Episode Review: 'Microfilm Mystery' by UnpublishedWriter
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Microfilm Mystery
Battle of the Planets, Episode Twenty-Six
Gatchaman Episode #16, The Indestructible Machine Mechanika
DVD and Veoh episode #15


Review/Summary: We have the establishing shot of Center Neptune, and Zark in VO: “Normally, down here in Center Neptune, we are constantly scanning the far reaches of the universe for any sign of intruder (sic) or alien invader.”

And now we see Zark, pacing to his perky theme music. [I admit that I prefer his little flappy cape to the lame pacing animation.] “This is the third time this week that the infratherma computer has malfunctioned, and I can’t make my regular checks on outer space until it’s repaired.” [Ah, so Galaxy Security has the same procurement problems as other government agencies. Definitely time to review that contract with Quanto Tobor – or whoever supplies the computers. Perhaps send G2 to deliver the complaint in person.]

Then a sudden change of tone as Zark faces the audience. “I wonder when my new robot assistant will be finished and sent over to me. He should make everything run much smoother and easier.” Now he’s at his default console. “I think I’ll switch on my telecom monitors and see how work is coming along on him. I’ll go right to the delivery room, in the pediatric ward of the Robot Clinic and Laboratory.”

[Pediatric ward?

[Pediatric ward?

[Time to break out the little cups for the scriptwriters again, and for Mr. Jones to monitor their samples. I’m getting my cookies. I have some, this time.]

And now to Gatchaman footage of a factory complex. “This is the same wonderful laboratory where I was born,” Zark cheerfully tells us. “Well, robots aren’t ‘born’, exactly,” he admits, “but when I see the place where I was put together, I always get a feeling of – roots.” [Bleargh.]

Zark keeps on talking, over scenes of a completely automated factory in action. “Scientists are developing my new top-secret assistant, called Metamorphosis One. This new computerized robot has a multiple transformer that operates at liquid helium temperatures.” [Been a while since I took the classes, but that makes no sense. Transformers have only one purpose: to step voltage up or down. Why would this robot need a transformer that operated at such temperatures? Did Zark just describe the cooling system? How hot does something get if it needs liquid helium to cool it?] “It will be the master computer for all of Center Neptune’s computers – and my assistant as well.” [Zark, your ‘assistant’ will make you redundant, if not obsolete. You’re headed for the bin.]

“Technology has certainly advanced since I was produced,” Zark continues, then proudly adds. “Of course, I was hand-crafted.” [Shall we pause to wonder what happened to the people who built Zark?] “Today, everything is just machine-made. They don’t have ‘Custom Made’ stamped on their backs like I do.” [Okay, and now that you have managed to insult artisans everywhere with your very existence, Zark, can we get on with it?]

More factory montage. “It shouldn’t take much longer to develop the Meta-1. They even have robots building robots now. That gives me a feeling of added confidence.” And here, I thought Zark didn’t like all that automation. [This episode aired before most automotive assembly lines became completely automated. And the animation itself shows the old idea of robots simply replacing humans at the controls of various machines, rather than the machines themselves being the robots as it is today.]

Cut to Zoltar and the Luminous One. [I neglected to comment on this before, but it looks like our favorite masked villain is either coming up out of the floor, or has been crouching behind equipment and then stands up to face the Almighty Butane.]

“Oh, Luminous One, how may I serve your diabolical will?” As always, Keye Luke makes Zoltar’s dialogue awesome (even when it’s sort of dorky).

“The Earthlings are developing a new computer, called the Metamorphosis, which could be invaluable to Spectra. I want it. It contains microfilm blueprints to all of Center Neptune’s computers.” [Microfilm. The technology of the 1970s. Time and technology have marched on.] “Do not fail me, Zoltar.”

Zoltar bows and says, “No, Master.” [Acknowledgement that, whatever everyone else thinks, Zoltar is not the real power on Spectra.]

And now to – an alien? He has a black-and-white mask or eagle-head with two downward angled horns, and is wearing a rather stylish red-brown coat. He is far too excited to get the call from Zoltar. All the wrong sort of excited. It’s the call he’s been waiting for. His moment of triumph is at hand.

Zoltar orders him to ‘Initiate electronic takeover.’

Which, in modern terms, means they hack into the computer systems at the factory. In the terms of those days, a bit of technobabble, and shots of goons handling equipment that will take over Earth’s robots. Yep, if we are to believe the line, they’re targeting all of Earth’s robots.

