Showing posts with label PopMatters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PopMatters. Show all posts

April 16, 2013

The Wonders of Farscape

Last night, SyFy premiered their ambitious new series Defiance, which was developed by Rockne O'Bannon. Way back in 1999, he created the wildly imaginative show Farscape for this same network. Four seasons and a mini-series later, it remains one of the most innovative genre series ever produced. A few years ago, I watched the entire series over a short period of time and recounted my experiences in an epic review for PopMatters. In honor of O'Bannon's new show, I've decided this is the perfect time to present this grand piece here on this blog. If you still haven't caught up with this remarkable show, now is the perfect time to give it a shot. My review didn't cover the mini-series, but I've revisited it recently and added an extra section near the end. Here's my original review!

Farscape – Created by Rockne O'Bannon; Starring Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, Lani John Tupu, Jonathan Hardy, Gigi Edgley, Wayne Pygram, Virginia Hey, Paul Goddard, Raelee Hill, and Tammy Macintosh

Our current TV landscape offers a wealth of ambitious sci-fi series to suit all types of viewers. Popular hits (Lost, Battlestar Galactica) mix well with cult favorites (Dollhouse, Sanctuary) on broadcast and cable to provide a wide array of options. But that wasn’t always the case. In the late ‘90s, the sci-fi genre mostly lived in syndication or pay channels like Showtime. There were some impressive shows, but they mostly stuck to the "Star Trek model" that personified the decade. Even the Sci-Fi Channel was small potatoes and aired mostly old material to minimal audiences. In search of an original series to expand their presence, the network found a partner in Brian Henson of the Jim Henson Company, who aimed to enter the television market to showcase their Creature Shop. Along with Rockne O’Bannon (SeaQuest DSV, Alien Nation), they talked to Fox about a project, but the two sides never reached the same page to move forward.

Produced in Australia for the Nine Network and airing on Sci-Fi in the U.S., Farscape premiered in March 1999 and showcased remarkable make-up, prosthetics, and puppetry. Creator O’Bannon had earned acclaim for his past works, but those projects didn’t match this series’ gargantuan scope. Airing for four seasons and concluding with a mini-series, it remains one of the most unique shows to ever hit the airwaves. The story begins on Earth with astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) conducting a test in space that inadvertently sends him through a wormhole across the universe. He boards the giant living ship Moya and joins its crew of diverse aliens for adventures while he tries to get home.

This group includes the hulking Luxan warrior D’Argo (Anthony Simcoe), the blue-skinned priestess Zhaan (Virginia Hey) and the small Hynerian Dominar Rygel XVI (voice by Jonathan Hardy), who once ruled over billions of subjects. Each member of this trio was a prisoner of the ruling authority known as the Peacekeepers, a military-based company with strict guidelines. Crichton arrives on Moya at the same time as the striking Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), a Peacekeeper who becomes an outcast and joins their team. They quickly develop a romantic connection that becomes pivotal in the entire series.

The Jim Henson Company’s achievements in puppetry on Farscape are astounding, and its smooth immersion with CGI and live actors is an even greater feat. The Rygel character is a nuanced, intelligent figure, equally believable as humanoid aliens like Zhaan and D’Argo. As the series progresses, the “fake” aspects of Rygel become even less noticeable because we’ve grown emotionally attached to him. The massive Pilot (voiced by Lani Tupu) puppet is possibly even more impressive and outshines most modern CGI creations. Both Rygel and Pilot also succeed due to excellent voice work from Hardy and Tupu, who craft unique personalities that connect with viewers. Each episode provides new characters that stretch the boundaries of the medium. Combined with creative set design and make-up, these advances help to build an in-depth, believable faraway galaxy.

This was my first experience with Farscape beyond catching a few early episodes. During the past two months, I’ve screened the entire series and grown attached to the enjoyable group of characters. The opening episodes introduce the cast within a fairly episodic structure, shifting to a more serial approach as we go along. The story builds wonderfully towards the third season, which pays off many ongoing plot lines and delivers cathartic emotional scenes. Without giving away major spoilers, here are more details about each season and the many unique individuals that grace the screen.

Season 1: What is wrong with you people?
The opening season places audiences in Crichton’s shoes as he accidentally falls into a crazy alien world. His bewildered reactions to everything match our confusion and introduce the Moya crew. Ben Browder plays the perfect everyman who blunders his way into plenty of early scrapes. Whenever Crichton says he has a plan, it’s time to get nervous. “Premiere” brings him onto Moya and introduces the season’s primary nemesis, the fanatical Peacekeeper Crais (Lani Tupu). His brother was accidentally killed by Crichton on his arrival, which leads Crais to relentlessly pursue them for much of the year.

The early episodes are up-and-down but set the foundation for the entire series. All types of strange new alien races appear, with a select few recurring over the years. We’ve gone well beyond rubber masks and goofy make-up with these creations. A standout is “Back and Back and Back to the Future”, which jumps Crichton ahead and back through time to foresee possible disasters on the ship. The kinetic, out-of-control shooting style with these leaps overcomes the time-travel formula and reveals a Farscape trademark. The writers take the expected sci-fi frameworks and blow them to pieces. The outcome doesn’t always transcend the genre, but it’s rarely a boring ride. A less successful result is “Thank God It’s Friday, Again”, which can’t overcome a dull, over-the-top villain.

A driving force behind the entire story is the romance between Crichton and Aeryn, which takes many twists and turns. An early indicator is “PK Tech Girl”, where he catches the eye of an attractive Peacekeeper technician, leading to jealous tension. Browder and Black have such great chemistry that we want them to get together, but having their relationship grow slowly is the right artistic choice. Even weaker episodes like “The Flax”, which offers an unconvincing A plot, contain precious moments for the couple. Their interactions are believable and remain true to their characters throughout the series.

A stunning mid-season entry is “A Human Reaction”, which sends Crichton and the gang to Earth, but all is not as it seems. The story appears to set up manipulation from nefarious aliens, but the outcome is complicated and surprisingly emotional. The concluding events of this episode have ramifications throughout the series and raise the stakes far beyond Crichton finding home. The two-part combo of “Nerve” and “The Hidden Memory” brings that moment’s ramifications to the forefront. It also introduces the chilling villain Scorpius (Wayne Pygram) — my favorite Farscape character. Clad in a black leather protective suit and a mix of two alien races, he becomes a brilliant opponent for Crichton. Unlike Crais’ single-minded quest for revenge, Scorpius displays complex views and an uncanny ability to survive. The theatrically trained Pygram dominates scenes with a clever mix of wit and menace while hidden under extensive facial makeup. His showdown with Browder while torturing Crichton is the season’s best sequence and drives the action towards the finale.

