If it isn’t one franchise, then it’s another. This week, we take a quick look back at quantum leaping, share a few laughs at Ed Wood’s expense, and celebrate the births of genuine sci-fi icons. Sit down, buckle up, or strap yourself in, people! This Week in Science Fiction is on the ‘net!
Indeed, Ellen Ripley has seen some dark days. In ALIEN, she and a cat were the sole survivors of an infestation that destroyed the Nostromo. In ALIENS, she braved her darkest fears to uncover what happened to the colonists on planet LV-426. In ALIEN3, she kinda/sorta died in space prison, but (spoilers!) thankfully, she was cloned and came back with alien DNA in her bloodstream with ALIEN RESURRECTION. Have we seen the last of Ellen Ripley? Ask actress Sigourney Weaver, who came to our plane of existence on this day back in 1949. Other auspicious birthdays include no less than sci-fi novelist Frank Herbert (1920), whose DUNE captured the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel.
While I was no fan of Scott Bakula in STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE – his portrayal of Captain Jonathan Archer seemed far too stiff – I thought he was perfectly cast in NBC’s QUANTUM LEAP. As the time-travelling Dr. Sam Beckett, Bakula seamlessly leapt in and out of personalities. His clean looks and general likability gave the program much of its foundation. The LEAP lasted for five seasons, and Bakula himself keeps the hope alive for a follow-up feature film, though methinks it’ll (sadly) never happen. Today, Scott turns a healthy 58 years young. Other auspicious birthdays include FLASH GORDON’s Brian Blessed (1936), MEN IN BLACK’s Tony Shalhoub (1953), THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT’s Michael Pare (1958), and visionary director Guillermo del Toro (1964).
Sci-fi has forever been the ‘butt end’ of jokes, and fans owe much of that to Ed Wood, Jr. (born on this day in 1924). His ridiculous PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE bears the singular distinction of being christened ‘the worst film ever made.’ Far be it from me to analyze what made Wood tick, but his friends over the years have defended him, claiming that he merely spread his ‘talents’ too thin, insisting on writing, producing, and directing his motion pictures. Had he focused on one area, would Ed Wood have been better off? We’ll never know. In 1968, BARBARELLA graced silver screens. Other auspicious birthdays include THE 4400’s Peter Coyote (1941) and composer Michael Giacchino (1967).
On this day in 1939, Albert Einstein informed U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the possibility of creating an atomic bomb. In 1984, Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first U.S. woman to walk in space. And, in the year 2000, the 100th Space Shuttle Mission, labeled STS-92, was flown. Auspicious birthdays include CONTACT’s David Morse (1953), MST3K’s Michael J. Nelson (1964), and PITCH BLACK’s Claudia Black (1972).
On this day in 1918, Boston’s Children’s Hospital first employed the use of the iron lung. In 1962, the world’s two sole superpowers – the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. – agreed to joint space efforts in the fields of telecommunications and meteorology. 1969 saw the first time five people occupied outer space. And, in 1977, noted psychic Romark pledged he could drive a car while blindfolded; it all ended when the prognosticator smashed into a cop van. Auspicious birthdays include sci-fi novelist Thomas Burnett Swann (1928) and Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman (1968).
The Whirlpool Galaxy was discovered by Charles Messier on this day back in 1773. The first aerial photograph was taken in the U.S. from a balloon in 1860. And, in 1983, the first U.S. cellular network was launched by Ameritech Mobile Communications in Chicago, Illinois. Can you hear me now? Auspicious birthdays include CLOSE ENCOUNTERS’s Melinda Dillon (1939), THE X FILES creator Chris Carter (1956), FARSCAPE’s Wayne Pygram (1959), and STARGATE’s Christopher Judge (1964).
Back in 1962, the U.S. U-2 spyplane first spotted missile launchers in Cuba, a conflict used for creative inspiration in last year’s stellar X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Back in 1978, the first TV movie originating from a TV series happened when survivors were handily voted off in “Rescue from Gilligan’s Island.” STAR TREK: VOYAGER’s fifth season premiered on this day in 1998. The remake of John Carpenter’s THE THING – more of a prequel than a remake, really – spawned in theatres in 2011. Auspicious birthdays include MOONRAKER’s Roger Moore (1927), TANK GIRL’s Lori Petty (1963), and JUMPER’s Max Thieriot (1988).
Until next time, friends, live long and prosper!