The Andromeda Strain (Part 1)

The Andromeda Strain (2008)

(This review is part 1 of 2)

Released as a miniseries by A&E in the spring of 2008, The Andromeda Strain is based on Michael Crichton’s classic 1969 science fiction novel of the same name. TAS-08 is written by Robert Schenkken (who played David Deaver in the 1990 film Pump up the Volume), and is directed by Denmark’s Mikael Salomon, more famously known as the cinematographer on several Oscar winning films (Far and Away, Back Draft, Arachnophobia). Continue reading The Andromeda Strain (Part 1)

Review: Charlie Jade

The idea of parallel universes is well explored in TV science fiction. Classic Star Trek had the memorable “evil empire” episode with a bearded Spock from the alternate universe. America’s longest running SF show, Stargate SG1 and its spinoff Stargate Atlantis have both plumbed the idea far too many times in far too many versions.  And the show Sliders featured the “multiverse” as its core narrative, with its heroes “sliding” from universe to universe every week.

But it’s the joint Canadian-South African production, Charlie Jade, that finally brings this concept to a gritty, realistic level, without the comfortable technobabble and easy resolutions of more family-friendly shows.  In the Charlie Jade narrative, there are three main parallel universes: the “Alphaverse”, which is a technologically advanced, but horrendously polluted, violent, fascistic and unpleasant world with a brutal caste system that relegates its lowest denizens to near slave status; the “Betaverse”, which is essentially our universe; and the “Gammaverse” which is comparatively paradisical, where humans have managed our natural resources and social structures responsibly.

Transcending the various ‘Verses is the Vexcor corporation, which exists in various strengths in all three worlds, and has somehow managed to organize across all three, even creating a machine that might be able to transport matter across universes.  The motivation of Vexcor is unknown, but a suggestion is made that the transportation of resources from the Gammaverse to the Alphaverse may be a part of their plan.

The scion of Vexcor is “0-1” (not “Owen”) Boxer, an amoral sociopath who uniquely possesses the ability to unilaterally walk between worlds, a skill that makes him indispensable to the wary and distrusting Vexcor executives, who would just as soon keep 0-1 working in the mailroom.  As the story begins, 0-1 Boxer has drugged and raped a woman from Capteown, South Africa, in the Betaverse (our world), and has transported and murdered her in the Alphaverse, where our protagonist, private detective Charlie Jade, reluctantly takes up her cause.  His investigation causes him to follow Boxer, and he suddenly and mysteriously finds himself trapped in the Betaverse.

Charlie Jade is unsure of what he witnesses upon arrival in our world, but it appears as if Reena, a terrorist from the Gammaverse, destroys the Vexcor facility, and finds herself also trapped in our world.  Back in the Alphaverse, a B-plot has Charlie’s girlfriend/slave (her status is left intentionally blurry) left without his protection, and subject to the torments of her society.

Charlie Jade is a standard, almost cliched two-fisted hero, ruggedly handsome and improbably brave and capable.  The terrorist Reena is a figure who inspires much empathy, trapped like Jade, but hunted by the authorities and less capable of finding her footing in a strange new world that both terrifies and horrifies her.

But the real star of Charlie Jade is the city of Capetown.  Science fiction fans are used to cityscapes of New York, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco or anonymous US cities based on those familiar archetypes.  Charlie Jade shows us an unfiltered, modern South African city, complete with its racial tensions, its crime, militancy, ugliness and occasionally its staggering beauty.  A favourite vista of mine is the wide shot across the city, complete with its otherworldly cliffs and mountains.

The idea of a multiverse is introduced subtly, and we learn of it at pretty much the same pace as its heroes do.  Unlike more formulaic shows, like later incarnations of Star Trek, this show knows better than to dazzle us with fake science that would ultimately innoculate us against the more organic perils of its characters.  Instead, it recognizes that its narrative strength is in its politics, crustiness and criminality, and in the sympathy we must feel for characters trapped in nightmarish situations which, while clearly science-fictional, are presented in a realistic enough way to feel strangely plausible.

I’m five episodes into the show’s 21 episode run.  I am pleased to recommend this very smart, very gritty show to those of you thirsty for smart, realistic science fiction.

Review: Odyssey 5

Let’s say you and four associates knew that the world would end in five years. You don’t know how, or by whom; and you’re pretty sure no one would believe you if you told them. What do you do? What stresses must you undergo and persevere in your quest? This is the underlying premise of Odyssey 5, one of the smartest, most overlooked science fiction TV shows of the past 20 years.

A Canadian show starring genre gadabout Peter Weller, Odyssey 5 was the brainchild of Manny Coto, known to most as the man who rescued the final season of the atrocious Star Trek: Enterprise, finally making that particular nightmare watchable.

Odyssey 5 is the story of the five astronauts aboard the space shuttle Odyssey: commander Chuck Taggart (Weller), his son Neil (Christopher Gorham), genius asshole Kurt Mendel (Sebastian Roche), journalist Sarah Forbes (Leslie Silva), and shuttle pilot Angela Perry (Tamara Craig Thomas). While in orbit, they literally witness the destruction of the Earth. They are then contacted by an enigmatic alien intelligence who informs them that the same thing has befallen other worlds, and that they will be sent back in time 5 years in order to investigate and prevent the cataclysm. The catch is that, while they will retain their future memories, they will exist in the bodies and situations of their earlier selves.

