Friday, August 23, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery S1

This may read more like ruminations of a casual Star Trek fan. Such people exist right?

I genuinely had my doubts about Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present). I actually didn't have that much of an interest to be frank about it. I won't deny I wasn't just a little bit intrigued with Star Trek: Discovery in the hands of Bryan Fuller (Hannibal). Could it or would it come close to being as good as Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969) or at least Hannibal if we were to compare apples to oranges at least in terms of quality?

Obviously some prefer Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) even more, a seriously gloriously restored on Blu-ray. While others embraced the deviation from formula set by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) and the likes of creative upstarts involved with it including Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander). Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) had its own advocates (along with detractors; is anyone ever really happy even within the Star Trek universe?). Then there were those fans of Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005) seen as something like an odd duck stepchild, but that show too had its moments and an equally impressive cast.

And for all of the worlds that populate Star Trek, not unlike 007 and James Bond, there is a certain set of expectations, rules, a framework and perhaps, yes, even a formula to the franchise.

I wondered at this point in this writer's game if I even had an interest in another Star Trek variation within the longstanding franchise. Part of me seemed fatigued, maybe a bit bored by its output. That's sad to say I know.

Further, I have never been overly enthused by the films, particularly the action films established by J.J. Abrams. They are good action movies, but not particularly required viewing for a science fiction fan and especially those who loved the original Star Trek series. Again, it pains me to say, but they are just okay.

So I half expected Star Trek: Discovery to fail with Paramount/CBS falling squarely on its face by expecting membership to CBS All Access. I won't do it. I just can't. Again, as you know, I'm sort of casual about it all.

I recall having a similar reaction to Stargate Universe (2009-2011). I remember thinking it appeared too radically different and therefore unworthy of the Stargate moniker and franchise. In its first episode there was a big-breasted brunette being banged in a space closet. Normally this would be a good thing, but I was thrown. And I was wrong about Stargate Universe and I was too late to the party, as I suspect others were. It was cancelled before my enlightenment. It was a fascinating new endeavor for the franchise and arguably the best. In the end I loved Stargate Universe. I just couldn't have been more wrong about a sci-fi property.

At this point there have been some very different reactions to Star Trek: Discovery. So I offer my humble take here. With so little enthusiasm for Star Trek you can imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed this new telling, new approach to the universe of Star Trek. Though the dynamic take on the mythology makes it relatively easy to see why fans of any of the previous Star Trek series might have problems with it. Not me. It was a refreshing journey into Trek. And Star Trek: Discovery energizes the franchise in a similar fashion to J.J. Abrams yet felt more intelligent through its scripting led by an equally dynamic cast.

In short, Star Trek: Discovery, Season One, blew me away. Warp factor 9.99. Indeed it offered a significant departure not only from formula but defied my expectations in every way. All involved were indeed boldly going with this franchise and creating a fresh, new, relatable canvas for an assortment of fascinating characters and storylines. It was fearlessly weaving Star Trek into a kind of complex, science fiction adventure story perhaps I had longed for.

This iteration of the franchise is not without its moral or philosophical center despite this entertainment either - an area the recent films often leave me vacant. This achievement rests squarely on the writing. The emotional core of the series rests firmly with Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead) as Michael Burnham, a revelation here, but the other characters are equally layered. Martin-Green is tremendous though.

There is a cinematic quality to the series certainly inspired by the Abrams films. Even the adventure aspects of the Star Wars (1977) effect seems in play. But there are also homages to such classic science fictions as Dino De Laurentiis' Flash Gordon (1980). The show has sound effects that pay tribute and return us to Star Trek: The Original Series. Thank you.

The opening theme by Jeff Russo is a sophisticated, modern yet classical tribute to the spirit of the original's opener immortalized by Alexander Courage.

There are monsters and wildly creative forms of organic propulsion. Love that sporedrive. Alternate universes. Klingons. There are unexpected dark twists and turns. There are equal parts character drama, suspense and action. There just are not enough good things to say about a series that is indeed Star Trek whilst feeling like something entirely different. It's understandable some Star Trek franchise fans might take issue or have been rankled by the results, but I hope most are endorsing this latest production with open arms and give it a chance and support, because it's wonderful. And this time, unlike Stargate Universe or Firefly (2002), I'm not late to the party.

This was one of the most engaging Star Trek variations I had ever experienced. I'm here to say I am happy I am on board the Discovery and look forward to experiencing Season Two, because this show felt like an experience when I watched it on Blu-Ray.

