A Dark and Scary Place
The year is 2257. The setting: Babylon 5, last of the Babylon space stations. After the Earth - Minbari War ten years before, the Earth Alliance had commissioned the building of a neutral port of call for diplomats, refugees and travellers from a hundred worlds. It is now their last best hope for peace since Babylon 1-3 were sabotaged and destroyed, and Babylon 4 vanished without trace 24 hours after becoming operational.
Lyta Alexander arrives to take her place as resident telepath on Babylon 5. Commander Jeffrey Sinclair shows her to her quarters, cutting through the alien sector where the atmospheres and gravitational rotations are adjusted to suit the requirements of individual species. A human has arrived on the station with the throng of visitors. As he schemes behind closed doors, a mysterious limpet-like craft latches on to the hull and begins penetration.
The four main ambassadors operate as an advisory council to their races, like the old United Nations on Earth. Delenn represents the Minbari, comprised of three casts, religious, warrior and worker. Londo is the representative of Centauri Prime; the Centauri are grouped into houses, rather like ancient China, although Londo himself comes across as a gambler and womaniser, an individual nobody takes very seriously. G'Kar is from the Narn homeworld, a seemingly warlike race of humanoid reptilians.
The Vorlon Kosh, the last of the main four ambassadors, catches security off-guard by arriving two days early. No human has ever seen a Vorlon. When Kosh arrives a sudden power loss means Sinclair, chief of security Michael Garibaldi and first officer Laurel Takashima are locked behind a door leading to the docking bay. When it opens they find Kosh has been attacked. They get Kosh to medlab where they plan to open the encounter suit - in which the true being is encased - to assess the injuries. However, the Vorlons refuse permission for security reasons. Doctor Benjamin Kyle is ordered by Sinclair to carry out the tests anyway and he soon discovers that Kosh has been poisoned.
The doctor and Laurel persuade Lyta to perform an unauthorised telepathic scan on Kosh to find out what he saw, because if Kosh dies the Vorlons could retaliate and the consequences would be disastrous. When Lyta experiences a mental image of Sinclair slapping a poison patch on Kosh there is an immediate hearing. G'Kar acts as prosecution, suggesting Sinclair be tried in a court of law on the Vorlon homeworld.
Del Varner, the suspicious human visitor to the station, seems to be the obvious link until he is found murdered in his quarters, putting the frantic investigation back to square one. Having identified the poison, Doctor Kyle begins work on a counter-agent, with time seriously running out for Kosh.
Lyta tries to sabotage the progress of ambassador Kosh by attacking the doctor and altering medlab instruments, but Kyle manages to injure her and stabilise Kosh. It turns out that the aggressor wasn't really Lyta but an imposter. The limpet ship is a short-range vessel large enough to carry only one individual. That person is a shapeshifter, which is why Kosh saw Sinclair attack him. Sinclair and the others trace the energy output required to produce a holographic field, and Sinclair and Garibaldi (with flying recorder in tow) go hunting.
The Vorlon ships arrive demanding that Sinclair be handed over. Laurel patches into the recorder's images and broadcasts to the Vorlons. Kosh recovers, and Sinclair discovers G'Kar's Narn ship brought the changeling to the station, but has no definite proof. He bluffs G'kar into thinking he has swallowed an electronic locator device.
J. Michael Straczynski had carried many of the situations and ideas for Babylon 5 around in his head for five years before he got the chance to write the pilot. The Gathering was the selling point for the entire serial. It was offered around the TV stations and within minutes he would see eyes glaze over. Warner Brothers immediately understood the concept, however. For JMS it was a chance at last to realise his vision. "You just hope it's something close to how you conceptualise it. When I told Warner it was a five-year arc, they said 'You'll be lucky to get ten episodes, what makes you think you'll get five years?' I said, 'We're on a mission from God, all right? That's how I know.' They laughed."
When JMS became executive producer for The Gathering he made a couple of small changes to the finished product and let it go. He now admits that was a huge mistake, because just complaints were aimed at the lack of humour and characterisation, which were left on the cutting room floor. Obviously, he jumped at the chance when T&T offered him the opportunity to reconstruct and edit it for DVD, as part of the 5 TV movie boxset released on region 1. However, the film store which all the takes were in was damaged in an earthquake. Rats infiltrated through the fissures and ate some of the film, and there was additional stock which could not be used. Testament to the fact he learned a lot between the pilot and the first series about how the project should work was the evident complete change in look and feel on this producer's cut of The Gathering. Scenes have been rearranged, extended or edited, and the effects updated to reveal a finished product which naturally falls more in line now with the five seasons and other TV movies; whereas the original format looked a little stilted and felt too cold and clinical whilst still displaying all the makings of a stunningly original show.
Many of Babylon 5's story threads saw their origins first mentioned in The Gathering. There is the fact that Sinclair has a period of amnesia that he can't account for; the mysterious Grey Council, a group of the most influencial Minbari; the Earth-Minbari War, during which the latter astoundingly made the decision to surrender when they were at the point of winning (Delenn was originally to have been a male who becomes a female after metamorphosis, but the production suffered problems with the voice. And on the subject of voices, the studio asked for Patricia (Lyta) Tallman's voice to be looped because it was too harsh, and after the pilot aired they told JMS that she wasn't very convincing! So for this version of The gathering the original voice was used. The Psycorps, of which Lyta Alexander is a registered member, is to become a regular headache for Babylon 5 independent operations in the future.
On the subject of characterisation, Laurel Takashima was the person who was originally going to turn traitor, but actress Tamlyn Tomita didn't feel comfortable in the role so they went for someone stronger. Ed Wasser, who plays ops man Guerra under the orders of Takashima, would later return in a regular role as the Shadows' emissary, Morden. In this pilot G'kar is seen as the overall protagonist. The idea from the start was that JMS would offer a package which we are used to seeing as an audience, and then during the course of the series proceed to take everything we think we know and turn it on its head.
During the vision of the poisoning JMS admits that the patch was slapped on to a human hand which should not have been there. Similarly, why is there water leaking in when Sinclair and Garibaldi look over the damaged limpet (or spider) craft?! However, the pilot showed much promise for the five-year story arc to come. The sets and lighting are top-notch, and the computer-generated effects (innovative at the time) have been updated for the region 1 special edition. The amount of music by Christopher Franke has been doubled for this version. Straczynski could have left the final epilogue out of the re-gig, wherein Laurel announces that Babylon 5 is open for business, but that's a minor quibble.
The new version of The Gathering incorporates an entertaining and informative commentary by J.Michael Straczynski and Production Designer John Lacovelli (he reveals that whenever a member of cast or crew made a mistake the others would say, "There's a hole in you mind."), and an optional introduction to the story. Many changes took place (all for the better) between the recording of The Gathering and the beginning of Season 1, so it's rather ironic that the original format of the pilot was televised at the end of the first season in the US (Channel 4 flew the flag in the UK). Nevertheless, you have to admire the faith and confidence JMS had in Babylon 5; the original ideas, the determination to turn events and characters on their heads (it's all too easy to be protective of your characters), and the plain logic of revealing only the currently relevant snippets of information to the studio executives and particularly the actors, so as not to influence their decisions.
A solid start showing only a tantalising hint of the magic to come over the next five years.
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2005).
Babylon 5 is a spacestation which replaces four abortive attempts to create a meeting place for the representatives of the five major races, as well as the non-aligned worlds. Although a major city in itself, housing defence systems, trade centres and recreation, its primary purpose is as an independent embassy for diplomatic negotiations between the Mimbari, the Narn, the Centauri, the Vorlons and the Humans, represented by the Earth Alliance. There's plenty of action and intrigue, and nobody is exactly the person they seem to be...
