From the very beginning, we have struggled to understand time, matter and the infinite universe; who we are, where we are headed, and if we are alone. Great minds ? and some of the genre?s most legendary writers and direct... more »ors ? have now imagined the most wonderful and terrifying answers to these questions. Join host Professor Stephen Hawking for these six expeditions into the outer realms of scientific imagination, starring such award-winning actors as Sam Waterston, Judy Davis, Anne Heche, Malcolm McDowell, Clifton Collins Jr., Terry O?Quinn, Elisabeth Röhm, John Hurt, Sean Astin, James Denton, Brian Dennehy, James Cromwell and more.This collection features all six episodes of the acclaimed series, including the two ?lost? episodes ? Little Brother and Watchbird ? never broadcast during its original network run.« less
Your basic Sci-Fi anthology series, perhaps a smidge better.
Monty Moonlight | TX | 09/17/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I personally abandoned the major networks some time ago, I suspect around when just about every show they put on seemed to be sex obsessed. I have since only gone back to catch new episodes of "Heroes". So, it's no surprise that the short-lived "Masters of Science Fiction" series came and went on ABC without my ever even knowing about it. I was aware of the more popular "Masters of Horror" series from Showtime, even though I don't even have Showtime, but then I'm a bit more into the horror genre and love horror anthologies. One thing that puts me off of Sci-Fi anthologies a bit is that they tend to always be about aliens, bleak futures, and robots. Rarely anything else.
"Masters of Science Fiction", in all of its six episodes, doesn't deviate from that, and it also is high on making political and social statements. That's pretty common in sci-fi, but it does get a bit old, especially in a world where the political statements on television are getting as monotonous as the sex. Still, over all, this very "Outer Limits" TV series is about as good as can be expected. Some episodes are better than others. Oddly, the two episodes I found to be the most enjoyable are the two that never aired on American television, "Little Brother" and "Watchbird". Here is a breakdown of the 6, 44-minute episodes you get in this complete series, 2-disc DVD set (with zero extras):
"A Clean Escape" (Story Author: John Kessel, Director: Mark Rydell): A dying doctor's patient cannot remember the past 25 years of his life; 25 years in which the world has been changed greatly as a result of his actions. This one is a little slow and a bit too "in your face" with its political statement.
"The Awakening" (Story Author: Howard Fast, Director: Michael Petroni): A strange visitor to Earth brings forth an ultimatum that could cause the leaders of the world to reach an understanding with or completely destroy each other. This second episode is probably even more in your face with the political statement, but it's more exciting than Clean Escape (which probably could have worked better as a 22 minute program). Starting the series with its two most blatantly political episodes was probably not the best idea.
"Jerry Was a Man" (Story Author: Robert A. Heinlein, Director: Michael Tolkin): A more lighthearted episode, this futuristic story presents a bored rich couple who take in some unusual "pets". One of them is a man-made humanoid that was marked for destruction. The rich woman who now controls his fate soon becomes determined to defend his rights as a "human being". This episode was pretty fun, but could have been better if "Jerry" had been more likable. He was rather annoying with his constant requests for candy and cigarettes.
"The Discarded" (Story Author: Harlan Ellison, Director: Jonathan Frakes): An odd collection of diseased freaks exiled from Earth travels through space in search of a new home and is suddenly presented with an offer to return. Yet another I would rather have seen in 22 minutes than 44. This one really drags and I didn't find it that entertaining. Perhaps it's just too much of a downer throughout. Boasts a fine cast though. John Hurt and Brian Dennehy are in this one.
"Little Brother" (Story Author: Walter Mosley, Director: Darnell Martin): A man trying to escape the confines of the lower levels of urban development finds himself on trial for a murder that was clearly not his fault. However, the judge, jury, and executioner of this future world are not human and lack the willingness to weigh the facts fairly. One of the better episodes, in my opinion.
"Watchbird" (Story Author: Robert Sheckley, Director: Harold Becker): A young inventor creates the weapons system of tomorrow in a fleet of mechanical birds designed to take out a killer before he strikes. Things get out of hand though, when the government wants to put the birds, designed for war combat, over the streets of the U.S. to protect the citizens. I found this to be, hands down, the best episode of the series. It's the only one that didn't feel it was dragging at any point. A genuinely good episode.
When all is said and done, "Masters of Science Fiction" really is about the same as any other sci-fi anthology show. Perhaps a smidge better, because there were more episodes about the future of mankind than about aliens. If you like that sort of thing, you'll like this. Of course, it's an anthology, so even at just six episodes it is hit and miss. Still, it's probably better than anything else that's been on ABC for a long time.
Masters of Agitprop
Michael R Gates | Nampa, ID United States | 11/10/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The idea behind MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION is, on the surface, a good one: Draw from some of the best literature of the genre, commission scripts from some of the best screenwriters in the genre, and turn those scripts over to some talented filmmakers. Good idea, true, but just as with Dr Frankenstein's infamous experiment, the stitching together of these various parts has produced a horrible monster.
