"We call it the evil twin of Star Trek. It`s nineties nihilism rather than Sixties self-righteousness and utopianism".
So says executive producer Paul Donovan of his cult series, Lexx: The Dark Zone, which follows highly successful showings in North America and Germany with a run on Channel 5 livening up late Friday evenings from 5th December. <now showing on sci-fi channel>.
Lexx tells the tale of "a group of three and a half misfits, the half one just a head," Donovan explains. "They steal a ship five miles long, the size of Manhattan, the most powerful force in the two universes - the light zone and the dark zone. They have fun. They are losers in space.
"Each lead character has a problem. One of the is a former security guard, looking for a planet with undiscriminating females, We have a sleek female looking for a man, but not for him. The other lead male, dead for two thousand years, is looking to be alive again,. The half character is a robot head, a kind of good head, in love with the lead female. He`s very single-minded."
Lexx is comprised of four two-hour movies, which were budgeted at just under $15 million, and filmed over five months from November 1995 in Nova Scotia, Canada, and at Berlin`s Babelsberg Studios. Co-producers came from Canada, America, Germany, Britain and Australia to finance what has most commonly been described as `Beavis and Butt-head taking over the Death Star`.
The story is convoluted, and will repay more than one viewing. The eponymous spacecraft is a living, breathing, giant insect which has been surgically altered - but which obeys the basic laws of life, and needs to eat. Unlucky prisoners of His Divine Shadow, the tyrannical leader of The League of 20,000 Planets, tend to become the main course via the protein bank.
When a luckless Class Four Security Guard, Stanley Tweedle, discovers that he holds the key to commanding the Lexx, he takes his chance to get away, with the help of rebels against His Divine Shadow. These include Zev, a formerly huge ugly prisoner, who has been partially changed into a beautiful sex slave - the physical aspect has altered, but mentally she is still the tough bitter woman she was before. She also has part of a `Cluster Lizard` included in the mix !
The process by which she was changed has also affected a robot, 790, who is now madly in love with her and who also jumps on board the Lexx. Opposing them in the opening film, but soon realising the error of his ways, is Kai, the last of a race known as the Brunen G, who was killed by His Divine Shadow and then used by the tyrant as a hitman ....
Dressed in a low-cut mindress (when she is wearing anything at all, that is), Zev is played by Eva Habermann, a young german actress whose role is unashamedly the sex interest. "[but] this lady Zev doesn`t see herself as a sex slave", Habermann maintains, "She`s not aware of what she looks like. Who she is hasn`t changed".
"She is to this production what Raquel Welch was to ONE MILLION YEAR BC, something special," Paul Donovan counters, "Males, ages eight to eighty, will want to drop their remote controls."
Kai is brought to `life` by Canadian actor Michael McManus, who describes him as "the weirdest part i`ve played. My character never quite save the day. He sort of draws all the fire onto himself, and he gets chopped up into bits and his limbs get cut off. And then Stanley Tweedle just pushes some button and vanquishes the enemy."
In the course of the four films, Kai`s head is chopped off and his headless body stalks about with the head watching, and his body is sliced in half between the legs before being reunited. Kai also has the frustration of knowing that Zev wants to see her sexual wiles just for him, and being dead, he can not respond.
Sexual frustration is also the keynote to Stanley Tweedle. Newfoundland actor Brian Downey calls him "Charlie Chaplin in space". ALways in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everything goes wrong for him but he somehow comes out okay."
Along with co-writer Jeffrey Hirschfield, who voices 790, they are joined by an assortment of guest stars in the four films. In order to steal the Lexx, they need the help of short-lived macho he-man rebel, Thodin, played by Barry Bostwick, best known as Brad Majors from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. In the second film Bostwick`s ROCKY HORROR co-star, Tim Curry, joins the madness as a holographic librarian known as Poet Man, while BLADE RUNNER`s Rutger Hauer plays Bog, master brewer of a mysterious elixir for the diseased inhabitants of a planet made of garbage in the third movie.
The forth film allowed Captain Kirk`s killer, Malcolm McDowell, to take advantage of a project falling through to guest as Yottskry, a cleric with a split personality whose two sides fight it out. All were attracted by the weirdness of the project with Hauer summing it up as "beautiful, weird, exotic, strange, fantastic ....it goes to very beautiful, daring extremes."
Many of these extremes have been created digitally. Its makers claim that over two thirds of the shots in Lexx are affected by computer animation - a higher percentage than either Babylon 5 or Space: Above and Beyond, the two shows previously most associated with the technology. Canadian company, Core, whose Chief Executive Officer is one William Shatner, was previously responsible for sequences in the feature film Johnny Mnemonic and Spawn, as well as the Tek Wars TV movies and subse-quent series.
For Lexx, the challenge has been to bring to life a totally alien pair of universes.
"We wanted to get out and establish huge locations and fantastic planets and give it a feature film quality," Bob Munroe, chief animator at Core, says, "To do that on a television budget, you`re looking at the introduction of CG in a way that`s never been accomplished before or attempted before in television."
Certainly, from the opening frames, in which we flashback to Kai`s murder by His Divine Shadow, to the closing credits, the presence of CG is unmistakable, and some critics have panned the sections of story in which CG is less important. However, as with any special effects tool, its users are adamant that the story comes first. "We have twenty people on this," Munroe adds, "Ten in Toronto, eight in Berlin and two in Halifax, and have been involved with it about a year and a half, blocking and writing scenes. All we ever want to be is complementary to the action. The last thing we want to be is eye candy."
Lexx appears to have been enough of an acquired taste abroad for a series of twenty two episodes to be in the planing stages, and its creators are hopeful that this will go ahead for early 1998. Ratings in both Canada and Germany have been higher than anticipated, and a video release is scheduled for the Christmas market in the United States.
The New York Daily News, giving the opening episode a three star rating for its Movie Channel premiere in July, claimed that it "is the most imaginative sci-fi miniseries since the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and is almost as funny. Genre fans will consider it a true find."
I Worship His Shadow
Eva Habermann - Zev
Michael McManus - Kai
Brian Downey - Stanley
Jeffrey Hirschfield - 790