Saturday, January 31, 2009

Of The People...

... is on a minor break this weekend, as the Gaping Maw of Academic Hell is threatening to swallow me whole. Look for a first-season review of "Hidden Frontier" late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First Impressions: Being Human

British TV's been on fire lately: after "No Heroics" and the superb "Survivors", this week marked the debut of BBC Three's Being Human, about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost sharing a flat in Bristol.

This was actually a unique case for me, because a mix-up resulted in Ethan and I seeing the pilot episode released last year rather than this week's series premiere. And while I've managed to catch up, there are significant differences between the two episodes, so I've been left with two sets of opinions about the show.

I fell in love with "Being Human" about twenty minutes into the pilot, for so many reasons: the premise has Mitchell, a scrawny quasi-Goth vampire, working as a hospital janitor alongside his best friend George, a neurotic Jewish werewolf who can't find a safe place to let the beast out when the full moon comes. They're both struggling to live normal lives despite their respective curses and decide to move in together, only the flat they choose is haunted by Annie, a woman who may or may not have been murdered in that very house. Annie, like George and Mitchell, just wants to maintain some sense of herself as a person, so the three of them end up forming a rapport.

The pilot's tone is a surprisingly effective mesh of comedy and drama, alternating between lighter moments like George's hysterics and much darker situations (the Mitchell/Lauren subplot). The characters are given distinct and fleshed-out personalities with minimal exposition, and all three actors - Guy Flanagan as Mitchell, Russell Tovey as George and Andrea Riseborough as Annie - play their respective roles very well.

Which is where the problems start, because the series premiere ended up replacing two-thirds of the cast, switching in Aidan Turner as Mitchell and Lenora Crichlow as Annie. It's a mixed bag: Crichlow's version of Annie is a lot stronger and less twitchy than Riseborough's, but since George has the monopoly on neurosis anyway, it's probably a good thing to set her apart in that sense. Turner, on the other hand, is pretty much the archetypal Brooding Hunk, and I find that I prefered Flanagan's more sardonic, constantly-bemused performance, to say nothing of the amazing chemistry he had with his co-stars (seriously, this show's a Yaoi Fangirl's dream come true - HoYay is off the charts).

There's also a marked shift away from the comedic aspects of the pilot; George's hysterics are still amusing, but overall the premiere is much more serious. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you, especially since they're not overdoing it the way, say, "Demons" does (okay, so Brit TV's winning streak might have a few speed bumps along the way).

But I liked the idea of a genuine comedy-drama hybrid with supernatural trappings; in shifting the paradigm towards the darker end of the spectrum, "Being Human" lost some of its charm simply by becoming more similar to things I've already seen. I'm sticking with it, because it's still an entertaining and well-written show, but I can't help wishing they'd have gone with the pilot instead...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stolen from kradical at gunpoint

Empire Magazine has revealed its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows ever.

1. Bold the shows you watch/used to watch.
2. Italicize the shows you've seen at least one episode of.
3. Underline the shows you own on DVD (or VCR tape).
4. Post your answers.

50. Quantum Leap
49. Prison Break
48. Veronica Mars
47. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
46. Sex & The City
45. Farscape
44. Cracker
43. Star Trek
42. Only Fools and Horses
41. Band of Brothers
40. Life on Mars
39. Monty Python
38. Curb Your Enthusiasm
37. Star Trek: The Next Generation
36. Father Ted
35. Alias
34. Frasier
33. CSI Las Vegas
32. Babylon 5
31. Deadwood
30. Dexter
29. ER
28. Fawlty Towers
27. Six Feet Under
26. Red Dwarf
25. Futurama
24. Twin Peaks
23. The Office
22. The Shield
21. Angel
20. Blackadder
19. Scrubs
18. Arrested Development
17. South Park
16. Doctor Who
15. Heroes
14. Firefly
13. Battlestar Galactica
12. Family Guy
11. Seinfeld
10. Spaced
09. The X-Files
08. The Wire
07. Friends
06. 24
05. Lost
04. The West Wing
03. The Sopranos
02. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
01. The Simpsons

Friday, January 23, 2009

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Part 5

Four episodes in, "Star Trek: Phase II" (formerly known as "New Voyages") and its creator, James Cawley, have gained quite a reputation in the field of fan films. And not undeservedly so.