While this season might appear to follow a simple “fish out of water” premise, it’s impossible to summarize all the key moments in a few paragraphs. I haven’t even mentioned that Moya becomes pregnant and has a baby near the year’s end. This child, named Talyn, is actually a powerful warship capable of serious havoc. The idea of a spaceship having a baby sounds ridiculous, but it actually is a believable storyline. I should also mention Chiana (Gigi Edgley), who joins the cast in “Durka Returns”, the 15th episode. Her introduction is a bit shaky, but Edgley’s energetic presence becomes welcome in a short time. This pattern will recur multiple times with other cast additions in the future. The grey-skinned Chiana brings sex to almost everything and never makes it a cliché; it’s just part of her identity as a rebellious member of the Nebari race. These are just two of many enjoyable parts of the first season, which introduces the world and sets up the crew’s future adventures.

Season 2: How Batman Was That?
Following the striking conflicts with Scorpius and its major set pieces, the creators seemed unsure of where to go next. The original pilot “Reunion” was scrapped, eventually finding its way into “Dream a Little Dream” in the eighth slot. The actual premiere “Mind the Baby” resolves the cliffhanger quicker and works solidly but still falls a bit short. The writers don’t have a clear vision of the season’s prevailing arc during the beginning episodes. We also see Farscape’s definitive worst episode, “Taking the Stone”. Designed as a showcase for Chiana, it instead becomes a painful look at crazy kids hopped up on drugs. Edgley gives her best shot but can’t overcome clunky plotting and unimaginative set design.

Thankfully, there are still effective episodes within the mix, particularly “The Way We Weren’t”. This emotional story reveals surprising details from Aeryn and Pilot’s pasts that they prefer to forget. Even though one of them is a puppet, their interactions are believable and heart-wrenching. The mid-season sees modest success from two genre staples —mind-swapping (“Out of Their Minds”) and duplicate characters (“My Three Crichtons”). The former gives the actors a chance to showcase their imitation skills when everyone’s brains switch. For example, Crichton ends up in Aeryn, and Aeryn is in Rygel, with ridiculous results. The latter shows both caveman and futuristic variations of Crichton that wreak havoc across Moya. Although these are standard ideas, the writers find ways to keep the material fresh. They also introduce crazy moments that make me question if mind-altering substances weren’t involved. This zany creativity keeps even the missteps from going off the rails.

Some of the show’s top episodes come in two- or three-part blocs, and the three segments of "Look at the Princess" raise the stakes immensely. Trapped between a variety of dangerous forces, Crichton must decide if marrying a princess is the best solution. Of course, there are some serious strings, one which involves him becoming a statue. This story maintains the fun while actually building on the ongoing storyline. It also marks the first appearance of the Scarrans, a ruthless alien rival for the Peacekeepers. This brilliant race will play a key role in nearly all major events of upcoming years. The pace barely lags during the three parts, which is also a trademark of the extended stories.

The second season might be the weakest, but it still provides a thrilling final four episodes. The three-part “Liars, Guns and Money” plays out like a classic heist film as the crew attempts a daring robbery to save D’Argo’s son. Predictably, the plan fails miserably and forces the gang to keep adjusting to stay alive and avoid Scorpius. Watching them make desperate moves never gets old and subverts the sci-fi model. It’s high entertainment and even brings back colorful aliens from past encounters to join the action. The finale “Die Me Dichotomy” involves Crichton’s attempts to save his brain. Scorpius implanted a chip into Crichton’s mind during their first meeting in hopes of grabbing his wormhole knowledge. This leads to some creepy, wonderful sequences that have our hero questioning his reality and losing control. It also gives Pygram a chance to spend more time on screen, which is always a positive. The cliffhanger is a shocker and leads well into the remarkable upcoming year.

Season 3: Season of Death
At the halfway point of viewing Farscape, I was enjoying the ride, particularly the ambitious multi-part episodes. However, the grand scope of the third season still surprised me. Major changes occur, including the departure of a series regular during the “Self-Inflicted Wounds” two-parter. The exit is handled well and involves multiple sacrifices to save Moya and the crew. We also see the arrival of the fiery Jool (Tammy MacIntosh), who overcomes a rough start and eventually becomes a likable team member. Another new regular is Stark (Paul Goddard), who’s filled with so much emotion that he sometimes caves into a ranting mess. Originally appearing in “Nerve”, he officially joined the crew late in the second season and plays a major part in this year’s events.

Executive Producer David Kemper and the writers take several major chances this season, and the risks pay off wonderfully. The first is introducing an exact double for Crichton due to a madman’s experiments in “Eat Me”. This is hardly novel in sci-fi, but there are several differences here. The other Crichton survives for a long time, and it’s not even clear which guy is the original. We never learn the truth, and it doesn’t matter because both are likable. The other creative leap was breaking the crew apart on Moya and Talyn. The episodes then alternate stories between the two groups for a surprisingly long time.  With one Crichton on each ship, their personas start to vary based on differing experiences. The Talyn Crichton becomes closer to Aeryn and battles the Scarrans, while the Moya Crichton falls into odd comic situations. When the inevitable happens and one of them falls, the other faces the unenviable task of being considered the lesser Crichton by his close friends.

The season’s main arc is wormhole travel, which could become a powerful weapon in the wrong hands. Scorpius is trying to gain an edge in a possible war against the Scarrans, who vastly outnumber the Peacekeepers. The destructive power of wormholes is revealed in the two-part “Infinite Possibilities”. The Talyn crew — Crichton, Aeryn, Crais (now an ally), Rygel and Stark — strive desperately to keep the wormhole tech from the Scarrans before it’s too late. This action-packed epic sets up the massive climactic encounters with Scorpius at season’s end. Before this battle, this group was hunted by Aeryn’s mother, a brutal Peacekeeper tracker. This nasty conflict in “Relativity” is emotionally charged while revealing details about Aeryn’s past. There are still a few missteps, namely the Looney Tunes-inspired “Revenging Angel”. The animated fantasies in the Moya Crichton’s brain are creative, but it’s not enough to carry a full episode. Another middling entry is “Meltdown”, which brings the Talyn crew into contact with strange beings while nearing a blazing sun. There are still some good moments, particularly from the crazed Stark as Talyn’s temporary pilot in a dire situation. Even this season’s weakest episodes have memorable portions.

