East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


La Brigade des maléfices

A French take on the X-Files twenty-odd years before the X-Files, I first saw La Brigade des maléfices in the late ’70s, on some low-rent local TV station. There were only six 55-minutes episodes of the series, and as a kid of ten or twelve I found it weird, baffling, and French. But I was thinking about it this last weekend, and I decided to do a little research on my own.

The basic premise of La Brigade des maléfices (more or less The Sorcery Brigade): there is a secret department in the French police system, that takes care of occult and supernatural events. Underfunded and derided by the colleagues, Inspecteur Guillaume Martin Paumier is an eccentric that occupies an attic in the Paris police headquarters. He can rely only on one assistant, Albert.

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Back to the Gold Monkey

Tales of the Gold Monkey

Tales of the Gold Monkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said already, we’ve got very little pulp on the telly, these days.
So I went back to the old DVD collection, and dusted off my copy of Tales of the Gold Monkey.

For those who missed it, Tales of the Gold Monkey was a short-lived series, produced in 1982 (yes, thirty years ago) by Donald P. Bellisario, of Magnum P.I., Quantum Leap and JAG (among others) fame.

The show features a lot of stuff – this is somewhat a standard in pulp-themed material, and as I mentioned before, it is not really a bad thing.
But more on that later.

The set-up: we’re somewhere in the late 1930s on the island of Bora Gora, out in the Pacific. Here, former Flying Tiger Jack Cutter (Stephen Collins) is a bush pilot and all-around adventurer, trying to make ends meet.
In the pilot episode, he gets to save a plucky USA OSS agent (Caitlin O’Heaney), and recover a golden idol from an island inhabited by aggressive big apes and neolithic natives.
Nice and smooth.
The mix also includes Jack’s alcoholic mechanic, his one-eyed dog, a French guy managing a bar in the jungle, a false priest that’s actually a Nazi and a bad & sexy (well, bad & sexy for 1980s TV standards) Dragon Lady with a samurai for a bodyguard.

Quite a nice set-up, all things considered.
And one that was refreshingly different, in 1982 – and yet also familiar… as in Indiana Jones-style familiar.

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The (pulp) Lost World

There’s precious little pulp on TV these days – and in the past it was not better.
But sometimes I get lucky.

936full-the-lost-world-photoSummer has brought back to the Italian airwaves The Lost World, and I am a happy viewer again.

Now, I know many that do not like the series – not to the point of despising it, but let’s say it is not high in their appreciation where fantasy shows are concerned.
I’ll get to the main objection I registered later, because it is interesting.

Now, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (that’s the complete title) is an Australian/Canadian show which takes its lead from the classic novel, and soon ditches most of the Conan Doyle plot and develops as a dinosaur-infested, lost-civilizations-laced, weird-science-loaded feast of pulpy goodness.

The basic premise – a band of heroes gets trapped on a plateau in South America, a lost world filled with… yeah, dinosaurs, monsters, lost cities, mysterious strangers, weird civilizations, relics from other times, crashed aliens, magic…
There’s even an access to the Hollow Earth!

The writing is fairly good, the effects are cheap but fun, the cast is competent, and adequate to the over-the-top premises of many an episode.
The main characters are a fine sample of pulp clichés…

. omni-competent scientist
. fearless big game hunter
. two fisted journalist
. unreliable femme fatale*
. fierce jungle queen*

Earlier seasons feature a second scientist character (as per original novel), sparking scientific and philosophical debate, acting avuncular and more importantly allowing the screenwriters to split the team.

And I’d welcome such a team at my gaming table, as it is the kind of ensemble which just sparks off stories: such a bunch of individuals would turn a jaunt down at the supermarket for snacks into an adventure.

tumblr_menwbumk7U1qzr8nao1_500Some of the recurring elements in the series are also highly entertaining.
There’s a civilization of lizard-men mimicking the Roman Empire.
There’s the afore-mentioned access to the Hollow Earth.
There’s the growing idea (actually turned into a solid plot element in the later seasons of the series) that the lost world plateau is sort of a time-distortion crossroads.

And then there’s everything else – including the kitchen sink.
Which is where many friends of mine start groaning.
There’s too much stuff, they say.
C’mon – dinosaurs today, aliens last week, yet another lost civilization next week…
How comes the science guy is able to build almost any kind of gadget, and yet he can’t telegraph home for rescue?
How comes they never run out of ammo?
How comes the women are always gorgeous, the guys alway handsome and athletic?

And yet, that is exactly what I like – because it’s in line with the classics.
Well, my kind of classics, anyway.
If it was good enough for Tarzan, or Doc Savage, why shouldn’t it be fine for a team of adventurers trapped on a plateau in South America, surrounded by dinos and weirdness?
Are we really counting shots and dissecting dinosaurs for plausibility?

All in all, to me, The Lost World remains a competent, fun, lightweight fantasy show – with some hidden gems lost among the many episodes.
Maybe it’s a guilty pleasure – but it is a pleasure indeed.

* Yes, I know there’s no femme fatales or jungle queens in Conan Doyle. There should be.

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