Monday, November 29, 2010

Farscape S1 Ep5: Back And Back And Back To The Future

Self-effacing humor, genrific sci-fi action, pulsating character drama and a hard-on for sexual encounters- it's in there like Prego and it's entirely the allure of far out Farscape.

D'Argo: "Do you Mock Me?"
Crichton: "D'Argo, I mock all of us."
If you're like me, the thing you love about Farscape is its seamless fusion of deadly serious science fiction adventure, unpredictable action, sincere character drama and snappy dialogue often levelled with perfect comic-timing. It is a brilliant marriage for genre fans looking for a series with an edge to it. Ben Browder said it best in Starlog #271, "Just when we're most serious on the show, we're likely to get a joke. It's very Shakespearean. Audiences always laugh at the height of tension." If you hadn't noticed these elements up to this point than I'm afraid to inform you that you may lack either a necessary sense of humor or you may in fact be dead. There's always something to shake things up for the crew of Moya and their Farscape adventures, and it continues starbursting in the the right direction. And while there's plenty for the unsuspecting, Farscape, Season One, Episode 5, Back And Back And Back To The Future serves up another tale with its share of twists. It's easily the first to explore the bizarre and sexually kinky side of Farscape and quite frankly, I loved it. Call me a freak, but this is Farscape's biggest, personal superfreak entry to date.

It begins when Moya happens upon a vessel that is sub-atomically breaking apart. Rygel and D'Argo are in favor of getting the hell out of there. When isn't Rygel ready to turn and run? Zhaan is interested in aiding any potential survivors. A shuttle escapes the exploding mothercraft. The shuttles appear to be crafted by the same shipbuilders as this one appears similar to a craft utilized by the Sebaceans. It certainly stands to reason. Why not? A plea for help by an alien female appears on a holographic display and suddenly the Luxan warrior has a change of heart suddenly interested in bringing the endangered party aboard. The ailing ship is engulfed in smoke when D'Argo and John Crichton save the two survivors. Crichton goes back aboard the shuttle for another review, and touches a green light that has a strange, adverse affect on him for the remainder of the show.

Rygel, with a devilish grin, and Zhaan watch as the mothership breaks apart. It's strange people, aliens too, can take such pleasure in the ill fallen upon others. Rygel has no trouble casting ill will, yet oddly I do like something about Rygel.

Aeryn Sun inquires as to what exactly the survivors were carrying on board. They deflect the inquiry and merely generalize it as "scientific apparatus." D'Argo is far too willing to hand over Moya and her resources to aid these two, new questionable passengers. As the female alien thanks the crew of Moya, Crichton has a weird vision of a kind of sexually intense groping with the newcomer. Farscape takes sexual contact and kinky alien sex to new levels picking up where Star Trek: The Original Series and Captain James T. Kirk left off. It's out there and the women might not be hot and green, but they're hot and weird. With the female character bedecked in leather there's a kind of S&M quality to Crichton's bizarre dream. The labored voice of Matala, as she's known, is played brilliantly by Aussie actress Lisa Hensley. She's a hefty, voluptuous babe of an alien. She's quite sexy if you can look past the head protrusions and tentacles. No doubt D'Argo is aroused by her attributes.
The use of color in Farscape is an absolute addiction.
D'Argo's infatuation with Matala appears to be affecting his judgment. The female is Illanic, a genetic cousin of the Luxans [you can see the tentacled resemblance], which explains his seemingly irrational loyalty to the strangers, but then there is a sexual component to his affection for Matala as well. The two races have apparently been blood allies for 1,000 cycles [years]. Where are those Translator Microbes when you need them? D'Argo tweaks Rygel who lacks any graciousness as a host. D'Argo informs Rygel his manners "match his size." The mystery guests wish to be transported to a nearby cruiser.

Later, D'Argo speaks with the elder Illanic scientist, Vorel. He indicates he's been away for eight cycles. The elder informs him the Illanics are at war with the Scorvians. The Scorvians slaughtered two million civilians three cycles ago. The Luxans have generously fought by the side of the Illanics further strengthening their bond.

Elsewhere, Sun investigates the Illanic shuttle. She is suddenly greeted by the female of the species. In fact, I'm reminded of the refrain from British band Space and their song Female Of The Species. "The female of the species is more deadly than the male." Sun attempts to look inside the secret compartment when the two nearly enter cat fight mode. D'Argo arrives in a nick of time and the Illanic female manipulates D'Argo by playing on their associations. She expresses to him their hardwork must be protected. Clearly under the influence of the Illanic, D'Argo quickly takes sides and does not side with his Moyan crewmate. Sun exits the shuttle.