After the entire group reunites, they plot a daring plan to thwart Scorpius’ wormhole program. It begins with the unpredictable “I-Yensch, You-Yensch”, which brings the heroes and villains together at a remote alien diner. It’s like the classic DeNiro/Pacino meeting in Heat, if it involved random hostage-taking by redneck aliens. The action intensifies in the two-part “Into the Lions Den” on a huge Peacekeeper carrier. Success seems nearly impossible, but a noble sacrifice from a former enemy might save the day. The maneuvering between Crichton and Scorpius has never had larger stakes, with the fate of the entire universe in the balance. These episodes seemed impossible to top, but the low-key “Dog with Two Bones” finale nearly does it. The entire John/Aeryn relationship of the first three years comes to a head, and the result is definitely unpredictable.

Season 4: Unfinished Business
Following the epic conclusion of the third season, it was hard to imagine the follow-up to come even close. The beginning is a bit shaky, but the momentum really builds to deliver an enjoyable finish. Sadly, the Sci-Fi Network’s surprise cancellation ruins the chance for a proper end during the original run. The finale “Bad Timing” is a wonderful episode, though the brutal cliffhanger is not intended to end the show. The Peacekeeper Wars mini-series does resolve this problem, but it’s not included in the series set for contractual reasons.

In typical Farscape fashion, this season introduces two more regulars who become important crew members. The striking Kalish alien Sikozu (Raehill Hill) arrives in the premiere “Crichton Kicks” and makes no secret of her disdain for almost everyone. But she plays a valuable role, even while building an alliance with Scorpius. The other newcomer is the older woman Noranti (Melissa Jaffer), whose herbal concoctions can help and wreak havoc. She creates a potion for Crichton that’s designed to ease his emotional pain, but it becomes a dangerous addiction. Moya’s crew must face off with both the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans and face dire situations. In the two-part “What Was Lost”, they’re captured by the Peacekeeper Commandant Grayza (Rebecca Riggs), who now leads their forces. The aftermath brings Scorpius onto Moya as a possible ally in “Promises”. This is a brilliant move by the writers because it forces Crichton to trust his enemy. It benefits Scorpius to keep Crichton alive, but anything he does causes everyone to question his intentions.

The highlight of the mid-season is the three-part return to Earth. After discussing wormholes with strange alien in the intriguing “Unrealized Reality”, Crichton finds his way home, but in the wrong time period. “Kansas” brings the Moya crew to 1985, where they interact with a young Crichton and his family. In Back to the Future fashion, they could mess with the time line and harm the future. After this slip-up, they finally return to present-day Earth in “Terra Firma”, but the results aren’t so happy. These episodes wonderfully pay off long-term stories and deliver ridiculous moments, particularly from Rygel. His love for our food, particularly candy, is especially silly. Farscape concludes with a group of stories that rank among the series’ best. They involve both the Scarrans and Peacekeepers and multiple daring heists from the Moya crew. “Prayer” gives a harrowing look at Aeryn’s captivity while Scorpius and Crichton try desperately to find her. This leads into the awesome trilogy “We’re So Screwed” that matches the power of the third season’s end. This title would seem out of place on other self-important series, but it fits really well in this universe. The stakes remain high while retaining the sense of fun that makes Farscape such a unique show.

The Mini-Series: The Peacekeeper Wars
It's hard to imagine what it would be like if this mini-series didn't exist. They do a lot more than resolve the cliffhanger and bring the show's major villains together for an all-out war. All the main characters return for a battle for the universe with Crichton right in the middle between the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans. It's an action-packed, three-hour conclusion that doesn't feel rushed. It gives everyone a chance to shine and reunites us with the characters that we loved. The story feels like the glorious multi-part arcs of past seasons, particularly "Into the Lion's Den". It moves quickly yet still gives time for character beats; the writers know that's a main part of the draw. The stakes are even higher than usual; Aeryn is pregnant but her baby is growing inside Rygel. The main couple is trying to get married, but the impending war keeps getting in the way. No matter how much they want to step aside and just enjoy life, they're tied to the fate of the universe.

There are grand scenes, tragic deaths, and impressive space battles, but what sticks with me are the small moments. When Critchton and Aeryn are regenerated, they immediately draw their guns and go on alert without missing a beat. The Scarran leader may think he's all-powerful, but his visit with Crichton inside the wormhole shows his limitations. There's a constant question of the responsibilities of avoiding war, while a pragmatist like Scorpius realizes that it's inevitable. Pygram remains in top form as the clever villain, and we even get several appearances from his doppelganger inside Crichton's head. Everyone gets their chance to shine, including the mentally erratic Stark and the extremely agile Sikozu. It's a love letter to the fans while continuing the series story in epic fashion. I can't think of a better way to end this wonderful show.

My name is John Crichton. An astronaut…
Farscape is a show for true geeks, not the casual nerds who enjoy conventional soap operas like Heroes and Revolution. I use the term “geeks” in a lovable way to mean dedicated viewers who adore unpredictable, imaginative shows. It’s funny, irreverent and ridiculous without ever becoming a self-parody. Each episode provides serious emotions and never sacrifices the fun. Even if facing certain death, Crichton will throw out pop-culture references and maintain his wits. When a rock-paper-scissors game plays a key role and doesn’t seem absurd, you know we’ve got something special.

August 16, 2012

Down by Law (1986)

Tom Waits and John Lurie in Down by Law

NoteThis review was written for the excellent site PopMatters, which covers movies, music, and other aspects of pop culture. You can check out the original post at this link

Jim Jarmusch exudes a certain level of cool that differs from the standard definition of the term. It’s an ethereal look at the world that brings an original perspective to each of his films. During his early days, his allies were artists like Tom Waits and John Lurie who brought a different sensibility than your standard dramatic actors. These guys can play interesting characters that seem realistic because they aren’t that far removed from their real personas. Both appeared in 1986’s Down by Law, a story of three men who find themselves in a Louisiana prison. None are serious criminals, but they all have bad luck and don’t choose their friends wisely. They have very different personalities but bond over a similar disillusionment with society.

