Sunday, January 25, 2015

GOLIATH AWAITS (1981)

WITH "GOLIATH AWAITS" AND A SLEW OF TV SERIES AND FILMS, AL MASINI'S "OPERATION PRIME TIME" CHALLENGES THE (THEN) "BIG THREE" NETWORKS 




VAULTED TREASURES:
HARD TO FIND FILMS

WORTH SEEKING OUT

     Every generation proclaims their own as the "Golden Age" of such-and-such; and the science fiction / fantasy genre is no exception. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, audiences fearful of the era's collapsed economy were able to exorcise collective subconscious anxietal demons via a string of dark fantasy films produced by Universal Studios - among them James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN and Todd Browning's DRACULA; while at the height of 1950s Cold War era, the pressure cooker fear of nuclear annihilation found psychological release in a string of "results of contamination" thrillers such as THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, THEM, and that still much loved classic featuring everyone's favorite radioactive breath-blowing, tank melting, bad-guy-eventually-turned-good, GODZILLA. 

     The Civil Rights and Ecology movements of the 1960s - 70s brought an impressive line-up (arguably thematically never topped to this day) of "social agenda"-based genre excursions along the lines of PLANET OF THE APES, SILENT RUNNING, LOGAN'S RUN and THE OMEGA MAN. And during the decade of the 1980s, following STAR WARS 1977 debut, a major paradigm shift occurred which sent the TV and film executives of every production company (major and minor) back in time to raid the tombs of classic pulp material (i.e. Robert E. Howard's CONAN THE BARBARIAN, Philip Nowlan's BUCK ROGERS, and Alex Raymond's FLASH GORDON), ... as well as to the bank in order to fund new FX-heavy renditions of old faves for the big and small screens; the most popular of these certainly being George Lucas' and Steven Spielberg's Alan Quatermain (with a dash of Bogie and Bond) - inspired INDIANA JONES series.


 
     Between the (what some still think of as) "more intelligent" sci fi of the 70s, and the (what many consider) less heady "pulp inspired" material of the 80s, there was a nifty "bridge" / "fulcrum shift" / "pivot point" sci fi mystery / adventure which emerged as among the best of both worlds. On the surface a clever modern day twist on the Edgar Rice Burroughs "lost civilization" yarn (a'la THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and AT THE EARTH'S CORE), below the water line it revealed itself as a just as clever examination of the still contemporary theme of despotism - not unlike that given a thorough going-over in the earlier Orwellian genre classics ANIMAL FARM and 1984; and detailing how such oppressive societal orders can arise imperceptibly as a citizenry places too much responsibility for it's well being into the hands of a "qualified" few. The impressive "fulcrum shift" film was the TV mini-series event GOLIATH AWAITS, which debuted in 1981. Normally a more specific "release" or "premiere" date would follow said film's title, but GOLIATH AWAITS didn't really have a single debut date. Unique in a great many ways, perhaps chief among them was the fact that it was part of a decade long slate of widely syndicated films and television series from the production company "Operation Prime Time", and as such had a number of "debuts" as it was an original film rolled out across a large platform of independent TV stations at various times.


  
     Seeking to break the strangle-hold of the (then) "Big Three" broadcast networks (NBC, ABC, and CBS), OPT, with a great deal of creative beligerance and industry savvy, produced over ten years of regular series (remember SOLID GOLD?, that was them) anchored by a buoy line of critically acclaimed tele-movies and mini-series, all sold to local independent stations (who else out there is old enough to remember UHF?), which for the first time gave those independents a choice of original content material, and as a result granted them powerful leverage in bargaining with the "Big Three" to the (unheard of at the time) point of turning down the monopolistic trio's tried-and-true "hand-me-down" rerun packages of series regurgitated from years prior. Amongst the most successful of Operation Prime Time's "anchor" mini-series was GOLIATH AWAITS. And having achieved near cult status around the world over the last 35 years, it's surprising that the film has never seen a full and proper home video release. Many were heartened when, in 1991, a VHS version of the film was marketed. But all were just as disheartened (ehhhh, no; more accurately "furiously pissed"!) upon discovery that the release was a truncated "theatrical version" cutting the film's total running time IN HALF! But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves.
 
