Film Review – SERENITY (2005)

SERENITY (2005, USA) ****
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures / Barry Mendel Productions; d. Joss Whedon; w. Joss Whedon; pr. Barry Mendel; ph. Jack N. Green (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), Digital (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9 : 1 anamorphic). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format). 2.35:1); m. David Newman; ed. Lisa Lassek; pd. Barry Chusid; ad. Daniel T. Dorrance; rel. 22 August 2005 (UK), 22 September 2005 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 119m.
cast: Nathan Fillion (Mal), Gina Torres (Zoë), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Morena Baccarin (Inara), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Sean Maher (Simon), Summer Glau (River), Ron Glass (Shepherd Book), Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative), David Krumholtz (Mr. Universe), Michael Hitchcock (Dr. Mathias), Sarah Paulson (Dr. Caron), Yan Feldman (Mingo), Rafael Feldman (Fanty), Nectar Rose (Lenore), Tamara Taylor (Teacher), Glenn Howerton (Lilac Young Tough), Hunter Ansley Wryn (Young River).
A group of rebels led by war veteran Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) travels the outskirts of space aboard their ship, Serenity, outside the reach of the Alliance, a sinister regime that controls most of the universe. After the crew takes in Simon (Maher) and his psychic sister, River (Glau), whom he has just rescued from Alliance forces, they find themselves being pursued by the Operative (Ejiofor), an Alliance agent who will stop at nothing to find them. The events of the film take place six months after the last episode of the Firefly (2002) TV series, which was cancelled prematurely by the network despite its loyal fan base. Here, Whedon attempts to tie-up some of the loose threads that resulted from the series being dropped. Whilst the movie may require its audience to be familiar with the series, there is still much to enjoy for newcomers. The action is ramped up and there is the witty character interaction that endeared the TV show to its audience leaving sufficient of the series’ spirit on show to make this a success. All the regulars return and there are shocks and surprises along the way. Whedon’s direction is fast-paced and the cast hit the ground running. It’s a shame the movie did not earn sufficient box office to warrant extending the franchise.

TV Review – INTERGALACTIC (2021)

INTERGALACTIC (UK, 2021, 8 x 45m) **
Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure

net; Sky One; pr co. Babieka / Moonage Pictures / Tiger Aspect Productions; d. Kieron Hawkes, China Moo-Young , Hannah Quinn; cr. Julie Gearey; w. Julie Gearey, Laura Grace ; exec pr. Paul Gilbert; series pr. Nick Pitt.

cast: Savannah Steyn (Ash Harper), Eleanor Tomlinson (Candy), Natasha O’Keeffe (Emma), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Tula), Thomas Turgoose (Drew), Oliver Coopersmith (Echo), Imogen Daines (Verona), Diany Samba-Bandza (Genevieve), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Yann Harper), Craig Parkinson (Dr. Lee), Parminder Nagra (Rebecca Harper), Neil Maskell (Wendell), Samantha Schnitzler (Captain Alessia Harris).

The year 2143. Climate change has screwed the planet and the world’s cities, now mostly underwater, are controlled by a pseudo democratic government called the Commonworld. After sky cop Harper (Savannah Steyn) is set up for a crime she had nothing to do with, she is placed on board prisoner transport ship the Hemlock bound for an off-planet prison. On board she is thrown into the melee of a mutiny stirred up by a band of hardened female criminals who threaten to kill her if she doesn’t fly them to safety.

