Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: Jonny Quest & Aliens on Spring Break

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, July 30, 2019 01:02pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month's Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases.

Jonny Quest, The Complete Original Series, Warner Archive:
In my opinion this is the best Saturday morning cartoon ever made and the greatest achievement of Johnny QuestHanna-Barbera Productions. I can already hear the angry cries of the naysayers: "But The Flintstones! The Jetsons!" I'm not belittling either of those shows, they are iconic entries in the history of cartoons and basically set the standard for funny cartoons. But Jonny Quest has levels of sophistication that neither of them has and was literally developed to be better than those two shows. Hanna-Barbera created Jonny Quest to deal with their own success. In the early to mid-1960s, The Flintstones and The Jetsons ruled the Saturday morning airwaves to the point where within a year or two every other competing cartoon show was drawn to look as near as possible to them. Hanna-Barbera basically flooded their own market and needed to come up with something stunningly new and different to stand out from the flooded marketplace that they themselves had created. So they turned away from the omnipresent humor shows and made an action/adventure series instead.

To spearhead this effort, they brought in the incredibly multi-talented Doug Wildey, an illustrator who had long worked in the comic book industry. Wildey truly understood the action/adventure genre and brought with him a bunch of his gifted comic artist friends to work on the Jonny Quest project. The end result is arguably the best action/adventure kid show ever made. Jonny Quest just fires on all levels: the artwork, the stories, the theme music, the voice actors, the designs...this show had it all and set the standard by which future cartoons would be measured by. The series told the story of a boy named Jonny Quest who had adventures with his government research scientist father, Doctor Benton Quest. Race Bannon was a secret agent assigned to be their bodyguard but ended up basically being a family member. In the course of their travels they adopt an orphaned Indian boy named Hadji. This was a real boys' club show; there was no mother or any women in the central cast, which has often caused me to comment that Jonny Quest was the first show about gay parenting.

Certain episodes are just iconic. Like one story called "The Robot Spy" where a UFO lands near Doctor Quest's lab. Inside is a gigantic metal eyeball that they bring back to the lab to study. Once it is locked up in storage it grows gigantic spider legs and attacks them. Certain scenes from this episode look like they were designed by Salvador Dali and will resonate in your mind long after you've viewed it. In "Turu The Terrible" the family travels to Africa where they discover a still-living Pteranodon that is controlled by a madman who rules the local countryside with his horrible pet. The screams of this flying dinosaur gave kids nightmares throughout the sixties. In another standout episode called "The Invisible Monster," a scientist performing experiments unwittingly creates an invisible monster composed of pure energy. Usually invisible monsters are a cop out, but in this case the story elements are manipulated in a way that creates a sense of isolation and vulnerability that rattles my cage even to this day. Which brings me to another point: Jonny Quest may be a kids’ show, but some of the episodes are really scary. There's no gore, but the storytelling is just so good it frequently creates powerful moments of suspense and terror. Also these cartoons were made in the less politically-correct sixties, so people actually die on Jonny Quest. The show was written in a realistic fashion so when people get shot in gun battles or fall off a bridge, they die. These were made for kids, but in this day and age Jonny Quest would definitely get a PG-13 rating. This set even has a warning on the back of it that “it may not be suitable for children” even though this was one of the most-watched kid shows of its era. I could go on for pages describing how great all the episodes are. Some of the episodes are better than others, but there are no weak ones.

Another flawless level of the show was the soundtrack. Jonny Quest had some of the best theme and background music in television history. The opening credits theme is a catchy jazz tune that will have you humming it by the second or third time you hear it. All the background and incidental music is equally as good and rivals even Henry Mancini's work for Peter Gunn. Every other aspect of the show is also amazing. This is a show from a long ago age and for people like me it has a nostalgia factor that rivals heroin in its potency. But unlike many of my childhood favorites that didn't hold up under adult scrutiny, Jonny Quest still seems as great when I watch it today as when I saw it as a kid. If you've never seen the show, I highly recommend checking it out. It has never looked better than it does in this new Blu-ray set. The picture and sound have been cleaned up to an immaculate degree. While watching this over the past few weeks, I keep finding myself freeze-framing the picture because the background paintings are so wonderfully crystal clear that you can see all kinds of details that were never discernible before. In fact, the immaculate condition of these prints may be the only drawback to this set. In a couple of scenes I thought I saw digital artifacts but on closer inspection it turned out that the hi-def remaster was so clear you could actually discern the separate layers of the vinyl cell animation overlays themselves! That's the only drawback to remastering some of these old shows and movies, things get so clear you can actually view some of the technological shortcomings of those long gone days. But this is just a minor quibble. If you like cartoons or animation of any kind, you should buy this set. Jonny Quest is one of the best animated cartoons ever created and everyone should own it.

There's Nothing Out There!, Vinegar Syndrome:
This is one of the only Troma films I like. Like all Troma films, this had a production budget around fifty There's Nothing Out There!dollars, but this is a great little fifty dollar movie. It was released in 1990 and is kind of the perfect bad eighties monster flick. The film is lean, mean, and extremely entertaining. It starts quick out of the starting gate and never really drags. A bunch of high school kids travel to a cabin deep in the woods to celebrate spring break. Shortly before they arrive, a hideous frog-like alien descends from space and starts killing male humans while mating with the females. Of course, he's on a collision course with our teen-age victims and the fun soon starts with a series of gory killings. There are three couples visiting the cabin, and then there's Mike. Mike is single and obsessed with horror films. Everywhere he goes, he feels he's about to be killed and lets everyone know about it. He comes off as a total paranoid pest, but when all of his worst fantasies come true he's everyone's best hope for survival. In many ways, this film is a dry run for Wes Craven's Scream, in fact so much so that Craven should probably send Troma a royalty check. One of the things that sets this apart from the flood of VHS trash that came out at the same time, is the script's constant post-modernist tweaking of horror film conventions. Like in one scene a boom mike accidentally lowers into the shot and Mike uses it to swing away from the monster. In another scene, Mike and another character reach a level of Philip K. Dick absurdity when one asks, "Are you saying we're in a movie?" and Mike replies, "We very well could be." There's just the right mix of nudity, sex, gore, and humor to keep everything moving, and the film is over before you know it. This is a fun little entertaining ride, made all the more impressive by the fact that director Rolfe Kanefsky was only nineteen years old when he made it. I've seen far worse films made by big name directors at the ENDS of their careers. Vinegar Syndrome's flawless transfer of the film looks far better than any Troma film has a right to and there are lots of fun bonus making-of features to round out the disc.

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Vinegar Syndrome (2), Movie Moment (20), Jon Longhi (36), Cult Film (38), Cult Films (27), Blu-ray (32), Cartoons (19), Horror Films (9), Film (204), Jonny Quest (1), Doug Wildey (1), Troma (4), Rolfe Kanefsky (1), Hanna-barbera (2)