Locally Produced Science-Fiction Web Serial Debuts | Program Notes

Locally Produced Science-Fiction Web Serial Debuts

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The year is 1975, and everything is about start going very poorly for Edward Borman. His government office in the U.S. Steel Tower is closing for the evening, but instead of heading home to a beer and a ball game, Borman finds himself wrapped up in a dangerous plot involving invaders from Mercury, a mysterious "league" of good guys and, potentially, the end of the world.

The Mercury Men is a new web-based serial presented by Syfy.com, written and directed by Chris Preksta, the Pittsburgh resident and Point Park grad behind the web series and 2005 feature film Captain Blasto. And from what I've seen of it, it rings all the right sci-fi geek bells. I was hooked at the first sight of Borman's face; Mark Tierno, who plays the office cog, has wrinkles and shadows straight out of the Twilight Zone, an impression further strengthened by the show's high-contrast black-and-white imagery.

Although I'm not quite sure why these men from Mercury are so intent on destroying the Earth -- with a "Gravity Engine," no less -- it's a suspension of disbelief comfortable to all fans of science fiction. And once you first set your eyes on the aliens, it hardly matters. They're giant, glowing creatures, made from "light so dense it has become solid," according to the series website. All of the featureless invaders are played by Preksta, who at 6'7" is uniquely capable of playing the loping creatures.

The series was filmed entirely without the use of the "green screen" filmmakers use to enable digital effects. Rather, to depict the Mercury Men, Preksta donned a completely black outfit in front of a shock-white background, then took a negative image. Combined with the hissing, TV-on-mute noise that the Men emit, they are the first really original bad guys I've seen in years.

Naturally, Borman doesn't have a snowball's chance of beating these guys alone, and help comes -- for no apparent reason -- in the form of Jack Yaeger, a bold and handsome man in an old aviator's uniform. Yeager knows these Mercury invaders, somehow, and packs a gun that shoots light, apparently the only thing that can hurt the enemy. At a singular moment, Borman -- staring incredulously at the man's weapon -- asks Yaeger whether he's a pilot, and actor Curt Wootton deadpans, "I'm an engineer."

The take-away from all this is that the Syfy network has taken a chance on a brand-new serial that completely deserves it. There are shoot-outs, glowing monsters, intrepid and not so intrepid heroes, and a talking brain in a jar. It is very much worth a click. The first of 10 seven-minutes episodes premieres today at www.syfy.com/mercurymen

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