Intergalactic must be one of the biggest wasted opportunities to hit our TV screens in recent years.  Backed by Sky with a top-notch production design (by Mark Geraghty); more than acceptable visual effects; and a solid-gold premise inspired by one of British TVs best sci-fi adventure series (Blake’s 7) this should have been a celebration of what is great about British TV. Unfortunately we had to deal with characters, who for the most part were very difficult to like and left us with no-one to root for; incessant and overly gratuitous use of foul language; banal and cliched dialogue and storylines; and a finale that wasn’t. The latter is partly explained by the fact there were two more scripts to shoot before production was curtailed by the pandemic. The producers, directors and writers must take the blame for the rest. Tonally, the series veered from witty and tongue-in-cheek to violent and abrasive – often in the same scene. The former losing out increasingly to the latter as the series progressed. That would have been okay, as the stakes were raised in those later episodes, but what we were left with was a depressing tale of self-centred characters whose cause and motivations were never fully explained to any logical or believable level. The performances were almost universally one-note and ranged from the awful (Duncan-Brewster, who simply snarls her way through her entire performance) to the passable (most of the rest) . Only Turgoose managed to inject any depth into his character, whilst Coopersmith struggled to bring some Han Solo-esque charm to his. The series had admirable qualities in its use of a diverse cast and its pushing most of the leading roles to females. There are also the occasional amusing and witty lines of dialogue that shine like beacons amongst most of the writing (Turgoose remarking the one planet they visit was “worse then Bolton”). Stereotypes are much in evidence, however, and the story becomes increasingly predictable and derivative of other, better productions (and that is saying something when one of the inspirations was Con-Air). The design of the Hemlock, the prison ship stolen by the mutineers, is genuinely impressive and it is a shame it is not peopled by characters we would like to spend more time with. The camera work is good, but the direction often feels amateurish and the cast seem unable to bring any level of empathy to their characters.  There is a backstory for each that feels like it was taken from the “bumper book of prison characters” and there is insufficient subtlety in the writing to present these backstories in anything other than flat monologues. For an example of how to write a sci-fi show about a group of misfits and a totalitarian government, Geary should have looked no further than Firefly, which attacked similar themes with much more style and wit as well as characters you wanted to spend time with, rather than wince at every aggressive use of the “f-word” – instead she did not even look to the strengths of Blake’s 7 and landed much closer to Con-Air – more is the pity. It is hard to see the series being picked up for a second run, which is a shame in that it will likely kill off any further attempts to create a rebirth for British sci-fi TV for the foreseeable future.

Film Review – THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935, USA) *****
Horror, Sci-Fi

dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures; d. James Whale; w. William Hurlbut (adapted by William Hurlbut and John L. Balderston and suggested by the original story written in 1816 by Mary Shelley); pr. Carl Laemmle Jr.; ph. John J. Mescall (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Franz Waxman; ed. Ted J. Kent; ad. Charles D. Hall; cos. Vera West (uncredited); m/up. Jack P. Pierce, Irma Kusely (both uncredited); sd. Gilbert Kurland (Mono (Noiseless Western Electric Recording)); sfx. Ken Strickfaden; vfx. John P. Fulton; rel. 19 April 1935 (USA), 27 June 1935 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 75m.

cast: Boris Karloff (The Monster), Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth), Ernest Thesiger (Doctor Pretorius), Elsa Lanchester (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley / The Monster’s Mate), Gavin Gordon (Lord Byron), Douglas Walton (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Una O’Connor (Minnie), E.E. Clive (Burgomaster), Lucien Prival (Butler), O.P. Heggie (Hermit), Dwight Frye (Karl), Reginald Barlow (Hans), Mary Gordon (Hans’ Wife), Anne Darling (Shepherdess), Ted Billings (Ludwig).

In this sequel to Universal’s classic 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, Mary Shelley reveals the main characters of her novel survived. After recovering from injuries sustained in the mob attack upon himself and his creation, Dr. Frankenstein (Clive) falls under the control of his former mentor, Dr. Pretorius (Thesiger), who insists the now-chastened doctor resume his experiments in creating new life. Meanwhile, the Monster (Karloff) remains on the run from those who wish to destroy him without understanding that his intentions are generally good despite his lack of socialization and self-control. Whale brings in elements of wit and the macabre thereby opening out the story. Notable amongst these new elements is the addition of Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorius. Bizarre, sinsiter and camp in equal measures Thesiger is unforgettable and provides a much needed offset to Clive’s more melodramatic turn as Frankenstein. Karloff returns as the monster and is given the added power of speech following his meeting with a blind hermit (Heggie) in a scene that adds both pathos and humour. The film comes into its own in the climax laboratory scene with Thesiger and Clive bringing Lanchester’s “bride” for the monster to life. The sequence is technically superb with its use of light and shadow, obtuse camera angles and rapid editing. The sequence shows what a true artist Whale was. The gothic set design, innovative creature make-up and dynamic photography are all top draw. Whilst some of the performances may come across as hammy, you must remember this is the early days of the talkies and a certain staginess is inevitable. The look and atmosphere are unforgettable and the film has come to be rightly regarded as a classic of the genre. Clive broke a leg in a horse riding accident. Consequently, many of his scenes were shot with him sitting. John Carradine is one of the two hunters that appear at the hermit’s cabin proclaiming the hermit’s guest is in fact the monster. Followed by SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) and remade as THE BRIDE (1985).