Every so often a TV show emerges which annihilates all the current competition in terms of subject matter, storylines and production values. In case you were wondering, I'm talking about Babylon 5. How refreshing it is to have such diverse characters, who are changed forever by events. This is not your standard story of the week science fiction, featuring injuries, near-death experiences and emotional conflict which is conveniently forgotten by the next episode. Every major decision has far-reaching consequences, and every choice repercussions that might affect people immediately or come back to haunt them when they (and you, as the viewer) least expect it. It reminds me somewhat of the political chess-moves of ancient China or Japan; honour and diplomacy is always in the forefront, with assassins or covert arrangements made in the background.
Season Two sees almost as many changes as there were between the feature-length pilot, The Gathering, and the start of season One. There is a major personnel change, with Commander Jeffrey Sinclair being replaced with the more dynamic Captain John Sheridan. Sinclair is mysteriously spirited away to the Mimbari homeworld, and pops up now and again in future stories. Ambassador Kosh goes from enigmatic soothsayer to anti-hero manipulator, as the others learn there is an ulterior motive for everything he does. From short-tempered aggressor, G'Kar becomes a poet, diplomat and religious ikon. Londo makes the transition from drunken reveller to the most dangerous individual around. Of course, none of this happens overnight, and creator J. Michael Straczynski kept his plot-strands bible close to his chest, giving the actors no inkling of what was to come, so it's compelling to witness the transmogrifications and the events that cause them.
This season there's significantly less stand-alone stories; Straczynski pens fifteen of the twenty-two episodes, and the five-year arc begins to take a firmer hold. The Coming of Shadows season teases us with the coming threat to all the races, but for the meantime centres primarily on the present conflict between the Narn and the Centauri. Particularly strong episodes include: In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum, wherein Sheridan pushes his luck to learn more information about his presumed-dead wife, and finds himself confronted with the original homeworld of the Shadows; The Long, Twilight Struggle, which follows a major battle between the Narn and the Centauri; and The Fall of Night, in which surprising connections are made between the Shadows and Kosh's race, the Vorlons.
This six-disc set benefits from digital widescreen transfers and is beautifully remastered in Dolby digital 5.1. Two episodes contain an optional commentary by the man himself, J. Michael Straczynski, The Geometry of Shadows has a joint commentary by Bruce Boxleitner (Sheridan), Claudia Christian (Lt. Com. Susan Ivanova) and Jerry Doyle (Security Chief Michael Garibaldi). There is also a Season Two introduction from Straczynski and various cast and crew. Other extras include two new documentaries: Building Babylon: Anatomy of an Episode, and Shadows and Dreams: Honors of Babylon ( in which the crew talk about the Hugo awards success). There is an Audio-visual Archive split into Personnel Files, Data Files, Tech Files, and an Historical Timeline.
Season Two is the final place that I would advise any new viewers to jump on board. From here on in it is essential to follow every episode. I would have given this excellent release a 10, but as anyone who has seen season four will testify, the best is yet to come!
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)
The story so far... Babylon 5 is the last of the neutral outposts, a five-mile long space station designed as a meeting place for diplomats, traders and entrepreneurs, and considered to be the last best hope for peace. Permanently based here are the ambassadors of four prominent races: Delenn of the Minbari, an old race consisting of warrior and religious casts (who also fought a major war with Earth, before mysteriously surrendering when they had the upper hand); Londo of the Centauri, an imperial Romanlike people steeped in blood; G'Kar of the Narn, the reptilian looking race (actually marsupials) which has long lived under the pressure of war; and Kosh of the Vorlons, an ancient race, the identity of which is concealed within encounter suits.
G'Kar extends a hand of friendship, but Londo authorises an attack on a Narn outpost, causing a terrible war. Londo's mysterious allies in the offensive come via a human called Morden. Delenn undergoes a metamorphosis which prophecy dictates will bring the Minbari and human races closer together, and aid in the struggle against the greater threat. Kosh, after revealing his true form (appearing differently to each witness) to save Sheridan from an act of terrorism, becomes even more illusive and somewhat sinister. The greater threat to all races is discovered to be the Shadows, oldest of the First Ones, last seen in local space by other races more than a thousand years ago...
In season three the stakes are raised, there is plenty of upheaval, and nothing ever feels comfortable again. Every event produces major consequences which reverberate through the storylines so that you never discount the possibility of a central character being killed or changed in such a significant way that they effectively become somebody else. Every episode makes for compelling viewing.
Matters of Honor kicks us off in fine style. Londo, realising at last who his dangerous benefactors are, tries to sever his ties with them, an act which proves practically impossible. In the same story, we see the arrival of new regular, Marcus Cole, a representative of the Rangers, a highly-trained unit created by Sinclair, Babylon 5's original commander (during season one) from the Mimbari homeworld - their mission to collect intelligence on the Shadows. Sheridan sets up a regular secret war council with Delenn; and we see the White Star for the first time, a beautiful Mimbari warship incorporating organic Vorlon technology, which can generate its own jump points between star systems. Sheridan is given command of the ship by Delenn.
In Voices of Authority, Susan Ivanova tries to enlist the aid of another race of First Ones in the fight against the Shadows, but receives only a noncommittal reply. In Messages From Earth, Sheridan attempts to prevent the re-activation of a dormant Shadow vessel. Point of No Return sees Earth's current martial law extended to the Earthforce-run Babylon 5, but Sheridan finds a way to combat the Night Watch enforcers. The follow-up, Severed Dreams, has Earthforce destroyers arriving to demand Sheridan's surrender. But Sheridan decides to fight. Sheridan forms a romantic as well as strong political alliance with Delenn, in Sic Transit Vir. In Interludes and Examinations, Sheridan asks Kosh for help in securing a morale-boosting small victory against the Shadows.
So, plenty going on. Television just doesn't get any better than Babylon 5. They say that the best special effects are those which you don't notice. This is never more true than in Babylon 5. This is not so much science fiction, as war, mind games and political intrigue within a science fiction setting.
The characters, stories and situations are so strong and gripping that you quickly forget someone is wearing prosthetics and make-up, and that the wonderfully realised sets are not on a five-mile long station but a huge series of warehouse spaces. And talking of the sets, these have escalated from 12 main sets in the pilot episode, to over 300 by the end of season three.
The computer generated imagery used for the Babylon 5 exteriors, assorted spacecraft and battles, and the jumpgates, was pretty much in its infancy but still looks superb and brilliantly understated today. Just watch the fighter craft being released downwards from the launchbays, or witness a Shadow craft materialising into real space to understand what I mean.
Extras in this case consist of three new documentaries: Behind the Mask: Creating the aliens of Babylon 5; Building a better Narn; and Designing Tomorrow: The look of Babylon 5. There is also The Universe of Babylon 5, containing video data files, personnel files, and a Shadow dossier. Commentaries for two episodes come from series creator J. Michael Straczynski, and a further one from four regular cast members.
Talk of synergy and juxtapositions; this is a series where every component was right, creating a balance you seldom, if ever, see elsewhere. J. Michael Straczynski was a genius to have come up with such a concept and five-year story arc, but he must also be counted fortunate to have assembled such a strong team, both in front of and behind camera.
Buy this to see what you've been missing, and wait with baited breath for the faultless perfection that is season 4. I was going to hold off my maximum points until that coveted season, but this is very nearly as good.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)
A potted history... Babylon 5 is the last of the neutral outposts, a five-mile long space station designed as a meeting place for diplomats, traders and entrepreneurs, and considered to be the last best hope for peace. Permanently based here are the ambassadors of four prominent races: Delenn of the Minbari, an old race consisting of warrior and religious casts (who also fought a major war with Earth, before mysteriously surrendering when they had the upper hand); Londo of the Centauri, an imperial Roman-like people steeped in blood; G'Kar of the Narn, the reptilian looking race (actually marsupials) which has long lived under the pressure of war; and Kosh of the Vorlons, an ancient race, the identity of which is concealed within encounter suits.