Sun reports her suspicions to Crichton and Zhaan. Crichton listens, but is distracted by another vision of hot leather sexcapades. Nice. The intense sexual episodes are not in the least wanted by Crichton and he exits for some air. Sun declares, "We have air in here. What is the matter with him?" Zhaan answers with a near shrug suggesting their human shipmate is a puzzle. "He IS Crichton."

Meanwhile, the Illanic elder indicates Matala clearly desires D'Argo following D'Argo's own expression of craving for her. This is certainly baiting D'Argo. The scenario continues to throw the audience. We're never certain if the trouble is both Illanics or one or the other. The writers keep us guessing. Matala continues to do a number on D'Argo's head playing the part of alien sex kitten. D'Argo is summoned by Crichton who is attempting to get to the bottom of his vision issues. Instead, miscommunication ensues and the scene plays out like a mammalian struggle for the right to mate on Animal Planet. This is a great character sequence and emphasizes the fine editing and care that went into creating the series and the stories. It's also a terrific example of Farscape's ongoing exploration of sexuality.

Crichton's hallucinogenic future visions continue with the death of the Illanic elder. Back And Back And Back To The Future is like the exciting science fiction equivalent of Groundhog Day with a little allusion to Back To The Future in comic Farscape fashion. The vision continues with Matala killing Crichton and D'Argo. Can Crichton get his head together in time to save the future? Certainly the "unstuck in time" trick has been employed brilliantly in a number of other series like Babylon 5 [Season One, Episode 20, Babylon Squared] and Star Trek, but Farscape lends its own colorful spin to the magic of the concept found here.

Before long Crichton is warning D'Argo of their impending deaths at the hands of Matala. D'Argo, so caught up in the sexual struggle of the mating ritual, isn't thinking with his head, at least not the one with a brain. He clearly feels Crichton is attempting to steal his girl to put it bluntly.

I love the character of John Crichton. He is such a representation of 'us' and our thoughts, feelings, frustrations and carries that terrific human sense of humor. Crichton runs into Matala and Sun who are heading to the cargo bay for a little "physical activity." This episode is loaded with it, oozing with it, erect with it even. How many science fiction series have this kind of sexual impulse. It's handled beautifully. Matala grabs Cricton's hand as he passes by. She knows he was affected by what's aboard her shuttle.

Elsewhere, Zhaan inquires about Moya's sound and rhythms with Rygel, who has been aboard Moya longest outside of Pilot. You'll discover Pilot's painful story in Season Two, Episode 5, The Way We Weren't. Of course, Zhaan is very in tune with the living. She senses things others cannot. This is emphasized when Rygel pauses for a moment of silence, listens, and replies, "Moya sounds fine." He's not exactly empathetic. Moya's sound effects are certainly alluding to something specific and this is relative to an ongoing thread. Rygel simply wants to continue eating like a glutton. Zhaan indicates something is "out off balance" about Moya.
Those Peacekeepers have done a number on the configuration of the Leviathans as evidenced in the symbolism that permeates Moya.
Sun and Matala begin their alien fight sequence. The Smackdown event is Sebacean vs llanic. The sequence is quite well choreographed. Sun serves up some racial profiling pointing to the fact Illanics simply get their way by seducing male after male after male. Sun is kicking Matala's ass until Matala pulls an ace-in-the-hole move that is reminsicent of the last moment in The Karate Kid [the original]. You get the idea. With a quick, sharp jab of her fingers to Sun's chest, Sun falls to the floor unconscious. Sun was not expecting the move for a reason. Zhaan runs across Matala inside of Moya's corridors. It's a brief, but delicious little character moment.

Crichton continues having flash forwards. Each flash forward is similar, but with slight modifications as Crichton learns from the one that came before it. I'm reminded of Stargate SG-1's Season Four, Episode 6, Window Of Opportunity. Crichton continues to apply his new knowledge in the hopes of fixing the future. Once again, the Illanic elder is murdered by knife and as Matala enters to kill Crichton and D'Argo, Crichton stops her.

Meanwhile, the Illanic scientist informs D'Argo that the Illanics were field-testing a new weapon sure to end their war with the Scorvians. The weapon is so powerful it requires a containment field. That's never good. The weapon was saved from their imploding vessel earlier and now resides in their shuttle. D'Argo, in a brief moment of clarity and clearly thinking with the other head, asks if Moya is in danger. Matala indicates Moya is safe, but that the risk had to be taken. Will D'Argo continue to blindly follow?

