7 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
An international space station comprising a crew of two British, two Americans, a Dutch woman and a Japanese man collect a mineral sample from a satellite which has been to Mars. They find a single cell life-form which contains all the ingredients for growth and evolution. When it begins to react to stimulation the news is a relayed to an excited Earth. However, precautions are taken by placing the lab in quarantine and, when the life-form appears to die, an electric shock causes it to react with violence. Despite protocols it manages to escape the lab, where it grows and shows adaptability and natural predatory survival skills. Suddenly, it is not only the remaining crew-members who are in danger but the very existence of life on Earth...
This is very much Alien for the new generation, and boy does it work! When Ridley Scott’s first Alien film emerged to an unsuspecting public, aided immensely by H. R. Giger’s design, nothing like it had been seen before. In a science fiction environment it offered an example of what could happen when man ventures out on to other planets. Life explores an even more potentially realistic scenario. What really brings it home is that this could happen right now. We have a space station, we have exploratory satellites taking photos and samples. Furthermore, an edge-of-the-seat atmosphere is created very early by having a nondescript alien organism (dubbed Calvin). The greatest fear in life is fear of the unknown, and at no time do we learn what it is capable of, what it can survive, or how it might adapt and evolve in any situation. There are some serious scares, so rare in films these days.
A variation on the Wish Fulfillment saying is: Be careful what you look for, you might just find it. In a sense, this gives credence to those dissenters of certain social networking who opine about opening a can of worms. This is pushing that scenario to the limit. After all, renowned science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said that if we ever came across extraterrestrial life it would be so different that we wouldn’t even recognise it for what it was.
Directed by an enthusiastic Daniel Espinosa, Life is very much a joint effort, with actors such as Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada and Ariyon Bakare working well and naturally together. It’s a nice touch to have the Japanese astronaut’s wife having their baby on a video link so, in effect, he can be there. This creates an important link between the astronauts and the Earth, and an even more important one for the viewer to realise the situation is critical not just to the space station but the entire planet. The weightlessness is handled extremely well, so that rather than the slow weighted shoes of other films they zip around with some speed in this one, heightening the pace and sense of constant peril. This tightly-shot base under siege-type film is well worth a look.
Extras include: Astronaut Diaries (characters shooting video sequences for the public back home); Creating Life (The Art and Reality of Calvin); Life in Zero G (about filming the movement of the characters); and Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space (documentary).
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2017)
After falling for her tutor, a young woman and her best friend turn up at his apartment, only to be drawn into a dark world of computer hacking and hidden codes. He and two associates have an elaborate computer network which bounces off of servers so that it is very difficult to be traced. They are attempting to break into the Vatican's system, and run programs which find linked hidden words in the Hebrew Koran. Reading it in increasing multitude dimensions could reveal a knowledge and power thus far unrealised. But what will that knowledge mean to the real world, and how will it affect the minds of those involved...?
The 7th Dimension is a technological suspense thriller which takes a leaf from The Da Vinci Code concept but produces an infinitely more cerebral and edgy drama. In its simplest form it uses the tool of jumping computer servers to mix quantum physics with religion to reveal an ancient clairvoyance that suggests future events are predetermined - or at least fixed in time. Breaking encryption and hacking into the Vatican is an intriguing idea. It has been used before but not to this effect. Finding hidden codes and ultimately predictions in an ancient Hebrew text, by searching two-dimensionally, is one thing, but adding the third dimension opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and when the fourth dimension of time is entered in to the mix strange events begin to influence the hackers.
It's almost impossible to describe all the intricacies of this film's plot - and I wouldn't want to ruin the journey - but suffice to say it's taut and atmospheric. Some people will undoubtedly label this existential crap, but that would be a huge injustice. Writer/director Brad Watson has created a gem here, with powerful and well-defined characters. Don't expect car chases and big explosions, but do expect a compelling and claustrophobic tale. This is the best British film I've seen since Hush.
The disc also contains an interesting making-of... documentary about getting the project off the ground.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2010)
The year is 2278. Centauri Prime burns. In the palace an elderly Londo - now emperor - watches like Nero. Two children wander into a forbidden area of the palace, and Londo tells them a story: As a young man he is asked by Earth Alliance diplomats what he knows about the Minbari. The Earth military are arrogant after winning a war against the Dilgar. They propose to send ships to Minbar to see if they propose a theat. Londo recommends they send one ship, because even when the Centauri were at their height they would not cross the Minbari.