"Phase II" is remarkable for several reasons. It's the first example we've had of a proper fan series - all of the works I've reviewed so far were clearly conceived either as feature films or miniseries with a set conclusion. "Phase II" is an ongoing series, and as a series it gets to demonstrate something most fan works can't: improvement over time. The differences between the first and second episodes of "Phase II" are nothing short of astonishing in the sense that every aspect of the production gets better: by the third episode, it's pretty much up there with Roddenberry's original series.

Like "Of Gods and Men", "Phase II" serves as a useful example of how Trek fans recreate rather than innovate: the premise is that "Phase II" depicts the last two years of the Enterprise's original five-year mission (never filmed due to the series' cancellation). So it's Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the gang continuing their adventures, very much an extension of the Shatner series; it should be interesting to compare "Phase II" to the upcoming movie when it comes out, because you have two very different groups (with, we may presume, different agendas) telling stories about the same characters, roughly at the same time.

Unlike "Of Gods and Men", the primary roles have been recast, though Cawley's series still interfaces very deeply with canon, as we'll soon see. Since it's not a very long series (especially in comparison to next week's feature), I thought it might be interesting to do an episode-by-episode review and see what emerges.

1. Come What May/In Harm's Way: Listed together here are the pilot for "New Voyages" (as it was known at the time) and the first "official" episode. I'll be upfront about these: they're not very good. Everything's a bit off - the lighting's too strong, the acting's too weak, James Cawley (Kirk) sports a disturbing Elvis quaff, the plot's so disjointed all you get are scenes that fail to mesh into a coherent whole... the CGI's impressive, so there's that, and "In Harm's Way" had Gene Roddenberry Jr. as consulting producer, cameos by William Windom (reprising the role of Commodore Decker) and BarBara Luna (Marlena Moreau of "Mirror Mirror"), and while I haven't been able to confirm this, apparently Sam Witwer of "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed" and "Battlestar Galactica" voiced the Guardian of Forever. Not a bad grab for the first time out, but it's still a very, very rough start.

There's not much point in providing summaries of either episode, due to the shoddy plotting, but we might as well go with it: in "Come What May", the Enterprise stumbles across a continuing battle between Onabi, a flirtatious girl with Q-like powers, and a threat she calls the Monap (though the design is unmistakably that of a Borg ship). She seems to know a lot about what the future holds for Kirk and his crew, but aside from some babble about possible futures, nothing really comes of this. So Onabi hangs around for a while, turns into an Orion dancing girl in an attempt to seduce Kirk, and then she goes back to her ship and disappears along with the Monap. That's about it. Rather anticlimactic - I get the feeling the whole point of that episode was the montage near the end where Cawley and Jeffery Quinn (Spock) get to play out a sequence of scenes from the first batch of Star Trek movies (ie: Spock's death and resurrection, the anti-Klingon conspiracy in... was it the fifth or the sixth? And, of course, Kirk's death scene in "Generations").

"In Harm's Way" is a direct sequel to an episode of the original episode, specifically "The Doomsday Machine", but there's almost no context to explain what's going on. Memory Alpha to the rescue once again, though having the background information doesn't really help here because, again, the story is extremely muddled, with some interesting ideas lost in the rapid shuffle.

And yet... despite their shortcomings, these episodes are worth wathcing for the glimpse they provide of the project's potential: at first, it seems the creators' reach is exceeding their grasp, which is a fair enough assessment, but you can also see the germ of something better in the making, and "Phase II" certainly delivers on that promise with later episodes.

2. To Serve All My Days: This episode marks two major changes for "Phase II". First, this is where the series really starts interfacing with canon: Walter Koenig guest-stars as Chekov, while former Trek writer D.C. Fontana contributed the script.

But the far more significant issue has to do with episode quality; in every area, "To Serve All My Days" represents improvement on a quantum level. The visuals are sleek and polished, there's a greater emphasis on the characters, and the acting is more refined - Andy Bray is excellent as a young and insecure Chekov, while Cawley's Kirk is approaching that Shatner-esque mix of camp and uber-gravitas (and he'll get it just right starting next episode). John Kelley's McCoy could stand to be a bit crankier, but he's a lot younger here, so we can let that one slide.

The plot's still a bit clunky, with a rapid-aging disease that quite literally comes out of nowhere and a B-plot that would've been a great start to an ongoing Myth Arc, except - as kazekage points out here - "Star Trek" didn't really start doing those until late into "Deep Space 9" (owing, apparently, to the influence of "Babylon 5"). "Phase II" seems to deliver an anti-arc where nothing flows from one episode to the next: a major character dies here, only to return the very next episode with no explanation. As I recall, resetting to the status quo at the end of every story was standard practice during the Shatner run (in fairness, a general aversion to lasting change is typical of most late '60s and early '70s TV), so in that sense "Phase II" is remaining true to the structure of its template, but... well, why bother creating the illusion of change only to undermine it immediately afterwards? It's refreshing to see a situation that isn't resolved through contrivance and technobabble, but I'm not sure ignoring it altogether to get on with the show was the best decision.

3. World Enough and Time: Now this is where "Phase II" really hits its stride. Guest-starring George Takei as Sulu, Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand, and Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (in one of her final roles) as the ship's computer, it might be a bit much to do two rapid-aging stories in a row, but this episode is so entertaining that I can't begrudge the contrivance. It really feels like an episode of "Star Trek", both in terms of appearance and plot, and unlike "To Serve All My Days", there is a typical explanation (albeit delivered in Trekspeak, but at least it's there). Takei delivers a superb performance, as always, and while Alanna is clearly doomed from the get-go (precisely because we know the status quo is going to be restored by the end of the episode), Christina Moses' performance still manages to evoke a great deal of sympathy.

4. Blood and Fire Part 1: This is the first episode released as "Phase II". It's a name with some history attached to it, having to do with Roddenberry's planned relaunch of the series following its original cancellation (the seeds of which eventually became the first "Star Trek" movie). So we're once again given a statement of intent here: to be faithful to the original, to tell the same types of stories Roddenberry might have told, to be seen as an extension of the past rather than a reconfiguration or a modernization of that past.

In other news, Uhura and Spock have been recast; while Kim Stinger acquits herself as well as can be expected given Uhura's minimal role thus far, Ben Tolpin disappoints as Spock, as he can't quite manage the ever-calm, ever-neutral facade Leonard Nimoy and Jeffery Quinn (and, I expect, Zachary Quinto) did so well. Fortunately, based on preview information for upcoming episodes, the role will be recast yet again after the second half of "Blood and Fire", so we'll see how that works out.

This is the episode that drew my attention to "Phase II" in the first place, due to the publicity storm surrounding a certain subplot. I am, of course, referring to Kirk's nephew Peter coming aboard the Enterprise to marry his boyfriend.

Most "Star Trek" viewers with a mild interest in this particular issue probably know how the legend goes: Gene Roddenberry had planned to feature gay characters in "Star Trek: The Next Generation", under the (hopefully accurate) belief that homosexuality would be entirely normalized in the 24th century. David Gerrold had penned a script called "Blood and Fire", which - according to reports - had a few lines of dialogue discussing a relationship between two male crew members. Unfortunately, network television of the early '90s wasn't the most supporting environment for taking creative or social risks, and the episode was censored. There's a widespread opinion that, had Roddenberry lived, he would've eventually succeeded in getting a gay character into the Trekverse, but that never materialized during the subsequent tenure of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, unless you count the women of the Mirror Universe, and I don't, because that was just puerile fanservice. (Nana Visitor actually pointed out that turning Mirror Kira into a hedonistic bisexual sort of missed the point, because in the first DS9 Mirror episode her attraction to the "real" Kira is pure narcissism.)

In any event, Gerrold eventually reworked his script for the Kirk era (which would've been even more unthinkable, given the way people reacted when Kirk and Uhura kissed that one time), and here it is. This is very much a situation where fandom "picks up the slack", as it were: the Internet as a medium isn't subject to morally outraged Christian families or sponsors or network executives, it's very much an arena where any theme, any content, can be explored. I should note, though, that "Phase II" isn't exactly breaking new ground: fan series "Hidden Frontier", which started in 2001, had an ongoing love triangle between three men throughout its run. In fact, Bobby Rice - the actor who plays Peter Kirk in "Blood and Fire" - also played one of the characters in that triangle, though the role originated with another actor (but we'll talk about that when we start reviewing "Hidden Frontier" next week).

