Sunday, 29 April 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: The Avengers

I was fully prepared to be a little disappointed by The Avengers. Changing the title, in the UK at least, to Marvel Avengers Assemble wasn’t the greatest move, in my opinion. The title is of little importance, of course, but if they can go with something as clunky sounding as that, what else might they have got wrong? After all, this was a mammoth task, creating a movie that would balance the inclusion of so many major cinematic Marvel characters, give the fans the showdown they were waiting for, provide a genuine sequel to both Thor and Captain America, and still create a coherent, entertaining story was never going to be easy. It could so readily have become overblown and fallen apart. Thank Odin, this was not the case. While it isn’t perfect, The Avengers movie is one cracking slice of superheroics.





So much of this is down to the scriptwork and direction of Joss Whedon. Although Whedon didn’t write the story alone, his style can be felt throughout. He has an indisputable flair for dialogue, and, while you could never call it naturalistic, it is endlessly entertaining and frequently quotable. However, we all know how his scripts have been trampled in the past, by rewrites, questionable directing and flawed acting. When these all come together, the scripts are fantastic (compare, for example, Alien: Resurrection with Toy Story, to see his screenplays treated in wholly different ways). Here, of course, he’s calling the shots as well, so what we get is surely as close as possible to how he envisioned the film.

The action scenes are superb, with just the right balance of fantasy and realism. You can just about accept the clash of worlds here, as a Norse god lies low in the back of a jeep as bullets fly in all directions, or when an archer takes on a contingent of extraterrestrials armed with plasma weapons. While some have decried Whedon’s action directing as small scale or “televisual,” I feel this was in fact an effective way of gradually expanding the scope of the film, from smaller, one-on-one and group skirmishes to the vast onslaught in the final climactic act. It’s true that there is a noticable clash of styles; however, while I feared this would have been jarring, it in fact works to the film’s benefit. What could have crashed the movie instead gives it a tangible feel, of disparate elements coming together to form an effective whole.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TOS 1.3-1.5

Welcome to the latest Captain's Blog, kicking off what should be a nice little run as the Tessier household works its way through season one of Star Trek. In repsonse to anyone asking: yes, I have been watching the remastered episodes. Purists may disagree, but I think they've done a great job polishing these episodes up. It's been very respectfully done, merely enhancing the colour and sound, correcting a handful of obvious errors and adding some very effective visual effects for the space sequences that fit nicely with the original visuals of the show. It's a world apart from the Star Wars trilogy's endless tweaks and additions, or the Red Dwarf remastered episodes which cut jokes in order to add unnecessary effects scenes. Plus, it allows the viewer to truly appreciate Shatner's level of make-up.

So get ready for three more episodes of histrionics, overly dramatic music, catty comments and pretty girls in soft focus, as we watch 'Mudd's Women,' 'The Enemy Within' and 'The Man Trap.'




Monday, 23 April 2012

WHO REVIEW: Power of the Daleks - Reimagined. Part One

WHO REVIEW: Power of the Daleks - Reimagined. Part One


“Am I excited or worried? I hate that in-between feeling.”  

The Power of the Daleks is one of the most infamous of Doctor Who’s ‘lost stories.’ If you asked a group of classic Doctor Who fans which serial they’d most like to be returned to the archives, Power would surely come very near the top of the list. This is with good reason: not only is it a 60s Dalek story - always popular - but it was the very first story to feature Patrick Troughton as the Doctor. Strip all this away though, and what have you got left? No Troughton, no Ben and Polly, no grainy black-and-white footage, no regeneration - what you have left remains a tense science fiction tale of the need for and abuse of power.

With a story so effective and so very missed, it’s not surprising that TNT films have chosen Power as the basis of their new fanfilm project. Power of the Daleks has been touted as more of a reimagining than a remake, and this is very much what the production provides. Only the basics of the original story remain - the Doctor, the Daleks, the sunken spacecraft, the core characters - and all of these have been tweaked to work in a new, modern version of the classic story. This is most obvious in the story’s setting; no longer is the serial based on the planet Vulcan (no, no that one), but now it is set within a drilling station on South McKinley, a remote island in the South Atlantic. This retains the isolation of the original, while allowing a low budget fan production an far easier environment to create. The planet Vulcan does get a name check, though - our characters work for the Vulcan corporation. The base, with its glossy Vulcan corporate magazines, health and safety posters and forgotten mugs seems like a far more real environment than more controlled professional productions usually manage.

