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Star Trek: Voyager – Night (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager typically bridged its seasons with epic two-parters, a sprawling single narrative told over two forty-five minute episodes separated by the three-month summer hiatus. In fact, it was somewhat striking when the production team chose to end the fourth season with Hope and Fear, a standalone episode with a very definite conclusion. However, it becomes even more ironic once the fifth season opens with Night. Rather than one story split over two episodes, Night feels like two narratives compressed into a single chunk of television.

Of these two narratives, one is definitely more interesting than the other. The first half of Night essentially focuses on the ship and crew as they venture through an empty (and starless) section of space known as “the Void.” No light can get in. Nothing seems to live in there. There are no anomalies to investigate. “Anything to report?” Tuvok asks Kim. Kim responds, “Not even a stray electron.” It is so dull that even Tom classifies the detection of “a sudden increase in theta radiation” as “excitement.”

Starless, starless night.

This is an interesting approach to storytelling, particularly for a show so focused on plot. More than any other series in the franchise, Voyager runs on plot beats. Stories tend to progress from one revelation and escalation to the next, affording little room for character development or exploration. As such, the first half of Night seems like a very ambitious piece of work, an introspective character-driven drama where there are no plot beats to distract from character. It is a very brave and compelling set-up.

Of course, Night somewhat fumbles the ball in this first half. The thread is never explored as thoroughly as it might be, the character never allowed to properly express themselves. There is far too much emphasis on the holodeck, and the ship’s ability to simulate comforts and illusions even in this most depressing of surroundings. However, compared to the way that Voyager usually tells stories, the first half of Night is refreshing. Ironically, it is genuinely exciting, because it feels like the writers are pushing outside their comfort zone.

A darker side of Janeway.

Unfortunately, it cannot last. Night can only resist the comfort of plot for so long. Eighteen minutes into the hour, the second plot kicks into gear. It is a much more conventional Voyager episode, particularly for these later seasons. There is a broadly drawn piece of social commentary that ties into the both Voyager‘s New Age sensibilities and its attitude towards the Delta Quadrant as a whole. There are new aliens introduced, that will become recurring foils. It is all very standard, and all very rushed. The second half of Night makes up for those missed plot beats.

The result is an episode that is deeply frustrating, a game of two halves were each horribly undercuts the other.

A black-and-white issue.

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Twilight of the Stars?

I’ve been thinking a bit of late about movie stars. Are we reaching the end of the star-driven era of Hollywood stars? What got me thinking about it was the news of Tony Scott’s upcoming Unstoppable – a movie about a runaway train starring Denzel Washington, who has been one of Scott’s most consistent collaborators in the past. I loved Denzel Washington – and I loved Crimson Tide and, to a lesser extent, Man on Fire. And yet, I have absolutely no urge to see the film. It isn’t a “must see” simply because of the talent or skill involved. And, being honest, I don’t think I’m alone. There would have been a time years ago when a name on a marque would have marked a film as “must see”. I am beginning to suspect that the era of “star power” might be slowly passing.

Am I Cloo(ney)ed into something?

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Evening the Score: Ratings & Reviews…

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how I write my “non-review reviews” and what I make of a given film and so on. In particular, I’ve been wondering if I should start offering some form of “grade” to my reviews, like some sort of overzealous teacher – “this film has Darren’s seal of approval!” The thing is, I’m not quite sure if I should.

Stars in my eyes...

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Why Does Transformers Need John Malkovich and Frances McDormand?

Francis McDormand and John Malkovich have been cast in Transformers 3. Both are fantastic actors. In fairness, Malkovich has fairly low standards when it comes to choosing his movies – he was linked to Spider-Man 4 as the Vulture before it all fell apart and managed to be the best thing about Con Air (okay, second best – but Steve Buscemi is just awesome anyway) – but McDormand is an actress known for being relatively choosy about her roles. She isn’t exactly matinee idol fare. But, as I read the story, I couldn’t help wondering: why does Michael Bay even need actors for Transformers?

Who needs actors when you have explosions?

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