Crichton meets with Zhaan to explain his recurring premonitions. He fills in Zhaan on Matala's intentions according to his revelations. Crichton drops a glass mask that shatters in Zhaan's quarters. He apologizes and she quickly discards the matter as insignificant. Both Crichton and Zhaan do not believe Vorel's story about the ship's meltdown. Crichton moves to confront the "old goat." In the work area, Matala greets Crichton and tells him he needs to "rest and revitalize." He grabs an object and quickly replies, "back off nature girl!" That is pretty damn fine, classic, funny, shoot-from-the-hip dialogue. The natural flow of dialogue on Farscape is second to none and that is a great example of what draws us to these far-from-wooden, outrageously fun chracters. D'Argo enters the room and Matala quickly falls to the ground suggesting Crichton has struck her. She manipulates the situation indicating to D'Argo that Crichton demanded she "pleasure" him. D'Argo kills Crichton with his heavy Qualta Blade. Matala turns to kill the Illanic elder and then D'Argo.
Once again another potential future comes to fruition. This is one of the wonderful elements in play in Back And Back And Back To The Future. We simply don't know if Farscape is presenting reality or a simulation of what will be. We are returned to Zhaan's quarters where the events repeat again with a slight twist. The mask shatters. Sun enters the room and informs Zhaan and Crichton that Matala isn't Illanic at all, but rather a Scorvian agent. Sun indicates her appearance must be the result of genetic surgery. It's refreshing to see the story not fall back on the shapeshifter crutch. Sun indicates she was struck by her Scorvian neuro-stroke. Zhaan suggests they confront Vorel alone and separate him from Matala and D'Argo. Pilot reports there is a phased imbalance in Moya's systems. Is this a result of the sub-atomic particle weapon on board Moya? Zhaan requests D'Argo's assistance. Crichton suspects the "noodleheads" won't leave the room. Matala is getting sexually suggestive with D'Argo and requests he join the Illanic cause. Matala arouses D'Argo, but they both finally exit the room as Crichton waits for his chance to speak with Vorel.

Crichton attempts to reason with Vorel and explain Matala's dangerous Scorvian loyalty. He explains to the Illanic elder that the "loose wire" he touched on their shuttle has forced him to have "time flashes." Vorel calls it "temporal dislocation." Crichton demands, "What's in the damn shuttle?" Vorel replies, "a quantum singularity." Crichton responds, "A black hole," and, of course, Crichton understands this because he's a scientist. Although it is a minor particle of one, Crichton can't believe Vorel has captured a black hole. Vorel indicates if Crichton is right, Matala will "kill for it." In walks D'Argo and Matala. Vorel confronts Matala. Matala immediately kills D'Argo and Vorel again. Crichton escapes, but the future is altering once again. Sun finally arrives, but too late. This is an impressive special effects sequence presenting one possible future reality for Moya and her crew. It's not pretty.

Crichton is back inside Zhaan's quarters where he carefully places the glass mask to the floor and smashes it with his foot suggesting he controls how future events will unfold. In walks Sun and before she can speak Crichton indicates he knows Matala is a Scorvian spy. Sun wonders how he could know that. Zhaan says he is experiencing the future. Sun declares in clasic Farscape fashion, "the future?, he can barely function in the present." Crichton calls D'Argo the key. As he rehashes the potential events John says "we gotta try something new."

Zhaan enters the work area and asks D'Argo to speak with Rygel. She creates a ruse indicating Rygel has generated a bill of expenses for their guests. The crew speaks with D'Argo about Matala while Vorel has solved the containment field instability problem. D'Argo is not so easy to convince. Crichton asks to speak with him alone. Crichton proves his premonitions are real as they share a confidential exchange. Crichton tells D'Argo that it is his prior crime that prevents him from joining Matala in the Illanic Wars. Crichton may not know the specifics of the crime, but knows if D'Argo informs Matala about his real crime that would prevent him from joining her cause. D'Argo appears severely wounded by Crichton's revelation of the fact he has knowledge of D'Argo's past.

The crew rejoins the room and indicates they are close to the Illanic Cruiser. Sun indicates it may be Scorvian on the inside. Starburst is not an option. Sun indicates she can pilot Moya evading a weapons lock. D'Argo storms off incensed, but indicates if the Illanics refuse to make visual contact, then you will have your answer regarding Matala. As fate would have it, the Illanics communicate with the crew of Moya, but their video link is conveniently malfunctioning. Everyone takes positions. Crichton and D'Argo have their answer.

Matala holds Vorel at knife point. She stabs Vorel and the battle with Crichton and D'Argo is on. She escapes on the shuttle. Crichton holds off D'Argo from firing upon her vessel. "You have to trust me," confides Crichton. This is a specific point of note. Trust is a rare commodity aboard Moya and is something that takes time. This is one of those moments that builds upon the Crichton/ D'Argo dynamic. Trust is certainly an ongoing theme between the cast that have been thrown together in their struggle for survival and the creators handle it brilliantly and with emotional resonance.

