Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Atlantis Rising, Part 4: Beyond the Stars (UPDATED 8/31)

Cocoon was followed by the obligatory sequel in 1988, but the film went nowhere. Neither did this 1989 film written and directed by the author of the novel Cocoon was (loosely) based on, but it's a lot more interesting for our purposes here.

Beyond the Stars features Martin Sheen, and Christian Slater and Sharon Stone right before they hit the big time (it was released just before Heathers and Total Recall ) as well as Robert "Questor" Foxworth and Olivia D'Abo (who's been in a ton of genre roles, including voice work as Morgan La Fey in Justice League and a recent role in Star Wars: The Clone Wars). All of these actors have appeared in so many different things it's essentially redundant synching them up to the world of weirdness, since the multiplicity of hits tends to mitigate significance.

That being said it didn't escape my notice that Stone broke big in Total Recall and Sheen appeared in an episode of the extremely short-lived series Total Recall 2070, a spinoff that I don't think anyone but me has seen. Nor will I ever forget Sheen's role in of the most disturbing episodes of the original Outer Limits ("Nightmare") or his own star-making role in Apocalypse Now.

It's when it all comes together in a tidy little package that things start to get interesting. Sheen plays a former astronaut who served about the (fictional) last moon mission, Apollo 18. But the plotline is strangely paced- this isn't an space or a sci-fi film, it's a coming-of-age, my-favorite-summer story with an obligatory romance with Slater and D'Abo overshadowed by the relationship between bachelor Sheen and Slater (similar to Good Will Hunting in that fashion).

Then there's Sheen's necklace there which strangely reminds me of the crucified serpent icon.

But things get very interesting when Sheen takes Slater to the Marshall Flight Center, which regular Secret Sun readers should be well acquainted with, since it featured in the Amy Bishop saga earlier in the year. None other than Don "Stargate" Davis appears as an old colleague of Sheen's who shows young Christian around, even letting him take a spin in the flight simulator.

Sheen and Slater's relationship really doesn't make any sense at all. Neither do we get a sense of what's eating at Sheen's character, and why he went from space hero to recluse zero. But we do get a lot of manly displays of affection like this one here (especially when Sheen's character gets drunk and keeps telling his young friend how "beautiful" he is).

Then Sheen dies or something- I watched the film a while ago and it wasn't exactly burned into my memory. Something about a lunar radioactive cloud? Don't ask.

We learn though that while Sheen was on the Moon he discovered evidence of an ancient settlement (or expedition) on the lunar surface. So here we are yet again with the ancient astronauts, who of course are at the center of Cocoon. All of this really comes out of nowhere and has nothing to do with the rest of the film. In one of the film's many unintentionally hilarious bits of Freudian symbolism, Sheen gives Slater a screw- his lucky moonscrew, to be exact.

Slater and D'Abo then find a moon rock in Sheen's greenhouse. The rock has two holes one round and the other kind of slit-like (I know, I know) and Slater fits the screw in....

...and a big Cocoon-like psychedelic lightshow spews from the rock while Sheen's voiceover expresses great confidence in his young ward, even though the two had zero chemistry and we get almost no sense of their bond or anything. We get even less with Slater and D'Abo.

The entire sequence with the ancient astronauts and all of the rest of it seems like a total tack-on, an attempt to link it all to the Cocoon mythology, perhaps even to place it in the same universe. From what I've read that's exactly what happened- the studio meddled with the film and added in all of the sci-fi elements. Interesting what elements they chose to add in.

Then an old friend makes an appearance...

...Gus Grissom.

And there's that magic date- the same date Barack Obama chose to essentially close NASA down and privatize the space race. The same NASA that had such a difficult relationship with Grissom (as does Sheen's character in this film), and who was blamed by Grissom's family for his death. Rumors that Obama ended that January 27 press conference with "Grissom, thou are revenged!" cannot be confirmed at press time.

But how does this all tie back to Ron Howard and Cocoon and all of the rest of it? Howard had no involvement with Beyond the Stars, but he and his favorite leading man Tom Hanks have paid tribute to Grissom in several projects, some you'd expect like Apollo 13 and From the Earth to the Moon, and some that betray a cultish devotion, like the incongruous Grissom appearance in That Thing You Do.

And the Ron Howard/Obama links are by no means trivial- remember that Howard produced and starred in a longform infomercial for Barackobamun's campaign (which has mysteriously vanished from the Internet). Paranormal enthusiast Henry Winkler costarred as an aged Fonzie.

We've looked repeatedly at examples of the Hollywood Grissom cult, but what does the martyred astronaut have to do with ancient astronauts?

Ask the producers of the Ancient Aliens series, which superimposed a picture of Grissom over an ancient statue with frighteningly NASA-like accoutrements. Ask the producers of Star Trek III, in which the name Grissom is repeated like an incantation in a dying-rising astronaut narrative with a powerful demiurge subplot.

