Saturday, October 3, 2020

Battlestar Galactica S1 E5: You Can't Go Home Again

"Kara was family. You do whatever you have to do. Sometimes you break the rules." -Commander William Adama-

One of this writer and science fiction fan's most vivid memories of Battlestar Galactica's first season was the survival story of Kara "Starbuck" Thrace on a nearby moon separated from the surviving human fleet.

The Red Planet visual aesthetic and vibe of Battlestar Galactica, Season One, Episode 5, You Can't Go Home Again following Starbuck's narrow escape from a Cylon battle in Act Of Contrition (E4) left an impression. Visually the creators of the episode nail it. With her Viper destroyed Starbuck is forced to abort to a nearby moon parachuting in along with a sole Cylon Raider also damaged in the attack. The creators take us into the world of the enemy and Kara's own determination.

With her Viper out of flight commission and her oxygen running out (once again dramatically racing against the clock as the fleet did in 33), Starbuck works desperately to get the Cylon Raider back in service to escape the moon and return to the Galactica before leaving the sector.

One of the most intriguing sequences visually comes in the form of the realization by Starbuck that the Cylon Raiders themselves in the new series are completely filled with bio-mechanical guts rather than actual centurion pilots. In a nice bit of mythology building for the new series versus the old is discovering that the spacecrafts for the Cylons are essentially alive. They are bio-engineered to operate without Centurions as it was in the original show as we so vividly recall the trio of centurion pilots in the original craft. It's a clever evolution and avenue for the new series.

The Cylon Raiders themselves are a slick, crescent moon-shaped craft in the new series, though nothing quite matches the design of those classic Cylon Raider originals. Still, the face of the new Raider pays homage to the old Cylons in appearance. They are of a simple design and effective and easily as sleek as the classic vessel, just not quite as a appealing in their lack of detail.

One of the most interesting sequences is Commander Adama snapping at Colonel Tigh out of desperation and seeming guilt over the loss of Starbuck particularly following his unresolved exchange with her in Act Of Contrition. It's a powerful moment and one that reflects his love for Starbuck and his love for the pilots and crew of his ship.

One thread in this first season that continues to underwhelm is Karl Agathon or Helo with Sharon running about Caprica in a survival mode of their own as they try to determine a way off the planet. It's simply not especially gripping and those roving Cylons look just unimpressive with over a decade and half of aging computer animation. A revisit of the series wouldn't hurt in time.

You Can't Go Home Again displays a battle of wills between the military arm (Adama) of the fleet (though there are some intense and compelling moments between Tigh and Adama internally) and the civilian leadership (Roslin). Both are at odds and continue to set up the ongoing human conflict within the fleet of hawks and doves. Adama sees the needs of the one in Starbuck, personal as it may be, outweigh the needs of the many. This is clearly the grittier flipside of that selfless Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan outlook when Spock declares "The needs of the many outweigh" the needs of the few "or the one" which is the antithesis of the events in question here.

Upon introspection Adama and the crew prepare for jump to the next system, but not before Starbuck, operating inside of Cylon gore, makes it back to the Galactica.

The final scene between Starbuck and Commander Adama brings us full circle to those initial heart-wrenching moments in Act Of Contrition between the two. The paternalistic Adama ameliorates the falling out and repairs their bond by underscoring Kara as family with a kiss on her forehead relieved she is alive and back on board. With Zak gone this family may not be able to go back home the way it was ever again, but the bonds they form aboard the Galactica will continue to bring them home to each other. Family will endure in yet another form.

You Can't Go Home Again turns out another solid entry in the series first season and delivering closure on a high note, relatively speaking, one of the more optimistic of the series. It was also a highlight for the character played memorably by actress Katee Sackhoff.

Writer: Carla Robinson.
Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (Raised By Wolves, The Terror, Invasion, Falling Skies and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

Friday, July 10, 2020

Stargate Universe Season Two

As many know who visit here at Musings Of A Sci Fi Fanatic, I've been enjoying an entry by entry review of Season One of Stargate Universe (SGU).

A recent look at SGU, S1, E17, Pain and E18, Subversion inspired me to enjoy the rest of the series in succession. In other words, I really wanted to get to it and have a proper look at the series final season, Season Two.

For those who have read over my look at SGU, S1, Subversion the series had me concerned about its trajectory.