Lenonn is a Minbari who protests at the decision to disband the Rangers at a time when the prophecy says they are needed most. He meets with the Grey Council, invoking the name of Valen, who formed the Council of Warrior, Worker and Religious castes and led a great victory against the Shadows. Delenn is standing in for another in the Grey Council. She is allowed to speak by her master, Ducat, and suggests confirming part of the prophecy by travelling to Z'Ha'Dum to see if the Shadows have returned to their homeland. It is said that the Vorlons will come forward when it is time. No contact has been made publicly, but Kosh the Vorlon ambassador, and Ducat have been meeting privately. Delenn is initiated into the Grey Council.
Sheridan is assigned as First Officer on the Prometheus, the frontline Earth ship investigating Minbari space, but he declines the promotion, remaining loyal to his Commanding Officer and proclaiming the commander of the Prometheus to be a loose canon. The Prometheus goes in too close in an attempt to obtain information on a Minbari warship and is scanned in turn. In a traditional open-handed approach the Minbari move in with gun ports open. The captain of the Prometheus sees this as a prelude to an attack and so orders all guns to open fire. Ducat is killed and Delenn is distraught. When told that the Grey Council is divided on whether to strike back, she reacts with great anger and instructs the Council to kill all the humans. "No Mercy." So began the Minbari holy war against Earth.
Delenn regrets the slaughter and seeks to find an end to the madness of this war - a war which the humans can't hope to win. There can be no satisfaction in genocide, but the Warrior caste has embraced the situation. Delenn visits a reconstruction of Valen's old living quarters and is surprised to meet two Vorlons, one of whom gives his name as Kosh. A hologram message from Ducat is projected, asking for the Vorlons to be trusted. They are here to prepare for the coming war with the Shadows and to announce that the humans will be needed as allies. They are the Key.
The Earth military discovers that Doctor Franklin had previously treated sick Minbari people long before the war. A general demands he hand over DNA data gathered at the time, but Franklin refuses, invoking the medical code of practice which dictates he save lives. He will not give information that will lead to the creation of a bio-genetic plague that will kill-off an entire race. He is arrested.
The Lexington detects a short-range Minbari ship and dispatches a fighter to follow. It is a trap. Minbari warships arrive suddenly through jump gates, and many of the Earth cruisers with the Lexington are quickly destroyed. The Lexington itself is heavily damaged and the captain killed, leaving Sheridan in command. The Lexington is adrift. Sheridan sends a distress signal, knowing that a Minbari ship would arrive to finish them off. But Sheridan plays dead before releasing tactical warheads at the enemy. This constitutes the first major victory in the difficult war.
Delenn seeks a way to stop the war. She sets up a meeting to negotiate, and Sheridan is sent to a neutral planet with Franklin, and G'Kar (the Narn ambassador) as mediator. Londo orders a Centauri ship to destroy the Narn ship and attack their location on the planet surface. A Minbari is killed in the attack, after whispering something to Sheridan. The Minbari arrive quickly and take Sheridan, Franklin and G'Kar, but Sheridan shouts to a cowled Delenn he knows what is in Lenonn's secret place - and utters a Minbari word which means 'the future'.
Earth struggles for two years, making the Minbari fight for every inch of space, but eventually it stands on the edge of destruction. The final conflict becomes known as 'The Battle of the Line', a last defence of Earth to allow transport ships to flee the planet. Sinclair is leading an Earth fighter squadron on the Line. A multitude of jump gates open admitting Minbari attack cruisers, and all hell breaks loose. Sinclair's fighter is disabled, and he attempts to ram a Minbari ship. Delenn suggests that a human be brought on board her Minbari ship, on the pretence they should learn about Earth world defences. Sheridan is brought aboard and, when probing his mind, they discover he has a Minbari soul, the soul of Valen. Delenn tells the others this is a sign from Valen that the humans are important in the coming Shadow War, and that they should not be killed. A telepath will remove this memory from Sheridan's mind so he cannot tell anyone else. The order is given to surrender when they are on the eve of victory, and this decision confounds a hundred worlds. The war is over.
The Earth president orders the construction of the Babylon Project, a place where races can work out their differences peacefully. They can never afford to make another mistake like the one which began the Earth-Minbari war.
