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Star Trek: Voyager – Spirit Folk (Review)

The holodeck is horrifying.

This is nothing new. It has been this way since Star Trek: The Next Generation. The holodeck has been an unsettling concept from almost the very beginning, not least because of the kinds of stories that the holodeck suggests. From the moment that the Enterprise updated the holodeck in The Big Goodbye, there has been a creeping sense that the holographic creations are capable of comprehending the nature of their existence; in fact, that episode ends with the horrifying notion of McNary wondering what would happen to him when Picard turned off the program.

It’s the poster for the least exciting action movie of the late nineties.

This anxiety simmered in the background of the next few holodeck-centric episode, albeit less directly. Both Minuet in 11001001 and the Comic in The Outrageous Okona seemed to grasp their nature as computer constructs designed to serve specific purposes. They lacked the existential angst that McNary expressed in his final moments, but there was still something lurking just beneath the surface. If these entities were self-aware, could their creation and destruction be ethical? In Elementary, Dear Data, Moriarty brought the question to the fore; a hologram who wished to escape his captivity.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine largely stayed away from the holodeck (or the holosuite) for most of its run, barring small recurring gags about the crew’s recreational use of the facilities. Our Man Bashir cleverly side-stepped the issue of holographic self-awareness by casting the lead actors in the role of holographic supporting players. Nevertheless, the introduction of Vic Fontaine in His Way introduced yet another self-aware holographic character, his self-awareness taken for granted and only really articulated in episodes like It’s Only a Paper Moon.

A public (house) meeting.

In contrast, Star Trek: Voyager has only doubled-down on this idea that holographic characters are self-aware. This is most obvious with the EMH, the holographic doctor who struggled for recognition as a person in early episodes like Eye of the Needle and who made a long and gradual journey towards self-actualisation in episodes like Lifesigns and Real Life. However the show engaged with the idea of holographic self-awareness even outside of the EMH, with characters like Dejaran in Revulsion, Leonardo DaVinci in Concerning Flight, the aliens in Bride of Chaotica! and the town in Fair Haven.

To be fair, some of the arguments made by Voyager have been treated with the weight which they deserve. The EMH consciously asserts his personhood in Author, Author, a clumsy but well-intentioned final-season homage to The Measure of a Man. There is a sense that Voyager is capable of treating holograms with the same dignity that The Next Generation afforded Data on his own journey towards self-actualisation. There is something genuinely moving, for example, in the way that the degradation of his program in The Swarm is treated with the same gravity as the neurological decline of a flesh-and-blood character.

Mass appeal.

However, this also creates a strange dissonance in the episodes that don’t use the holodeck for high drama, and instead treat it as the setting for a romp or an adventure. Voyager seems to argue that every hologram is capable of reaching self-awareness, which means that every use of the holodeck to create new characters should be a momentous occasion. In the world of Voyager, every holodeck program, with the right combination of time and experience, can become a sentient being. This means that use of the holodeck should be something treated with weight and respect.

Fair Haven and Spirit Folk are nowhere near as charming as the production team seem to think that they are, but in the broader context of how Voyager approaches holographic characters, they are downright horrifying.

High spirits.

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Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride (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 Runaway Bride originally aired in 2006.

What, there’s like a secret base hidden underneath a major London landmark?

Oh, I know. Unheard of.

– Donna and the Doctor present Doctor Who 101

The Runaway Bride is really more indicative of a Davies-era Christmas Special than The Christmas Invasion was. The Christmas Invasion came with so much narrative baggage to unpack that it even spilt over into the Born Again scene that aired as part of Children in Need. While The Runaway Bride does have to deal with some of the fallout from Billie Piper’s departure in Doomsday, it’s a much more stand-alone piece of Doctor Who.

It’s a very light piece of television, but that’s really the ideal kind of Doctor Who to air as part of the BBC’s Christmas line-up.

He's fire and ice and rage...

He’s fire and ice and rage…

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Non-Review Review: This is the End

There’s a moment about half-way through This is the End when our bunch of celebrities are starting go stir-crazy, as they brave the apocalypse inside James Franco’s surprisingly fortified house. In the strange combination of idle boredom and growing madness, the group decide to improvise a trailer for the non-existent sequel to Pineapple Express. It is complete nonsense, but there’s a strange energy and a warm sense of humour to their “sweded” version of a Hollywood comedy, complete with remote-control car chases and homemade props.

It feels like something that only these actors would get – it’s just a bunch of people hanging out, fooling around, making the most of the materials available to them do something which feels incredibly niche. It’s a weird balance of something so experimental and so niche that it’s almost definitely a piece of post-modern art. (The movie even features an early scene of pretentious James Franco gleefully arguing that everything is art – even Jay Baruchel.) On the other hand, it’s accessible and fun, managing to seem – simultaneously – like an incredibly niche and charmingly broad piece of film.

It’s also pretty damn funny.

... and I feel fine...

… and I feel fine…

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House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 3 (Review)

Dammit, Frank! You can’t just roll up on my property like you own it!

Oh but I can.

And we’re back to square one. I suppose this is inevitable in the transition to American television, but House of Cards is beginning to feel strangely episodic. The British version ran ran for four episodes, moving at an incredible pace as Francis Urquhart manipulated his way to the position of Prime Minister. The American version, running thirteen episodes, seems to be more about stopping and starting. Indeed, there’s relatively little traction here on the Secretary of State subplot, or Frank Underwood’s plan for political revenge against those who he feels wronged him.

Instead, this third episode feels like something of a breather episode, the kind of character-orientated piece that might have worked a bit later in the year, after the show had built up a decent momentum. Instead, it seems like we accelerated last time only to pump the breaks this time around.

Just peachy...

Just peachy…

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“It’s None of Your Damn Business What I Think About That”: Tarantino and the Limits of Film Directors…

It’s a clip that’s gone viral. Tarantino lashing out at Channel 4 interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy has become something of in internet touchstone. “I’m shutting your butt down,” the director protests after getting another of those inevitable questions about the link between movie violence and real-life violence. It’s cringeworthy and awkward, and it plays into Guru-Murthy’s hands better than a straight answer would have, but I can’t help but empathise with Tarantino’s position.

Incidents like the shooting in Aurora or Connecticut shooting are truly horrifying and very hard for us to contextualise. I can understand Tarantino not wanting to get into that debate, because it’s really not the place of anybody involved in cinema to talk about it. It’s arrogant for anybody with any film background to try to relate their work to it, and it’s negligent of any journalist to try to sensationalise a link between film violence and real violence when the real questions are tougher, more uncompromising and more uncomfortable than a quick jab at Tarantino.

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Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain: Ignorance, Bliss and Entertainment…

Occasionally, I like to do a bit of research. That might shock some of my more regular readers. If I’m covering a particularly topic, I like to have a bit of background knowledge that will allow me to offer some nuanced or informed commentary. Hopefully, I might be able to tell you something you didn’t know – after all, hopefully the time spent reading my review isn’t wasted if I can tell you something you didn’t already know, regardless of whether our opinions agree or disagree. Also, it’s just nice to know these things because they can help my understanding of a particular film.

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Non-Review Review: AntiViral

AntiViral is a dirty film. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It’s unnerving. It’s not for the squeamish. And I mean that in a good way. It’s a fairly disturbing exploration of the public’s (and the media’s) relationship to celebrity, and the lengths to which people will go in order to insert themselves into the life of their idol or role model. It’s a vicious and sometimes unsettling look at what our attitude towards those people says about us as a society, imagining a world that sadly isn’t too far from the world as we know it. I think that might be the most disturbing facet of AntiViral. It’s not too far from where we are now.

What a vial trade…

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