AAN: Best Sound, Recording (Gilbert Kurland)

Two new Sky series recall earlier classic British TV with differing results

Intergalactic (2021, UK, Episodes 1-4) **½
Fearless young cop and galactic pilot, Ash Harper (Savannah Steyn), who has her glittering career ripped away from her after being wrongly convicted of a treasonous crime and exiled to a distant prison colony. But on the way there, Ash’s fellow convicts stage a mutiny and seize control of their prison transfer ship.
Mare of Easttown (2021, USA, Episodes 1-3) *****
As her life crumbles around her, a small-town Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) investigates a local murder. The series explores the dark side of a close community and provides an authentic examination of how family and past tragedies can define our present.

Intergalactic" (2021) British movie posterSky has two series currently available or broadcasting that have their roots in classic British TV series. The first is the heavily publicised British sci-fi action adventure Intergalactic (Sky One), with the whole series of 8 episodes (curtailed from 10 by the pandemic) available to download for subscribers. The series is the brainchild of Julie Gearey and has a largely multi-ethnic female led cast led by Savannah Steyn as a discredited cop forced to serve her sentence off-world, where she falls in with several other prisoners who take over their transport ship, the “Hemlock” (a cool Millenium Falcon styled spaceship) and go on the run from the Common World. In their midst is a terrorist leader, who has her own secrets the Common World need to suppress. An added complication is the Steyn’s mother is the the leader of the Common World security team in pursuit of the escapees. There is much murkiness behind the back story, which gradually becomes clearer as the series progresses. The plot sounds familiar because it is a direct riff on the 1970s classic “Blake’s 7” , only here the action is more violent, the language much coarser, the characters less likeable, the stories less original and the dialogue is a mix of the truly awful and the occasionally witty. The look and tone is also highly derivative in taking elements of “Mad Max”, “Firefly” and Con Air” blending together their more cliched elements. The cast is, on paper, a strong one that includes Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Eleanor Tomlinson, Thomas Turgoose, Natasha O’Keeffe, Oliver Coopersmith, Imogen Daines, Diany Samba-Bandza, Parminder Nagra and Craig Parkinson. Most of the performances are one dimensional and lacking in nuance as the cast struggle to take their characters beyond the machismo of their dialogue. That said there are moments where the potential for a stronger series emerges – I am currently half-way through the run and after a dodgy start there have been some genuinely funny moments as well as a few unintentional ones. Where the series truly scores is in its look. The production design and CGI visual effects are excellent, if occasionally a little over-processed, from the opening shots of London in ruins to the new raised city and beyond into the galaxy. Its often pulpy trash, but it is also somehow strangely addictive as it struggles to add a fun factor.  Hopefully the characters will settle down and become more rounded as the series progresses. For now it borders between the awful and the entertaining as a distinct guilty pleasure. I’ll come back later with my views on the last 4 episodes.