Elsewhere, Sun takes evasive action with Moya. Vorel wakes with intention of destroying the black hole. His dying moments release the particle weapon aboard the shuttle remotely from his equipment. Crichton pleads with Pilot. "Pilot, I need starburst and I'm talkin' right now!" Matala's shuttle implodes along with the Illanic Cruiser as Moya starbursts and escapes a deadly fate. The Starburst factor is a wonderful device and does conveniently evaporate and materialize when needed throughout Farscape.

Crichton visits Rygel who has been happily binging on food consumption remaining notably absent from the excitement. Once again, a wonderful character moment between the principals here.

Clearly, getting laid infrequently is something our fearless heroes share as a common point of interest. Perhaps they will build upon such insightful moments going forward. It's another solid little entry in its own myth-building ways. Farscape continues to arrouse the senses among... [ahem] other personal affects. Farscape is proving to be an emotionally interesting rollercoaster ride and Director Brian Henson knows how to deliver the visual excitement like a drug.

Back And Back And Back To The Future: B
Writer: Ro Hume
Director: Brian Henson

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Life... A... Science-Fiction... Novel."

This was a terrific greeting card I found in a store recently. It caught my attention for obvious reasons. Alan Moore certainly needs no introduction. If you've ever read comics or graphic novels you'll know his name. The man behind V For Vendetta and Watchmen came up with a classic quote here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy... Bologna?

Kirk: Good grief Bones. What in blazes?

Bones: I have found a terrific meal for our day of thanks.

Kirk: Where's the turkey? I wanted turkey Bones!

Bones: Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor not a stone cold turkey killer! Just the same this is a wonderful turkey substitute. It is a combination of chicken and pork compressed into a round treat. It is from a creature called the Bologna. I assembled it in sick bay.

Kirk: Bones, I'm not even sure it's meat.

Bones: Sure it is. It's delicious too. I spotted a similar animal called the Olive Loaf, but opted to keep this Thanksgiving simple. Besides the Olive Loaf looked like Bologna with a sickness. So, bless your Vulcan-loving heart Captain.

Kirk: You're right Bones. Let us be thankful for all we have. But where is Spock?

Bones: Oh, he'll be right back. He's getting the Spam, Hot Dogs and three bottles of Yoo Hoo.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Music Of Farscape

The sounds of Farscape entirely complement the series with its otherworldly peculiarness. I love it. The compositions mix the strange with the ethereal. The music was entirely the work of Subvision and Guy Gross. Nothing set the tone for the shoot down the wormhole better than the series' theme song.
The Theme from Farscape was composed by Chris, Toby and Braedy Neal, the core of Subvision. The creators wanted something between "medieval" and "tribal" according to Farscape The Illustrated Companion. According to that book, the networks were not pleased with the final music production largely due to the the feminine thread that ran through the piece. The female vocal component was provided by Avigail Herman. Fortunately just about all involved felt very strongly about the plan that was laid out by Brian Henson and felt very strongly about the piece created by Subvision. Composer Chris Neal recalls, "We felt we had to have some sort of yearning sound, a tribal feel, because that's the whole point of Farscape."
One of the things I love about Farscape is the strong female current in the show. Henson, O'Bannon, Kemper and company have designed a show with strong male and equally strong female lead counterparts particularly in Aeryn Sun, Zhaan and Moya. Neal really brings that point home. "Moya's a female, there's a strong female presence in the cast, and there are all these people trying to find their way home." I love this point. Not only does the music emphasize this female sensuality throughout the series, but its represented symbolically through Moya as the mothership. Her female strength houses this band of characters as if carrying a child in her womb. There is something innately powerful about that image week after week and its conveyed positively throughout Season One and the series.
I have the good fortune of having five unique Farscape CDs that have been released to date including Music From The Original Soundtrack Farscape [released by Crescendo], featuring music from Seasons One and Two and now well out of print. Also available are Volume One, Two and Three of Farscape Classics through La La Land Records. These three discs feature the compositions of Guy Gross and include the scores to the following episodes: Revenging Angel, Eat Me, Die Me Dichotomy, Into The Lion's Den Part 2: Wolf In Sheep's Clothing, The Choice and The Locket. Finally, Farscape The Peacekeeper Wars featuring Guy Gross and the Sydney Symphony and Cantillation . All of these La La Land Records releases are in low supply with Farscape Classics Volume One sold out.
As far as musical compositions and soundtrack scores go you can't do better than those conducted for Farscape. The music easily ranks up there with the best of Star Trek, Space:1999 and Stargate SG-1.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Best And Worst Episodes Of The Incredible Hulk

"Hulk SMASH! GRAARR!" No, The Incredible Hulk never spoke in the TV series and has yet to speak in the films as of this writing, but damn he had a thing or two to say in those comic books.