G'Kar extends a hand of friendship, but Londo authorises an attack on a Narn outpost, causing a terrible war. Londo's mysterious allies in the offensive come via a human called Morden. Delenn undergoes a metamorphosis which prophecy dictates will bring the Minbari and human races closer together, and aid in the struggle against the greater threat. Kosh, after revealing his true form (appearing differently to each witness) to save Sheridan from an act of terrorism, becomes even more illusive and somewhat sinister. The greater threat to all races is discovered to be the Shadows, oldest of the First Ones, last seen in local space by other races more than a thousand years ago.
Londo, realising at last who his dangerous benefactors are, tries to sever his ties with them, an act which proves practically impossible. New regular Marcus Cole arrives, a representative of the Rangers, a highly-trained unit created by Sinclair, Babylon 5's original commander (during season one) from the Minbari homeworld - their mission to collect intelligence on the Shadows. Sheridan sets up a regular secret war council with Delenn; and we see the White Star for the first time, a beautiful Minbari warship incorporating organic Vorlon technology, which can generate its own jump points between star systems. Sheridan is given command of the ship by Delenn.
Commander Susan Ivanova enlists the aid of another race of First Ones in the fight against the Shadows, and Sheridan attempts to prevent the re-activation of a dormant Shadow vessel. Earth's current martial law is extended to the Earthforce-run Babylon 5, but Sheridan finds a way to combat the Night Watch enforcers, and declares their independence from Earth. Earthforce destroyers arrive to demand Sheridan's surrender, but the captain decides to fight, aided by Minbari allies. Sheridan forms a romantic as well as strong political alliance with Delenn. Sheridan asks Kosh for help in securing a morale-boosting small victory against the Shadows, but Kosh is killed by Shadow agents in retaliation.
The season three cliff-hanger sees Sheridan journey to Z'ha'dum, from which "no one returns", the home planet of the Shadows, when dubious intelligence reaches him that his wife might still be alive. Once there he walks into a trap. By remote signal he brings in a White Star containing nuclear devices, to crash into the planet's surface. The voice of the replacement Kosh in Sheridan's head urges him to jump into an abyss and certain death.
It was the year of fire...
So here we go with season four, and it's difficult to know exactly where to start, there's so much to say. The passages above which briefly describe the story so far are important to newcomers to the series because it's necessary to paint a picture of the Babylon 5 universe before mentioning additional plot points... particularly when they're this good! The opening titles, which change each year, this time has every main character speaking a line of the narrative (see above). However, this is greatly thought out, with the line spoken reflecting that character's direction during the season.
From the very first episode you are dragged along, breathless, by the relentless pace of events. Sheridan is presumed dead, and Susan Ivanova fails to rally alliance members for a scout mission to Z'ha'dum. Security Chief Michael Garibaldi is missing, and G'kar decides to go in search of his friend, but falls into the hands of the Centauri. Londo discovers that Emperor Cartagia, who is as mad as a box of frogs, has made an arrangement with the Shadows, allowing them to base some ships on the homeworld. He must organise Cartagia's death in order to save his people from conquest. Sheridan finds himself confused and alone deep in the catacombs of Z'ha'dum, where he meets Lorien and learns that he is caught between life and death. Phew! And that's just the first two episodes.
Writer/creator J. Michael Straczynski was uncertain at the time whether his five-year story arc would receive backing for a fifth season, so much of what was planned for the last season was brought forward to this one. Consequentially, this season is a rollercoaster ride of anxiety-based events. With Sheridan's fleet caught between a Vorlon conflict with the Shadows, Garibaldi returning changed so that his loyalty and very sanity hang in the balance, the elevated threat of Bester and the Psi Corps, misinformation about the station being broadcast from Earth, and the final battles with the Shadows and Earthforce, by the end of this season either your head will have exploded or you will be sitting in silence thinking, "Bloody hell!"
In short, this is 22 episodes of pure genius. Every part is meticulously and lovingly crafted by J. Michael Straczynski, the writing so tight and the acting carrying such conviction that, whether a character laughs, cries or shouts in anger, you are taken in one-hundred per cent.
Again, excellently packaged, this set contains six discs and includes the following extras: Celestial Sounds, following the remarkable impact of Christopher Franke's music on the series; The Complete No Surrender, No Retreat DVD Suite (music accompanying a well-assembled montage of clips from the season); The Universe of Babylon 5, containing audio/visual Data Files and Personnel Files; a Gag Reel; and three commentaries (two by Straczynski, and one jointly by Bruce Boxleitner [Sheridan], Jerry Doyle [Garibaldi], Peter Jurasik [Londo] and Patricia Tallman [rogue telepath Lyta Alexander]).
A quite staggering piece of work, and the best television ever seen, bar none! Accept no substitutes.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2004)
We are Rangers.
We walk in the dark places no others will enter.
We do not break away from combat.
We stand on the bridge and no one may pass.
We do not retreat whatever the reason.
We live for the one, we die for the one.
A Ranger ship is tailing a vessel from a new race which has been responsible for several raids, when it is in return attacked. With the captain dead and weapons down, the highest ranking officer, David Martell, stands down from the chase. Subsequently, he is accused of breaking the Rangers' most strict rule of never disengaging from a fight. He is on the brink of being dismissed, even though his crew realise he made the decision to save their lives and the ship, and stand with him. The Narn Ambassador G'Kar intervenes in the Mimbari Grey Council session (who originally formed the Rangers). He has been asked to find out more about the new race, and sees this as one possibility. Martell is reinstated but as the captain of an old ship which is considered haunted and bad luck. The Valen is a new Ranger ship transporting several diplomats to a colony world. Martell's first job in the old ship is to escort them, but the new enemy attacks and the Valen is lost after ejecting the diplomats in pods, which the little ship collects. Then a spy is discovered in their midst...
The Legend of the Rangers was intended to be the pilot episode of a spin-off series from the first-rate Babylon 5, originally planned prior to the 13-part Crusade spin-off. In fact, it even carries a typical Straczynski poetical title: To Live and Die in Starlight.
Whilst far from being the best charge from the impressive Babylon 5 canon, it is jam-packed with potential. There's intrigue from the start, not so much from the story but rather the situations - the actual environment the characters are placed in. The decor and technology is purposefully different to that from the five-year arc that was Babylon 5. References are made to events which have gone before, but it's to the writer's credit that no prior knowledge of the programme is necessary. Also, for the old fans there is the comfortable slippers effect to carry you over this transitional period, with the return of Christopher Franke to the music composition (missing for Crusade), and of course the presence of G'kar.
I realise it takes time to accept a new format and particularly new faces; however, in truth it's the actors that let the side down. Not the entire cast, but I would change the majority of the main players. I grew to like Gideon in Crusade; David Martell in Legend is another matter. He seems to be a stereotypical young captain of the 1960s Captain Kirk ilk, with little or no personality whatsoever. Of the nine new crew members of this old dilapidated ship - comprising 4 human, 3 Minbari, 1 Narn and 1 Drazi - I would retain only two. The others are faceless. Weapons and tactical expert Sarah Cantrell, from Mars colony, simply makes herself look foolish when she slides into a weapons station which shows her surrounded by space. Her body flips over and she hurls firepower by physically punching and kicking it out, the ship responding to her movements. On paper this is a sensible science fiction idea, but on film it's so cringeworthy that you actually feel embarrassed for her. When she quickens her movements, anger rising, you just want to laugh.
The two characters which stand out like a shining light are the Minbari Dulan and the Drazi Turk. Since the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars it's no new idea to have a small bucket-of-bolts ship as the central focus. The film Event Horizon gave us the notion of a haunted spacecraft, but that was the ship taking on its own dark sentience, whereas in this instance the previous crew is dead but still present. It's a nice touch to have Dulan being a sensitive and the only person able to see the individual crew members.
