Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Battlestar Galactica

"Ron Moore and I didn't want the show to look like any other science fiction series. We wanted the Galactica to be like a submarine and we wanted all the show's sets and ships to have a very realistic and tangible feeling. Das Boot In Space."

-David Eick, Battlestar Galactica: The Official Companion, p.136-

It was underscored the great leviathan-like vessel was to be a very analog-based ship and that is often noted throughout the series. It's old school technology was even noted as a defense against the technologically-savvy Cylons. Hacking into the Galactica became a much greater mountain to climb as a result of its more antiquated technologies.

The Galactica was considered a relic or holdover from the Cylon War.

Eick noted, "The interior design of the Galactica deliberately avoids the futuristic look of other shows. We didn't do futuristic screens or sliding doors. There's a mix of old and more modern technology..., but there's nothing that's really state of the art. We combined retro items ... you would see on 1940s battleships with ... elements from the 1980s and 1990s. This ... reminds viewers the Galactica is an old ship that's out of date and dependent on old technology."

The Command Information Center (CIC) is where the crew reside. Adama is at the center surrounded by crew men and women.

Some of the functional technology moves up and down at the center of the CIC. The periscope-like motion creates that allusion to the Das Boot (1981; what a film!) analogy and effort to create a submersible-like environment embedded within the Galactica. Corridors and quarters are tight and given to a nautical vibe. Space is at a premium aboard the Galactica despite its immense and hulking size. Space is a luxury in space.

Ronald Moore and David Eick originally planned to keep the original designs of the Galactica and the Vipers essentially the same. They were pushed to reimagine the designs of these aspects of the planned series as well. So the Vipers received slight modifications becoming the Mark II Vipers complete with slightly more extended noses and the Galactica herself was conceived to "evoke" the original classic but was reworked the most.

For the Galactica, ultimately, the team crafted a sweet balance between the original and the new. Lending the metallic Galactica a ribbed surface treatment the new creation was equally a beast of a vessel in keeping with the tone of the series. It was "more industrial, more military and more hard-edged." The launch bays themselves were also retractable in step with the new, state-of-the-art effects potential of the series.

As a fan of the original Galactica the new ship was a stunning winner in design going toe to toe with the classic. As geeks go the two remain favorites among the cannon of science fiction vessels. Very rarely do redesigns work for me (Thunderbirds is a fine example as none come close to the originals), but the Galactica herself, classic and new, are just beauties. The two rank right up alongside The Eagle from Space:1999 and other classics.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Falling Skies S1 E7: Sanctuary (Part 2)

"Civilization---you got to love it."

"Taps---it's a bugler's song from the civil war used to signify the end of a day's work. And in a way, it's a lullaby, to tell soldiers that all was well and that it was safe to rest."

The opening shot of the well-filmed, well-photographed Falling Skies is a close-up of Jimmy Mack Boland desperately running. While the appearance is one of a young man running from a deadly enemy the camera pulls back to reveal a friendly game of soccer. The kids enjoy a little spirited down time at their new found sanctuary encampment, but is it really a sanctuary? Like that opening shot, as we discovered in Sanctuary (Part 1) (S1, E6), things aren't always as they seem.

Minor character moments like a distrustful Jimmy peering at Ben Mason's post-harnessed back or Hal Mason, of the 2nd Mass, flirting with a girl named Tessa continue to draw us into the world of Falling Skies beyond the aliens. "You know why they're here," informs a father about the arrival of the 2nd Mass kids under the watchful eye of the agenda-driven opportunist that is the evil of Terry Clayton. Sadly, this disturbing human sanctuary is the equivalent of a Nazi death camp. The children are the proverbial lambs to the alien slaughter. Welcome to the increasingly unsettling world of Falling Skies, Season One, Episode 7, Sanctuary (Part 2).

Things are getting ugly. John Pope: "Do you really think you can deal with those lizards?." Clayton: "It's not about winning or losing anymore Pope. It's about surviving."

The deal with the extra-terrestrial devils is conceptually as troubling as Ursula K. Le Guin's short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas (1973) and what it takes to maintain prosperity through the misery of a single child.

The sci-fi aspects of the harness are explored further suggesting they infuse humans with strength. The previously harnessed, in some instances (Ben Mason seems unaffected), also exhibit empathy or an empathic connection toward the aliens. It's the alien equivalent of Stockholm or Helsinki Syndrome, whereby captives develop a psychological bond with their captors while in captivity. There is indeed a hangover effect here from the harnesses. The impact of the harness on some versus others remains something of a mystery, but the biological impact is varies and credible like an illness or a vaccine. Rick Thompson: "Killing's in their nature. Humans. We would never kill one of our own. You should understand that." Ben The physical/psychological impact varies (perhaps based on time of harness attachment) and makes for a fascinating subtext throughout the entry.

