December 3, 2018

Talking Movies on The Tomorrow Society Podcast

Tomorrowland remains an underrated gem and deserves more attention.

This site has been quiet lately, with the exception of my detour into Stargate Origins earlier this year. That doesn’t mean I’m not still involved with talking about movies, however. My focus these days is The Tomorrow Society, a blog and podcast focused on the world of theme parks. It’s a different sphere yet still veers into the world of movies periodically.

On The Tomorrow Society Podcast, I speak with authors, filmmakers, and experts that work behind the scenes on theme parks. Two of my recent episodes might interest you because the guests work in the film world. They’re still connected to Disney, but the conversations dive into the process of making movies. Here i a quick summary of each episode; John Walker and Mark Mancina had a lot to say about their careers in movies.

Episode 60: John Walker, Producer of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2, and Tomorrowland

My latest podcast was just released today and focuses on the box-office disappointment Tomorrowland from 2015. I talked with Producer John Walker about making that movie and why it wasn’t a bit hit. I’m a big fan of Tomorrowland and believe it deserves more attention. We also cover John’s work with Brad Bird on The Iron Giant and the two Incredibles films.

The music of Moana from Mark Mancina holds up really well to repeat viewings.

Episode 55: Mark Mancina, Composer for Moana, The Lion King, Tarzan, Training Day, and Speed

Back in October, I was thrilled to speak with composer Mark Mancina about his diverse career. The talented musician has brought his interest in progressive rock to scores on popular films like Speed and Training Day. He’s also worked regularly on Disney films, most recently Moana. We talk about Mark’s background plus the music for The Lion King, Tarzan, and a variety of projects.

If you’d like to learn more about everything that I’m doing at The Tomorrow Society, you can go to tomorrowsociety.com or follow me on Twitter or Facebook. You can also subscribe to The Tomorrow Society Podcast on Apple Podcasts.

March 12, 2018

Stargate Origins: Episodes 8-10 and #StargateRising

Ra makes an appearance in the final episode of Stargate Origins.

We’ve reached the end of Stargate Origins, but it’s hardly a dour time for Stargate fans. There’s a sense of excitement in the fanbase that I haven’t seen in a long time. The TV landscape has changed dramatically since the final days of SGU in 2011; there are a lot more distribution options. Before I get too distracted, let’s dive back into Origins’ last three episodes.

I like the fact that MGM split up the 10 episodes into four weeks instead of dumping them all at once. That choice extended the interest from viewers across a full month, even if they disliked it. On the other hand, Origins probably works better as a feature than in 10-minute episodes. I’ll be curious to see if the events flow more seamlessly as a single narrative. If nothing else, it would remove the silly effect of spinning the camera at the end of each part. Let’s take a look at the last three episodes and how they finished the story.

Aset dons a new look to appear at the Abydonian outpost on Stargate Origins.


Episode 8: Testing Her Allies

The Abydonian outpost is the site for a family reunion of sorts, though Dr. Langford and Catherine don’t speak directly. She hides in the tent nearby with Beal while Aset tests her followers. Once again, a large group of characters stand in strangely close quarters while the camera zooms in with too many close-ups. We need to feel the scale of this place! I recognize the budget limitations, but it shouldn’t be so obvious. What should be a tense moment loses steam because it’s such a compact sequence.

On the positive side, I have to take a moment to rave about the costumes for Aset (especially) and Serqet. I think they spent half the show’s budget on these few outfits! They look amazing and over the top, which helps to make the Goa’uld look even more godlike to the tribe. The scenes involving Aset are frequently the best in the show because the stakes seem real. She also makes Origins feel like more than a low-rent adventure serial.

Less inspiring is the disintegration of Brücke, who saves his fellow Nazi Stefan and then shoots him. His descent into madness connects to humans from SG-1 that couldn’t handle a taste of Goa’uld power. Everything just seems too obvious, however. When Eva tells him that “you have no good side”, the point lands with a thud because it’s so on the nose. Connor Trinneer still brings emotion and grace to Dr. Langford, but it’s like he’s acting in a difference series.

Catherine Langford explores the desert with Kasuf in Stargate Origins.

Episode 9: Fresh Air

I can’t overstate the importance of stepping outside into the desert in this episode. Too many scenes happen in the same few rooms. It’s a relief when Catherine and her pals venture out and prepare to rescue her father. I also enjoyed the callback to the original Stargate film with the symbols inside the tunnel. There’s even an explanation for why Daniel Jackson couldn’t find the point of origin in that movie. It’s one of the cooler touches in this prequel series.

Another interesting moment has Aset questioning whether to kill Catherine or send her to the mines. Dr. Langford doesn’t translate that part of her statement to Brücke, which reminds us of the limitations of the Nazi’s influence. The final moment with Dr. Langford confronting Brücke feels well-earned mostly because Trinneer makes us care for the guy. We don’t want to see him meekly serve Aset and Brücke without taking a shot at freedom.