The potential for story plots based on this alone are endless. When the new crew introduce themselves to each other in the traditional Ranger manner of revealing their name and something about the inner psyche, the Drazi Turk hesitates before announcing enthusiastically, "Turk... Drazi... I carry very large things..." Turk doesn't pretend to be anything he's not. Slightly slow, but very strong and useful, he's obviously intended as the light relief. Unsurprisingly, G'kar is the best character here, with many of the best lines (the moment when he peeks into the cowl of a Council member is priceless), but he's not meant as a regular.
With only two decent portrayals it might make you think The Legend of the Rangers has nothing going for it. All I would say is look to The Gathering, the feature length Babylon 5 pilot. Between that and the first episode pretty much of the style and structure had changed quite drastically, and many from the main cast were replaced. When the Region 1 version of the Babylon 5 TV Movie Box Set was released with the full five films, it came with a super-improved cut of The Gathering, proving just what can be achieved with the nucleus of a good idea.
Enjoy, and imagine the possibilities.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2005)
At last the sixties Batman film in its original widescreen format. There's so much to mention about this that it's difficult to know quite where to begin. Suffice to say Batman the Movie is a delight from start to finish.
The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) join forces to form The United Underworld (sounds like a political organisation!). They kidnap Commodore Schmitlapp, an eccentric inventor, and use his creation to extract the water content from the bodies of the nine members of The United World Security Council, demanding one billion dollars from each relevant country for their return. Along the way they make several attempts to rid themselves of the presence of the Dynamic Duo.
The vehicles are all present: the Batmobile, the Batboat, the Batcycle and sidecar - all looking impressive except perhaps the Batcopter. Virtually everything utilised by Batman and Robin has a 'Bat' prefix to it, including mundane items. Batdrift angle, automatic Bathold, the clearly marked Batladder, and the Shark Repellent Batspray which he uses to persuade a rubber shark to release his leg, to name but a few.
The zany humour is the mainstay of the film; the plot is absolutely littered with verbal and visual gags, all the more amusing for being played straight - in a camp sort of way. Writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr. deserves much credit for the constant high level of self-deprecating jokes. The ridiculing of its own format was a large reason for the series' popularity, which remains with us even today.
Alfred driving the Batmobile in his butler suit with only a Robin type mask to disguise his identity; the Batcopter crash landing on foam rubber outside a wholesalers, after a near miss with one of the Riddler's polaris missiles; the porpoise which throws itself into the path of a torpedo to save the lives of Batman and Robin; the formation pacing in Commissioner Gordon's office.; the henchman eyeing Catwoman strangely when she starts making mewling noises; Batman destroying torpedoes with a radio receiver (teaching Jon Pertwee everything he knows about reversing the polarity); and the Admiralty selling a navy surplus pre-atomic submarine to a Mr P.N. Guin, who doesn't even leave a forwarding address. The in-jokes are countless.
Then there are the one-liners. "Let's go... but inconspicuously. Through the window." Confounded by the likes of nuns, ducklings, the Salvation Army, and courting couples, Batman utters the classic line, "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review appeared in DreamWatch magazine 1995).
The year is 2267 A.D. The Shadow War is long over and the Psicorps has been officially disbanded. However, a new threat comes in the form of the Drakh Plague. After fending off a Drakh offensive of Earth, the human homeworld is obliged to quarantine itself. The Drakh have left behind a microbial, biogenetic plague which, after the estimated five years it will take to adjust to our biology, will kill everyone on the planet. Captain Matthew Gideon (Gary Cole) is given command of the Excalibur, the latest and fastest exploration ship Earth has, and a mission to do whatever is necessary to find a cure or combatant to the plague...
Other assembled key crew members include Lieutenant John Matheson (Daniel Dae Kim), Gideon's First Officer and the first telepath to be admitted in to Earthforce; Max Ellerson (Daniel Allen Brooks), a sometimes hot-headed and selfish but expert archaeologist and linguist; Dureena Nafeel (Carrie Dobro), an accomplished thief and locksmith; Dr. Sarah Chambers (Marjean Holden), the ship's medical doctor; and Galen (Peter Woodward), a powerful Technomage who uses science to simulate magic. Also credited among the regular cast is Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins), the character from the latter part of Babylon 5, but with the series having it's plug pulled after only thirteen episodes it's a case of spot the Lochley. Answers on a postcard please. I suppose I should also mention that Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs), the Babylon 5 medical officer, guest stars in episode thirteen. Unlucky for some; we'll blame him then, shall we?
Crusade is a spin-off series from the situations created in Babylon 5. In fact, the Babylon 5 TV movie A Call to Arms sets the scene with the Drakh battle and the first action of the Excalibur.
The good thing is it's not necessary to have any knowledge of that TV movie, as this pretty much starts afresh. In theory, this show would have run a similar five-year arc as the Babylon 5 series, and it's sad that we never got to appreciate its full potential.
I know that J. Michael Straczynski is working on an original feature film set in the Babylon 5 universe, but perhaps he might take the Joss Whedon path on Firefly and attempt to rekindle the series with a movie. Let's hope so.
Crusade starts slow but soon gets moving. One of the most difficult arrangements to pull off convincingly is tackled in practically the first scene. The multiple fist-fight comes across as being more than a little contrived, and also in the first episode John Matheson does little more than release a half-smile every now and then. He's a character that will gradually grow on you, although at times you'll want to shake him in to some sort of activity.
By the second episode the show is already well into its stride, supported by two main strengths. The first is the writing of J. Michael Straczynski, which is as tight and plot-driven as ever. As with Jeremiah, Straczynski's most recent TV serial, you can instantly tell which episodes he has written himself because the quality of output is so much better. Thankfully, of the thirteen parts collected together in this attractive package, all but three are written by the man himself.
The second strength is the character of Galen, brilliantly portrayed by Peter Woodward (son of Edward). Galen has some of the qualities of the first Kosh in Babylon 5, but is significantly more multifaceted. He makes infuriatingly vague comments, he comes and goes like the wind, gives the Impression of being all-powerful and all-knowing when he's clearly not and, best of all, his quirky enthusiasm for the smallest events hook you and reel you in. Galen turns a good show into a great show.
One of the best episodes, in my humble opinion, is The Long Road, in which Edward Woodward plays a Technomage trying to scare away strip minors from his adopted planet. There's plenty of twists and turns, and the victims are not beyond using ruthless means to get their way. It must have been quite strange for Peter Woodward to play against his father.
Extras include commentaries for two episodes, The Making of Crusade documentary, and Forging Excalibur: describing the layout and capabilities of the starship.
This set is well worth a look, as long as you don't expect a conclusion to the Plague story; the nearest you'll get is a hint at a new experiment in the episode Each Night I Dream of Home. It didn't bother me. I just wished for more.
All hail Straczynski.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2004)
The evil Morgan Le Fay is attempting to open the gates from the dimension she serves to the earth. This will unleash evil and chaos. Only the sorcerer supreme, Thomas Lindmer, can stop her, so she targets him individually. After surviving a duel with her, Lindmer realises he is going to need help. So, he acquires the aid of hospital psychiatrist Dr Strange. However, accepting belief in phenomena outside of his experience does not necessarily mean Strange can learn all he needs to in order to combat Le Fay. Lindmer doesn’t select him randomly though; Strange possesses his own mysterious connection to the magical world...
This is the original 1978 version of the comic book adaptation which was a made for television under the guidance of Marvel legend Stan Lee. It stars John Mills as Thomas Lindmer (the mystic tutor to Dr Strange), Jessica Walter as the villainess of the piece (Morgan Le Fay, the immortal witch), and Stephen Hooten as the title character. Particularly for a made for TV piece it would have been quite a coup to acquire John Mills. Here, the part definitely benefits from someone of a certain stature, and the look and character of Stephen Hooton makes him a natural for Dr Strange. Having said that this is undoubtedly a product of the 1970s. Some films seem to survive all decades without ageing, whereas others are grounded in their origins. One of the things which seems to date a film most is the music, and in this one the music is very jazzy, a la The Streets of San Francisco.