Kate Winslet as Mare SheehanMare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic), on the other hand, is a reminder of the high quality output from American production company HBO (Home Box Office). Here Kate Winslet plays a detective in a backwater Pennsylvania town. She is dogged by the fact she has been unable to solve a missing persons case and is embroiled with a current murder investigation where the suspects come close to home. No doubt the two cases will at some point be linked. In between time, she has her own domestic issues to address following the death of her son, the break-up of her marriage and her grand-parenting duties due to the absent mother, who is wrestling with a drug problem. It all sounds miserably downbeat, but here the writing is so strong and the characters totally believable with a razor-sharp script (written by Brad Ingelsby) injected with dark humour and witty dialogue. So far I have seen the first three episodes (of 7) of the series, which is being run weekly by Sky concurrently with HBO. The story has more than few echoes of one of British TV’s very best series, “Happy Valley”, and I would be surprised if it were not an influence on Ingelsby. Like “Happy Valley” this series has a gripping and multi-layered story with genuine character interactions and superb performances from its cast – most notably Winslet, who is flawless. It is a drama that sucks you into its world and holds you there in its vice-like grip. It looks set to be one of the best series since the turn of the century.

TV Review – FIREFLY: SERENITY (2002)

FIREFLY: SERENITY (TV) (2002, USA) ****
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi

dist. Fox Network (USA); pr co. Mutant Enemy / 20th Century Fox Television; d. Joss Whedon; w. Joss Whedon; exec pr. Joss Whedon, Tim Minear; pr. Gareth Davies, Ben Edlund; assoc pr. Lisa Lassek, Brian Wankum; ph. David Boyd (Colour. 35mm, HDTV (remastered re-runs), Video (NTSC). Spherical. 1.78:1); m. Greg Edmonson; theme m/l. Joss Whedon (performed by Sonny Rhodes); ed. Lisa Lassek; pd. Carey Meyer; set d. David A. Koneff; cos. Jill M. Ohanneson; m/up. Camille Calvet, Tina Hoffman, Ron Pipes, Colette Slattery; sd. Cindy Rabideau (Dolby Digital); sfx. Bruce Minkus; vfx. Kristen Branan, Loni Peristere; st. Eddie Braun; rel. 20 December 2002 (USA), 12 May 2003 (UK); cert: 12; r/t. 86m.

cast: Nathan Fillion (Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds), Gina Torres (Zoë Washburne), Alan Tudyk (Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne), Morena Baccarin (Inara Serra), Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb), Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye), Sean Maher (Dr. Simon Tam), Summer Glau (River Tam), Ron Glass (Shepherd Derrial Book), Carlos Jacott (Lawrence Dobson), Mark Sheppard (Badger), Andy Umberger (Dortmunder Captain), Philip Sternberg (Inara’s Client), Eddie Adams (Bendis), Colin Patrick Lynch (Radio Operator), Bonnie Bartlett (Patience), Domingo Vara (Ensign), Stephen O’Mahoney (Man (Dortmunder)), Jamie McShane (Man), John F. Kearney (Old Man).

Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) is a veteran and the captain of Serenity. He and his crew are smuggling goods, but they need to pick up some passengers for extra money. However, not all the passengers are what they seem. This highly entertaining and witty mix of Sci-Fi and Western themes was the pilot episode for the TV series Firefly. The premise transplants the aftermath of the American Civil War to outer space – the browncoats replace the greycoats and the Alliance replace the Union, whilst the “’verse” replaces the states and the Reavers replace the Native Americans. Fillion channels Harrison Ford’s Han Solo but adds the complexity of a defeated soldier still proud of the cause he fought for and refusing to surrender his values. His crew all have distinctive characteristics that makes them standout as individual characters. The ambiguity between the crew making a living from salvage via criminal distribution and the moral stance they are often asked to take give the story and the subsequent series its focus. Whedon had developed a wonderful premise and had executed it with finesse. Unfortunately, the TV public were slow to catch on and Fox cancelled the series before it had managed to pick up an audience. The resultant TV series (2002-3) ran for just 14 episodes but built enough of a cult following to warrant a theatrical sequel SERENITY (2005).