This episode also includes Origins’ best scene when Catherine tells Kasuf about the Goa’uld’s true nature. Her efforts don’t convince him, and Ellie Gall’s face makes the scene resonate. There’s real emotion in this scene, and it nearly makes up for her awkward communications with Kasuf at the start. This show needs greater stakes, and moments like this one sell the idea that we’re watching more than just a low-budget adventure story.

Aset prepares to act in the finale of Stargate Origins.

Episode 10: Tying Up the Loose Ends

The challenges of Origins’ short running time stand out during the final episode. Ra appears as the great continuity fixer to set the stage for the events in Stargate. Amnesia is the laziest way to fix inconsistencies, but that’s the road we take here. Making Catherine and Dr. Langford forget everything solves the issues but also feels like a cheat. The resolutions for Beal, Wasif, and Motawk arrive so quickly that it’s hard to even comprehend everything.

I did enjoy the idea that Aset planted the seed that led to Ra’s destruction in the future. It took many decades for it to happen, but Catherine eventually contacted Daniel to find Abydos once again. Turning Kasuf into a leader also feels random, but it helped to connect his character with Erick Avari’s older version from the movie and series. Ra moves the gate and kills nearly everyone without a second thought, but his doom will come down the road.

Beal was a frustrating character throughout much of this show; his complaining was set up for laughs yet never really hit home. He was just starting to get interesting in the past few episodes, which makes his death feel tragic. It’s quite a downer of a finale across the board; even the Harsesis child possibly died. We don’t see Aset or the baby perish, so it’s possible they survived for another season. That is also true for Beal, though his death seems more likely.

Another interesting part is Wasif finding love with Motawk, which had received hints in past episodes. I’m sure that some Stargate fans won’t love this story arc given their reactions to SGU. Even so, I appreciate any efforts to show a wider range of relationships on television. Seeing Wasif and Motawk conscripted by Ra as guards is a gut punch, though. They could return in a future season, but it’s hard to watch such a bleak resolution.

The Mission File on Stargate Command also includes a reference to Captain Mitchell, which connects this story to the events of Stargate: Continuum. I like the way that it bridges the two stories, but I would have enjoyed a slightly clearer reference on the show. There’s a risk in veering too far into fan service, but you don’t want to make Easter eggs so hard to find.

The Langfords stand in front of the Stargate at the end of Stargate Origins.

Origins: Some Final Words

It’s no coincidence that Joseph Mallozzi chose to begin the push for more Stargate right after Origins premiered. The fans are already engaged in the new show and have greater interest to push for a full series. The huge contrast in budget and scope between Origins and past Stargate series also reminds us of how great they were. If nothing else, this smaller show has brought fans back into the fold and convinced us that we want something better.

I don’t mean to keep criticizing Origins; making a prequel is not easy. When you also consider the miniscule budget, its chances of success were smaller. What bothers me is the time spent on worn-out tropes like Nazis, amnesia, and obvious colonialist topics. Why not cover similar territory but with interesting villains and a more nuanced resolution? Connor Trinneer did great work as Dr. Langford, and his steady presence stood out against the hammy Nazis.

You don’t need a giant budget to make an interesting Stargate series. Two of my favorite episodes from SG-1 are “Abyss” and “Threads”, and both mine great drama from long conversations. Origins can be fun yet still grab us without resorting to obvious story beats.

There’s so much potential in a show set in the ‘30s involving the Stargate. Parts of Origins nearly hit the mark but then got too safe. Did we really need the Nazis at all? Removing them would give Aset and Serqet more time to grow as characters and set up a more exciting main conflict. This is one example of many thoughts that I had as I watched Origins.

The city rises in the premiere of Stargate Atlantis.

The Success of #StargateRising

On Friday and Saturday, Stargate fans and a lot of familiar faces made their presence felt during a tweetstorm that spanned the globe. I participated on Friday and likely earned a few mutes on Twitter with many posts and retweets for #StargateRising. Some of our favorite actors like Amanda Tapping, Jewel Staite, David Hewlett, Brian J. Smith, Michael Shanks, and so many others joined the fun. It was heart-warming to have so many people that love the franchise coming together to push for more.

Beyond the energy of seeing the unified front, I’m hopeful that we have a chance for a real show. I love the idea of pushing for Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright to return and continue the story. There’s endless potential even if some actors can’t appear due to other commitments. I have a feeling that we’re in store for a lot more great things from Stargate in the next few years. Is it possible that our journey is just beginning?

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March 5, 2018

Stargate Origins: Episodes 6 & 7 and the Stargate Tweetstorm

Aset reveals her powers to the Nazis in Stargate Origins.