  
     On September 6th, 1939 - three days after the official Declaration of War between Britain and Germany, the luxury ocean liner RMS Goliath, en route from Southampton to the United States, is (in an incident inspired by the Lusitania tragedy) struck by the torpedo of a German U-boat, and sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic, presumably taking with her the lives of all 1,860 souls aboard. In 1981, a commercial oceanographic expedition in search of sub sea iron / manganese veins, and lead by former U.S. Navy officer Peter Cabot (ST. ELSEWHERE and NCIS's Mark Harmon), discovers the remains of the legendary vessel, then launches a salvage recon dive. After first hearing what sounds like the Morse code tapping of "S.O.S" emanating from within the rusted hull, followed by what for all the world seems to be big band music, Cabot is thunderstruck upon catching a quick glimpse via a porthole of a young LIVING woman ... who is just as startled to see him!


      While most believe Cabot's story of the music and the woman are the results of Nitrogen narcosis (hallucinations sometimes caused by the mixtures of breathing gases at extreme diving depths), U.S. Naval Admiral Wiley Sloan (ROMAN HOLIDAY and THE LONGEST YARD's Eddie Albert), approves a massive salvage dive to the wreck. His secret reason - aboard the Goliath when she went down was a U.S. Senator carrying a forged letter supposedly from Adolph Hitler, and addressed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which, if eventually found and made public, could have shattering political consequences for the U.S. and her present day allies. Wiley confides this information to Commander Jeff Selkirk (the always super cool Robert Forster of JACKIE BROWN and THE BLACK HOLE), whom he places in charge of the Goliath expedition. Cabot, Selkirk and an oceanographic team including Dr. Sam Marlowe (Alex Cord - from the 1966 vers. of STAGECOACH and TV's AIRWOLF), then descend to the rusted ocean liner.

 
 
     In a clever rift on the "lost civilization" saga - (a'la THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and LOST HORIZON) wherein a society from another time in history is found alive in a miraculous geographic "micro pocket", the expedition divers discover not only the living young woman - Lea McKenzie, whom Cabot glimpsed earlier (portrayed by GENERAL HOSPITAL and DYNASTY's Emma Samms), but an entire mini-city society aboard the vessel consisting of over 300 people, they having amazingly survived the initial sinking via a slow descent into the depths (which allowed their bodies to pressure-equalize), and they having continued to grow and even bear children over the last 40 years via the brilliance and scientific acumen of Lea's father, John McKenzie (the legendary Christopher Lee in perhaps his greatest performance), who, at the time of the sinking was a junior officer, and is now the elected Leader of the Goliath survivors.


      Over the days, as enough depressurization tanks are flown in from around the world in order to handle the planned rescue / ascension of over 300+ people, McKenzie reveals to Cabot, Selkirk and their team the technology behind the survival of his people all these many years: from their construction of primative "air scrubbers" which filters oxygen from the sea then expels harmful carbon dioxide back out into it, to their fishing and hydroponics gardens - where food is caught and harvested, to the source of the ship's power - the vessel's resurrected steam turbines, to McKenzie's latest endeavor - attempting to tap into a volcanic hot spring below the Goliath in a bid to obtain an endless supply of sustainable energy. Helping to implement McKenzie's "survival book" over the decades has been his right hand man, the mysterious Dan Wesker (Frank Gorshin - who, forever remembered as the Riddler on TV's BATMAN, also here turns in what is arguably his greatest career portrayal). After an attack by a group of rebels from the other side of the ship (the "Bow People" - many of them deformed), Cabot and the others begin to suspect all is not perfect within this at-first-believed-to-be sub-sea version of Shangri-La.

      They discover that, for the sake of efficiency, citizens are (from birth in some instances) separated into various "working classes"; and that the ability to rise from said life station is dependent upon one's loyalty to sanctioned policies, such as enforced contraception, and upon one's work output. Then as Dr. Marlowe begins working hand in hand with the Goliath's own Dr. Goldman (reknowned writer / actress Jean Marsh of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, FRENZY and WILLOW) to inoculate the ship's population against any possible contagion brought aboard by the expedition members, he discovers a dreaded illness which the ship's citizens call "Palmer's Disease" - a blood poison born of a dangerous form of algae. Interestingly however "Palmer's" seems to limit it's infectious spread to only those who are extremely elderly, too physically unfit to contribute to the society's work quota, ... or who question McKenzie's governing policies.


