Welcome to another Xena Thursday! Today, we’re continuing our chronological coverage of every single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess — both the episodes that I have previously highlighted AND the episodes I’ve yet to feature. Complementing my thoughts are the thoughts of those who worked on the series: mostly actors, writers, directors, and producers. I have done months of research for the acquisition of the quotes you’ll see over these next 67 weeks (as there are 134 episodes and I’ll be covering two episodes per week). They come from a variety of sources, including the original special feature-laden DVD releases, The Chakram Official Newsletters, both the Topps and Titans Official Xena Magazines, the fan kits, and other assorted print and video interviews. So in addition to sharing my thoughts, these posts will also contain information and musings from the Xenites that matter most — the ones who brought this exciting series to the small screen.
95. Season 5, Episode 5: “Them Bones, Them Bones” (Aired: 11/01/99 | Filmed: 06/14 – 06/21/99)
The spirit of the evil Shamaness Alti attempts to capture the soul of Xena’s unborn child.
Written by Buddy Williers | Directed by John Fawcett | Production No. V0908
I featured this episode as one of the 18 honorable mentions that narrowly missed inclusion on my list of the 60 best episodes. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “Originally, R.J. [Stewart] and I were going to write [this one] together. Then, as we started working on it, something came up… and [he] wasn’t able to work on it anymore. So I took over. I wrote the script and second draft. As we were getting ready for me to leave, Bob [Orci] and Alex [Kurtzman] were getting more involved in the show. Since they were to take over my position, it would be up to them to do the rewrites. They rewrote [this one] completely because they had some things they wanted to do and head toward in future episodes. Because the episode was rewritten so extensively, I didn’t feel comfortable with my name still on it. I couldn’t take blame or credit for it, so I used a pseudonym. Buddy Williers is my WGA registered aka. There is another script that they rewrote of mine, but I forget the title at the moment. (Ah, sweet age!) You’ll know it by the Williers credit. Again, this isn’t even a comment on quality. I just had no way to take responsibility for any of it. If someone complimented me on it, I would have no right to accept it. If I was criticized, I didn’t want to sound as if I was making excuses.” (Whoosh! Interview – November 1999)
Eric Gruendemann (Producer): “My wife still looks at [the skeleton baby] dream with revoltion, having two kids. We knew it was a risky venture, but we also wanted to shock the audience and [make them] go, ‘Woah, this is going to be one of those episodes.’ We achieved it by a combination of prosthetics on set and also doing a digital skeleton baby… coming out of the stomach… We actually had Lucy laying on [something] where she dipped down and we built the rest of her body on a rig and that rig included the stomach section, which then allowed us to have puppeteers below making those weird alien-like movements on her skin before it actually burst through.” (“Them Bones, Them Bones” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Donald Duncan (Director of Photography): “[This] was almost a return to… the “Sin Trades.” We were back with the Amazons. It also had pretty high production values. I think they gave us nine days to shoot it and they threw quite a bit of money into extra equipment because it was a pretty complex episode. But it was fun to shoot… When Gabrielle crosses over to the other side, it was a reprise to the tripping, going into a trance thing that we’d done [before], but we wanted to approach it in a slightly different manner this time… [We shot] on reversal film rather than negative, but ran it through the same processing… [it’s] called cross-processing and it’s used a lot on music videos… So we shot some of that on 16 millimeter and I went in and did some transfers and graded it with some interesting color shifts and wacky colors. And… we also experimented with a very high contrast black-and-white film… But I think my favorite… visual thing was a body rig that we made and we got a very lightweight… 16 millimeter camera… with a very wide lens and put it on a body rig [close] to Gabrielle and ran it at slow speeds and got her to race around madly and it’s a pretty interesting effect. But, I have to admit it’s an effect I stole from Martin Scorsese in Mean Streets… When Gabrielle wakes up on the other side just before she faces off with Alti, she kind of looks around and eveything’s frozen in place. The one that works the best is the fire… I think what we ended up doing was shooting the elements separately against blue screen, but with the fire, we closed the shutter speed on the camera… so the motion just stops dead. The same thing happens with the birds and the trees… When Xena crosses into Alti’s world… we wanted to do something different in design… We decided to balance purple light and green light. And the special effects department came up with an actual real green burning flame… and I added green lighting on top of the green flames and countered that with purple, which is a complementary color… and gave it a whole supernatural surreal feel… The final fight scene between the skeletons of Alti and Xena I think is one of the CGI visual effects department’s finest moments in [this] season… it would have been their biggest job probably in the entire Xena series, I would say. But they did a fabulous job on it. I think what really tied the skeleton fighting into the background plates was the interactive lighting… [we] really stepped up to the plate and did a great job.” (“Them Bones, Them Bones” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Robert Field (Editor): “The skeleton fight between Alti and Xena was a rather ambitious undertaking for the show in that we were going to completely create a CGI battle, which had never been done