Just when TV viewers may have had their fill of summer escapist fare, ABC brings to the air a series of four original films as current as today's headlines, but with all the wonder and imagination of the best sci-fi literature, with the Aug. 4 debut of "Masters of Science Fiction."
Featuring stories from some of the most creative minds in science fiction literature, talented actors and directors and hosted by world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, "Masters of Science Fiction" is unlike any program on the air, on broadcast or cable networks. It's an entertaining, crowd-pleasing collection of movies that mix powerful ideas, cinematic production values and peak performances. With a line-up of talent in front of and behind the cameras that is laden with top awards, this is indeed a collection of "masters."
First up, at 10 p.m. Aug. 4, is "A Clean Escape," based on a short story by Nebula Award-winner John Kessel. A dying Dr. Deanna Evans (Judy Davis
) refuses to believe that her patient, Robert Havelmann (Sam Waterston
), cannot remember the last 25 years of his life. It remains unclear why she has been so obsessed with this particular patient until the final, shocking conclusion that may just have resonance with the current global crisis.
It's followed at 10 p.m. on Aug. 11 by "The Awakening," based on a short story by Howard Fast. It stars Terry O'Quinn
') and Elisabeth Rohm
in a story set in the middle of a ferocious firefight outside of Baghdad, where U.S. soldiers discover a mysterious body one that they can't even identify as human. Swiftly, all over the earth, more such creatures appear and begin to communicate. With this contact, the world is forced to choose between peace and destruction.
Next, at 10 p.m. on Aug. 18, is "Jerry Was a Man," from a short story by seven-time Hugo Award winner Robert A. Heinlein. It tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Van Vogel (Malcolm McDowell
and Anne Heche
), a wealthy couple for whom pleasure is their only work; mundane or dangerous chores are done by anthropoids. Somehow, Mrs. Van Vogel's dormant compassion is awakened by an anthropoid named Jerry. What traits would prove that Jerry is, indeed, a man?
Rounding out the limited series at 10 p.m. on Aug. 25 is "The Discarded," which is based on a short story by seven-time Hugo Award winner, three-time Nebula Award winner and Science Fiction Grand Master Laureate Harlan Ellison. It stars James Denton
"), John Hurt
and Brian Dennehy
in a story of despised minorities forever adrift in the darkness of outer space. As a last resort born out of their loneliness and despair they are forced to make an ominous pact with those responsible for their plight, in the hope that they will finally be offered refuge at home on Earth.
Tying all of these individual stories together is Prof. Stephen Hawking
, the Cambridge University professor best known for his work in cosmology and black holes, whose bestselling book "A Brief History of Time" entertained the general public by illuminating the complexities of astrophysics. Yet for all the hard science that has earned him acclaim as arguably the world's most renowned and respected thinkers, he also has a love of the fantastic. "I have always wanted to know what is out there, to explore the universe, and what is beyond," Hawking notes. "I read a lot of science fiction when I was younger, [and] now I write it, in a sense."
Hawking's opening and closing narration to the "Masters of Science Fiction" films brings scientific authority, along with a sense of wonder, to the programs. His remarks make you think, as befits a master of science. And the movies make you think too, even while they provide exceptional entertainment. And it's no wonder; after all, the storytellers are, quite simply, "The Masters of Science Fiction."