Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Expanse Renewed

My Amazon Prime subscription just became more valuable than ever. Amazon Prime or Prime Video has renewed The Expanse (2015-present) for a fourth season saving the tremendous science fiction series from the cancelling arms of SyFy in just under two weeks.

This writer and fan of the series remained hopeful and the optimism has born fruit.

I've had mild interest in some of Amazon's programming but now more than ever I'll be supporting the streaming of its programming and I will be front row and center for the return of The Expanse at Amazon. This is tremendous news.

The series has an abundance of source material and with all of these tremendous James S.A. Corey books from which to draw the future of the series has so much potential.

Anyone watching The Expanse Season Three currently as of this writing can tell you it continues to be a suspenseful space thriller.

Thank you Amazon.

The same holds true for USA's Colony so be sure to check that series out too. Season Three of that series also continues to thrill and impress.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Lost In Space S1 E10: Danger, Will Robinson

"We're Robinsons.
Live together or die together."
-Maureen Robinson (1965 Maureen Robinson probably wouldn't have said that)-

We finally reach the climactic final episode of the ten episode Netflix series Lost In Space and its inaugural first season with the rousing exclamatory and honorary title bestowed upon it, Danger, Will Robinson. What better way to pay respect to such an iconic series than with the very words spoken by Robot in the title of an entry? With that in mind one can only expect the return of Robot as a major player following his short-lived demise at the end of Eulogy (S1, E6). But iconic phrases aside, there's a good deal of Lost In Space here that doesn't feel like the original 1965 series at all.

Worth noting about the creative direction of this final season one episode is that it falls in the capable hands of notable directorial talent David Nutter. Nutter directed a significant number of episodes for Game Of Thrones (2011-2019) including the unforgettable The Rains Of Castamere (S3, E9) and will figure prominently in that popular HBO series eighth and final season. Nutter is often referred to as the prestigious director of television Pilots. Nutter has directed over twenty Pilot installments to launch a series including Space: Above And Beyond (1995-1996) and Millennium (1996-1999; from the imagination of Chris Carter and his then associates Glen Morgan and James Wong). He's handled Roswell (1999-2002) and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009).

Here, Nutter flips that script association by directing the season finale to another science fiction series. A finale couldn't be in better hands with Nutter behind the camera, but the writing is so essential and has been at times deficient, so let's see where the final hour takes us.

Lost In Space opens with the Robinsons under the watchful eye of June Harris (aka Dr. Smith) and her newly subservient Robot which Will quickly learns is unresponsive to his commands. "The robot is only as good as its master" (Maureen Robinson). There's a very different vibe to this series and the dynamics in play are far from established. It could be that a Will-Smith-Robot dynamic is unintended here in the way it thrived in the original show, but if it happens it still has a long way to go. Thus far the chemistry isn't at all established and Smith and Will in particular.

Meanwhile, hurtling around the planet in orbit is Don West and John Robinson on a piece of Jupiter 2 debris. It's a fairly dire situation, but nothing a little light-hearted banter and joking around apparently can't alleviate. It's just a tonally bizarre mix, but this is clearly Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama's approach to science fiction and family friendly fare. At least the original, despite scientific inaccuracy (and that's here too), played it all with real heart and sincerity. The whole floating space debris sequence felt a bit preposterous.

So the Robinson family with Smith and Robot launch from the planet along with all the other Jupiters thanks to that bat cave full of alien bat shit and critical on board fuel converters (because you never know when you'll need to convert alien bat shit). The tension between Smith and the rest of the family party is understandably thick.

By episode's conclusion we have alien robots battling. Robot is initially like a monster on the hunt for the Robinsons. Miraculously it becomes friends with Will Robinson again without much rhyme or reason and quite frankly I'm not sure it matters or I care. I understand Robot of the classic series had its moments, but it seemed more the unwilling recipient of human manipulations. I understand Robot worked for both Smith and Will, but it served both masters seamlessly almost unknowingly. This new Robot somehow has an emotional aptitude and switches up evil Smith for good Will. It makes this alien intelligence look rather questionable in that, well, alien intelligence department.

If this Robot's essence is alien could this alien be something of a deviant, a rogue savior of a sort deviating from a violent alien race alerting the world to danger like some Paul Revere riding in on that horse warning the British are coming. Robot could be on a mission, but it also seems to struggle with any real intellect. So it's all in question to me and if not quite fascinating certainly not quite computing.

This writer wishes he could report a well scripted Season One, but the writing is serviceable at best. It lacks the quotable work of classic Lost In Space (1965-1968) or Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969). It couldn't be more insipid at times and even lifeless, at least intellectually speaking. The lack of strong writing even left me with little inspiration to open each of these reviews with a proper quote from the episode. Where have all the good science fiction writers gone? Even the scenarios and conflict/resolution is less than interesting. General audiences will find this season finale rousing enough stuff, but there's not much substantively of interest here.

