Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Shout! Factory - MANIMAL & AUTOMAN on DVD ""

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Shout! Factory - MANIMAL & AUTOMAN on DVD

MANIMAL (1983)
This show was kind of legendary on arrival for me. I'd heard it joked about on Mystery Science Theater 3000 a decade or more ago and I hadn't seen it until now. I was kind of saving it honestly, always hoping it'd find its way to disc at some point. The idea just sounded so silly and the title alone nearly cries out to be ridiculed. It became a pun between my friends and I that if we ever spoke to each other on the phone, it was kind if the coolest throwaway to say that you were watching MANIMAL.
The pilot episode is loaded with guest stars. From Hart Bochner, Terry Kiser,Ursula Andress, Reni Santoni and Ed Lauter (!!). Ed Lauter by himself and you've already got great television, but add those others and it's all-star game time. On top of that, having Glynn Turman as a regular gives a show a big boost. It's hard to talk about MANIMAL without at least mentioning Glen A. Larson. He was a crazy prolific TV producer and writer in the 1970s and 80s, most notably being behind the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series of the late 70s. Glen A. Larson was a regular at the video store I used to work at on Pico Blvd in L.A. He came in a lot and rented a lot if I recall. He was nice enough in person too, but I do feel like he may trumpeted his stake in BATTLESTAR at some point. I just remember him being kind of the first showbiz types I remember being aware of when I first came to California. Here was a guy had been behind creating a show that I had liked as a kid. A real show that was on TV and everything. It was trippy and cool. If only I had seen MANIMAL back then, I would have had questions for Mr. Larson. For instance, I'd inquire as to why Manimal prefers to turn into a panther and a hawk? I'm just curious. In subsequent episodes he transformed into other animals too like a dolphin, a bull, a horse and a bear. While TRUE BLOOD touched on shapeshifting too during its run, I'd have to say that I prefer MANIMAL myself. 
The pilot is a fun one though. The transformation bits are memorable and really have the best intentions, but their budget betrays them a little. The main sequence features alternating shots of his hand and face as they use some air bladder effects to give that gross organic feel. There's even some WOLFMAN-esque dissolves in the facial transformation. The final shot of the hand is a bit funny because it has turned into a paw, but looks a but like a stuffed animal (which is fine actually and kind if endearing). It was neat to hear Michael Jackson's (I think) "Beat It" playing through club scene midway into the episode. 
The transfer isn't the greatest thing ever, but it is passable for sure and falls into the "as good as it's gonna look" category. I can't imagine the elements were preserved well. There's a kind of slight motion blur or something visible at moments. All that said, this show is way too much fun not to pick up. Great for parties and just to have on in the background anytime. A must for 80s nostalgists. See clips from Shout! Factory below to be inspired.

Special Features:

-"Man to Animal: An Interview with Glen A. Larson" (18 mins). 
-A booklet with the original full unabridged episodes synopses along with some behind the scenes photos and special effects prep.

You can purchase this DVD here:

AUTOMAN (1983-84)
Man Glen A. Larson was just a fountain of ideas in the late 70s and 80s. AUTOMAN is born of a computer and his body is extremely TRON-esque (and was in fact pitched to Larson by a couple of TRON's producers) so it' easy to draw a line between that movie and this series. Though AUTOMAN doesn't exactly transform into anything like MANIMAL does, he can make ninety degree turns (like Pac-Man, who he counts as a personal friend apparently) in his awesome car and move through solid matter. AUTOMAN is even more Batman-like than MANIMAL in that he has a bunch of his own vehicles (a car, a helicopter and a plane). What's fun about the show is that Automan could make his vehicles appear out of thin air much like the Light Cycles in TRON. Basically, if you're a TRON fan, I can't see how you wouldn't get a kick out of this show. It's as if Tron himself was dropped into the real world and was buddies with his programmer/creator and helped him fight crime. In this case, the programmer is also a cop and so AUTOMAN is ostensibly a cop show, but with Tron throw into the mix. 
I don't know about you, but my face lights up when I see Doug McClure's name pop up on the guest star list in movies and TV. I can't explain my fandom for him, but I imagine it's like the folks of Springfield feel about Troy McClure. He's cheesy, but kind of an institution. AUTOMAN also has a ton of other interesting character actors popping up in various episodes. From John Vernon, Patrick Macnee, Clu Gulager, Richard Lynch and Billy Drago to Ed Lauter and Delta Burke. Laura Brannigan even has a gust spot and Automan plays guitar with her band. Also, Sid Haig shows up in the first episode as an evil gang member at a diner. He has a few other unforgettable biker gang character actors in tow. You'll totally recognize these guys. One if them is the leader of the Satan's Helper's in PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE. Classic stuff. 
AUTOMAN is also one I'de recommend for fans of all things 80s and sci-fi. It really is a delightful one-two punch to be able to snag both this and MANIMAL on DVD. They go well together. 
As with MANIMAL, the transfer is okay (though better than MANIMAL) but perfectly fine in my opinion.

Special Features:
-"Calling Automan - The Auto Feature" (42 mins). Features interviews with Chuck Wagner, Desi Arnaz Jr., Glen A. Larson, and Heather McNair. Lots here about the creation of the show and how some of the special effects were done as well as the cast's recollections of the production.

AUTOMAN can be purchased on DVD here:


beamish13 said...

Wait...did you work at Laser Blazer on Pico?!?

Rupert Pupkin said...

I did! For a few years!