Based off the Mark Twain novel `A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court', Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979) aka The Spaceman and King Arthur, may not have been one of the more popular live action Disney films of the past, but I liked it for a number of reason which I'll talk about later...the film, written by Don Tait (Hell's Angels '69, The Apple Dumpling Gang), was directed by Russ Mayberry, who primarily worked in the medium of television directing on shows like "Bewitched", "I Dream of Jeannie", "That Girl", "The Brady Bunch", "The Partridge Family", "The Rockford Files", along with many others, but did find time to do a few films, including this one. Starring in the film is Dennis Dugan (The Howling, Problem Child, Happy Gilmore), Sheila White (Confessions from a Holiday Camp), Ron Moody, whom many will recognize as the dastardly character Fagin in the 1968 film Oliver!, and Jim Dale, a fixture in the British `Carry On...' film series. Also appearing is Kenneth More (Sink the Bismarck!), John Le Mesurier (I'm All Right Jack, Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), Rodney Bewes (Jabberwocky), and Pat Roach, whom you may have never heard of, but surely have seen in any one of his villain roles like in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - he played two roles in that film, one being the big Sherpa in the bar and another as the mechanic/brawler, the character of Lippe (he fought Bond in the health spa) in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983), the chief guard in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and skeleton masked General Kael in Willow (1988), to name a few.
The story begins as we see a group at NASA discussing a new project featuring a shuttle called Stardust that has the ability to travel faster than any previous ship. There's a bunch of scientific mumbo jumbo presented, but the gooberment officials are reluctant to approve sending humans up in an untested craft (it's an election year), so scientific brain boy Tom Trimble (Dugan) is tasked to build a humanoid robot to pilot the ship, which he does (in his own image), but the robot, named Hermes, was apparently made too human, and is afraid to make the 30 year trip. Trimble, in an effort to convince Hermes that everything will be all right, gets caught in the shuttle during an accidental launch, and both end up in orbit. The ship does what it was designed to do (traveling faster than the speed of light), subsequently travels back in time, and, on returning to Earth, Trimble discovers he's in 6th century England, specifically King Arthur's court at Camelot! Trimble meets a local girl named Alisande (White), and she believes him to be some sort of monster (in his spacesuit), despite his protests. Soon Trimble is captured by the rotter Sir Mordred (Gale), taken to Camelot and sentenced to death. It's around this time Trimble learns of Mordred's treacherous plans to overthrow King Arthur (More), and now must use his intelligence and wits to not only keep himself alive, but also prevent the despicable Mordred and his cronies from their foul machinations through.
First off I just want to say it felt good to watch a family friendly film that doesn't insinuate toilet humor into the story to get laughs...not that I mind that kind of thing, but it seems so much more prevalent nowadays for these types of films, geared towards general audiences, to rely on techniques of the lowest common denominator to try and entertain. As far as the story goes, it was very straightforward, and moved along well. Dugan seemed a decent choice for the role of Trimble (I guess Dean Jones and Kurt Russell, both frequent stars in Disney's mid 60's/early 70's live action pics, were busy on other projects), and he does well presenting pre-MacGyver like character who uses his intelligence to get out of sticky situations. As far as the others, my favorite was Dale as Sir Mordred. He did a wonderful job bringing his character to life, and could have easily been transposed to more serious films with respect to Arthurian legend despite being a bit over the top at times (what good villain isn't?) As far as the character of Merlin, played by Moody...I thought he also did very well, but the way the character was written seemed to go against most of what I think I know in the respect the Merlin here was not a very nice guy...and what was up with his hair? It looked like they shaved the top of Moody's head, giving him a horseshoe hair pattern, leaving a handle-like tuft at the very top....very weird...another character I enjoyed was that of Sir Gawain, played by Le Mesurier. The role wasn't very big, but incorporated a sort of subtle humor (a slight touch of that droll, British humor) that complemented the sequences he appeared in very well. The odd man out was that of King Arthur, played by More. He did all right, but he lacked the majestic qualities I normally associate with the character. It's not like he ruined the movie or anything, but he just seemed a little out of place. The sets and costumes were very good, relaying better than average production values, along with most of the special effects, although there is a sequence with Trimble in a flying rocket chair where the wires are plainly visible, but again, this wasn't something that ruined the film for me. My favorite sequence was the magnetized sword bit and I also liked how, through a good part of the film, Trimble was perceived by the 6th century inhabitants as not so much a dangerous threat, but sort of a pitiful oddity, one that might be better put out of his misery. I'm unsure how kids today, what with their Harry Potters and such, would receive a film like this, but for those of us who grew up in the 70's and 80's, this is a welcome trip back to simpler times.
The widescreen (1.85:1) picture, enhanced for 16 X 9 TVs, looks sharp, but there are some very minor signs of age deterioration in the film (nothing to get too hung up on). The Dolby Digital mono audio comes through clearly, and there are English subtitles available. There are no other special features.