The one thread involving Don West and John Robinson here in Danger, Will Robinson is a case in point. Extracting bat shit is another example. It just seemed to sometimes lack genuine imagination save for a few places along the way. It also lacked genuine tension and excitement for this science fiction fan particularly when one things about how exciting the original was in this department. The universe was vast and mysterious and unnerving. Impact (S1, E1) had its moments and elsewhere too, but this Lost In Space is inconsistent when it could be stronger.

As the season finale here closed I literally found myself just shaking my head in general disbelief. I had read a review that stated the season ends where it should have began. That's partially true. The Robinsons inevitably wind up lost in even deeper space, with Don West and Smith, like the spirited and imaginative original series intended.

Robot is sure to return next season as the Jupiter is commandeered by a stowaway alien intelligence rather than the once human stowaway that was Smith in classic series opener The Reluctant Stowaway. But the problem here is the series and the family is driven by an alien variable from the very beginning and the premise feels manipulated or not entirely like Lost In Space. It just doesn't sit well. And the story is stuck with this alien component that is drawn out rather than compartmentalized stories of discovery as found in the original series or that worked so well in Stargate Universe (2009-2011) Season One for example.

And my God, that ending. Maureen lost in space and puzzled begs "Where's here?" and Will responds without any real knowledge with this silly cliff hanger response "Danger." Yes, one of the only words uttered to Will by Robot earlier when it was able to draw an image of the two planets in the sand. Lord help this show, because an injection of authentic danger through quality writing with a family in outer space is entirely in order.

Final thoughts: Casual viewers will not be disappointed by the reasonably solid production work behind the escapism of this Lost In Space as evidenced by the quick Season Two renewal of the series one month after its release. The first season does little (but it does a little) in the way of exploring the unknown of space and truly giving us a glimpse of what it might be like to be lost in the darkness of space with assorted strong science fiction ideas. Stargate Universe performed better in this arena. Space:1999 excelled too long before it. The original Lost In Space tackled such concepts and coupled them with action and adventure to a mostly successful mix. Shame on the critic who called the original 1965 series "stupid" and a "steaming pile of shit."

There is some effort to incorporate scientific explanation to a variety of scenarios thanks to the intellect of The Robinsons, but this is much more an Earth bound survival tale on how to get back into space with its fair share of ludicrous. The original series spent some time in exploring truly alien ideas and concepts episode to episode even if it wasn't perfect. This new series has a long way to go as the approach is a lengthy installment to get the family back in space and truly lost by the final frame.

Speaking of the space component of Lost In Space, let's look at the Jupiter 2 for a minute. It amazes me, try as each new version might to soup up, pump up, and redesign the Jupiter 2, just how impressive the original is to admire. We return to the simplicity of the original Jupiter 2 design again and again. Based upon the basic, near classic design of a round, alien UFO there is something inherently beautiful about its concept that still stands the test of time resting shoulder to shoulder with the best of the best science fiction vessels. In some ways the old adage of keeping it simple has worked for the Jupiter 2 (designed by Robert Kinoshita) while a few years later Brian Johnson and the creators of Space:1999 were creating something truly complex, equally beautiful and wonderful in The Eagle. But the Jupiter 2, like Thunderbirds' Thunderbird 2 simply cannot be bested in design from its original creation. The respect is there for the greatness found in those original designs.

And despite the internal complexity of the new Jupiter 2 of this series, once again the interior of the original was blessed with imagination and charm.

Troublesome in the series is how the narrative is tied and threaded with the Robot's alien life form. When the driving is at the hands of the Robot's alien life form doesn't that tie the show's hands going forward? Doesn't that limit or hamper its chances for a unique story based adventure and science fiction identity a la the original series? Is this to be one big, convoluted story arc that leads the family back to alien Robot's planet? Robot is truly one of the more interesting characters here, but the trajectory of the tale is worrisome. My son might say that Robot is the most interesting character here. He had a similar opinion of the robot, K-2SO, found in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and what does that say?

The cast is universally good in their roles. Posey is a good actress. Dr. Smith/ June Harris is a bit underwhelming given the critical nature of the part in her hands. Versed original Lost In Space fans were spoiled by the real deal that was Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith, like him or hate him. He completely committed himself to that character. Harris came out of nowhere and became an icon, a bit like Tom Baker did as Doctor Who a few years later. Harris wrote much of his own dialogue for the original series and it was, at the very least, interesting, amusing and infinitely entertaining, say what you will about the classic.

