Not his Superman

superman78While reading through an old issue of Cinefantastique the other day (the Forbidden Planet double-issue, from Spring 1979, I assume) I came across a capsule review of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie which I hadn’t noticed before, and which, while I’m accustomed to the somewhat po-faced attitude of that mag’s editorials, quite took me aback. With due deference to its writer Robert Stewart, I quote the following:

“The film fails to explore the possibilities of having a new and modernized Superman tackle the real problems of the world in the late 1970s- assassinations, mass suicides, mindf–kers, famine, the CIA, sexism, racism, provocateurs, ageism, unemployment and economic collapse, corporate takeovers, bureaucratic  psychopaths, etc. Instead, he confronts villains not much different from those of the Batman television show…” 

My initial thoughts were that this guy probably loved Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: his review seems more a manifesto for Snyder’s films than anything to do with Richard Donner’s film (clearly Donner’s respectful approach to the original comicbooks went right over Mr Stewarts head). It’s one of those reviews which criticises a film more for what it is not, than what it is.

But it did set me thinking, which was probably the point of the review (so bravo, Mr Stewart, wherever you are now). I’ve noted elsewhere that I’ve really not been a fan of the recent Spiderman films and much of this -and it applies to all three ‘versions’ of the character, the Tobey Maguire films, the Andrew Garfield films and Tom Holland’s films- is simply that none of them have really captured what I loved as a kid growing up reading the 1960s/1970s Spiderman comics by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. They are perfectly fine films as they are (well, to varying degree anyway) but none of them capture the characters and mood/spirit of those comics, so its inevitable that, for me, they are lacking something. They are probably more faithful to the comics of the past twenty years (that I have never read, although I did read part of the J. Michael Straczynski run of Spiderman comics drawn by John Romita jr. which are likely indicative) which is fine, and I should maybe give them the benefit of the doubt there. But my question is, am I being fair? Is it a case though of me disliking films more for what they are not than what they are?

Well, not exactly. I do think there are very real issues with the various films; retconning bad guys to be more sympathetic victims of misfortune than genuine villains is one of my pet peeves, likewise I utterly detest all the various Spidey suits of the Tom Holland films, all that nano-tech/Iron Man rubbish, all that metal arms out the back etc that defy reason, physics and gravity. That’s not any kind of Spiderman I want,  just further evidence of the Marvel films increasingly playing fast and loose with comics canon etc (as far as I know, as it could be something featured in the comics, but I doubt it). Likewise some of the writing feels pretty dire, with some fairly shocking leaps of logic, but that’s something evident in much film and television now; the talent pool is pretty weak now because there is just so much content being produced across film/television streaming etc. And yeah, in defence of writers, maybe its all those producers and executive producers interfering with the material- some films and shows I see now have as many as twenty and more producer credits, and I often wonder if the time will come when the number of producer credits will outnumber that of the cast.

I won’t even watch The Eternals; Jack Kirby’s 1970s comicbooks are amongst my very favourites. They possibly haven’t aged very well in some ways, but they were so bold and imaginative, full of the Chariots of the Gods stuff that excited me so much as a kid and was quite popular in that decade. The film, from what I have seen of it in trailers, has nothing in common with those comicbooks other than name (to be more faithful to Kirby’s work, it surely should have looked and felt more akin to 2017s Thor: Ragnarok film, which really captured the feel of a Kirby strip). I do know Neil Gaiman wrote a reboot/continuation and suspect the film has more in common with that than original creator Jack Kirby’s opus but I may be giving the film too much credit even there. Maybe I’ll get to watch it eventually but certainly I have little if any interest in it; the film was made to be something else, not something faithful to the original comics, and that’s surely true of much current Marvel Studios output.

Which is true, indeed, of what Disney is doing with Star Wars. They are making Star Wars tv shows and movies that are increasingly removed from the original film trilogy I grew up with, and they are as much not ‘my Star Wars’ as anything Marvel Studios films and tv shows are- and the same is true of the current crop of Star Trek tv shows. That being said though, some of these shows, certainly the Star Trek stuff that I have watched, are really woeful, regardless of how ‘faithful’ they aren’t in spirit and subject. The second season of Star Trek: Picard is especially diabolically poor, an absolute nadir for the Star Trek franchise.

Mind, even Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard have their fans, I suppose, although those viewers must be especially forgiving of terrible writing, huge plotholes, leaps of logic (and illogic). Indeed I think the shows are fundamentally unforgivable in how crass and stupid they are, and seem to have been written by soap opera and tv sitcom writers rather than anyone actually skilled or knowledgeable of both science fiction or indeed the particular franchise canon (I can’t help but feel this is largely true of the Star Wars and Marvel stuff too, and I don’t know if this is from laziness, ignorance or simply an intent to strike off to pastures new on the back of established IP).

