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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Shadows and Symbols (Review)

Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols continue to reframe the theology of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in terms of Christian iconography.

To be fair, it makes sense that Christian imagery and metaphor should so heavily influence film and television. The United States is the world’s largest exporter of entertainment, and so it makes sense that its preoccupations should filter through into the art that it creates. After all, certain plot and story threads on Star Trek: Voyager (including the Kazon, and the treatment of immigrants and refugees in Displaced and Day of Honour) are very clearly anchored in a number of racial anxieties unique to California during the nineties.

The writing’s on the wall.

However, there was something very interesting in the way that Deep Space Nine had introduced and developed its theology. The early seasons of Deep Space Nine were heavily influenced by more eastern religions, like Buddhism. They were also more ambiguous in their portrayal of the wormhole aliens, suggesting that the enigmatic creatures could be both aliens and gods, depending on one’s perspective. Even then, there was a recurring suggestion in episodes like Emissary and Prophet Motive that the wormhole aliens did not conform to human morality.

As Deep Space Nine approaches the end of its run, it simplifies its approach to religion. The Prophets become a lot less ambiguous, and the spiritual framework becomes a lot more conventional. This process really began in earnest with The Assignment and was solidified in The Reckoning, but it becomes a lot more concrete in Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols.

Let there be light.
And it was good.

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Space: Above and Beyond – The River of Stars (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

And so this is Christmas.

On the face of it, doing a Christmas episode of Space: Above and Beyond seems absurd. Space: Above and Beyond is a show about a grim and relentless future war, where human lives are sacrificed in a long and brutal slog. It is very hard to reconcile that with the traditional structure of a Christmas story, which typically draws together a family so that they might celebrate the possibility of “peace on Earth” and “goodwill to all men.”

Homecoming...

Homecoming…

And yet, the episode works in spite of this contrast – or, perhaps, because of it. The River of Stars opens with a monologue narrated by Wang that helps to set the mood for the next forty-five minutes, documenting the well-known Christmas truces that took place during the First World War. Although these spontaneous demonstrations of good will and trust were by no means unique, those temporary reprieves served as a reminder of the humanity that often seemed lost amid the pain and the bloodshed.

If any show could use a charming feel-good story about the possibility of peace on Earth and goodwill towards other people, Space: Above and Beyond might be it.

Staring at the stars...

Staring at the stars…

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Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Fires of Pompeii originally aired in 2008.

Pompeii. We’re in Pompeii. And it’s Volcano Day.

– turns out the Doctor likes Steven Moffat scripts as well

What does it mean to be “just passing through” history? To watch events play out, knowing the expected outcome to every major event? To realise that the people you meet have all turned to ash before you were even born? If the Doctor travels through history fighting monsters and saving the world, how can he allow people to die needlessly? Surely it would be just as feasible for him to prevent the Challenger disaster as it is to foil the Nestene? Why can’t he warn people about impending natural disasters? Why do people killed by the Judoon matter more than people killed in car accidents or lightning storms or murdered by other human beings?

The answer is, of course, “because this is a television show”, but it puts the Doctor in a decidedly uncomfortable position. The show is fond of championing the Doctor as a romantic idealist out to make the universe a better place, and one who can’t abide oppression or suffering. And yet he only ever intervenes in cases involving aliens or futuristic technology. Rather than seeming like an agent of radical social change, this tends to make the Doctor feel a bit like an agent of the status quo.

It’s something the show has wrestled with quite a bit, particularly during the Jon Pertwee era. The Fires of Pompeii doesn’t necessarily provide satisfying answers to those questions within the narrative, but it does a lot to develop the role of the Doctor and his own relationship with history.

Come with me if you want to live...

Come with me if you want to live…

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Non-Review Review: The Canyons

The Canyons struggles to surmount the weight of productions stories bearing down on it. Paul Schrader’s latest film was famously the subject of a 7,000-word article in the New York Times documenting the trials and tribulations behind the scenes. In a way, these troubles made the film somewhat larger-than-life, turning it into one giant attempt at career resurrection for director Paul Schrader and lead actor Lindsay Lohan.

Given the film’s much publicised sexual content (and the decision to cast pornography actor James Deen in the lead role), there’s a sense that this could be Lohan’s Last Tango in Paris, a bold and blistering performance from a once-respected talent eclipsed by years of behind-the-scenes gossip and idle chatter. Ironically, it’s none of the established talent that impresses with The Canyons. Bret Easton Ellis’ story feels like a shallow pastiche of Ellis-ian touches, while Schrader’s direction is intrusive and overwhelming. Lohan shows flickers of honesty and risk-taking, but is lost in the shuffle and the hum-drum plotting.

In contrast, it’s relative newcomer (as much a man with a filmography containing over 1,000 titles can be a newcomer) James Deen who makes the strongest impression as a surprisingly efficient Ellis-ian protagonist.

thecanyons1

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Non-Review Review: Shadowlands

Shadowlands is, at its core, a very typical “weepy” romantic drama. However, it’s an exceptionally well-executed example of the genre, one that demonstrates a rather uncanny understanding about the complexities of love and loss that help it stand out from a lot of its fellow films. A superbly powerful central performance from Anthony Hopkins certainly doesn’t hurt, and Richard Attenborough’s elegant, yet unintrusive, direction allows the story to flow without ever feeling too emotionally manipulative. It’s an intelligent and well-constructed exploration of a tragic love affair, one that feels distinctly human in its approach to its subjects and themes.

Does Hopkins deliver a superb performance? You can bank on it…

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