A five episode Best and Worst list is a pretty flimsy list with all the seasons The Incredible Hulk [1977-1982] enjoys to its credit.

However, this is SciFiNow and I am grateful for the pictures and the food for thought when it comes to my beloved science fiction and a nostalgic look back at the good old days of 1970s sci-fi.

How many of us loved to recite the line, "Don't make me angry... You wouldn't like me when I'm angry?" Yes, we're all raising our hands now. Honestly, Bill Bixby WAS David Banner (television took artistic license to replace Bruce Banner with David Banner). We loved that David Banner got angry and made short work of all the bad guys when we couldn't. He spoke for puny humans everywhere and for five seasons we cheered for Bill Bixby and his alter-ego in The Incredible Hulk every step of the way. It was good versus evil to us, but there was something far more complex at work within the character Bixby made his own.

Bill Bixby was easily one of my favorite television actors, along with Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) in the 1970s.

When I was young and my folks were divorced Bill Bixby spoke to me as a father figure in The Courtship Of Eddie's Father [1969-1972] as Tom Corbett. His words of encouragement. His words of understanding and warmth for his son Eddie were indeed sincere. His gentle smile and his patience were all things that spoke to us when perhaps we all felt a little alone. Bill Bixby was my kind of guy.

When Bixby took on the role of The Incredible Hulk I was thrilled. In fact, I'm going out on a limb here to say, there are few television comic book series that have been able to succeed on their own and transcend their source materials, but The Incredible Hulk, thanks to Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno and the producers of the series did just that. It was a series, from start to finish, all involved worked with to create a refined, but simple, 1970s mythology with a complex central figure.

Was there a Highway To Heaven aspect to the structure of the series? Sure. Did The Incredible Hulk do Highway To Heaven before Michael Landon's Highway To Heaven [1984-1989]. Hell yeah!

This list deserves better than a Top 5, but I present to you for your examination SciFiNow's visitation on The Incredible Hulk narrowing down five seasons to just five of the best Show Stealers and Show Stoppers.

The Worst:
1. Never Give A Trucker An Even Break [Season One, Ep9]
2. Babalao [Season Three, Ep10]
3. Half Nelson [Season Four, Ep16]
4. The Phenom [Season Five, Ep1]
5. Slaves [Season Five, Ep6]

The Best:
1. Married [Season Two, Ep1]
2. Ricky [Season Two, Ep4]
3. A Child In Need [Season Two, Ep6]
4. Deathmask [Season Three, Ep20]
5. Prometheus [Season Four, Ep1+2]

There you have it. The world of science fiction television according to SciFiNow. It's been a long time since I viewed many of these episodes, but I will be revisiting them. Stay tuned, more to come on the tragic figure that is David Banner as brought to life by the incredible Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Case Against CGI

Do you feel like the classic Cylon model?

Redundancy is good, but not if the back up is CGI.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thompson Twins: Here's To Future Days

