You wanna see a movie directed by Uncle Rico’s dad, you know from Napoleon Dynamite . . . well, since we just finished off “James Bond Month,” Lazlo Hollyfeld from Real Genius?
Then this is your movie.
Earth II is directed by Jon Gries’s pop, Tom, whose bat-shite crazy TV series resume lead him to directing Jim Brown and Burt Reynolds in 100 Rifles, Charlton Heston in Will Penny, Charles Bronson in Breakout and Breakheart Pass, along with with the ultimate Charles Manson document, 1976 Helter Skelter. Tom Gries died on January 3, 1977, shortly after — and amazingly, somehow, making Muhammad Ali not look completely incompetent — completeing 1977’s The Greatest (but it’s still pretty bad, even with Ernest Borgnine of Marty in it).
But let’s get back to Earth II.
As we all know, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a game changer and everyone wanted back in the sci-fi game. So here we have Gary Lockwood — Frank Poole from Kubrick’s classic — as well as Mariette Hartley from Gene Roddenberry’s endless cycle of post-Star Trek endeavors, mainly Genesis II. Yep, that’ s Anthony Franciosa (Tenebre), Lew Ayres (Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and Hari Rhodes (Malcolm MacDonald from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) along for the interstellar intrique.
As with most all U.S. TV movies, Earth II was an overseas theatrical feature, known as Killer Satellites, and it pushed its 2001, Apes, and Star Trek connections (Mariette Hartley was in one of that series’ popular episodes as Spock’s love interest) in its marketing materials. And it worked. But the foreign box office was better than the U.S. TV ratings; as result, Earth II wasn’t picked up for a weekly series as intended. But Gary Lockwood didn’t mind; he’s on record as saying he hated working on the production, eschewing it overly complex, sociopolitcal plotting.
Since this is very easily obtained as a still-in-print DVD and VOD stream, the reviews on this (rife with plot spoilers) are many. The basic gist of the story, if you haven’t guessed, is about a “second Earth,” that is, an orbital international space station. When things go amiss in Communist Red China and a nuclear missile comes to threaten the station’s 2000-strong pacifist inhabitants, they search for a way to solve the problem — without violence.
So, is Lockwood right?
Yeah. This is a bit slow to the point of boring. And it is complex, way too much for the young minds sci-fi-on-TV was geared for. And that complexity also resulted in the cancellation of the Planet of the Apes TV series and for Roddenberry’s Genesis II (and its reboots as Planet Earth and Strange New World) not going to series. Natch for Rodenberry’s The Questor Tapes.
But in terms of science accuracy, Earth II is stunning and the special effects are effective — just remember: in 1970 years. One can’t help but wonder if the creators behind TV’s Babylon 5 and the later SyFy Channel Battlestar Galactica reboot pinched from this classic TV movie (and we all know the debates regarding Babylon 5 vs. Star Trek: Deep Space 9). If you enjoy your sci-fi with intelligence, without the Lucasian Flash Gordon trimmings, then this “Before Star Wars”* romp is for you.
This one is widely availabe on DVD and all the usual VOD platforms, but we found a free version — a really clean rip — over on You Tube.
Earth II was one of the many films we didn’t get around to reviewing during our month-long Star Wars ripoffs and galactic droppings month. You can catch up on those films with our Before and After Star Wars explorations. And since there’s a little bit o’ post-apoc in Earth II, be sure to check out our two-part post-apoc blowout with our Atomic Dustbins, Part 1 and Part 2. And since were on the subject of both Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, be sure to check out our “Exploring (Before “Star Wars”): The Russian Antecedents of 2001: A Space Odyssey” featurette.
There are more TV movies to be had with our “Week of Made for TV Movies,” “Lost TV Week,” “Son of Made for TV Movie Week” and “Grandson of Made for TV Movie Week” tribute spotlights to those films that, in many cases, are even better than the movies that played in theatres.