When TNT became the new production financers of Babylon 5 for Season 5, they wanted something to launch it, and suggested a prequel. Writer and Co-Executive Producer J. Michael Straczynski considered how he might tackle this in an original way, and eventually decided on the notion of shooting forward to the future to have an elderly and guilt-laden Londo (now Emperor of Centauri Prime) tell a back-story about the Earth Minbari War to two small children - which fits in with the continuity of the entire serial. We learn how Sheridan got his Minbari nickname of 'Starkiller' when we see him destroy their biggest ship, the Black Star, in a hopeless war. We discover what happened to give Sinclair the "hole" in his mind, and that the order to attack the humans was first given by Delenn, after her teacher and friend Ducat was killed in a misunderstanding with a curious (and somewhat arrogant) Earth ship. The Prometheus (which from legend brings fire) was the first Earth ship to fire on the Minbari. There is also Londo's confession that the war was partly his fault.
Babylon 5 - In The Beginning fills in all the storylines we have wondered about by employing the prose rule of "show, don't tell", without ever seeming like exposition. Long-time fans will know about these situations through the episodic format and will enjoy seeing them unfold on-screen, whilst for newcomers it serves as a good back-story without ever going over old ground. All of the main characters are well-employed (with only G'Kar not so prominent) and the acting in some parts is breath-taking, particularly Peter Jurasik as the aged Londo and Mira Furlan as Delenn. Considering (like Revenge of the Sith) much of what happens is expected, this TV movie works remarkably well. I urge you to re-experience it on the Region 1 Movie Boxset version - in Dolby Digital Widescreen.
(Review by Ty Power 2020. A shorter version of this review appeared on my original website in 2005)
Commander Lochley, who was the first officer which replaced Ivanova around eleven
years before in this timeline, is faced with a Babylon 5 worker who seems to be possessed by a demon - or maybe the Devil himself. A priest is caught in a dilemma of whether or not to perform an exorcism, as the incarcerated man debates theology with them. But Lochley
discovers the demon is tied to the Earth and, in an attempt to escape, is trying to trick the priest into performing an exorcism in space...
Technomage Galen appears to President Sheridan as he travels to Babylon 5 for the tenth anniversary celebrations of the Interstellar Alliance. He shows Sheridan the destruction of New York and says that in 30 years Prince Ventari of the Centauri Republic will destroy the Earth in his quest to return his race to their former glory. This can only be prevented by Sheridan killing Ventari.
Having decided the time was right for more Babylon 5, and to cater to a fanbase crying out for more, after the hugely lucrative DVD box set sales of seasons one to five, Warner approached writer, creator and visionary J. Michael Straczynski with the idea of perhaps making a feature film version. JMS reportedly told them he couldn't imagine a movie without G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and Dr Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) - both of whom have died since the series ended - and instead proposed a number of short, straight to DVD stories concentrating separately on major characters from the series.
The first of The Lost Tales consists of two stories loosely connected to form the TV movie Voices in the Dark (a typically poetic JMS title). The Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) tale is lacklustre at best, and would barely have passed as a stand alone episode in the old first season. Aside from Lochley, who hasn't got the presence of Ivanova as first officer in the series, the priest is convincing, but the whole fails to carry as a story in its own right. The second tale is much better. Bruce Boxleitner slips easily back into his role of Sheridan like he's never been away, and Peter Woodward, briefly in Babylon 5 and a main character in the spin-off series Crusade, is engaging as the sometimes dangerous, sometimes humorous technomage Galen. Of course, this dramatic plot dilemma has been played-out several times previously, but it is well-handled here.
The potential continuity problem of the Babylon 5 station exploding at the conclusion of the five-year story arc is overcome here by rolling back time a few years, setting these tales before that momentous event. Credit should be given to returning music composer Christopher Franke, who creates effective fresh dramatic enhancement rather than relying on any of his major themes from the series. The visual effects are utilised to their best order within the obvious confines of the budget (exterior views of the station appearing somewhat darker and more sinister), but haven't the same impact as the groundbreaking CGI seen on the series. Having recently re-watched all of Season One, the old effects hold up remarkably well considering we are now more than ten years down the line. The dialogue, as you would expect from JMS, is one of this release's strong points, with lines like "I've never known hope when it wasn't on a diet," from Sheridan.
