Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Starlost DVD Set Liner Notes

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into outer space, here comes the 1973-74 Canadian-produced science-fiction television series, The Starlost.

To be honest, the tales of the Earthship Ark hit video stores back in November of 2008. A friend contacted me one day to ask if The Starlost is one of those television shows I know way too much about. Yes, I do. Once we got that out of the way, and agreed on basic terms, he told me that a company was scheduled to release the much-maligned show to DVD and suggested I contact them to offer any help. He knew I would be interested.

Through a little research I discovered that the company in question was VCI Entertainment, a U.S.-based (Tulsa, Oklahoma) home video distributor of cult films and television. (I use the term loosely as some may argue that many VCI titles would not fit comfortably into that category. But as I've been known to say at times, "you know what I mean".)

As I'm not one to be left out of the picture I contacted the distributor via their main email address and left a short bio on me and a note about my continuing efforts to research Canadian television programs. The Starlost is but one that has fallen into the folder. (My journalistic endeavours had me interview several people who were involved with this show: Writer Harlan Ellison, actors John Colicos and Gay Rowan, producer William Davidson, story editor Norman Klenman, designer Jack McAdam, writers Martin Lager and Doug Hall, and a few other Starlost production personnel.)

I offered VCI my services as Resident Geek. That line must have been the clincher: Minutes later someone responded and asked me if I would like to write something up for the DVD boxed set's insert booklet; the "liner notes". The only catch was they had to be finished and ready for production by Friday at the latest.

(Oh....did I not say I sent the first-contact email on Tuesday?)

There was another restriction: Keep my essay to within 1,300 words. Anyone who knows me can tell you that 10,000 would be a more realistic limit for a 'chatty' guy like me. (Anything less would force me to act like some kind of professional.)

After soaking in the invitation I telephoned VCI and spoke with a very pleasant chap. I had not misread the parameters for the liner notes. Like a regular Jim Phelps, I accepted the assignment.

Somehow I came through, even with the rigors of my day job involved, and the deadline was met. My contact at VCI was very happy, which made the whole race worthwhile: "This is wonderful !!"

Last year I re-read my piece for the first time since the set had been delivered to me in November of 2008. I didn't wince too often, but like any self-proclaimed writer I would love to rewrite. I won't blame the three days; I'd even take three more.

As I state in the liner notes, The Starlost is not that bad, at least it's not to me. But it's definitely not great and could have been much better.

However, there is one big thing my studious "television production" research has taught me: It's really hard, really blinking hard, to make any television series, period, never mind one that works splendidly as a dramatic presentation and manages to win a substantial enough audience to keep it on the air.

Any attempt to make a show where most pieces of the puzzle come together in a harmonious way is an act best left, perhaps, to the gods. Few mortals posses such gifts. If more could find the magic potion, then we wouldn't have so many crappy (and overrated) drama shows on the airwaves at any one time. Very often, the best drama is what went on behind the scenes.

On those terms, The Starlost is just another television product.


DonaldAR said...

Where might one find these liner notes, if one does not have access to the DVD boxed set?

Simon St. Laurent said...

I think I saw the DVD set in Bay Street Video not too long ago. It would be no surprise if someone has uploaded the artwork to the Net.

Criterion has insert booklet notes from their own releases on the company website for all to see. Maybe VCI will do the same. I've thought about posting my notes for "The Starlost" here, but, I would clear it with the company first.

Greg Woods said...

VCI rules! Such a great collection of cult films, TV, British genre pictures (my latest fixation)...

Simon St. Laurent said...

Whenever I visit the VCI website and peruse their 'titles' I drool.

Greg Woods said...

Yup! I've always wanted to revisit this series after my sole decades-old memory of watching it in the dark on my brother's black and white TV late in a wintry Sunday afternoon (hence, why night fell so quickly). Partially, I've been sceptical about tarnishing that old memory, with less jaundiced adult eyes. Further, I've always meant to read Ellison's novel "Phoenix Without Ashes" based upon the show... alas, his work is so hard to find in print, even used.

Simon St. Laurent said...

The Merril Collection (in the Lillian Smith Library Building, near College and Spadina in Toronto) should have a copy of "Phoenix Without Ashes". Wonderful collection, I might add.

"The Starlost" must have had an eerie quality when viewed in black-and-white as it often had an off-kilter tone.

Greg Woods said...

Ha! Ironically, I was just there for the pulp show!