Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Interview: Richard Hatch

In a sensible world, Richard Hatch would be the highest-paid motivational speaker on the planet, making Anthony Robbins look like wallflower.

Richard Hatch began his storied career in 1971, joining the cast of All My Children as Phil Brent. A string of television appearances followed including stints on Room 222, Kung Fu, Barnaby Jones, The New Perry Mason, Hawaii Five-O and The Waltons. By the late Seventies he'd landed a recurring role on The Streets of San Francisco, playing Inspector Dan Robbins in twenty-four episodes.

Hatch's classic good looks and acting chops snagged the attention of producer Glen Larson, who was developing a new sci-fi series for ABC. Concerned that the role was a tad one-dimensional, Richard was hesitant until Larson re-worked the script to give his character a bit more to do. As a result, Hatch joined the cast of Battlestar Galactica as ace Viper pilot and interstellar White Knight Captain Apollo.

Even though it was a ratings hit, the cast and crew had a tough time delivering an hour-long motion picture-quality television show every week. The detailed sets, models, costumes, props, special effects and rampant overtime costs made Galactica the most expensive television show to date. Eventually the network moved the show into a lethal time slot (against All in the Family, no less) and used the resulting ratings dip as an excuse to cancel the show.

But like all good, quality imaginative sc-fi, Battlestar Galactica refused to die. Inspired by a groundswell of fan support, Richard Hatch spear-headed a revival attempt in the early Nineties. A key component of his pitch to Universal was an elaborate live-action trailer called The Second Coming which he'd produced at tremendous personal cost. Although the effort certainly galvanized fan support, the powers that be at Universal opted against a sequel or a continuation.

Instead, they chose to reboot the show, a move which initially drew considerable public ire from Hatch. But as soon as writer / producer Ronald D. Moore exhibited a smart, unique and original take on the reboot, Hatch changed his tune and gave the new show his blessing. Not long after, he joined the cast as jailed-terrorist-turned-politician Tom Zarek. His slow-burn performance in that role is just one of many reasons why Time magazine named this incarnation of Galactica "The Best Drama on Television" in 2005.

In addition to playing Apollo and Tom Zarek, Richard Hatch has penned several novels and comic books based on the original Galactica series, performed on stage in several award-winning plays and musicals and appeared in such eclectic fare as Felicia Day's The Guild and the 2012 crime drama Dead By Friday. As of this writing he has several projects in pre-production, including Walter Koenig's steam-punky feature Cowboys & Engines.

Richard is also in high-demand as a public speaker, lecturing about acting, self-motivation and artistic expression all around the world. His current pet project is The Great War of Magellan, a rich and elaborate space opera that Hatch is hoping to parley into web series which will hopefully address our current woeful deficit of quality, live-action sci-fi.               

I had a chance to chat with Richard at HAL-CON 2013 and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Since the original Galactica ended prematurely I asked about what character arcs he would have liked to have seen Apollo experience. He confessed that Apollo is a challenge to write for primarily because it's difficult to extract darkness and conflict from such an irredeemably good and pure-hearted character. He did get a chance to explore Apollo's dark side a little bit in his BSG novels and said that Apollo needed to be dragged though an experience not unlike that of a certain fallen Jedi Knight.

The audio portion of the interview picks up from there...   

And here's a clip from Richard's presentation / Q&A from that very same weekend:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Movie Review: "The Big Red One" by David Pretty

Any movie that has Mark Hamill sharing top billing with Lee friggin' Marvin is a movie I wanna see. After watching The Big Red One, I can't help but wonder if Hamill would have avoided typecasting purgatory if this criminally over-looked war film had gotten the attention it deserved back in 1980. Most likely he would he have been offered more substantial roles instead of bargain basement dreck like The Guyver and Slipstream.

Especially when you witness his fantastic performance here as Pvt. Griff, sharpshooter for the U.S. First Infantry Division. The oldest division in the United States Army, this outfit denoted their elite status by wearing, you guessed it, a big, red "1" on their shoulders. What distinguishes this movie from most other war flicks is that director Samuel Fuller based the story upon his own experiences during World War II as a member of this very same outfit. As such, this epic plays out like the inspiration behind HBO's Band of Brothers from 2001.