Instead of delivering thought-provoking, cutting-edge speculative SF or subtle cautionary tales wrapped in the trappings of SF, these "Masters" of Science Fiction offer up ham-fisted, blatantly biased socio-political sermons. What's more, they can't even keep their politics straight, with at least one of the episodes (to wit, "The Awakening") preaching the spiritual beliefs of the Religious Right at the same time that it stands on the complete-disarmament soapbox of the ultra-left. That's a stitched-up wreck of a Frankenstein monster if there ever was one!
Now, lest you accuse this reviewer of being politically biased, let me state right now that I am a dyed-in-the wool liberal and actually agree with some of the political stances presented in this show. But I've also been a fan of SF practically since birth, and I can certainly appreciate a dystopian cautionary tale. Indeed, two of my favorite SF novels are George Orwell's NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and Ayn Rand's ANTHEM, one of which was written by a disillusioned socialist and the other by a staunch laissez-faire capitalist. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean that I want to watch a science-fiction TV series where every episode is little more than an anti-American political statement. And frankly, that's what each of the six episodes of MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION amounts to--40 minutes of ideological propaganda.
On the plus side, the technical skills that went into this short-lived series are outstanding. For example, the performances from the likes of greats like Sam Waterston, Terry O'Quinn, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, and many others are superb. Also, the make-up FX for episodes like "The Discarded," a story that centers on a society of genetic mutants, far surpass those of most made-for-TV SF shows. And the special FX for all the episodes are very well done, with even the nowadays-ubiquitous CGI being used to good effect. Sadly, these positive aspects of the show are too greatly diminished by the in-your-face politics of the writers and directors.
The idea behind this series is a good one: Take the best talents from the genre and use them as the foundation for a TV series. As a matter of fact, the same idea was employed on the earlier series MASTERS OF HORROR, and that show had a successful two-year run on cable and experienced phenomenal DVD sales. Unfortunately, when the same producers--Mick Garris, Keith Addis, and Ben Browning, to name a few--applied their idea to a science-fiction series, they let their politics get in the way, and the result is merely a batch of 40-minute agitprop films that are poorly disguised in the trappings of SF. It's really no surprise, then, that MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION lasted for a scant six episodes, and it's almost laughable that the creators of this travesty actually expect people to pay for the-- ahem!--"privilege" of watching it on DVD."
Lorraine Ochoa | Somewhere in the United States | 08/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whilst skipping through the usual summer rerun fare last July, I happened upon this program in time to see the Harlan Ellison novella made 'live'. I was stunned by how beautifully made this episode was and it sticks with me still, and then I never managed to see another episode. I was so disappointed to see that it didn't last, though I wasn't at all surprised. The network spent nothing on advertising and missed out on what could have been a huge audience; I had hoped that perhaps it would reappear this summer for a few more stories, but no, it was obviously too complex for the network execs to comprehend.
Basically, I loved it."
Not masterful, but will have appeal for some
Sanpete | in Utah | 09/06/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Masters of Science Fiction was a series produced for ABC that sought to capture some of the magic of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Of the six one-hour episodes made (under 45 minutes without the ads), all included here, only four were shown. The series was arguably not given a chance, as it was aired on Saturday nights in August, not a great time slot.
Some of the concepts are interesting and promising, and there are some top-notch actors, but I still didn't enjoy these much. On the whole the writing is superficial, the logic weak, and the atmospherics that might make up for that are only so-so. I only enjoyed one of the six episodes enough to say I liked it.
The first episode has a nice basic idea to work with, revealed bit by bit in a way that makes much description of the plot too much of a spoiler. Judy Davis plays a psychotherapist who has a patient (Sam Waterston) with a condition she is very anxious to cure, for reasons that are only made clear later. Sadly, some of it doesn't quite add up or is only tenuously credible, and the exposition is clumsy. I thought Waterston seemed oddly hammy and fake, though maybe he thought that suited the character. Davis has a compelling screen presence.
The second episode takes place in the very near future. Alien creatures appear on earth and (without giving too much away) do stuff that it seems they should have done long before. The way this happens is fairly arbitrary. I liked Terry O'Quinn in this episode, in a measured performance that brought some subtlety of character at least.
Both the first two episodes, and most of the others too, fail to be very subtle about the rather simplistic principles we're supposed to draw from them.
The episode I enjoyed is the third one, "Jerry Was a Man," based on a short story by Robert Heinlein. Part of the enjoyment was sheer comic relief from the first two episodes, both rather Serious and a bit preachy. This is the only one of the six that's primarily comedic, though serious ideas are dealt with. Jerry is a genetically engineered android who was originally designed to sweep minefields (in about the least efficient way possible), but who has been working as a janitor lately and is about to be turned into puppy chow. A very wealthy woman (Anne Heche) takes a fancy to him and undertakes to save him, eventually by trying to prove he's a human. The intriguing tag line that is spoken by Stephen Hawking at the end is, "What makes us human may one day be defined not by the gifts we possess but by the virtues we lack." Malcolm McDowell is particularly good as the genetic engineer.
