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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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New Podcast! Primitive Culture #19 – Star Trek: Voyager, History and Nostalgia

Over the Christmas Break, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the wonderful Duncan Barrett and talking about Star Trek: Voyager. Duncan is a historian, and I’ve had the pleasure of quoting some of his work on the blog in the past. He hosts Primitive Culture, with Tony Black and Clara Cook, a show wherein the hosts discuss certain historical-related items of interest in the Star Trek canon.

Duncan was in Ireland for part of the break, and so we took the opportunity to have a sit down to talk about the unique approach that Voyager had to the ideas of history and nostalgia within the Star Trek canon, how it viewed both the past and the future. We particularly focused on episodes like Distant Origin and Living Witness, along with a broad discussion of particular themes. It was a fun discussion, and you can listen to it below or directly via Primitive Culture‘s homepage on trek.fm.

Twin Peaks – Northwest Passage (Review)

This is Special Agent Dale Cooper.

Gary Cooper?

Agent Cooper. Agent.

Twin Peaks remains something of a pop cultural oddity.

Despite its trappings and its pedigree, Twin Peaks was not a niche phenomenon. It was an event. The pilot was the most-watched television movie of 1990, and set about a wave of speculation and engagement. The series inspired a whole generation of television copycats, from Picket Fences to The X-Files. It redefined what was possible on television. It was a water-cooler show. This fact is somewhat obscured by the underwhelming ratings of the recent relaunch and even the sharply declining ratings of the original run.

And yet, in spite of all of that, Twin Peaks is undoubtedly the product of David Lynch. Of course, Lynch was working with writer Mark Frost, who deserves a great deal of credit for fashioning Lynch’s surrealist tendencies into something as coherent and accessible as Twin Peaks. Nevertheless, Twin Peaks is very much “of a piece” with the rest of the director’s work. Even beyond its use of familiar faces and its unmistakable tone, there is a clear sense that Twin Peaks belongs alongside Lynch’s films like Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.

However, the beauty of the original Twin Peaks is the way in which so skillfully distills that illusive and ethereal Lynchian quality into something that is much more conventional than a lot of his cinematic output; something that has the same depth and uncanniness that defines so much of Lynch’s work, while also seeming very much in tune with the popular consciousness. It is a rare quality, a piece of art both universal and specific.

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“My World Doesn’t Exist Anymore.” Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman, and the Rejection of Nostalgia

Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman are deeply flawed films. However, they are also breathtakingly ambitious films.

There are very few big budget blockbuster films that look and feel like Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman. Actor Henry Cavill has diplomatically described Batman vs. Superman as a “niche” film in order to account for the openly hostile fan and critic reaction to the movie. There is a sense that Cavill was trying to offer an apology without an apology, to appease certain vocal segments of fan culture without throwing his work under the bus. However, there is some truth in his words.

It is tempting to wonder how much of the vocal and aggressive online response to Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman comes down to the fact that these movies challenge popular perceptions of these iconic characters. Comic book writer Mark Waid was very vocal in his dislike of Man of Steel, not on the basis of the direction or the choreography or the framing or the craft, but because the film misunderstood “the essential part of Superman.” These complaints were echoed across the the blogosphere.

An unchallenged and unspoken assumption crept into discussions and debates around Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman. The primary argument seemed to be that this wasn’t really Superman and this wasn’t really Batman, because these characters were so impossible to reconcile with the popular image of these characters. Many criticisms of Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman measured them against other iterations of the characters, real and imagined. Man of Steel wasn’t colourful enough. Superman doesn’t kill. Lex Luthor is not Mark Zuckerberg.

The idea was that Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman violated some unspoken compact with the audience, that it offered a version of these characters and their world that didn’t line up with audience expectations. Indeed, this is perhaps most notable in the inevitable comparisons between Zack Snyder’s work and the output of Marvel Studios. Marvel Studios had spent the better part of a decade building a reputation as a studio that was faithful and respectful of its source material, to the point of slavishness. Marvel Studios offered uncomplicated, straightforward adaptations.

However, there is a sense that Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman were rather consciously rejecting the culture of nostalgia that has become so dominant and overwhelming in contemporary blockbuster cinema, that the films represented a conscious effort to challenge audience expectations and to push provocative and ambitious interpretations of these characters and their mythos. Indeed, it is hard not to see the audience’s vicious and aggressive response to Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman as a response to that.

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