Thank goodness Blade Runner 2049 was sincere and respectful of the original film and extended upon the 1982 original film’s themes and mood thoughtfully, rather than just go the other, easier way, instead making a film about with a Roy Batty Mk.II or an action-based film about a new Blade Runner battling Nexus 7 or Nexus 8 improved, nastier Replicants. After all, it could have been, easily- look how generic the Terminator films became. I may not live to see any more Blade Runner movies, but at least I don’t have to witness what happened with Alien, its Lovecraftian alien creatures turned into spacesuit wearing bald guys in Ridley Scott’s ill-judged Prometheus. The more I think back on Prometheus, the more it actually seems a story about Space Gods akin to Jack Kirby’s 1976 Eternals comics repurposed to fit within the Alien franchise in order to get made (I can well imagine Ridley wanting to make a high-concept Space Gods movie and having to sell it as an Alien movie in order to get it greenlit).

Which I suppose means I should remain absolutely fearful regards that Blade Runner tv series which Ridley is producing. Maybe my luck is going to run out; and certainly, I will feel much more aggrieved regards something spoiling my appreciation and adoration of the 1982 film than I am by some Spiderman film not really being the web-slinger that thrilled me when I was seven years old.

Riding to the undiscovered country

ca3Ride the High Country, 1962, 92 mins, Blu-ray

I’m not the biggest fan of westerns. Maybe I saw just too much of John Wayne growing up, but the myth of the American West that Hollywood and early television was both fascinated by and creative of, the good guys and bad guys, the nobility of the gun, the racist view of Native Americans, the freshly laundered and pressed shirts and jeans… its the stuff of parody and farce and maybe a little distasteful too. The reality of the West had little if any part in the Hollywood films, whose stories were the stuff of reassuring fables in just the same way, I suppose, as the early cop shows, stories where the cops were righteous and good, and the criminals always got caught ( I well remember the consternation when UK crime series The Sweeney aired in the 1970s and sometimes episodes ended with the criminals escaping justice, leaving the police thwarted and powerless: a far cry from how Kojak, Columbo and Starsky and Hutch were getting along).

What I’m getting at is, I can see the appeal of those Westerns of the 1940s and 1950s, the technicolour vistas, the sense of freedom, the popularity of the simple good versus evil plots… after all, that was the same initial appeal of Star Wars in 1977 to the mass general public, and I recall the wise observation at the time (by who, I cannot remember) that Star Wars was the first Western set in space- because that was what it was. While George Lucas obviously has one eye on the Flash Gordon serials he had the other on the simplistic Westerns that had faded in popularity through the 1960s and largely disappeared by the 1970s. But the Westerns that I gravitated to came after the Old Hollywood variety had largely had their day- I loved the Leone films, the Dollars trilogy, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and films like The Outlaw Josey Wales. They had a  decidedly shady sense of morality, a tactile sense of dirt and reality, that totally ripped apart the tidy old Hollywood Western tropes (even if the Leone films were actually his love-letters to American Cinema).

Sam Peckinpah was a director whose life is as fascinating as any of his films, and who became famous (or infamous) for his increasingly revisionary and violent Westerns.  It is telling, however, that Ride the High Country is markedly different – and indeed, its quite alarming, almost, to consider the shift in tone between this film and his next – the ill-fated Major Dundee. One can read -and of course many have- Ride the High Country as a clear marker of the shift from the western of Old Hollywood towards those that were coming thereafter.

Indeed, the film almost feels like a pause for breath prior to the era of the Spaghetti Westerns; its a reflective film that considers both the end of an era (we see automobiles starting to replace horse-drawn carriages, and uniformed police walking the streets replacing the law of the gun), and perhaps also the end of a certain kind of Western film/adventure. Aging lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea), taking a risky job transporting gold from a mining camp up in the mountains down to the bank in a burgeoning town, bumps into an old pal, Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and recruits him to help him in the risky enterprise. Westrum has been reduced to featuring in a carnival show that promotes the myth of the West, perhaps a commentary about the fake narrative that popular authors and Hollywood would continue thereafter. Westrum has a young sidekick Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) who he brings along for added security during the perilous trip back with the gold, but unknown to Judd, Westrum actually intends with the help of Longtree to abscond with the gold himself for one final payday. What he feels he is owed having been left with little to mark for his years in the West.