It is an exceptional series beyond science fiction --- absolutely brilliant. I had no idea anyone would have had the balls to reinvent the franchise in such a vainglorious and original fashion. Stunning. Star Trek: Discovery is some of the most riveting serialized outer space science fiction I've seen in some time. The level of actual dramatic engagement is on par with the kind of television that made the reinvigorated, reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) so magnetic for me.

To put this in some perspective, in recent years, The Expanse (2015-present), now moving into its fourth season, and based on the literature of James S.A. Corey has maintained the mantle of superior, smart, science fiction storytelling. Star Trek: Discovery may in fact best that series in some ways or at the very least match it on a narrative level, while retaining the kind of character energy that infused the Ronald D. Moore Galactica, and that's really saying something. It's that damn good. I've yet to invest in Season Two and I'm thrilled there are more seasons to come. This writer hopes the series does indeed live long and prosper. This is one of the greats at the moment. Who knew a franchise begun in 1966 could still have so much to offer.

I have had difficulty finding quality series with which to engage. Hell, I'm re-watching HBO's The Wire (2002-2008). But I am humbled to say I could not have been more wrong and more surprised at the results on display for this new Star Trek. I would easily watch this again too. While incredibly ambitious, at times dark, there is a twinkle in the eye of this one. Excited for the future, I am indeed a convert and this from someone who ranks Star Trek: The Original Series at the top.

At some point maybe I will take a closer look because this one is a keeper, but for now...Wow! This was indeed an unexpected discovery.
The kind of background character you're just itching to know a little more about.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Knights Of Sidonia S1 E7: Resolve

"I wanted to draw things that don't exist in the real world."

-Tsutomu Nikei, Anime News Network (2016)-

For large, visually immersive and expansive worlds Tsutomu Nikei never fails to create something special whenever his imagination is put to pen and pencil. Knights Of Sidonia was the next elevation into the mind of Nikei.

The next phase in his evolution as an artist and world builder was Knights Of Sidonia. For the confinement that is Sidonia it is at once a world that is vast, complex and seemingly unending in itself.

As an animation Knights Of Sidonia is at once unique and unusual and yet there is a kind of accessibility to the series that seemed elusive in Tsutomu Nihei's' disconnected, isolated, unending world of Blame!.

Blame! involved the story of an interminable city world, but there was a kind of obtuse, impenetrability to the seemingly wordless manga as well as the adapted Netflix film. Personally the manga is jaw-dropping and essential.

The Blame! manga was truly a glorious masterpiece to this writer though maybe not for everyone. The artwork is a truly stunning exercise in artistic vision that seemed an endless labyrinth into an artist's mind. Nihei brilliantly executes idea and concept to paper to create a fresh unseen universe to the human eye.

Knights Of Sidonia on the other hand captures the beauty and the essence of that endless world within its self-contained Sidonia seed ship universe. Though finite the ship seemingly goes on forever inside and once again Nihei staggers the eyes of a reader's imagination.

Both series are explorations in isolation, but there is a humanity to Knights Of Sidonia that gives it an accessibility perhaps absent from his masterpiece. Nevertheless all of Nihei's creations are intertwined. Blame!, Knights Of Sidonia, Biomega, NOiSE, Abara and APOSIMZ all live comfortably inside of Nihei's master plan. There are linking elements to all of his world-building. This is mythology and world-building at its finest.

The creators of this series, Knights Of Sidonia, have done the manga justice much more so than Netflix did with its more humanist interpretation of the Blame! manga. Everything that was wrong about the Netflix film created from the lengthy Blame! manga series is right about this more faithfully adapted series from the Knights Of Sidonia books.

So we continue with our own personal resolve to explore the remarkable, inspired world of Sidonia with Knights Of Sidonia, Season One, Episode 7, Resolve.

The series continues its seamless movement between cel-like animation and computer-generated creations. Perhaps the bulk of it is created on computers, but the look of the animation is gritty and detailed and nearly as good as some of the finest animation ever created in anime.

As a science fiction it's easily as exhilarating as a thrill ride as Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) and just as emotional. As exciting as the visuals are Nihei has a a lot on his mind in creating the world of Knights Of Sidonia and it is a fascinating excursion and escape into that place. Just as impressive as its world is Nihei's surprising attention to character which translates wonderfully to screen.

Resolve opens with a thrilling effort by the garde to take out an alien gauna. It ends with criticism of pilot Nagate Tanikaze's failure to dismember the gauna resulting in the death of Shizuka Hoshijiro. But is she?

Tanikaze discovers the outcome of that assault in flashback. Further, it's not just told to us or talked to us (as some anime will often expound about events) but it is visualized.

