24 September 2012

B5 Review: The Coming of Shadows & GROPOS

Season Two progresses and we reach the title episode, The Coming of Shadows where things are about to be turned on their heads.

The Coming of Shadows
Emperor TurhanThe Centauri Emperor travels to Babylon 5 to send a message while Londo and Refa take advantage of his ailing health in a move that jeopardises everything that has been worked for so far. Amongst all this, Garibaldi talks with a strange man who has been following him.

This episode is an emotional ride as we go from one situation to another. The Emperor's arrival is a great boost for Babylon 5 but G'Kar is not impressed. Amidst all his hatred for the Centauri, the real shame of things is shown when he is made to realise why the Emperor wanted to come to the station. Sadly, that is all completely undone by the actions of Londo and Refa, capitalising on their own hunger for power and making a call to Mr Morden once again.

The galaxy is a different place by the end of this episode that includes some great moments between characters, some excellent special effects, JMS noted the use of real space images from the Hubble telescope and the return of an old face.

Rating: 7.5/10

I fear that in attempting to write a review without spoilers, I may have overlooked the obvious. This and the conversation in the comments section for this review with a good friend of mine has made me realise that this episode is highly underrated by the numbers I posted above - particularly when compared to more 'trivial' episodes we have already seen this season that scored relatively high in comparison.

We already know this is an important episode as it shares its title with the over-arching season we're viewing. It is a definite point of change in the Babylon 5 universe and one that brings a lot of pain and sadness with it. While it may be a bit hard to sympathise with either the Narn or the Centauri at times, the onset of war between the two of them is so tragic because we know how close we all were to seeing peace. Instead, the Emperor's trip almost amounts to nothing because of the actions of those who want power and have been touched by darkness.

The other important sequence from this episode lies within Londo's dream. Some of the images are self explanatory, the flashes from Midnight on the Firing Line and the 'great hand, reaching out of the stars', as referenced in The Geometry of Shadows. But there are other scenes in there that should at least be of interest, or worth noting in the back of your mind.

(Adjusted) Rating: 8.5/10 - this episode is a standout.

GROPOS
Marines hassle DelennA quiet night turns into mayhem when an Earthforce destroyer arrives with 25,000 troops looking for a stopover at Babylon 5

Lead by General Richard Franklin, father of Dr Stephen Franklin on Babylon 5 the troops are en-route to Akdor, a planet bordering Narn and Centauri space in order to secure the planet from a rebellion. 

The presence of the troops on the station causes uneasiness in the general population, including a confrontation with Ambassador Delenn and many fights in the station's social areas. The arrival of Richard Franklin brings out more of Stephen's past and we see that his father is of a much different way of thinking - even reflecting Earth's recent anti-alien sentiments.

Garibaldi almost gets lucky with 'Dodger' but manages to stuff that little relationship up as well, while we learn little bits here and there about the crew, including Garibaldi's father serving in the Dilgar War, Sheridan being posted on Akdor earlier in his career.

Rating: 6.5/10

22 September 2012

B5 Review: Soul Mates & A Race Through Dark Places

Soul Mates
Londo's Ascension CeremonyLondo summons his three wives to Babylon 5 while Talia's ex-husband pays a visit.

We get to meet Londo's wives which were previously referred to in The War Prayer. For the 30th anniversary of his Ascension Day, he has been granted the wish of a divorce from two of his wives, bringing him much joy.

Meanwhile, Talia goes through another emotional episode (on the heels of A Spider in the Web) where she is reunited with her ex-husband from the Corps, Matthew Stoner. Stoner is the type of guy you love to hate. His smooth talking just gets under your skin, particularly in his dealings with Security and Garibaldi. He claims he has found a way to leave the Corps and asks Talia to join him.

The episode combines humour, from Londo's interactions with G'Kar and his wives, to Delenn coming to terms with hair and cramps, with a bit of mystery with Stoner's storyline. Who was involved in the assassination attempt on Londo? Had Stoner really left the Psi-Corps? Was Talia being tested?

Overall Rating: 6/10

A Race Through Dark Places
Sheridan and Delenn at DinnerPsi-Cop Bester returns to Babylon 5 to investigate and uncover an underground railroad of rogue telepaths. Meanwhile, Delenn asks Sheridan to take her to dinner and Sheridan & Ivanova take a stand against EarthGov who want to charge them more for their quarters on the station.

This episode marks an important development in Talia's character. She is introduced to the rogue telepaths moving through Babylon 5 and hears their unfortunate experiences with the Corps which appears to assist in her helping the railroad avoid detection by Bester. We learn she is far more powerful than she realises and she is even told that she is 'the future'. This and her developing talents from Ironheart's gift in Mind War should help her but to what extent? A rebellion against the Psi-Corps or something more?