before. We had had sequences with CGI creatures, but they were generally interacting with the human… In the Alti/Xena fight [for this episode]… we had stunt doubles who had these black suits on with ping pong balls taped all over them. And we filmed them with the fight sequence in these outfits. And that was shot with a motion control camera, [so] every move the camera did followed the actors. And then that movement of the camera was memorized. The actors would then leave the set and they’d shoot the set with nobody on it again and that camera movements, which had already been recorded, would then record all of those movements… [and] became what is known as a background plate. So the foreground plate with the actors with the ping pong balls became the action reference… The sequence is edited and then that determines how the special effects will go together. It’s not a question of receiving a special effects shot and… [having] to fit this now into the editing scheme.” (“Them Bones, Them Bones” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Jennifer Sky (Actor, Amarice): “I was signed on to do 5 more episodes of Xena as Amarice, but then I was cast [in] Cleopatra  and had to give up Amarice. Her journey was definitely cut a bit short, and I think if Xena had still been filming when Cleopatra 2525 wrapped I would have asked to come back for at least one more episode.” (Revista Xenite Interview – January 2012)
Steven L. Sears (Writer/Producer): “There was a whole background to Amarice that I wanted to use in [this] episode, but when I left the series, Bob [Orco] and Alex [Kurtzman] came in and changed it completely. In fact, I don’t even know if they were aware of it, although I’m sure that R.J. and Rob told them what my plan was. They made it completely different. Amarice kept referring back to when she was ‘with her tribe.’ In their version, Bob and Alex had her confess that she was never an Amazon; she only wanted to be one, she always pretended to be one. There’s an interesting dynamic to that, but my version was completely different. My background for Amarice was that she belonged to a tribe that was very Spartan in outlook. They believed in discipline – that from the moment you were born, you were trained to use weapons. You were taught discipline. You weren’t allowed to be a child, and you weren’t allowed to show emotion. Through some kind of miscommunication, her tribe got into a war with the Horde, and in a scene that I actually wrote of her telling the tale, she and her mother were the last two Amazons in the tribe fighting on a cliff overlooking a river. Under their code, if you did not die fighting, you were dishonored. If you lived through a fight, or if you ran away, you were dishonored. Amarice says that at a certain moment she turned, somebody hit her in the back, and she fell into the water. As she was going downstream, she saw her mother smile at her – and then her mother was killed. So she lived with the guilt that her mother pushed her into the water to save her, and she therefore couldn’t die with honor. That was my whole background for her, and I wanted to play on that.“ (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #24 – November 2001)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Them Bones, Them Bones” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #2.
96. Season 5, Episode 6: “Purity” (Aired: 11/08/99 | Filmed: 06/25 – 07/06/99)
When Xena returns to Chin to recover Lao Ma’s book of power, she must defeat one of Lao Ma’s twin daughters, who wants to acquire the power for her own evil purposes.
Written by Jeff Vlaming | Directed by Mark Beesley | Production No. V0907
I featured this episode as one of the eight worst episodes of the entire series. Read my thoughts here.
CAST & CREW COMMENTARY:
Jane Holland (Costume Designer): “[These two episodes] are great… Really beautiful, intricate costumes… I really enjoyed the color and the textures of the fabrics that we used…” (“Back In The Bottle” Interviews w/ Cast & Crew – Season Five DVD Set)
Ted Raimi (Actor, Joxer): “Being in stocks, or having water poured on you – it doesn’t matter to me. But sometimes when you get a female actress of Renee’s stature, they won’t do it because they don’t look good. But Renee is such an actor’s actor that she doesn’t care about that sort of stuff. I thought it was very bold of her to do that. Of course, Renee’s so pretty that it doesn’t matter how you photograph her – she’s always going to look good. But mainly I was like, ‘Wow!’ I’ve worked with a lot of actresses who would not do that.” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #12 – November 2000)
Marie Matiko (Actor, K’ao Hsin/Pao Ssu): “Everything is in my body emotionally… so I create emotional layers. With K’ao Hsin, I started off with my mother’s love. In the very gut of me, in my movement and everything, is this love for my mother and a belief in what my mother did, and I want to make my mother proud. There was also a vocal adjustment where her voice is very light, and ethereal, and very pure. Pao Ssu was [built on] her feeling of abandonment… I started off with, ‘Everybody’s here to screw me over anyway, so in order to protect myself I need to have power over them.’ So Pao Ssu was made out of pure power… and also this almost hedonistic feeling of enjoying other people’s torture. [I made] a vocal adjustment, bringing my voice down low and having it very earthy and primal. I didn’t make any body adjustments, but I’ve seen takes, and even my posture is different for Pao Ssu and K’ao Hsin. K’ao Hsin’s movements are very rounded and fluid; and Pao Ssu is very upright and as tall as she can possibly be, and all her muscles are very engaged in all her movements…” (Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #4 – February 2000)
Here is an on-set report of the production of “Purity” from Titan: The Official XENA Magazine, Issue #2.
*Stay tuned next week for more cast and crew commentary on the second part of Xena’s return to Chin!
Come back next Thursday for more Xena! And tune in tomorrow for another Pre-Code Film Friday!