Of course, that’s not to say they hadn't done the best they could do with the resources at hand at the time. You have to appreciate the fact that CGI, so commonly in use now, was a long way from being devised. So, what we have instead is an established set for the other dimension location, taken pretty much from the Marvel comic book panels: what appear to be floating rocks in space, and in particular a place where Le Fay can be chastised and generally threatened by the real bad guy. Strange is lured to the ‘dark side’ just a little too easily for anyone other than the most naïve of villainesses to guess his ultimate motive. The aforementioned effects come in the manner of a handful of cosmic bolts thrown around; pretty basic stuff by today’s standards, but remember we are forty years hence.
It’s no coincidence that this film has been released now, with the brand new effects-laden Dr Strange (starring Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch) having just arrived to pretty good critical acclaim. You might call it cashing-in, but there’s a certain nostalgia to these early examples of on-screen Marvel. For example, we’ve had six (and number seven is pending) big budget Spider-Man movies, but I still hold a deep regard for the quirky 1970s TV series with Nicholas Hammond.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2016)
When their spacecraft crash lands on an inhospitable barren world, three surviving battle-hardened soldiers discover that the dangerous criminal they were transporting has escaped. Orders from the highest echelons dictate the quarry should be brought in alive at all costs. However, the troopers are not being told the whole truth; the so-called criminal is the last human, and he holds critical information. A game of cat and mouse ensues, but who will get the upper hand, and what is the crucial information which needs to be protected...?
I'm sad to say that my first statement has to be a reference to the film print carrying a 'Copy of Moviehouse Entertainment' warning across the screen. This is of course extremely annoying and detracts from what otherwise might be an entertaining experience. This treatment of the reviewer as a potential illegal pirate copier makes it difficult to be objective. Let's face it, we are giving their film publicity... And now with that justifiable rant over with, let's turn to the film itself.
The marketing blurb carries a quote from Totalfilm.com which compares Hunter Prey to classic Star Wars. Although it falls well short of reaching those simple but innovative heights, it does have its moments. It's one of those movies which somehow manages to be both tedious and compelling. The early scenes consist of three helmeted figures tracking a distant black-garbed escapee. Consequentially, there is an inordinate amount of sleep-inducing traipsing over sand hills and across rocks (the most fun you can have in a quarry when it's your day off from waiting for the kettle to boil). In fact, there is so much of this padding that the entire plot could comfortably be played out in a third of the running time.
There are pleasantly surprising moments of brilliance. The fact that the escaped criminal is a man would be a great reveal, if not for the film's tagline and cover pictures giving it away. However, the main strength of Hunter Prey is the dialogue, which is always grounded and realistic - particularly between one alien and the human. Without it I think the film would be unwatchable. Add to this the very impressive make-up and prosthetics, and the restraining hand with regard to effects, and what we are left with is a slightly above average film which could have been so much more.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2010)
Dr David Bruce Banner is a scientist who explores how selective people have managed to produce great feats of strength in times of emotional stress and panic (particularly as he failed to save his own partner in similar circumstances). Research pinpoints high bombardments of Gamma Rays as being responsible. To test the theory he subjects himself to an intense level of Gamma radiation. There seems to be no effect, but from then on pain, stress or anguish triggers a monstrous metamorphosis as an inner beast is released...
The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Collection boasts all five seasons of the much loved 1970s TV series, based on the Marvel character created by the great Stan Lee. They are all fully restored and upgraded to high definition shiny bright Blu-ray across 16 discs.
This version of the Hulk is quite different from the original comic books. The idea right from the start was for producer Kenneth Johnson to ground the stories in everyday problems; perhaps in doing so inadvertently borrowing from the Spider-Man premise. Of course, with a limited budget and very few effects, it was only sensible to tell ‘people’ stories. Bill Bixby was apparently the only person the producer had in mind to play Banner. Bixby was a successful jobbing guest-star actor before he found fame in the series The Magician. He was seen as a highly competent actor who could pull-off exactly what they had in mind in terms of friendliness, anxiety, anger and touching scenes of emotion. It was decided that the comic book character’s first name of Bruce wasn’t strong enough, so they made that his middle name and called him David instead (go figure!).
Richard Kiel (Jaws in the Bond films Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me) was originally cast as the Hulk in the pilot, but it was soon decided he wasn’t right for the part. The programme-makers went after Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was busy filming Conan, but he did suggest his fellow bodybuilder and Mr Universe Lou Ferrigno.
After watching him in action for so long it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role – although Johnson did want the skin colour to be red rather than green, to show rage. Thankfully, Stan Lee vetoed the idea. Ferrigno was more than happy to be given the opportunity to act to the show’s requirements that the Hulk should be more than a monster, and display hesitancy, tenderness and sadness when the scripts required it. Another interesting fact about the character of the Hulk is that the growls and grunts for the first two seasons were added in voice over by Ted Cassidy, who was Lurch in The Addams Family. He also narrated the opening titles. Ferrigno was a consummate professional regardless of his hearing disability (he lost 80% of his hearing at the age of three).
The series started with two feature-length stories which are probably the strongest of the show’s run. The Incredible Hulk brilliantly tells the origin story, with the added danger of nosy roving reporter Jack McGee, played by Jack Colvin. However, the basic story is so well-known that the pilot is somewhat overshadowed by Death in the Family, which tells the story of a girl who has lost her father in a suspicious fire, and is being systematically poisoned by her stepmother so that the evil woman can inherit the wealth that would otherwise go to the girl. As a doctor, Banner recognises the signs and intervenes to the point that the stepmother gets her hired thugs to take him out of the picture. Enter our green friend...
As you would expect there is a certain format to the single episodes which follow. Reporter Jack McGee believes the Hulk killed Banner and another scientist, so Banner is forced to keep on the move to be one step ahead in case the inadvertent transformation happens again and the reporter turns up. Thankfully, in many of the episodes he travels to where he believes new scientific research will cure him of his malady – although his ultimate goal is more often than not forgotten in favour of a ‘trouble of the week’ scenario wherein by trying to help people he falls foul of the bad guys. I’m sure that in reality someone with this affliction would stay well out of everyone’s way. But then we wouldn’t have a story and, as I’ve already mentioned, these are very much ‘people’ stories.
I’m certain that prospective viewers currently in their teens or twenties would throw scorn upon this series; after all, the Hulk isn’t all powerful and sometimes darkly humorous like in the Avengers film. In fact, he mostly roars and growls, showing his muscles, and throws objects or people across the room. But that’s the whole point: the idea being that if David (Bruce) Banner wouldn’t kill or intentionally harm them, then his inner ‘Mr Hyde’ would be unwilling to, also. The best way to sum up this show is to say it has heart... a big heart. Accept it in the context of its intention in the era it was made and it’s evident they had a hit on their hands. Although I have seen these episodes probably many times over the years, it didn’t take long for me to be drawn in to its magic. It’s testament to its status that it is enjoying another run on the Horror Channel.
Extras include: Three entertaining featurettes which could have been edited together, as the same people are spoken to in each; a Gag Reel, that is sometimes amusing and so strangely conflicts with the style of the show; a Photo Gallery; a Lou Ferrigno Intro; and a Producer Commentary on the Pilot and two other episodes.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2016)
Fabulous Films releases for the first time together the trilogy of The Incredible Hulk TV movies, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The Incredible Hulk: Original Movie Collection contains The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), The Trial of The Incredible Hulk (1989), and The Death of The Incredible Hulk (1990)...
