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Star Trek: Voyager – Thirty Days (Review)

Thirty Days is a fascinating misfire.

Thirty Days is build around a number of interesting ideas. In terms of character, there is the framing device that finds Tom Paris sentenced to spend one month in the brig after an act of crass insubordination, suggesting a relapse into the “bad boy” persona that was largely forgotten after Ex Post Facto, barring the occasional revival for episodes like Vis á Vis. It also hints at questions of discipline on the ship, something around which Star Trek: Voyager has skirted in the past in episodes like Prime Factors and Manoeuvres. There is a compelling story here, somewhere.

Watching Thirty Days can feel like…

In terms of science-fiction plot elements, Thirty Days features the first ocean planet in the history of the Star Trek franchise. That is interesting of itself. What wonders lurk within an ocean world? What would life look like had it never left the sea and set foot on land? There is something decidedly pulpy and magical about a planet that has no surface of which to speak, instead comprised of waves and tides. Even with the flimsiest of plots, this element alone should provide fodder for an exciting installment.

Unfortunately, Thirty Days fumbles both of these interesting elements, falling victim to a recurring issue with the plotting on Voyager. The pacing is awkward, the plot points are under-developed, the framing device is hackneyed. The script for Thirty Days seems far more concerned about hitting the forty-five minute mark than it does with using these elements to tell a compelling story. The result is a bit of a wash.

Water conservation.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Killing Game, Part II (Review)

In some ways, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feel like a perfect companion piece to Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

Building upon the high-concept large-scale template established by Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II during the third season, these two two-part episodes established a blockbuster template for Star Trek: Voyager going forward. They solidified Brannon Braga’s vision for the series, and effectively laid out a blueprint for his widescreen spectacle-driven reimagining of the final three seasons. Like Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II before them, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are blockbuster Star Trek.

Time’s up.

Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had produced any number of two-part episodes over the course of their runs. In fact, The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II had helped to cement the two-part story as impressive tool in the franchise’s storytelling arsenal. On both VHS and blu ray, these two-part stories were constantly repackaged as mini-movies; Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II, Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II, Chain of Command, Part I and Chain of Command, Part II.

However, Voyager represented a very clear evolution in the way that the production team approached these stories. Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II were the exception that proved the rule, the last holdover of the Michael Piller era. Largely driven by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky, the later Voyager two-parters took on a decidedly more blockbuster sensibility. They could easily be packaged as mini feature films, and might even work better in those formats than as two standalone narratives. They were bigger and bolder than earlier two-parters had been.

Holo promises.

Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II provided the model for these big “event” two-parters. Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II applied to the Borg in order to offer an even bigger bang for their buck. Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II took the ship and crew to their limit to tell a story set over an entire year. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II pushed the idea even further, with UPN opting to show both parts of the story on the same night as something like a television movie. It was a big deal.

Deep Space Nine had broadcast The Way of the Warrior as a television movie, but it was a season premiere and effectively a second (or even third) pilot. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II comprised a high-concept mid-season two parter. They were arguably a stock Voyager episode, only bigger. In the years ahead, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II would follow the same pattern. So would Flesh and Blood, Part I and Flesh and Blood, Part II. The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II established a trend.

Super evil alien space Nazi.

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The X-Files – The Amazing Maleeni (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The Amazing Maleeni is light and fairly unobjectionable.

There is nothing necessarily bad about the episode. It is inoffensive and effective. It is a story about magic that features any number of magic tricks, twisting and turning as stories about magic are contractually obligated to twist and turn. There are betrayals and double-crosses, gambits and reveals. Nobody is who they claim to be, and everything is suspect. Individual events are never what they initially appear to be, creating a sense that the audience is watching the dominos cascade. The Amazing Maleeni does almost everything that it needs to do.

Top it all off...