So what we have here is a case where two completely unrelated fan productions picked up the same theme and used it, albeit in very different ways (we'll go into greater detail about those different approaches when it becomes relevant to "Hidden Frontier"). And here's the thing: homosexuality isn't necessarily the issue critics had with "Star Trek", it's not something that absolutely demanded to be addressed in the vein of women or ethnicity in "Star Wars", yet it's something both projects felt obliged to explore.

"Phase II" follows Roddenberry's alleged perspective on the matter (ie: who cares?) so Peter and Alex have a completely conventional, if slightly sappy relationship (seriously, postponing your wedding until after an away mission to a ship whose entire crew died under mysterious circumstances? Might as well paint a bullseye on your forehead and scream "VICTIM HERE! VICTIM HERE!"). The word "gay" doesn't even exist in this milieu - Cawley plays Kirk's reaction to the news as having to do with Peter's youth (and probably Kirk's own relationship issues as well, especially in light of what happened with Alanna last episode). But there's no distinction between types of relationships here, and that's a paradigm I whole-heartedly embrace.

(As an aside, that's what "Hidden Frontier" did differently: homosexuality is socially acceptable, but still viewed as "alternative" in that one of the men has to struggle for a very long time before coming to terms with same-sex attraction. "Phase II" implies the opposite, that no one sees any difference.)

Like "World Enough and Time", this episode looks and feels right: from the opening battle with the Klingon warship, to the "creature feature" horror of the Bloodworms, "Blood and Fire" is perhaps as close to the source material as is humanly possible without time machines; the days of pointy Elvis 'dos and bad lighting are long over.

For the next few installments (which I might condense into a twice-weekly thing depending on my pace and time considerations) we'll review "Star Trek: Hidden Frontier", quite possibly the longest fan series available: fifty episodes divided into seven seasons, plus no less than three spin-offs running concurrently.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let the good times roll

Out with the old, in with the new! It's time to leave the mistakes of the past behind us, to draw a line under all the ugliness and stupidity we've had to endure, because a new day has come! At last! We waited for it, we hoped against hope that it would happen, and now it's finally here! Today will go down in history as the day things changed for the better!

Written by JEFF PARKER
Heroes are being pulled out of the worlds they know- The Beast. The Witch. Panther. Forge. Polaris. All find themselves in a place out of time with a new mission in life. But something seems to have shifted in the mechanics of the universe, things may not be quite what we remember... But one thing we know for certain- BLINK is BACK! Plus 8 pages of Director's Cut Extras!


Oh, did some other important thing happen today? Well, that's nice too...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Part 4

This week we're breaking away from "Star Wars" (at least for a while) and turning to the other giant of sci-fi TV, "Star Trek". Based on what I've found so far, these two franchises seem to produce very different types of fan films.

Generally speaking, "Star Wars" fan productions tend to demarcate canon and fandom very clearly - I'm not just talking about the obvious gaps in visual effects, but in terms of story, films like "Revelations" and "Dark Resurrection" are less interested in recreating what George Lucas put on the screen, instead focusing on innovation, inserting new twists and concepts into familiar settings. As a result, there's a great distance between the source material and the way each fan production uses that material.

The "Star Trek" franchise, curiously enough, seems to have the opposite effect on its fans, because that line between canon and fandom gets considerably blurred. Today's fan film serves as a perfect example: Renegade Studios' Of Gods and Men. This fan film is remarkable - and problematic - for several reasons, but let's start with the basics: the plot.

Twelve years after James Kirk's death, Uhura, Chekov and John Harriman reunite aboard a museum ship modeled after the original Enterprise. They're summoned to a familiar planet, where an old enemy of Kirk's goes back in time and changes history. We then find ourselves in a dystopian alternate timeline where the Federation has been usurped by the Galactic Order, a tyrannical organization that bullies and intimidates entire populations to maintain "security". Our three heroes - now living completely different lives - have only the vaguest memories to guide them, and must find a way to restore the timeline.

"Of Gods and Men" could have easily served as an episode (or two) of the Shatner-era "Star Trek" - its plot structure is very similar, right down to the convenient deus ex machina that ultimately resets the status quo. If "Star Wars" productions try to step out of Lucas' shadow, "Of Gods and Men" (like other "Star Trek" fan films we'll be talking about in the coming weeks) seems to embrace the source material, to the extent that it tries to recreate that fictional universe without redefining it at all.