Along the way up to the mining camp, the two old men consider their past and the changing world around them. They feel, as many reaching maturity of middle-age do, a sense of not belonging, of disenfranchisement from the changing world they find themselves in. They share stories of the Old West, and those they knew who have mostly died with that Old West. They might as well be reminiscing about old movies: the two actors McCrea and Scott were Western stars of old, a sense of meta-reality leaking into the film in just the same way as the revisionary Unforgiven acted as a swansong/commentary for both Eastwood the actor of so many Western films as well as its narrative’s lead character William Munny. One almost has to wonder; are McCrea and Scott’s characters recounting tales of their past in-narrative lives or those of characters the actors played in decades-old Western movies-  as someone not at all familiar with those films, it doesn’t make much difference, it could be either and the film still functions the same. All this lends Ride the High Country some added weight, and indeed its general plot is arguably inconsequential to its considerations of integrity and morality and the passing of the West, both the real in-narrative one and and the mythical West of McCrea and Scott’s old films. Its a lovely film, even if it feels like one awkwardly positioned between eras, and McCrea and Scott are both excellent.

Along the way to the mining camp they arrive at a remote farmstead run by Joshua Knudsen (R.G. Armstrong, a veteran of 1960s and 1970s television and even an appearance in Predator) and his frustrated daughter Elsa (Mariette Hartley) who runs away from her strictly religious and disciplinarian father, seeing an opportunity to tag along with the cowboys up to the mining camp where her unlikely fiancé Billy Hammond works. I used to have something of a crush on Hartley when growing up, from her guest appearance in an episode of the ’60s Star Trek show, and she is very good here as a foolish, sheltered young girl on the cusp of womanhood who is destined for a sudden growing-up lesson when she learns her Billy is a disreputable lout whose brothers seem to think they have as much right to bed their new sister-in-law as her husband does, her wedding day quickly turning into a nightmare. Realising her mistake she rushes back to the safety of Judd, whose moral code ensures he will protect her while the more pragmatic Westrum is more concerned with the gold. Pursued by the Hammonds and with Judd inevitably betrayed by Westrum, the film ends in a deadly gunfight in which a reconciled Judd and Westrum battle the Hammonds, who have murdered Elsa’s father and staged a trap at her home.

One of the men is redeemed, and the other embarks on one final journey to an undiscovered country, having vindicated his moral code one last time. Ride the High Country is a very good film, lovingly shot and with a very fine cast in top form. Its story is very entertaining but its the films position in the pantheon of the Western genre, and the meta-narrative of its aging stars of Westerns of old and the director who would soon play his own part in transforming the Western forever, that makes it particularly interesting and rewarding.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

STtmpStar Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979, 132 mins, 4K UHD 

Looking back on it, I’m tempted to suggest -sweeping over-generalisation that it is- that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a pretty clear marker of the old giving way to the new. Star Trek: The Motion Picture has the feel of Old Hollywood, of creative teams more used to making westerns and crime thrillers suddenly getting scripts featuring aliens and spaceships. There’s a sense of people suddenly making sci-fi films with no interest in such genre material, and little affinity for it – indeed, at a time when such material was considered the realm of the cheap b-movie quickie. The days of genre fans/geeks who grew up loving the stuff then making genre films would still be a few years away, but already with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg the changing times were clear: post-Jaws and Star Wars, Hollywood was still in transition, and the old guard hadn’t yet been replaced by the geeks. So Hollywood sci-fi was still Logan’s Run, The Black Hole and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. 

In the case of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, that’s possibly its strength. It feels like a serious (albeit often misguided, at times) attempt to make a great ‘Motion Picture!’ back when that still meant something (today any distinction of quality between television and cinema is largely gone). Its not played for laughs, there’s no dodgy sets, there’s no geek in-jokes and surprisingly low-key fan-service if any at all (I suspect much of what we’d identify today as ‘fan-service’ in the film is actually incidental). It’s not 2001, and neither is it Star Wars, but rather it sits somewhere in between, in a place few genre films have dared position themselves (maybe Interstellar would be a modern example). I am endlessly surprised whenever I re-watch the film over the years, just how refreshing it is, and enjoyable.

Indeed, having recently read Robert Preston Jones’ superlative oral history of the film, Return to Tomorrow, I’m actually more surprised than ever that the film even got finished and in sufficient shape to be considered a film at all. Its possibly a textbook lesson of how NOT to make a film. The script wasn’t finished when they were shooting the live-action, the director and actors were cooking up the finale on the fly: imagine making a film like Ben-Hur and making the last reel on-set without a script (it wasn’t quite that bad, but not far off- I’m always amazed at films going into production without finished scripts but it continues to happen). The original effects team was great on ideas but lousy at execution, wasting millions of dollars in research and most importantly wasting priceless time. Once that effects team was largely dismissed (albeit most of the staff rehired), the deadline that Douglas Trumbull and his team/s were faced with, the task left them regards its scope and the visual effects it needed, back in that era of physical miniatures, lighting and motion-control rigs and photo-chemical printing… its mind-boggling.

