Friday, March 30, 2012

TZ Promo: “The Little People” (3/30/1962)

Season 3, Episode 28 (93 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4822

“Now I know what it feels like to be God!”

That’s Henry Frankenstein (as played by Colin Clive), ecstatically reveling in his successful reanimation of a corpse, in James Whale’s 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. That quote could just as easily have come from The Twilight Zone episode “The Little People,” in which a man assumes the role of god over an entire race of alien beings.

50 years ago tonight, we met Fletcher and Craig, deep space explorers who set down on a rocky planetoid to repair their rocket ship. While Fletcher toils, Craig wanders off and discovers a civilization of tiny people, which he promptly asserts his complete and utter dominance over. The unfortunate titular populace (whom we never see) erect an impressive statue of him to honor him and, when the ship is fixed and ready to depart... well, Craig’s not sure he’s ready to walk away from his new-found deity status.

Serling comes dangerously close to plagiarizing himself in this episode. Craig shows up after several hours of exploring the surroundings, but his canteen is still full. Fletcher gets ready to pound him, forcing him to fess up about his discovery. It’s almost a word-for-word rehash of the same scene from season one’s “I Shot an Arrow into the Air.” Another example of the show parroting itself as it ages.

The episode evokes earlier episodes on a visual level as well. The rocky environment reminds us of multiple episodes shot in and around Death Valley, California (though “The Little People” was shot entirely on a soundstage). The full-sized rocket ship mockup looks familiar to the one used in season one’s “Elegy,” but I’m not convinced it’s the same (a quick review shows that we never see the lower half of the ship in that episode, so who knows?). The uniforms worn by Fletcher and Craig were also worn by Allenby and his crew in season one’s “The Lonely” (coincidentally, one of the Death Valley-shot episodes). And speaking of uniforms…

Forbidden Planet alert! The uniforms worn by the, um, two other guys that show up at the end (I’m trying hard not to spoil it) were worn by the intrepid crew of the United Planets C-57D Space Cruiser in the 1956 film.

Both leads are TZ veterans. Claude Akins previously waggled his disapproving finger in season one’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (in which Earth is invaded by human-looking aliens), while a more sedate Joe Maross co-starred in season one’s “Third from the Sun” (in which human-looking aliens escape their doomed planet TO earth).

The Showtime revival of The Outer Limits in the 90’s (of which I'm NOT a fan, incidentally) blatantly ripped this episode off for its pilot episode “Sandkings,” in which a scientist becomes an overlord of sorts to miniature aliens, who erect sand sculptures in his image (yeah, I’d call that a pretty damned blatant rip off). It was adapted from a 1979 novel by George R.R. Martin, which was much more elaborate (and not nearly as similar to “The Little People”). I’m not holding him responsible here.

“The Little People” is a bit derivative, but it’s still pretty decent, thanks to the fine performances by the leads and cool visuals (a couple of which I’m not discussing, since they’ll ruin the surprise). Not top-tier Zone, but definitely worthwhile.

Next: Heh, speaking of the show parroting itself!

No comments: