Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

Silent Running

Silent Running posterThroughout November the Guernsey Museum at Candie Gardens have been showing a series of films to coincide with their rather excellent Engage Warp Drive exhibition of science fiction paraphernalia and the Guernsey Arts Commission‘s exhibition of work by Chris Foss.

Following on from Forbidden Planet from the 50s and The Quatermass Experiment from the 60s, was Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 classic Silent Running – a film that, despite my being an avid wittertainee and it being one of the favourite films of Mark Kermode, I had yet to see.

Made in the wake of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in fact by one of the people responsible for that films special effects, Silent Running exists as a parallel film in several ways.

The most obvious for me is that they are clearly both products of their time, with both strongly connected to the prevalent ‘counter culture’, either intentionally or otherwise.

While 2001 became a favourite for its trippy ‘stargate’ sequence and its ideas of expanded consciousness, Silent Running takes another tack, focusing on ideas of conservation and feeling very much the product of the so-called ‘hippy’ movement.

Bruce Dern and robots - Silent Running

Dern and two of the ‘robots’

Another way is in its visual style. While this is fairly obvious thanks to Trumbull’s involvement in the former, as 2001 presents a dark and stark image of space travel, in many ways, at least at first, Trumbull’s view is far more bright, colourful and comparatively homely, and certainly lighter, both visually and in tone.

The film centres on a performance by Bruce Dern as Freeman Lowell, a member of the crew of the Valley Forge, a ship carrying one of the Earth’s final forests (the earth having apparently undergone a Blade Runner 2049 like ecological disaster in the recent past).

Dern’s performance is a genuine tour de force as he spends most of the film acting alongside a trio of small robots (the clear forerunners to R2-D2) shifting from sympathetic eco-warrior through various stages until the film’s, in hindsight, inevitable climax.

Given the look of the film and the fact that it was made by a ‘special effects man’, Dern’s performance is all the more impressive as it gives the film a heart it could easily not have had and he is remarkably convincing in it.

Silent Running - Valley Forge

The Valley Forge and a sister ship

Credit for some of this must also be given to the actors inside the drone robots as they too manage to imbue near immobile boxes with surprising amounts of character, rather like their counterparts in Interstellar, but somewhat more modestly successful.

My one criticism of the film is that there are moments where it seems to sacrifice internal logic in order to further its thematic cause. While not a major problem as it leads to the film having a coherent feel and tone, there are moments where it jars, particularly for someone more accustomed to the more precise style of mainstream sci-fi that has come to the fore in the last few decades.

Silent Running Bruce Dern

Dern

Even with its generally ‘green’ message Silent Running does reach a climax that rather surprised me but again fits neatly into the post-Altamont-era making for a film that is undeniably great but that I feel will grow in my mind the more I think about it and with now inevitable re-watching.

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Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 posterEver since the announcement of Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-if movie of the early 80s, there was a sense of worry, for two reasons.

First was wondering could a sequel heading back into this world after such a long break live up to its predecessor and not just spoil it, and secondly, given it took about three watches for me to properly appreciate the original, would I be left cold and/or more confused than satisfied after a first watch.

As the film begins and we are introduced to Ryan Gosling’s new Blade Runner, K, initially appearing very similar to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, as he speeds across a future California under a grey sky and over a vast ‘farm’ to track down a renegade replicant.

Through this encounter we learn that K is also a more modern form of replicant and what at first appears rather routine sets in motion a series of events that build on the themes, mysteries and story of the original film in a wider context.

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049

Gosling as K

What really makes Blade Runner 2049 work so well is how it expands what we already know of this world; from the thirty years between the settings, to showing us more of this ruined future Earth, but all with purpose and not just to show off some impressive special effects (though it does have impressive special effects).

Added to this is the attention to detail in this being a future of the world Scott created rather than just a future version of now.

I won’t go into too much detail of the plot, but as it goes on it raises some pretty big questions for a major blockbuster level film, particularly focussing on what it means to be human.

While this is the same question raised in the original here it is developed further, both through the advancements in the technology of the replicants and with the introduction of holographic life forms.