The pacing is obviously the film’s biggest problem, something not helped by many visual effects shots hanging around too long or sequences being overloaded with just too many of them. Its tempting to suggest that Wise and/or the editor Todd Ramsay became too enamoured by all the expensive effects shots coming in at the eleventh hour but the simple truth is, the shots were all coming in very late (Preston’s book has some timeline stuff that is just jaw-dropping regards when models became available and filming happened and elements arrived at the optical printer etc) and they never had the perspective we have with the finished film- hence the justification of the Directors Cut. But considering how late everything was… its amazing that Jerry Goldsmith’s score was so good (in my mind the composers very best) and maybe having to cut the film to the timing estimates handed to Goldsmith which he scored the music to… well, little wonder the film’s pacing is dodgy.

The odd thing about this which bugs me, is when Trumbull and everyone got together with the script and storyboards, why didn’t they cut some of those boards? I find it hard to understand why, with effects teams working alternate day/nights shifts in at least three facilities working twelve to sixteen-hour days labouring over really difficult shots to unrealistic schedules, they didn’t rip up more of those boards. The Epsilon 9 and Orbital Office Complex sequences are obvious examples, featuring too many shots. The Orbital Office Complex is a lovely miniature and beautifully photographed, but do we need to see so many shots of its exterior before cutting to the interior and Kirk arriving? Clearly nobody could ‘see’ that so much of it would be redundant or could have been culled to allow more time and resources on stuff that really mattered. I suppose its a technology thing, nowadays films have CGI storyboards, and I recall ILM shot animatics as a guide for The Empire Strikes Back to help nail the pacing of effects shots/sequences like the Hoth battle.

But nonetheless, I still enjoy watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Many much prefer the second entry, Wrath of Khan, but for me there is always something special about the first. They aimed for greatness and largely failed but you have to admire that they tried, and watching it I often have a little mischevious fun berating the suits that enforced an unrealistic deadline agreed with theatres, and all the production cock-ups and crashing egos behind the scenes. Maybe this year’s version of the Directors Cut will indeed finally be the film it could/should have been; we’ll just have to wait and see…. (and yes, likely have to buy this film yet AGAIN).  So it seems I’m not quite finished writing about this film…

Late-night 4K Trek

Last night I did something I haven’t done in awhile; I had a half-hour or so before going to bed and decided to unpack my 4K Star Trek movies set and watch a bit of both Star Trek: TMP and Wrath of Khan. You know, load up the disc, drop into the film at pretty much random points, see how it holds up in 4K: not something I ever do, really- I much prefer to just sit down and watch the whole film. But it was late, and I’m not sure when I’m ever going to get around to these films.

(I’ve bought quite a few discs in the recent sales, far too many, to be honest, and the ‘to-watch-list’ is getting quite ridiculous now).

So for Star Trek:TMP I found myself watching the scenes after the Enterprise leaves Drydock: when it slips into the wormhole, the verbal sparks between Kirk and Decker after, Spock arriving… drawn into the film for longer than I’d intended, I stuck around for the Enterprise first encountering the V’ger Cloud just so I could wallow in some Trumbull effects and Goldsmith music. Its good for the soul.

General consensus has it that Wrath of Khan is the best of all the Star Trek movies, but I prefer The Motion Picture. It feels more… serious, mythic, a sense of Big Ideas. Of course Wrath of Khan wasn’t helped by TMP’s perceived failures, and while it does improve on some things (the character beats for Kirk, Spock and McCoy feel more akin to the TV show,. and they get plenty of screen time together) it does suffer from such a reduced sense of scale and ambition that some of the sets compare poorly to tv-fodder like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Anyhow, when I popped Khan into the player I watched the part when the Enterprise departs Spacedock (quelle deja-vu!) and up to Reliant’s first attack on the Enterprise. 

I enjoyed it more than I expected to. I figure its one of the best things about Trek- the shows variety. Looking back on the 1960s three seasons, the show was quite different, episode by episode. The Motion Picture is like more highbrow episodes like The Cage or City on the Edge of Forever, and Wrath of Khan is more, well, Doomsday Machine. Oddly, Doomsday Machine is one of my favourite episodes, the one I’ve watched more times than any other, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that Khan should be my favourite of the films. Well that’s just me being more contrary again I guess.

The Motion Picture is such a 1970s film. Its rather lovely, all the costumes (well, maybe we could do without those security dudes) and the sense of the film being ‘a motion picture’ at a time when that actually meant something. Wrath of Khan is very much a 1980s picture: its funny how films were already sliding into being marketable properties, perhaps more entertainment than art-form. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I was getting tired when I switched off the television. I just had a weird feeling of something seismic happening between the two films, which I hadn’t noticed before, something that’s still happening today.  

