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Non-Review Review: Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is an intriguing and compelling mess of a film. It is shrewd and clever, if never entirely human.

Director J.A. Bayona might be the first director since Spielberg to put his own unique slant on the Jurassic Park franchise, to move with just enough confidence and faith in his own stylistic sensibilities to escape the shadow of the legendary director who turned a pulpy novel into a beloved family classic. Bayona does that by allowing his own stylistic sensibilities to shine through, to embrace his own interest and to engage with the material on his own terms.

Dino escape.

Fallen Kindom walks a fine line. It is very much a creature grown in a laboratory to satisfy the demands of the larger franchise. There are elements here that exist purely because they are expected, because they are signifiers of what a “Jurassic Park movie” should look like, including both returning characters and new characters fashioned after familiar archetypes. At the same time, there is a coy and wry self-awareness to Fallen Kingdom that was sorely lacking from Jurassic World, a cynicism about its own nature that integrates rather neatly into its larger worldview.

Although it may be damning with faint praise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is easily the best Jurassic Park movie since Jurassic Park: The Lost World, the film in the franchise with which it shares most of its DNA.

Things are heating up.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Child’s Play (Review)

Interesting, isn’t it?

What?

With all their technology, their opportunity to explore the galaxy, the thing they want most is to get home.

A Trek away from the Stars.

Child’s Play is a fascinating episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in that it might be seen as a firm rejection of some of the show’s core conservatism.

Voyager has always been the most conservative of the Star Trek franchise, the series most likely to panic about gang violence for two whole seasons starting in Caretaker or to rail against immigration in Displaced or to voice its anxieties about refugees in Day of Honour. More than that, what are episodes like Remember or Distant Origin or Living Witness or Memorial but expressions of literal anxieties about the erosion of the certainty of history to postmodernism and moral relativism? At its core, Voyager is a series about nostalgia, about the yearning to recapture what once was, how the only journey is the journey home.

“Everything the light touches is your kingdom…”

Child’s Play is interesting as a firm rejection of the idea of the traditional family unit in favour of a more modern (and less rigidly defined) idea of a “found family.” It is a story about how a child’s best interests do not always lie with their biological parents, and about how some of the strongest and most loving bonds in a young person’s life can be forged by chance rather than biology. Child’s Play is essentially an ode to the kind of complicated family dynamics that were entering the mainstream at the turn of the millennium, a staunch defense of a liberal and inclusive definition of family.

More than that, the episode also seems to be making several very pointed jabs at Voyager‘s traditionally conservative outlook.

“I want to be out there…”

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Non-Review Review: Strangers – Prey at Night

Strangers: Prey At Night is the story of a wholesome family that find themselves menaced by a group of Kim-Wilde-and-Bonnie-Tyler-loving, smiley-face-making, Nirvana-quoting nihilist hipster dirtbags. So, it’s a true horror story.

Strangers: Prey At Night is perhaps the flip side of the nostalgic-for-the-experience-of-horror-cinema movies like A Quiet Place or Lights Out, in that it’s just a straight-up nostalgic ode to all manner of forgettable eighties era slasher movies. It’s a canny example of the horror genre’s ability to cannibalise what works, a film very consciously built on the successful nostalgic retro horror vibe that made The Conjuring and The Conjuring II such massive hits, but applying it to the direct-to-video masked-and-axe-wielding-killer subgenre.

Let us prey.

Being honest, it is a surprise that it took so long to see that approach applied to the reliable low-budget slasher genre. After all, the twenty-first century has seen a host of remakes and reboots of classic hack-and-slash films like The Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes, but those films consciously emphasised applying modern movie-making techniques to older material. Strangers: Prey at Night does the inverse, applying an older aesthetic to a sequel to a newer breed of horror film.

The approach is intriguing, even if the results are unsatisfying.

The horror franchise that burns twice as bright…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Pathfinder (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager has always had an awkward relationship with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was always the rebellious middle-child, prone to make bold and defiant gestures like blowing up a surrogate of the Enterprise in The Jem’Hadar, bringing Jonathan Frakes back to play Riker’s evil transporter duplicate in Defiant, and have former Enterprise crew member Chief Miles Edward O’Brien praise Sisko as the best captain in the fleet in The Adversary. It was a television series that was dedicated to defining its own unique identity, and at least some of that identity was defined in opposition to its direct predecessor.

Taking his Neelix.

In contrast, Voyager always felt a little more desperate, a little too eager to assert its connection to The Next Generation and to insist upon itself as a spiritual successor to that beloved (and incredibly successful) series. Despite the fact that Voyager was set primarily in the Delta Quadrant, the series never missed an opportunity to crossover with The Next Generation. Barclay appeared as a hologram in Projections, Riker was summoned across the universe in Death Wish, LaForge was rendered a captain in the future presented in Timeless.

This is to say nothing of the minor crossovers taken at every available opportunity; the use of Q and the Borg Queen among the relatively small number of recurring guest stars, the original plan to build 11:59 around Guinan, the decision to produce the dire False Profits as a sequel to the dire The Price. Repeatedly over the show’s run, Voyager feels very much like a young child digging through its elder sibling’s wardrobe for something that might possible be claimed as a hand-me-down. It is depressing, particularly considering the raw potential that was baked into the premise of Voyager.

Course correction.

Pathfinder is perhaps the apex of this approach. It is effectively a stealth episode of The Next Generation, packaged and released under the Voyager brand. The primary plot of Pathfinder focuses on two characters from The Next Generation sitting around and talking about how great Voyager is, with one of those characters even escaping into a holographic fantasy of life on board the ship to help him think. In many ways, Pathfinder could be seen to prefigure These Are the Voyages…, the catastrophic finale to Star Trek: Enterprise that borrowed the same template and somehow pushed it even further.

