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Non-Review Review: Alita – Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel is the result of a creative union between James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez.

This partnership makes a certain amount of sense. Both Cameron and Rodriguez are genre film-makers, and one suspects that the two men would have been fast friends had they emerged at around the same time; Cameron came of age making films like Piranha 2 or Terminator, and those are certainly of a piece with Rodriguez’s filmography from Desperado through to Planet Terror and even Sin City. Cameron has arguably elevated his work into the mainstream, in that it is impossible to imagine Rodriguez producing a mass-appeal cultural smash like Cameron did with Terminator 2: Judgment Day Titanic or Avatar.

Slice o’ life.

However, allowing for that core similarity, Cameron and Rodriguez are still fundamentally different film-makers. Their interests might align when it comes to genre work, but they construct their movies in a very different manner, with a different emphasis on different aspects of their technique. Cameron is much more interested in bringing polish to his genre work, in finding a way to transform otherwise niche high-concept tales into crowd-pleasing blockbusters with mass appeal. In contrast, Rodriguez revels in the grottier aspects of his genre work, believing that the lack of sheen is part of the appeal.

Alita: Battle Angel finds these two aesthetics at odds with one another. The story at the heart of Alita is pure Cameron, dedicated to world-building and social commentary while relying on exposition and centring on big set pieces. However, the delivery of Alita is very much in the style of Rodriguez, stressing cool beats and individual sequences rather than the singular cohesive whole. The result is jarring and deeply fascinating, but it doesn’t quite come together. Alita is an intriguing piece of cinema, but a less than satisfying would-be blockbuster. Like its central character, it seems constructed of parts that don’t quite fit.

Red is dead.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – A Simple Investigation (Review)

A Simple Investigation is a quiet little episode.

This is particularly true in the context of the crowded second half to the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light radically upended the status quo and set the fifth season on a march towards A Call to Arms. The threat of war looms large over the second half of the season, following the admission of Cardassia into the Dominion. There is a creeping sense of inevitability to episodes like Blaze of Glory and Soldiers of the Empire.

Strange bedfellows...

Strange bedfellows…

At the same time, Deep Space Nine takes a little while to adjust to that dramatic shift. The Dominion and Cardassia only come back into focus with Ties of Blood and Water, the episode that reintroduces Weyoun to the series. Still, episodes like Doctor Bashir, I Presume and Business as Usual have a sense of weight to them as they offer up high-stakes family drama and arms-dealing morality plays. In contrast, A Simple Investigation feels relatively low key. It is not an episode with profound consequences or shocking revelations.

Instead, A Simple Investigation plays as a small-scale cyberpunk noir romance in which Odo falls head-over-heels in love with a guest star whom he will never see again. With all the chaos unfolding across the length and breadth of the fifth season, A Simple Investigation feels surprisingly… simple. The problems of these little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but A Simple Investigation still takes the time to fixate upon them.

Star struck.

Star struck.

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Harsh Realm – Reunion (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.

So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power: but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XI

Reunion continues the sense that Chris Carter envisioned Harsh Realm as something of an allegorical episodic adventure series through a post-apocalyptic reflection of contemporary America.

Carter quite clearly wanted to use Harsh Realm as a vehicle to explore and comment upon certain aspects of the American experience. Inga Fossa touched on the links between projected masculinity and violence; Cincinnati will find Santiago’s “manifest destiny” brushing up against the country’s Native American population. Even scripts like Three Percenters and Manus Domini feel tied into Carter’s large oeuvre, touching on the writer’s recurring fascination with homogeneity and spirituality in the modern world.

Things come to a head...

Things come to a head…

Reunion is very consciously a critique of excessive and abusive capitalism, presenting a vision of America built upon the economics of slave labour reinforced by the rhetoric of freedom and competition. In some respects, Reunion feels like Harsh Realm is channelling the spirit of classic science-fiction television like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. Its central allegory is hardly subtle, but there is a goofy charm in carrying these ideas well past their logical extremes. The vision of labour presented in Reunion is grotesque and exaggerated, but it is not completely fantastical.

Reunion also reaffirms the link that exists between the digital world and the real world, suggesting that perhaps the world that we inhabit is not as far removed from the horrors of the virtual reality as might hope.

Family matters...

Family matters…

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The X-Files – Kill Switch (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

On the surface of it, William Gibson seems a strange fit for The X-Files.

He certainly seems like a more eccentric choice than Stephen King. King was a writer famed for his horror stories, with a fascination for small-town life and an interest in guilt as a legacy of American history. On paper, King should have been the perfect “special guest writer” for the show, able to churn out a script that would resonate perfectly with the larger themes of The X-Files while still sitting comfortably within his own oeuvre. While Chinga is not a bad episode, it is not an exceptional episode by any measure. It feels perfectly adequate.

Well, that's going in the DVD menu.

Well, that’s going in the DVD menu.

As such, Kill Switch seems like a story that could go horribly wrong. Gibson is a writer most famous for his work in defining and popularising “cyberpunk”, a science-fiction subgenre that is far removed from the horror trappings generally associated with The X-Files. Gibson was a writer who tended to explore the possible future development of cyberspace and associated issues, while Carter worked very hard to anchor The X-Files in the now. Gibson’s stories seemed to take place in the not-too-distant future; Carter grounded The X-Files in a very particular now.

However, Kill Switch works. It works phenomenally well. It is an episode that feels markedly different from everything else around it, while still feeling like it belongs to The X-Files. The clash of styles is evident in Kill Switch, as writers William Gibson and Thomas Maddox find themselves adapting their themes and ideas to a completely different aesthetic. That is perhaps part of appeal. While Chinga made it look quite easy to construct a solid Stephen King story that was also a solid episode of The X-Files, Kill Switch is nowhere near as smooth. This is a different beast. And it is glorious.

"Woah, woah, woah. What happened to floppies?"

“Woah, woah, woah. What happened to floppies?”

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The X-Files (Topps) #13 – One Player Only (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.

After a twelve-issue opening mega-arc of interconnected stories about conspiracies-within-conspiracies and wheels-within-wheels, author Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard step back a little bit to close out their run with a series of standalone stories. The four issues (and three stories) that make up the rest of their run on Topps’ X-Files comic stand alone. They are connected by themes and subtext, but very clearly stand apart from what came before. Indeed, they play out almost like a postscript to the main body of work, a series of smaller bite-sized chunks.

In that light, it is interesting that One Player Only feels – superficially, at least – a lot more in step with the television show. The early issues of the comic had seen Petrucha and Adlard creating their own supporting cast and their own conspiracy, so as to avoid stepping on the toes of the production company. The Cigarette-Smoking Man was largely reduced to a number of cameos, with Skinner popping up once or twice along the way.

Ghosts in the machines?

Ghosts in the machines?

Not only does One Player Only feature a guest appearance from supporting characters like Mr. X or yhe Lone Gunmen, it also harks back to the structure and format of the first season of the show. On the most basic of levels, One Player Only feels like a more cyberpunk take on Ghost in the Machine, right down to the fact that Mulder is drawn into a murder at a tech company by an acquaintance from his days in the Violent Crimes Division. At one point, Mulder and Scully stumble on a ransacked house, for Mulder to deadpan, “Hm. Nothing new.”

However, if one peels back the layers, One Player Only is a fascinating piece that sets the tone for Petrucha and Adlard’s last three issues on the series, while infusing the comic with a host of fascinating cyberpunk stylings and body horror that seem to call forward to William Gibson’s future writing for the show.

Coding out...

Coding out…

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