"Expensive?" OMG, you *haven't* seen it, have you?!? It honestly makes Star Trek TOS look like it had a million dollar per episode budget.
We fall into hysterics whenever we see the lime-green foam padding that they use *everywhere*....
Just the 10 min segment in you youtube link, Buffy. The cheese factor looks pretty close to off-the-scale, even by 1970s standards. I especially appreciate that, not content to have automatic opening doors that either whir or whoosh, the Ark’s do both, and both sounds are out-of-sync with the doors’ motion.
After reading Ellison’s memoire in Stalking the Nightmare
, my interest in actually seeing episodes of The Starlost
was like rubbernecking at a gruesome highway accident – you’re not expecting art, or even pleasure, but at something so manifestly awful, you’ve just got to be a voyeur.
It was so under-budgeted--shot directly on video, not film--so under-rehearsed, so filled with the worst character actors of the late 60's & early 70's (Ed Ames! Simon Oakland! And, believe it or not, Walter Koenig! Might as well have been grabbing the folks headed back from shooting guest spots on Hawaii Five-0!) , that it's hard to imagine how they could have spent less money!
The idea that the first and only season of The Starlost
was produced on an ultra-low budget, is, I think, a bit of obscure videophile myth.
According to STN, the opening segment of “Phoenix Without Ashes” (Ellison’s title) / “Voyage of Discovery” (the aired title) was, as of 1973 “the single most expensive
production ever attempted in Canada.” Getting actual numbers would, I think, be a laborious and pointless work of real historic research, but just glancing at the models and the size and detail of the sets, I’m inclined to accept Ellison’s intimations that a lot of money was heaved down this particular commercial hole. Both STN and its Wikipedia article
mention Doug Trunbull’s failed attempt to develop and use his brainchild Magicam SF camera system to seamlessly integrate model and live shots in realtime, a failure that I suspect was about as expensive as the later success of ILM’s
motion-control work for Star Wars, and one that rippled through the production, as it was the key technology that was to have allowed the series to have been shot using copious miniature sets which couldn’t be built full-scale in the available studio space.
This show is proof that Harlan Ellison--who I adore, even though I'm hardly a SciFi fan--is indeed fallible. Even the opening episode or two which he wrote are horrifyingly bad. Obviously he would complain that the scripts were hacked to death, but remember, that's what he said about City on the Edge of Forever, which most folks think is still not only the best Star Trek episode ever, but really just plain good TV.
Ellison is not only fallible – as a filmwriter, he’s legendary mostly for his failures (his account of the single day he worked for Disney studios, in which he unwittingly pitched a Disney character based porno to a cafeteria table of studio execs, is one of the humor gems in STN). His involvement in the writing of episode 1 of Starlost
, however, requires some illumination.
For a variety of unanticipated reasons, The Starlost
was produced and filmed in Canada. At that time, Canadian law required that, in order to receive financial subsidies, a large majority of writers, actors, directors, and production staff must be Canadian. This resulted in all of Ellison’s screenwriting being substantially rewritten by Norman Klenman, about whom Ellison relates the following:
But as I sat there in Los Angeles writing my script, I received a call from Mr. Klenman, who was at that moment in Vancouver. "Mr. Ellison," he said, politely enough, "this is Norman Klenman. Bill Davidson wanted me to call you about The Starlost. I've read your bible and, frankly, I find it very difficult and confusing ... I don't understand science fiction ... but if you want to train me, and pay me the top-of-the-show money the Guild just struck for, I'll be glad to take a crack at a script for you." I thanked him and said I'd get back to him when I'd saved my protagonist from peril at the end of act four.Comparisons of Star Trek to The Starlost are,
When I walked off the show, the man they hired not only as story editor to replace me, but to rewrite my script, as well, was Norman Klenman who "don't understand science fiction."
I think, instructive, as they show two radically different outcomes from roughly the same cinematographic intentions and financial investment. STrek sets, models, and actors were, as best I can surmise, less expensive than those of Starlost half a decade later. With all due reverence, the cast of STrek were no more elite actors than those of Starlost. And, six years after the first season of STrek, writers and producers understood far better, technically, how to write and produce such series.
One key difference between the two were the ambitions of their production goals. STrek mostly aimed to shoot the interior of a few rooms, and an occasional rocky planetscape with an exotic backdrop. The Starlost aimed to shoot rollicking adventures in the interior of an unknown number of 50-mile diameter domed habitats, each populated by a different human culture, and confined shots of travel through a mazework of connecting tubes filled with mysterious (to the characters) high-tech artifacts. The green foam (I’m guessing here) was meant to convey outside-the-biodomes strangeness, and should have appeared infrequently.
The ultimately decisive difference, however, was that the makers of STrek made what they had work. In short, they were competent, even brilliantly ingenious in every part of the production. For example, most trekies are familiar with the tale of the chairs on the bridge set of STrek’s starship Enterprise: after props carpenters failure to fabricate acceptable looking chairs (except the captains chair), they replaced them with chairs from a crew member’s recently redecorated kitchen (furniture in the 1960s was cool
The Starlost, in contrast, by most accounts, was a ship of fools and incompetents, turning time, money, and creative talent into contemptible crap.
At least it manages to amuse. One of the great genius of humankind, IMHO, is our ability, via the art of MST3Kesque viewing, to transform contemptible crap into funny
crap. I just might Netflix The Starlost
, season the only, after all.