Even with the posts about Obama and Grissom, I'd have been predisposed to chalk up the Grissom connections up to Synchronicity if pressed hard enough.

Until this past January 27th, that is.

What began as a kooky hunch is now set in stone - there's something odd going on with this Grissom thing. And seeing it tacked onto Beyond the Stars, which had ancient astronaut theory tacked onto it as well, I can't help but wonder how the space hero fits into the unfolding narrative.

What we're looking at here is a pile of strange connections, all tied into the memes that have been emerging in the past couple of years. We started off looking at a bizarre quasi-Masonic ritual (with a crossdressing subplot, no less) on a TV show that was so bland as to be inert, but still produced two completely incongruous UFO-themed spinoffs (Mork & Mindy and Fonzie and the Happy Days Gang).

Henry Winkler went on to produce a primetime news show about UFOs and the paranormal (Sightings) as well as MacGyver, whose lead went on to star in Stargate SG1. Happy Days creator Garry Marshall played the UFO/Conspiracy nut role in Race to Witch Mountain.

Ron Howard broke through as a director with two films tying directly into this Atlantis/Sirius/Mermaid meme we've been studying, one of which had serious initiate/Mystery undertones. And if that weren't enough Howard's daughter had her own breakthrough playing a mermaid herself in Lady in the Water.

Aside from all of the space-oriented projects Howard's been involved with, he's also the director of the Dan Brown adaptations, which made esoteric symbolism mainstream.

UPDATE: A Scottish rite? Giant metallic mermaid- with four arms- constructed in a suburb of Glasgow. Thanks to an anonymous tipster.

SYNC LOG UPDATE: From the anonymous tipster file: The New York Post chimes in on the mermaid meme, apropos of absolutely nothing:
The red carpet at the 62nd annual awards was awash in mermaids, those sirens in figure-hugging dresses who once lured sailors (and Tom Hanks in “Splash”).
The article goes on to cite non-mermaids like Kim Cardassian, tossing in some loaded symbolism, yet ignoring the blue and gold of the red carpet backdrop:

Kardashian channeled her best Cleopatra in a white Marchesa with a gold jeweled collar. The goddess trend still hangs on for many in Hollywood, including Julie Benz from Dexter,” who looked striking in a one-shoulder Pamella Roland gown with a cut-out circle at the hip.

The best fashion comeback was Tina Fey, who jumped on the mermaid train and finally got it right with the help of Oscar de la Renta.

I did think it interesting that Temple Grandin walked away with the lion's share of the awards...

UPDATE: Reader Deb reminded me that Sheen was in the 1994 HBO movie Roswell, with Twin Peaks' Kyle MacLachlan.



  1. Chris,

    This is so random but I remember the whole Amy Bishop saga and commented on it back when it was still big news here. We have 3 mainstream schools here that are named after Grissom (high school), Chaffee (elementary) and White (middle). What, if anything, do you make of that? As a long time resident of the city of Huntsville I can honestly say that this place is just...a little bit off kilter. Thanks for the excellent writing.


  2. Speaking of NASA, they have just put their photo archive on Flickr commons and released their video collaboration with U2.

    The latter includes (@6:25) U2's satellite conversation with the founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté, on his "Poetic Social Mission" stressing the importance of water to Earth(lings).

    More info (w/tour poster): U2 360 at the Rose Bowl

  3. Speaking of NASA, they have just put their photo archive on Flickr commons and released their video collaboration with U2.

    The latter includes (@6:25) their satellite conversation with the founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté, on his "Poetic Social Mission" stressing the importance of water to Earth(lings).

    More info (w/tour poster): U2 360 at the Rose Bowl (...and mushroom-y stage props!)

  4. Califia- Yeah, doesn't surprise me. And with the Amy Bishop thing, there's a fine line between genius and madness. It wouldn't surprise me that a town filled with rocket scientists would be a little off, to say the least.

    Daniel- And just like I've always said, the toll was now bumped up to 18. Funny, isn't it?

    1218-NASA and U2- it had to happen, right?

    Blogger is being kind of wonky today with the comments- I just pulled a bunch out of the spam folder. As always-creating a Google account ID is always recommended.

  5. Not sure how newsworthy this is, but MSNBC has been running the clip off and on all day: A Fish Named 'Shrek'

  6. Dangerous Curves at the Emmys...

    The red carpet at the 62nd annual awards was awash in mermaids, those sirens in figure-hugging dresses who once lured sailors (and Tom Hanks in “Splash”).

  7. You know, Chris, I have been following this thread about Ron Howard for several articles, and I am having a problem seeing a connection, what am I missing? From what I understand Howard is probably a Methodist, due to his parents, so is he an conscious on unconscious advocate of these Memes?

    Or is there something about the Methodist religion that I really need to look into?

  8. I don't know how his religious upbringing plays into what he believes now. The point of this series is how much weirdness there is to be found in his films and how that conflicts with his public image.