There are CDs and then THERE ARE CDs! Thompson Twins' Here's To Future Days [1985] continues my ongoing series of looking back at the best of the 1980s with a CD that continues to truly rule my Sci-Fi Fanatic world.
Thompson Twins, unlike OMD and The Human League, are a band no more. The act folded following Queer [1991]. Creatively, Thompson Twins were far from exhausted, but, like many bands of the 1980s [or any other era for that matter], commercial fortunes waned and the act simply ceased to be the musical juggernaut it once was or at least capable of sustaining viability.
Comprised of Tom Bailey [vocals/synths/writer/producer], Alannah Currie [vocals/synths/writer] and third wheel conga man and background vocalist Joe Leeway, Thompson Twins disbanded. Joe Leeway actually exited following the band's commercial apex here, Here's To Future Days. One shouldn't overstate Leeway's contributions though he did add a certain spice. Here's To Future Days was an artistic and creative zenith in many ways for the trio, but Bailey and Currie pursued music in the band's name for another three albums before calling it a day. Where are the future days?
Thompson Twins closed shop, but a new band was born with Bailey's love of dub and the act was dubbed Babble. Babble gave us two reasonably accessible pop dance recordings in The Stone [1993] and Ether [1996], before Babble concluded. Currie and Bailey were married and had a child, but divorced in 2003 after spending time together floundering artistically in New Zealand. Currie moved back to London, while Bailey went deeper into the realm of dub with his latest moniker International Observer. He's released several recordings under the name. As far as dub goes it's quite beautiful, but sadly there are no trademark, distinctive Tom Bailey vocals to be found and that's a real shame. At least with Babble, Bailey was bubbling to the surface. With International Observer, Thompson Twins truly were dead. Musically, Babble fell somewhere between Thompson Twins and the instrumental International Observer, and would be recommended for investigation, in particular Tribe from The Stone as a great example.
In its formative years Thompson Twins was the creative output of several band members, but like The Human League, the group trimmed down. The Human League formed a core trio around Phil Oakey, Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall following the departure of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh and got better and stronger with Dare [1981]. Thompson Twins, too, ditched several members following the classic In The Name Of Love from Set [1982]. What came next was a massive shift in sound and style in keeping with that aforementioned classic. Just as The Human League changed up the game plan, Thompson Twins too were getting smarter and wiser. In 1983, Thompson Twins downsized to the trio for which they would be best remembered. Quick Step And Side Kick [1983] and Into The Gap [1984] were two huge releases and are notable for some major pop classics. Lies, If You Were Here, Love On Your Side and others make Quick Step And Side Kick an easy recommendation. Into The Gap followed with the even bigger mainstreaming of the band stateside with Hold Me Now, Doctor Doctor and You Take Me Up. Honestly, you can't go wrong with these amazing works. If I had to pick, my money goes behind the former, but two of my favorite hits are on the latter. The late producer Alex Sadkin [Arcadia, Duran Duran] working with writer/ creative mastermind Tom Bailey certainly had a a hand in making both of these projects unforgettable classics.
With Thompson Twins on the map, Bailey's next move was arena in mentality [a la Live Aid] as a result of hooking up with former Chic man and producer Nile Rodgers [Duran Duran, Madonna]. It was nothing short of a stroke of genius. Here's To Future Days was a masterpiece from beginning to end. While it didn't contain my all time favorite Thompson Twins' singles, it was a cohesive and unified work of popular art and the album tracks as a unit were far more expansive and interesting than those collected for Into The Gap. This production classic was the work of Nile Rodgers and Tom Bailey. Alex Sadkin added a touch of class by keeping his hand in the mix for the lead off single Lay Your Hands On Me. Sadly, Sadkin [1949-1987] passed away not long after. Sadkin had left his mark on Simply Red's Men And Women [1987], Duran Duran's Seven And The Ragged Tiger [1983], Foreigner's Agent Provocateur [1984] and Arcadia's So Red The Rose [1985]. These combined with the two Thompson Twins productions rank as some of my personal favorites from the colorful decade. Sadkin died unexpectedly in a motorcycle accident at 38 years old. Duran Duran's Do You Believe In Shame from Big Thing [1988] was a tribute to the man.
Most intriguing regarding Here's To Future Days is the troubled history surrounding its arrival. Bailey had worked hard year after year shaping the identity of Thompson Twins and the look of the group. He and Currie were the brains behind the operation while Leeway added his own personal touch. Thompson Twins had literally recorded and toured straight for four years easily. Bailey was exhausted. The shape of Here's To Future Days was actually slightly different which explains why there were two different versions of Lay Your Hands On Me when it was released. There was one by Sadkin and one remixed by Rodgers. Following a collapse and a nervous breakdown Bailey was in a bad way. Bailey's health was not good and doctors ordered him rest following a huge Into The Gap World Tour. Here's To Future Days was delayed and given a little guitar-laden production lustre. Ultimately, through and despite all of its troubles, Here's To Future Days remains a stud recording. The project should have sealed Bailey's reputation as the musical genius he was, but oddly things seemed to go awry following the dissolution of the trio to a duo. Odd, given Bailey and Currie truly were the creative engine in the machine.