When my head finally hit the pillow upstairs, I found sleep didn’t come easy. Instead I was thinking back to 1982, when Khan came out, that wonderful year of Poltergeist, Tron, Conan The Barbarian, The Thing, E.T., Blade Runner,  First Blood, Creepshow, Firefox, The Dark Crystal…the bastard children of George Lucas’ Star Wars, of five years before, Hollywood finally thinking it had figured it out. The irony being, its still trying to figure it out, but we just don’t have wonderful years like that anymore.

It’s dead, Jim

michaelbThe Michael Burnham Show aka Star Trek: Discovery completed its third season this past week and I’m still rather speechless. I don’t know what kind of deranged minds are behind this show but frack me it must surely be the worst sci fi show I have ever seen (at least until season four arrives next year). I suppose I should commend them for having the audacity to make a show about a psychopath with a God Complex infecting the galaxy with her psychosis.  Its pure Philip K Dick really, and quite fitting for our times: an Insanity Pandemic infecting the universe, 3188: A Messianic Odyssey in fact. 

How else to explain anything that happens in this show? I have no idea how many or how few are actually watching it, but I’m sure it has its fans: I’m sure its endless fascination with Wish Fulfilment is just wonderful for them: its all something of a Dream. We all like to think we are special, and the fantasy of The Chosen One is quite seductive; part of the appeal of the Matrix movies is the idea of being Neo, of being The One. Of being the subject of prophecy. The Michael Burnham Show is that fantasy writ large, in the guise of what we fans used to call Star Trek.

But Star Trek is dead. Its been dead for awhile, but if that wasn’t confirmed by the reboot movies from JJ Abrams or by last year’s Star Trek: Picard, then it surely is now. In fact, The Michael Burnham Show has surely kicked its corpse into the gutter. Maybe Star Wars got away lightly after all.

Michael Burnham is never wrong, and even when she is, it turns out she’s right in the end. When she ignores protocol or even direct orders, when she abandons her post to go off on one of her own far more important errands, and when she is subsequently demoted for such, its only a purely token gesture. Her voice and opinion will always still be desired, and when the push comes to shove, the Command Chair will always be vacated for her to take over and save the day. Its obvious everybody, even the head of Star Fleet, and certainly her fellow crew of the Discovery, are vastly inferior to her and will always defer to her. 

Just to underline the fact, none of the Discovery crew have any opportunity to compete with her on any level. Most of them don’t even have names, or at least names that matter or are memorable, and they surely don’t have any lines to speak, or any personality to inject into the proceedings. Arguably the co-star of the show, Ensign Tully -sorry, Tilly (the characters are so bland that even the nominal co-star has a name I find hard to remember)- is a prime example of a non-achiever, more suited perhaps to operating the sick-bay radio channel or the canteen, she is inexplicably promoted to be Number One in Burnham’s stead, if only to prove how most excellent Burnham was in comparison: I think its within thirty minutes of taking the Comm that Tilly manages to lose the Discovery to an alien aggressor (the Green Woman and her Motorbike Helmet goons) who board and take control of the ship and imprison the crew. Tilly can bluff and bluster like a ginger Boris Johnson- but typical of the show, there’s no substance to her, and after she escapes from confinement her attempt to retake the ship ends with her and her team asphyxiating in a corridor. Never mind Tilly, Michael’s here to save the day/save the galaxy/save the universe.

Its all fairly obnoxious and really insulting. I’ve never witnessed such stupidity in writing. The writers inject some 3188 tech – personal transporters in the uniform lapel badges- which, when they are tapped by the wearer’s fingers instantly teleports them anywhere they want to be. No coordinates, no voice commands, just tap the badge and this magic shit reads your mind or something. Now, you give all the crew this magic badge and hey presto, you’ll have empty corridors from then on because everyone just teleports everywhere, right? Canteen? The loo? Who even needs doors anymore? Tap the button and in a flash you’re there. And yet, and yet, in each subsequent episode we still see crew walking around pretending to look busy. I mean, they even have a gag in the episode in which they have the new tech in which an alien crewmember keeps on teleporting into scenes by mistake, and yet next episode nobody’s using them. These writers can’t even manage their own internal logic, even in the very same episode- in the finale the crew set off a bomb to wreck one of the nacelles and pull the ship out of warp, and then scarcely fifteen minutes later its magically all fixed and the ship is whole again and fully operational. I mean, wtf? 