Blade Runner 2049 Los Angeles

Los Angeles 2049

This is then balanced with a good dose of noir styled dialogue, some very well handled and never gratuitous action that actually moves the story forward and a pace that echoes the original and stands out from current blockbuster cinema by being very measured and deliberate – in less talented hands it could be called slow but it never feels that, rather crediting the audience with patience and intelligence.

As the film ends with enough sense of mystery maintained to not spoil the original and with enough story told to leave new questions, Blade Runner 2049 is a great movie that has everything in place it might need to become a longstanding classic of the genre, and based on this I’m now even more excited by the rumoured prospect of Denis Villeneuve directing a new version of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

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Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four posterDespite being Marvel’s pioneering super team it’s always seemed that the Fantastic Four have struggled when it comes to screen adaptations. While Iron Man, The Avengers, Spider-Man, The X-Men and more have all had some success, no outings for Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue (Kate Mara) & Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) Storm and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) have felt entirely satisfactory.

While the early 2000s version was throwaway fun it’s sequel fell flat and the story of the unreleased version that came around the time of the straight to video Captain America is infamous.

So, we come to Josh Trank’s attempt at bringing the team to the screen in 2015.

At the time of its release it was panned from pretty much all quarters which was hard to ignore but, I thought coming to it after some time had passed might help me have a more balanced view.

Starting off in sort of flashback things doesn’t quite sit right away as we meet Reed and Ben in school where Reed is inexplicably building a teleporter in his garage.

Miles Teller as Reed Richards in Fantastic Four

Teller as Richards

Ok, so that I can go with, this is after all a comic book sci-fi movie, but it didn’t take long to realise that all the characters, be they the leads or the bit parts like the teachers, are all poorly sketched stereotypes with no real thought or emotion behind anything they do or say.

This gives the whole film a cheap feel, despite the fancy special effects, where nothing anyone does has any weight of any kind as they all talk in what feels like cliche or exposition.

As the film goes on its clear things aren’t going to get much better as the tone is desperately uneven, apparently unsure if it wants to be comparatively light-hearted sci-fi fun with hints of the family friendly like of Star Wars or something more akin to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies, but without the style or inventiveness of either.

Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four

Jordan as Storm in Human Torch mode

Once the origin story of the heroes is finally done with the long telegraphed villain plays his hand, though it makes little sense and as there’s only 10 minutes of the film left it never amounts to much despite the usual high level disaster movie effects.

Trank has done his utmost to distance himself from the final product (as I assume would anyone else who was involved) but that doesn’t change the fact that even given the varied output of the main Marvel Studios films over the years this is probably the worst of the batch, even falling below the misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian posterThroughout his career it’s fair to say Luc Besson has often had the same criticism levelled against his work, that it is more style than substance. While his work is often visually high concept, in the likes of Leon aka The Professional and (more relevant here) The Fifth Element he has created films that are engrossing, energetic, eccentric but, above all, enjoyable… And now has come Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Fairly quickly this looks like it might inhabit similar territory to The Fifth Element as we are rapidly sent from the first meeting in space between the US and Soviets to the creation of Alpha, an enormous space station inhabited by species from around the galaxy heading off to explore the cosmos.

We also witness what at first appears to be an unrelated planetary apocalypse of a fairly psychedelic race’s home world getting destroyed by mysterious star ships leaving only handful of survivors.

We then meet our two leads, Dane DeHaan’s Valerian and Cara Delevingne’s Laureline, members of the military that controls Alpha on a mission to recover a mysterious artefact, while indulging in some of the most chemistry free romantic entanglements ever committed to celluloid.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in Valerian

Delevingne and DeHaan

From there the story is fairly episodic, giving the impression that Besson has taken a selection of ideas from the source comics and thrown them all into the movie script whether they fit or not.

This is particularly noticeable when the lead pair encounter an apparently xenophobic race who like a tasty human brain and, improbably, pop star Rhianna crops up to save the day for about five minutes and is then never mentioned again (its hard to avoid the feel of misjudged ‘stunt casting’ at this point).