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)

STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005, USA) ***½
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Lucasfilm / Pandora Films / CTV Services; d. George Lucas; w. George Lucas; exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Rick McCallum; ph. David Tattersall (DeLuxe. 35mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), 70mm (horizontal) (IMAX DMR blow-up) (Kodak Vision 2383). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Dolby Vision, HDCAM SR (1080p/24) (source format). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Roger Barton, Ben Burtt; pd. Gavin Bocquet; ad. Peter Russell; set d. Piero Di Giovanni, Richard Roberts; cos. Trisha Biggar; m/up. Nikki Gooley, Annette Miles, Josh Head; sd. Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood (DTS-ES | Dolby Digital EX | SDDS (uncredited) | Dolby Atmos); sfx. Rodney Burke; vfx. Roger Guyett, John Knoll; st. Nick Gillard; rel. 12 May 2005 (USA), 16 May 2005 (UK); cert: PG-13/12; r/t. 140m.

cast: Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku), Keisha Castle-Hughes (Queen of Naboo), Silas Carson (Ki-Adi-Mundi / Nute Gunray), Jay Laga’aia (Captain Typho), Bruce Spence (Tion Medon), Wayne Pygram (Governor Tarkin), Temuera Morrison (Commander Cody), David Bowers (Mas Amedda), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Rohan Nichol (Captain Raymus Antilles), Jeremy Bulloch (Captain Colton), Amanda Lucas (Terr Taneel), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Matt Sloan (Plo Koon), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Rebecca Jackson Mendoza (Queen of Alderaan), Joel Edgerton (Owen Lars), Bonnie Piesse (Beru Lars), Jett Lucas (Zett Jukassa), Tux Akindoyeni (Agen Kolar), Matt Rowan (Senator Orn Free Taa), Kenji Oates (Saesee Tiin), Amy Allen (Aayla Secura), Bodie Taylor (Clone Trooper), Graeme Blundell (Ruwee Naberrie), Trisha Noble (Jobal Naberrie), Claudia Karvan (Sola Naberrie), Keira Wingate (Ryoo Naberrie), Hayley Mooy (Pooja Naberrie), Sandi Finlay (Sly Moore), Katie Lucas (Chi Eekway), Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma), Warren Owens (Fang Zar), Kee Chan (Malé-Dee), Rena Owen (Nee Alavar), Christopher Kirby (Giddean Danu), Matthew Wood (General Grievous (voice)), Kristy Wright (Moteé), Coinneach Alexander (Whie), Olivia McCallum (Bene (as Mousy McCallum)), Michael Kingma (Wookiee General Tarfful), Axel Dench (Wookiee), Steven Foy (Wookiee), Julian Khazzouh (Wookiee), James Rowland (Wookiee), David Stiff (Wookiee), Robert Cope (Wookiee).

It has been three years since the Clone Wars began. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) and Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) rescue Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid) from General Grievous, the commander of the droid armies, but Grievous escapes. Suspicions are raised within the Jedi Council concerning Chancellor Palpatine, with whom Anakin has formed a bond. Asked to spy on the chancellor, and full of bitterness toward the Jedi Council, Anakin embraces the Dark Side. This is a visually impressive final instalment of parts 1-3 of the STAR WARS saga. Whilst many of the problems encountered in the first two films – notably the flat lead performances and leaden dialogue – remain, here the stakes are higher and as such the viewing experience is more rewarding. There is also a better balance between the political intrigue and the action sequences. The latter, however, often appear overly choreographed resulting in reduced tension as the viewer marvels at the movement rather than becomes embroiled in the struggle. The final act is largely engrossing but also feels manufactured in that it attempts to tie everything neatly into the set-up for part 4, which was released twenty-eight years earlier.

AAN: Best Achievement in Makeup (Dave Elsey, Nikki Gooley)

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)

STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002, USA) ***
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Lucasfilm / Recce & Production Services / Mestiere Cinema; d. George Lucas; w. George Lucas, Jonathan Hales (based on a story by George Lucas); exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Rick McCallum, Lorne Orleans; ph. David Tattersall (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), 70 mm (horizontal) (IMAX DMR blow-up) (Kodak Vision 2383), Digital (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9: 1 anamorphic). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Dolby Vision, HDCAM (1080p/24) (source format) (matted to 2.39: 1). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Ben Burtt; pd. Gavin Bocquet; ad. Peter Russell; set d. Peter Walpole; cos. Trisha Biggar; m/up. Lesley Vanderwalt, Sue Love; sd. Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood (DTS-ES | Dolby Digital EX | SDDS | Dolby Atmos); sfx. David Young, Geoff Heron, Tom Harris; vfx. Pablo Helman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Ben Snow; st. Nick Gillard; rel. 12 May 2002 (USA), 14 May 2002 (UK); cert: PG/PG; r/t. 142m.

