Does anyone out there really remember Ark II? Hopefully! And if not, now that the entire series, all fifteen episodes of the short lived Saturday morning attempt at bringing the post apocalyptic future to the children of America in easily digestible form, hopefully some memories will be spurred into action. To say that this set is a dose of nostalgia is an understatement as it's less a dose and more an mainline injection but either way, the show remains an enjoyable goofy sci-fi romp.
The series revolved around a team of three scientists – Jonah (the leader of the group and a jetpack expert played by Terry Lester who went on to star in The Young And The Restless for a few years), Ruth (Jean Marie Hon), and a teenager named Samuel (Jose Flores who has since gone back to Mexico and worked steadily) – and their assistant, Adam, a talking chimpanzee. Together they drive around in a giant space age RV called the Ark II (a reference to Noah's ark? Intense!) and try to make the world a better place and in hopes of helping to fix the problems that plague the Earth in the future – namely horrible pollution and the descent of society as we know it into chaos.
While the crew was out having their adventures and exploring what remains of the Earth, they would – each and every episode – run into some colorful supporting characters. Each episode was self-contained so there wasn't a lot of room for development outside of the leads (and even then there's not much growth a tall to really cover) so things tend to lean towards the shallow and the superficial as far as the plots are concerned. That being said, this was a seventies kid's show, so to a certain extent that is going to be expected and accepted. Of course, one of the three main team members would land themselves in some hot water while trying to better life for everyone and this would usually result in Jonah having to bust out his jetpack and fly around for a scene or two, often repeating shots, before landing and saving the day. Comic relief came courtesy of Adam the talking chimp, who was pretty quick with some snappy lines and who never seemed to have a problem beating Samuel at chess.
The fifteen episodes included in this four disc set are as follows:
-The Flies: Jonathon Harris of Lost In Space leads a gang of orphan children on salvage runs into trouble when he finds a canister of poison gas. The Ark II team needs to get it from him and get rid of it before he uses it for evil.
-The Rule: When Ruth gets injured she's taken in by a tribe who send their sick, wounded and elderly out into the wasteland to fend for themselves. Ruth and the team manage to teach them the error of their ways.
-The Tank: Some no goodniks have found and semi-restored and old American army tank and are using it to wreak havoc across the land. Will the tank destroy the Ark II and leave its inhabitants alone and unsheltered?
-The Slaves: Jonah is captured by a gang of punks who enslave their captives and make them work as servants. Thankfully the crew notices that he's gone and soon enough have come up with a plan to rescue him.
-The Balloon: There's a gang of loners who live away from the rest of the tribes that are running around the area. Normally this isolation is a nice thing, until a virus breaks out and they need to ask for help.
-The Mind Group:
There's a weird group of telepathic kids out there and they're using their mental advantages over the common man for rather suspicious purposes. The How will the Ark II team stop them when they can read their minds?
-The Lottery: Some of the roving tribes are better off than others, and one in particular does quite well – so well in fact that they don't think they need to worry about things like conservation until their wasteful ways catch up with them in a bad way.
-The Drought: Jonathon Harris and his gang of orphans return, this time with aspirations of high jacking the Ark II so that they can use it to find a time portal that will bring rain to the desolate landscape.
-The Wild Boy:
Many of the tribes hunt for food, and the Ark II has no problem with this until they come across a tribe that is hunting down, with the intent to kill, a young boy who has grown up like a savage animal alone in the wilderness.
-The Robot: The crew builds a robot (played by Robby the Robot of Lost In Space fame) who soon develops his own will and starts doing things his way rather than how the crew had hoped he would.
-Omega: Computers make life easier in the Ark II for pretty much every member of the team – or at least it seems that way. Soon one of the new computers starts acting strange and it looks like rather than serving the crew, the crew are going to be serving it!
-Robin Hood: There's a Robin Hood in the area who is out to take down the wealthy to help the poor, or so he'd like people to believe. He's out recruiting and he convinces a vulnerable boy to come along with him on his quest but the Ark II team knows what he's really up to – and it's no good!
-The Cryogenic Man: The Ark II team comes across an old time capsule and when they open it they find a man who was frozen hundreds of years ago. They thaw him out and he has no idea what's happened to the Earth in the time that he's been 'asleep.'
-Don Quixote: Not everyone is sane in what's left of the world, which the crew learns the hard way when a modern day knight decides that the Ark II is actually a dragon and that it's his responsibility to save the world by destroying it.
-Orkus: It looks like things are going to turn out okay for the crew when they find a small little oasis tucked away that only a few people know about. They're let into the guarded area but soon find out that this isn't so much an oasis as it is a mirage.
The acting is bad, the stories are overly simple and the characters are one-dimensional. The special effects aren't very good, the show gets repetitive and there are too many long spaces where not much really happens. That being said, there's such a huge wave of seventies nostalgia running through this series – from the effects to the computers to the outfits and even the dialogue – that it's hard not to grin. It's all very simple in terms of its execution, almost simple to a fault, but it's also all very innocent and optimistic and charmingly fun. There's no doubt at all that the show is bad – that's likely why it only lasted for fifteen episodes – but if you digest it in small doses, like one or two episodes at a time, there's also no doubt that this is enjoyably campy material. Each episode would teach kids some sort of lesson and the stories play out almost like parables, but without being so heavy handed that it feels like you're being preached to or talked down to.
If that doesn't do it for you, there's also the undeniable novelty of seeing a bearded guy flying around in a jetpack and a talking monkey running around getting into trouble and speaking sort of like Scooby-Doo. What's not to like about that?
The 1.33.1 fullframe transfers on Ark II present the material in their original aspect ratio but things are looking a little rough here. While everything is very definitely watchable, the colors are a little faded and there's some mild print damage in spots. Mpeg compression is evident throughout and a lot of the fine detail gets washed out because of this. As stated, it's all watchable but there was certainly some serious room left for improvement and the encoding on this disc isn't going to win any awards as there is some mild trailing during fast motion as well.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack has some mild hiss in a few spots but is otherwise of pretty decent quality for an older, low budget sci-fi show. Dialogue is pretty easy to understand and the score and effects are well balanced throughout. Distortion is never problematic and aside from the hiss, which is definitely there, everything is fine. Spanish dub tracks are included for each episode as well.
On the first disc you'll find that two of the episodes - The Flies and The Slaves - contain commentary tracks from producers Lou Scheimer and Richard M. Rosenbloom, actress Jean Marie Hon-Trager, director Harry Lange, writer David Dworski and moderator Andy Mangels. Both tracks are fun as those involved trip down memory lane and elaborate on their roles in the production, what they liked about working in Ark II and how they feel about the series looking back on it. There's some good information in here if you're into trivia and some good stories are told as well.
On disc four you'll find a half hour documentary entitled Launching the Ark II in which Hon-Trager and Lagne and Rosenbloom discuss the origin of the show, what it was like working with a monkey, casting decisions, special effects and some of the design work for the series. Rounding out the extra features are three separate still galleries, scripts in PDF format, trailers for other Ink & Paint DVD releases, and animated menus.
Also included in this set is a booklet with episode run-downs for each of the installments contained in the set. The discs are housed inside some plastic thin-packs, which in turn fit inside a cardboard keepcase. The artwork is pretty spot on, as it definitely has that seventies sci-fi vibe to it, which is a nice touch.
While the presentation leaves a little to be desired and the transfer is weak, the extras are a nice touch and the content, while best digested in one or two episode doses, remains a lot of good, kitschy fun. Ark II – The Complete Series should help the show find a more appreciative audience, particularly those who enjoy creepy talking monkey sidekicks. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.