There is literally not a lemon in the bunch on Here's To Future Days. Each and every song is infinitely listenable. The hits range from opener Don't Mess With Doctor Dream to the more important Lay Your Hands On Me and King For A Day. But for my money, to be honest, it is the remainder of the project that gets my blood going whenever its on play in my vehicle. Future Days, like lead-off single Lay Your Hands On Me, is positively epic. Love Is The Law certainly riffs on a classic, but at least it's their own Love On Your Side. The sad, but beautiful You Killed A Clown and Emperor's Clothes [Part 1] [not sure what happened with Part 2] are just extremely well-penned pop compositions. Bailey is truly a genius of the Paddy McAloon [Prefab Sprout] or Green Gartside [Scritti Politti] variety when it comes to constructing his music. Tokyo and Breakway are energized, booming pop songs that are injected with massive fun and creative twists that are both unique and enjoyable. About the only track that feels lazy and uninspired is a remake of The Beatles' Revolution, a poor choice for the Thompson Twins stamp, but you can see where Bailey's mindset was at the time.
Here's To Future Days was Bailey's artistic and commercial zenith as far as grand musical concepts go. It was Bailey's The Seeds Of Love [Tears For Fears] or So Red The Rose [Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes' splinter project]. It was a work that defined a band as much as Roland Orzabal helped define Tears For Fears with his magnum-opus. It was indeed a mammoth work that he poured every ounce of his creative energy into, as his ill-health would attest, and the results are remarkable still.
Thank the God above that Edsel Records somehow acquired the rights to re-release the Thompson Twins catalogue because A Product Of..., Set, Quick Step And Side Kick, Into The Gap and Here's To Future Days have all been reissued as two disc deluxe editions fully remastered. They are available at a great price from the United Kingdom. What are you waiting for?
Here's To Future Days Alone has over 154 minutes of music and while some of the additional remixes and instrumentals on the bonus disc are okay they are just that - a bonus. The official 11 track original release of Here's To Future Days is magnificent and to hear it in its glory is an aural experience.
Better yet, Into The Gap and Quick Step And Side Kick [and it was really hard to choose] are both amazing deluxe editions as well. Some of the Into The Gap b-sides like Passion Planet are worth the price of admission. Furthermore, I purchased the Edsel Records Box set which included all four re-releases [A Product Of... and Set are combined for one release] and quite frankly they were dirt cheap. Music doesn't get made that achieves the kind of quality achieved by Thompson Twins and to think you can have the box set for the cost of a Britney Spears CD is nearly criminal. Seriously- it's a crime! These Edsel reissues of the best of Thompson Twins' catalogue are essential and will be all you need from the band if you look no further.
There are a few random best of collections out there that do capture some of their other hit selections like Get That Love and Long Goodbye from Close To The Bone. You'll need to find Big Trash if you want Sugar Daddy or Bombers In The Sky. Those two works produced by a combination of Rupert Hine [The Fixx], Bailey, Currie, Steve Lillywhite [U2/ Big Country] and Keith Fernley, probably aren't as good as Queer, the recording for which Thompson Twins ended their career. Queer is a bit like pop ecstasy, but it's definitely stretching the boundaries of their original sound. If you want to hear Come Inside, Flower Girl or My Funky Valentine you'll need to find this one. It lays the groundwork and signals the fanbase they are clearly stepping toward dance and dub. It's clear from Queer Babble was waiting in the wings. Open letter to Tom Bailey: Please Mr. Tom Bailey, even if you don't reunite with Alannah Currie, you are a wizard, a musical genius, a master of word and sound, please reconsider the possibility of a return to the sweet sounds of Thompson Twins. You are missed. You are loved more than you know. You would be sincerely welcomed back into loving arms. Please, one more time. *// Fortunately, in the meantime, I have my classics. You'd be wise to seek these out. Here's To Future Days remains an '80s gem and one that captures the magic of Bailey, Currie and Leeway at their height before it all strangely dissolved.
Thompson Twins Discography:
A Product Of... [Participation] [1981]
Set [1982]
In The Name Of Love [1982] [US]
Quick Step And Side Kick [1983]*
Side Kicks [1983]
Into The Gap [1984]*
Here's To Future Days [1985]*
Close To The Bone [1987]
The Best Of Thompson Twins: Greatest Mixes [1988]
Big Trash [1989]
Greatest Hits [1990]
Queer [1991]
Babble: The Stone [1993]
Babble: Ether [1996]

