ark II.