I'm curious as to why this is the case - why "Star Trek" generates the sort of loyalty where adaptation and homage are prioritized over... not originality per se but that whole process of using the extra-canonical position to address blind spots and bypass network-imposed constraints. It's not as though "Star Trek" doesn't have a large Expanded Universe of its own - in fact, I'm reasonably sure that its output in novel format is considerably larger than "Star Wars" - but "Star Wars" fan-creators use that largely-obscure playground to get away from Luke Skywalker and that whole familiar milieu. "Star Trek" fans run in the other direction.

This might have something to do with the memory of Gene Roddenberry; on the whole, fandom seems more inclined to remember him fondly as opposed to the oft-vilified (and perhaps not unjustly so, given the whole Jar-Jar Binks thing) George Lucas. I also imagine some degree of sensitivity is called for when the creator whose fictional world you're entering into is gone. But there could also be a completely diegetic reason for this: the flaws of the "Star Trek" universe, while numerous, aren't as grossly obvious as those of "Star Wars", in the sense that the "problem areas" of Roddenberry's creation don't necessarily demand immediate correction. I mean, we've covered the issue of women in "Star Wars", and Kirk's series was very much a product of its time, but women are represented with much higher frequency starting with "The Next Generation", and if they're not exactly on equal ground there, "Deep Space 9" gives us Kira Nerys, and Kathryn Janeway would've made a much more positive impression if the writers hadn't saddled her with the Idiot Ball of Bitchery after a season or two. In fairness, this is a franchise that four decades to evolve, across twenty or thirty seasons of television and ten films, while Lucas only had those two trilogies to work with... on the other hand, the twenty-year gap between "Return of the Jedi" and "The Phantom Menace" should have pushed "Star Wars" a lot further forward than it did.

Let's go back to the whole process of adaptation. One example, with regards to "Of Gods and Men", is the high amount of intertextuality with the original series; in fact, there's so much continuity that if you're not familiar with specific episodes (ie: "Charlie X"), I don't know if you'll really understand what's going on here. I had to make extensive use of Memory Alpha to figure stuff out, and the whole principle of having to research the finer points of a story is something I find problematic. So points off for that, at least from the perspective of a casual viewer: more dedicated fans will probably be very pleased at how strong those connections are. It also reinforces the notion that we're meant to see this film as a natural extension of the series, rather than a conscious step away from the conventions and tropes that defined the source material.

Another way that "Of Gods and Men" diminishes the boundaries between canon and fandom has to do with its cast, featuring a frankly astonishing number of "Star Trek" alumni from every series: Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koening, Alan Ruck, Tim Russ (also the film's director), Garrett Wang, J.G. Hertzler, Chase Masterson, Gary Graham, Cirroc Lofton and many others. There's even a bit of fan film crossover, as "Phase II" stars James Cawley and Jeffery Quinn put in cameos (more on "Phase II" next week). The entire project has an air of camaraderie about it, of iconic actors freely and gladly participating in a celebration of the series.

All of this creates an interesting dilemma: is "Of Gods and Men" a fan film? Most of its cast and crew came from "Star Trek" in the first place; granted, it's not backed by Paramount, but so what? Visually, it takes its cues from the '60s incarnation, and by those standards it looks better than any episode of the original series. It doesn't do anything "Star Trek" didn't or couldn't do on its own (with the possible exception of Xela, the Orion slave woman, being portrayed as the real power behind Harriman's captaincy in the alternate timeline - that was a nice twist on a traditionally icky aspect of the Trekverse). What is it, then, that separates "Of Gods and Men" from canon at all? Not script quality - even when it stumbles, it still does so more gracefully than some of the clunkers in the original series. Not the use of amateur actors, because even bit characters like Stonn are played by their original actors. Resources? Maybe, but... eh, I've said all along that I don't like to bring the financial aspect into the reviews, because creativity tends to find ways around budget-oriented obstacles.