Friday, 20 April 2012

CAPTAIN'S BLOG: TNG 1.4-1.5

1.4) The Last Outpost
or

‘Enter the Ferengi’

The Mission:
Recover a stolen energy converter from the mysterious Ferengi, and learn as much about them as possible in the process.

Planets visited: Delphi Ardu IV: class-M, just about, a planet of lightning storms, gigantic crystals and much dry ice. The entire planet was converted into an energy store by the ancient Tkon Empire; it was their outermost territory and is the sole remaining Tkon outpost.

Alien life forms: The Ferengi, after much rumour and nailbiting, finally make their debut and their first contact with the Federation. They’re rubbish.

In fairness, the make-up is impressive, giving them a very distinctive look with enormous ears, livid orange skin, snaggle-toothed mouths and lumpy heads suggesting a different brain structure to humans. However, they spend most of the episode jumping up and down, waving their arms about and squawking. They’re described as supreme capitalists (or Yankee traders by Data), but for all their talk of profit, they seem more concerned with strutting about trying to appear threatening, something that they singularly fail at. The Ferengi were supposed to be a major adversary for the TNG crew, but it’s clear from the outset that this was never going to work.

The Tkon Empire ruled this part of the Galaxy 600,00 years ago, and was tremendously advanced; they had the technology to move stars. Somehow, they still managed to get taken out by a supernova. The last representative, Portal, has existed in suspended animation on Delphi Ardu IV for even longer than that; judging by him, they were pretty much human-looking (he looks a bit weird and wrinkly, but this might just be an attempt to make him look very ancient). He also seems to be telepathic, although he may just have instant access to the information downloaded from the Enterprise.

Trivia: The name Ferengi comes from firinji, an Arabic word that has spread into many Asian languages and can mean ‘foreigner,’ or, more specifically, ‘European.’ Farang is the Thai word for a white or European person, while the Malay word for foreigner is feringgi.

Future Treknology: The Ferengi ship is pretty cool; it carries the looks of the Ferengi into its design, an orange horseshoe shape. It’s neck seems to be extendable, although this doesn’t come across well in the episode. Their level of technology is pretty much on a par with that of the Federation (later episodes will suggest they bought most of it from other civilisations). The use big blue whips that fire bolts of energy that stun like phasers. The Tkon, on the other hand, have left technology on their planet that is capable of freezing both the Enterprise and the Ferengi ship in orbit and draining their power.

Future History: While this represents the first official contact between the humanity and the Ferengi, subsequent episodes have pushed the date of initial contact back much further. Enterprise has Archer encountering them over two hundred years previously in 2151, while Quark and his family manage to end up in Roswell in 1947 in the DS9 episode ‘Little Green Men.’

The Picard Manoeuvre: Picard’s as cool as a cucumber here, not worrying at all when the Ferengi attack, taking the energy drain in his stride and then taking advantage when the Ferengi think the Enterprise is responsible for the energy drain.

Elementary, my dear Data: Data seems to be experimenting with inappropriate comments in this episode. Judging from his colleagues’ reactions, he’s got it down to a tee. Mind you, Geordi seems a bit mental too. “WOO-WEE!”

Sexy Trek: Ferengi don’t allow their females to wear clothes, because it tempts males to unclothe them - deeply perverted, in Ferengi eyes.

Funny Bits/Space Bilge: Data gets stuck in a Chinese finger trap. This joke is then stretched out for the remaining half of the episode. Why they have a boxful of finger traps on the Enterprise is never explained.

Verdict: Pretty poor, all things considered. It’s a Riker episode, but he does very little, just throws a few Oriental proverbs at Portal which somehow convinces him to spare the ships. The Ferengi make an impression, but not the right kind. The script is dreadful, and the cast seem to be doing their best to lower their standards of acting to match.



1.5) Where No One Has Gone Before

or

‘2364: A Wesley Odyssey’

The Mission:
Test out Kosinski’s revolutionary new warp drive modifications - try not to end up at the edge of the Universe…

Planets visited: None, although Tasha does get a flashback to life on the rapist planet she grew up on.

Galaxies visited:
The first warp experiment sends the Enterprise to M33, aka the Triangulum Galaxy, 2.7 million light years from home. It’s seems to be a primordial place, full of gigantic stars and planets. The next attempt blasts them a billion light years in the other direction, into a bizarre realm full of clouds of unknown matter and sparkling bolts of energy. In this region of the Universe, space, time and thought are intertwined, and the crew’s imaginings and memories come into real existence.

