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Space: Above and Beyond – Stardust (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.

Stardust was the second episode of Space: Above and Beyond to air on a Friday, as had originally been planned.

Of course, it was too late to help the show. By this point in its run, Space: Above and Beyond was a dead show walking. Stardust seems to wryly acknowledge as much. It opens with an inmate on death row, watching the clock tick down to midnight. The show is essentially about sacrifices made by the already-dead, and it’s hard not to get a sense that it captured the mood of the staff on the show as well. A wry wink at the audience, like all the introspective reflection in the earlier episodes.

Cold wars...

Cold wars…

It is also interesting how Stardust positions itself as a possible companion piece to The X-Files. The X-Files casts a pretty significant shadow over Space: Above and Beyond. It was very much an attempt by Fox to capitalise on the success of The X-Files as a genre show. It drafted in two of the most reliable executive producers working on The X-Files. The first two episodes were directed by a veteran of The X-Files. David Duchovny had popped by R & R as something of a goodwill ambassador.

Space: Above and Beyond had played with these comparisons before. The Farthest Man From Home had teased a conspiracy narrative about alien and government cover-ups. Level of Necessity featured a riff on Mulder, with a tall dark-haired paranormal investigator wandering into the show. Stardust makes the connection more explicit, riffing on some of the themes that The X-Files had pushed to the fore at the end of its second season and into the third, exploring links between Native Americans and extraterrestrials.

The honoured dead...

The honoured dead…

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The X-Files – Little Green Men (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

“We wanted to believe,” Mulder’s opening monologue explains. In a way, The X-Files works best as a profound meditation on faith. Not just Scully’s traditional religious faith, but Mulder’s belief that the world must make sense – even a crazy conspiratorial sort of sense. While Scully is a practising Roman Catholic, Mulder’s officer poster proclaims “I want to believe.” It’s a show about faith in humanity. A show about two people with unshakeable faith in each other.

“Trust no one,” a dying Deep Throat advised Scully in The Erlenmeyer Flask, words impossible to live by. Unsurprisingly, while treated as a mantra and motto for the show, the agents seem to freely ignore that last warning. Mulder and Scully trust each other. Mulder trusts the Lone Gunmen, and Senator Matheson, along with just about everything he reads or is told that reinforces his faith. It’s telling that – despite his cynicism about the government and her religious faith – the show casts Scully (rather than Mulder) in the role of skeptic.

His darkest hour...

His darkest hour…

Little Green Men is effectively a second pilot for the show. While set in the new status quo established during the closing scene of The Erlenmeyer Flask, the episode is very much structured as a “jumping on” point for those who might want to start watching the series. After all, the first season had been a cult hit, but hadn’t quite set the world on fire. Offering an introduction to those attracted by the growing buzz surrounding the show over the summer hiatus makes sense.

And so Little Green Men is built around Mulder’s crisis of faith and his attempts to vindicate that faith, offering a thoughtful examination of a man who wants to believe. While Little Green Men doesn’t offer any large steps forward in the show’s mythology or story arcs, it is a moving and introspective piece.

Samantha gets carried away...

Samantha gets carried away…

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The X-Files – Tooms (Review)

Tooms offers us the show’s first returning monster, not counting the recurring alien menace that has appeared in episodes like Deep Throat or Fallen Angel or E.B.E. In fact, it arguably offers us two recurring monsters, with Eugene Victor Tooms putting in his second appearance, but also featuring the second official (but third possible) appearance of the Cigarette-Smoking Man.

Appropriately enough, Tooms doesn’t just bring back the eponymous serial killer, it begins to tie various loose ends together, and to fashion a sense of continuity and development from the various character moments and implications of the first season, suggesting that forces are moving in the background, behind the scenes of everything we’ve watched unfold.

They've got him boxed in...

They’ve got him boxed in…

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The X-Files – Shadows (Review)

Shadows feels a tad generic, but that’s by design. Written by the duo of Glenn Morgan and James Wong, Shadows was apparently intended to appease the network by offering something in the mold of a traditional ghost story – indeed, The Entity is often cited as an influence on the episode. Shadows runs off a rather conventional premise – a woman is haunted by a strange force capable of manipulating and moving objects, out to avenge some grave wrong.

In many respects, following The Jersey Devil, it almost seems like the first season of The X-Files is trying to knock off various items on a paranormal checklist. UFOs? Got ’em. A popular cryptozoology monster? Yep. Ghosts or poltergeists? We got a story here. The result is hardly inspiring. The X-Files tends to work a bit better when it’s venturing off the beaten track, taking something that isn’t mainstream and running with it.

Author John Kenneth Muir argued that watching The X-Files was like “watching a movie every week.” If that’s the case, Shadows feels more like a movie of the week.

The pen is mightier than the sword!

The pen is mightier than the sword!

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The X-Files – The Jersey Devil (Review)

And with The Jersey Devil, the first season of The X-Files hits its first major snag. The first four episodes have done an efficient job laying down the character arcs and the ground rules for this new conspiratorial series. The rest of the season – like a lot of first seasons – has a great deal of difficulty trying to figure out a formula that works using those elements.

The Jersey Devil is, by all accounts, an episode that should work. It has a nice pseudo-scientific premise. It is written by the creator of the show, and who – at this early stage – could claim a better idea of how the series works than Chris Carter? It gives us some personal insight into both of our protagonists, and it sort of clarifies that Squeeze is not going to be the exception – that there will be a lot of anthology-style episodes.

And yet, despite all that, it doesn’t quite work. The premise is never as interesting as it should be. Chris Carter confirms that while he is a fantastic ideas man, he is not the strongest writer on his own staff. The best of these insights into Mulder and Scully were already made much better in Squeeze, and the rest feel somewhat trite. Despite the fact that it’s only the show’s second anthology-style episode, The Jersey Devil feels like it’s trying to hard to stick to the framework outlined by the three UFO episodes in the series’ opening quartet.

Casting light...

Casting light…

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Non-Review Review: Rush

In many ways, Rush quite resembles the last collaboration between director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan. Both are built around contests between two larger-than-life personalities. One is old-fashioned and conservative, averse to risk and obsessed with victory; the other is young and impetuous, arrogant and self-assured without the experience to back that up. However, while Rush lacks the screen presence of performers Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, it benefits greatly from the fact that it refuses to choose a side.

As much as Frost/Nixon might have offered a slightly more sympathetic-than-usual Nixon, it was clear that the audience was intended to root against the corrupt former president, and champion the ascension of young up-and-comer David Frost. Rush manages a more delicate balance, firmly refusing to favour one protagonist over the other. Both the reckless young go-getter and the safety-conscious number-cruncher are portrayed as sympathetic and well-developed characters.

This makes Rush that rarest of sports movies: the one where the audience is rooting for both contenders.

Not quite to Formula...

Not quite to Formula…

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Non-Review Review: Fast Five

Fast Five reminds me a lot of the kinds of cars that its leads drive. Now, please excuse me if the metaphor is a bit clunky. I know nothing of cars. However, whenever we cut to inside one of these enhanced driving machines, it’s clear that virtually every unnecessary component has been stripped out in order to make room for more relevant pieces of equipment. The passenger seat, for example, has been removed and replaced with some canisters I can only assume allow the car to go faster. In many ways, Fast Five feels a bit like that. I knows exactly the film that it wants to be, and it knows exactly what it needs to be that sort of film. Anything else – whether wit, sophistication or character development – is all just dead weight between fast one-liners, impressive action sequences and effective stunt work. And, I am not ashamed to admit, I actually quite enjoyed it on its own terms.

Let’s Rock ‘n’ Roll…

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