Saturday, November 19, 2011

Science Fiction Inspirations

Daffy-blogging, essay 4 of 15 blog entries on
Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½th Century

Part One, Space Cadets Through Time

Displaying the enthusiasm you want to see in a space cadet, Porky Pig
salutes his hero in Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century.

From 1951 to 1955, Tom Corbett was the TV face of space cadets as
he attended Space Academy in the 24th century.

TV always seemed to be a friendlier environment for space cadets
than feature films.  Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) learned the basics
of interstellar survival while Lost in Space from 1965 to 1968.

The first edition of Star Trek lacked a space cadet but not the second.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), the great ambition of
Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) was to attend Starfleet Academy but
everyone knew he was a real space cadet from the start.

The most famous of all space cadets:  Luke Skywalker in
Star Wars (1977).

Part Two, Science Fiction Inspirations

Newspaper headlines open Warner Bros. first science
fiction cartoon, Hardevil Hare.
Before Duck Dodgers in the 241/2th Century (1953), the Chuck Jones unit at Warner Bros. produced two other forays into science fiction territory.  In 1948, they made Haredevil Hare where Bugs is launched on a rocket to the moon and, several years later, The Hasty Hare (1952) where Marvin the Martian visits earth on assignment to bring back an earthling (Bugs Bunny is his choice).

Director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese rarely passed on an opportunity to parody a subject, but their Haredevil Hare (1948) isn’t the parody of science fiction movies that it initially appears to be.  It can’t be because there were no science fiction movies to parody in 1948.  During the 1930s, there were several popular space opera serials but that period was followed by a parched drought of filmed science fiction during World War II and the immediate post-war years.  Writers continued to produce science fiction but the mood was changing there, too.  The new authors—Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke—experimented with a new “hard” science fiction approach that had little in common with the escapist adventures of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

So where did Haredevil Hare come from?  Here’s a possibility…  On the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD commentary, film historian Michael Barrier mentions that Robert Gibbroek, Jones’ layout artist in the late 1940s, brought a love for his adopted home in White Sands, New Mexico to his work.  Gibbroek employed White Sands-type backgrounds in the Road Runner cartoons and in the opening to Haredevil Hare.  Well, White Sands wasn’t only home for desert critters like coyotes and roadrunners.  The U.S. Army Air Forces operated the country’s primary missile range at White Sands—developing the latest high-tech rocketry there prior to the move to Cape Canaveral in 1949.  As a resident of White Sands, Gibbroek would have been well aware of the local rocket experiments.  Perhaps he even contributed the idea…

Behind Bugs, the desert background in the opening of Hardevil Hare.

Despite coming first by two years, Haredevil Hare now looks like a parody of Destination Moon (1950).  Co-written by hard science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, Destination Moon opened Hollywood’s floodgates, releasing a decade-long torrent of filmed science fiction.

The Hasty Hare parodied one of the best of the new movies.  Bringing back Marvin the Martian and his bounding alien pet K-9 from Haredevil Hare, the two aliens arrive on earth in a flying saucer, setting the stage for a round of jokes aimed at The Day the Earth Stood Still, Twentieth Century Fox’s big hit from fall 1951.

With its good-natured parodies of Buck Rogers, Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century primarily reflected the old-fashioned space opera tradition but it also contained at least two references to contemporary science fiction films.  First, the idea of Planet X may well have been inspired by Edgar G. Ulmer’s low-budget quickie The Man From Planet X (1951).  Second, Porky directly mentions another contemporary science fiction film hit when he hands Marvin some dynamite and calls him, “You thing from another world, you.”  The Thing (from Another World) was a 1951 hit from acclaimed mainstream director Howard Hawks.

Villains of the future from the popular 1950s TV series
Captain Video and His Video Rangers.
But the most significant influence of all came from television.  This is the influence that Jones himself acknowledged in his letter to his daughter Linda in October 1952:  “It’s a parody on the ‘Space Cadet,’ ‘Captain Video,’ type television show…”  Considering how few channels there were, the amount of science fiction on the air in those years was astonishing.  Space Cadet and Captain Video are just the tip of the iceberg.  From 1950 to 1953, there was also Buck Rogers, Commander Cody, Space Patrol, Tales of Tomorrow, Stranger From Space, Out There, Johnny Jupiter, Space Command, Atom Squad, and Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers.  Chuck Jones and crew had plenty of material ripe for parody when they promoted Daffy to space hero status.

Reference Sources
Chuck Amuck by Chuck Jones
Chuck Reducks by Chuck Jones
Hollywood Cartoons by Michael Barrier
Looney Tunes: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Jerry Beck
Warner Bros. Animation Art by Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald
7 Minutes by Norman M. Klein
That's All Folks by Steve Schneider
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set, Duck Dodgers commentary by Michael Barrier
Friends at the IMDb Classic Film message board including Rollo Treadway, Chloe Joe Fassbender, Illtdesq, and Fish Beauty
... and an occasional sneak glance at Wikipedia entries (but always double-checking everything!)

Watch Duck Dodgers...
Purchase Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Rent Disc Two of Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One DVD set at Netflix or other rental service.

© 2011 Lee Price

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