This brilliant premise creates instant conflict and tension. Sarah Forbes’s infant son had died 5 years ago and she was in a different marriage. Neil Taggart, now a young astronaut, was then a high school student, and suddenly finds himself one again, complete with his teenage girlfriend, her childish woes and their sexual crises. As this is an adult film shown on the cable network Showtime, profane language and extreme adult situations abound.

It’s a minor spoiler that the destruction of the Earth has to do with artificial and web-based intelligences. This may sound hokey and cliche, but it’s actually done with a sense of sober maturity that brings a welcome gravity to the narrative. The seriousness, offset by a wonderful light direction, is made moreso by the recurring theme that the 5 heroes have no idea what they are doing, and may in fact be accelerating the timetable to the Earth’s destruction.

The strength of Odyssey 5, though, is in its consistent, realistic characterizations, brought to life through some excellent acting, primarily by Weller himself. There’s a particular scene that I can’ seem to forget, wherein Weller takes a pompous barista to task for calling his “large” coffee a “grande”.

It’s a mystery to me why Odyssey 5 was not picked up for a second season. This is a smart, adult, science fiction series that would be eagerly consumed by any thinking genre fan. There are rumours that Coto wishes to re-do or finish off the series in a new format, perhaps web-based. Until then, I heartily recommend that you rent or buy Odyssey 5.

Buy the DVD

Review: Stargate Continuum


The following is a review of the direct-to-dvd movie, Stargate: Continuum.  Beware that spoilers abound!

I am an unabashed fan of all things Stargate.  This site has in the past featured reviews of the final Sg-1 episode, Unending , and of the first Sg-1 direct-to-dvd movie, The Ark of Truth.   Stargate was the true succesor to the Star Trek crown, a beloved and long-lived franchise embodying the best of (North) American science fiction.  It was thus with love and anticipation that I viewed the latest, and perhaps final, SG-1 movie, Continuum.

Continue reading Review: Stargate Continuum

Review: Star Trek – Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men

Fan-made movies/installments/episodes of any show are the ultimate expression of both love and hardcore geekery.  And no franchise in the history of science fiction has inspired more such productions than Star Trek; not just any version of Star Trek, either, but the mothership– James Kirk’s original vehicle.  There’s something about that pioneering show that continues to inspire enormous dedication and passion from thousands of fans, nearly five decades later.

Continue reading Review: Star Trek – Of Gods and Men

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Turd

This article was originally a blog post.

The following contains spoilers for the movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

About four years ago I was horrified when my girlfriend at the time mentioned casually how she did not care for any of the Indiana Jones movies. Instead, she preferred the piece of steaming crap we had just finished seeing: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I knew then that the relationship was doomed to failure.

For a generation of sofa-bound adventure types, the Jones movies are the pinnacle of laddish delights. Through them, we travel to a time and place where intellect and two-fisted bravado can coexist, where the good guys are really good, and the bad guys are the worst of the worst. It’s a place where clues are solved with both your brain and your testicles, and where mind, heart and spirit conjoin to produce heroism in its most profound form. Continue reading Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Turd

The Greatest Science Fiction Novels

This article was originally a blog post, published Aug 9, 2007.

Well, the previous post (greatest science fiction movies of all time) was pretty popular, so let’s try a similar tack… how about the greatest science fiction novels of all time? Clearly, we are each entitled to our own definitions of both “science fiction” and “great”. I defined the former last time; but for the latter, I’m going to go with something incorporating a gripping narrative, good writing, a lofty and inspiring idea, and even something to do with the book’s impact on either society and/or the genre. Continue reading The Greatest Science Fiction Novels

The Greatest Science Fiction Films

This article was originally a blog post, published Aug 7, 2007

In this searing heat, I can’t seem to sustain a consistent high-level thought. So today instead of sociopolitical analyses, you get more entertainment news dithering. I saw a slew of new movies this past week. Here’s the rundown:

The Simpsons – passable for kids and for non-longterm fans. For the rest of us, though, this was shallow disappointment.

Sunshine – looks great, sounds great; first 2/3 were really compelling. But it fell apart in the final 20 minutes. Ecch. Continue reading The Greatest Science Fiction Films

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 1

The Terminator is one of a few movies that, for me, defined science fiction. Released in 1984, the story revolves around a time paradox, a cyborg, a freedom fighter and a deceivingly soft looking heroine. The straightforward narrative, combined with a strong cast and the judicious use of special effects created an experience that was as gritty as it was terrifying. Two more theatrical releases – Terminator 2-Judgment Day (1991), and Terminator 3-Rise of the Machines (2003) – carried forward the story of the Connor’s and their battle against Skynet and the looming apocalypse. Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles picks up the story of Sarah and John Connor in 1997, six years after the events depicted in T2. Continue reading Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 1