A fine and noble cause.
In the 80s, cartoons were about the term ‘Toyetic’ – a little-used word outside the glorious, sparkling circles of marketing and advertising executives. It means selling awesome toys to awesome-toy-starved kids via the gift of cartoons. Which should sound just great to anyone with enough time between playing with awesome toys to listen. But in the 80s there was something dark and terrible standing in the way of this fine and noble cause. The filthy meddlings of social conscience.
So to appease these loony left, flag burning, communist sympathisers (parents) who eventually had something to do with the medieval and reductive “Children’s Television Act” of the 90’s, the loving and nurturing marketing and advertising executives – always with our best interests at heart – gave children of the 80s public service announcements in their cartoons.
“He-Man and the Masters of The Universe” was perhaps the most memorable for me, but as I now look back, there were important lessons to be learnt from all corners of the cartoon globe, not just that meathead telling me to brush my teeth, be nice to everyone, and showing me how to strip and load an AK47 in the dark. (ok, I made that second one up) and one of them in particular has clearly shaped my love of certain genres, whilst teaching me important life lessons.
Ulysses 31 – cue the music and authoritative american VO…
“It is the 31st Century. Ulysses killed the giant Cyclops when he rescued the children and his son Telemachus. But the ancient gods of Olympus are angry and threaten a terrible revenge!”
…now THAT’S the intro to something I want to watch!
Clear time frame. Concise and important relationships. Some nutty shit and ancient gods. I’m in.
Of course this intro wasn’t the only thing that I fell in love with (and still love) about Ulysses 31, but it does define the series for me, and as I mentioned – Ulysses 31 taught me some important life lessons.
Less Opera in space, more Rock!
Just bask in the glow of this 80s rock intro for a moment…
…what a track! I was addicted to that song (“was” ha!).
I asked a friend of mine – a composer and music producer – why I can’t get the damn theme song out of my head for a clear 6 weeks after hearing it? He said “It’s the power of the semitone drop!” and I’m sure he’s right (he almost always is), but I think I just like repetition.
I mean, by the Eye of the Great Cyclops, you knew what you were watching didn’t you? They sing the word Ulysses at you 29 times!
Real men don’t swear, much.
Ulysses was a single parent, raising two children (one of them blue), and trying to run a space ship at the same time. And yes, it all would get a bit much, and sometimes yes, in the odd situation a real man will swear.
If a real man is standing deep in the bowels of a vast, technologically advanced hospital planet he’s found floating randomly in space, while simply trying to revive his friends from a curse placed on them by an incomprehensibly vengeful god, just to realise that every inch of the ground beneath him and his sons feet is riddled with un-killable triffids that shoot lasers out of their evil stigma faces and the only way to save himself and child (not the blue one this time) is to get to his ship which is now utterly embedded in an electrified, razor-stalk field of the things – well a real man may be forgiven for letting slip the odd ‘By The Great Galaxy!’ now and then.
Deal with it.
Never put Siri in charge of a space ship.
Ok so the A.I’s real name is Shyrka, and I suppose it’s not doing too badly, all things considered. I mean it probably needs a few updates to cope with the fact that it’s no longer in anywhere closely resembling ‘known space’, but it always feels a little combative.
It’s got this maddening put upon tone, as though it saw “Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” once and wishes it was as cool as manically depressed Marvin the Robot, but isn’t quick to say anything funny when you ask it something. So settles for only giving you half the information it knows you need, hoping to give itself time to come up with a hilarious retort to your obvious next question, only to never quite get there, having to just answer you anyway – and quietly hating itself and by extension you.
EVA in style or not at all.
In the 31st century Ulysses and Telemachus wouldn’t be caught dead outside of Shyrka’s hull poorly attired, I mean what would the companions think?
So, if you’re off on some mental, curse of the Gods extravehicular activity… take your damn Lion-shaped helmet!
Why? By all the Constellations… it’s absolutely badass, that’s why!
AND while we’re talking about Telemachus following “some damn fool” on an “idealistic crusade”, how about a lightsaber? That is also a gun? And a shield? Sounds handy in a pinch right? Well, you should trust those instincts young jedi… I mean… light sword, light SWORD – not lightsabre, no-one said lightsabre, who’d say something like that? Probably someone in court. What?
No but seriously, I’ve always wanted a light-sword-gun-shield. Like, forever.
The Gates of Hades.
I brought Ulysses 31 on a dodgy VCD from eBay about 7 or 8 years ago, I’m not proud of it but I had a clear mission: find out if Ulysses ever made it home.
You see, I couldn’t remember ever seeing that episode, and the idea haunted me once I started to think about the series and realise how much it meant to me.
Yes: Homer and The Odyssey in space, genius! But on re-watch I even found some clear horror elements in the series that I’d never realised, and there wasn’t much about Ulysses 31 that didn’t stay with me. I’m a filmmaker now and my first foray into features was a zombie film – a theme that I hadn’t noticed until re-watching an episode called “Mutiny on Board” which sees our hero’s own companions turned into mindless zombies.
Brilliant! Scary for kids though? Yes! Double Brilliant!
As 80s cartoons go, it makes for one of the better re-watches. He-Man was always too preachy for me, and there’s nowhere near the amount of gut wrenching racism as something like “Mysterious Cities of Gold” has to offer – oh yes I got those sweet 5 discs of VCD madness as well, but couldn’t get through an episode without feeling like I was spending 24mins with my Nan explaining why ‘The Spaniards’ liked gold so much after she’d had six too many sherries at Xmas.
But what I can clearly see now, is this insane french-japanese co-production being so important to the genre I always lean towards as a writer and filmmaker, something that defines how I live and what I do.
Ulysses 31 is space opera. Nutty, 80s rock, shield-sword-gun-arm-lion-helmet space opera and by the great gods of orion, I think that madness is one of the main reasons I love sci-fi so much now.
Shyrka, take us out.