Alien life forms: The Traveller: a native of the planet Tau Alpha C (presumably his people have another name for it), described by Riker as “very distant.” He’s humanoid, with a bulbous forehead and big, three-fingered hands, but his internal physiology is completely different. The Traveller is acting as warp-theorist Kosinski’s assistant, but is actually responsible for the super-fast warp jumps. His people are far in advance of humanity, and have come to understand that there is no boundary between thought and reality. He is possibly from another time, although he speaks as though this concept has little meaning where he is concerned.

Targs: a Klingon animal. Worf conjures up his old pet targ on the bridge. It looks like a warthog with spikes down its back.

Personnel roster: Kosinski is brilliant: completely arrogant and certain of his incomparable genius, convinced that it is his own gibberish theories that are powering the warp jumps. He’s hilarious as he goes around belittling the crew. He really gets Riker’s back up.

Argyle is the Chief Engineer on the Enterprise at the moment. MacDougal has vanished. Argyle is a northern bloke who seems to be TNG’s attempt at their own Scotty.

Boy genius:
Wesley Crusher finally gets some good material. In this episode, he manages to be clever and enthusiastic without being cringe-inducingly irritating. He’s actually really likeable. He gets shot down by both Picard and Riker when he tries to help, but the Traveller sees something special in him (and not just his taste in jumpers). He reckons he is a genius when it comes to the concepts of space, time and propulsion, and instructs Picard to encourage him. The captain makes him acting ensign on this advice.

The Picard Manoeuvre: Picard has a vision of his old mum. She actually sounds French, and not like she’s from Yorkshire, unlike her son.

Sexy Trek: Is the Traveller only interested in Wesley for his great mind? He does have that look in his eye (urgh, you just now there’s some Wes/Traveller slash fiction out there somewhere.)

Verdict: The first genuinely good episode of The Next Generation, this is a perfect example of outlandish space exploration, with some impressive visual effects - the warp jumps, with their swirls of colours and galaxies flying past, are reminiscent of the Star Corridor sequence from 2001. The visions/alternate realities are nicely surreal once they get going (Yar’s is genuinely disquieting). Kosinksi and the Traveller are both memorable guest characters, and Wesley finally feels like he belongs in the show. Great stuff.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Sci-fives all round!

On the first Sunday of every month, the Caroline of Brunswick in Brighton is host to The Geekest Link, the South's foremost science fiction and cult quiz night. I used to go along to this almost every month, but lapsed after a while. I've wanted to go back though, and April's instalment was a must: a Star Trek special.

Quizmasters Ed and Steve, the former celebrating his birthday that very night, and the latter in a snazzy Science Division blue uniform top, came up with a fantastic array of questions. The format of the Geekest is a proven classic; four specialist rounds, one being a picture round, followed by a particularly fiendish final round of General Nerdage. This time round, the rounds were Klingons, Jean-Luc Picard, the movie trilogy and a starships picture round, followed by a Trek-only GN to finish. The stirring music of the 2009 movie and the emotive lyrics of 'Faith of the Heart,' got everyone in the Trekkie mood. It was a great atmosphere; the barmaid was even putting little Starfleet symbols into the head on the Guinness.

I was confident that my team - my sister Becca, my good friends Helen and Louise, and new recruits Mimi and Joseph - would do well, but the array of competition was daunting. Fifteen teams, some of which came in costume. Fancy dress earns extra points at the Geekest (indeed, my team has previously won due to the extra points earned for our impressive Doctor Who costumes), so such a turn-out menat some serious competition. One team boasted a security officer, a gent in Starfleet desert fatigues, a Talosian and an elaborate Borg drone. I quite fancied the Talosian, which is something I never thought I'd say; but I think she was there with the Borg.

Also of the utmost importance at the Geekest is the choice of team name. No extra points for that, but the promise of true admiration. We've had some belters before, often Trek related - 'Dude, Where's My Khan?' and 'Harold and Kumar Escape from Rura Penthe' being two of my favourites - and this time Joseph came up with 'Praxis Makes Perfect,' which is a real corker.

We won. Not only did we win, we got full marks. A flawless quiz. No team has ever achieved that before. Mimi came in with some vital Voyager and recent movie knowledge, Joseph was a fount of all things Trek, and I secured the victory with a vital point for some animated series trivia. Yes, we won by a single point. It must be pointed out thought, that the runner-up was a team of one. I feel the true victory must surely be his.

Nonetheless, this great, triumphant return to the Geekest will live in history. Qapla'!