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Star Trek: Voyager – Random Thoughts (Review)

Random Thoughts is another example of Star Trek: Voyager as generic issue-driven Star Trek.

Random Thoughts is a fairly standard political-commentary-as-science-fiction-allegory plot, with the crew encountering a race of telepaths who have built a utopian society through the careful regulation of thoughts. When Torres is implicated in a very rare violent crime, the crew find themselves embroiled within mystery to determine the origin of the violent thought and the means of its transmission. Along the way, there is a hefty dose of commentary on a broad range of themes.

Scrambling the subversives.

Scrambling the subversives.

In theory, Random Thoughts is very much of a piece with Nemesis or Scientific Method, other fourth season episodes less interested in character and more driven by commentary. However, Random Thoughts is a good deal more muddled. The allegory at the centre of the story is a mess, in part because the script is so intentionally vague. Are these violent thoughts a metaphor for violence in media? Are they a commentary on heat speech? Are they an analogy for drug addiction? What about non-heteronormative sexuality?

Random Thoughts never seems to decide on one central metaphor, and so casts an exceptionally broad net. The problem is that these issues are radically different from one another, and the all-encompassing nature of the central analogy robs the episode of any nuance or sophistication. An episode advocating for the legalisation of drug use is radically different from an episode against the criminalisation of heat speech. It is very difficult to work out exactly what Random Thoughts is saying, let alone what it wants to say.

Whisked away.

Whisked away.

This muddled storytelling plays out in other ways. Random Thoughts is a mess episode, in terms of storytelling and structure. The plot wanders in various different directions, shifting focus from one member of the ensemble to another; for a story about Torres’ emotions, Torres is afforded very little agency. The narrative also diverts along pointless tangents, with obvious filler scenes like Paris and Chakotay discussing a rescue that never happens or Seven of Nine stopping by the Ready Room to discuss the moral of the episode.

There is something distractingly unfocused about Random Thoughts.

Secure in his convictions.

Secure in his convictions.

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The X-Files – The Gift (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

Sweeps have arrived. And so has David Duchovny.

David Duchovny appeared in three of the four episodes of The X-Files broadcast in February 2001. (The fourth, Medusa, is very much the “blockbuster” episode of this stretch of the season, with a large budget and impressive scale.) This was very much a conscious choice on the part of the production team. Although Duchovny’s shooting schedule meant that the episodes were filmed across the season, the show made a choice to broadcast them all as part the February Sweeps.

He's back...

He’s back…

Indeed, even the order of the episodes in question has been jumbled around. The Gift is the third broadcast episode of the eighth season to feature an appearance by David Duchovny; it was filmed before Badlaa, but broadcast after it so as to open the Sweeps season. However, Per Manum would be the fourth broadcast episode of the eighth season to feature an appearance by David Duchovny; not only was it filmed before The Gift, it was actually filmed between Via Negativa and Surekill.

There is a sense, looking at the differences between the production and broadcast orders of the eighth season, that the production team were well aware of just how big a deal the return of David Duchovny would be. In fact, the decision to broadcast The Gift before Per Manum seems like a very canny attempt to tease those viewers excited about the return of Mulder. The character is much more prominent in Per Manum, so it feels like the decision to air his smaller supporting role in The Gift earlier is an effort in building suspense and excitement.

"The name's Doggett, John Doggett."

“The name’s Doggett, John Doggett.”

The Gift doesn’t offer much in the way of advancement for the season’s on-going story arcs. Although the teaser is smart enough to build to the reveal of David Duchovny, the character only appears in quick flashes throughout the episode. Mulder has less than half-a-dozen lines over the course of the show’s forty-five minutes. He does not directly encounter (or engage with) Doggett or Scully, only appearing for a brief moment as a vision in the basement at the end of the episode. Fans eagerly anticipating Mulder’s return would undoubtedly be frustrated.

However, there is something almost endearing in the show’s playful teasing of its fanbase. It feels almost like the show getting comfortable with itself once again. Indeed, the structure of the episode – paralleling Mulder’s investigation with that of Doggett rather than intersecting them – seems to suggest that perhaps the show might be in good hands without the need to have Mulder literally validate his successor.