I don't really have an answer to that question, and it's one that'll pop up again in the coming weeks. The level of interaction between Trek canon and Trek fandom runs deep, and that problematizes my initial definition of what a fan film is: here, unlike "Star Wars" fan films (and, on a broader level, all fan fiction), the goal isn't to modify the fictional world on any level, or to plug any ontological gaps that were never addressed on-screen. Rather, it seems simulacra is the objective here: how close can you get to the original? How much does your production feel like "Star Trek"?

On that level, "Of Gods and Men" feels very much like the real thing; "Star Trek" always had a knack for decent, if not consistently good, alternate timeline stories, and this one's no exception.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Part 3

Slight change of plans: since I only had one more "Star Wars" fan film on my list (at least for now), I figured I might as well wrap up this particular franchise before moving on to "Star Trek" next week (and I hope to discuss, in a later segment, why these two particular series seem to have generated the highest volume of fan-produced work - far more so than, say, "Battlestar Galactica", "Heroes" or even "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood").

And while I didn't plan it this way, it turns out the best has been saved for last, as today's feature film is Angelo Licata's Dark Resurrection.

If I didn't know "Dark Resurrection" was a fan film, I think I'd be fooled - that's how professional it looks. The CGI's flawless, the camera work is studio-level, the actors play their roles well, and while the story has a few holes in it, it holds together under scrutiny. Yes, it's in Italian, and the English subtitles can be a bit awkward at times, but that's hardly Licata's fault.

The premise of "Dark Resurrection" concerns Sorran, the most powerful Jedi Master of his era. He's become obsessed with finding the Temple of Eron, a place that can supposedly transform people into living embodiments of the Force. Having sacrificed countless apprentices in vain efforts to find the Temple, Sorran finds himself opposed by the Jedi Council, but when they try to shut him down everything goes south. Some time later (or maybe not, we'll get to that in a bit), Jedi Master Zui Mar and his apprentice Hope stumble onto Eron only to find they're not alone; meanwhile, Sorran and his Sith minion Lord Drown join up with a renewed Empire to invade Keys, the central world of the Jedi Order.

Here's where we hit our first hitch: it's very difficult to construct a proper timeline of the events depicted in this film, because Licata is very, very fond of flashbacks. To be fair, this being part 1 of a duology, I fully expect the second half to be less problematic in this respect, but the fact remains that there's no clear chain of events - the film opens with Sorran and the Council, but we have no way of knowing when that happens in relation to the rest of the movie. Has it been days? Months? Years? Organa has a lengthy flashback relating to Hope's childhood, but we have no visual markers to separate past and present events, or how each of the past events fit together. The final scene of Hope in the Temple is equally confusing, and it might take two or three viewings to sort everything out.

Once again we have women front-and-center in a "Star Wars" fan film: Organa and Nemer seem to be running the remnants of the Jedi Order, with Hope as the protagonist. And while we've seen female apprentices before - canonically with the ill-fated and ill-timed Ahsoka, and non-canonically with the aforementioned Karina (and, to a lesser extent, Taryn) - Licata adds a small detail to Hope's backstory that completely changes the way we see her. SPOILER ALERT: why is Zui Mar so determined to stamp out Hope's fear and anger? Because she's a product of the same process that created Anakin Skywalker - conceived through the Force via the Jedi Council as a way of stopping Sorran, and therefore potentially more powerful than any Jedi or Sith. For all intents and purposes, Anakin Skywalker's backstory is attached to a woman who - like Anakin - struggles with the boundary between aggression and tranquility, but - unlike Anakin - isn't obnoxiously bratty about it. On the contrary, Hope is sympathetic precisely because Marcella Braga really manages to communicate her character's internal conflict, something Hayden Christensen was never really able to do.

I think Angelo Licata's objective here is twofold: first, to tell a "Star Wars" story outside the context of the established canon. Now, apparently there's a whole section of the Expanded Universe that takes place some five thousand years earlier, which... I need to check that out, because I'm genuinely curious as to how that would work. And the "Legacy" comic is set a century later. But "Dark Resurrection" goes even further, and the time jump helps because Licata doesn't have to rely on familiar characters and iconic moments - the focus instead turns to the film's own cast. This wasn't really possible with "Revelations" or "Knightquest" since Taryn, Zhannah, Dannikk and Karina had to share both their screen time and their origins with the Emperor, Darth Vader and other characters who were around at that point in the "Star Wars" timeline (and, more importantly, who were most likely to be highly visible during said point).