The beautiful thing about Knights Of Sidonia is how as a science fiction it weaves elements of horror and dramatic subtext into its story so effortlessly. It's at once gritty and disturbing with nearly equal parts heart wrenching character moments. But the story never backs down from its own unique identity as an anime and that is in large part due to Nihei's intelligent ambitions as a writer. The animators here, too, deserve a lot of credit for bringing his vision to life whereby Blame! has yet to be fully realized as it should. Instead of a single film that manga must be a series. Knights Of Sidonia is given a chance to alternate between place and character to its pacing success.

Nihei's world involves a labyrinthine structure compounded by interpersonal human relationships, politics, and public opinion all within the mighty seed ship Sidonia. Activists are anti-military and naively believe the guana will leave them alone if they disarm. They would also like to leave Sidonia---why aren't these people shown the airlock already?

Further Nihei's creation, Knights Of Sidonia, is a self-sustaining work and self-contained science fiction work within a larger and even more complex multiverse of manga and literature as noted earlier. Nihei continues to astound this writer as a lover of science fiction himself.

Nihei's ability to weave and interlock these wildly interconnected and beautiful worlds through character and mythology or haunting structures from his own limitless personal imagination is staggering and something to behold. This writer continues to be lured into his unique, original storytelling gifts for science fiction. Nihei indeed shows a personal resolve creatively that is uniquely his own.

Resolve propels the story forward and is dramatically as quick as a propelling garde unit with a mission through space.
Though it's Nihei's passion, it's not just about the sights in Sidonia.
There is much more than meets the eye.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Alan Brennert, Anne Collins And John Gaynor: On Writing Buck Rogers In The 25th Century For Gil Gerard

"To me Vegas In Space was the model of what the series should have been: funny, fast moving, adventurous, but with one or two of those serious, poignant moments. After Vegas In Space, Gil suddenly had no interest in doing the funny stuff. I don't know what happened. I don't know what went on in his mind. But he clearly decided he didn't want to do the jokes anymore. He started taking the character more seriously than the character should have been taken.

There was also a communications problem; I don't think we were ever able to quite communicate on the level that we should have. Gil didn't understand that jokes can exist comfortably in the same script as more serious stuff. He was always throwing jokes out on the set. Without that kind of light-hearted spin to our scripts, we just had shows that were essentially melodrama. And to my way of thinking, many of them just sat there. The resulting shows were not anything that I had seen in my head when I was writing them.

Gil was a very good comedic actor. That's not to say he's incapable of doing more serious moments. But I thought his best skills were in that kind of snappy banter with Wilma and the others, when he had that twinkle in his eye. At some point he decided he was above that, or at least that's my interpretation. It was a shame, because he ignored a facet of his abilities that really set him apart, and as a result, I don't think Buck Rogers was nearly as interesting as he could have been. The way we envisioned the character fit him like a glove, but he decided he didn't want the glove to fit.

It has been my experience that writers are paid vast sums of money in this business only partly for their writing talents, but largely to take vast amounts of shit from people."

-Alan Brennert, Starlog Magazine #232 (p.67, 69)- 

"We tried to be faithful to Glen Larson's vision [established in the two-hour pilot], but Gil had his own ideas. Gil became more and more difficult to work with. We didn't trust each other. He thought we were out to sabotage his character, and we didn't know how to deal with that."

-Anne Collins, Starlog Magazine #232 (p68)-

"Gil was getting insecure about the whole situation. Gil could be a very charming man, but somehow he got this insecurity into his head. Gil felt the scripts were being written for women, and not for him. Maybe he felt this way about Wilma, too. He caused a lot of problems.

I just thought he should stop worrying about all this other crap he was concerned about and play Buck Rogers the way he was supposed to be played. Gil was charming and likeable on screen, and I thought it was going splendidly. I don't know why he was getting so upset about it all.

I think Gil felt we were against him. He seemed to be getting a little paranoid about it. He went on about the fact that it was his face up there and we didn't care, which was not true at all---of course we cared! Our reputations were involved as well. It was not a pleasant time."

-Producer John Gaynor, Starlog Magazine #232 (p68-70)-

So Buck Rogers In The 25th Century presents a wonderful example of the writers at odds with a performer. Jonathan Harris had often injected his own dialogue and re-writes into Lost In Space as Gil Gerard did here.

While the two parties in these situations prove there was a significant degree of daylight between them, one could argue there was a certain degree of conflict in the aforementioned applications that made those shows better.