On the menus we are given the option of watching Voices in the Dark as a TV movie, or selecting one or the other of the two half-hour segments. Extras include: Fireside Chats (18 minutes of questions posed by fans which are answered by JMS); The Straczynski Diaries (21 minutes of production information and nonsense about glove puppets); Memorials (JMS and cast talk about Andreas Katsulas who played G'Kar, one of the best characters from the series, and Richard Biggs who played Dr Stephen Franklin). Some interesting snippets of information can be collected here, such as the fact JMS would watch his main actors off-set and then incorporate the witnessed traits into their characters. JMS also mentions what I remember as being one of the strongest scenes in the entire Babylon 5 series. Londo is trapped in a broken-down lift with G'Kar. G'Kar is happy to die because his sworn enemy will die too. Andreas Katsulas introduced the madness of laughter into the scene, which JMS okayed because it made the moment so powerful.
I could probably talk all day about Babylon 5; it was after all one of the greatest TV serials of all time. However, The Lost Tales is quite obviously a nostalgia trip for established fans, of which I'm certain there are plenty. This feels like Babylon 5 but is missing the interaction of its loved characters. It's rather like saying this is a good stew because there are potatoes - even though there's nothing to go with them. There should be more of these releases to come, whereas I would personally prefer one release with as many of the ensemble that can be collected together.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2007)
After a group of pregnant women become trapped in an overheated elevator (that's lift to us Brits!), resulting in a couple of premature births, ex-marine and present day lift engineer Mark Newman visits the 102 floor New York Millennium Building to check out the systems. Everything seems okay, but this is only the first of a string of dangerous occurrences. A building security guard is decapitated, a blind man walks through the doors into an empty shaft, the bottom falls out of a lift full of people, and there is a near miss with a little girl. It appears that the express elevators have a mind of their own. Accompanied by Jennifer Evans, a beautiful but nosy reporter who initially gets him into trouble, Newman investigates. They discover that the designer of the elevator computer system was expelled from the military after disastrous use of organic technology involving dolphins. His illicit work continues, but this time it's not dolphins he's using...
Down has a very much made-for-television feel to it. It's obviously fairly low budget, compared with most other modern cinema releases, and predictable in many areas. When regular film and TV bad guy Michael Ironside turns up as the villain of the piece, you instantly realise this was played as a safe bet. No casting against type here; Ironside is so established in this kind of role that the moment he makes his appearance you just know you should begin the booing and hissing, for no logical reason except that he's there.
Our hero fairs little better. He's a likeable enough chap, but too easy-going and weak for his supposed background. A tough ex-marine would surely push back when threatened. Here his military training is merely tacked on to explain how he can climb a lift cable and hang upside down to fire a rocket launcher. The reporter is the saving grace here: annoying, and yet good-looking and somewhat quirky.
However, the main plot strand makes little sense. Why would anyone want lifts to think for themselves? More importantly, after only a couple of major incidents, the building would have been closed to the public for a thorough investigation. In this age of political activists the police could not afford to take a chance of more people being killed, no matter how much revenue would potentially be lost. Keeping the entire building, complete with lifts with the hump, open is nonsensical, especially as the police and security all suspect terrorists.
A less than average film. On an even more ridiculous note, as the film ends Newman and Evans step straight into another building's lift. As they go down (!) the soundtrack kicks in with Aerosmith's Love In An Elevator. Yes, I groaned too.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)
Only days after if was released in selective cinemas, Dogwoof releases Memory: The Origins of Alien, on DVD and on Demand. Said to be the most comprehensive documentary on this ground-breaking film from 1979, it incorporates interviews, storyboards, artwork, and a history from original concept to realisation...
Although it could be argued this genre began in the 1950s with the plethora of fun science fiction monster b-movies, the modern era of SF horror undoubtedly began with Alien in 1979. Without the style, impact and, ultimately, the success of this enterprise there may not have been many other subsequent big budget Hollywood ventures. In fact, so enduring was the rude awakening that humanity isn’t the dominant species in the universe that it has remained with us for four decades. Many movies have tried to emulate Alien (among them Species and Splice), but even some of the sequels have fallen short in that respect.