Well, something happens at the factory. With all the good parts edited out. The few humans there are amazed that the robots are attacking the factory.

And then one of the buildings collapses, and a mecha that looks like a large, frilled lizard emerges. [That was to be Zark’s assistant? It would never fit inside Center Neptune. Definitely the result of government contracting. That, or the scriptwriters just hoped nobody would notice the scale problems.]

Out of the sky comes a flying saucer thing. We all know that there are no little grey proctologists aboard.

Yep: out of the bottom comes a little flying platform, piloted by Zoltar. And you just know that people will be later wishing there had been a sniper in the area.

Now, Zoltar’s voice is here done in that way that says ‘Internal monologue,’ but his body language is that of someone announcing his evil plans to the world. Guess some people can’t stop the dramatic flourishes, even when alone in their heads.

And the mecha seems to be giving him this nasty sidelong look, as if to say, “Get out of here, or I’ll eat you.”

His plan: to use the information in Meta-1 to reprogram all of Center Neptune’s computers with false information, and force Earth to surrender to its own technology. [Nowadays, that line would be about viruses and worms.]

And the entire attack occurred without a Zarkover. Amazing.

And now cut to Mark’s little plane, as Zark calls G-Force with a Red Alert. His summary: the robot lab was ‘broken into.’ [More like ‘broken out of.’ Is this a Spectra mech that sneaked in, or is it actually Meta-1]

They arrive in time to be rather calmly mocked by Zoltar. He asks how they like his new pet, and thanks them for the use of their new computers. It should fit nicely into Spectra’s long range plans.

Mark flies in, and for some reason, does not take out Zoltar with his plane’s weaponry.

Pissed, Zoltar enters the mecha and starts it up.

Nobody on G-Force shoots so much as a rubber band at the thing.

Time for some re-used footage of the team being picked up by Tiny.

Zark starts talking again. “I hope G-Force can come up with a plan to recover the Meta-1 computer, and the microfilm blueprints. If Zoltar can control our computers, his first total wipe-out may be – me!” [Whatever happened to the inventor of all of G-Force’s equipment and controller of their transformations? Now he needs G-Force to help him?]

The mecha approaches a highway cloverleaf. Next thing we know, it’s on the highway. Zoltar comments that it’s time to change his modus operandi, and pulls a rather bulky cassette from somewhere on his person, then inserts it into a slot on the control panel. (So, is this a Spectra mecha, or did they highjack Zark’s new assistant? I still can’t figure it out.)

At any rate, the mecha reconfigures into something resembling a caterpillar with a lizard tail, and starts breaking every traffic law in the book. Unlike the G-Force transformations, but like every other mecha, reconfiguring means that the legs and other parts retract or fold down while side-plating and other parts move into new positions.

Mark, in VO, tells someone to alert the city. The mecha is heading south on State 3, towards Forest Grove. He’ll keep track of its position.

As he rolls down the highway, Zoltar gloats that G-Force can’t attack because he’s jammed all their computers.

When the mecha approaches a tunnel, he installs another cassette, so that it reconfigures itself to fit inside.

Mark orders Tiny to turn on the ‘parabolic range-finder’ and not to lose track of the mecha. Princess reminds the audience of what Zoltar just told us: the computers are jammed. [I’ll let that slide. In 1978, computers were still huge, bulky things that took up space and used either magnetic tape or punch-cards. Most viewers didn’t know much about them, and neither did scriptwriters.] Jason, Mr. Direct, wants to just bust on into the tunnel and jam Zoltar.

Keyop volunteers to go into the tunnel. Tiny asks him what chance he’d have against the mecha. The kid’s rationale: ‘Teeny-weeny.’ Jason and Mark agree that Keyop might have chance against it. They’ll return to Center Neptune for the computer repair. (Okay, so they’re sending a boy after the mecha because he’s small? The dang thing rolled into a roadway tunnel, not a drainage ditch!)

It’s now evening, and Keyop is taking cover behind a tree. When he knows it’s safe, he heads for the tunnel and goes inside.

Night at Camp Parker. Anderson is again forced by the scriptwriter into his role as repeater of plot points: Zoltar used the Metamorphosizer One to reprogram the robots at the factory, and plans to sabotage all their computers, maybe even Zark. Then he gets to actually advance the plot when he holds up a cassette [ah, the 1970s], and tells G-Force that the only way to stop him is to reprogram the M-1 [I’m not spelling that again, so soon] with a ‘microfilm neutralizer’. (And for once, we can’t blame the Sandy Frank people for a bad bit of animation: the original really screwed up the perspective of his right arm, making his right hand ginormous.)