There is a smell of desperation about Pathfinder. Whatever the plot of the episode might suggest, Voyager feels more lost than ever.

The Last Generation.

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The Meta Movie Monster Milieu: The Postmodern Horror Film…

Horror films have historically performed very well.

They never really get the same attention or focus as more prestigious genres like drama or even comedy or action, but they tend to chug away reliably in the background. Since the explosion of blockbuster filmmaking during the seventies, horror has always had several innate advantages over other genres. Horror films are cheaper to produce than star-studded dramas, period pieces, or epic spectacle, meaning that they have to earn less money to be profitable. Horror films are also largely seen as disposable and fun films, so there is always a market for these films and they tend to be insulated from bad reviews.

Indeed, there has been a miniature horror revolution over the past few years, itself building on the low-budget found footage revolution of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Very few people seem to talk about it, but director James Wan seems to have built what is Hollywood’s second successful shared universe with the nexus connecting films like The Conjuring and The Conjuring II to movies like Annabelle and The Nun. Indeed, the success of these films has even led to a sort of weird hybrid of revived seventies horror stylings with blockbuster narrative sensibilities.

However, there has also been a quieter revolution in horror storytelling, with several low-budget and independent horror films gaining critical and cultural traction. Films like The Babadook were greeted with enthusiasm. Get Out become one of a handful of low budget horror films to secure a Best Picture nomination. Films like Hereditary emerge from the festival circuit with considerable buzz. Horror movies have always been pointed towards and engaged with contemporary politics, often in a manner more visceral than the prestige dramas around them. However, it seems that is finally being acknowledged.

With all of this happening within the genre, there has been something else bubbling through contemporary horror cinema. Films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place represent a fascinating shift within the genre towards more self-aware storytelling. There is a decidedly meta quality to horror films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place. As with horror films like The Babadook and Get Out, these are films that hinge on the audience’s understanding of the mechanics and structure of horror films, weaponising the viewer’s expectations.

However, these films are markedly different from companion horrors like The Babadook and Get Out, films that use the language of horror to construct broader allegories. Instead, films like It Follows, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out and A Quiet Place are horror films that often seem to be explicitly about the experience of watching horror films.

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Non-Review Review: Game Night

Game Night is a delightfully strange creation, the kind of film that feels willfully esoteric.

Game Night a comedy built around an extended whole plot reference to a largely forgotten-by-all-but-hardcore-devotees mid-tier nineties David Fincher movie. Despite amassing something of a cult following, and despite the fact that it has aged relatively well as an example of Fincher’s craft, The Game is largely seen as a curiousity in Fincher’s filmography. It lacks the gravity and cultural weight afforded to the Fincher films that impacted the zeitgeist and resonated with critics; se7en, Fight ClubZodiac, The Social Network.

A cheesy premise.

As such, it is strange to see a comedy built as an extended homage to The Game. Not that there is anything wrong with The Game. As with any Fincher film, it is a very well-constructed film and one that is satisfying on its own terms, even if it never elevates itself in the same way as the best of the director’s work. It seems like a strange choice for a loving spoof twenty years after the fact. Perhaps Game Night can be contextualised as one of the more bizarre and specific expressions of the nineties nostalgia otherwise referenced in films like Jurassic World or Independence Day: Resurgence.

However, what is especially striking about Game Night is its commitment to this singular extended reference. This is not a film recycling the basic concept of The Game, it is a film defined and shaped by The Game. While it is very clearly nested inside the framework of a contemporary studio comedy, Game Night proves endearingly invested in its inspiration. Game Night is very… well… game.

Getting on board with the premise.

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Star Trek: Voyager – One Small Step (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager marks the end of the future.

Many fans would point to Star Trek: Enterprise as the moment that the larger Star Trek franchise turned its gaze backwards and embraced a sense of broad nostalgia for a future that was already behind that explored in the original series. After all, the last television series of the Berman era took the franchise back to its roots and paved the way for both J.J. Abrams’ pseudo-reboot in Star Trek and for Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman’s prequel in Star Trek: Discovery.

First (and Last) Flight.

However, this overlooks the importance of Voyager in signposting this shift. In some ways, Voyager represents the end of the final frontier. Chronologically speaking, Endgame is the last episode of the larger Star Trek franchise, the future beyond the finale explored only in Star Trek: Nemesis and as part of the back story to the rebooted Star Trek. Chronologically speaking, Voyager represents the last television series within the Star Trek universe. However, Voyager very carefully and very consciously seeds the nostalgia that would later envelope the franchise.

This is obvious in any number of ways. Voyager is a show that is literally about the desire to return home rather than to push forward. Caretaker established the show as an extended homage to fifties pulp storytelling. The politics of the series – reflected in episodes as diverse as Real Life, Displaced and Day of Honour – were decidedly conservative. Even the genre trappings of the series were often framed in terms of mid-twentieth century pulp fiction; the space lift in Rise, the broad allegory in Innocence, the atomic horror of Jetrel.

We come not to praise Voyager, but to bury it.

However, all of this is rooted in a very conscious yearning on the part of Voyager to connect to its roots. Numerous small scenes across the seven-season run of the show hint at this sentiment; Janeway discussing the romantic past in Flashback, the literal journey home in Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, the retrofuturism of Tom Paris’ various holoprogrammes, Janeway’s fascination with her long-lost ancestor in 11:59. There was a sense that Voyager was a series as intent on journeying backwards in time as much as space, even outside of its time travel obsession.

One Small Step stands out as one of the most obvious and blatant examples of this nostalgia within Voyager, in many ways feeling (like Friendship One in the subsequent season) like an attempt to seed the literal prequel that would materialise in Enterprise.

It turns out that John Kelly crossed over into a subspace anomaly drawn by Jack Kirby.

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