Along with the slightly too episodic nature of the plot (the whole planetary apocalypse thing is present throughout but only really comes into focus again in the very end, by which point you’ll be at least one step ahead of everyone on-screen) the characters and performances have no sense of consistency or believability.

Rhianna in Valerian

Rhianna doing her best Sally Bowles

Now, I’m a fan of sci-fi so it’s not because of the setting or anything like that, but rather because they change entirely almost scene to scene giving particularly the leads and the main villain an almost schizophrenic edge that makes them impossible to get along with, care about or anything else.

Where the film does succeed is in its visuals, I don’t think there’s a single shot without some visual effect and in some cases entire scenes are entirely CGI but fit in with the live action elements (for the most part) excellently and the production design and costumes look, in their way, excellent (though what’s with Rhianna’s Cabaret moment?).

While the script and dialogue are never great it is in the closing scenes, where one might expect something to tidy up the various threads, it all just descends to into what is at best laughable and worst cringeworthy and, while it can be credited for not having a standard city destroying battle in its final act, what it does have just falls flat so, while the ending feels like it should be the beginning of the adventures of Valerien and Laureline, I honestly hope they are lost in space (though part of me was hoping for Roger Moore-era James Bond like final pay off gag).

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Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

The Captains - Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager

Captains Picard, Sisko and Janeway

Around the time JJ Abrams semi-reboot of Star Trek was released, back in 2009, I set out on my own ‘on-going mission’ to rewatch (or in some cases watch for the first time) the entirety of the Star Trek TV and film canon.

I’ve already posted reviews of a few of the films (The Wrath of Kahn, First Contact and Insurrection) but here I’m going to focus on what is, for me, the main run of the TV show from the launch of The Next Generation in the mid 80s to the climax of Voyager in the late 90s.

Of course none of these could exist without Gene Roddenberry’s original 1960s show which was certainly groundbreaking in several ways but sadly petered off rather swiftly leading to its cancellation after just three of its five years.

Its success on syndicated repeats though kept the ideas it espoused alive and, following an animated series and the launch of the film series in the late 70s, led to the idea of the series’ first not quite reboot, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek The Next Generation core crew

Star Trek: The Next Generation crew

While the idea is a little clichéd now (and was even then) ‘TNG‘ set its stall as a real development from the off with bigger budgets and bigger ideas permeating its seven seasons.

While the first few seasons are somewhat hobbled by some of Roddenberry’s more 60s ideals; there’s still a strong streak of the originals idea of a strapping Star Fleet officer having his end away with exotic aliens, they do hint at the greater development beyond.

The opening episodes, Encounter At Farpoint, strongly indicate a lot of this with new life form, Q (John De Lancie for the entire run), putting the human race on trial and exploring morality and ethics in a very obvious way that, as it goes on, becomes a slightly more subtly handled linchpin of the ongoing franchise.

While this is a bit of a one-off at first, as the series’ goes on and we get past the rather two-dimensional introduction to new races like the Ferengi, and on wider television we move into the era or Twin Peaks and The X-Files, things start to coalesce with deeper ideas being investigated in the traditional hard sci-if way of finding things in the future setting to reflect the current world and current ideas.

USS Enterprise-D

USS Enterprise-D

Along with this it introduces some characters who have become not just staples of the Star Trek world but, in some cases, have slipped into broader popular culture.

Of course there’s the crew, led by Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard, who’s phrase ‘make it so’ has entered the pop culture sphere as has the actor who would go on to become Professor X for much of the X-Men film franchise. Another notable character who has crossed over a little is the android crewman, Data (Brent Spiner) and, latterly, Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher.

To my mind though the most important thing TNG gave us was one of the new ‘species’ it introduced, The Borg. Playing on particularly timely obsessions with technology, in many ways they prefigure the likes of The Matrix by a good decade and develop as the show goes on into one of TV’s most interesting villains and continue to develop into one of the main antagonists of Voyager.

Borg

An early example of a Borg drone

As TNG goes on it also develops from a standard ‘monster of the week’ style format into a broader storytelling context that grows into a universe building piece.