Waits plays Zack, a former DJ who’s just been dumped by his girlfriend (Ellen Barkin). He takes a job to drive a car for a friend but doesn’t know of his incriminating cargo. Lurie’s Jack is a pimp who isn’t necessarily a good guy, but he doesn’t deserve the rap as a child-sex operator. The third cellmate is the eccentric Italian tourist Bob (Roberto Benigni), who knows little English. These guys have hit the bottom rung of life but find a way to bond within the cramped cell. This isn’t your typical prison movie, and Jarmusch is more interested in showing their quirks than delivering serious drama. This brings a light feeling to the movie that differs greatly from the environment. It’s a tricky balance between showing their unfortunate state and presenting characters we’ll enjoy spending time with in that spot.

Jarmusch uses black-and-white cinematography to create a timeless feel that retains a modern tone to this day. The striking beauty of New Orleans opens the story and is shot wonderfully by Robby Müller (Dead Man). Even the spare rooms of the prison look excellent on this Criterion Blu-ray release. For a movie with only about a $1 million budget, it feels bigger than the intimate story that it presents. When the trio escapes from prison, there are no grand chases or clever deceptions to break out. Instead, Jarmusch takes his time as they slowly travel through the muddy wilderness. We know that the law is on their tails, but it never feels like they’re in any true danger. This is just another stage in their ongoing journey to the next destination.

Waits and Lurie do a good job, but they’re outshined by a silly performance from Roberto Benigni. His career peaked with Life is Beautiful, and he’s become sort of a joke since that success. People still remember his exuberant response to winning the Oscar and can’t take him seriously. This is unfortunate because his comic talent can be effective if used correctly. His style is perfect for Jarmusch and contrasts nicely with his laid-back fellow actors. Roberto’s attempts to learn English in Down by Law are charming and work because he’s so innocent. He injects some life into Zack and Jack and keeps them from getting too dour. His ultimate destination seems fitting for this the well-meaning guy.

This Criterion Blu-ray includes plenty of background information about this film from Jarmusch and other sources. There’s no commentary, but the 73-minute audio interview with the director plays a similar role. Since it isn’t tied to specific scenes, Jarmusch doesn’t get drawn into giving plot summary. There’s also a segment where he responds to viewer questions with his typical dry wit. The lack of video might be difficult for some, but it contains good details. One video feature is a 22-minute interview with Müller, who isn’t as engaged as the director but provides a different perspective. Another cool extra is the music video of Tom Waits covering Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right with Me”. Jarmusch provides some comments on making the video, which was for the Red, Hot, & Blue compilation. This impressive release also contains 16 outtakes, a look at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, and production stills.

Jarmusch has always found interesting ways to combine genres without making it seem obvious. Down by Law is only his third feature but already shows his confidence in crafting a unique style. The opening scenes with Waits and Ellen Barkin are straight out of a John Cassavetes film. She screams at him to make something of himself while he shrinks into the corner and drifts away. The story begins as a gritty drama, transitions into a prison movie, and ends up as a road film. Jarmusch injects clever jokes into the generally serious tale. When the three guys arrive at an abandoned shed while fleeing the law, they discover that its furniture looks exactly the same as their jail cell. It’s this kind of understated touch that makes this a lot more than just another quirky indie film.

May 17, 2012

A Lonely Place to Die (2011)

Melissa George in A Lonely Place to Die

What is it about Melissa George that makes her such a popular choice for horror thrillers? She’s attractive, but not in a conventional way and can convey fierce determination with a few looks. However, that doesn’t totally explain why she’s been cast in films like Triangle, Turistas, and 30 Days of Night. Although her filmography is fairly limited, George does bring a respectability to even the sillier premises. She hails from Australia and has a background in both classic dance and professional roller skating, which is an odd combination. This training likely helps with the physicality of these roles, which can be extremely demanding.

In A Lonely Place to Die, George plays an adventure enthusiast who joins some friends in a remote wilderness cabin. It seems like a typical holiday, but that changes dramatically when they discover a young girl trapped in a hole in the ground. This quickly alters their vacation into something else entirely for the five adventurers. This chance discovery reveals a lot more trouble lurking within this brutal outdoor landscape. They’re capable of handling the elements, but the danger is a lot greater, now. An unseen force will do anything to retrieve the girl, which puts all of them in jeopardy.

It isn’t clear for a while what genre we’re living in here. Is it purely a survival test or part of a nastier horror movie? Mysterious figures set the action in motion, but they remain in the shadows behind the scenes. Director Julian Gilbey (Rise of the Footsoldier) enjoys toying with the audience at every turn. When the men behind the curtain do appear, it feels like a letdown, but it isn’t that simple in this surprising movie. Gilbey holds back the true nature of the story for a while, which raises the tension and makes us wonder what’s actually happening in this wilderness. Although he enjoys twisting our expectations, Gilbey undercuts his own motivations with some amateurish plot devices. He overuses slow motion during the big scenes and ramps up the emotion too high at strange instances. There’s plenty of excitement happening, so Gilbey doesn’t need to resort to cheap gimmicks to sell the drama. The style is effective at times, but too many scenes are really overplayed.

What keeps us engaged for a while is the ultimate mystery. Why is this girl so valuable? Who are the shady guys tracking her and causing mayhem for the group? These questions can only carry a story for so long, however. When the action slows, the momentum starts collapsing under the weight of the silly premise. A Lonely Place to Die functions completely as a genre film, but we never connect enough with anyone to completely buy into the story. Even the capable presence of the stoic Eamonn Walker (Kings) can only do so much during the final act. The villains seem far too incompetent to pull off the crime, and it’s hard to care about their ultimate goal. Once we leave the wilderness, it becomes a conventional thriller that loses the momentum of the early success.

April 19, 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

The Mission Impossible franchise is one of those rare series where the style varies dramatically based on the director involved. Each of the four movies is an individual story that barely connects to the previous works. In a sense, it functions more like an episodic TV series than a closely connected adventure. Supporting characters appear in multiple films, but they don’t relate much to the past missions in terms of the plot. The one exception is Tom Cruise, who brings some development to Ethan Hunt with each successive entry. Physically, he’s a super hero who can take a ridiculous amount of punishment, but his emotional ties connect across the series. That said, the latest film jettisons the more intimate feeling of the previous installment and focuses more on over-the-top action.