SGU was suddenly entangled with earthbound stories and being sucked into a story thread with the Lucian Alliance (a hold over from the days of SG1). For this viewer it was the least compelling storyline of the series in its first season of survival for the crew aboard Destiny. The SGU S1, two-part finale, E19 and E20, Incursion threw the crew of the Destiny up against the Lucian Alliance. It was indeed my least favorite portion of a mostly great first season. Despite the missteps at the end of Season One it was still expertly assembled and its merits are arguably debatable. One man's trash is another's man's treasure.

SGU, Season Two, E1, Intervention essentially concluded that Season One thread. Mercy.

This writer is relieved to report SGU, Season Two, despite some Lucian Alliance reverberations and echoes throughout, is nearly as compelling as its first season and perhaps more exciting. It was pure relief to find myself immersed in the series' journey and mystery aboard the Destiny once again. The exceptional handling of suspense and mystery of the first season was indeed salvaged with the infusion of potentially more thrilling moments for those who missed these elements within the Stargate franchise.

As the series wrapped up quickly with its final episodes E19, Blockade and E20, Gauntlet it broke my heart to see it go.

SGU, as a standalone science fiction series, was that good and had that much potential as Dr. Rush would suggest to young apprentice Eli Wallace.

In just 40 episodes of television the characters evolved amidst some beautifully filmed and often compelling science fiction. This large ensemble group of characters, an unruly mix of military and civilian, once working in a contentious, uneasy alliance in the first season even gradually grows to connect as family with a delicate, fragile trust, but with bonds formed nonetheless. Each character was not an easily identifiably, quantifiable being of good or evil. Each and everyone of them seemed, like most of us, human, infinitely capable of making good choices as much as bad ones or at least mistakes. As the journey continued the characters evolved and matured together slowly. This science fiction enjoyed populating the Destiny with interesting characters and a subtle examination of human behavior.

As many have often said about ABC series LOST (2004-2010), a show seemingly less about the mysteries of the island and more about the journey of a diverse mix of people thrown together for six fascinating seasons. The same can be said for those aboard the glorious ship that was Destiny.

The mythological mysteries of this series deepened as much as the characters as Destiny voyaged through space.

While the characters were richly written throughout the show in its comparatively short run to LOST, the visual effects were second to none. The Destiny herself, an important character to the show as much as Serenity was to Firefly (2002), is also deeply layered and and lovingly detailed as she herself unfolds and is revealed across two seasons like a tapestry.

As a whole, it was the relationship between the characters and the ship that is one of the most engaging components of the show as the characters discover her.

Gauntlet (E20), the series finale, was moving beyond words considering the brevity of the series and quite possibly one of the best series' finales penned given the circumstances. It was nearly as powerful as Unending (S10, E20) following Stargate SG-1's ten season run. The latter arguably more so given the length of that show's run and the chance its characters had to fill the hearts of audiences.

SGU we hardly knew you and yet experiencing these forty wonderful episodes we wish we knew you more and you had the chance to see through another three years of science fiction exploration aboard one of the most glorious ship designs ever created, the Destiny (on par with the Eagle of Space:1999 for this space ship fan).

Like the stars that powered her through the darkness of space, Destiny and Stargate Universe shined for two glorious years.

It's outright shameful, a crime, that Season Two has only seen the light of day on DVD and there has been no official release for the wonderful accompanying score of this show by the late Joel Goldsmith.

When a science fiction series works so completely with writing, story, casting, effects and score (LOST, Firefly) you have a winner. Add the understated, underrated Stargate Universe to the pantheon of the best.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Gamera Vs Gyaos

Director Noriaki Yuasa retook the reins of the Gamera franchise for Return Of The Giant Monsters, more commonly referred to as Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967).

Following the high production values on kaiju underrated underdog and critically derided Gamera Vs. Barugon (War Of The Monsters), the second Gamera picture and the only one not directed by Yuasa, Yuasa returned with his wide-eyed enthusiasm and youthful love of all things Gamera as if looking at the creature through the lens of a child. The director was exceptional in his approach and his natural connection to the turtle monster ensured it did not take a backseat to Gyaos in terms of film time as he did in Gamera Vs. Barugon.