As you would expect, the documentary explores many (although not all) of the film, concentrating mainly on style and the timeless chest-bursting scene. There are snippets of interviews with the late Dan O’Bannon, the scriptwriter, and new interviews with his widow. O’Bannon, of course, worked alongside the great John Carpenter on Dark Star (which he also acted in). When they fell-out, O’Bannon worked on his own concept called Memory (from where this documentary gets its title). At some stage in the process the name changed to Star Beast (a rather tacky title), before settling on Alien. The strength of the original 29-page script is evident in the fact the first section of the film remained unchanged.
For me, by far the most interesting and informative part of this documentary lies with the origins of the alien designs and environments. Of course, we all have H.R. Giger to thank for the artwork which had never revealed the like in popular culture. His phenomenal designs were described as menacing, uncomfortable, sexual and beautiful. It has been said that much of his artwork was influenced partly by the ancient Egyptian culture, but more fully by the tales and themes of classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. I adore Lovecraft; I have a leather bound complete collection of his work, which I have read at least three times, and some favourite stories more frequently. Lovecraft’s setting and slow-burn creeping menace (or, as Lovecraft himself would put it: The Crawling Chaos) is all over Alien – as well as Event Horizon, another favourite of mine. Giger even published a collection of his work under the title The Necronomicon – a forbidden and rare book invented by Lovecraft, incorporating all of the information about the Elder Gods (or Old Ones) – creatures that would be likely to send even the reader to the edge of madness.
Yes, Giger was influenced (is any idea completely original?) but this stuff - enhanced even further by Francis Bacon’s The Furies – had never been seen before. So, for the first time the public was offered a culture not even slightly humanoid. Life is the only film to even get close to emulating the impact of Alien. So powerful was Giger’s influence that when the film company banished him from the project, director Ridley Scott brought him back in.
Much as this is an interesting and compelling documentary, I do rather feel short-changed on extras (of which there are none); considering there is a Blu-ray set of the six (non Predator) Alien films, with extended cut versions of some, and other extras, for only £15.99. Although this is a 95 minute piece, when you consider John Carpenter’s The Thing had the full feature, plus an 80 minute documentary and a whole host of brilliant extras, I think this would sit more comfortably as a special feature – perhaps on a future 4K collection of the films.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2019)
When an extensively damaged caravan and a little girl deep in shock are discovered on the edge of the desert, a professor and his doctor daughter show up at the local police department to begin their own investigation. As more deaths and damage occurs, the team is joined by an FBI agent and then the army. Their worst nightmares are realised when they are confronted with the horror of rapidly multiplying giant ants...
What is the difference between a 1950's b-movie turkey and a remembered classic? Happy accident or careful planning? A multitude of science fiction and horror films were turned out during that decade of cold war suspicion and uncertainty. Some were so bad they were good (Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), most were just plain bad, and then there were the undisputed classics (The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Incredible Shrinking Man). While Them! is not quite in the league of the last two mentioned films, it is a very effective movie.
There is nothing accidental about its achievements; for the director Gordon Douglas, it wasn't simply a case of zipping up some men into rubber suits and pushing them in front of the camera. It's evident that the cast and crew care about the story and the very real impending peril that drives it.
Okay, so don't expect too much from the ants; they lumber and loom when they should be running around at breakneck speed. The mandibles don't move, and the antennae flop about like they've been injected with a local anaesthetic. However, the creatures are intelligently filmed in long shots or extreme close-ups, so as to conceal their failings.
The concept of giant ants is perceived as a major threat by the viewer through expert information imparted by the professor. Formic acid is pumped into the victims via a stinger. An ant can lift several times its own weight (perhaps throwing a few cars around was beyond the budget!). After a single mating, a queen can lay thousands of eggs; this can produce several more queens who fly the nest to other areas. Proof of this arrives when, after destroying the original nest, it's discovered two queens have escaped. One wreaks havoc on a naval warship, whereas James Arness, Joan Weldon and company trace the second to the storm drains beneath Los Angeles. The professor points out that within days ants could take over as the dominant species on earth.
I love films like this, because every so often the producers just let go and have fun. Enter the overly dramatic music, lines of jeeps (the same ones) speeding up and down roads, a major character saving two boys before accidentally-on-purpose flinging himself into the clutches of an ant for an heroic demise, and the professor quoting The Bible: "... and the Beast shall rule over the earth."
With a film as old as this you'd be excused for expecting no extra features. Here we get a lengthy trailer, a photo gallery and some test footage of the ants. Great stuff!
(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2003)
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