Ghost Protocol introduces Brad Bird to live-action cinema, and he passes the challenge with flying colors. The biggest plus is the rapid pace, which rarely gives us a chance to breathe. From the high-flying prologue with Agent Hanaway (Josh Hollaway) to the final showdown in Mumbai, the story moves at a breakneck speed. It’s a testament to Bird and the writers’ skills that we’re able to follow the plot without much difficulty. The exposition appears in the midst of the action, and it never feels like the characters are explaining just for our sake. Similar to Brian Depalma’s 1994 first film, Hunt and his team are playing catch up against a foe that’s always one step ahead. With few gadgets and no support, their chances are even slimmer this time to save the world from imminent destruction.

Hunt begins the story in a Moscow prison but is extracted by Agents Carter (Paula Patton) and Dunn (Simon Pegg). This is her first time working with him, but Pegg’s Dunn did appear in the previous movie. Following this escape, they’re off to the Kremlin on a daring mission to infiltrate its archives. Following a surprise disaster, the US President institutes “Ghost Protocol” and disavows the IMF. This is not good. Joined by the mysterious Brandt (Jeremy Renner), they make a last-ditch effort to stop the terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). There’s little mystery to who’s behind the attacks, but stopping him is another story.

The film’s show-stopping sequence occurs at the Burj Khalifa and lives up the hype. Cruise’s character actually climbs up the side of the building hundreds of feet above the ground, and it’s a thrilling sequence. While the home viewing can never match up the excitement of seeing it on the IMAX screen, it still works pretty well. Although it’s the high point for pure thrills, Bird wisely follows this scene with a memorable chase through a sandstorm. We feel the same confusion as Hunt during his relentless pursuit, and even a brutal head-on collision fails to stop either guy. The rest of the movie can’t possibly live up to this combo, but it remains entertaining right up to the end.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol feels surprisingly fresh when you consider the lukewarm reception to the third installment. I don’t believe that J.J. Abrams film gets its just due, but I still wasn’t clamoring for a fourth movie. The fact that Bird delivers such a knockout action movie is a great surprise and re-invigorates the franchise. Cruise’s off-screen antics have hurt his credibility in recent years, but he brings it once again as Hunt. It’s remarkable that he’s nearing 50 years old and can still work at this physical level. He also has good chemistry with the supporting players, especially Simon Pegg. Nyqvist may be a forgettable villiain, but he’s basically secondary to the story. Hunt’s team is facing huge barriers and must do some remarkable things to even have the chance to stop Hendricks. That against-all-odds atmosphere permeates this story and makes it one of the best action films of 2011.

March 1, 2012

Moneyball (2011)

Adapting Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game has always seemed like a strange proposition. The 2003 non-fiction book takes a clinical approach to the statistical methods used by Billy Beane as general manager of the Oakland A’s during the 2002 season. It also presents the history of this much-different method for evaluating talent in major league baseball. This seems like fodder for a great documentary but awkward material for a dramatic story. How could a movie present this dense material and interest general audiences? Steven Soderbergh was originally attached to the production but left over creative differences. Bennett Miller (Capote) ended up directing the film, and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Stephen Zallian (Schindler’s List) wrote the script. With this kind of pedigree involved, the movie version of Moneyball has just the right creative minds needed to bypass those obstacles. Sorkin in particular has shown an ability to translate complex material into a relatable product, so his participation is crucial to its success.

Brad Pitt stars as Beane, who’s recovering from losing his top three players to the big-spending teams. Oakland has a minimal payroll and can’t compete on the free-agent market with the wealthy clubs. Looking for a new way to scout players, he recruits numbers guru Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to devise a new evaluation system. The old-time scouts are skeptical and believe you can’t quantify baseball success, but Beane has personal reasons to think otherwise. His frustrations from decisions he made as a top baseball prospect still haunt him today. This personal side of the story is the master stroke in Sorkin and Zallian’s screenplay, which shifts the focus to Beane. Instead of providing intricate details on Sabermetrics, they make it a redemptive personal story. Like Mark Zuckerberg, Beane is sticking his neck out and will ride out the string, regardless of the consequences. His approach is much different than the Facebook founder, but their inventive tactics are relatable. Miller’s direction makes the point about Beane’s past without overplaying the connection. Pitt also shines by making his skepticism of the scouts clear in subtle fashion. They craft a mainstream crowd pleaser without catering to the lowest common denominator.

Moneyball is a film about baseball and should please fans interested in the stats, but it never delves too far into the approach. Brand explains the system and touts a few players they should grab, and that’s enough information. Jonah Hill received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for this role as the brains behind the operation. It’s a pretty standard performance that might not deserve this much recognition, but he still does an excellent job. Pitt and Hill work together really well and find ways to inject a lot of humor into even some mundane moments. When they pull off a complex trade with a series of phone calls, their glee is infectious because we’re on board with the actors. Pitt has rarely looked so effortless on screen and deserves all the recognition. It’s one of his best roles because he doesn’t turn Beane into a saint. He’s a neurotic, superstitious guy who refuses to watch the game and avoids interacting with players. This isn’t the type of role you’d expect Pitt to play, but it works because of his understated approach.

The story focuses on the 2002 season, which begins terribly and raises major questions about Beane’s sanity. Manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) isn’t on board with the system and places road blocks at every turn. New players like Jeremy Giambi reveal negatives that likely prove the scouts’ assessments about them. It takes serious commitment for Beane to keep his faith in Sabermetrics. Knowledgeable viewers today know the end to this story, but there’s still a good deal of tension surrounding the early failures. Hoffman doesn’t get much to do beyond antagonizing Beane, but he sells the role of the grizzled veteran manager. He senses the ship is sinking and acts for his own personal interests. It’s pretty much a thankless performance for the veteran, but he doesn’t phone in the role. This is Pitt’s movie and Beane is driving the story, so Howe just plays a small part. There are recognizable players like David Justice and Scott Hatteberg involved, and the actors playing them are believable. However, these guys are more representative of the types of players valued in this system, not completely original characters.

Moneyball is top-notch commercial filmmaking that doesn’t receive enough credit because of its flawless execution. Pitt makes playing Beane look easy, and his chemistry with Hill also feels effortless. It takes some major creativity from Miller, Sorkin, and Zallian to make the story flow so well. A possibly dull subject is exciting for more than two hours, which is a major achievement. Another smart move is focusing on Beane’s relationship with his daughter. These scenes reveal a different side of his character, and work because they’re not overly emotional. The final scene of him driving as her song plays in the background is sentimental, but in the best way possible. I was fighting back a few tears at the end. This powerful effect is a testament to my connection with the characters and the underdog story. The result is one of the bigger surprises of the past year. 