The writing here for the character is dull, which doesn't help Posey. And I'm sad to say that Parker Posey is no Jonathan Harris. She simply does not fill the shoes of the once legendary character. Perhaps she never will. I know that's not fair. It's a different show, a different time with different writers. Maybe she'll prove me wrong in the second season, with help from the writing team, and her sociopathic edge will take root for me. But her performance coupled with some truly better scripting is required here. And once upon a time Jonathan Harris was believable and I'm not sure I believe Posey in the role and that's an important intangible truth when it comes to the art of the performance. I'm in the minority here, but Posey is sometimes so nasty, so duplicitous she's hard to connect with at all, because she really plays the character as nuts.

One critic, a fan of Posey, wrote, "Posey is so good, and her character remains shrouded in just enough mystery, that even late into the season, you can almost believe her." Uh, yeah, almost may be the operative word.

Case in point, this writer is enjoying the series Colony (2016-present), now in its third season. The show is served well with its own version of a double agent in the spirit of the manipulative Dr. Smith in the form of Peter Jacobson as the self-serving Alan Snyder. Jacobson is a natural in the role. He plays both sides seamlessly and you never know his intentions at times. But ultimately he is a great performer for the part. The writing is also far better in that series. Parker Posey has big shoes to fill and her iteration of the once great, iconic role is far from exceptional at this point.

As noted, Robot may be the most interesting component of the show and yet he's an alien robot. With time and some stronger writing (sorry) it would be nice to see Lost In Space improve. There is certainly room to grow. As it stands it is a fair series if not particularly memorable or substantial, but it's by no means a failure. But in retrospect it has been mostly forgettable with the exception of a few sequences that remain with me. Judy underneath the ice. The tar pit with Maureen and John. The alien vegetation and flowers. The overall production design and look. It does have its highlights.

Lost In Space airs at a time when television has two strong science fiction contenders currently in production that are essential viewing in The Expanse (currently cancelled) and Colony. This writer would like to see Lost In Space get there and even match the kind of truly compelling qualities that made those series or The 100 so damn good. As it stands it looks sharp, but it is lacking.

My advice to fans of my vintage, quickly purchase, if you haven't already, the original Lost In Space series by Irwin Allen on Blu-Ray. It is a gorgeous collection and one you can return to over and over memorializing easily the best version of Lost In Space to date. It's flawed, true, but infinitely more interesting and engaging than this new series. It's also filled with tremendous chemistry between the actors cast for the series and backed by a tremendous score thanks to John Williams and others. And camp at times or not, the series is not a steaming pile of shit.

The Netflix Lost In Space will serve as passable entertainment for a weekend, but it has a distance to go before becoming a great science fiction adventure series. Still, I remain hopeful if it's given that chance. Nothing would thrill me more than to hear Danger, Will Robinson echo across the room each year for a few years to come if it's worth my time. This one has the possibility of treading water and continue to be disappointing.

As one writer noted fairly, and certainly assessments for the series are widely varied, this felt like "a missed opportunity." With the right science fiction writers on board things could improve markedly, but I'm not sure the aspirations of its creators are actually shooting to be that intellectually ambitious here or interested in filling their escapism with that kind of smart science fiction. It doesn't have to be a dark, somber, dystopian journey a la Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), but space is scarier than marital issues, not that the human component isn't essential too.

I'm not sure where along the way my enthusiasm began to flag and wane for the show. Perhaps when it didn't appear to be moving in a direction I had hoped for with regard to this sci-fi franchise. Hopefully things will blossom here for the series, but warning, warning, my confidence is leaning in a less than enthusiastic direction.

This series looks great, but sadly something just didn't feel right about it. In some ways, to quote the old Dr. Smith, it's a bit like a "bubble-headed booby." In so many ways this series convinced me to return to the original as soon as possible. That should tell science fiction fans who love the classics and intelligent new material where this writer stands.

Lost In Space needs to shore up this wonderful franchise with better writers, stronger science fiction ideas, more moments of wonder and/or the horrors of space, but indeed fortify these areas to make it a better, more compelling series.

In the pantheon of great science fiction it simply doesn't rank. It doesn't touch the science fiction adventure stories that even comprised Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) so effortlessly, again a series with cast chemistry to spare.

There are series we hunger to return to repeatedly for self-reflection and/or escape regarding the human condition. This one may get there yet. Despite one writer who declared the new series as worthy while declaring the classic one "really sucked," the original still holds its own without question. This Lost In Space may be far from complete, but it's feeling more Terra Nova (2011) than Space:1999 (1975-1977). That's not a good thing for those who love science fiction.

What the series demonstrates is that it could be so much more with the weapons at its disposal. In time, maybe it will be.

Writer: Matt Sazama/Burk Sharpless. Director: David Nutter.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Lost In Space S1 E9: Resurrection

Robot is back! It's not necessarily a good thing that Robot may be the most interesting character here on Lost In Space.

Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic reaches the penultimate episode of the reimagined Lost In Space series for Netflix.

