A Look Back At Space: Above And Beyond

It has been 25 years since the sci-fi gem Space: Above and Beyond first premiered on television. The show was cancelled after only one season and has been forgotten by many, but is still treasured by a select few for its merits.

Created and produced by Glen Morgan and James Wong, Space: Above and Beyond was a military sci-fi adventure piece that took place in 2063. Humanity has just started to colonize other worlds before being attacked by these mysterious aliens called the Chigs. War broke out between humanity and the Chigs and the series followed the plight of a young group of soldiers hastily recruited into a squadron called the Wildcards to help fight the alien attackers who threatened Earth. The show was unique in that it showed that in the future, although humanity fought as one, Earth still was not united and had separate nations as today with armies from different nations cooperating in their war against the Chigs.

The soldiers making up the Wildcards were themselves very compelling and had fascinating back stories. The young leader of the squadron was Captain Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke), who was a career soldier who wanted to honor the memory of her deceased soldier parents. Tough as nails, yet loyal and caring to her squad, Vansen was one of the standouts in the show. Another lead was Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), who was the heart of the show. Sensitive, introspective yet strong-willed, West only joined the Wildcards after his girlfriend was kidnapped by the Chigs. The other lead in the show was Cooper Hawks (Rodney Rowland), the muscle of the squadron. He stood out from the other recruits because he was an “In Vitro”, a human who was artificially grown. Commanding the Wildcards was Lt. Col. T.C. McQueen (James Morrison, who was terrific in this role), an In Vitro himself. McQueen was a tough and decorated U.S. marine who had been through his fair share of wars and became a father figure of sorts to Hawks. Each episode examined the soldiers as they grew from green recruits into hardened fighters.

Space: Above and Beyond was one of the earliest TV shows to use the modern method of TV storytelling of episodes-long arcs. This contrasted with the norm back then when TV shows produced unrelated standalone episodes. The overall arc dealt with how humanity was fighting a desperate war against the aggressive Chigs. The fact that humanity seemed to be losing the war inspired many gritty episodes that explored the nature of sacrifice, comraderie, determination and loss. On the other hand, the show was not afraid to shine a light on humanity’s ugly side and raised questions about humankind’s conduct during the war not just with the aliens but with the past. Namely, it tackled bigotry with a new twist.

The In Vitroes were considered second-class citizens by humankind and useful only for being cannon fodder. They were developed to supplement human armies in a previous war against A.I.s (called Silicates) and were now struggling for equal rights. Many took up the In Vitro cause, such as West, yet many others considered them to be inferior and were hostile towards the In Vitroes. Hawks and McQueen struggled against the bigotry from others as they fought for humanity. Some of the best episodes focused on the two soldiers and their unique perspective. “Who Monitors the Birds?” was a largely dialogue-free episode that examined Hawks’ past upbringing as he underwent a covert mission behind enemy lines. “The Angriest Angel” focused on McQueen, who carried out a vendetta against a Chig fighter pilot that terrorized human fighter pilots with an advanced Chig fighter ship. The dogfight between McQueen’s fighter and the Chig’s was quite intense and rousing!

Eventually, humanity began to triumph against the Chigs and the final episodes dealt with a planned D-Day-type of invasion on Chig territory. There were many shocking twists about the origin of the Chigs, how the war began and the fate of the show’s characters. The fact that the final episode “…Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best” was open ended indicated that more seasons were planned as the war did not end and the characters were in cliffhanger situations. Some were apparently killed or taken prisoner by the Chigs. It was frustrating but added to a feeling of ambiguity about war and life; so the ending was somewhat appropriate.

Space: Above and Beyond was truly ahead of its time. It was one of the earliest shows to use computer effects which largely hold up today and had a fantastic and rousing military score by Shirley Walker. The show did a great job with its world building and set a template for hard and gritty miltary sci-fi that was further developed in the Battlestar Galactica reboot a decade later. But it was not appreciated or understood by many viewers when it first aired, and it was not a breakout hit that the network that aired it (Fox) hoped it would be.

As noted earlier, Space: Above and Beyond does have its fans and is considered to be an underappreciated gem. Anyone wishing to see will have to hunt for it online as its not currently streaming on Netflix or the other streaming apps, and the DVD boxset is quite pricey. Still, the show is worth seeking out for anyone wanting to see a well crafted military sci-fi yarn.

José Soto

Star Trek: Lower Decks Lacks Humor & Wit

Trek Lower Decks poster

The newest Star Trek TV series, Star Trek: Lower Decks, is the first animated Trek series since the 1970s and while that old show for the most part lived up to Star Trek, this animated show does not, unfortunately. There are many reasons why Star Trek: Lower Decks is just not up to par with Trek standards, but the most glaring is with its humor, or lack of.

Star Trek: Lower Decks, which streams on the CBS All Access app, was promoted as a comedy that takes place on the starship Cerritos, an unexceptional Starfleet ship assigned to mundane missions throughout Federation space . The show focuses on a crew of young Starfleet ensigns who for the most part dream of being promoted to senior officers while burdened with humdrum tasks like cleaning the holodeck, changing carbon filters and so on. The problem is the show just is not funny.