cast: Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku / Darth Tyranus), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Jack Thompson (Cliegg Lars), Leeanna Walsman (Zam Wesell), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks / Achk Med-Beq (voice)), Rose Byrne (Dormé), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Ronald Falk (Dexter Jettster (voice)), Jay Laga’aia (Capt. Typho), Andy Secombe (Watto (voice)), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO / Dannl Faytonni), Silas Carson (Ki-Adi-Mundi / Viceroy Nute Gunray), Ayesha Dharker (Queen Jamillia), Joel Edgerton (Owen Lars), Daniel Logan (Boba Fett), Bonnie Piesse (Beru), Anthony Phelan (Lama Su (voice)), Rena Owen (Taun We (voice)), Alethea McGrath (Madame Jocasta Nu), Susie Porter (Hermione Bagwa / WA-7), Matt Doran (Elan Sleazebaggano), Alan Ruscoe (Lott Dod), Matt Sloan (Plo Koon), Veronica Segura (Cordé), David Bowers (Mas Amedda), Steve John Shepherd (Naboo lieutenant), Bodie Taylor (Clone Trooper), Matt Rowan (Senator Orn Free Taa), Steven Boyle (Senator Ask Aak / Passel Argente), Zachariah Jensen (Kit Fisto), Alex Knoll (J.K. Burtola), Phoebe Yiamkiati (Mari Amithest), Kenny Baker (R2-D2).

Set ten years after the events of THE PHANTOM MENACE, the Republic continues to be mired in strife and chaos. A separatist movement encompassing hundreds of planets and powerful corporate alliances poses new threats to the galaxy that even the Jedi cannot stem. These moves, long planned by an as yet unrevealed and powerful force, lead to the beginning of the Clone Wars — and the beginning of the end of the Republic. This continuation of the STAR WARS saga delves deeper into the political intrigue, but has enough action sequences, some of which fail to convince with their logic, to keep the less demanding viewers entertained. Where the film pales in comparison to those that preceded it are in the characters and the actor’s performances. McGregor, Christensen and Portman lack the personality of Hamill, Ford and Fisher from the original trilogy. What humour is there is uninspired and largely repeats lines from earlier movies. Portman and Chsritensen, in particular, are given wooden dialogue to work with but fail to rise above their material in a way Christopher Lee in particular does. There is little emotional resonance despite the big themes at play. Technically, though, the film is a triumph. The visuals are highly impressive, albeit it increasingly CGI dependant. Lucas’s direction, though, is workmanlike and he fails to bring his own material to life in a way he did back in 1977. Followed by STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005).

AAN: Best Visual Effects (Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll, Ben Snow)

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: REVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: REVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS (TV) (2021) **½
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); pr co. BBC Studios; d. Lee Haven Jones; w. Chris Chibnall; exec pr. Chris Chibnall; pr. Alex Mercer; ph. Luke Bryant (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; ed. Joel Skinner; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; ad. Rebecca Brown; set d. Vicki Male; cos. Ray Holman; m/up. Claire Pritchard-Jones; sd. Harry Barnes (Dolby Digital); sfx. Real SFX; vfx. DNEG, Chris Thomas; b/cast. 1 January 2021 (UK/USA); cert: 12; r/t. 71m.

cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Chris Noth (Jack Robertson), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Leo Rugazzi), Harriet Walter (Jo Patterson), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Leo Rugazzi), Nathan Armakwei-Laryea (Armen), Helene Anderson (Rachel), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)), Sharon D. Clarke (Grace).