Now that's branding...

Now that’s branding…

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There Will Not Be Blood: Thoughts on Movie Ratings and a PC Culture…

I feel decidedly behind the times in writing this. After all, the gigantic scuffle over the MPAA’s rating of the documentary Bully seems to have resolved itself, with both the Weinstein company and the MPAA reaching a settlement that both can agree on to get the film distributed with a rating that won’t alienate its target audience. However, I can’t help but feel like this single case of compromise managed to avoid the heart of the issue at question. By allowing this single film to slip through the net, the censorship authority avoid an actual discussion on the role and obligations of a ratings authority. It’ll only be a matter of time before another controversy erupts, and that will undoubtedly be dealt with on its own terms as well, avoiding any actual debate or discussion about how censorship bodies rate particular films.

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Tintin: The Blue Lotus (Review)

In the lead-up to the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I’m going to be taking a look at Hergé’s celebrated comic book character, from his humble beginnings through to the incomplete post-modern finale. I hope you enjoy the ride.

The Blue Lotus is regarded as something of a turning point for Hergé’s boy reporter. The cartoonist, apparently urged by those close to him, decided that – rather than basing his depiction of China on a collection of pop culture stereotypes (as he had done in Tintin in America) – he would undertake a considerable amount of research in order to ensure that the story was as respectful and faithful to Chinese culture as might have been possible. Indeed, the Chinese boy who Tintin befriends, Chang Chong-Chen, is named in honour of one of the students who helped him in coming to understand the Far East.

East of Eden...

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Tintin: Tintin in the Congo (Review)

In the lead-up to the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I’m going to be taking a look at Hergé’s celebrated comic book character, from his humble beginnings through to the incomplete post-modern finale. I hope you enjoy the ride.

“Unfortunate,” is probably a word that gets tossed around quite frequently about Tintin in the Congo. The second adventure in the series, it was omitted from the list of books on the back of my old Tintin collection, for reasons that aren’t too hard to fathom. Apparently, like Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the book was driven by editorial edict – to encourage Belgians to move to the colonies in the Congo, rather than to drum up fear and mistrust of communist Russia – though, to be frank, I really can’t see much here stirring a desire to emigrate. Tintin in the Congo is very mush a product of its time, filled with casual racism and awkward portrayals. That doesn’t make it any better, and it’s genuinely quite difficult to look past that fact.

Fur and loathing in the Belgian Congo...

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Is Four Lions This Year’s Team America?

We like to laugh at the things that really scare us – as if giggling in the face of death and destruction somehow removes them of their power. Or maybe it’s just an acknowledgment of the truly perverse sense of humour which underlines so many aspects of the modern world. Still, years after Team America: World Police demonstrated that nothing is truly sacred and gave us lines like ‘hey, terrorist, terrorise this!’ or ‘durka durka mohammed jihad’, it’s reassuring to know that the war on terror and religious fundamentalism aren’t taboo subjects. A comedy about a suicide bombing training camp, I’m quite interested to see how Four Lions turns out – if only for its fascinating pedigree.

A box office bomb or an explosive hit?

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Political Correctness Survives The End of the World…

There was a news story which caught my attention earlier in the week. Basically it reported that Roland Emmerich – renowned demolitions expert behind Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and a whole host of other disaster-themed pictures (and the pseudo-historical documentary 10,000 B.C.)  – had decided that there was something specifically that he wasn’t going to blow up. Since, judging by his filmography, it seems rare that the man’s thoughts should settle on an object he doesn’t intend to blow up in a ridiculously incredibly over-the-top fireworks display, I was naturally intrigued. Could he be making a statement about what is most important for the survival of the human race at the end of his new flick, 2012? Or had he finally found a human soul which he wished to prove indestructable against all odds? No. He had decided that he owed it to certain religions not to offend them. Not because being respectful to other cultures is a good thing of itself, but because he was worried that they might kill him.

2012

It's not the end of the world, right?

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