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“It’s About Family”: Why Are Modern Blockbusters So Preoccupied With the Notion of Family?

“It’s about family” has entered the cultural lexicon, usually delivered with a grim Vin Diesel bass.

It is, of course, a cliché to suggest that the Fast & Furious franchise is “about family.” Of course they are about family. Dominic Toretto never stops talking about how it is “about family.” The entire heart of the film franchise is that it’s “about family.” It arguably has been from the start, with the simmering attraction between undercover cop Brian O’Conner and Mia Toretto in The Fast and the Furious. In that first film, Brian doesn’t merely befriend the criminal that he is supposed to catch, he becomes family with him. The two men become (ironically) something close to brothers-in-law as much as brothers-at-arms. Over the course of the series, Dominic offers such pearls of wisdom as “you don’t turn your back on your family” in The Fate of the Furious.

Family runs through the film franchise. Owen Shaw, the villain of Fast and Furious 6, is revealed to be the brother of Deckard Shaw, the villain of Furious Seven. The series hinges on soap opera plot dynamics like amnesia and betrayal, all of which emphasising the importance of these familial ties in mapping out the world that these characters operate. However, “family” is more than just a word that drives the plots of these movies, as much as those plots can be said to exist. It is also an important thematic element. The films frequently feature extended sequences at family gatherings, such as barbecues and parties. (Indeed, the franchise seems to evoke almost a Pavlovian response between the words “family” and “Corona.”)

However, while the Fast and Furious franchise is perhaps the franchise most overtly and obviously committed to the theme of “family”, and certainly the film franchise with the most frequent articulation of the concept, it is far from the only example. Modern cinema, particularly modern popular cinema, seems obsessed with the notion of family. In particular, contemporary big budget films are very much engaged with the idea of “found family” much more than biological family. It is interesting to wonder why modern pop culture seems so fixated on the idea of “found family”, to the point that it dominates so much cinematic real estate.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Season 5 (Review)

It is hard to discern a central arc or purpose to the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

There are certainly recurring preoccupations and ideas simmering through the twenty-six episodes of the fifth season, reflecting the interests of the creative team. Indeed, many of these themes culminate in Equinox, Part I, the fifth season finale. However, there is never a sense that any of these ideas are being assembled in service of anything, never a sense of what exactly the production team want to say about these themes or where they want to go with these concepts.

The fifth season of Voyager feels rather listless. This may be due to a combination of factors. Most obviously, the fourth season of Voyager was arguably the show’s best season, one marked by a sense of purpose and forward momentum. Thanks to the introduction of Seven of Nine and the miniature arc focusing on the Hirogen, along with the clever bookending of Scorpion, Part II with Hope and Fear, there was a sense that the fourth season of Voyager had ended in a different place than it began.

The big issue with the fifth season of Voyager is that it feels like the series is running in place.

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The X-Files – Without (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.

Taken as a whole, the eighth season of The X-Files is remarkable.

It is not a perfect season of television, by any stretch. The eighth season doesn’t hit as many highs as the fourth, fifth or sixth seasons. As great as Robert Patrick is as John Doggett, and as skilfully as he is introduced, it is impossible to replace the easy dynamic between Mulder and Scully. The actual mythology of the season feels overcrowded and convoluted, with “supersoldiers” feeling a tad cliché and Mulder’s terminal illness going nowhere of note. The season’s recurring motifs of darkness, death and body horror are not for everybody.

I bet David Duchovny really missed working on The X-Files...

I bet David Duchovny really missed working on The X-Files

At the same time, there is a staggering consistency and reliability to the season. From the outset, the eighth season seems to know what it wants to be and where it wants to go. There is a stronger sense of purpose to the eighth season than to any other season of the show, with the possible exception of the third. Even the lead-up to the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future did not feel this single-minded and focused. In terms of consistency of theme and imagery, this is the closest the show ever came to pulling off a season-long arc.

It is tempting to credit this renewed vigour and energy to the absence of David Duchovny; the search for Mulder provides a solid and compelling hook for the season ahead. However, there is more to it than that. Mulder’s disappearance is a part of it, but the big thematic bow wrapped around the eighth season is Scully’s pregnancy. After all, David Duchovny returns to the show two-thirds of way through the season; it is Scully’s pregnancy that provides the season’s finalé.