This writer comes to the series with such strong impressions and preconceived expectations for character personalities because of just how beloved the original was to me. Perhaps it is difficult for me to fully embrace this new modern take.

There are viewers I know familiar with the classic Lost In Space, but that are not avid science fiction fans or obsessive over the original Lost In Space. Some viewed the new series and found it a solid enough ride. They enjoyed it and they looked forward to seeing a second season. At college, my son indicates he has friends who have enjoyed it and that I may be unnecessarily harsh. Forgive me, but I'd like to think I'm just a more discerning viewer when it comes to science fiction and what I'm looking for in Lost In Space.

Without question it will be intriguing enough to see where Season Two takes this family. If there are people who are enjoying this version of Lost In Space all the Jupiter fuel and power to them, but it has been a touch underwhelming.

As it stands this is a series that is missing the mark for me and is missing an opportunity to really land a tried and true fan of Lost In Space and quality science fiction. Maybe I'm just not that audience today.

Nevertheless, we have two hours remaining to make a final assessment. So let us continue with a look at Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 9, Resurrection.

Following the explosive cliffhanger events at the hands of the treacherous Dr. Smith in Trajectory, if that's what we should even call June Harris, what will be the fate of Don West and John Robinson aboard the Jupiter that launched into the stars to reach the Resolute?

Resurrection sees the survivors of the Jupiter crashes searching for an alternative fuel source discovered by young master Will Robinson.

The source can be found in an alien bat cave of equal parts fresh and petrified biofuel. In other words alien bat shit. All the people need to do is remove it from the cavern while the apex predators are asleep. The plot, quite frankly, is all a bit bat shit crazy, but the Robinsons and others are up against time so survivors of all ages will do their best to scrape together shit for fuel and not become future fuel droppings in the process.

The original Lost In Space may have taken some knocks for placing antennae on a llama, coloring bunnies or applying pointed ears on a monkey but at least those ideas materialized as flesh and blood creative concepts that immersed us deeper into its unique world.

There is something inherently uninteresting about the human imagination delivering CGI alien bats in space. CGI space spiders (Stargate Universe) and space bats simply are a creative bore and lazy, but we get them here as the answer to adventure and excitement in space. Nope! Sorry that won't cut the mustard with me. If you have computers to work with could someone get more creative behind the keyboards please?

The entry concludes with the resurrection of Robot miraculously reassembled through the sheer internal intelligence of its alien technology as it miraculously rethreads its existence. We've seen what replicators can do in Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) and this alien tech is no different. Smith captures Maureen Robinson and drags her to the site of the downed alien craft to reactivate Robot.

Maureen is rescued by daughter Judy. But both are prevented from driving off in the Chariot by the sheer strength of a reinvigorated Robot.

Danger, Dr. Smith the alien Robot implores as it looks over to its new master. The one note Dr. Smith character continues to be less interesting and more a bore played by Parker Posey "without redeeming qualities" and as "one-dimensional" accurately noted by one critic. Perhaps like Jonathan Harris in the original, Posey should work to reinvent the character here a bit for season two.

This writer was struck with questions concerning this new alien technology hypothesis surrounding Robot, an idea which I would concede presents a whole set of potential stories in a new Lost In Space universe, but feels problematic.

Why is this alien intelligence, stolen by scientists and officials and housed aboard the Resolute, so responsive to humanity? Is this one alien machine/life form programmed in some way to heed the call of a given master? Is this alien machine different from others? Has Robot crashed or fallen off a cliff one too many times? Clearly this is a smart alien technology, but yet it responds to a human figure like Robot from the old series. In fact, Robot is so smart it can self-preserve and resurrect so why does it need to respond to anyone? It does present its share of potential issues.

As passable, light entertainment Lost In Space is fair to good (enough) this first season, but there are some issues and the overall presentation delivers mixed feelings about this enterprise.

Between a massive group of survivors celebrating with clapping hands and cueing the occasional cheesy family hug and then moving to something meant to be nefarious, there is just something tonally off with this whole take on The Robinsons.

When I think of Lost In Space too it's meant to be a strange, isolating, but intimate family experience into the unknown. Apart from the original series think about how impressive that episode featuring Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck was in Battlestar Galactica called You Can't Go Home Again (S1, E5). The entire episode was in isolation and alone and that worked the tension beautifully. Lost in Space could do with equal parts wonder and darkness alone in the unknowns of space.

Thus far Lost In Space is apparently what passes for popular science fiction getting its renewal by Netflix while the smart science fiction is severed at the knees (The Expanse) by a channel that allegedly supports actual science fiction.

What will the season finale hold for new and old fans of the franchise alike and where will the season finale take the resurrected franchise. Stay tuned for our final assessment of the newly reimagined Netflix Lost In Space.

Writer: Daniel McLellan/ Kari Drake. Director: Tim Southam.