January 18, 2012

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the legendary directors in the history of film, and I say this without even seeing a significant amount of his movies. I've seen 20 of them, including the well-known pictures from his mid-career like Notorious, Vertigo, Rear Window, and North by Northwest. My blind spot rests in his early British career, where he used smaller budgets but created some remarkable little thrillers. A prime example is The Lady Vanishes, which I caught for the first time last month. The new Criterion Blu-ray release offered the perfect opportunity to discover this classic that mixes thrills, romance, a detective story, and a few laughs. It starts slowly at a hotel, but these moments comfortably introduce us to the key players. By the time we reach the final gunfight, we're definitely pulling for their survival. This story also employs one of Hitchcock's more ridiculous MacGuffins, an overly complicated device involving the memorization of a certain tune. It's a fun movie that holds up really well to repeated viewings even after the villains are known. For more details, check out my review for PopMatters of Hitchcock's last great British film.

October 20, 2011

Jackie Brown: My Favorite Tarantino Film

Ever since its 1997 release, Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown has remained at the top of my rankings of his filmography. While my feelings haven't wavered over the years, I wondered if the choice was a subconscious attempt to be a contrarian. I can't argue strongly against those who place Inglorious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, or either of the Kill Bill films at the top. I've enjoyed all those films, but they lacked that extra touch to make them a personal favorite. I revisited the Blu-ray release of Jackie Brown last week, and it reinforced my feelings that it's Tarantino's finest achievement. It combines the heist film with a love story and subtle offbeat comedy in an effortless manner. Pam Grier and Robert Forster are perfectly cast in the lead roles, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and others are excellent in supporting performances.

The success of Jackie Brown also comes from the combination of two inventive genre experts, Tarantino and Elmore Leonard. The story is based on Leonard's book Rum Punch, and it offers a unique mix of the two writers' styles. One of this the director's best moves is the soundtrack, which adds depth and style without ever becoming intrusive. Classic soul tunes like Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" and The Delfonics "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" fit perfectly with the overall tone. Leonard writes great characters, with his best on-screen adaptations being Out of Sight, Get Shorty, and the TV series Justified. Tarantino changes the characters but retains their core elements. Check out my PopMatters review for more details on why this charming story remains my favorite Tarantino film.

August 30, 2011

Akira Kurosawa's High and Low (1963)

Like most film lovers, I have an ever-growing list of movies that I'm hoping to see at some point in the future. When I have the time to catch up with a few of them, there's an internal struggle of the type of film to check out. Should I pick a recent movie that I missed in the theater? Would a renowned classic be a better choice? My typical approach is to try and balance the two categories as much as possible. One director that I need to revisit more often is Akira Kurosawa, who has a large group of highly regarded pictures. I've seen many of his signature works, but there are still plenty that I've missed.

One example is High and Low, a crime film from 1963 that goes well beyond the genre framework. It actually combines the family melodrama, police procedural, and chase genres into a riveting epic story. Adapting the novel King's Ransom by Ed McBain, Kurosawa uses a deliberate approach that takes a little while to grab you. Once it gets moving, however, the pace rarely lets up until the emotionally charged finale. By the time we explore the slums and meet the culprits, it's not so clear where the real evil is in this world. It's one of Kurosawa's best movies and deserves a place alongside Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, and many others. For more information, check out my review in PopMatters of this intriguing film that still feels modern nearly 50 years after its original release.

August 16, 2011

Stargate Atlantis' Blu-ray Set: One More Trip to the Pegasus Galaxy

I've written more about Stargate Atlantis (SGA)  in the past few years than almost any other show. Last year, I pulled together more than 3,000 fine words for PopMatters about the sci-fi adventure series for the Complete Series DVD release. For last month's Blu-ray release, I was ready to head out to the Pegasus Galaxy once again to hang with John Sheppard, Rodney McKay, Teyla, and other longtime friends. Thankfully, this release was packaged much better than the previous monstrosity and occupied a smaller place on the shelf.

It's not a perfect series and has some dull episodes, but there's still plenty of fun in SGA, particularly with the characters. It hearkens back to the episodic adventure shows of the '90s while offering better visual effects. Check out my review of the Blu-ray set for PopMatters to learn some reasons to check out the five seasons of this enjoyable series. It's not for everyone but might surprise you if given the chance.

July 26, 2011

Another Year (2010)

Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville in Mike Leigh's Another Year

Mike Leigh’s Another Year opens with a convincing image of depression from a nearly unrecognizable Imelda Staunton as Janet. Her lengthy interview with a concerned social worker paints a bleak picture of life for this middle-aged woman struggling with insomnia. Placing this discussion at the film’s beginning crafts just the right tone for this understated character piece. This sequence only connects partially to the main story, but it reveals the world Leigh’s presenting. He’s not going to shy away from showing us pain and distress and won’t resolve these issues quickly. The story revolves around a year in the life of happily married couple Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) along with their friends and family. Separated into segments for each of the four seasons, we see them working and relaxing at their comfortable house. Tom and Gerri are obviously in love and enjoy life, but life’s not so good for some friends. The most prominent example is the difficult Mary (Lesley Manville), who tries to hide her loneliness through drinking and giving a false positive impression. Well into middle age but looking a bit younger, Mary isn’t ready to accept her current state. She even makes a veiled play for Tom and Gerri’s son Joe (Oliver Maltman), who flirts innocently but isn’t really interested. While desperately seeking a connection, Mary’s still looking for love in all the wrong places.

After introducing us to the characters, Leigh focuses on a few everyday events in each season. For example, Joe surprises his parents by bringing home his new girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez). It’s an exciting time for the family and the young couple seems to fit well, but there’s one glaring exception to this idealistic moment. Mary happens to show up that day, which leads to a very uncomfortable scene. Later on, the family heads to the funeral for Tom’s brother Ronnie’s (David Bradley) wife. It’s a slow-moving, dour sequence, but it works because Leigh has built our relationships with the characters. Bradley utters only a few words as the quiet, shocked Ronnie, but he’s one of the most intriguing figures on screen. During the winter sequence, his low-key interactions with Mary are some of the most compelling moments in the movie.

