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Science-Fiction

When it premiered last fall, FlashForward was considered to be one of two potential replacements for the departing Lost – at least in terms of epic, serialized storytelling. The series premiere set out the basics – for two minutes and seventeen seconds, everyone on the planet lost consciousness. In that time, they experienced visions of where they would be in six months time.

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In my review of the premiere, I wrote, “While the premise of the series might seem to limit its shelf life, there are good people involved – and they were smart enough to hire Mr. Sawyer as a consultant. Put that together with a premiere that is superbly put together, with fine performances and a judicious mix of action and intelligence, and the result is one of the best hours of television ever made – and the best pilot of the fall season… in a walk.”

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With the announcement that Sanctuary [Sci-Fi, Fridays, 10/9C] has been renewed for a second season, perhaps those who those who don’t like to commit to a new series for fear it’ll be cancelled will now give TV’s first green screen series a chance. Two upcoming episodes are good examples of the kind of quirky quality that series is developing.

Sanctuary

Quick refresher courser: Dr. Helen Magnus [Amanda Tapping], a one hundred fifty-seven-year old scientist has established Sanctuary – a home for “abnormals” [creatures benign and otherwise that are not of the perceived normalcy – mermaids, a missing link, children with unusual fear reflexes]. She provides homes – or cages if necessary – for these beings. She is aided by her daughter, Ashley [Emilie Ullerup], forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Will Zimmerman [Robin Dunne] and tech wizard, Henry Foss [Ryan Robins] .

In this week’s ep, The Five, Magnus’ lecture to an underground group in Rome, on abnormals, leads to a meeting with Nikola Tesla [Jonathon Young] who warns her of an impending assassination attempt. Tesla has a few secrets, himself – the only one I can telegraph is that he sleeps during the day.

The episode is fast paced and smart, but has its moments of emotional truth that support the action. We get to see Magnus’ ability to improvise – and the rest of her team show initiative in the way they aid her from their home base. The CG sets and effects are improving and now have much more weight than early on. Even Tapping’s wobbly English accent is much more consistent.

On December 5th, Drs. Magnus and Zimmerman take a mini-sub to investigate the slaughter of a clan of mer-people and find an abnormal unlike any they’ve ever seen. Requiem is a bottle show – a one-set episode – and as such, relies on tour de force acting by Tapping and Zimmerman. Both actors are called on to run through a gamut of emotions in a situation where an unseen menace seems to be influencing their behavior.

Based on these two episodes, Sanctuary is deserving of its renewal and an even larger audience.

Final Grade: B+

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How to explain Babylon A.D. … Okay, how about this: Babylon A.D. is the movie Children of Men would have been had it been directed by Ridley Pearson and edited by Ed Wood. Vin Diesel’s Toorop is the Clive Owens character; Michelle Yeoh’s Sister Rebecca is the Julianne Moore character, and Melanie Thierry’s Aurora is the girl whom Toorop must deliver from Russia to the United States – and for a similar reason.

Diesel & Thierry

Director Matthieu Kassovitz is on record as saying that Babylon A.D. is not the film he made – that it’s been re-edited by the studio and is vastly inferior to the film he created. Judging from the mangled editing of the many fight sequences [and you thought Batman Begins’ fight sequences were hard to figure out] and the drastic changes in overall tone from epic and sweeping to grungy and claustrophobic, I’d have to say that it’s entirely possibly that he’s right.

Diesel is energetic and hard as Toorop, but we probably were expecting that. Yeoh is enigmatic and wise as Sister Rebecca, but that’s not asking much of her. The surprise comes from Melanie Thierry who is quite possibly too ethereally beautiful to be believed – either that or the camera just really, really loves her.

It’s hard to tell if Eric Besnard’s script is any good because of the editing. God knows, there are enough signs of intelligence and, possibly, wit here to suggest that it might well be very good. The only problem is that whatever there might have been to add surprise and freshness to this unexpected hybrid of Blade Runner and Children of Men has been excised – leaving us with something that neither involves nor satisfies.

I hope Kassovitz gets a Director’s Cut when the DVD comes out. I’d love to see why he’s so adamant that the theatrical release is not the movie he made.

Final Grade: D+

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The news came out, this week, that Stargate Atlantis was being cancelled in favor of one or two annual direct-to-DVD movies – the first one to wrap up the series’ final storyline – and where have we heard that one before? Still, the puzzling thing is that the series is being cancelled after its ratings rose this summer – which makes as much sense as the little pig in the straw house moving into his brother’s brick one and having the middle pig take it down with a bulldozer in a fit of envy.

