EPISODE REVIEW: Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: “Moonstruck” (Season 2, Episode 10)

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Remember last week when I was nattering on (In two separate reviews) about how I’m kinda’ bored with Ben 10 and Generator Rex, but Ben 10 is really, really, really, really trying hard to hold on to me, whereas Rex is just kind of going through the motions? Well, brother, they’re trying again tonight!

PLAY BY PLAY

In 1961 or 1962, Max Tennyson is a fighter pilot in the USAF. One night on patrol, his squadron gets in a dogfight with a flying saucer. Max shoots it down, but loses his plane in the process. Called on the carpet about it later on, he’s booted out of the Air Force by his Colonel, and then immediately hired as an astronaut by an unnamed General.

Turns out the real reason for the space program was to find out what Aliens are doing on earth. En rout to Virginia for training, he stops off at a greasy spoon diner, and meets a knockout redhead chick, who puts the moves on him. A very tall man who turns out to be a robot comes in and starts smacking people around. From here on we get a 1960s variation on Terminator 2: Judgment Day, right down to the fight in a foundry, the killbot losing an arm, and the robot falling into a big vat of metal.

However things change when the robot climbs back out of the molten metal and beats up our hero with the very same arm Max cut off the thing a few moments before. Then the robot fixes himself, kidnaps the girl, and leaves. Max tracks it back to it’s saucer, and gets in another fight. A plumber shows up, but is quickly incapacitated by the robot. Max takes the plumber’s weapons and shoots up the alien saucer, destroying it, and rescuing the girl moments before it explodes. The girl transforms to her Anodite form, promises to come back, and flies away. Max is an astronaut cadet in the Apollo program, in line to be the first man on the moon when the plumber comes back and recruits him.

OBSERVATIONS

I’m gonna’ go out on a limb and say this is the most ambitious series Ben 10 has ever done in any of the three series, or the live action and animated movies. Why? Because this is the third non-Ben-centric episode this year, and the fifth format breaker. The producers are trusting that their universe is interesting enough to hold the audience even when Ben isn’t onscreen turning into aliens and beating people up. They’re trusting that the supporting characters can hold down stories by themselves. Their trusting us to be interested in their backstories.

Yeah, sure, they’ve done three years of arc stories out of the last four, and there’s an arc this season, too, but lots of shows do those in our post-Paul Dini world. It’s not that amazing. This is more ambitious than that in that it reflects a transition not unlike the Simpsons around season 6, when they started to realize that Springfield was as much an attraction as The Simpsons themselves.

The robot is kinda’ Original 1960s Scooby Doo styled, didn’t ya’ think?

Young Max was voiced by Jason Marsden, same guy who does Duke on the new GI Joe Show (Tonight’s episode reviewed here http://www.republibot.com/content/episode-review-gi-joe-renegades-%E2%80... ). He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite voice actors. We knew from the original Ben 10 series (Back when Ben was actually 10) that Max had been the star of the Apollo program when the Plumbers recruited him. Character design is quite a bit different here, though: The version of Max we saw in the flashbacks from 8 years back was quite a bit stockier than the version we see here. His relationship with Verdona has always been a bit squishy, continuity-wise. In the first season of the original Ben 10 (Hereafter “TOBX”), a few mentions are made of her still being alive, and Max being on vacation. In subsequent seasons (All set during the same summer, recall), she’s mentioned in past tense like she’s dead. In more recent Ben 10 shows, the kids know her, but are very surprised she’s still alive when she turns up. It’s also mentioned that she was human and never knew about Max’s secret life as a plumber. I forgive them for deciding to ignore that. The writer always reserves the right to come up with a better explanation when a better story presents itself.

In all versions, Verdona’s kind of a jerk and borderline creepy. I mean, she abandoned Max and her family. This is really the first time she’s been remotely likeable. That said: what the robot intended to do to her was genuinely pretty imposing.

The fighter Max flew in the start of the episode was an F-104 starfighter. They’re referred to as such in the ep. They entered service in 1958, and were in service in one Air Force or another until 2004, when Italy retired the last ones. They are among the sweetest looking, coolest planes ever, and my heart lept to see ’em here. Max mentions that he was working for Tactical Command, and, yes indeedy, the USAF Tactical Air Command did really fly Starfighters during this period. It was kind of a widdowmaker, though, with those stubby little wings and overpowered engine. Tended to stall out on landing, and get sluggish at low speeds. Beautiful, gorgeous planes, though http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/F-104_3-view.jpg The Starfighter wasn’t capable of Mach 2 as they say here, though, it was only able to do a bit over Mach.

Many, many in jokes and homages in this ep:
* The scene where Max is getting dressed down by his colonel is straight out of the scene from “The Right Stuff” where Chuck Yeager just crashed an F-104. (Memorable sequence, beautifully filmed, and intercut with a fandancer.)
* The flying saucers were reminiscent of several 1950s SF films, most notably “Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers”
* The saucer on the ground had tripod gear, and a center section that extended to touch the ground, much like the C57-D from “Forbidden Planet.”
* The interior of the saucer is also almost identical to the control room from “Forbidden Planet.”
* The storage tube the robot puts Verdona in is similar to the suspended animation tubes from Lost in Space, and arguably is similar to the deceleration tubes from “Forbidden Planet” and “This Island Earth.”
* A tricolor light fixture is showed at one point, which is obviously the alien camera lens from “War of the Worlds.”
* While showing the tricolor lighting fixture, the Martian Death Ray sound effect plays.

Ben, Kevin, and Gwen show up only in a frame story at the start and end of the episode.

I liked the paranoid explanation for the space race.

Max says he was about Kevin’s age when all this happened. Really? He was a 17-year old fighter pilot in the USAF? Seems unlikely, particularly since you have to be a college grad, and it takes a couple years to learn how to fly those things. Maybe he joined when he was 15? Big for his age? The only time they mention his rank, however, he’s listed as “Airman,” which is as low as you can get, and you certainly ain’t a-flyin’ planes. In any event, if Max was 17 then, that makes him 67 now, which, frankly, seems a bit young. I feel like he should be in his late 70s.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

It’s got freakin’ F-104 Starfighters fighting flying saucers. It’s got cold war paranoia and the space race, and a '59 Corvette. There is nothing here that a Conservative wouldn’t love!

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