Series host Stephen Hawking, by the way, has very little to do in this series. He says a line at the beginning and end of each piece. The lines generally don't quite work like Rod Serling's comments for The Twilight Zone. I doubt very much that Hawking wrote them.
Episode 4 concerns a group of people rejected from Earth because of various unpleasant mutations and sent to wander the solar system in search of a home. They're approached by a representative from Earth with a deal to take them back. The drama is fairly thin and the results are highly predictable. John Hurt and Brian Dennehy are fine, and the make-up artists had a great time with the mutations, including a fairly well done second, smaller head on John Hurt. There are a couple surprisingly if still only mildly brutal touches in that episode.
The fifth episode is similar in several ways to Robocop, but with small eagle-like flying "Watchbirds" as the peacekeeping machines, and a kind of wireless human-machine interface instead of flesh and machine joined directly. The machines start off well and then problems come up as they're tied up in politics. It lacks Robcop's high-powered action and is only briefly and mildly violent. It also lacks the clever, polished script. The acting is fairly good. This one is the second best of the group for me.
The final episode has elements of 1984, done in a pale Terry Gilliam (Brazil) style. An underground worker escapes, is accused of murder, and fights with his mind against a partly human machine that constitutes his judge, defense counsel, and jury. The things that cause trouble for the machine are so elementary as to lack much credibility or interest, and the ending is sheer Hollywood.
The production values for the series are on the high side of what would be expected for a TV series. With all of the episodes, there are some interesting or enjoyable points. I can see why some people enjoyed them. But viewers inclined to be picky or critical about their science fiction should probably look elsewhere."
Night Gallery meets The Outer Limits
Shelley Gammon | Kaufman, Texas USA | 04/05/2010
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This short-lived series had a lot going for it, in theory, even though there is nothing about the title of the series that is intriguing. Each episode is 'hosted' by Stephen Hawking.. but you don't really see him w/ the exception of a very quick slide/drive-by of a still image during the opening credits. His voice - or rather the familiar voice of his computer comments at the intro and outro of each episode.
Like the dark series, Night Gallery and its sometimes 'lighter,' older cousin, "The Twilight Zone," - the episodes are non-contiguous. This is a series of individual shows that are not connected to each other. What they have in common is that they are star-studded, well written, well-acted and they all involve sci-fi.
Even though they are well written, I must say there wasn't an episode that blew me away in originality, though. They seemed like re-hashed stories, if not a hodgepodge of two or more plots from other sci-fi movies/shows I've seen over the years.
In "The Awakening," genderless beings come to earth to force an ultimatum that the various countries stand down militarily. Very reminiscent of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" ... albeit with its own unique twist - no Gort and it's hinted that the aliens may indeed be angelic.
In the episode, "Jerry Was a Man," a "Joe," a genetically altered human and plastic creation has someone attempt to 'defend' him in his right to be man and for his personhood. This is very reminiscent of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode, "The Offspring," in which man-made character/android, Data has his rights challenged as to whether he is an officer in Starfleet or merely their property. I did love the miniature elephant, though... I definitely want one of those as soon as they become available.
"The Discarded" was highly reminiscent of both the movie "Total Recall" and episodes featuring the Vidiians that harvest organs to stave off the disease that is mutating their people.
"Little Brother" reminds me of a combination of a few Star Trek episodes where Kirk befuddles a computer and "Logan's Run."
I could go on for quite a bit, and in detail, how these shows remind me of other stories I've already seen, but the episodes are highly enjoyable in their own right. And, as stated earlier, they are very well acted. They obviously had a generous budget for the special effects - at no time are you thinking anything is cheesy as far as acting or CGI.
The DVD loses a star due to the forced trailers when you pop the disc in. When you own a DVD, you should not be forced to watch 10 minutes of trailers each time you insert the disc. When I popped in the disc for the first time - there was no intro telling me this was a trailer and I couldn't get to the menu. I wasn't even sure what was going on at first, because the trailer was for a very campy apocalyptic movie from the 1970s (replete with Elvis sideburns and giant afros) that lasted FOREVER, then it was followed by an equally lengthy and cheesy 1970s trailer, then a trailer for an animated character named "Chode." Finally, after about 10 minutes, you get access to a menu. Subtitles are an option, and you can watch just one episode or the whole disc.
This is a 2-disc set in decent packaging. The series loses another couple of stars because of the liberal political bent in every episode. I can usually blow off the political underpinnings of various shows I watch - they're products of Hollywood and I expect to be preached to by the Liberal left at every opportunity - but the bent was so obvious in each episode, it induced eye-rolling. Not a good way to start your viewing experience or anticipate the sci-fi within. It would be entirely possible to write these stories in a way that was not so biased and judgmental without losing the impact of the sci-fi story at hand - but clearly that was not the choice of the directors and writers. By golly, you're gonna like it, if we've gotta shove this down your throats!
I don't mind if the story engages my thought processes to the point where my thinking leans left - but I don't care to be preached to when I am only wanting to enjoy some sci-fi.
Two stars are easily won by the superb special effects and make-up. The re-hashed preachfests, however - plus forced trailers at the beginning knock off 3 stars."