Another Year includes plenty of sadness, but it remains enjoyable because of Tom and Gerri’s charming bond. They’ve developed a casual shorthand where thoughts are clear through just a brief glance or smile. Ruth Sheen is especially good at showing Gerri’s exasperation with Mary and others by just a quick look at Tom. Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvey) is a Leigh regular and has rarely been more engaging. Tom and Gerri are the ideal couple with a connection that the others wish they could have. Their relationship sets the foundation for the social framework of the entire group. As Mary, Lesley Manville brings a tornado of emotions and stress into nearly every scene, and she sells the character completely. It’s not easy to watch Mary struggle and throw herself out there, but it’s rarely boring.

Although it charmed most critics, Another Year is the type of movie that draws mixed responses from audiences. The lack of a singular plot and the deliberately paced scenes turn off some modern viewers expecting a more fast-paced movie. I’ll admit there are some slow moments, especially in the early going, but Leigh’s confident, relaxed style sells the tricky material. He’s tackling serious issues of depression, loneliness, and the search for love, but it’s never heavy-handed. The main reason that Mary’s plight is so effective is because it’s not an easy situation. There’s no simple solution to her problems, and Mary’s personality makes it even tougher for her. Leigh presents both the happy and troubled individuals in equal light and doesn’t judge them. These aren’t the types of characters we typically see on the screen, and his original, balanced direction makes their story intriguing.

June 21, 2011

Stargate Universe: The Complete Final Season

T.J. (Alaina Huffman) sees a remarkable sight in Stargate Universe.

This review was written for the excellent site PopMatters, which covers movies, TV, and other aspects of pop culture. You can check out the original post at this link

Entering its second season, Stargate Universe (SGU) faced an uncertain future after a promising, yet deliberately paced first season. The SyFy network had shifted the young series to Tuesday nights—directly against the juggernauts of the big networks. Premiering in the fall, it wouldn’t have the luxury of matching up against less popular summer fare.If the ratings weren’t stellar from the start, there might be a serious risk of cancellation. The previous shows in the franchise, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis (SGA) , lasted ten and five seasons, respectively. But the changing TV environment and an itchy trigger finger from SyFy likely caused sleepless nights for the SGU producers.

Unlike its predecessors, SGU focused less on fast-paced adventure and more on character development, which alienated some of its devoted fans. They posted vitriolic comments on message boards and hoped for the new show’s demise. This approach seemed counter-productive, especially since the franchise’s overall future was depending on SGU. Admittedly, the first group of episodes was pretty slow, but they also included excellent visual effects and interesting characters. During the opening season, the writers tweaked the format and built an effective formula by the end of the year. The second season promised to improve on this model and expand the universe to greater heights.

Here’s a brief synopsis of what’s happened so far: A group of mismatched military personnel, scientists, and other civilians from Earth are stranded unexpectedly aboard the Destiny, an ancient ship created millions of years earlier. Armed with limited resources, they must discover the mysteries of their new home across the universe before it’s too late. Traveling faster than light and visiting planets through the Stargate, they face strange aliens unlike anything encountered by humans in past explorations. But the biggest threat might come from conflicts within their own ranks as they struggle to find a way back home. The first season ended with one of those cliffhangers that placed nearly every major character (and some minor ones) in serious jeopardy. The enemy in this case was the Lucian Alliance, a band of human-like aliens who boarded the Destiny, seeking its secrets. During the season finale, “Incursion”, this conflict escalates into an all-out war between the two forces that leaves many of the characters injured or facing imminent death at the season’s end.

“Intervention” starts the new season right where we left off and delivers more excitement as the battle continues. With one exception, the Lucian Alliance members aren’t exactly evil, which makes the ultimate resolution more complicated. They work under a brutal regime and have a specific goal beyond creating violence and mayhem. One of the major discoveries aboard Destiny occurs during the second episode “Aftermath”. Doctor Rush (Robert Carlyle) unlocks the ship’s master code and locates the bridge that operates navigation and other key systems. Before this point, the crew had a very limited ability to control Destiny and alter its course. Although this is an excellent find, Rush’s choice to keep the bridge a secret from everyone has major ramifications further into the season.

This episode also includes the stunning death of a supporting character that was indirectly caused by Rush withholding the truth. This moment plays a key role in the downward emotional spiral of Colonel Young (Louis Ferreira). He’s lost all confidence in his abilities to lead the group and starts drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Young’s struggles come to the forefront down the road in “Trial and Error”, where he’s tested repeatedly in a frustrating scenario that might destroy the entire ship. Unlike its predecessors, SGU takes its time and builds long-term story lines that might not pay off until much later.

Don’t get me wrong. I love both SG-1 and SGA and still enjoy those episodes years later. However, they used a more episodic style that differed from the serialized narratives of this series. A good example is Chloe’s (Elyse Levesque) ongoing arc, which goes back to the middle of the first season. Alien villains experiment on her, which causes both physical and mental changes over the long run. In “Pathogen”, Rush makes a daring attempt to excise the growing alien influence over her body, but it’s not successful. Nearing the mid-season finale, Chloe is losing control over her mind and may slip away from them forever.

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of this story line, which nearly grinds the pace to a halt every time it becomes a major part of the episode. Levesque gives it her best shot, but the progression happens so slowly that seeing characters talk about her changes becomes tiresome. The writers struggled to find the right place for Chloe in the early episodes, so giving her a more important role is refreshing. However, the downside of dragging her evolution on for so long is that it becomes tedious. I was ready to scream “She’s dangerous! Get rid of her!” at the screen well before the arc was resolved.

The big moments are exciting, but it takes us way too long to move the story forward. Adding new characters from the Lucian Alliance also gave the writers a chance to develop romances between the arrivals and regular crew members. Both examples are very well-done and involve strong performances from the recurring actors. Varro (Mike Dopud) helped the gang’s attempts to take over Destiny, but he played a key role in saving Young and the entire group of Earthlings. While slowly becoming part of the group, he develops the touching beginnings of a romance with T.J. (Alaina Huffman). Dopud made a guest appearance on SGA as a different character, and he fits well in this world.

Ginn was an interesting character and left way too soon.

The other figure is the attractive Ginn (Julie McNiven), a red-haired scientist who makes a connection with Eli (David Blue). Their romance is short-lived, but it offers a much-needed connection for Eli, who spent the first season pining for Chloe. Unfortunately, Ginn is also involved in one of the season’s most troubling scenes at the end of “The Greater Good”. Although they’ve created strong female characters, I’ve found that the Stargate writers tend to revert too much into the “woman in jeopardy” scenario. They pretty much throw every female character through the ringer this year and deal out murder, blindness, threats towards a baby, and other brutal events.