In its final episodes this allows it all to come full circle, back to elements introduced in the opening Q story making for a generally satisfying climax before the Enterprise-D crew headed onto the silver screen.

What the universe building also led into was the expansion of the franchise into other series, first Deep Space Nine and then Voyager.

In some ways ‘DS9‘ continues in the style of TNG with standalone episodes making the bulk of the first couple of seasons, but even then there are much more obvious overarching themes at play and heading into different directions than TNG dealt with.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine crew

Deep Space Nine crew

This is particularly focussed around the aftermath of war, foreign policy & diplomacy and religion due to its setting in the recently liberated Bajoran system following a lengthy occupation by the Cardassian Empire.

While all of these are dealt with in a way that still suits early evening prime time TV, DS9 does take things a step further than TNG as it goes on and actual war breaks out, taking up the bulk of the last few seasons in a largely ongoing story (with occasional asides).

In this it gets increasingly ‘dark’ (for wont of a better word) with lead characters even dying a long way into the run in very effective fashion and with the aftermath of this dealt with in surprising depth.

It’s during this that the already impressive practical special effects begin to dabble with CGI and, while rudimentary by today’s standards, it opens up the storytelling into more action oriented territory which is something Star Trek as a whole often lacked.

Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine

Thankfully it does this without losing the story or the ideas as has become a problem with over heavy CGI sci-fi since, including, sadly the last couple of Trek films, particularly Star Trek Beyond

While it’s often considered the lesser series, Voyager continues much of this and, in one sense, with the most ambitious concept of all as it launches its crew to the other side of the galaxy and traces their attempts to get home.

Across its seven seasons Voyager does have its wobbles and maybe a few too many moments of apparent luck and coincidentally bumping into past characters that doesn’t fit the epic trek of the ongoing story but, in between it has some of the more interesting stand alone stories as the conceit removes much of the galactic baggage that had built up across TNG and DS9.

Star Trek Voyager crew

Voyager crew

Of course it would be remiss to not also mention that it gives the Trek universe its first female lead in the form of Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) who grows and develops into probably at least an equal to DS9‘s Captian Sisko (Avery Brooks) – I’ll be honest no one is going to best Kirk or Picard.

The last few seasons again provide the highlights as The Borg loom larger and again CGI is used to create things more inventive than a parade of humans with forehead prosthetics (though there are still plenty of them), like Species 8472 who for TV at the time are quite a feat of animation.

What possibly hampers Voyager somewhat is that many of the ideas it explores are just retreads of what we’ve seen before, with new aspects in most cases but it still has a little too much of a hint of repetition, particularly with first the holographic Doctor (Robert Picardo) then former Borg Seven Of Nine’s (Jeri Ryan) explorations of humanity more than echoing TNG’s Data.

Voyager

Voyager

The other thing that feels a shame is that the series ends rather abruptly and, while it satisfies part of the main story, it feels there was more to tell and wrap up before coming to an end.

While it’s obvious that TNG is the superior of the three series in many ways they all have their share of merits and, on my personal ‘trek’ it was the concluding part of DS9 and much of Voyager that provided many highlights, possibly because I had seen them less than TNG.

Along with this though they stand as some of the foundations of the TV renaissance of recent years (along with The X-Files, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and others) that has led to the likes of Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones and the Marvel Netflix shows with wider concepts and ongoing stories becoming the main focus of TV rather than the more easily disposable medium it had previously been.

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Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant posterSeveral years ago, when Ridley Scott announced his prequel to his 1979 classic Alien, Prometheus, I wondered whether we really needed an explanation for events leading up to a film that already worked so efficiently and effectively.

Now, with the follow-up to that film, Alien: Covenant, that is also another precursor to the original, that question occurs once again.

From the off it ties the two threads of the story together with a prologue featuring Prometheus‘ replicant character David (Michael Fassbender) before we are sent to the colony ship Covenant and meet another replicant, Walter (also Fassbender).

From that point on we get a story that seems to be unsure quite what it wants to do and say. Certainly there are plenty of thrills and chills and a good dose of action and excitement as the crew of the Covenant (and I don’t think this is a spoiler given the title) encounter a version of the Xenomorph Alien (apparently the ‘Neomorph’) seen in the past instalments of the series.