Why aren't the soldiers in the camp on high alert looking to the skies or roads?  Lourdes and Hal Mason grow suspicious of the camp.

We discover in the episode what happened to the survivors of the camp. Skitters attacked like locust. A girl named Megan was captured and harnessed. As a proxy for the aliens she makes the deal with the camp, peace in return for the children.

There is a scene involving pregnancy that allows one to do the math and deduct the aliens have been on Earth for approximately 7.5 months.

The two-part Sanctuary gives new meaning to human sacrifice as the battle within the human race intensifies and appears to be as troubling as ever. The episode concludes with one of its darkest human portraits with nigh an alien to be seen.

Writer: Melinda Hsu Taylor (LOST).
Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (Battlestar Galactica, Invasion, Raised By Wolves).

Friday, May 21, 2021

She Blinded Me With Science-Fiction Part 2

And so we continue with some short takes with Part 2 of our She Blinded Me With Science-Fiction series. What to see and what to miss.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond (2020-present). Spin-offs are a tricky business. It's challenging to consider if any have ever bested their parent series. Most would argue the original Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) is the best of the three. Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009) and Stargate Universe (2009-2011) are both worthy entries in the franchise and some would try and argue best the original in some aspects. The same would hold true for the original Star Trek with proponents arguing on behalf of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). Is anyone with me for Breaking Bad (2008-2013) spin-off Better Call Saul (2015-2022).

On the other side of the pond, Doctor Who (1963-present) spawned a couple of entries. The forgettable K-9 (1981, 2009-2010), Torchwood (2006-2011) and even The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011) starring the late and lovely Elisabeth Sladen. 

Like the latter, there is something kind of cutesy, teen-friendly, mindlessly pointless and rather vapid about this third entry in The Walking Dead franchise. It's even been referred to as "Woke Beyond" by some critics. The original is hands down the best and in no jeopardy of drawing any close comparisons. Fear The Walking Dead (2015-present) has been formidable and at times enjoyed some terrific entries, but for consistency, story and character simply doesn't compare to the original. The first season of FTWD was generally excellent.

TWD: WB is akin to TWD-lite. Kudos for an attempt at something new, but dialogue, teen characters, plot all fall flat. The series lacks real energy, suspense (much of the time), and the Empties (the Walkers in this series) are even incompetent at eating flesh. With the snowflake generation doing everything in its power to avoid killing the empties it's a wonder they succeed in surviving at all. These kids are asking for it. It's astounding how successful they are at evading the grim reaper. Acting is generally unmemorable despite the mostly likable, young group. There's very little inner conflict between the wayward children, which makes for a less than engaging slog and journey into the world beyond. Set in the future the series wisely tries something different from what has been established, but the result is underwhelming. The execution is lightweight and unworthy of the franchise. I viewed the entirety of Season One and there were more than a few cringeworthy moments and those aren't the kind of cringes you want when watching an epic franchise like TWD.

Scott Gimple, Matthew Negrete and the production team needed to execute this much better. From lackluster casting to poor writing to poor attention to detail, TWD: WB is far beyond what I expected. This is quite simply not very good.

Sadly, for every Better Call Saul there is an ugly misfire like TWD:WB. Unessential in the extreme for any Blu-Ray collection.

Tales From The Loop (2020-present). This is a positively immersive, beautiful, mesmerizing, hypnotic, dream-like, wondrous science fiction series. This is like a genuine throwback to science fiction found in the written word.

Based on the artwork of Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag (whose own hand is in the production), Tales From The Loop immerses us in his imaginative world while spinning eight (8) unique, distinctive, rewarding tales of science fiction all inextricably linked by the characters within its universe.

Some stories take old conventions (body-swapping, time travel) within the genre and spin some of the most delicate, beautiful tales of love. The allure wasn't necessarily immediate. Upon experiencing the first story I was not certain of this series' unique merits, but they slowly, steadily unraveled and revealed themselves with each new entry in a yarn like nothing I've quite enjoyed in some time. Tales From The Loop takes its time to enjoy the beautiful moments in cinema, an approach that would make an artist-director like Terrence Malick proud.