In The Incredible Hulk Returns, Dr David Bannion has developed a machine called a Gamma Transponder, which will feasibly produce endless energy by removing Gamma Radiation from substances all around us (eh?). He shies away from public recognition – after all, he is really David ‘Bruce’ Banner, and is supposed to be dead. Of course, Banner has an ulterior motive: he has really designed the machine in the hope it will cure him of his anger affliction (and that’s an understatement!), which he is obliged to keep protected from the public. However, unscrupulous businessmen are after stealing the machine by kidnapping the woman Banner loves and blackmailing him into delivering it into their hands. In the meantime, Donald Blake, an ex-student of Banner’s seeks his help with a quite different problem. On a climbing expedition Blake found a body and a hammer, and becomes inextricably linked with Thor – the Norse God of Thunder. Blake can use the hammer to call forth or send back the warrior. Banner teaches Blake to come to terms with this unbreakable partnership, and in return Hulk and Thor go into glorious battle together to put things right.
Bill Bixby was a fine actor, and in turn Lou Ferrigno is perfect in the role of the Hulk – the first ever live-action version of the character. Around six years had passed since the popular TV series had come to an end. The series, whilst perhaps not satisfying the big budget Hulk of the recent Marvel Avengers films, had real heart. The problems were scaled-down, dealing with everyday businessmen villains, as opposed to cosmic power-hungry beings. The TV Movie carries on the trend as if it had never ended. Like the Hulk, the Thor character is lower-key. He doesn’t bring down lightning, but he does want to do the right thing by having a good fight. As you would expect, the modern world leaves him cold. When he asks for beer and food, Blake takes him to a biker’s bar where he fights, drinks a lot and wins a lot of unlikely friends. These scenes are well-handled, making Thor appear more grounded. The Hulk is as good as ever, terrifying people when all he does is a strongman pose, break a few guns and throw a few baddies across the room. He is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, so cannot be seen to do more. He is essentially a good guy, although Banner lives in fear of what the beast in him might do. As if he didn’t have enough of it during the series, reporter Jack McGee is back on his trail, repeatedly just missing out on seeing Banner.
This enjoyable family film is further complimented by a couple of good special features: Very entertaining separate interviews with Lou Ferrigno and Marvel demigod Stan Lee.
In The Trial of The Incredible Hulk, Banner heads to the big city under another pseudonym, and immediately becomes embroiled in trouble after a major jewellery robbery, masterminded by Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. On a train two of the criminals attempt to assault a woman passenger. When Banner intercedes he is roughed-up. Enter the Hulk. He escapes into the tunnels and reverts to Banner, but he is arrested by police when the woman victim reports he was the aggressor – as it turns out, under duress from the criminal fraternity. Blind lawyer Matt Murdock arrives to take on his case. He believes he is innocent but doesn’t know why. After a particularly ferocious nightmare involving his inner beast, Banner changes and breaks out of prison. A well-known vigilante called the Daredevil seeks him out, ensuring him of his trustworthiness by revealing his identity as Matt Murdock. When the woman witness is kidnapped by the Kingpin’s men, Daredevil goes off in pursuit. However, Banner learns that the vigilante is walking into a trap, and feels obliged to go to his aid.
Although this uses the same last quarter plot strand as the previous film, it’s still enjoyable. Nevertheless, there is no doubt it is a much darker script. The inclusion of Daredevil necessitates this. He is very single-minded about helping the innocent and driving out corruption in the city where he lived as a boy with his dad.
Daredevil is probably the closest superhero in style and theme to Batman. A character in this movie actually borrows from the DC Comics Commissioner Jim Gordon. Gordon is the only member of the police force he can totally rely on, so there is somewhat of an ‘understanding.’ Similarly, in this one there is a high-ranking police officer who openly admits corruption in the ranks.
Again, Daredevil is toned-down for this first live-action appearance. In a family show he cannot be shown exchanging heavy blows with the villains. Although the costume in the comics was dark red, it was changed to black for this outing. It was a choice Stan Lee openly opposed. The comics briefly altered the costume colour to black, before reverting to their original colour. So I’m certain Lee felt vindicated.
Stan Lee has a cameo role in this, a move that was to become more than familiar in the later movies. He plays a juror in a Hulk frenzy set-piece. This could well be Ferrigno’s most lavish scene in the role. It is the nightmare wherein Banner is put on trial and cross-examined to the point he changes into the Hulk and goes on a rampage, throwing people around and famously lifting up the box containing all the jurors (who, I have to say, look back expressionless at him, as if this sort of this was normal!).
The rich voice of John Rhys-Davies makes his portrayal of the Kingpin more convincing, when we are used to substantially bigger actors playing the role. A sad note is that Jack Colvin, who played reporter Jack McGee, suffered a stroke after filming Return, and so was unable to appear in this or the subsequent movie.
In the final film of this collection, Dr Ronald Pratt has a laboratory in a high security building. He is working on a way to quickly heal human injuries, and a ghost is helping him. Every night someone is managing to get around the security, enter the lab and aid his research. The last person he would suspect is the mentally challenged cleaner, David. That is until he lies in wait one night. Dr Pratt chooses not to reveal this breach to officials, and the two work together to aid Banner’s plight. The process is almost certain to rid him of his inner beast, but it is interrupted when a beautiful spy gets in and tries to steal Dr Pratt’s discoveries. Pratt is badly injured in an accident, and the Hulk has to intervene. However, the spy is working under duress, believing her sister is being held hostage – when really she is the leader of the organisation and wants her dead. When Dr Pratt and his wife are kidnapped from the hospital for their knowledge, Banner and the former spy team-up and (forced to put their new emotional attachment to one side) go into action against the bad guys. But it doesn’t end well for our reluctant hero.
With the appearance of Thor in the first film and Daredevil in the second, it was intended to introduce Iron Man into this one, but the idea was abandoned at a late stage. So this film gets to concentrate more on the Banner/Hulk character. Banner finds a new family with Donald Pratt and his wife, he almost gets cured, finds love (and rumpy-pumpy!), and talks of a new life far away. However, nefarious and unscrupulous villains invariably get in the way of these things. The death scene itself isn’t a momentous occasion to feel he has sacrificed himself to the greater good. When the aircraft being flown by the villains Hulk is attempting to stop explodes in mid-air, the Hulk falls in slow motion to the ground. I like the fact that the ground breaks-up when he hits the runway, but the plane hadn’t even reached the clouds. It wasn’t that high, meaning the Hulk should have survived the fall. I suspect the intention here was to give him a good send-off in this format – and Banner a final peace.
There were plans for another follow-up movie, in which the central character is returned to life. It wasn’t to be, however, as shortly after the third movie Bill Bixby (who ably directed all three) fell ill and died. Bixby managed to create a different mood/feel for each of these films, and that is no mean achievement. No matter what modern audiences might think about lack of money, resources, special effects, stunt work and make-up, the films – and indeed the series – were fun, emotional and at times thought-provoking. The bottom line is they had heart. All the money in Hollywood can’t necessarily magic that into a production.
I’m sure the first two films could have been cleaned-up a little, as they are slightly grainy. The two extra features on the first disc are great, but the others contain nothing. Is there no existing behind-the-scenes footage or film of Lou Ferrigno being made-up? Perhaps then a TV historian waxing lyrical about the show and showering us with fascinating facts. But don’t let this turn you off. I watched the series as a kid and enjoyed it very much. These films maintain that same style, and I still enjoy watching it today.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2018)
After receiving a piece of volcanic rock which harbours an inherent man-made object, Professor Lindenbrook and a young fellow academic (who is suitor to Lindenbrook’s daughter) travel to Iceland in the footsteps of a renowned missing explorer. Along with the widow of another murdered adventurer, a strong Icelandic farmer and his pet duck, they discover the entry point which they hope will take them to the centre of the Earth. There is a veritable wealth of wonders including a cavern of crystals, an entire ocean and prehistoric creatures. But there is also danger, not least from a greedy and jealous rival expedition...
Before I get to the film I’d just like to share my amusement at being justified so soon after my review of Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon book of B-Movie critiques. In said review I describe Newman’s collection of pieces as coming across rather dry and I would much rather watch him enthuse about his subject on camera. And here he is on the extras for this disc doing exactly that. Very entertaining it is too.