Mark asks how it works. Anderson says it will erase programs Zoltar now has on the microfilm in the you-know-what. [How many takes were required to get that name right?] Princess says that it’s up to them to get the microfilm back. Anderson adds that they must do it before Zoltar reprograms all of their computers. Hope that Keyop has located the base, so they know where the microfilm is.

I think there was a commercial break, because we’re back to Zark in his nerve center. Still having computer problems. Zoltar has scrambled all the automated systems.

Suddenly, his cape starts flapping, and he flies backwards. This upsets him greatly, as he did not intend to fly (never mind backwards).

1-Rover-1 spins his tail and flies backwards. Worried, Zark asks him to do his tricks. Of course, he can’t follow commands. Zark is quite worried. They’re in bad shape. It’s all up to Keyop.

[Zoltar, now would be a good time to launch an invasion.]

Inside the Spectra base, Keyop slinks down a deserted corridor. A door activates, and he enters an empty room. He finds a console below a screen, and presses a few controls.

Next shot is a roomful of Spectra goons cheering as the Metamorphosizer One wrecks the lab. I can’t tell if that means that movie night is pretty lame, or if they just get off on watching their own mecha in action. They’re all thrilled, and confident they’ll conquer Earth this time.

Right. Hasn’t worked the last 20+ times. Why should it work now?

Now to a scene of the mecha attacking another facility. This time, it sucks up a lot of metal and other materials. Mark’s plane cuts across the foreground of one shot. He calls Zark and says Zoltar returned to the computer lab. Our favorite flying egg says he’s stealing all the computer parts. Zoltar must be planning to build more of these things. And no, he hasn’t heard from Keyop. Although it might be the damage Zoltar has done him.

Back to the Spectra base. Keyop had entered yet another room, filled with reddish containers of some sort. He finds a rack of long guns and takes one from it.

Then he’s laying a trail of gunpowder, and we see that the containers are drums (of more gunpowder?). He lights the fuse, a brief edit occurs, there’s an explosion and lots of alarms.

The eagle-headed Captain of the Episode says there’s an intruder and to be on guard. Next, a shot of lots of guards running around.

A room full of old-fashioned drafting boards, and Keyop messing with some sort of mounted camera device. What looks like a roll of 35mm film falls out of it, and he realizes it’s microfilm.

One bad edit, and Keyop’s rushing out of a room and down a corridor, as if he’s being chased. Which he is, as we see more goons, this time trying to catch him. He takes out a couple with his bolos, and we can tell there had to have been more to all this.

Back to Camp Parker. Zark is fretting in VO because nothing’s been fixed and Keyop hasn’t been heard from. G-Force is looking pretty dejected.

Then the door opens and Keyop staggers inside before collapsing. Princess goes to him while the others look on. He burbles the word ‘microfilm’, and the roll falls from his hand.

Anderson picks up the roll and asks where he got it. Keyop makes a few noises and ‘Spectra base.’ [I hope that was written just to fill in the time. Otherwise, Anderson looks stupid. We just saw Keyop in the base.]

In a reversion to his Mr. Plot Point default, Anderson says the film must contain the blueprints for the you-know-what. [Really, how many times did Alan Dinehart stumble over ‘Metamorphosizer’?] Good work, Keyop. Which thrills the youngest member of the team.

Zoltar is pissed. How did one small person sneak past everyone? Get the microfilm back immediately. (And he’s holding a something or other that looks a bit like a pointer, but might be the Spectran version of a riding crop. Ouch. I think he rather liked Madame Dumaine’s whip.)

Back to Anderson and G-Force. He has a cassette, and says that Zark designed this new tape to neutralize and shut down the enemy mecha. [This is the same Zark who’s been hacked by Zoltar? Maybe it would have been a better idea to contact that pimple-faced kid still living in his parents’ basement?] More repetition of plot points because of unimaginative screenwriters working under pressure.

Mark takes it and says he just has to get inside the mecha and pop it into the computer. [And you know it was Casey Kasem’s turn to manage that tongue-twister.]

I’ll skip some cheesy lines.

The mecha is in caterpillar mode, and going somewhere at high speed, the Phoenix following.

So Zoltar whips out another cassette. He may not have the stolen microfilm, but he can still destroy G-Force.

Now the mecha sports artillery and starts shooting. From the ‘antennae’ on its ‘head’ come energy beams of some sort. Tiny dodges it all, and keeps overhead.