Monday, November 15, 2010

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep6: Where No One Has Gone Before

Where Star Trek has gone before? It's been a problem to date. Will ST:TNG go where it hasn't?
Star Trek: The Next Generation once again rides the coattails of Star Trek: The Original Series, with a play on words anyway. The title is clearly an intended tribute to the monolith of excellence that is ST:TOS that ST:TNG just can't get its head around as far as strategy.
Those doors on ST:TNG Season One are tricky and often lead to a precarious proposition on these continuing voyages.
Once again, ST:TNG rides the coattails of its magical forerunner, while it figures out its identity by referencing ST:TOS episode, Where No Man Has Gone Before. Does it end there? Fortunately, for the first time in Season One of ST:TNG, Where No One Has Gone Before feels like it captures some of the qualities of the classics without quite getting there, but at least it showed the most promise to this point. Attempting to capture the attention of viewers through classic familiarity has been a hallmark of ST:TNG Season One to this point and this is no exception in its attempt to link the two. Unlike The Naked Now [riffing The Naked Time] and Code Of Honor [riffing Amok Time], Where No One Has Gone Before feels like something different, interesting and original even if it's not. At least the execution of the episode was strong enough to raise it to a level of satisfactory entertainment. It stands as one of the best episodes of Season One of ST:TNG. I'm not exactly sure that's saying much, but this is a notable attempt at ideas with the preachy nature of the writing left on the script room floor.
One of the reasons why ST:TOS was so brilliant was its ability to deliver ideas and concepts without hitting you against the head with the scripting equivalent of a cast iron frying pan. This is one of the big problems with ST:TNG in this first season. I really enjoyed this rumination by Melissa Dickinson from the Boarding The Enterprise article Alexander For The Modern Age: How Star Trek's Female Fans Reinvented Romance And Heroic Myth: "Star Trek touched and engaged people because it concerned itself with the big questions. It wasn't afraid to confront us with the greatest philosophical dilemmas of the human condition, nor to force us to examine our own natures by reflecting them back at us in unexpected ways." In a nutshell, that's precisely the sublime beauty of ST:TOS. It reflected big without alerting us to the fact it was doing so. It asked questions and rarely delivered spoon-fed answers or as the article suggests didn't necessarily deliver answers at all. ST:TNG isn't hitting that cord, but Where No One Has Gone Before does the best job of getting us closer in spirit to that way of mirrored reflection from ST:TOS thus far. Dickinson cites several fine, solid examples from that OTHER Season One in Charlie X, The Devil In The Dark and Balance Of Terror. They strike the right balance between thoughtfully analyzing issues of nature and behavior and delivering amazing science fiction entertainment.
This was the first entry of ST:TNG where it gave me pause the creators were on to that kind of writing and that kind of thinking. I felt like I might stop and write a sizable entry for this one, but then considered the daunting fact I had seven seasons to view. Suddenly, ST: TNG, Season One, Episode 6, Where No One Has Gone Before wasn't good enough. Thus, it quickly entered into this more summary-based presentation. While it was a step in the right direction with some very nice character moments it still wasn't quite enough to put me over the top in my confidence with the writing department. The next several episodes quickly proved me correct.
Synopsis: The crew of the Enterprise-D is plunged into a dimension where a convergence of mental and physical realities wreak havoc on the crew. The dimensional break is the result of a visiting Starfleet consultant's alien assistant. The Traveler [played by Eric Menyuk], as he's referred, becomes ill as a result of the break. The crew and the Enterprise-D could potentially be stranded in this alternate dimension if the Traveler dies leaving them to all go insane. Wesley's friendship and special connection with the Traveler saves them. The Traveler tells Picard of Wesley's gifts offering us a touch of mystery and he is promoted to Acting Ensign to begin his Starfleet training.
Character interactions here are some of the most interesting on offer to date, sporting some of the most intriguing dialogue to this point. Guest star Eric Menyuk, the Traveler, offers a solid performance. There is a lovely Captain Jean-Luc Picard moment where he converses with a representation of his mother. She is played by the lovely, late Herta Ware [Cocoon] in a very brief but notable role and one that stood out as a highlight in the entry for me.

And while I may not have agreed with everything in Melissa Dickinson's aforementioned article from Boarding The Enterprise she may have a point about feminine influence on Star Trek. The episode was based on Diane Duane's "Kirk-era novel, The Wounded Sky," according to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, and while the entry may not be as true to the source material as it could have been, Where No One has Gone Before benefits from that source. It was one of the more interesting installments in this troubled season. Could something entirely original be on the horizon?
Where No One Has Gone Before: B-
Writer: Diane Duane/ Michael Reaves
Director: Rob Bowman
Actor Footnote: Eric Menyuk. Screen-tested for the part of Data. He lost. He would reprise his role as the Traveler two more times in Remember Me [a personal favorite of Lazy Thoughts From A Boomer] and Journey's End.
Director Footnote: Rob Bowman [1960-present]. It's worth nothing this is the first of five installments directed by Rob Bowman, a newcomer at the time. He offers a confidence behind the camera that benefits this series. It's no surprise this would be first of two by Bowman this season that would rank among the best. Bowman has had a strong career in television and film behind the camera including: Castle [2009] [starring Firefly's Nathan Fillion], The Lone Gunmen [2001 pilot], The X-Files [Season One-Seven], Baywatch [1989], Alien Nation [1989], Quantum Leap [1989] and 21 Jump Street [1987]. His film highlights include: The X-Files: Fight The Future [1998], Reign Of Fire [2002] starring Christian Bale, and Elektra [2005]. Bowman would direct five episodes for Star Trek: The Next Generation including: Where No One Has Gone Before, The Battle [Episode 9], Datalore [Episode 13], Too Short A Season [Episode 16] and Heart Of Glory [Episode 20].