As for the film itself – all 129 minutes of it: you wouldn’t think it would work putting together an established actor such as James Mason with a crooner like Pat Boone. But work it does. Boone even gets his solo song piece when his character woos his love-interest on the piano prior to the journey.
Jules Verne stories are grand fantastical adventures on a wide landscape. They are more about what happens along the way than the achievement of completing them. Transferred to cinema that means the spectacle is the meat and gravy, as opposed to any outcome. So we have a number of set pieces. The number of scenes with monsters is reduced from the book to only a couple of moments wherein iguana-type lizards run around with fins strapped to their backs. The journey itself is a gentlemanly Victorian – almost Cyberpunk romp, with brass wind-up lamps and cumbersome breathing apparatus.
The comedy element is supposed to come with the presence of the duck, but thankfully it isn’t played for slapstick silliness. Ironically, the most horrific moment of the film comes with the off-screen demise of said duck. That dastardly villain quickly gets his comeuppance though.
This release brings a new 4K restoration, 5.1 sound, an isolated soundtrack, the aforementioned Kim Newman interview, a commentary by actress Diane Baker and film historians Steven C. Smith and Nick Redman, and a restoration featurette.
Journey to the Center (Centre to us Brits) of the Earth doesn’t create excitement to put you on the edge of your seat, but it remains an enjoyable experience
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2017)
Zordon, an interdimensional being arrives at the City of Angel Grove with his robotic helper, Alpha 5, to make a stand against the forces of darkness. When Ivan Ooze (yeah, really!) is accidentally released from an egg which has held him captive for six thousand years, the Power Rangers are sent to stop him, only to find they are lacking the necessary energy. Happily, there just happens to be enough on another planet...
You know when you get a movie which is so bad it's good? Well, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie isn't one of those; this is so bad it's worse! Power Rangers proved popular with kids a few years back, and was even the preferred toy at Christmas that first year. However, the minds and opinions of kids are at best fickle. Yesterday's newsis today's blues; what was hip is now hokum, etc.
From the start the Ranger kids are full of American clichés that are supposed to display their street cred. All it succeeds in doing is grating with the viewer, with excessive use of phrases like, "Right! Let's Go! Let's Do it!" and giving each other high-fives. I had to smile though when the villains legged-it during the first, prolonged metamorphoses into Power Rangers; it just about summed up the silliness of it all.
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, is a considerable improvement on the first outing. Lerigot is a wizard that holds the key to interdimensional gateways. He is plagued by space pirate Divatox who wants to release a demon creature. Enter the Power Rangers and you almost wish for a nuclear strike to interrupt the viewing...
To be fair the Power Rangers are much more restrained this time, but why oh why must all the villains be so juvenile? You should never talk down to a young audience, because they're not as gullible and easy to please as it might seem. In these films the perpetrators of crime wear glittery armour and talk in high-pitch squeaky voices. There's no tension, only a never-ending series of set-pieces. Also, there's no valid reason why they want to rule the Earth, they just do. It's tantamount to the days of silent movie moustachioed villains twirling a cape and miming maniacal laughter.
The Power Rangers themselves look for all the world like a set of blackbelt colouring pencils. Hmm... Now there's a missed marketing opportunity. Power Rangers might well hold the attention of very small children now, but it was plainly a passing trend. I can understand the financial reasoning behind teaming-up these two releases; however, the metaphorical boat has well and truly sailed, leaving our unlikely heroes behind.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2002)
Stranded on a spaceship which looks suspiciously like a dog’s bone, Mike Nelson is the on going victim of mad scientist Doctor Clayton Forrester’s diabolical (you’re telling me!) scheme for world domination. He is obliged to watch the worst movies ever made, with only the company of two sarcastic robots called Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. However, the scientist fails to recognise into his dastardly equations man’s indomitable sense of humour...
If somebody were to explain the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) for the first time it would undoubtedly on the face of it seem like a brilliant idea. There is no plot as such; it is essentially showing an old B-movie and ridiculing it every step of the way with inane comments and ridiculous spontaneously invented dialogue. There’s not much else to say, aside from the fact only one of these endless ‘clever’ comments actually made me laugh. The majority of the remainder didn’t even bring a smile to my lips.
The film caught with its pants down is This Island Earth, from the 1950s. I suppose with no logical direction it’s a prime candidate, but there are a lot worse films than this. Mystery Science Theater 3000, for instance. I’m led to believe that the TV series version of MST3K has proved to be quite a hit, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t work for me. Mock the Week manages a much funnier short version of the same thing whilst making it contemporary.
There’s no commentary in the extras, because that fundamentally makes up the movie itself. So we get a making-of... featurette, with most of the emphasis on the rod puppet robots, a trailer and a stills gallery.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2012)
In a future society where cyborgs who look like real people can be owned, the city's police security force are on the trail of Cyon, a rogue cyborg who is very powerful and extremely dangerous. Meanwhile 'R', a reliable and respected member of the security force is giving his chief cause for concern. 'R' has fallen in love with the pleasure cyborg Ria (colloquially called Dolls by the media) and purchases her from a nightclub owner near the end of her three-year life expectancy. With the aid of a black market doctor/scientist he attempts to find a way to prolong her life. Unfortunately, this involves the use of a young woman from the streets, whose DNA structure is a near match, and he is caught between protecting a human life and saving his beloved. However, 'R' hasn't bargained for Cyon's own agenda involving the same woman...
This is a difficult one to read. It tries to be many things simultaneously, but fails to significantly be any one of them. Imagine a live-action Manga attempt at Blade Runner and you won't be too far away. There is the same mix of slums, street life and futuristic settings, with roving advertisements. There are many Manga-like fight sequences incorporating intermittent slow-motion reminiscent of The Matrix.
Natural City doesn't have the class of these influences, and it fails severely on an emotional level. Frankly, you just don't care about anyone in the movie. The most curious thing involves the dialogue; is it the fault of the screenplay or the translation to English subtitles that make the speech so unrealistic? Sometimes it feels like you're caught up in a pantomime rather than a film, with dialogue like "Duck", "Up above, now behind!" "Move!" and swear words which just appear funny because they don't appear to be in any context.
For those who might enjoy Natural City the extras are fairly good. There's a Making Of..., a Location Tour with the director, and three deleted scenes.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2004)
A company called TGI is disposing of a toxic chemical substance in a clean-up programme. The last canister is stolen by Turtles nemesis Shredder (sporting a rather fetching circular saw hat), who has miraculously survived their last encounter. He creates two creatures to take on the Turtles, using the same ooze that accidentally mutated our heroes. Chaos ensues as the Turtles, guided by their master Splinter, a mutant rat, take on the bad guys in a bid to explain their own origins...
Surprisingly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze was a lot less painful to watch than the Power Rangers twin pack DVD also released by Fox this month. There's the same wisecracking, arse-kicking display, but at least the main characters are individuals and possess their own nuances. Nobody can stay serious for more than two minutes, and those that try ham it up terribly. I suppose any attempt to make a thought provoking plot is immediately shot down in flames when four plastic-coated bandanna wearing turtles leap into the scene. Even Yoda didn't get away with it in Attack of the Clones.
I have to give credit where it's due. The fight scenes are pretty well choreographed, but you can just hear the sound of true Ninjas from the ancient past turning in their graves. The one-liners, of which there are plenty, range wildly from the genuinely amusing to the outright cringe-worthy. It's just unfortunate that all but the tiniest percentage fall into the latter category. There's a monumental chasm between being funny and being silly; the Turtles, despite their martial arts, never manage to leap the gap.
The second disc in the collection sees Michaelangello, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo return when friend April picks up a lamp standard from a junk shop only to discover it is a time link to the ancient past. April disappears, leaving a confused apanese warrior in her place, so the Turtles must utilise the lamp to travel to the Japan of the 1600s in a bid to get her back. But an Englishman has aspirations regarding the amp, the only link to their own time...
