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‘The Questor Tapes’ Blu-ray (review)

Kino Lorber

Since The Questor Tapes was one of Gene Roddenberry’s several attempts at following up on Star Trek, a lot has been written about it over the years in books, magazines, and online.

I watched it when it first aired on TV in 1974 and even bought the tie-in paperback novelization, but I haven’t seen it in 50 years…until now.

So my goal here is to see how it holds up on its own, as a movie, away from its baggage as a failed series pilot from a TV legend. Shall we begin?

Robert Foxworth, an actor I was just getting to know back then, stars in the title role of a newly activated android whose creator disappeared three years earlier leaving incomplete plans with his assistant, played by Mike Farrell.

It seems the creator’s programming, on computer tapes, has now been corrupted by international scientists intent on using their own programming.

Ultimately, the super-smart and super-strong android—termed “an ambulatory computer device”— finishes his own creation, making himself as human-like as possible. He even goes so far as to foreshadow Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data when he describes himself later to a woman as “fully functional.”

Because of his corrupt programming data, Questor realizes that he needs a human to assist him so he “logically” kidnaps the missing doctor’s assistant, Jerry, to do so. His goal is to find his lost creator and discover his true reason for existence. His human friend tells him, “We humans spend a lot of time seeking our creator too.” Fairly quickly, Jerry agrees to help and the two head to London.

A more restrained than usual John Vernon heads the billion-dollar project and leads the inevitable pursuit. In the end, though, he too, comes around to Questor’s way of thinking as they all learn a centuries-old secret.

Foxworth’s herky-jerky performance reminds me of Jeff Bridges in Starman, released a decade later. The always affable Mike Farrell is affable here, as well. Lew Ayres, the original MGM Doctor Kildare, cameos at the end as the missing scientist. The once prolific actress Dana Wynter plays an intriguing character who seems almost unnecessary here but presumably would have had at least an occasional role on the TV series.

And The Questor Tapes was not an unsold pilot!

It actually sold and was in pre-production when Roddenberry walked off the project due to the classic “creative differences.” As I understand it, it seems the network wanted Questor to be roaming from town to town on his own each week, essentially re-creating The Fugitive, The Immortal, or Run for Your Life and presaging The Incredible Hulk. They wanted to toss Farrell’s character aside. Roddenberry, though, saw the series as a kind of revised version of his backdoor pilot on Star Trek—Assignment: Earth, about a mysterious alien protecting the Earth and assisting society in evolving…with the help of his assistant.

Speaking of Star Trek, The Questor Tapes was written by Roddenberry with Gene L. Coon, who had helped develop Trek. It was one of his final projects as he had passed in 1973. Various other ST veterans worked on this pilot including Mrs. Roddenberry—Majel Barrett—and a completely unrecognizable Walter Koenig in a pointless cameo. Even the novelization was written by ST writer D.C. Fontana.

There’s also some very seventies music, some good-for-their-time special effects, and a number of recognizable character actors. On the negative side, there’s a major plot point that literally makes zero sense that shows up about halfway through the film. The very premise is more than a little tied to the “ancient astronauts” theories popular at that time which would likely have not aged well if that had been explored any further in an ensuing series.

Extras include commentary, textless promo, and textless trailer.

Does The Questor Tapes hold up as a movie in 2023?

Are you kidding?

While unavoidably a little dated, it’s more relevant than ever with AI and companion robots being such a prominent topic of discussion these days.

Isn’t that right, Alexa? Siri? Questor?

Booksteve recommends. 




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