Katherine Waterston - Alien: Covenant - Daniels

Daniels (Waterston)

Along with the action, again much like Prometheus, the film seems to want to deal with some big questions, so we have Oram (Billy Crudup), thrust into the role of ship’s captain and a self expressed man of faith.

The fact this is self expressed is where the problem with this attempt at exploring something really comes to fore as anything Alien: Covenant might be trying to explore is just stated by the characters rather being genuinely explored through the film, so it falls a little flat.

As well as this there is a thread that, like the original Alien and its direct sequels, takes something of a feminist angle with crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston) echoing original heroine Ripley as the film’s (comparatively) grounded heroic centre as chaos escalates.

Alien: Covenant - Walter - Michael Fassbender

Walter (Fassbender)

Unlike the original though this feels rather too heavy-handed, especially as it’s already an established trope of the series and it just never quite rings as honest and true, particularly when we reach a rather over gratuitous scene toward the film’s climax.

This might be for the very simple reason that, while Daniels is arguably the hero of this film’s story, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the series now belongs to Fassbender’s replicant characters.

It’s fair to say that, as David initially and then Walter, Fassbender has found a way to make these characters that, in the past were often sinister bit parts, into fascinating explorations of humanity and our place in the universe (as much as a big budget sci-fi blockbuster might).

The Neomorph - Alien: Covenant

The ‘Neomorph’ alien

Fassbender is undeniably the most engaging presence here and, as with Prometheus, his performance is phenomenal – to the point where his blankness is at times a little too convincing and genuinely creepy, and makes any outbursts all the more effective, but I may already have said too much.

As a whole though Alien: Covenant, while enjoyable, feels a little too much like a ‘best bits’ of the better past films thrown together, with the attempt at philosophy of Prometheus thrown in, and not quite coming out with an entirely satisfying whole and it’s hard to escape the fact that this is all somewhat unnecessary exposition for a pair of classic films that never needed it.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 posterWhen James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014 it was a breath of fresh air in a rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe that was already beginning to grow somewhat stale.

Now, three years later, its sequel has appeared with far more anticipation and again the hope that it would help add something new to the now apparently inescapable MCU juggernaut.

From the start Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much more of the same as Gunn, once again in the director’s chair, subverts standard action movie expectations as a big action scene takes place as the background to a dance sequence from Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) accompanied by yet another nostalgia heavy musical choice.

While this is all fine and entertaining it sets up something that becomes a bit of a frustration, particularly in the first half of the film. The use of vintage pop songs and irreverent punchlines was a highlight of the first movie but here they often seem a bit too forced and it almost as if nothing can happen without a joke being thrown in at the end.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 - baby groot

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

Some of these are great but some miss the mark and it starts to feel like Gunn is feeling the need to live up what was most notable about the first film (something that looks to have spread to not only the new Thor film Ragnarok but also the upcoming DC superhero mash-up Justice League, judging by the trailers).

Because of this the first half of the film does drag somewhat, despite a few perfectly serviceable action sequences, as it takes a while for the story to really get going as we are reintroduced to the Guardians and their particular corner of the galaxy, along with a vague maguffin about stolen batteries.

Once Ego arrives though things do pick up.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Kurt Russell - Ego 2

Ego, The Living Planet (Kurt Russell)

Played by Kurt Russell in a way that is at once one of the film’s biggest 80s nostalgia trips and a genuinely effective character, Ego is something of a rare thing in Marvel’s films of feeling like something a bit different.

Known as ‘The Living Planet’ he expands on the more sci-fi end of the MCU in both visual and character terms and there are some genuinely impressive moments focussing on him that do a great job of translating comic book ‘splash page’ style imagery onto the big screen.

While this leads to a big smash bang action sequence as is the Marvel standard, the connections between the characters, old and new, give this something a little different to keep it interesting enough, if not truly ground breaking.