The training/dancing scene to ZZ Top at the beginning of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III gave me high aspirations. This sequel borrows heavily from Shogun. The costumes are fantastic, the settings beautiful, the acting pretty good... and then there's the Turtles! If this film had been played straight or parodied the genre, it would have perhaps turned out one-hundred percent better. However, it does neither one nor the other, instead opting to scuttle about somewhere in-between. The Turtle speech is straight out of the Bill and Ted films, with "Awesome!" and "Dudes!" all over the place. Bill and Ted pulled it off, the Turtles don't.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2002)
Scientists at an arctic research station track an object which deviates in its movements before crashing into the ice. Air Force personnel are called in to investigate the phenomenon. Flying between the station and the site in question, the compasses go haywire and they are forced to navigate by other means. What they discover is a large saucer-shaped alien craft under the ice. Attempting to blast it free proves unsuccessful but does reveal what looks likes a humanoid shape. The biped is flown back to the research station in a large block of ice. However, when the ice melts and the creature disappears, the weather isn't the only problem the personnel have to face. The Thing seems to be constructed of vegetable matter and needs the vitamins in blood to sustain itself. When it is discovered bullets have no affect, more drastic measures are called for...
There is a direct connection between this film and my favourite filmmaker, John Carpenter. Howard Hawks, who was the producer and uncredited director for this film, was a hero and inspiration for Carpenter in his early days. Some years back I attended a John Carpenter Masterclass at the National Film Theatre during which he demonstrated Hawks' film techniques, and included The Thing, which had quite an affect on him as a child in the fifties.
Of course, you would expect me to prefer Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing, which was much more true to the John W. Campbell, Jr. short story Who Goes There? - and you'd be right. But the point here is the impact this original had in its day.
The press blurb is correct in stating that it helped kick-start the sci-fi horror boom of the fifties. It's a long way from the many turkeys which followed in its wake. It doesn't play on the effects of the cold war, but just gets on with the story.
By today's standards this isn't going to scare anyone, and there are far too many scenes of group dialogue rather than tension-building. Where it does succeed is in its sheer style.
Some black and white films from the past are lent a certain atmosphere by the sheer lack of colour. The Thing is one of those. Therefore, I can see no sense in offering the alternative colourised version on this two-disc set, and can only imagine the purpose is to remarket the film for a modern day short-sighted viewing public. If you're tempted by this release, stick to the beautifully restored print version, also in this set.
At this point I would have scored the release a 7, but the icing on the cake for me is the optional commentary by none other than John Carpenter himself. Hooray!
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2007)
Tom Baker's Ultimate Sci Fi Quiz is just one of a hundred or so interactive test-your knowledge DVDs (covering everything from Bullseye to Emmerdale) which have leapt, seemingly with a life of their own, on to the shopping shelves in time for Christmas. On face value this should be the ideal purchase for any visitor to (or reviewer for) Sci-fi online, but does it match-up to expectations...?
The premise behind the concept is that you are the captain of the SS Hawking, a research vessel which has been sucked into a wormhole and thrown 20,000 light-years from Earth. Your ship carries invaluable information about black holes which is vital in the fight against the Martian Separatists. You attempt the journey home by answering questions (sounds like a particularly bad Blakes 7 plot to me). Kirk never had this trouble; he simply punched out the bad guys and seduced the green-skinned ladies with three breasts.
Anyway, the questions are grouped into twelve categories. You select a category and are given five questions, for which you are offered four options each. If you answer correctly your ship moves forward 1,000 light-years (1K), and if you get it wrong you remain in position. The goal is to get back to Earth before the questions run out. There are six rounds in a game, with five questions per category. So you need to answer twenty out of thirty. Just to confuse matters, periodically you are given a "Wormhole Detected" warning, and if you mess-up on the next question you are moved back 1K. The two player option differs in that you both play the same categories, but you can be thrown behind or in front of the other player depending on how you fair after the wormhole warning.
Tom Baker asks the questions, and it's obvious to me that he's only there as a name to capture potential sales. One moment you get caught up in his enthusiasm and another he seems acutely embarrassed. The first time I played this game I answered every question correctly. The queries are not very simple, but any long-time follower of science fiction is going to know most of these answers. Over the next few tries many of the same questions popped up, leaving me wondering just how many there really are. Some categories I wasn't so hot on, but I still had to purposefully answer incorrectly just to discover what would happen at the end (not much - just a little bit of sarcasm from Baker).
Clips and stills are used from many films, but certain movies and subjects seemed to arise more than most. The Land That Time Forgot, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Doctor Who are just three examples. All of this silly scenario is superfluous to requirements; it would have been much better to ask general SF questions and specialist subject ones, with perhaps the rewards for success being the unlocking of certain film and TV clips. The worst thing I found about this release is that at no point does it allow you to pause or fast forward, so if the telephone rings or someone knocks at the door you're stuffed.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2006)
Eddie Brock is a journalist with a reputation for upsetting the applecart and getting to the heart of the matter, but when he goes up against a space and research corporation he loses his job, his home and his fiancé. Carlton Drake, the head of the company, wants to protect his assets at all costs, which include three symbiotic organisms – brought back with a crashed shuttlecraft – and has begun illicit human tests, with disastrous and fatal consequences. When a worker asks for Brock’s help in revealing the company’s experiments to the world, Venom, one of the symbiotic creatures bonds successfully with Brock, and they use each other in an unlikely partnership to do the right thing. But they have very different ideas about ‘the right thing’. And they have reckoned without the power and resources of Venom’s counterpart, Riot...
Since its first on-screen release, opinion on Venom has been much divided. One thing which people seemed to agree upon, however, was that Tom Hardy was the right actor to play the role of Eddie Brock, one half of the symbiosis. Very good he is, too; Hardy is a hard-working, hands-on actor. With such a rich and entertaining tapestry from the comic books (Venom was co-created by Todd McFarlane, who created Spawn, and whose company produced many exquisite and very highly-detailed collectables under the banner Movie Maniacs) it would be difficult to satisfy the many fans. The most common complaint seems to be that Venom isn’t sporting the big white spider design on his chest. Indeed, I can sympathise with this view. I grew up (have I grown up?) reading the Spider-Man comic books, and anyone who knows the timeline will argue Venom’s origin story lies with the web-head. The black costume saga ran for around seven years. Venom bonded with Spider-Man but influenced him to the point they fought a long battle for control. When the web-slinger succeeded in separating their bond, Venom bonded with Brock, an enemy of Peter Parker.
The director here wanted to give Venom his own origin story and it sort of works, although I would have preferred he pay tribute to the comic stories, as James Cameron intended to do before the rights were untangled. The most well-known things about the symbiotic creature is its relentlessness and dark humour. There are several instances of this, including the scenes in Mrs Chen’s store and the cameo of demigod Stan Lee walking a little dog. There is also a nice scene involving the homeless woman Maria, who is selling free newspapers.
As you would expect in a Marvel film there are plenty of stunts and CGI-driven segments. The chase through the centre of town at night is particularly exciting, but doesn’t take over the film. Somehow, the movie manages to tell a character story held together by humour and loads of ridiculous situations. There is even a tantalising teaser scene with Woody Harrelson playing Cletus Kasady, who later becomes Carnage. Not the greatest shell in Marvel’s canon, but an enjoyable romp all the same.
Extras include: The Venom video by Eminem (not great), a sneak peek of the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse; Venom Mode (hidden references to the comic books throughout the film); The Anti-Hero (the backstory of the Venom character); Deleted & Extended Scenes; The Lethal Protector in Action (film stunts); Venom Vision (how Ruben Fleischer came to the project); Designing Venom (the effects); Symbiote Secrets (references made throughout the film); and 8 Select Scenes Pre-Vis Sequences (comparisons before and after effects).
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2019)
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