Sunday, June 4, 2017

The New Original Wonder Woman (1975)


Directed by Leonard Horn.
1975. Not Rated, 74 minutes.
Cast:
Lynda Carter
Lyle Waggoner
Stella Stevens
Red Buttons
John Randolph
Cloris Leachman
Eric Braeden
Kenneth Mars
Henry Gibson

1974's TV movie Wonder Woman was intended to be the pilot for a series for ABC. It was set in the present, stripped the character of her powers and really came off more like a Bond flick than a superhero show. It was also a disaster. To the credit of those in charge at the network, they didn't give up on the idea of a series based on the character. A whole new team went to work on the project. The setting was changed to be more in line with the character's comic book origins, which meant a switch in setting to World War II. Cathy Lee Crosby, star of the '74 movie, was offered the chance to play Wonder Woman again, but turned it down. After a massive talent search, the role was awarded to Lynda Carter. She won Miss World USA in 1972 and had been making a name for herself in guest spots on Starsky and Hutch and other shows. A mere year after the Crosby-led picture, and with an entirely new cast, ABC aired the pilot The New Original Wonder Woman in hopes of finally getting a series based on the character off the ground.

As mentioned, this movie sticks much closer to the character's known history, giving us the first true live-action origin story of it's titular character. We pick up the story, however, following Major Steve Trevor (Waggoner), a U.S. pilot, as he fighting in World War II. Specifically, we see his plane shot out of the sky by a Nazi pilot, then see him personally get shot on the way to the ground by the same Nazi after both had ejected from their plane. The Nazi is presumably killed after landing in shark infested waters while Steve crash lands on Paradise Island where he scooped up by Diana Prince (Carter) and taken to the local hospital. The island is inhabited only by women and they've had no contact with the outside world for thousands of years, With Steve, comes the news that the Nazis are posing a serious threat to the rest of mankind. Queen Hippolyta (Leachman), Diana's mother, decides one of the Amazons must accompany Steve back into the world and help stop the Nazis, and holds an athletic competition to decide who will earn the right. Diana wins, and off she goes to take on the Third Reich.

Right away, this movie introduces us to many of the elements the series came to be known for. For starters, we get the animated open accompanied by the iconic theme song, The film, as a whole, takes on a comic-like appearance as we're shown still shots with bright yellow boxes that contain captions like "Meanwhile..." To be honest, I don't remember "Meanwhile..." being used even though I just watched it, but you get the idea. The Lasso of Truth gets put to use a time or two. Here, it's more show than go, but it does serve a purpose. Our heroine's invisible plane makes an appearance, as well. Though, invisible is a relative term. Apparently at a loss as to how to depict such a machine, Wonder Woman looks as if she's sitting inside a plane shaped piece of glass. Then there's the signature twirl Wonder Woman does to change into her costume right before our eyes. We only get it once in this particular movie, but through the three seasons the series ran it became the most recognizable part of the show.


The movie also gives us a cheekiness missing from the 1974 movie. That film wrapped all of its (intentional) humor in the idea that every man Wonder Woman comes across is not only trying to get her into bed, but they're rather forward about the fact. Here, the humor is much more innocent, choosing instead to focus on her naivete about how the world works. There is little to no sexual tension between her and the male characters, Steve Trevor included. The only sexual tension is between Wonder Woman and the men in the viewing audience. It's easy to say that her costume is similar to the one she wore in the comic books, it's also clear to see that she is made up for our visual enjoyment. Any doubts on this must be quelled within one minute of Wonder Woman receiving the outfit from her mother. Along with telling her the colors were chosen to represent her allegiance to democracy, Hippolyta also informs Diana that the skirt can be easily discarded if it's getting in the way of her fighting. Without hesitation, Diana removes it and tosses it aside never to be seen again. Though this is clearly pandering to the audience, it's a testament to the character and the team that brought this version to life that she can still be held up as an example of 1970s feminism. She never loses agency over her own affairs, and certainly never needs a man to save her. She does all this while never sacrificing her femininity, or coming off as a man-hater.