These above excerpts from Starlog Magazine really put into perspective what was in play behind the scenes in the beginning for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century way back in the 20th Century.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century S1 E5: Vegas In Space

"We were still under the Charlie's Angels influence. I can't remember if it came from the network or the studio, but there was definitely pressure to get lots of women in strange, semi-revealing costumes."
-Anne Collins, Starlog Magazine #231 (p.71)-

"Biddy biddy biddy, what a guy."
-Twiki (voice of Mel Blanc)-

We've all heard of Pigs In Space, a recurring sketch on The Muppet Show (1976-1981), and maybe this is a poor analogy, but Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (1979-1981) sometimes plays like Babes In Space or Babes In The 25th Century. The female quotient feels even more amplified for Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, Season One, Episode 5, Vegas In Space (produced before S1, E3/4 Planet Of The Slave Girls but airing after that installment). And there is no shortage of the kind of skin that seems often absent in today's science fiction. There are legs, arms and cleavage galore in every few minutes of the latest installment. Personally, happy as a pig in shit with an entry like this now and again, but like pigs this episode would unlikely never fly today. Some of the science fiction from the 1960s and 1970s were particularly pleasant on the eyes. This is no exception.

Awakening (S1 E1-2) introduced us to two stunning females that would grace the world of Buck Rogers in Erin Gray and Pamela Hensley.

Vegas In Space continues what promises to be Buck as a kind of Captain James T. Kirk on steroids for 1979. Gil Gerard is indeed surrounded by them as the titular hero in white spandex Buck Rogers.

Actresses for the installment here include Juanin Clay (The Legend Of The Lone Ranger, War Games; take note as Clay was originally cast to play Wilma Deering before Erin Gray decided to take the role), Pamela Susan Shoop (Halloween II, Galactica 1980, The Incredible Hulk) and Ana Alicia (Halloween II, Falcon Crest, Romero, Battlestar Galactica and Galactica 1980). The list of TV credits for the aforementioned ladies is long.

Cesar Romero (The Joker in the original Batman TV series) makes an appearance too.

Vegas In Space is nothing overly substantial but there is a kind of aw shucks likeability and charm about the episode. Gerard also continues to settle into the character nicely as a kind of common sense, street smart American hero less interested in leaning on 25th Century technology and falling back on good old fashion American ingenuity, know how and elbow grease.

Writer John Kenneth Muir accurately dubs Buck, a symbol of "American exceptionalism in space" (John Kenneth Muir's Reflections On Cult Movies And Classic TV).

The general concept for Buck Rogers and company is a rescue mission with 25th Century Buck unabashedly infusing his hero with a good deal of humor making the series, despite its shortcomings, wholly accessible fun. There was a good degree of formula to the series as much as there was for The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982) or The Love Boat (1977-1986). Hey formulas work. And it worked well as a crime series in future space, but not unlike the expensive Battlestar Galactica by Glen A. Larson as well, the series was as ephemeral as Space:1999 (1975-1977), landing itself with a mere two year run.

The escape from the Vegas-like city in space is meant to be a manual thriller as Buck uses his wits to outfly a new brand of fighter called the hatchet fighter, but they aren't that impressive or fast and it is less than thrilling to watch. Biddy Biddy Biddy not exciting Buck.

This was often a problem for the series. Battlestar Galactica's effects may not have excelled by today's standards, but the space battles almost seem superior by comparison to the shortchanged mess of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (despite attempts at recycling some of the effects work from Battlestar Galactica). These were simply not memorable sequences and are often the least effective aspects of the series. It was definitely about the characters.

Irwin Allen was notorious for recycling material in his series. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson had to take their own liberties as well. Larson does it here borrowing from Battlestar Galactica, but Buck Rogers In The 25th Century may be the greatest casualty of such an application and given Allen's wholesale reuse that's saying something. But what Buck Rogers lacks it more than makes up for in its casting and story fun. The characters and enthusiasm of the show often save the day.

It illustrates how this portion of the series, outer space itself, was less than important in comparison to the story of life in the 25th Century. Fortunately, the bulk of the series is all the better for the character missions and interactions. They are far better and above and beyond the space dogfights. These issues were remedied for fans of these two Larson productions for Ronald D. Moore's reimagined Battlestar Galactica whereby some of the most dynamic screen action in science fiction was created to complement the respective character studies.

As for the writing, not unlike Jonathan Harris on Allen's Lost In Space, Gil Gerard was often inserting his own dialogue throughout the series. Like Dr. Zachary Smith before him the character of Buck Rogers shines as a result of his concern for the role.

You won't feel lucky watching Vegas In Space, but with this cast of stunning women any red blooded male might wish he was, so better luck next time. Great eye candy for a visit forward in time with this step back in time to old school science fiction adventure done fairly well with an eye toward fun over perfection.

Director: Sigmund Neufeld Jr..
Writer: Anne Collins (Wonder Woman).