It starts with a fantastic segment shot in beautifully-stark black and white which takes place during the tail end of World War I. We first see the ubiquitous Sergeant (played by Lee Marvin in a terrific walk-softly- and-carry-a-big-stick performance ) stumbling across a ruined landscape in France, seemingly non-plussed by all the chaos around him.

After an encounter with a shell-shocked horse leaves him without a rifle, he's forced to contend with a lone German soldier who babbles on about "the end of the war" and then tries to surrender. Since the Sergeant has seen this bluff countless times before and kills the German with a knife and then returns to HQ, where he learns that the armistice did indeed did go into effect four hours ago. From thereon in, The Big Red One is preoccupied by this heavy theme: was the German killed in defense of country and kin or was he flat-out murdered?

The film then jumps ahead twenty-four years to 1942 with the world embroiled in yet another global conflict. The Sergeant is back leading a platoon of young elites, some of whom eventually distinguish themselves as his "Four Horsemen". They include the aforementioned Mark Hamill as Griff, an idealistic, artistic kid who keeps wresting with his conscience, Pvt. Zab (Robert Carradine of Revenge of the Nerds fame) a cocky, brash gung-ho punk, Pvt.Vinci (Bobby Di Cicco) an Italian-American jokester and Pvt. Johnson (Kelly Ward) a simple farm boy who's trying to cope with, well with everything.

After landing in Algeria a skirmish with the Vichy French results in a wasteful loss of innocent lives. Soon Griff becomes obsessed with the concept of justified killing versus stone-cold murder. The platoon then goes on to spearhead countless other now-famous military campaigns, including but not limited to Sicily, Omaha Beach, and Czechoslovakia. The film culminates with the liberation of the Falkenau concentration camp where our heroes witness unspeakable horrors and then try to come to terms with what they've lived through in order to get there.  

For some viewers, The Big Red One will be an off-putting experience and not for the reasons you might think. For many, myself included, the harrowing realism of contemporary war movies such as Saving Private Ryan tends to diminish older films. Even though Fuller likely saw a lot of first-hand action during World War II the battle scenes here are static, stagy and pale in comparison to more modern depictions. But perhaps that's the point since more realistic horrors might come off as salacious and hit a bit too close to home.

The film also has a very staccato flow, giving the impression of short vignettes adapted from stitched-together diary entries. In fact, then entire parallel story featuring the German soldiers is completely superfluous and probably should have been jettisoned. It's as if Fuller wanted to shoe-horn as many tidbits into the film as possible regardless of whether or not it contributed to the film's story or overarching theme.

Just like in Patton, the glaringly-obvious historical inaccuracies pissed me off to no end. The German "Tigers", for example, are actually Israeli tanks modified from American-built Shermans. Frankly, that's just inexcusable. As soon as I see stuff like this I'm immediately reminded of the film's fictional facade.   

At first the movie's propensity for disjointed and oddball moments began to aggravate me. The Sergeant's squirm-inducing encounter with a German doctor and subsequent Bedouin disguise, the "Tank birth" sequence, the prepubescent sniper, and a ballet-like throat-slashing montage in a Belgian insane asylum were all so bizarre and disturbing that I wanted to write it off as Fuller's attempt at dark humor. But then I remembered that truth is a lot weirder than fiction and I can only assume that Fuller either experienced these strange things first hand or it happened to someone he knew.

If anything, The Big Red One certainly illustrates that war isn't just hell, it's inexplicably senseless. This is really emphasized during the film's epilogue in which the squad marches through the very same field where the Sergeant killed that German soldier back in 1918. They stumble upon a war memorial which sparks a haunting exchange between Johnson and the Sergeant:

Johnson: Would you look at how fast they put up the names of all our guys who got killed?

The Sergeant: That's a World War I memorial.

Johnson: But the names are the same.

The Sergeant: They always are.

         Tilt: up.