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The main reason we’ve been given is that making the series in Vancouver, British Columbia is getting to be too expensive, though I humbly suggest that if the series was being produced in the U.S., its rising ratings would pretty much preclude such a move. So, why then, would MGM and the Atlantis production team go in this direction?

After a quick run through the season’s first six episodes, it’s certainly not because of any loss of quality – a potential reason that was rendered unlikely by the way that more people are watching, on a regular basis. With the franchise maintaining its usual high level of quality – of the six episodes, only Ghost in the Machine – which was hampered by Torri Higginson’s decision to not return] was less than a B effort – the rest ranged from A [The Daedalus Variations] to B- [The Seed]. Certainly, the show’s writing, production, direction, effects and performances have been as good as usual.

The answer is given, and quite clearly, in the press release for the upcoming series, Stargate Universe. In it, Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper are quoted as saying, “In ‘Universe,’ we plan to keep those elements that have made the franchise a success, such as adventure and humour, while breaking new ground in the relationships between mostly young and desperate explorers, thrust together and far from home. Above all, we believe the Stargate self remains an enduring icon with infinite potential as a jumping off point for telling stories.”

It’s the “let’s get a cast of younger, more kick-ass military and civilians – nothing wrong with kick-ass civilizations – and punch up our numbers in the 18-24 demo… and the ‘tween demo.” After all, nobody’s watching the old fogies on Atlantis except, well, more people than did last year – thereby punching a bit of a hole in the typical variety of network thinking.

What’s the big plus, here? It’s that the mainstays of the Stargate creative team remain aboard – even though they aren’t the young pups they were when they convinced Richard Dean Anderson into signing up. Happily, unlike the creative teams of other series, they get to space out their writing in such a way that they are still capable of writing engaging and entertaining episodes – unlike the Star Trek duo of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who were completely out of touch with their audience by the time season two of Enterprise came around [not to mention that ghastly series finale].

Stargate has survived big changes in the past. When Michael Shanks left, Corin Nemec stepped in and the show rolled on [and a lot of fans wouldn’t have minded if Nemec had stayed on]; Richard Dean Anderson left – for perfectly good reasons – and was replaced by Ben Browder, whose character injected a fresh enthusiasm to the series that almost made up for the introduction of the Ori. Claudia Black came aboard the SG-1 franchise at the same and her charming thief/con artist fit in – after awhile…

Then there were the changes on Atlantis, where a first-season regular departed after getting a buzz from Wraith venom; Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the leader of the Atlantis Expedition, became a Replicator and was replaced by Col. Samantha Carter – whose successes while in command got her moved out and fussy, protocol-happy Richard Woolsey took over [and discovered that protocol is pretty much just another word in the Pegasus Galaxy].

Throughout the changes – not to mention some of the best humorous eps on any SF series – the quality of the Stargate shows has been kept well above average. Now we’re going to be getting a series that features a younger cast that is stranded even farther away than the Pegasus Galaxy. The chances are that its creative team will be looking for fresh ideas – or at least, fresh spins on ideas – and that it will be worth watching.

It’s just too bad that Atlantis has to suffer cancellation because of it. And that idea for finishing off the final season cliffhanger with a direct-to-DVD movie? Still little more than an blatant cash grab.

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A new Battlestar Galactica TV movie is expected to go into production, in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the end of summer… The movie, which is being written by fan favorite, Jane Espenson, will be directed by Admiral Adama, himself, Edward James Olmos.

Edward James Olmos

Currently the cast includes Michael Trucco [Sam Anders], Aaron Douglas [Chief Galen Tyrol] and Dean Stockwell [Brother Cavil]. According to the Sci Fi channel press release, more casting news will follow “in the coming weeks.”

The movie opens before the events of the miniseries, with the story focusing on familiar characters including Cylon Model Number One, known as Cavil (Stockwell), Resistance Leader Sam T. Anders (Trucco) and Chief Galen Tyrol (Douglas).  It seems that the Cylons’ plan failed to account for one thing: survivors.  In the chaotic aftermath of the destruction, two powerful Cylon agents struggle with plots and priorities on the human ships that got away, while trying to deal with the resistance fighters who were left behind.

The as-yet-untitled movie will be released after the conclusion of the regular series, following the Razor model – first being broadcast by the Sci Fi Channel with a DVD release to follow shortly thereafter.

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War Games: The Dead Code is the straight-to-DVD sequel to the Cold War thriller starring Matthew Broderick as a teen computer whiz who almost starts World War III while under the mistaken impression that he’s playing a computer game. In The Dead Code, Matt Lanter is Will Farmer, a hacker who plays an online game called Ripley to win the money to go on a trip to Montreal with a girl [Annie D’Mateo, played by Amanda Walsh]. When his smartass best friend, Dennis [Nicholas Wright] up the ante while he’s not looking, Matt winds up catching the attention of the anti-terrorism computer program [R.I.P.L.E.Y. – voiced by Claudia Black] and being tagged as a potential terrorist.