I could go on. I think when I realised that Burnham’s God Complex psychosis is infecting everyone around her was when the show started to make sense to me, as regards how stupid it was and how crazy every character was behaving. It certainly explains how the show can shit all over established canon by suggesting Spock had a half-sister never mentioned in all the decades of the various incarnations of the franchise. Its obvious now that Spock never had a sister until she appeared, like one of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods from some deep sleep, her psychosis infecting Spock into accepting her, her sudden existence affecting the fabric of reality and the mythology of the show. I half-expect the psychosis to infect our own reality, so that people will start re-reading their Star Trek paperbacks from the 1980s and 1990s and suddenly be reading, indeed, of Spock having a half-sister called Michael. Its fiction infecting reality like in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. God help us all. 

Never mind. Michael will save us.

The Phantom Menace that is Holograms

westwHere’s one of my absolute pet hates with sci fi films and television: holograms. They piss me off no end, its like some kind of fourth-wall busting nonsensical ‘magic’ posing as genuine scientific plausibility. I’m getting really anal about it; its worse than sound in space or artificial gravity or teleportation for me (more on that latter travesty some other time maybe). The ‘artistic license’ that scriptwriters and film-makers exercise with holograms, endlessly frustrates me.

There is a scene in the third season of Westworld… well, there’s not just one, actually, they do this shit a few times and it raised my blood pressure every time… there’s a scene in a boardroom with this guy, Serac (Vincent Cassel in very fine form) holding court, I think he’s sitting down, stands up, the scene is tense, there’s a confrontation, and a character snaps and shoots him in the head and… the bullet goes through him and he flickers and he’s revealed to be a hologram, a repeated gambit of his. But how does this even work? Is his hologram ‘projected’ by hidden cameras, and if so, where are they, why can’t anyone else see them ‘projecting’ the Hologram and how does it work when he’s outside (they do that, they have someone chatting to a hologram outdoors). How does his voice emanate from an empty point of space where his holographic mouth is rather than from a loud speaker across the room, and how the hell does he hold eye-contact with someone when he’s not really there? How does he enter the room,  how does his chair move as if taking his weight, how does… 

How does the person projecting the hologram from some other location even ‘see’ the other people in whatever space the hologram is projected into? He may have a screen in his villains lair that he is looking at but what’s filming that image to broadcast to his screen?  Its just too much like magic to me, and over the years as writers get lazier, its all getting sillier as they take things further and further (what was that ‘hardlight’ bullshit they had in Star Trek in which Holograms could actually pick up items and touch people?). 

I know, I know, its just a sci-fi show. But its not space fantasy like Star Wars, is it, a show like Westworld. Its a more adult, considered and thoughtful piece, a show of bold, often existential ideas such as self, memory, humanity, free-will, purpose, programming biological and digital, all sorts of reflection on technology good and bad. But they slip into these silly sci-fi tropes sometimes, betraying all the good work with lazy writing. Don’t get me wrong, I adore BR2049 but I have such a hard time all the way through that film rationalising Joi and how they portray her in physical space. They sort of nod to it by us seeing lights ‘through’ her but that being said, how does she magically just ‘be there’ in a room or Spinner etc? I’d have an easier time if they just revealed she was something in K’s head and he was ‘seeing’ her in the outside world through his imagination, that he can ‘see’ her but nobody else can. But hey, what am I to do?

One of the things that frustrated me regards the holograms in Westworld is that in a number of episodes they actually manage to rationalise the technology, in that people could only see them when wearing special glasses- you can see something flickering on the interior  glass of the specs so that you can accept them ‘seeing’ 3D imagery in front of them via the glasses, possibly being projected onto the eye’s retina or on the glass itself like a HUD kind of thing. But I have to suspect the showrunners and writers got a bit carried away with it, pushed it too far when suddenly there’s a hologram walking around that everyone seems to see and we’re in bloody Star Trek territory.

I have a nagging theory/suspicion that the way we can tell that the whole third season of Westworld (and by extension seasons one and two too) is actually a simulation within a simulation like a stealth mimicry of The Matrix. You read it here first, just pretend to be surprised when Neo turns up in Westworld Season Five.

Anyway, I may eventually get around to an actual review of Westworld‘s third season, but you can possibly tell by this pointless stream of consciousness/geek rant that I have so many conflicting issues with it. I feel like Indy moaning about snakes, only here its me moaning, “Holograms. Why did it have to be Holograms?”

Re-discovering The Chosen One

stdHere we go again folks, with another season of Star Trek: Discovery, the lamentable Trek series that has alienated franchise fans possibly even more than The Last Jedi did Star Wars fans. So here we go. 

Michael Burnham is The Chosen One. She literally saved all life in the Galaxy (hallelujah baby) from an AI menace in season two that threatened to wipe out all organic life or some such nonsense (not the same AI menace that menaced humanity in Star Trek: Picard earlier this year but hey, the future seems to be rather troubled by wannabe Skynet’s). The Chosen One has now been thrown nearly 800 years into the future because she’s now The Chosen One to save the Federation after its, er, fallen apart in the intervening years thanks to some  preposterous ‘burn’ nonsense that nuked all its starships instantly.

