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.

-Swinebread

15 comments:

ladybug said...

Wow, I don't remember this at all. I guess I was locked in my room reading Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time...

It does look like cheesy fun, maybe we can hang out some weekend and do a home-grown MST3K version...

ladybug said...

Or maybe it was Sword of Shannara, or the Elfstones of Shannara or one of the Xanth books, or Nancy Drew, or those lovely Holocaust survivor novels I used to re-read, like Anne Frank's Diary or The Steppe (polish girl gets sent to the gulag..). Then there were all Louisa May Alcott's books; curious & strange short story collections of Isaac Asimov, Roddenberry & various sci-fi, ones from Hemingway and Southeast Asia.... Ummm I think I remember more about what I read, then what I watched.

Pandabonium said...

Memory jog. I'd forgotten all about this. I think I only saw one or two episodes - busy year for me.

Why do all the "dystopia" scenarios seem to be more and more believable as time goes by? Not a good sign.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Swinebread, I really appreciate your talent for digging up fond memories. I remember I really liked "Ark II" when it was on and watched it whenever I was able. (Unfortunately, my dad's ballgames often preempted it...which is probably one of the reasons why I've always tended to dislike televised sports.)

Dean Wormer said...

Ark II was great. I've come close to buying that a couple of times. I believe there was another show along the same lines called "Space Academy" or sumpin'

I can't remember if it inspired "Damnation Alley" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075909/) or if it was the other way around but the RVs are remarkably similar.

Coolest thing about "Land of the Dead" was the tank/ RV they used to do raids on the zombies.

Swinebread said...

LB didn’t you know, reading rots your brain?! …and mine

panda Yeah its sad that an ecological collapse looks more realistic day by day. :( At least we knew it was coming from watching Ark II and soylent green.

moody its weird that many of the things I liked were not usually the really popular stuff. Oh, and I don’t like watching sports on TV either.

dean It must have been Ark II (1976) influencing Damnation Alley (1977) based on the years of creation, but it is more likely that it just a coincidence. You win big points though, because most folks get them confused.

Yeah, Filmation made a Space Academy show, it’s on DVD right now. I can’t decide if I want to pick it up since I like adults in my kiddy shows rather than children. But don’t forget Jason of Star Command. It will be out in a few months. I remember that one being very fun. Plus it has James Doohan in it.

The Moody Minstrel said...

"Jason of Star Command" was actually a spinoff of "Space Academy". It even mentions in the opening sequence that Star Command is located in a secret section of "Space Academy".

I remember the only thing I disliked about "Jason" was that he fought the same bad guy (I don't remember his name, but he had a dragon-like cruiser) in every episode. At least "Space Academy" varied the palette a bit...and starred Jonathan Harris (aka Doctor Smith in the original "Lost in Space" and the voice of Lucifer in the original "Battlestar Galactica") as the commander!

megomuseum said...

I'm in the same boat as you as to what started my fascination with the post apocalypse except I am almost 75% certain it was Ark 2.

Watching this DVD, I couldn't believe how much of my childhood play and adult obsessions like jet packs, cool RVs wandering the wasteland sprang from this series.

The Logan's Run TV series a couple of years later was like a on/ two punch for my psyche!

Swinebread said...

moody Johnathan Harris had a recurring role in ark II. I was amazed at how much life he brought to the silly part he had. I don’t think I’ve every seen someone do so much with so little. That’s probably why Filmation gave him a lead role in Space Academy.

mego I never saw the Logan’s Run TV show when it was on, but I did catch a few episodes SciFi many years later. Hope for a DVD.
Another thought is the pilot for the never produced show Planet Earth by Gene Roddenberry. That had some fun mutants and an orgainzation of scientists called PAX that wanted to restore the world after a nuclear war.

megomuseum said...

I loved Planet and Genesis Two as a kid, even went so far as to make a John Saxon/Dylan Hunt doll recently. Still working on my Kreeg custom.

http://www.megomuseum.com/dump/saxon.jpg

The third pilot, Strange New World is just OK IMO.

Seymour said...

I wonder if the monkey has diapers on under that outfit? If so, who gets to change him?

Swinebread said...

Yes he did have diapers... and it must have been his owner, who was on the set, that changed him

Seymour said...

Jeeze Swiney, that was 'Snark'. I didn't post to get an accurate answer, I wanted (needed) a witty rejoiner.

Here's an example...

Seymour-Who changed the monkey?

Swinebread-The guy with the jet-pack. Cause he could fly along ways away. But the beard got caught in the intake funnels!

Seymour-Lol!

Or....

Seymour-So who changed the Monkey?

Dean W.-The psychiatrist, but the Monkey had to want to change!

Seymour-Lol! Rotfl!

Or...

Seymour-The monkey wore diapers?

Megomeseum- Only for the first 900 miles, then the O-ring blew out!

Seymour-that's sick, man.


That's what I was looking for. And you guys let me down. I'm going to Overdroid's site.

Swinebread said...

Hmmm yeah guess I blew it...

Maybe I was tired...

Uh it was the chick because she had to do all the dirty work...?

cath said...

Did you know that the TV series Ark II is best remembered for its titular vehicle: a futuristic six-wheeled combination RV and mobile laboratory. My brother loves this show!