The Ewoks have returned - but two hours might be too long
Beware of furry creatures bearing gifts. The Ewoks - those courageous furry creatures from the movie ''Return of the Jedi'' - are returning to even larger mass audiences, bearing what executive producer George Lucas considers the gift of two more hours: The Ewok Adventure (ABC, Sunday, Nov. 25, 8-10 p.m.).
The 8-10 a.m. time slot would be more like it.
First, I must preface my criticism with some facts about my own irascible distaste for puppets, Muppets, Gremlins, or any other simulated live creature. No matter how funny they start out to be, by the time a half-hour has rolled by I find myself yearning for good old-fashioned human beings, real dogs and frogs and even pigs (sorry, Miss P.)
So, although the Ewoks were certainly cute little fellows for a few sequences in ''Jedi,'' they are just too darling for me to bear for two prime-time hours. Early Saturday or Sunday morning, when only the kids are awake and roving, maybe. But, even then a lot of children would demand more than two hours of little men dressed in bad grizzly-bear costumes.
Of course there is a story line - of sorts. The Towani kids - Cindel and Mace - fall into the loving clutches of the Ewoks, who proceed to escort these two earth castaways in a search for their missing parents, who are all the while caged like birds in the lair of a giant monster. That's the plot - interrupted occasionally by giant spiders and other cute and nasty obstacles.
Photographed mostly in redwood and desert territory on Earth (the American West, which has a wonderful extraterrestrial look), the sometimes-scary-for-youngsters film is narrated by kindly Burl Ives. It has just enough monster-murder scenes to frighten the youngest kids into the arms of their parents who are, ABC hopes, watching the film with them. More likely, they're dozing off.
John Korty directed the film with special effects (not enough of them, by the way) by Industrial Light and Magic.
''The Ewok Adventure'' is fine family fun for families who are willing to have their fun on the level of the youngest member. And there are undoubtedly many families who will simply adore the little fellows in their grizzly-bear outfits. But for me, ''Ewok'' only proves once again that too much of a good thing can be too much of a good thing.
I realize that being bored by the Ewoks is almost sacrilegious - like telling an orphan there's no Santa Claus.
So call me Scrooge.
'River Town' on PBS
More and more often, public television is turning out to be the voice of America's unheard majority.
Not silent, because there is a lot of rumbling out there. But voices in the form of the films and videotapes of regional documentary-makers have a hard time getting viewed by the public.
Just about the only television outlet for these regional productions is public broadcasting - and every now and then the Public Broadcasting System discovers and distributes a vital film that originated somewhere in America other than the major production centers - New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.
Such a film is River Town (PBS, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 10:30-11 p.m., check local listings for area broadcast date and time), produced by Mark Samuels and Kathleen Iattrelli for the Wisconsin ETV Network. ''River Town,'' aided by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is a solid piece of heartland Americana.
It records the transformation of Soldiers Grove, Wis., from a sodden, constantly flooded, dying town to a bustling new town with a future. A solar future, no less.
''Soldiers Grove is America's first solar town.'' When government grants and local taxation helped the population to move to higher ground, an ordinance was passed which made at least 50 percent solar energy obligatory in all new buildings. The whole town pitched in to move the business district to a spot half a mile up the road; the old downtown was turned into a riverside park. The nearby Kickapoo River is allowed to do its own thing every now and then - flood its surroundings. And since the town is now above the floodline, residents no longer have to depend upon artificial devices like dikes and dams for their salvation.
The film doesn't waste much time getting to its point, allowing the residents themselves to tell most of the vivid story. Only one thing is left unexplained: Where does most of the population live? Perhaps a bit too much concentration has been put on the business district. But I guess that's the free-enterprise middle American way.
''River Town'' is more than an informative documentary about how a town solved its flooding problem. It is an inspiring story of a group of ordinary people who insisted upon taking control of their own future.
PBS: 'Partners in Crime'
Step aside, Nick and Nora Charles - Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are taking over as detective fiction's most charming couple.
Dashiell Hammett's Charles in ''The Thin Man'' never had quite as much fun camping it up as do Agatha Christie's Beresfords in Partners in Crime (PBS, Thursday, Nov. 29, 9-10 p.m. and for four succeeding Thursdays, check local listings).
This ''Mystery!'' series has absolutely no relationship to NBC's similarly titled failing Saturday night series. It is based upon Agatha Christie's least-known detectives, one of fiction's first husband-and-wife detective teams, who did their flapper-era thing in several novels, remembered only by Christie buffs.
Christie introduced the Beresfords in 1922 in the second of her 85 novels, then abandoned them for a while as she invented Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Seven years later she returned to Tommy and Tuppence and eventually wrote several other novels about their escapades.
Tommy and Tuppence are two unemployed dilettantes who decide that amateur sleuthing would be ''a ripping way'' to while away their days and nights. So, they form an organization - ''The Young Adventurers Ltd.'' - with an ad in The Times (London), which indicates that they are willing to go anywhere, do anything with ''no reasonable offer refused.''
Agatha Christie, amused by the slew of detective-story writers then prominent in London literary circles, decided to give her jazz-age flappers, Tommy and Tuppence, some added cachet. Just to be devilish, she parodied the styles of other current fictional detectives in the methods to solve crimes used by her team. Most of the original authors, however, are now forgotten. In the case of the premiere of the series (each of the five episodes is complete in itself), she pokes a bit of fun at the pseudoscientific methods of author Richard Austin Freeman's Dr. John Thorndike (Tommy seriously takes photographs of distant fingerprints).
This opening episode, ''The Affair of the Pink Pearl,'' allows the charming Beresfords, played with flapper-happy eclat by Francesca Annis and James Warwick , to visit a contemporary mansion where the precise 1920s-30s decor, grooming, and wardrobe are an essential part of the entertainment. Tuppennce's major disguise - her extraordinary hats - are especially worth noting. There's not much of a mystery - but as in most Christie plots, the solution is much more ingenious than the crime.
Vincent Price, as usual, acts as informative host of the series, which was originally produced in England for ''London Weekend'' by Jack Williams and directed with by Tony Wharmby. It is presented on PBS by WGBH, Boston, where Joan Wilson is series producer.
''Partners in Crime'' is vintage Christie as well as vintage flapperdom. It makes for delightfully lightheaded entertainment as it catches the playful baroque tastes of its protagonists, while it matches the jittery pace of the period.