Month: February 2018

Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Space’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

Star Trek in many ways was forever changed by the character of Q, who first appeared in The Next Generation’s pilot episode ‘Encounter at Farpoint’, played with delightfully sadistic joie de vivre by John de Lancie, and who grew to be, aside from the Borg, probably Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s greatest antagonist across the run of the series.

Q, of course, is an omnipotent being, who we later discover is part of the Q Continuum, which exists on a different plane of existence, containing a race of beings all known as Q who appear to have complete dominance over time, space and matter. They are the ultimate personification of a God, with all the powers of a God in-between. Q wasn’t by any means the first time Star Trek had toyed with the idea of a God-like being, of course; The Original Series has Captain Kirk’s USS Enterprise bump into a God-like entity ever other week – indeed many speculated after ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ that the mischievous Trelane from ‘The Squire of Gothos’ could have been a Q. The only difference is that few of them had the scope, reach and power of the Continuum. Q, literally, can do anything, be anyone and go anywhere, any*when*. That, as a concept, was always going to be a game-changer.

‘Q-Space’, therefore, attempts to dig deeper into the Q Continuum than certainly many of the TV series which featured Q were ever able to do. The first of a trilogy badged under ‘The Q Continuum’ prefix from writer Greg Cox, ‘Q-Space’ takes a cue (pun probably intended) from half a dozen concepts from both The Next Generation, The Original Series and indeed Voyager, and begins working to craft them into a broader, intertextual narrative which shines a light on Q’s history, his home, and give Picard and his crew one of their most cosmic adventures to date. Cox has an ambitious reach for this trilogy and while ‘Q-Space’ perhaps takes too long getting to the core point of what it’s trying to achieve, some exciting building blocks are placed across the novel.

Continue reading “Star Trek: The Next Generation – ‘Q-Space’”

Mute (2018)

The tagline for Mute is “he doesn’t need words”. Honestly, the same can’t be said for the audience watching Duncan Jones’ latest picture.

Mute is either surprising or possibly to be expected, depending on where you stand on Jones as a filmmaker. Removing the interesting fact that he’s the son of David Bowie, Jones comes across as a nice guy of cinema. He’s active on social media and welcoming and friendly to his audience, often sharing storyboards and nuggets of detail about his upcoming movies. Yet he’s been on something of a downward curve over the past couple of years. Warcraft, his take on the world-renowned MMORPG World of Warcraft, was a painfully dull mess of an adaptation. Mute takes him back to his original screenplay roots but, sadly, said dullness appears to have followed him from the unsuccessful swords and sorcery blockbuster.

There is almost certainly a reason why filmmakers don’t traditionally set movies around protagonists who don’t talk, and Mute exemplifies that singular problem. Alexander Skarsgard is Leo, a bartender in a ‘future-punk’ Berlin who also happens to be mute following a boating accident as a child, falls in love with Naadirah, an exotic young woman who works at the same club. When she disappears, so begins a hunt across the skyscraper-filled metropolis by Leo to track her down, facing a range of eccentrics, weirdos, gangsters (such as Paul Rudd’s Cactus Bill) and paedophiles (his brother Duck, played by Justin Theroux) along the way. Such a synopsis makes Mute sound, however, much more engaging than Jones’ meandering, listless and unformed script delivers in reality. From early on, Mute doesn’t seem to have any idea of its own identity.

Continue reading “Mute (2018)”

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther feels as much like a moment as it does a movie. There has been something transformative about the response to what, in another time and place, might have just ended up as *another* Marvel movie. It’s yet again proof that Marvel are expanding their reach, upping their game, and doubling their odds.

Ryan Coogler’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, adapting the successful if not widely known outside comic-book circles story of King T’Challa of Wakanda, is the second picture in a row from the comics studio, after Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, to feel like the true work of an auteur filmmaker. This has been a balance Kevin Feige’s game-changing franchise has previously struggled with since Jon Favreau’s Iron Man changed the course of blockbuster cinema in 2008; you only have to point to the wreckage of films such as The Incredible Hulk or Thor: The Dark World as good examples of how it took Marvel a while to truly embrace a filmmaker’s singular vision alongside the beats and overarching universal frameworks Marvel have spent a decade building toward, which will reach a conclusion with Avengers: Infinity War this year and its untitled 2019 sequel.

Could it be that the reason both Thor: Ragnarok and now Black Panther are such strong entities within the Marvel family is precisely because they didn’t have to particularly fit that framework? That’s a strong possibility. All Waititi had to do was position Thor in a space whereby he could be slotted back into Infinity War – beyond that he had carte blanche to re-imagine the world of Asgard as a neon, Guardians of the Galaxy-esque, 1980’s retro-futuristic blend of mythology and Antipodean eccentricity, and for the most part it worked beautifully. Coogler has perhaps even greater freedom with Black Panther, allowed as he is to truly develop the internal mythology and world of Wakanda around what isn’t a traditional origin story for T’Challa, given his previous introduction in Captain America: Civil War, but something deeper: a liberal-minded tale of colonial rejection, imperialist globalisation, and the haunting embers of black persecution.