It’s not like the guys are off the hook, especially Young and Rush, but certain moments do approach uneasy territory. On the other hand, these actions from the end of “The Greater Good” lead perfectly into the thrilling next episode “Malice”. Since the arrival of the Lucian Alliance, Simeon (Prison Break’s Robert Knepper) was the one guy who refused to cooperate and become part of the crew. After dealing a vicious blow to Ginn and others, he escapes to a desert planet with weapons in tow. With a personal stake in revenge, Rush joins the soldiers Scott (Brian J. Smith) and Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) to pursue Simeon. They’ve been tasked with capturing him alive because he has key information that could save Earth.

But Rush has other ideas. This cat-and-mouse story from Robert C. Cooper feels more like a gritty western than a sci-fi tale. Cooper tends to direct some of the franchise’s most unique episodes, with recent examples being SGU’s “Time” and SGA’s penultimate episode “Vegas”. Both go beyond the expected formula from the series and rank among the best of their seasons. This season’s second half begins in “Deliverance” with a resolution to Chloe’s saga (finally!) and Destiny facing a multitude of strange alien drones. By this point, the announcement had been made — SGU would not return for a third year. This was disappointing because these arcs weren’t designed to finish the Destiny’s story. I’m guessing this wasn’t a major surprise for the producers given the ratings for the early episodes.

Rush and TJ struggle to understand the Twin Destinies.

However, it was still disappointing because the show had really found its way by this point. A prime example is “Twin Destinies”, which uses the familiar sci-fi tropes of time travel and alternate versions of the same characters. Although it could fail miserably, it actually works and leads into more great stories further down the road. One benefit of having 15 seasons in this world is a wealth of entertaining characters that could appear on SGU in the right circumstance. The danger is finding a way to involve them in this story without making it feel like stunt casting. In “Seizure”, David Hewlett and Robert Picardo reprise their roles as Dr. Rodney McKay and Richard Woolsey from SGA. I wondered about this choice because McKay generally provided the comic relief in that series and was a larger-than-life character.

Hewlett was highly charismatic in the role and my favorite character in that show. Thankfully, Writer Remi Aubuchon finds a way to keep McKay’s spirit intact while dialing back the quirks for this more serious format. I would have enjoyed seeing what Hewlett or another effective actor from a previous show could do with a recurring role in this show. This episode also has a guest appearance from a stern Victor Garber (Jack Brisco!), who brings stature to virtually anything he touches.

Easily the season’s best episode is “Epilogue”, which appears only a few episodes from the end. Although it mostly focuses on alternate versions of the main characters, it actually would have worked perfectly as the series finale. The premise involves our Destiny crew meeting the ancestors of their alternate selves that were originally discovered in “Twin Destinies”. They met these descendants in the preceding story “Common Descent”, but the follow-up is the true gem. They discover lengthy videos of key moments in the lives of the alternates, who lived out their lives after being stranded on a planet. On paper, this seems like a terrible idea, but it actually is very emotional from start to finish.

I have to admit that it got a little dusty in the final scene, where an old Camille Ray (Ming Na) addresses their descendants. It’s a wonderful story from Writer Carl Binder and Director Alex Chapple and reveals the missed promise of another season. For its finale, SGU shies away from the expected action-packed cliffhangers and delivers a solemn, effective conclusion. In an interview after the show ended, Creator Brad Wright revealed that this episode was set up to work as either a season or series finalé. It doesn’t conclude the Destiny story or include any major revelations, but the main characters get a final chance to shine against overwhelming odds. It would have been excellent to see a proper end for SGU, but it doesn’t rank among the soul-crushing ends that we’ve seen with some other cancelled series like Farscape (before the miniseries).

Greer and Scott travel off world in Stargate Universe.

This collection includes commentaries on all 20 episodes. It’s nearly impossible to complain about this coverage, but I did find a few of the conversations to be fairly dull. It’s refreshing to see so many of the main actors taking the time to participate, but their involvement could be a double-edge sword. The discussions sometimes veer into “great acting” and “I love this show!” instead of interesting stories from the set. The inclusion is still definitely worthwhile, but striking a balance between the actors and crew members could have worked out better.

Along with the commentaries, there are 26 featurettes covering specific elements of the season. These pieces run just shy of 140 minutes, so it’s great to see more than two hours of extra content from the cast and crew. Many last only two or three minutes, but they usually cover at least a few engaging points during that timeframe. One great example is “SGU welcomes you to New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands”, which offers a 20-minute look at the shooting of “Malice” at a desolate place that looks like an alien planet. Cooper provides an introduction about their plans for shooting in New Mexico, and interviews with actors like Robert Knepper provide some exciting background.

A sillier entry is “Pitches: A Journey of Friendship and Discovery”, which features Patrick Gilmore and Peter Kelamis. Their characters (Volker and Brody) typically have the best one-liners, so it makes sense that the actors would participate in this tongue-in-cheek segment. It shows them trying to write an episode script, with comedic results. Lou Diamond Philips (Telford) makes a goofy appearance wearing no pants, which matches the tone of this entry. The Stargate DVDs always include good content, but I do have one minor issue with the composition of these featurettes.

Considering the small running time of many, it would have made more sense to provide them in a feature-length documentary. They could still offer the option to select each one individually, but combining them into one selection would be easier. The only example of a Play All feature is the “Deconstructing Destiny” piece, which stars Patrick Gilmore and last 27 minutes. There are seven individual entries on Power, Weapons, and other parts of the ship. While we are given the option to watch all of them at once, each item still includes credits, which doesn’t really make it a full documentary. On the whole, though, the extras still provide impressive details for devoted fans.

SGU never earned great ratings or critical acclaim, but it still provided 40 episodes of excellent sci-fi storytelling. Arriving so close to the end of Battlestar Galactica, this series suffered by comparison and was dismissed by many (including Stargate fans) as derivative. It’s not a perfect series and has always encountered pacing issues, but it represents a compelling evolution for the franchise. I would have loved seeing where the story would have gone next. Do you hear that SyFy? How about a mini-series? Heck, I’d take a two-hour movie. The Stargate franchise appears dormant at this point, but I’m holding out hope that either a continuation in some format or a new series will keep this universe alive.

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