Much like the first film one of its strong points is in the design of the MCU extraterrestrial world.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 - Chris Pratt

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt)

With ships clearly strongly influenced by artist Chris Foss and a somewhat psychedelic sense to its space-scapes it builds in what was set up first time round as well as in the Thor and Doctor Strange films and suggests the upcoming Avengers films that it would seem will focus on Thanos have the chance of some epic visuals.

Laced through with cameos and a strong sense of 1980s nostalgia Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may be not feel as fresh as its predecessor and be hampered by trying to live up to its own hype, but is entertaining and really picks up in the second half to be one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I think this is helped by still being totally separate to the ongoing Avengers saga it seems destined to collide with sooner rather than later and having a solid directorial vision from Gunn (who has already been announced as directing the third Guardians film) rather than the often slightly too homogenised feel of the rest of the series.

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Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek Insurrection posterThere is a famous theory about Star Trek movies that if it is an even-numbered ‘episode’ it will be good and if it is odd-numbered it will be less so, to an extent The Wrath of Kahn, The Search For SpockThe Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact demonstrate this as being true.

Approaching Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth instalment in the cinematic series, then my hopes were not high, based on the rule and my vague memories from seeing it in the cinema back in 1998. This was not aided by the opening credits stating that this one was directed by Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander William Riker.

The story of the film concerns two opposing alien races and what appears to be a kind of ‘fountain of youth’ type maguffin and the crew of the Enterprise have to sort things out. This is a fairly standard sounding plot for Star Trek, and it feels like it; though normally this would be one of the more disposable weekly 45 minute episodes rather than an hour and forty minutes of film time.

To try to make it seem bigger a few extra twists are thrown into the tale which largely just serve to over complicate the story in a totally unsatisfactory way so any revelations simply fall flat at best or at worst just make no sense at all.

Star Trek insurrection - Picard

Captain Picard (Stewart) has a ‘humourous’ encounter

Away from the story, which incidentally is entirely self-contained and strangely distant from the ongoing Dominion War raging in the then ongoing TV series Deep Space Nine, the entire production of the film just feels a little off.

The script is riddled with moments that appear to be adding a lighthearted air to proceedings but sit entirely at odds with the rest of the story while also being totally out of character for these very well established parts and the apparent internal explanation never quite rings true.

Added to this is the fact that Frakes direction makes the whole thing feel just like a bad episode of a TV show. At the time when Deep Space Nine was starting the development of the television series into the sort of thing it has become now with the likes of Game Of Thrones, this film feels more like a relative of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, just without being an intentional spoof.

Star Trek Insurrection - F Murray Abraham as Ru'Afo

F Murray Abraham as the forgettable villain Ru’Afo

It also seems Frakes and the writers felt the need to include a clumsily handled side plot about Riker’s beard which is simply surplus to any requirements, while another romantic entanglement for Picard just feels like repetition of several similar threads from the past – neither have the weird presence of William Shatner to pull off these sub-Kirk shenanigans.

To their credit it looks like the actors are having a good time doing something a bit more lighthearted than their previous cinematic efforts but with the script failing them so badly even the usually reliable Patrick Stewart is left with little and so hams it up a treat and little else.

Meanwhile the usually reliably Brent Spiner as Data is also left floundering with little that really fits his character and it seems the recently bereaved Worf (Michael Dorn) has just been crowbarred in and reset to his role at the end of The Next Generation TV series with barely a mention of his ongoing exploits.

Star Trek Insurrection - Riker and Troi

Riker (Frakes) loses his trademark beard thanks to Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis)

In the end of course all is sorted out and the status quo remains after a less than exhilarating battle both in space and on planet making Star Trek: Insurrection undeniably continuing proof of the evens and odds rule for the series and, while it may not be as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, it is probably a close second for worst Trek movie.

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Ghost In The Shell (2017)

Ghost In The Shell posterSince it’s release in 1995 the anime of Ghost In The Shell has become one of the touchstones of not only Japanese animated films breaking through into western culture (along with the likes of Akira and the Miyazaki films) but has become a heavy influence on science fiction cinema of many sorts from The Matrix to Dredd and beyond.

So now, some 22 years later, the long developing ‘Hollywood remake’ has hit the multiplexes with Scarlett Johansson leading an international cast, also including Juliet Binoche and ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano.