We’re an hour into Stargate Origins, and it feels both too short and strangely long. We don’t have enough time to really dive into the story, but scenes tend to extend beyond what’s needed. This is especially true when the Nazis appear; it’s hard to invest too much into their story. Other moments inch towards becoming interesting and have potential if they offered a bit more depth. That isn’t true with Brücke and his band of goofy villains.

The biggest hurdle for Director Mercedes Bryce Morgan and the writers is the small budget. It’s easy to criticize the limited sets and less effective CGI in Origins. I don’t mind an indie version of Stargate, but it’s harder to overlook the basic shots. In particular, the room with Dr. Langford and the imprisoned Nazis is quite dull. The camera sits back and gives us a medium shot that only exacerbates the limited sets. There are ways to reveal the horror of what Aset could accomplish with Hitler’s army. Instead, we remain at a distance from the events on screen.

It feels like we’re just playing out the string with Origins, but there’s still great excitement for the franchise. Building on the #StargateNow movement that I discussed last week, Joseph Mallozzi is rounding up the troops for an event to prove there’s still life in the fan base. Before I dive into that exciting day, let’s take a closer look at last week’s two Origins episodes.

The Nazi Brucke makes his move on Stargate Origins.

Episode 6: Showing Their Hand

Beginning with a close-up of a film camera, Episode 6 contains a lot of exposition. Aset needs allies (or slaves), and Brücke is willing to provide them. While Dr. Langford stews, the Nazis give Aset the perfect opportunity to gain power on Earth. Like I mentioned above, the shots are so flat here. It’s claustrophobic but not in a way that induces fear of a dangerous villain. The scene just sits there, and not even a clever jump cut between Dr. Langford and Catherine both wiping their brow can save it.

There’s more energy to Catherine’s scenes with the Abydonians, but it’s lessened with bickering. It’s hard to care much for Beal, who keeps disregarding Catherine’s justifiable concerns for her dad. The show also makes Kasuf appear dumb, which adds to the standard colonialist narrative. It’s designed for laughs, but it’s mostly just cringe-inducing. When the Seal of Ra switches to a Nazi symbol, it’s also less effective because of the earlier jump cut of wiping the brow.

I don’t mean to be too harsh about Origins. There are interesting conflicts lurking beneath the surface, and the idea of a Goa’uld working with Hitler has a lot of potential. I also loved the close-up of Aset holding the machine gun in front of the screen. It’s the best shot of the series thus far and sells her as a cool enemy. More of this in the future, please.

The Nazis and Dr. Langford wait for Aset's prize.

Episode 7: The Power of Naquadah

I’m intrigued by this episode’s opening scene where Aset displays the power of even the small rock that she presents to Brücke. Naquadah is no joke and powers all of the Goa’uld’s key weapons. Despite the over-the-top acting from Aylam Orian as Brücke, this scene feels like it belongs in a Stargate show. There’s a power-hungry Goa’uld enticing a less sophisticated human with the chance to dominate his world. It’s a cool opening but only lasts for a short time.

Back at the outpost, we’ve reached the next stage of the typical colonialist story. Seeing the necklace with Ra’s symbols, the natives assume that Catherine and her companions are important emissaries of the powerful being. We also have the weird native food and a drug that the humans fail to understand. This drug brings Catherine and Beal closer together despite her awful behavior. Their kiss at the end feels unfortunate because he’s just not a nice person at all.

The most interesting part of this episode appears in the Mission File on the Stargate Command website. That article clarifies that Aset is actually a clone of Isis, which solves one of the continuity issues spotted by fans. The problem is that we don’t learn this information in the actual episode. The theater show gives hints at the Ra/Aset relationship, but it’s a simpler picture than the reality. I hope we learn more in future episodes on Aset’s back story, but time is growing short.

Aset is a formidable Goa'uld in Stargate Origins.

March 9, 2018: Stargate Will Rise Again!

Let’s get to the real fun this week. If you want to see another Stargate TV series with a real budget and full episodes, set your calendars for March 9 at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. International fans should mark down March 10 at 7 p.m. GMT. Both slots will involve a one-hour tweetstorm that will help to reveal our Stargate dedication to MGM. Mallozzi explains the event in his February 26 blog post.

If you haven’t done so already, you should follow @Stargatenow on Twitter so you’re ready for the big event. They’ll reveal the hashtag 15 minutes before the tweetstorm; we should only use this one hastag to maximize trending for the topic. I know it seems a little silly to expect much from this event, but we’ve seen other examples of fan causes succeeding. Mallozzi believes that MGM wants to restart the franchise, so anything we can do to encourage them is essential. Let’s take this project to the next level!

Kasuf has some fun on Stargate Origins on Abydos.

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