On the other side of things, we see Delenn learning about the personal side of being human and attracting the attention of many patrons at the 'Fresh Air' restaurant and there is some humour with Sheridan and Ivanova's situation, sleeping (or trying to) in the Captain's Office.

Ultimately, we will have to see where Talia's story takes her and while this appears to be an important step in that direction, my overall rating for this one is also a 6/10.

20 September 2012

Trek Review: Star Trek - The Motion Picture

After three seasons as a live-action show and a run of animated episodes, Star Trek made its big screen debut in 1979 with The Motion Picture. I'm not even entirely sure what the title means, but it's the only Trek movie title that doesn't really provide a hint to the story.

Star Trek The Motion Picture Poster

Three Klingon Battlecruisers come under attack by a strange cloud and disappear. Soon, Federation tracking station Epsilon IX meets a similar fate as the cloud continues on a course directly for Earth. Meanwhile, Spock is on Vulcan performing a sacred ritual known as the Kolinahr, but it is determined that his calling lies elsewhere.

Starfleet receives word of the approaching cloud and dispatches the newly refitted Enterprise, the only ship in range. Admiral Kirk takes command from Captain Decker and brings the old crew together, getting the ship ready to depart as soon as possible to intercept the cloud with maximum time before it reaches Earth.

Enterprise approaches cloud 

Star Trek on the big screen would have been a huge event for the fans of the series at the time. The Motion Picture was released two years after Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and ten years after 2001: A Space Odyssey. It would appear that this is Paramount's response to Star Wars, but I would say that the film draws more parallels with 2001.

The Motion Picture is a movie of exploring and understanding the unknown in a way that Star Trek is known for and even though our familiar crew has aged in the time between the series and this feature, their reunion is well shown and the dynamics soon return. By the movie's end, things are familiar once again.

Enterprise Bridge

The film begins with an overture and a starfield to the strings and orchestra lead by Jerry Goldsmith, something that is never done these days. The film paces itself, allowing viewers to take in the visuals. This too, is something that wouldn't be done today. A six minute tour of the exterior of the new Enterprise would be wasted screen time for Gen-Y viewers! The Motion Picture does have its detractors for its pacing and lack of action, but this is not an action movie like Star Wars.

The story may feel recycled from the episode The Changeling, but the cinematic scope and feel is far grander than that episode was able to convey. The Enterprise dwarfed by this huge living machine known as V'Ger and the interesting internal workings are all amazing on the large screen.

I decided to watch this through in Director's Edition format, the ultimate and complete version of the feature from 2001. However there were a few scenes, particularly notable on the bridge which had some strange blurring appearing in the background and some of the space shots with the Klingon ships didn't look their best.

Vulcan from the Directors Edition

Out of interest, I played back some scenes from the recent blu-ray theatrical release and was absolutely amazed at how much more detail appeared and how crisp everything looked. It's a real shame that the Director's Edition has not yet been brought to high definition and I understand the reason is because the new special effects were shot in DVD resolution and not 1080, but if they ever do decide to take on the project, I'm sure it will be a hit with fans as the Ultimate Edition. We can only hope!

V Ger

As a fan, The Motion Picture is a must see. It sums up Star Trek perfectly even if it isn't action packed, edge of your seat viewing. This is the movie that brought Star Trek to the big screen and would spawn five sequels with Kirk and crew. As the tagline reads:

The Human adventure is just beginning...

My Rating: 6/10 or 3 Stars
Eleonor's Rating: 8/10 or 4 Stars

18 September 2012

B5 Review: The Long Dark & A Spider in the Web

The Long Dark
Soldier of DarknessAn ancient sleeper ship from Earth finds its way to Babylon 5, bringing with it a woman from the 21st Century, her dead husband (who died during the journey) and a strange alien entity that unleashes itself on the station.

Meanwhile, a lurker named Amis begins telling tales of doom with the ship's arrival, bringing him to the attention of Garibaldi.

On the surface, this episode doesn't seem to bring too much to the table, except that the 'dark forces' on the Rim are continuing to rally their allies. This is one of the only Season Two episodes I caught during the initial run of the series on TV, my Dad showed it to me for the appearance of Dwight Schultz (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Amis. The connection with the human woman from the past is very similar to an episode from that series, although the addition of a Soldier of Darkness ensures this is an episode from the B5 universe.

We learn a fair bit about Earth exploration leading up to the present such as how jumpgate technology was acquired and the Doctor gets a bit of a look in this episode with a possible interest.

