A millionaire goes on an expedition to capture a mythological monster from a lake in South America. Once he discovers it, he winds up in a battle with the local government over who gets to control the creature for profit. The creature is far more clever than anyone expected and has its own plans of what to do once outside of the lake.
“Tourist Attraction” is structurally one of the strangest episodes of The Outer Limits so far. Each episode of the series has opening and closing narration. The opening narration sets up a general theme and backstory for the episode. The closing narration reveals the greater message of the episode. “Tourist Attraction” has two extra monologues to help cover the gaps in the episode.
The creature in this episode is clearly a rubber suit style monster. The design pops onscreen, but the seams on the costume are distracting. Its effectiveness varies scene to scene, as the crew figured out which angles worked best for the creature on camera. Still, this fishlike being with giant eyes and heavy scales sets the right tone for the episode.
The great flaw here is an overly ambitious idea. “Tourist Attraction” is a feature-length film crammed into an hour long episode of TV. The time and budget just aren’t there to hit everything they want to here. This episode wants to explore a scientific basis for ancient religion, international politics, the boundaries of tourism, the ethics of multimillionaires, the destruction of indigenous cultures by outside forces, and the preservation of rare and endangered species. Science fiction can be a great vehicle for a deep analysis of social and political issues, but only if there’s enough room to explore it. “Tourist Attraction” jumps from topic to topic in every scene, smashing all the issues together in the final moments of the episode.
What’s frustrating here is how fascinating the various ideas are. An entire episode dedicated to searching for evidence that an ancient god is a real species of deep water creature could be great. A technological race for attention between a millionaire and a dictator has potential. Using the creature feature form to explore the ethics of scientific tourism is why we have Creature from the Black Lagoon. These individual stories have all been explored in science fiction before and since, but rarely mixed into one tale.
One of my most common arguments when discussing genre fiction comes down to ambition. I would rather watch or read media that tries to do something new and fails than something that takes no risks at all. “Tourist Attraction” is the kind of sci-fi story I feel compelled to come back to again and again. You can learn so much about artistic intent, trends in media and society, and storytelling by engaging with ambitious texts.
Up next: S1E14 “The Zanti Misfits.”