Youtube Film Club: Northstar (1986)

northstar

“Pilots that crashed” is our wildly unpopular regular feature here at the ISCFC where we review a “TV movie” which is nothing more than a pilot for a TV show that failed for whatever reason; the reason we get to see it, is they spent enough money on it they feel obliged to try and recoup some of their losses by bunging it on TV, or selling it abroad (which seems to be the sole way most people ever saw this one, during its few outings on British TV in the mid 80s). Our favourite of the ones we’ve covered so far is “Virtuality”, the Ronald D Moore effort from 2009 where inhabitants of a corporate-sponsored trip to deep space have their own virtual reality machines to stave off the boredom, but will this knock it off its perch?

Immediately on the plus side is star Greg Evigan, beloved as star of “My Two Dads” (which would 100% not get made the same way today) and slightly less beloved as the butt of a hilarious running joke on British comedy show “This Morning With Richard Not Judy”, as Major Jack North, an astronaut. While on a spacewalk, taking a video of a total eclipse (with a wonderful, massive, clunky space-camcorder), he’s blasted by a pure beam of radiation, or the sun’s rays, or something, and is almost killed. The great Ken Foree, last seen by us a few days ago in “Zombi”, is also on the Space Shuttle with them, billed simply as “black astronaut”. Sorry Ken! This entire section, rather than seeming like the opening sequence of a movie, looks like a reconstruction of what space flight is like for a kid’s TV science show.

 

Anyway, after a refreshingly small amount of confusion, it’s discovered that North has some hellacious super-powers. When he’s exposed to direct sunlight it all kicks off, and there are three levels. First is blue, and that makes him super-smart. Second is yellow, and that makes him super-fast and agile. Then there’s red, which turns him into a pulsating-head monster with super-strength (maybe, it’s a little unclear); if he stays on red for too long, he’ll die. This is handily illustrated with what I think they called a clone, but is actually just a fancy shop dummy made up to look like him – when the red power kicks in, his brain pulsates to twice its normal size, and his neck catches on fire.

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To handle the power, they make him a pair of the ugliest glasses known to humanity. Now, I’m no genius, but if you hire a young, good looking guy to be your star, obscuring his face behind 1940s protective goggles seems at best counter-productive. So anyway, he’s goggled up, and has a mystery to solve; the mystery of who killed his other fellow astronaut. He’s also got a potential love interest, a vital building block to any potential TV series, Dr Alison Taylor (Deborah Wakeham), who’s also the “hey, you shouldn’t go red, probably” wet blanket.

 

The cast is also full of “That Guy” actors – as well as Foree, there’s sitcom regular Mitch Ryan as the Colonel of the base, and Mason Adams as the old, friendly scientist. The sort of people who’d have been quite happy with a regular easy gig on a TV superhero show, I imagine, but solid hands all the same. When North needs to contact the Colonel and thinks the phones might be bugged, he basically invents the modern internet and Skype (it’s a bit of technobabble, but he wires a normal camera up to a computer and broadcasts it all via phone lines, untraceable). Given that it was made in 1985, it’s one of the more remarkable bits of accidental future prediction I can think of.

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Of course, as most failed pilots are, it’s very…standard. The main villain doesn’t die; there’s lots of people with skills the star doesn’t have (and they don’t die either); and there’s also plenty of world-building which might seem irrelevant. The world-building here involves little mysteries that the show could spend some time solving; such as the colour thing. He’s obviously going to have to go full red at some point, and there’s also what happens if he gets some special glasses and can access other sorts of light? It’s clearly made by TV professionals who, while they don’t necessarily have all the talent in the world, know that B should follow A. Sadly, there are no surprises in the writing or directing department, no-one who’d go on to write A-list blockbusters (unlike, say, “Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD”, a fellow pilot, which was written by David S Goyer).

 

I understand why it wasn’t picked up. The idea is sort of odd, and having a guy who’d be contractually obligated to spend a minute of every episode on the floor, screaming in pain as he was forced to use the red light power, would be off-putting. But looking more widely at American TV, the well-regarded show “The Greatest American Hero”, a superhero show with a more comedic bent, had just finished its initial run a few years previously, so it might have been made to fill that gap. Problem being, it’s not that funny, despite having one of the great sitcom actors in the cast they used him completely straight.

northstar 1986

Available on Youtube, if you’re bored one evening there are worse entertainment options. But there are lots and lots of better ones.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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