The other possible objective for "Dark Resurrection" may have to do with its total disregard of any political context: there's no Rebel Alliance, no Separatists, not even a mention of any kind of Republic. The Empire still exists, but they're depicted as a defeated force making a last, desperate grab for power. This particular fan film focuses entirely on the Jedi and the Force, aligning itself more with fantasy than science-fiction. It's an interesting shift in tone, and one that largely succeeds (if only because Lucas bludgeoned any possible interest in the politics of the Star Wars universe by the time "Attack of the Clones" came out).

So in that sense, "Dark Resurrection" does achieve what it seems to be aiming for - glitchy plot structure aside, it does some fairly incredible things given limited resources and cultural differences (because I doubt Italians and Americans interpret "Star Wars" the same way), and I can't wait for the second half.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Open For Business

Kazekage, the Waldorf to my Statler, has opened his very own blog, Witless Prattle.

Picture if you will, the planet of New Genesis. Now wipe the blood off your nose and picture New Genesis before FINAL CRISIS. That's better. You're walking through the halls of Highfather's domain. Birds are chirping, Orion is brooding, Barda is trying to fit her hair through a small door, all's right with the world.

At last you arrive at the Wall of Prophecy, where the Big Giant Hand of Jack Kirby delivers cryptic messages to gods who fail to understand that BEWARE DIDIO is not a warning against the use of sex toys on New Genesis.

And there, scrawled in fiery letters by a shining manicured finger, you see the following:


'Nuff said.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Part 2

I've decided to keep this feature on a weekly schedule, as it'll give me time to prepare for the surprisingly large fan series I've got in the pipeline. In the meantime, let's stick with "Star Wars" for a bit - specifically Joe Monroe's "Knightquest".

I picked this film specifically because it serves as an interesting counterpoint to "Revelations", and demonstrates that fan films - for all the effort that's put into them - can still fall short due to lack of... well, I'm not sure, exactly. Imagination? Ambition? Resources? Difficult to say, but we'll try and parse that out here.

The plot of "Knightquest" is quite simple: Tarra Sunar is a smuggler who helped Jedi Master Ulic Cinn and his two apprentices, Karina and Dannikk, escape the Empire's persecution of the Jedi. Unfortunately, she falls for the old "concealed tracker" bit, and ends up leading Darth Vader right to them. You can probably guess how it turns out.

One thing I found particularly appealing about "Knightquest" is that it really manages to create an aura of terror and dread around Darth Vader, something I think the prequel films stripped away - even when Hayden Christensen finally goes dark (although, with his lack of affectation, the only way you actually know he's evil is because everyone else says so) and slaughters a bunch of Jedi, it's played so loudly, so in-your-face and over-the-top, that it doesn't work at all.

Here, though, we have Vader as a hunter, in an appropriately jungle-themed setting, and it's set close enough to the first "Star Wars" that you really get a sense of claustrophobia from Cinn and the kids - they have nowhere to run, no shelter that'll hide them, no friends left to protect them.

Unfortunately, the film trips up as it comes down to the climax(es). Setting aside the obvious problem of innovation - how much can you really add in a story where it's been canonically established that Vader completely annihilated the Jedi? - "Knightquest" treads water in its final act, as Vader gives the same "Convert or Die" speech three times in a row (DUH-LEVEL SPOILER: everyone refuses) and then gets on with his work. Tarra's the only character whose fate wasn't necessarily set in stone, but she gets written out almost as an afterthought.

Basically, "Knightquest" lacks any kind of originality, which is why it makes such a neat parallel with "Revelations", because the latter could surprise you (albeit by contradicting and toying with canon, but still, the results speak for themselves). "Knightquest" doesn't offer anything you can't get from the movies, and that - to me, at least - misses the whole point of fan films. It's not addressing something the canon overlooked, it's not putting any kind of twist on the familiar material... the question I find myself asking here is "What is this fan film trying to do? What is it trying to say?" And I don't have a solid answer to that beyond "Wouldn't it be cool to have some more Vader/Jedi duels?" I'm not sure if that's all this is supposed to be - in which case, Monroe pretty much accomplishes his goal - or if he was aiming for something higher and missed.

Next week we'll switch franchises for a bit and take a look at a particularly intriguing fan series from the "Star Trek" universe.