"Thank goodness we all wore different ties. That might have been awkward."

“Thank goodness we all wore different ties. That might have been awkward.”

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The X-Files – Chimera (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

There is a sense of fatigue about the seventh season of The X-Files.

It makes a certain amount of sense. After all, seven years is a long time in television. It is a particularly long time when the staff are churning out more than twenty episodes in a year. One hundred episodes is typically considered the threshold for syndication success, but The X-Files crossed that with Unusual Suspects back in the fifth season. By this point, The X-Files is comfortably past one hundred and fifty episodes of television. That is a lot of television. Assuming one were to watch it straight through, that’s nearly five straight days of television.

Quoth the raven...

Quoth the raven…

There comes a point where it feels old and outdated, where the sense of novelty and excited has faded to familiarity and dull routine. There comes a point where it feels like there is not much to talk about, because the show has already said a lot of what it has to say about a particular subject. It could be described as a “seven-year-itch”, but there is a reason why shows that last longer than seven seasons tend to rotate actors and producers more frequently than The X-Files has. Occasionally a blood transfusion is necessary to reoxygenate the blood.

Chimera is a perfectly solid episode of television. It is produced to the high standards of The X-Files, directed very well, and written in an efficient manner. However, it feels like it is covering a lot of well-trodden ground for the show with nothing new to say. Chimera feels like it is simply echoing sentiments the show had clearly articulated as recently as the sixth season; a curious blend of Terms of Endearment and Arcadia, but without the novelty or nuance of either. The X-Files has begun to feel as familiar as the rows of suburban houses it so fears.

Food for thought...

Food for thought…

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Millennium – Roosters (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

– Matthew 26:72

Everything is in runes...

Everything is in runes…

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Star Trek – Return to Tomorrow (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Return to Tomorrow is similar to By Any Other Name in a number of ways.

Most superficially, it’s an episode about aliens in human bodies, who find themselves learning (or, in this case, remembering) how to appreciate all that mankind has to offer. The plot similarity is rather broad, but it seems strange that By Any Other Name and Return to Tomorrow would be produced right after one another, and that no significant effort would be made to space them apart on initial broadcast. (Both aired in February of 1968.)

Leonard Nimoy only gets to smile once a year, so the show makes the most of it...

Leonard Nimoy only gets to smile once a year, so the show makes the most of it…

However, there are more fundamental and underlying similarities between Return to Tomorrow and By Any Other Name. Both are episodes that are very much engaged with the underlying philosophy of the franchise, particularly concerning humanity’s place in the universe. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that Return to Tomorrow and By Any Other Name both work much better as statements of philosophical intent than they do as stories in their own right.

Co-written by Gene Roddenberry, Return to Tomorrow is a rather generic piece of television, but one that feels like a considered statement of the franchise’s central themes.

"Things are going to be a little different around here..."

“Things are going to be a little different around here…”

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Space: Above and Beyond – Who Monitors the Birds? (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Who Monitors the Birds? is a phenomenal piece of television.

Space: Above and Beyond is a show that only ran one season, languishing on Sunday nights before Fox decided to just scrap the idea of consistently scheduling it and just bounced it around the network timetable. It was not a breakout hit. It did not inspire a revival or resurrection in the way that other science-fiction properties have done. It has a very devoted and strong cult following, but its name is more likely to evoke a vague remembrance than anything more concrete.

spaceaboveandbeyond-whomonitorsthebirds13

And yet, despite that, Space: Above and Beyond was still a massively influential piece of television. Despite the fact that it was structured as a throwback to classic war movies, it was also a very progressive piece of television. The influence of Space: Above and Beyond can be keenly felt on Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, even though the show seldom gets any real credit for that influence. In some respects, Space: Above and Beyond was well ahead of its time.

Who Monitors the Birds? is put together with incredible skill and confidence. It is an episode that holds up fantastically, and which serves as a demonstration of the series’ lost potential.

spaceaboveandbeyond-whomonitorsthebirds3

 

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