 

     After being kidnapped by the "Bow People", Cabot learns they are considered terrorists and outcasts because they dared to question McKenzie's autocratic rule. And the reason many of them are deformed is because of "the bends"- the decompression condition which arises when divers ascend too quickly before the body has had a chance to equalize pressure. This happened when many of them fruitlessly attempted to effect their own rescue by swimming to the surface. In possession of this information, Cabot and Selkirk begin to wonder if McKenzie will allow ANYone aboard the ship (themselves included) to ever leave at all. And a showdown brews, both violent and ideological, as each surviving member of the Goliath must decide for themselves whether to continue to live in the comfortable past, or brave a terrifying and uncertain future in a new sunlit world above the waves.


  
     Needless to say, two of GOLIATH AWAITS' greatest attributes are 1) the intelligent execution of it's script - from coming up with plausibly logical (if slightly exaggerated) scientific reasoning to account for the 40 year survival of over 300 people at the bottom of the sea, to the Orwellian subtext of it's setting and narrative. And 2) in the assemblage of it's stellar cast. In addition to the aforementioned "top liners", GOLIATH AWAITS also features supporting performances by the late great John Carradine - as an elderly former swashbuckling movie matinee idol, Western legend John McIntire as Senator Barththolomew (the man entrusted with the supposed "Hitler / Roosevelt" letter); CHEERS "Cliffy" himself, John Ratzenberger - who, years before appearing in the popular sitcom, made a living as an American actor in European-based productions such as A BRIDGE TOO FAR, SUPERMAN II and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. And yes, even adolescent Kirk Cameron (yup, THAT Kirk Cameron!) as a youngster aboard the ship.

      GOLIATH AWAITS was filmed by veteran English director Kevin Connor partially aboard the RMS Queen Mary (berthed in Long Beach, California), where producer Irwin Allen and director Ronald Neame also shot major portions of 1972's THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. A film industry jack-of-all-trades (he alternately worked as a sound man, editor then finally director) the (now) 77 year old Connor, while still an active movie maker (from the mini-series NORTH & SOUTH: BOOK II to recent credits including the Hallmark Channel films A BOYFRIEND FOR CHRISTMAS and BLACKBEARD with Richard Chamberlain), he's perhaps most fondly remembered for a slew of popular genre favorites of the 1970s - among them THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, AT THE EARTH'S CORE and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS, along with the irrepressible 1980 cult slasher movie satire MOTEL HELL.



Kevin Conner: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (center - 1975) / AT THE EARTH'S CORE (right - 1976)
 
     Keeping production costs to reasonable levels, GOLIATH AWAITS integrates war footage from other seaborne thrillers such as 1957's THE ENEMY BELOW and 1960's THE LAST VOYAGE. And it even snatches a few establishing shots of the liner at sea from Marilyn Monroe's GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES. While in lesser hands these "snatches" could have been obvious and cheesy (we never dug TV's THE INCREDIBLE HULK or THE FALL GUY because their "borrows" were terribly such), in the hands of former editor Connor, they're as seamlessly integrated into the warp and weft of his film as was the historic footage spliced into Robert Wise's THE HINDENBURG, and Philip Kaufman's blending of archival "Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia" material into 1988's THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING. Written by veteran scribes Richard Bluel (RAID ON ROMMEL, TV's BARETTA) and Pat Fielder (MCMILLAN & WIFE, QUINCY M.E.), from a story by Bluel, Fielder and producer Hugh Benson (LOGAN'S RUN, CONTRACT ON CHERRY STREET), GOLIATH AWAITS proved one of the most popular entries from producer Al Masini's "Operation Prime Time" production company.


 
     A long time ago, in that galaxy far far away - vis a vis the 1970s television landscape before the advent of multi-channel cable and streaming services, the "Big Three" networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) dominated the industry as large scale content providers while local unaffiliated stations were relegated to providing "second tier" product such as lower budget locally produced news / informational shows, and the airing of syndicated reruns of popular series from the "Big Three"'s (often decades old) catalog - neither of which brought in as much ad revenue as did original prime time programming competitively airing on those larger networks at the same time. After a military stint during the Korean War, New Jersey born Al Masini went to work for the CBS news department, a position which eventually led to TV ad sales then to the eventual founding of his own industry sales firm, TeleRep, which became one of the largest in Hollywood. In 1976 Masini folded TeleRep into his newest endeavor "Operation Prime Time" - established to create high quality / network grade original syndicated programming for unaffiliated stations.

