Friday, July 31, 2009

Nightmares in Camelot: Imprisoned by the Luminoids

You really have to wonder about The Outer Limits sometimes. The show was very cheaply produced and the crude effects don't hold up to modern standards, but underneath it all are some pretty startling concepts and plot devices.

We recently looked at "The Invisibles," which dealt with the control of secret societies over the highest levels of government, but there's plenty more where that came from, believe me. Though not one of my favorite episodes, "A Feasibility Study" presents us with a 300-proof blast of Gnostic theology. A deformed race from a dying planet called the "Luminoids" (!) kidnaps entire neighborhoods from Earth to work as slaves. 
The planet Luminos: A minor planet, sultry and simmering. Incapacitated. Earth scientists have concluded that there could be no life on Luminos, that it is too close to its own sun, and that its inhabitants would be victimized by their own blighting atmosphere. 

But there is life on Luminos — life that should resemble ours, but doesn't. Desperate life, suffering a great and terrible need. The Luminoids have begun to search the universe in an effort to gratify that need. They seek a planet on which life is healthy, vibrant, strong, and mobile. 

They need such people to do their work, to labor and slave for them, to manufacture their splendored dreams. The Luminoids need slaves, and they have chosen the planet off which their slaves will be abducted...
It's only when people unwittingly travel to the edge of their new reality that the illusion is shattered. And yeah, I think at least one of the witers of Dark City saw this episode once or twice.

We're going to be looking further into the Gnostic subtext of the original Star Trek shortly, but The Outer Limits predates it. In fact, many of the concepts that came to define sci-fi on TV and in film got a test-run during this series, as well as some of the more outre ideas we see in the Synchrosphere, UFOlogy, Fortean research, and even in some of the more radical precincts of theoretical physics. 

As with the original Star Trek, the sci-fi conceit of The Outer Limits allowed the writers to explore concepts that would never be allowed on more conventional drama series. And it's remarkable even today to see how seriously it was all taken and presented. 

Again, the production values might dull the edge for younger viewers, but The Outer Limits packs a highly-weird and nightmarish punch that we wouldn't really see on TV again until The X-Files. Chris Carter has never been shy about singling the show out as a primary influence on his own work. 

 And though I've never heard him discuss it, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that The Outer Limits had an immense influence on the work of David Lynch. After all, The Outer Limits' combination of old-fashioned American values and surreal, nightmarish horror is a pretty good description of Lynch's own work, isn't it?