Top it all off…

At the same time, there is something lifeless about the final episode; something almost routine. The Amazing Maleeni feels like a rough sketch of a much stronger episode. The mechanics of the trick are in place, but the performance needs a little more polish. There is no dynamism to the episode. The Amazing Maleeni sacrifices momentum for whimsy, charm for engagement. As an episode of television, The Amazing Maleeni is a pleasant way to pass forty-five minutes. Ultimately, it leaves no real impression.

The Amazing Maleeni is more illusion than magic.

Give the man a hand (cuff)!

Give the man a hand (cuff)!

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Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies

It has become a stock criticism to suggest that Peter Jackson did not need a full trilogy to adapt The Hobbit for the big screen. That said, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was an unexpected pleasure – a movie not all hindered by the pacing concerns of the trilogy and instead interested in its own central narrative. You could cut the opening scene from The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies onto the end of The Desolation of Smaug and you would have pretty much everything that you need.

While this approach benefited The Desolation of Smaug, it puts Battle of the Five Armies at something of a disadvantage. It is debatable whether there was enough material to support three full films based on The Hobbit – even drawing from other sources in the Tolkien canon – but this is clearly not the best way of structuring those three films. There is a sense that Battle of the Five Armies suffers from the decision to extend the planned duology into a full-blown trilogy.

The not-so-magic dragon...

The not-so-magic dragon…

To be fair to Peter Jackson, he does avoid the ending issues that haunted The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. However, he does that by editing Battle of the Five Armies as a brief epilogue to the previous two films, following by a massive battle sequence. This is quite impressive from a technical standpoint, but there is a sense of fatigue to it all. As the title implies, this is a five-way battle involving thousands of participants; both organic and computer-generated. A lot gets lost in the shuffle, and the plot – as it stands – could be explained in two sentences.

More than that, Battle of the Five Armies is hindered by its status as a prequel. The fact that everybody in the audience has likely seen The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring means that they know all this spectacle is really for nothing. The first two films in the trilogy largely avoided the problem by pitching the story as a working-class version of The Lord of the Rings, allowing characters to engage in quests that are deeply personal even as they ripple to larger events.

A messed-up character orc...

A messed-up character orc…

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Non-Review Review: The Thing (2011)

The reflexive reaction to a film like the 2011 version of The Thing is one of scepticism. There’s something very strange about seeing a movie that had been relatively unloved on initial release garnering the remake/prequel treatment, an attempt to cash in on its cult success by turning it into a franchise. And, to be fair, a lot of that cynicism is justified by The Thing. There are times when it seems like – despite the obvious affection for the original horror master piece held by the writers and the director – that nobody really has any idea why John Carpenter’s The Thing has become such an iconic piece of cinematic horror.

There are some nice touches here, and it seems like director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is genuine in his love of the classic body horror. Unfortunately, it feels like the finished product is more the result of mechanical number-crunching than honest enthusiasm.

All fired up...

All fired up…

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Non-Review Review: Oz – The Great & Powerful

Oz: The Great & Powerful is a fabulous production. A few minor misgivings aside, it looks and sounds fantastic. Sam Raimi has done the best job bringing Oz to the screen since the original version of The Wizard of Oz all those decades ago. In its best moments, there’s an enthusiasm and a lightness of touch that fits the material perfectly and captures the wonder that we associate with Oz. It’s very clear that a lot of love and care was put into the production design of the film, and that Sam Raimi’s hand moved with the utmost consideration and affection for the original film. It makes it a little disappointing, then, that the script to Oz: The Great & Powerful should feel so undercooked, more like an early draft than a finished screenplay.

Up in the air or down to earth?

Up in the air or down to earth?

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Non-Review Review: The House of Flying Daggers

Yimou Zhang’s House of Flying Daggers is a wonderful visual and auditory experience. It’s a sumptuous feast for the eyes and the ears, a truly beautiful piece of film that really needs to seen to be fully appreciated. While its plots and characters aren’t quite as rich as the wonderfully saturated surroundings, House of Flying Daggers remains a film that really seems to bask in light and colour, almost soaking in those elements, with each frame seeming like a stunning work of art.

Bamboozled?

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