Perhaps it's no surprise the series sports impressive talents behind the camera, scripting and soundtrack. Wall-E's Andrew Stanton, Jodie Foster and Mark Romanek headline three entries alongside the minimalist melodies and compositions of Phillip Glass. If you know anything about these artists they are uncompromising in their abilities to entrance us with their visions. Each infuses a beauty and an emotional resonance within each story as a kind of visual poetry.

Tales From The Loop is like nothing you've seen in recent memory. It is such a vital work and even more important as art in a world that is more cold and calculating than ever thanks to social media and large-scale corporate technology. Tales From The Loop teaches us to merge both the natural world and technology with stories of the human heart. I was inspired and yet entranced by the beauty of this series.

Despite its science fiction back drop there is a simplicity within its complex story concepts to the point of longing for a simpler more traditional existence. We live in a chaotic, fleeting and often transient world. This series is a fine antidote to so much of the effect-heavy nightmares that pollute cinemas. 

Tales From The Loop is essential for human beings who long for more humanity. One would have to lack heart not to feel something in this wondrous, magical, surreal, special place called The Loop. This is truly a fascinating detour away from our more frightening realities of late to a much more fantastical place. Essential for fans of science fiction with humanity. Hoping for a Blu-Ray arrival.

Into The Badlands (2015-2019). Drawing from science fiction, fantasy and martial arts, this wildly underrated series from AMC is entirely its own animal. Pulling its inspiration from the kind of energy mash-up that infused such projects as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), John Wick (2014), The Matrix (1999) this is a sprawling sci-fi, action-heavy, martial arts drama. It's contents are diverse and often times riveting.

Into The Badlands, with all of its colorful set pieces and Wick-styled excitement populating the series in fits and starts, still tells a compelling journey story surrounding two characters in a struggle for self-discovery, one young and one older, surrounded by a terrific supporting cast on intriguing characters.

Daniel Wu is a surprising find for this fanatic and offers a compelling screen presence reminiscent of the wonderful Chow Yun Fat (both given to the influence and power of Hong Kong cinema).

Season One is a short six episode treasure trove of character and world-building, fine performances, production values and storytelling.

The AMC series arrived in 2015 following The Walking Dead (2010-present) Season Six and this writer, at the time, never really gave it a chance. Perhaps this was the result of all that exhaustive tension and zombie killing. Giving it a second look Into The Badlands has delivered pure escapist pleasures. The Walking Dead was a tough act to follow but Into The Badlands is equally violent and thrilling in its own right while being something entirely unique and fantastical for television.

I'm not sure people understood just how special this series was upon its arrival, but it could be sci-fi/fantasy/martial arts is a tough sell too. It's a thrilling drama in and of itself, but that really shouldn't be too surprising given its AMC stamp (of course there was The Walking Dead: World Beyond). The channel continues to deliver some of the very best in television. It may not be essential, but it's a fairly thrilling dramatic genre mash-up type enterprise for those looking for something different in the diverse science fiction universe. Nice three season set for the Blu-Ray collection but unessential.

Debris (2021-present). Debris is the latest to be mildly hailed, elevated and marginally compared to the highly influential The X-Files (1993-2018). Dark Skies (1996-1997) and Fringe (2008-2013) had followed in the latter's footsteps.

Fringe had promise, but ultimately faltered for me and at times became increasingly preposterous. Debris juggles its mysterious and thrilling ten episodes far better.

This may come as a surprise given the series was created by J.H. Wyman. Wyman penned 32 episodes of Fringe and directed two of its episodes including writing and directing that aforementioned series finale. Still, Wyman didn't create Fringe, that was the handiwork of J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.

Wyman's concept here is simply better science fiction. It leans more to the darker work found in The X-Files and for that it's all the better. Perhaps its a learning curve and growth, but Wyman's Debris rings more credibly within the parameters of its science fiction universe. In the real world UFO sightings and Pentagon information continues to pepper headlines regarding military contacts and these stories are astounding.

Debris is about, the scattered wreckage of an alien spacecraft and its impact and influence on humanity across the planet as it falls from space. Those discoveries and mysteries are chased by a member of the CIA and MI6 working in tandem with a number of questionable international players involved with competing agendas.

Debris is new, but out of the gate, it is a thrilling and captivating take on its concept and it largely works. This one comes recommended as essential for fans of science fiction or The X-Files and is more impressive and effective in its tone and approach than Wyman's aforementioned involvement with Fringe. Debris is an essentially noteworthy new arrival. It's an intriguing premise with long-term potential.