Amazing Stories TV Series (80’s) Retro-Review – Season 01, Episode 05: The Mission

Today we continue our on-going series of retro-reviews as we take a look at the original Amazing Stories television show that aired across the 1985 and 1986 seasons on NBC.  Executive Produced by none other that Hollywood’s science fiction impressario, Steven Spielberg and featuring scripts and direction from some of tinsel town’s hottest (1980s) talents.

Spielberg negotiated an unprecedented deal with NBC back then;  a million dollar’s per episode budget, an entire two seasons purchased outright and Spielberg would have complete creative control;  the show was nominated for 12 Emmy’s during its run and won several, for supporting acting, cinematography, sound editing and makeup.

Though often panned by critics, it was enjoyed by many – enough to make nostalgia a factor in returning the show to the air over thirty years later.

The name Amazing Stories was originally licensed by TSR Inc., then publishers of the magazine, to NBC for use as the show’s title;  in 2015, the current publishers of the magazine again licensed the name for its use.

THE MISSION  first aired November 3rd, 1985
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Story Developed by Steven Spielberg, Joshua Brand, John Falsey
Teleplay by Menno Meyjes
Story by Steven Spielberg
Starring –
Kevin Costner … Captain
Casey Siemaszko … Jonathan
Kiefer Sutherland … Static
J.J. Cohen … Jake
John Philbin … Bullseye
Gary Mauro … Sam
Glen Mauro … Dave
Terry Beaver … Officer
David Grant Hayward … Mechanic #1
Peter Jason … Commander
Karen Kopins … Liz
Anthony LaPaglia … Mechanic #2
Gary Riley … Tail Gunner
Ken Stovitz … Lamar
Nelson Welch … Father McKay

The second episode directed by Spielberg and the series’ most recognized and talked about episode.

This is a star-studded crew acting in a familiar setting for many of them – World War II. It may be that this particular episode was the one meant to showcase how Hollywood film actors, writers, directors, etc., were going to approach the small screen.

Unfortunately, it comes across as very sterile; scene framing is odd (especially those of the control tower) and limited. It strongly suggests “limited budget” to me, which may be owing to how much the casting gobbled up the episode’s budget.

The story’s primary focus is…the power of luck…or maybe its the power of prayer…or maybe its the power of love…or maybe its the power of the imagination…or maybe its the power of belief…or maybe its how once in a really blue moon all of those powers can combine to defy reality and make something truly unbelievable manifest.

Captain Costner and crew man a B17 Flying Fortress bomber during World War II; most of the crew are on their final mission, but their ball gunner (a turret mounted on the belly of the plane and equipped with twin 50 caliber machine guns; ball gunners had a notoriously short life span, and not always owing to enemy action; it wasn’t uncommon for poor manufacturing to see a ball turret sucked right out of the plane owing to pressure differentials….), who also serves as the crew’s lucky charm, has already completed his roster of missions and will not be joining them on this final run.

Except “Jonathan” is loyal to his crewmates and his captain and volunteers to join them anyway. Much attention is paid to the crew’s belief that they will have a safe and successfull mission only if their lucky charm is with them; Captain Costner relents, reluctantly, and the mission commences.

As they fly towards their objective, there’s much discussion of luck and much display of Jonathan’s artwork – caricatures of the crew that are “really good”; we’re treated to a discussion of what everyone will do after the war because, of course, they will all complete this mission and get to go home, all because they’ve got luck with them.

The ship is then attacked by fighters; though the attack is beaten off without injury, the engine from a fighter has become embedded in the side of the bomber; the impact has destroyed one engine, destroyed the plane’s main landing gear and jammed up the ball turret in such a way that Jonathan can’t be removed from it.

With no landing gear, this is a serious problem as the ball turret will be crushed during landing.

Jonathan doesn’t want to die and is convinced that “Captain” will figure something out. The crew come up with hair-brained schemes, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, much grunting and flailing about during futile attempts to unjam the turret.

The bomber has lost fuel and another engine is threatening to quit; Captain Costner reluctantly realizes that his duty is to those of his crew who he can save and gives up on Jonathan.

But the crew’s loyalty to one of their own gnaws at him and he finally comes up with a plan;  give Jonathan one of the parachutes, have him kick out the plexiglass of his turret and bail out when they are near the field…except the parachute rips while being passed into the turret and the plane is seriously low on fuel after flying at lower, bail out, altitude.

There’s nothing left but to pray and hope for the best…and to shoot Jonathan before they land so he doesn’t suffer, but Kiefer Sutherland can’t bring himself to do the deed.

Meanwhile, “something” inspires Jonathan to start drawing (despite his earlier faith that “Captain will think of something”);  also, meanwhile, the tower has gotten word of the emergency and brought a priest in to pray for the crew and, also, meanwhile, Jonathan’s soon to deliver their child wife is also out at the field (not looking like she’s due for anything…).

The crew is laid low by the impending disaster;  Captain grimly flies his ailing plane towards the landing field…Jonathan draws…a B17…with intact landing gear.

Captain Costner is urged to try lowering the landing gear one more time.  Though convinced of the futility he finally does and…

cartoon landing gear magically materialize.  The plane lands safely.  Costner hastens to the ball turret where we find Jonathan clutching is drawing and in some kind of trance.  Costner realizes that whatever mental state Jonathan is in, it is the one maintaining the cartoon landing gear in reality, and cautions everyone who is working to remove the gunner from the turret not to disturb him.

Jonathan is removed, the landing gear disappear and the plane collapses on the runway, crushing the ball turret.  Jonathan is reunited with his wife and a panning shot of everyone, crew, officers, girlfriend, tower, priest, reveals (maybe) that they are all convinced that they were a part of makin this miracle happen.

What a load of….

Okay, a miracle occurred during war time.  There’s plenty of such things that actually happened (like anyone making it to shore alive during the Normandy invasion) to convince us that in such a frenetic environment, the seemingly impossible can happen.  That’s acceptable.  But the focus of this story is the miraculous occurrence and yet the story leaves us wondering which thing led to the miracle?  Was it Jonathan’s belief in his Captain?  The crew’s love for each other?  Jonathan’s desire to return to his wife?  The Priest’s prayers?

Are we just supposed to wonder?  No, we’re not, not after loving attention was paid to each of those possibilities.

This was the episode that made me write the series off when it originally aired.  I’ve not been convinced that I was wrong back then.

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