Remember, this Chosen One saved all life in the galaxy before Kirk came around and took the limelight, but is curiously  a character who nobody ever heard of in all the Star Trek‘s ever made or written. The fact that she’s also the half-sister of Spock, who Spock never mentioned in all those years he featured in the various Trek incarnations…well, you’ll possibly see my problem. Its like the next Star Wars movie suddenly revealing that  Padmé Amidala (what do you mean, ‘who?’) actually had triplets not twins and that Luke and Leia had a sister called Lucy and thus we can benefit from yet another Skywalker Saga (Disney call my agent, ‘cos I’m copyrighting that goldmine of imagination).

I know, I know, I can positively see you rolling your eyes. Reading someone moaning about continuity or mythology of a genre show can be pretty tiresome, specially as regards a franchise as long-running as Star Trek or, say, something like Dr Who. Its a hopeless task I suppose, and I’m certain most fans of any particular franchise would allow some leeway, but if you’re going to do something Trek, you should at least sow some indication of actually trying. The guys behind Discovery seem hellbent on alienating what would traditionally be expected to be its core audience, which has always seemed odd, but maybe that’s just something borne of laziness. But nonetheless, at least treat it with some respect.

 The people behind Discovery really don’t respect its core franchise fanbase. I really don’t think they consider them at all, in all honesty.

So anyway, what’s The Chosen One been up to? Well, she’s fallen out of a Wormhole into The Future in her Iron Man suit, sorry, Time Travel suit and she just happens to have arrived near a planet (which is handy, because space is, like, 99.9% empty space and is mostly the void between stars so, you know, better near a planet than middle of nowhere without a space ship, what are the odds?) and hey, talking about space ships, there’s a space battle that just happens to be going on between two ships and The Chosen One crashes into the one being chased and -bang- she wrecks it but naturally her Iron Man suit, sorry, Time Travel suit is built to withstand massive space collisions even if space ships aren’t (the poor bastard crashes to the surface totally buggered) and not only that, but its also built to survive high-g re-entry into a planets atmosphere and, yes indeedy, a crash-landing at those incredible velocities into solid ground with the wearer hardly suffering a, er, achy achy back. Its like the goddam show is daring you to throw the remote at the screen and kill your telly.

std2Oh sod it that’s enough already. I can’t be bothered with the rest, especially the prologue that ripped off the opening of the BSG reboot,  with an amateur Federation wannabe spending 40 years -40 goddam years!- like some moron going to the office every goddam morning without a day off waiting for someone to walk in and save the Federation. Yeah guess who’s that someone. Go on, have a guess.

I’ll see you after episode Two.

Lost in Space: Season Two (2019)

lost2A little bit late to the party? Yes I guess so, since Netflix dropped this second season of the surprisingly good Lost in Space back on Christmas Eve, 2019, if I recall correctly. I suppose that might have been a genius move for many, having a family show like that available for the holiday, but it obviously didn’t suit me as I’ve only gotten around to it several months later. Indeed, funnily enough two episodes in I was asking myself why I’d waited so long, as this show is pretty great, and it was like I’d forgotten just how good/successful that first season had been (reviewed here and here back in -gulp- 2018).

So its still good then? Like the Ron Moore BSG reboot, this Lost in Space is much, much better than its original: the 1960s Irwin Allen show was a childhood favourite of mine (I loved all those American sci-fi shows, really) but it was decidedly camp and hasn’t aged too well, but this new incarnation is much more serious and brought bang up to date. Obviously its still family entertainment, much less dark than the BSG reboot was (which was informed by Post-9/11 sensibilities, terrorism and dangers of AI into something quite removed from its Glen Larson original), so it has certain limitations, but it has to be said, within those limitations of a show that tries to offer something for all the family, it works very well indeed. The danger, particularly for sci-fi shows, is that there is a tendency to alienate adults by aiming for a kid audience, with sillier genre tropes, and likewise when aiming for an adult audience danger of no longer being family-friendly with darker, more violent genre tropes. Lost in Space manages its balancing act very well, indeed much better than recent seasons of the BBCs Dr Who, and I rather think CBS Access’ recent forays into Star Trek might benefit from learning a few lessons from the show too.

