Three residents of a huge space ark encounter a visiting alien whose intentions for the ark are questionable.
"The Starlost" was a 1973 Canadian TV series created by Harlan Ellison. It had an intriguing premise; in order to save the human race, a huge space ark has been constructed to seed the stars with humanity, with the inhabitants broken out into several different communities who were not only unaware of each other's existence, but also unaware that they were on a spaceship. Three people from one of the communities discover the truth of the situation, and discover that the spaceship is doomed to collide with a star unless they somehow learn to gain control of the ship and save it. Though I can't recall the title at this time, I distinctly remember reading a Robert Heinlein novel or novella with a similar concept; nevertheless, I have to admit that it does sound like a promising concept for a TV series.
Unfortunately, Harlan Ellison became disenchanted with the direction the series was taking and left. The show limped along for sixteen episodes and vanished. With only sixteen episodes, it would have been very difficult to sell this one into syndication. Therefore, the decision was made to edit some episodes together and release them as TV movies. This isn't the only time this sort of thing has happened; one can also find similar TV movies culled from episodes of "Planet of the Apes", "Space 1999", and "Kolchak: the Night Stalker", among others. It looks like I'm fated to track down and watch several of these over the coming years.
Now, one thing I can point out about the other three series I've mentioned above; they're all known well enough by fans and have their admirers and defenders. I myself saw all episodes from those three series at one time or another. However, "The Starlost" remained obscure.
Let's take a look at he box in which this tape arrived. It shows a drawing of a handsome man and a sexy woman holding guns against a background of a futuristic city. Feel free to enjoy the picture; you won't see anything like it in the movie. Now let's look on the back of the box. The first comment of note states that fans of "Doctor Who" and "Star Trek" will love this movie. They also name drop Keir Dullea, the star of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and Douglas Trumbull, who contributed to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER (Incidentally, if any of these facts are incorrect, blame the back of the box). However, there are two ominous little pieces of information to be gleaned here. One is that a certain Walter Koening is in the cast, and indeed, the actor who played Chekov on "Star Trek" does indeed play the title role in this movie. And for anyone out there wondering how I could have misspelled his name above, I am perfectly aware that it is "Koenig", not "Koening", but that's the way it was spelled on the box. However, I don't even blame the box for that; that's the way it is spelled in the credits of the movie. The other ominous piece of information is that the creation of the series is credited to one "Cordwainer Bird", and I'm sure anyone familiar with the work of Harlan Ellison will recognize the nom de plume he uses for works he feels have been badly compromised.
Now, we must proceed to the movie itself. "Doctor Who" fans will find sets here that are cheaper than anything they've seen on that show, and that's saying a lot. What they won't find is the excellent acting and scripting that are the hallmark of that show. "Star Trek" fans will get to see Chekov. Douglas Trumbull fans will get to see what he can do for special effects if you give him ten dollars. In short, what you have here is a static, talky series, shot on videotape with all the directorial skill of a soap opera and an anonymous and characterless musical soundtrack that not only fails to add tension and excitement to the events, but also sucks out any potential energy these scenes could have had. When the characters aren't insufferably bland, they're embarassing. And never once do you ever feel that the characters are aboard a huge spaceship, or that there's anything beyond the sets you see than the rest of the soundstage.
I now know why I've never heard of fans clamoring for their local station to pick up "The Starlost" for syndication. I also don't know why this review is so long.
If this one comes along, watch an episode of "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger" instead; you'll be glad you did.
Movies Unlimited: VHS