The story here concerns Johansson’s Major Mira Killian, a cyborg member of a kind of top-secret law enforcement agency, and her teams mission to take out a mysterious new threat who is killing off high level scientists from the company who created the Major’s robotic body. From there things head into a fairly predictable conspiracy plot.

While there’s nothing wrong with the plot per se, and it does use the conspiracy to explore a similar notion to the earlier animated version, it is hampered hugely by a near total lack of definition in the characters all of whom are at best two-dimensional renderings of fairly well-worn stereotypes – even Major who of all the roles has the most scope for something more.

Scarlett Johansson as Major Mira Killian - Ghost in the Shell

Johansson as Major

While this same criticism could be levelled at many of today’s blockbusters everything around the central group of characters just feels somewhat bland with a script that relies too much on spoken exposition to both move the story on and labour its point with visuals that, while technically impressive, never wow like it feels they should and display no sense of flair or originality.

Given the fact at least some of the cast are known talents it’s hard not to conclude that a major part of the problem lies with director Rupert Sanders, the man previously responsible for Snow White And The Huntsman which had many similar problems.

On top of this came the fact that there is a sense that Ghost In The Shell was produced somewhat ‘by committee’, trying to simultaneously target both the mainstream American (western) movie audience, the increasingly important Chinese market, the Japanese market and fans of the original.

Ghost in the Shell - Batou and team

The rest of Major’s team

While the original anime version of the film helped establish new tropes of future urban dystopia this version does little to build on that, strangely giving it a feeling that it is copying the very things the original influenced both visually and in terms of its story and characters.

This all comes together to leave a film that, while not technically bad, just feels flat and uninspired which, given the legacy of its progenitor, makes it a massive disappointment and a missed opportunity that probably arrived two decades too late, if it ever even needed to arrive at all.

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2010: The Year We Make Contact

2010 The Year We Make ContactWhile it has been divisive since its release and has been described as everything from plodding and wilfully obscure to visionary there’s no deny that Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was and remains a unique work in the sci-fi film canon. At its conclusion however while it certainly asked more questions than it answered I wasn’t left wondering what happens next.

Arthur C. Clarke, the original film’s writer and originator, though had other ideas and several sequels have since emerged in print, one of which, 2010 Odyssey Two, was made into a sequel to the original movie in 1984 as 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

From the start it’s clear that Peter Hyams’ film is much more down to earth and straight forward than its predecessor as we arrive on earth in the titular year and meet Dr Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), the originator of the Discovery mission from the first film.

From there he joins a mission to investigate the loss of the Discovery led by a joint group of Russian and American scientists and astronauts – unfortunately at the same time the two countries stand on verge of war, the Cold War seemingly not having been resolved as occurred in the real world.

Unfortunately while 2001 is, for the most part, timeless, 2010 feels immediately dated, not just by its ongoing Cold War setting but by the production design that couldn’t look more 80s if it tried.

Roy Scheider

Roy Scheider

Usually I find this easy to look over but something here made that hard, possibly it was the rather obvious story that, while described as a thriller, never really thrilled on any level and any political intrigue that could have existed never properly manifested.

Meanwhile the mystery of the monolith felt like a side-show until the third act at which point its effect became a bit too obvious – particularly when compared to the enigmatic climax of 2001.

Despite a strong cast featuring Helen Mirren, John Lithgow and more alongside Scheider it was hard to really get more than an archetypical view of their characters and it was only the returning voice of HAL 9000 and Keir Dullea’s lost astronaut David Bowman that had any real presence.

As they only show up in the third act properly (though are hinted at throughout) this made the first part harder work than it should have been.

Leonov encounters Discovery

Leonov encounters Discovery

Though the climax came with some nice Jupiter based visuals I couldn’t escape the feeling it was all a bit too obvious, and while it left avenues for more sequels and its message of unity is an important and worthy one, compared to both its predecessor and other sci-fi of the time 2010 falls somewhat flat.

So, while it’s not a total disaster and was mildly diverting it was nothing more, which I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by.

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