      With shows Masini himself created, including SOLID GOLD, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, STAR SEARCH and LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS, interspersed with critically acclaimed mini-series such as A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA (1982), SADAT (1983), KEN FOLLETT'S "THE KEY TO REBECCA" (1985) and more, from 1976 - 1987, "Operation Prime Time" became the fourth (and first) "alternate network" from which future successful broadcasting endeavors such as Fox, UPN, The CW and more would take their leads. OPT broke the strangle-hold of the "Big Three"'s advertising structure, wherein both advertisers AND local unaffiliated stations "got the screw" (advertising costs and network profits continually escalating while profits to local unaffiliates steadily decreased) by introducing a new ad sales paradigm; one which was met with disfavor by many at the "Big Three".



Ingrid Bergman in OPT's A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA (1982) / Louis Gossett Jr. in SADAT (1983)

      OPT created high quality network-like programming which attracted big budget advertising dollars. But Masini's company would (unheard of at the time) only demand 2 minutes of every 12 slotted for advertising, to run it's own acquired national commercial spots, with the other ten belonging to the local stations to sell at their discretion. This new structure was met with favor by advertisers as they could now run their spots during OPT's shows and films, which were garnering fantastic Neilsen ratings, for 1/3rd the amount the major networks had been charging to do the same. And, while GOLIATH AWAITS was not met with critical accolades from critics such as the New York Times' Janet Maslin (she had problems with the multi-accents of the international cast, and felt the entire endeavor "monotonous" - which is okay; she thought the same of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, ... which we love!), the 1981 film proved such a hit with audiences and advertisers, it was released abroad in various formats - including in the Netherlands as a month long "limited series" of four weekly one hour installments.


 
    GOLIATH AWAITS was also popular enough to encourage Masini and company to broaden their horizons with their next slate of critically acclaimed and award winning syndicated mini-series. Like GOLIATH, they too would use history as a launching point into drama, albeit in a more sober manner. There was 1982's A WOMAN CALLED GOLDA - with Judy Davis, Robert Loggia, Leonard Nimoy, and starring Ingrid Bergman as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir; 1983's SADAT - featuring John Ryhs-Davis, Barry Morse, Nehemiah Persoff, and starring Louis Gossett, Jr. as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated after signing a peace treaty with the nation of Israel; and 1983's BLOOD FEUD - detailing the fierce 11 year conflict between Teamster Union president Jimmy Hoffa (portrayed by Robert Blake) and Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Cotter Smith). 


  
     After waiting a decade for it's arrival on home video, fans of GOLIATH AWAITS were at first thrilled when the Vidmark Entertainment VHS label released the film to an eager market in March of 1991. Those same fans (us included) were however immediately infuriated upon discovering this version was a re-edited "theatrical cut" of the film chopped down from it's original 2 episode combined running time of 200 mins. to 100 mins., giving the multi-layered and multi-charactered story the "herky jerky" feel of an extended theatrical trailer. Perhaps inspired by the international success of the "theatrical cut" of Wolfgang Peterson's 1981 DAS BOOT (edited down by the director himself from a near 5 hr. mini-series to a 2 1/2 hour running time), the 100 min. version of GOLIATH AWAITS didn't go over well with fans of the original mini-series. Many quickly packed off the VHS tape for a well deserved refund. But, long out of print, copies of that truncated cut still sell on various online outlets from $35 to over $200 dollars. This because GOLIATH AWAITS has yet to see an official DVD or streaming release.

 
     Airing in 2005 on Encore's Mystery Channel, as one unedited 200 minute film, long time fans of GOLIATH AWAITS were finally able to capture the complete version of the nifty sci fier via video tape and DVD recorders - numerous dupes of those now turning up on bootleg film websites and a few "private" streaming services. As we've mentioned in previous installments of "Vaulted Treasures", if you're thinking of purchasing one of those copies or streaming from one of those sites, we suggest you exercise caution as such copies aren't always playable on all machines, and many of those "independent" sites are merely "Trojan Horses" set up to implant potentially hazardous software into one's computer. Perhaps it is better to have a trusted friend burn a copy of the film, or to wait for another cable TV airing.

      "337 people ... after forty years? I'll be damned!" - Adm. Wiley Sloan

      We agree with the Admiral's assessment, and as such personally feel that GOLIATH AWAITS, ... is well worth the wait. 




                                                                                                                        CEJ

Postings of earlier installments of VAULTED TREASURES available to read @ https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-GullCottageSandlot/129683480458380?ref=hl   

Copyright © 2015 Craig Ellis Jamison. All rights reserved. 

No comments:

Post a Comment