The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover? A disappointing special which is failed by a script that is full of plot holes and is decidedly lazy, skirting over key narrative progressions. It also fails to make the most of its dramatic potential – for example Jack and Yaz’s discovery of the Tokyo Dalek factory should have been the surprise reveal, but we had already been introduced to it a few scenes earlier. The whole threat lacks the global and epic scope its plot suggests, and the wrap-up is far too convenient. Barrowman’s return is welcome, but he disappears at the story’s conclusion. Noth’s performance is way over the top and just as unconvincing as it was in his previous appearance in ARACHNIDS IN THE UK (2018). Moments of character introspection are welcome and help to add some explanation of motivation. Whittaker is okay as the Doctor, but still lacks the presence of previous incarnations. The Daleks are great in both traditional and new designs and the clash of different factions recalls earlier episodes – notably REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS (1988). Technical values are high and the episode is nicely shot, but the direction of Jones fails to overcome the limitations of Chibnall’s script.

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)

Watch Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode I) | Full Movie | Disney+STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999, USA) ***
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox; pr co. Lucasfilm; d. George Lucas; w. George Lucas; exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Rick McCallum; ph. David Tattersall (DeLuxe. 35 mm (Kodak Vision 2383, Vision Premier 2393), D-Cinema (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9: 1 anamorphic). Dolby Vision, HDCAM (some scenes), Hawk Scope (anamorphic), Powerscope (anamorphic) (underwater scenes), VistaVision (some scenes). 2.35:1); m. John Williams; ed. Ben Burtt, Paul Martin Smith; pd. Gavin Bocquet; ad. Peter Russell; set d. Peter Walpole; cos. Trisha Biggar; m/up. Paul Engelen, Sue Love; sd. Tom Bellfort, Ben Burtt, Matthew Wood (Dolby Digital EX | SDDS (8 channels) | DTS-ES | Dolby Atmos); sfx. Geoff Heron, Peter Hutchinson; vfx. John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires; st. Nick Gillard; anim. Miguel A. Fuertes; rel. 16 May 1999 (USA), 14 July 1999 (UK); cert: U; r/t. 136m.

cast: Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Queen Amidala / Padmé), Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO (voice)), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), Terence Stamp (Chancellor Valorum), Brian Blessed (Boss Nass (voice)), Andy Secombe (Watto (voice)), Ray Park (Darth Maul), Lewis Macleod (Sebulba (voice)), Warwick Davis (Wald / Pod race spectator / Mos Espa Citizen), Steve Speirs (Captain Tarpals).

The first of the second trilogy of STAR WARS movies goes back to the start of the story. Here, two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) escape a hostile blockade to find allies and come across a young boy (Lloyd) who may bring balance to the Force, but the long dormant Sith resurface to reclaim their old glory. The film is a technical and visual marvel but is lumbered with a leaden narrative, a wordy script and wooden dialogue. Except for Neeson and the villainous McDiarmid, the actors fail to breathe life into the characters leaving an experience that lacks emotive investment. What’s left is to marvel at the staging of the action sequences, which at times feel too heavily choreographed, and to be antagonised by Jar Jar Binks – the singularly most annoying character of the series. The finale battle is well staged and sets up the thread to be taken forward in the next two films. Re-released in 3D in 2012. Followed by STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002).

AAN: Best Sound (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Shawn Murphy, John Midgley); Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Ben Burtt, Tom Bellfort); Best Effects, Visual Effects (John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires, Rob Coleman)

Film Review – STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Poster by Josh Kirby, 1983 for sale at PamonoSTAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983, USA) ***½
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. Twentieth Century Fox ; pr co. Lucasfilm; d. Richard Marquand; w. Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas (based on a story by George Lucas); exec pr. George Lucas; pr. Howard G. Kazanjian, Rick McCallum; ph. Alan Hume (DeLuxe. 35mm (Eastman 5384). Digital Intermediate (4K) (2019 remaster), Dolby Vision, J-D-C Scope (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. John Williams; ed. Sean Barton, Duwayne Dunham, Marcia Lucas; pd. Norman Reynolds; ad. Fred Hole, James L. Schoppe; set d. Michael Ford, Harry Lange; cos. Aggie Guerard Rodgers, Nilo Rodis-Jamero; m/up. Stuart Freeborn, Graham Freeborn, Tom Smith, Pat McDermott; sd. Ben Burtt (70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) | Dolby (35 mm prints)); sfx. Roy Arbogast; vfx. Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston; st. Glenn Randall; rel. 25 May 1983 (USA), 2 June 1983 (UK); cert: U; r/t. 131m.

cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Sebastian Shaw (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (The Emperor), Frank Oz (Yoda (voice)), James Earl Jones (Darth Vader (voice)), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Alec Guinness (Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi), Kenny Baker (R2-D2 / Paploo), Michael Pennington (Moff Jerjerrod), Kenneth Colley (Admiral Piett), Michael Carter (Bib Fortuna), Denis Lawson (Wedge), Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar), Dermot Crowley (General Madine), Caroline Blakiston (Mon Mothma), Warwick Davis (Wicket), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Femi Taylor (Oola), Annie Arbogast (Sy Snootles), Claire Davenport (Fat Dancer), Jack Purvis (Teebo), Mike Edmonds (Logray), Jane Busby (Chief Chirpa), Malcolm Dixon (Ewok Warrior (as Malcom Dixon)), Mike Cottrell (Ewok Warrior), Nicolas Read (Nicki (as Nicki Reade)), Adam Bareham (Stardestroyer Controller #1), Jonathan Oliver (Stardestroyer Controller #2), Pip Miller (Stardestroyer Captain #1), Tom Mannion (Stardestroyer Captain #2), Margo Apostolos (Ewok (as Margo Apostocos)), Ray Armstrong (Ewok), Eileen Baker (Ewok), Michael Henbury Ballan (Ewok (as Michael H. Balham)), Bobby Bell (Ewok), Patty Bell (Ewok), Alan Bennett (Ewok), Sarah Bennett (Ewok), Pamela Betts (Ewok), Danny Blackner (Ewok (as Dan Blackner)), Linda Bowley (Ewok), Peter Burroughs (Ewok), Debbie Lee Carrington (Romba Ewok (as Debbie Carrington)), Maureen Charlton (Ewok), Willie Coppen (Ewok (as William Coppen)), Sadie Corre (Ewok (as Sadie Corrie)), Tony Cox (Ewok), John Cumming (Ewok), Jean D’Agostino (Ewok), Luis De Jesus (Ewok), Debbie Dixon (Ewok), Margarita Farrell (Ewok (as Margarita Fernandez)), Phil Fondacaro (Ewok), Sal Fondacaro (Ewok), Tony Friel (Ewok), Daniel Frishman (Ewok (as Dan Frishman)), John Ghavan (Ewok (as John Gavam)), Michael Gilden (Ewok), Paul Grant (Ewok), Lydia Green (Ewok), Lars Green (Ewok), Pam Grizz (Ewok), Andrew Herd (Ewok / Jawa), J.J. Jackson (Ewok),

As the evil Emperor Palpatine (McDiarmid) oversees the construction of the new Death Star by Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones) and the Galactic Empire, smuggler Han Solo (Ford) is rescued from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt by his friends, Luke Skywalker (Hamill), Princess Leia (Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Williams), and Chewbacca (Mayhew). Leaving Luke Skywalker Jedi training with Master Yoda (Oz), Solo returns to the Rebel fleet to prepare to complete his battle with the Empire. During the ensuing fighting, the newly returned Luke Skywalker is captured by Darth Vader. This third of the original STAR WARS trilogy is the least effective, being served by a script that offers little new and unimaginative direction. The Death Star plot merely re-cycles that of the first film and the character interaction lacks the slick camaraderie so apparent in the first two films. Fortunately, there is sufficient action and bravura in the lead performances to push through these faults and produce an entertaining, if flawed, conclusion. 1997 Special edition with added new effects runs to 134m. Original title: RETURN OF THE JEDI. Followed by STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999).

AA: Special Achievement Award: Visual Effects (Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Phil Tippett)
AAN: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Norman Reynolds, Fred Hole, James L. Schoppe, Michael Ford); Best Sound (Ben Burtt, Gary Summers, Randy Thom, Tony Dawe); Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Ben Burtt); Best Music, Original Score (John Williams)