Mark’s looking for his chance to get inside the mecha.

The mecha approaches the ocean. Another tape, and it changes again (although we don’t see into what).

And Mark sees his chance in a section of the mecha that opens up briefly during the change.

Jason tells him to sing out if he needs any help.

Okay, someone did not edit this properly. Zoltar again uses another tape, and the mecha takes on the configuration of a large skate or ray. What happened just few minutes ago?

It also fires more energy-beams, which Tiny dodges.

Mark launches from the Phoenix, and glides down through the breach in the hull.

He confronts Zoltar in the control room. Zoltar has a gun, but Mark disarms him with his sonic boomerang. There follows an edited fight. We have some faux suspense as Zoltar gets Mark in a headlock, as Mark struggles to reach the slot for the tape. Of course, Mark succeeds. Then he turns around and says, “In the name of the Federation of Peaceful Planets, I’m arresting you for crimes against the galaxy.” [And here I thought it was the Intergalactic Federation, and my grown-up self finds that whole ‘Peaceful Planets’ thing reminiscent of the delusions of totalitarian states.]

Mark should have spent less time talking. Zoltar leaps out a handy opening and onto his little flying platform.

For plot reasons, nobody chases him. (I can see where the Phoenix might be too large to easily pursue a small, maneuverable craft, but what about Keyop’s buggy or Mark’s plane?)

And then, suddenly, we’re at an amusement park. Zark in VO is telling us that Zoltar’s spaceship is now a very nice amusement park.

Once again, we can’t end an episode where it should.

Nope. Now we have Zark, wearing his sweater, going up his tube to his ready room. He could use a 10-second oil break after all that stress. Thank goodness his circuits are all straightened out.

Once in his ready room, he comments that Zoltar completely ruined the robot assistant he was going to get. But then, there’s probably too much emphasis on creating bigger and more complicated hardware.

He reclines, and I still wonder where those sneakers came from. They certainly don’t fit Zark.

Susan calls. Antenna erection for Zark. She’s back to normal, and it’s good to know that he’s the same way. [And that’s it for the flirties this time around. Whew!] Then Zark wonders why he’d want a new assistant when he ‘already has one like that?’ [Oh, let’s see: how about so you don’t get all distracted and have antenna sproing at inappropriate moments?]

Fic Alert: Woo-hoo! Early version of hacking! Who wants to retcon it?

Science question: What would it have taken to hack computers in 1978? (There was an episode of Hawaii Five-O that had that plot. The bad guy used a piece of stolen tech to hack the phone company, if I remember.)

Bizarreness alert: A robot factory has a pediatric wing?

Gatchaman plot: The ISO has devised a fully automated factory. Since the episode was made in about 1972, ‘automated’ means that the tools used by humans are now used by robots (rather than the tools themselves being computer-controlled). Berg Katse’s latest world-takeover scheme involves taking over the factory to build the titular Mechanika. Which he does.

Since the Science Ninja Team lacks weapons at this time, they can’t do much against Katse and his mecha except to follow him (although Ken does buzz him with his plane). For this episode to work, all the adolescent characters carry the idiot ball. Even though they saw the mecha transform from lizard-shape to caterpillar-shape, it does not occur to them that it might take on yet another form. So, when it reconfigures to enter the tunnel, they can’t find it. Then they all dismiss 10-year-old Jinpei’s assertion that it entered the tunnel.

They head back to Dr. Nambu’s villa (although Jinpei stays behind to prove his point). Over a pile of robot parts, the doctor ruefully admits that Galactor got them good. He’s pissed. As for the transformations, Galactor has found a way to build a self-modifying machine. It doesn’t transform the way the SNT vehicles do. He thinks they use microfilmed blueprints in a cassette. When Joe wants to use his favorite weapon (Bird Missiles), Nambu says Mechanika is built of a metal the missiles can’t damage. They have to get the microfilm so that he can reprogram Mechanika.

Meanwhile, Jinpei finds the Galactor base. He finds and steals the microfilm, and destroys the base (although Mechanika escapes). Then he staggers to Nambu’s villa with his prize, proving that he was right about where Mechanika had hidden.

(The peeved Katse sentences the goons and captain to hard labor at the Arctic base.)

Nambu successfully creates a different set of plans, and the BotP episode pretty much follows the plot. Chasing, fighting, and the successful transformation of Mechanika into something. The imagery does suggest it became elements of an amusement park. Narration says it’s being used for world peace.
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