Continue reading “Black Panther (2018)”

Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘The Star to Every Wandering’

In an attempt to try and tackle the onerous job of looking into the Star Trek book universe, thanks to the help of Memory Beta’s chronology section, I am intending to look at the saga in book form from stories which take place earliest in the franchise’s timeline onwards. This hopefully should provide an illuminating and unusual way of examining the extended Star Trek universe.

Part of this story takes place 5 billion years ago.

The Star to Every Wandering is an unusual Star Trek novel. Author David R. George III is undoubtedly aware of this fact, for numerous reasons. His editor Marco Palmieri at Pocket Books, who produce the tie-in novels, encouraged George for a start to not worry about canon and continuity, two of the most precious and sacred elements of Star Trek. This gave George the license he needed to go off-piste with his trilogy of Original Series novels, under the banner ‘Crucible’, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the franchise in 2006.

The Crucible trilogy deals with the three most archetypal characters in Star Trek history: Captain Kirk, Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy. They all spiral around one of the most celebrated and classic episodes in Trek history, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, a time-travel story penned by science-fiction legend Harlan Ellison which sees Kirk & Spock use a mysterious, ancient time-portal called the Guardian of Forever to rescue a crazed McCoy from the year 1930, where he changes the course of history on Earth to such a degree that the Nazis win WW2 and the United Federation of Planets, nay the entire future of Star Trek, ceases to exist. Consequently, by making the Crucible books about one of Trek’s strangest alien creations, George has enormous scope to take his three protagonists anywhere and any ‘when’ in Star Trek history. Continue reading “Star Trek: The Original Series – ‘The Star to Every Wandering’”

Star Trek Discovery S1: Reflections on the Journey

Star Trek: Discovery has enjoyed a fascinating first season, both in the context of its place in the television landscape and the historic Trek franchise as a whole.

For a start, it was a season of two halves, both shaped by different creatives with different aesthetics. Bryan Fuller’s original influence you can feel in the opening arc regarding the revered Klingon extremist T’Kuvma and how his death makes him a religious martyr, triggers civil infighting and launches a ‘crusade’ against the Federation who killed him. The parallels to modern religious fundamentalist terrorism are as potent an allegory as we’ve ever seen in Star Trek, with old series hand Fuller aware for any new show to work (especially one designed to relaunch the franchise on television), it would need to hold true to the precepts of what people loved about Star Trek: the fact it always reflected where we are as a modern 20th or 21st century society.

Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery S1: Reflections on the Journey”

The X-Files – ‘Kitten’

SKINNER: Then you two came along, and you taught me not to hide from it, but to have the guts to shine a light directly into the darkest corners. And if given the choice between advancing my career by being blindly loyal to some faceless puppeteers pulling strings from the shadows, or to throw in with you two, make no mistake I’d make the same decision every damn time.

One of the major criticisms of the previous season of The X-Files, the six-part revival series after many years of uncertainty about the show’s future, is that we didn’t see nearly enough of Mitch Pileggi and his character, Assistant Director Walter Skinner. It was a more than valid concern in regards to a character (and actor) who have been, without question, one of the key reasons Chris Carter’s series became such a pop-cultural success. ‘Kitten’ is a clear, unashamed attempt to redress that balance, squaring the focus entirely on Skinner, his past and his present. The fact it disappoints, therefore, is not only a touch unexpected, but more than a little frustrating.

The character of Skinner has been with The X-Files since late in the show’s first season, debuting in ‘Tooms’ which aired early in 1994. Fitting the template of Agents Mulder & Scully’s boss, a template Carter had struggled to fill across the first season with a succession of potential, internal antagonists who came briefly and went, Skinner represented not just the FBI, but a bulwark of old-fashioned masculinity in a show with a female scientist and nerdy conspiracy theorist as leads.

Skinner is the equivalent of a small-town Sherriff in an American Western; a compromised man having to tolerate the lawless thugs who run his streets wild while proving sympathetic to the lawmakers and townsfolk he’s there to serve. Skinner described himself once by declaring to Mulder that “I stand right on the line that you keep crossing” and this contextualises his function, since essentially Season Two premiere ‘Little Green Men’, for the entire run of the series.

Continue reading “The X-Files – ‘Kitten’”

Revisiting… Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant’s Extras

Looking at Extras, the second comedy project from Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant, a decade on, you realise for all the Leveson enquiries, disgraced newspapers and changing models of television, the world of media and entertainment looks a great deal similar. Few lessons have been learned. Most structures and institutions remain the same.

Because, let’s not split hairs, Extras was and indeed remains a quite clear cautionary tale about the lure and subsequent perils of fame. Not just fame either but fame for fame’s sake, both of which are areas Gervais’ show touches upon the deeper it propels into its narrative over the course of two six part seasons and a feature-length Christmas special finale. Extras turned out to be much like The Office, its predecessor that took Gervais from a memorably offensive supporting player on late-90’s edgy Channel 4 comedy and made him a star of international, indeed Hollywood proportions. Not in style, not even in story, but in the sense of how it constructed a story arc around a concept and concluded in strong, often quite dramatic fashion. Though it lacked the iconic nature of The Office, Extras had the heart, many of the laughs, and certainly had the *point* of why it existed, right up to the very final scene.

Continue reading “Revisiting… Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant’s Extras”