The concept of a beloved Gamera by children was introduced in Gamera's debut black and white film, Gamera, The Giant Monster (1965), then dropped for Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966). With Gamera Vs. Gyaos Yuasa was no holds barred in brining back the wide-eyed child love for Gamera that was sidelined for a film.

Production values are solid and largely the kind of kaiju fun one should embrace who has any heart and wonder at all.

Is it important that the Japanese technicians are trying to build a road in this latest tale before being introduced to the evil ray-slicing Gyaos? Gosh, Hell no!

The adventure begins when a child is imperiled by Gyaos a strange flat-headed winged creature. A hiker is eaten alive. A plane load of passengers is sliced in half and fall to their deaths. Some grisly stuff for 1967. Gamera comes to the rescue of the child, Eiichi, and saves the adorable, chunky, little Japanese boy, but not before taking some knife-slicing hits on his right arm several times nearly losing it.

Gushing good old-fashioned green kaiju blood Gamera escapes with the boy on his shell for a trusty kaiju version of a magic carpet ride. These child-friendly concepts taken further later in the year for Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot (1967-1968; 26 episodes).

Gamera beats back Gyaos with his flame-projecting breath and even at one point retracts his legs and arms and rolls downhill straight at Gyaos. The feature is filled with fun, creative kaiju action.

What Gamera Vs. Gyaos does offer is a turtle with significant intelligence. The creature clearly demonstrates an equally mutual affection for the kids as he refrains from spinning through the air, lands and leans into a ferris wheel to dump off the young child into loving arms. That's one smart terrapin people!

Not only was this turtle a hell of a lot of fun to watch but Yuasa's franchise run influenced very early on many of those kid-friendly Godzilla pictures. The Godzilla franchise began infusing its own features with the child wonderment of the great lizard and even began incorporating some kaiju gushing violence to compete with those unique Gamera ideas.

Gamera's unabashed kaiju-gushing violence became a real trademark beginning with Gamera Vs. Barugon.

In the rogue's gallery of Gamera's villains Gyaos ranks among his most well known somehow surpassing the equally interesting Barugon and arguably surpassing, and surprisingly so, the fantastic Viras or Guiron from the menagerie. The strange looking bird creature seemingly part reptile comes off like a lower budgeted Rodan, but those big anime-like eyes give Gyaos a cartoonish, but intriguing allure. Gyaos would be reimagined and revisited for the Heisei period of Gamera and Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe (1995) relaunching the monster in a new film trilogy. The villain would return not as one, not two, but three separate Gyaos with one eventually evolving into a Super Gyaos.

The creature in this classic film is complemented by a terrific series of sound effects and the film itself is accented and enhanced by another outstanding Showa era soundtrack.

When the film culminates in its final act, the boy is naturally connected to Gamera who is at the bottom of the ocean healing his wounded arm. The boy intuitively knows this. Bypassing any scientific mumbo jumbo it is the boy who seems to understand the creature better than the scientists. He even names the creature Gyaos. The youngster determines the creature is nocturnal long before the eggheads. Who needs the W.H.O. (formed in 1948)? This kid is more in touch than the damn scientists and adults. These are quite possibly some of the dumbest overthinkers in kaiju history. Without that kid they would be lost. No wonder the W.H.O. is in trouble.

There are some comedic players in the entry too that keep things light with some wonderfully animated physical performances. A little more of it could have made the film more effective and even more fun.

In a major tussle between Gyaos and the great turtle, Gamera bites and tears off two of Gyaos toes. Meanwhile, Gamera is spurting green blood from a head wound and the two retreat for some healing time. This gives our dumb scientists time to ponder how dumb they are. Understandably they never figure that out.

Eventually, the scientists and military come up with quite possibly one of the most preposterous plans ever conceived to stop Gyaos, but somehow it works for a time. Eventually, the scientists move to plan B and try to snuff out Gyaos with a forest fire, but the bat-like bird creature proves resilient with its extinguishing gas. Nothing like scorched earth and total destruction to meet their ends.

Gamera proves elusive to Gyaos rays seemingly dancing around any direct hits save for Gamera's tail which is punctured and gushing.

It's a battle royale.

Gamera Vs. Gyaos keeps the gushing turtle soup coming in another memorable entry.

Writer: Niisan Takahashi. Director: Noriaki Yuasa.