Another major difference between this version and the '74 version is that Wonder Woman clearly has superpowers. We see her make phenomenal leaps, perform feats of great physical strength, and most impressively, use the bracelets on her arms block bullets fired at her. Though some of the special fx haven't aged so well, the ones of her performing that last trick still work really well. Most impressive is what she does during a stage show she does as a way to earn money. The sleazy guy promoting it has invited patrons to bring their own gun to fire at Wonder Woman. One woman yanks a Tommy Gun, a type of machine gun, out of her bag and begins firing dozens of rounds at our heroine in rapid succession. Of course, she blocks them all, and it is still a sight to behold. True, it's probably the easiest effect to put together, but that shouldn't diminish the fact that it works incredibly well.

All of the differences between this and the '74 version are nice, but would be nothing without this last improvement. The pacing is about a thousand times better this go round. Both movies have about the same runtime, but this one feels much shorter. The reason is simple. Things actually happen. The Paradise Island stuff is handled in a succinct manner as we rather quickly get to the athletic competition I mentioned. Once we're off the island, the movie wastes no time getting our heroine into the thick of things. There is plenty of action and what happens between it lets us get to know the character in a way that never becomes tedious.


Lest I give you the wrong impression, however, the film is not perfect. There are a few plot holes to contend with and Steve is largely a sideline player. Scratch that. He's actually the damsel in distress, spending much of the movie being held captive while Wonder Woman runs around trying to save him. We're effectively robbed of much of the chemistry needed to make us care about them together. Sure, we'd like to see her save him, and we definitely want to see her defeat the Nazis, but our feelings about the two of them together are rather indifferent. The problem is this makes Steve a character we like, but aren't necessarily stressed about. Still, this can be given a pass due to the fact that this is a pilot and the relationship between Steve and Diana developed over the course of the series.

The biggest struggle for this movie is one that has plagued the character for decades. Similar to Marvel's Captain America, we can never be certain just how super Wonder Woman is. We see her do some incredible things such as throwing men across a room, or over cars, and knocking them out with just one punch. On the other hand, she struggles with an ordinary, and smaller woman in hand-to-hand combat. I get that this is done to maintain some narrative tension. It's much more fun to root for a character that might actually lose, but it's a bit nonsensical in regards to Wonder Woman's abilities. Since the fight it gives us is of the knock-drown-drag-out variety, it's not a huge deal, but it is one that can't be completely ignored.

If we're being honest, no movie is perfect, and certainly not this one. Still, it does lots of things right by its titular character. The film gives us our heroine pretty much like she first appeared in the comics without trying to shoehorn her into then-current sensibilities. Oddly, this made her a better fit for the still-changing perception of women and their role in society. Thankfully, the movie remembers that it must get us to watch before it can impart its message, or even titillate boys and men, for that matter. It does this by maintaining a sense of fun absent from its predecessor. Both movies are campy, but the prior version is that quite by accident and largely due to bad execution. This one is campy in all the right ways. We can tell that the writers of this film are in on the joke. With plenty of action and enough sly jokes to keep us snickering, The New Original Wonder Woman is a joy to watch.

10 comments:

  1. I saw the new Wonder Woman yesterday and I really enjoyed it. I haven't seen the originals, but I'm planning on watching them, and in spite of its flaws I think I'll going to like this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also quite enjoyed the new one. My review of it will be up on Monday. This one is a blast.

      Delete
  2. I just got back from Wonder Woman as well. I'm writing my review at the moment as I am definitely a fan of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman as she is to me, Wonder Woman Classic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, no doubt that Lynda Carter will always be Wonder Woman no matter who else puts on the costume.

      Delete
  3. Good stuff, Dell.

    I'm so out of it, I didn't know all the groovy details of the current WW flick had all been covered before. Goodness. I'm kinda interested in seeing how Paradise Island was brought to life back in the mid 70s. You know, for research.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There was just something about Lynda Carter. Despite the cheesiness of this series/movie...she made it work. I remember watching reruns of this in the 80s, jumping off the sofa like WW to my mom's chagrin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She was just a perfect fit for what the show was trying to be. I couldn't imagine anyone else playing WW in a series with this tone and having it be a success.

      Delete