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Unlike the threat of “Global Thermonuclear War” that powered the original, The Dead Code’s threat is bio-terrorism – and Will’s problems unfold because of odd coincidences – fixing his neighbor’s computer [and borrowing the stake for the online game] link him to a possible terrorist in the middle east, and because his mother works for a company that manufactures chemically-based household products [one failed attempt was for an odourless bleach], her unsuccessful prototypes making it seem like she is also a possible bio-terrorist.

The problem with The Dead Code is that Will’s situation spirals out of control so quickly – and on such flimsy evidence – that it strains credulity. Worse, Will’s pal, Dennis only exists for the express purpose of getting him into trouble and then making sure he stays there before vanishing from the proceedings. Then there’s the girl. Annie is going to Montreal to play in a chess tournament and doesn’t even know Will at the film’s beginning – and yet, she puts up with all sorts of crap because of him for no other reason than because he followed her to the French-Canadian city.

War Games: The Dead Code hits all its beats pretty much when it should as director Stuart Gillard tries to keep the action distracting us from the flimsiness of the plotting and lack of real characterization. What special effects there are, are used well, and solid performances from Colm Feore [Slings & Arrows] and Maxim Roy [ReGenesis], among others, are wasted here. Probably the movie’s only original moments are provided by the manner in which the original film’s Joshua Project factors into the proceedings.

Features include: Audio Commentary by Gillard and Lanter [boring] a Making Of Featurette, and a Production Stills Gallery [and no, trailers are not a bonus feature – they’re a marketing tool – unless they are the trailers for the actual film].

Grade: War Games: The Dead Code: D

Grade: Features: C-

Final Grade: D+

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Stargate: Continuum is the first DTDVD stand-alone adventure of the SG-1 team and it’s a bit of a time traveling doozy! It begins with SG-1 and General Jack O‘Neill [Richard Dean Anderson] attending the extraction ceremony for the last Goa’uld still existing in a Goa’uld System Lord. The Goa’uld is Ba’al [Cliff Simon], or rather, the last clone of Ba’al, who warns them that they’ve made a terrible mistake. As the ceremony proceeds, Vala [Claudia Black] and Teal’c [Christopher Judge] vanish. When members of the Tok’ra begin to disappear, too, the remaining SG-1 members and O’Neill realise that Ba’al has gone into the past to prevent the Stargate from being used – leaving Earth open to complete domination by the Goa’uld.

One of the best things about Stargate time travel tales is that they are usually a lot of fun. Continuum takes that to a whole new level, with appearances by nearly every major character in SG-1 lore – even though many are surprising cameos [check out the appearance of the System Lords, for example]. Also, Continuum is a stand-alone movie, so it’s not wrapping up a cliffhanger – or leaving fans hanging on yet another one.

SG_CONTINUUM Box Art

In the alternate timeline that’s created by Ba’al’s maneuver, we get to meet alternate versions of O’Neill, General Hammond [Don S. Davis], Major-General Landry [Beau Bridges] and even President Henry Hayes [William Devane] – and we learn that, in this timeline, Col. Samantha Carter [Amanda Tapping] was an astronaut who died saving her shuttle crew and Daniel Jackson [Michael Shanks] is a discredited crackpot. Not only that, but Lt.-Col. Cameron Mitchell [Ben Browder] is in a position to create a Grandfather Paradox [look it up] if he screws up.

Stargate: Continuum works on a couple of levels: it’s a solid SG-1 adventure replete with action, humor and wit, and it’s also a breathtaking visual achievement, with some brilliantly shot sequences in the Arctic – and the first ever time that a nuclear submarine has been used in a movie [the captain being played by the sub’s real commander]. The writing is a bit above the average for the series and the cast get to play some interesting variations on their characters – especially, Shanks, whose Daniel Jackson suffers more than usual [even for him]. The direction is, as with the series, pretty snappy. Even the expository scenes are rife with wit and fun. As for the effects, they’re terrific – though they can barely hold their own against the majesty of the Arctic.

Features include: Audio Commentary by Executive Producer/Writer Brad Wright and Director Martin Wood; The Making of Stargate: Continuum Featurette; Stargate Goes to the Arctic Featurette, and The Layman’s Guide to Time Travel.

Grade: Stargate: Continuum – B+

Grade: Features: A

Final Grade: A-

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