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New Escapist Column! On the MCU’s CGI Problems…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of the trailer for She-Hulk last week, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the raging debate over the very questionable use of computer-generated imagery.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest multimedia franchise in the world, and its projects enjoy some of the biggest budgets. So why do so many of their special effects look so terrible? There are a number of reasons for this, tied to both larger cultural trends, the visual effects sector as a whole, and the peculiarities of Marvel Studios’ production methodology. The result of all this comes together to explain why some of the most expensive movies on the planet look so cheap.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How “The Motion Picture” Gave the “Star Trek” Universe Room to Breathe…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of the recently remastered Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the first feature film in the Star Trek franchise.

The Motion Picture is often derided by its critics as “the Motionless Picture”, reflecting the film’s slow pacing and simplistic plot in contrast to its more relaxed runtime. These criticisms are entirely valid, but they also ignore one of the central appeals of The Motion Picture. Just two years after George Lucas welcomed viewers to “a galaxy far, far away” with Star Wars, The Motion Picture made the Star Trek universe truly tactile and tangible. The film is perhaps best understood as an experience rather than a narrative, a window into the franchise’s fictional universe.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

85. Forrest Gump (#12)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump is an unremarkable man who has lived the most remarkable of lives, a feather caught in the breeze of history. From his childhood in Mississippi through the turbulence of the sixties and seventies, Forrest Gump lives a life that intersects repeatedly with the biggest moments of the twentieth century, having a profound and unspoken effect upon the course of history.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 12th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Macrocosm (Review)

If Star Trek: Voyager is going to commit itself to emulating Star Trek: The Next Generation, there are probably worse ways to do it.

Macrocosm is not a bad riff on Genesis, another sci-fi monster story from Brannon Braga. Braga has an interest in the overlap between horror and retro science-fiction, as demonstrated by scripts from Schisms to Sub Rosa to Threshold. While none of these episodes count among Braga’s best work, and many are considered among his worst, they very clearly represent a subject of interest to him. Given the third season misfires with Warlord and The Q and the Grey, a light run-around action story is not the worst episode that Voyager could produce at this point.

Going viral.

Going viral.

Macrocosm has more than its fair share of problems. It is structured oddly, it is laboured with exposition, it is not technically as tight as it needs to be. However, there is a lot to be said for an episode that casts Kathryn Janeway as John Rambo, stalking killer monsters through the dimly-lit corridors of her own starship. It is at the very least a refreshing change of pace. Besides, if Jean-Luc Picard gets to be an action hero in scripts like Starship Mine or Star Trek: First Contact, it seems only fair that Janeway should get her chance.

The biggest problem with Macrocosm is the episode that it might have been. The original pitch for the episode was much more ambitious than the version that made it to screen. Unfortunately, this is very much the narrative of the third season of Voyager, and perhaps the show as a whole. Macrocosm was a bold idea that was gradually watered down to form a passable imitation of The Next Generation.

"It's going to get very First Contact in here, very quickly."

“It’s going to get very First Contact in here, very quickly.”

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Star Trek: Voyager – Manoeuvres (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

It is weird to think that the much-maligned Kazon provided perhaps the closest thing that Star Trek: Voyager had to a long-form story arc.

That probably says more about Voyager than it does about the Kazon. In storytelling terms, Voyager was firmly episodic. There were some loose threads that would span and connect multiple episodes, but the bulk of the show was comprised of very traditional “done in one” adventures. It seems fair to observe that Voyager represented something of a backslide for the franchise. It was much more episodic than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but also less interested in long-form storytelling than the later years of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!"

“This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!”

One suspects that the Kazon arc running through the second season had something to do with this storytelling choice. Michael Piller pushed really hard to make the Kazon a recurring threat to Voyager and to place them at the centre of the second season. As a result, they become a loose thread that runs through several of the season’s “big” episodes. They place a traitor on board Voyager in Alliances. They provided Tom Paris with a character arc culminating in Investigations. They provided the season-ending cliffhanger in Basics, Part I.

The arc was not well-received, whether by the fans or by the staff. It is not too difficult to understand why. Even before considering the quality of the arc itself – or the storytelling involved – the Kazon are hardly the most compelling Star Trek villains. Allowing for that, it seemed like the writing staff had no real idea how to serialise a story arc across a season, making all manner of clumsy mistakes along the way. The arc never gathered momentum and it never paid off, which are very real problems when trying something that ambitious.

Either you Kazon... or you be gone...

Either you Kazon… or you be gone…

Manoeuvres effectively kicks off the arc. Although the Kazon had appeared in Initiations earlier in the second season, Manoeuvres features the first reappearance of Seska and Cullah since State of Flux midway through the first season. The episode is perhaps the strongest of the “Kazon” shows, with a sense of momentum driving the first half of the script. However, things rather quickly come off the rails in the second half of the story. Already, the production team’s inexperience with serialised storytelling is showing.

Manoeuvres is perhaps as good as the Kazon ever got. It is nowhere near good enough.

So that's why they call them raiders...

So that’s why they call them raiders…

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The X-Files – Død Kälm (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.

Død Kälm is probably the most explicitly “science-fiction-y” premise that we’ve had in the show’s run to date. And by “science-fiction-y”, I don’t necessarily mean “anchored in any meaningful science.” After all, the amount of sense that Død Kälm makes is questionable at best. Instead, the term “science-fiction-y” means “most likely to pop up in a pulpy science-fiction television show.”

The past few episodes have seen the show on a bit of a science-fiction kick, with clones and colonists and invisible abducted zoo animals. However “accelerated aging” is such a science-fiction staple that it feels like The X-Files is enthusiastically embracing science-fiction conventions at this point in the second season.

Old school...

Old school…

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Avatar Backlash Backlash – Is “It Looks Beautiful” Ever Good Enough?

I’ll be honest. I didn’t like Avatar. Part of the movie made me uncomfortable. The implications of the whole “white man leads a bunch of noble savages to a victory they couldn’t have acheived without him” bit are worrying when place in the context of a metaphor for the genocide of the Native Americans. But, beyond that, it just isn’t a very good film. The dialogue is terrible. The characters don’t seem half as real as James Cameron’s wonderfully brought-to-life planet Pandora. On the other hand, I will concede that the visuals are stunning. They are breathtaking. What really amazes me, though, is the tone of backlash that most negative reviews seem to be generating, which can be effectively summed up with: just shut up and look at the pretty picture – who cares about plot and characters?

King of the new world...

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