lost2bStill looks pretty? Crikey, almost absurdly so. Particularly so in 4K and HDR on Netflix- its absolutely gorgeous.  The sets, the costumes, the whole thing looks very spectacular and convincing and the visual effects even more so- really, shows such as this really cross the wide divide that lay between TV and film productions a few decades ago. Quite a few times early in the second season I was seeing sets/locations and effects that looked up there with recent Ridley Scott genre projects such as The Martian and Prometheus. I’m not sure how realistic it is to describe some of these cable/streaming-giant productions from Netflix, Amazon etc as television shows. Strictly speaking some of them have motion-picture budgets, really, and some of it is a little derivative, but fair play, its mightily impressive most of the time. Actually, it does give me some pause in considering what ‘proper’ movies can do to really distinguish themselves from some of these ambitious small-screen genre projects. Hopefully Villeneuve’s Dune will make things particularly clear for me. And certainly the script-writing and acting can actually be better than those movies, and while some of the acting talent may be a little suspect the characterisation and narrative writing is top-notch and on the whole, part of the success of the show is just how endearing the characters are. The irony that it doesn’t really need to look that bloody good because the character arcs and writing is rewarding enough to warrant a watch is quite amusing.

So another season…? Yes, a third season has been commissioned for next year, and its been announced that it will be the last season too, so I assume the show-runners have laid out a plan to wrap things up satisfactorily. I would imagine that there’s a danger Covid-19 might delay things as usual of late, but if the pre-production has been progressing in the intervening months since the commissioning in March, then perhaps things will move along roughly to plan: shooting I think was due to start in September and I believe many tv and film productions are aiming to be operational in September/October.

So looking forward to it, then? Punch me. Well, okay, maybe not, best pinch me instead. Yeah, really, its hard to believe that a Lost in Space remake/reboot all these decades later is so enjoyable.

Be careful the endings you wish for?

fugitiveWe were over my mother-in-law’s yesterday delivering the weeks groceries (she’s shielding during the Covid 19 troubles – yes there’s another dishonourable mention for that bugger we’re all so weary of), when during a commercial break there was a spot announcing the commencement of a complete re-run of the old 1960s tv series The Fugitive, which starred David Janssen.  I asked if that series -immensely popular at the time- ever had a proper ending. Turns out, it did- a two-part finale at the end of its fourth season concluded the series with an actual ending, which was quite unusual at the time. Television shows used to come and suddenly just go, when ratings suffered enough to warrant a show’s cancellation. The crew of the Enterprise never completed their five-year mission in Star Trek,  the family Robinson never returned to Earth (or found Alpha Centauri) in Lost in Space, the two doctors trapped in time in The Time Tunnel never found their way back home either.  Fans of these shows and so many others would be just left hanging; their investment in the shows frustrated by open endings.

Its something which we thankfully are usually spared these days. Babylon 5 had an ending, the BSG reboot did, Fringe did, Lost did… Game of Thrones did. Of course, sometimes fans didn’t get the endings they wished for- Game of Thrones being the most obvious example of a show that didn’t stick the landing (and indeed in that particular case the crash proved particularly ugly). Part of the morbid pleasure of sticking with shows these days is the oddly perverse pleasure of seeing how they finally end, whether its a satisfactory conclusion or not. Partly that was why I stuck with The Walking Dead through some nine seasons, until I realised that thing is NEVER going to end, but yeah, surely one of the main reasons to stick with Westworld is to just see how they manage to wrap all that up.

Mind, the movies are catching up- just look how satisfyingly Disney concluded the Skywalker Saga with The Rise of Skywalker… Maybe those 1960s tv shows were onto something.

Picard nears the bottom, at last

pic9
“wtf Patrick, no money is worth this!”

I don’t really want to waste my time writing this or your time reading it, but suffice to say the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Picard, having somehow crawled to its ninth interminable instalment, has somehow outdone itself in its gradual plunge into the very depths of diabolical badness. At this point, recalling its first episode, its almost become some other show entirely, with character actions that defy continuity or logic, plotholes so wide you could fly a Borg Cube through them, and so many wtf face-palm moments that its positively unhealthy from a Covid-19 standpoint. This isn’t Star Trek. I’m not sure what it is, but it sure as hell ain’t Star Trek.

Its really horrible and only morbid curiosity (and my own stubbornness) has kept me watching. Its a sad turn of affairs for Trek and I really struggle to imagine a way out of this really, other than putting the whole franchise into cold-storage for a decade or two. Mind, if I had my way, that’s what they’d also do with Dr Who; it seems everything is going to hell in a genre hand-basket of late and its thoroughly depressing, as if Real-World events weren’t depressing enough.

Regards those Real-World events, I hope all my readers are safe and healthy and we all get out to the other side of this relatively unscathed. Blogs such as this really seem quite inconsequential compared to whats going on but maybe what we love and enjoy is all the more important at times like this. Issues quite unrelated to Covid-19 has enforced a hiatus for me over the past week or so, and none of us know whats ahead of us particularly in times such as these, but hopefully I can get back to writing and posting for whatever that’s worth. Just hope I’m writing about better stuff than this Picard rubbish…