Overall Rating: 7/10

A Spider in the Web
Garibaldi and TaliaTalia is stalked by a strange man who should be dead.

This is a Talia oriented episode, from her involvement in negotiations between an old friend of hers and a representative of the Mars Free Government. Unfortunately, her friend is killed before the negotiations can conclude.

We learn of a secret organisation operating from Earth, the ruins of San Diego who appear to have infiltrated key areas, including Babylon 5. It would also appear that Psi-Corps are somehow involved.

This episode marks the first appearance of Zack Allan, which may not seem significant for the moment. It is also the first episode where we see Captain Sheridan liaise with an Earth official, in Senator Voudreau who asks Sheridan to monitor the negotiations taking place and report back. Another thing that may not seem important... for now?

While there is a fair bit of information to take in from this episode, it doesn't really strike a chord or remain too memorable. I can't remember if the threads of Bureau 13 are eventually picked up in later episodes, so for now, the Overall Rating is 6.5/10.

16 September 2012

Sci-Fi Review: Firefly

Firefly is one of those series I had heard much about from friends and colleagues but never got in to myself. I don't know why really, maybe it was due to a lack of exposure when it was current and that was probably due to its extremely short run on television. I was a fan of Joss Whedon's previous work with Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel though.

Firefly Logo

So, it was earlier this year when a work colleague lent me the DVD set for Firefly that I thought I'd give it a go and I'm glad that I did, although ultimately disappointed that the show never got to reach its potential.

The series follows Malcolm Reynolds and his crew aboard a cargo ship called Serenity, a Firefly class transport that they call home. Throughout the run of episodes we learn a bit more about each character and while things started a bit icy, particularly with the character of 'Mal' himself, I found I was soon able to warm to each of them.

Firefly Crew

Set in a time in the distant future and somewhere much further away from Earth, the pilot episode Serenity introduces us to the crew and ship as they pick up new passengers who aren't all they appear. It's not until the episode Out of Gas we get to see how the crew were brought together and how Mal came to acquire Serenity.

Serenity 

Among the new passengers and recurring cast picked up from the pilot, Simon and River Tam are central to a storyline involving River, a young girl who appears to have been tampered with by a government organisation for some other purpose. She exhibits strange and random behaviour throughout the series while Simon, her brother and a capable doctor attempts to figure out what exactly has been done to her. The rest of the crew, particularly Jayne believe River is a risk, but she proves her worth many a time, particularly in episodes Ariel and Objects in Space.

Simon and River Tam

The Serenity's crew mostly smuggle goods for a living, but occasionally try to do the right thing. We see this early in the series in The Train Job where they take on a smuggling operation from a crime lord, only to find they are smuggling much needed medicine supplies from a small town. Adventures also bring trouble with what could have been a continually recurring character in Saffron, introduced in Our Mrs Reynolds as a pretty young girl, wed to Mal who actually incapacitates the Serenity crew and attempts to have the ship sent to a scrapyard and who returns in Trash to convince the crew to steal a rare antique.

There is something in the relationship between Mal and Inara, a beautiful companion who travels with the Serenity crew in order to expand her business opportunities. The 'something' isn't quite fully realised in the series but interesting to follow while the relationship between Zoe and Wash could be seen as something quite odd, the show convinces us that it works with these two characters who appear to be completely opposite each other.

Jayne 

Plenty of Whedon humour subtly abounds throughout the show and each character gets to play their part in it, but Jayne would probably be the character 'in charge' of the comic relief as he is portrayed as a none-too-bright thug who was recruited to the Serenity crew basically because they offered him more money.

The interesting character Shepherd Book, is a preacher that joins the crew from the pilot episode but we quickly learn there is something more to him that's not entirely uncovered by the series end. He offers a lot of counsel to the crew but also shows he can carry his weight in tough situations as well, despite his religious background.

Then there's Kaylee, the ship's engineer who goes through the show in awe of the beauty of Inara and the lifestyle of the more fortunate while also looking for the attention of Simon Tam who can never quite say the right thing.

Mal and Kaylee

The show is beautifully shot and while the mix of sci-fi with American westerns is a bit of a weird mash-up, it was done convincingly enough that it didn't really bother me as a viewer. It was a shame to get into the series and begin to understand more about the crew dynamics, only to have the series end so soon. There definitely was a lot of potential in some of the storylines that were only just barely beginning to be explored.

If you're into sci-fi and haven't seen the show, I'd highly recommend it. There's only a handful of episodes to get through and it's quite an enjoyable ride. I now understand why it has such a following :)