It tries its best, sometimes too hard, to be humorous and slapsticky, but at best the show elicits a few chuckles or wry smiles that only Trek fans can appreciate. The show is saddled with trying to be funny while telling traditional Star Trek stories and the tone winds up being very inconsistent. Some story lines are kind of interesting and could have worked in a normal Star Trek episode but then they gets thrown off with uninspired sight gags and jokes that are not especially witty and ruin the story. Take for instance this episode called “Moist Vessel”. The Cerritos is supposed to tow an ancient generational ship that has a substance that turns inorganic material into organic ones, which would be useful for terraforming purposes. This substance is accidently unleashed on the Cerritos and uncontrolled growths of organic material threatens the ship. This would have worked in a regular Star Trek episode, but in this case the plot is used for cheap laughs, though it did provide a platform for some character study.

mariner and boimler

As for the characters, they are not outstanding except for Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome). Unlike her overeager shipmates, she is more of a disillusioned slacker who complains nons-stop about Starfleet life. This is an interesting way to go for a Star Trek character, except it leaves you wondering why does she still stay onboard the ship? Why not just quit Starfleet? How is it she is still allowed to remain on the ship? For that last question, there is more to her story; her mother is the captain of the Cerritos and she is especially hard on Mariner, but that is about it. Her partner is an overeager and over-annoying Ensin named Boimler (Jack Quaid whose talents are better used in The Boys), who comes off as those petty buttkissers that no one likes, so it he is hard to empathize with. There are a few more ensigns who are alien or enhanced with cybernetic parts, but they do not stand out at all.

Star Trek: Lower Decks would have benefitted with wittier and funnier scripts that went all out and perhaps even meta. Perhaps a different animation style would have served it better because right now the show looks so cartoony that you expect it to be stuffed to the bulkheads with outrageous, LOL moments and jokes or even oulandish scenes that would have been too expensive to film in live action.

The show is not the worse thing out there and some revamping would salvage the endeavor. It does have potential, so it may be worth keeping an eye on. However, if fans want something to tide them over in between regular Trek productions like Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, they are better off watching The Orville, at least that show has better wit, humor and characters.

 

 

Time Runs Out For A Convoluted Tenet

Tenet is the latest film from director Christopher Nolan, which finally debuted at the tail end of the 2020 summer movie season; if one wants to say this summer has had a movie season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tenet was heralded as Nolan’s grand epic, this year’s most anticipated film, the one that would salvage the summer movie season. Well, unfortunately, the film falls short of such aspirations.

This does not mean that Tenet is a disaster or a poorly made film. No, actually it is an ambitious film with high-end production values and the acting is generally good. The latter is due to the strength of the film’s lead John David Washington who is simply known as the Protagonist. The fact that Nolan could not be bothered to give the main character a name indicates one fo the problem with Tenet. The film is technically well crafted, but it lacks an emotional soul. This has been a flaw with some of Christopher Nolan’s other films, but in this instance, the issue overtakes the film. It is difficult to care about what is going on in the film even though there are high stakes in its meandering plot.

Christopher Nolan’s new film is a spy thriller with an Inception-inspired sci-fi angle. The Protagonist is a CIA agent who is recruited to prevent a world war and is involved with nefarious arms dealers and a secret organization called Tenet. During his mission, the Protagonist learns of bullets and other objects that run backwards in time due to a process called “inversion,” which means that if he tries to fire a gun with inversion bullets, from his point of view the bullets are already fired and fly back into the barrel of the gun. He learns the bullets came from a Russian arms dealer called Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who is gathering intel from the future and wants to create a doomsday event using artifacts that are inverted in time. Along the way, the Protagonist travels throughout Europe and Asia and finds himself operating backwards in time; in many instances revisting scenes from earlier in the film from a new viewpoint.

If this sounds confusing, you are not alone. Nolan is so enamored with having scenes play backwards throughout the film and trying to be too smart for the film’s own good. The result is a film with a disjointed nature that only add to the convoluted nature of the film’s plot. You have to pay very special attention to the film and frankly, watching Tenet several times is necessary in order to fully grasp it. The problem here is that the film is not engaging enough to make you want to bother watching it all over again (the film is nearly two and a half hours). The visuals are impressive and up to par with what Nolan has delivered in the past, but the inversion scenes quickly feel gimmicky. By the time, we get to the film’s climax, the entire viewing experience is just underwhelming and disappointing despite the film’s technical wizardry.

What makes matters worse is that the sound mixing is shockingly poor and leaves much of the dialogue difficult to hear. Most attempts to explain the convoluted and complex plot or how inversion works are garbled and spoken very quickly or too low from characters, which makes following the polt a chore. Unlike Inception where the process of entering people’s dreams was not important, Tenet demands a sound explanation of how inversion works in order to understand what is going on, but Tenet fails in this aspect.

Who knows? Maybe a third or fourth viewing of Tenet may improve it, but a film has to engage you from the initial watch to make you want to revisit it again. Tenet only calls for it just to watch the well-crafted visuals of inverted fights and car chases. But doing that will be easier and more rewarding when watching it at home instead of theaters. At least from your device or TV you can skip over the plodding and convoluted first half of the film and get right into the off-kilter action scenes.

In Memoriam: Chadwick Boseman, Forever The Black Panther

King T'Challa

We are still in shock and grieving over the death a couple of days ago of actor Chadwick Boseman. Most of us in the geek community best knew of him from his playing the Marvel Comics superhero, Black Panther, in a few films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Of course, Chadwick Boseman contributed much more to acting besides King T’Challa of the fictional African nation Wakanda. He became prominent in the acting role for his breakout performance as Jackie Robinson in 42 and had distinguished roles such as portraying Thurgood Marshall in Marshall and James Brown in Get On Up. Boseman achieved superstardom when he was cast to play Prince (later King) T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War and in his own film Black Panther in 2018.

The cultural impact Black Panther had was revolutionary thanks to Chadwick’s measured and dignified performance. Even during his debut in Captain America: Civil War, Boseman exhibited a quiet sense of royalty and gravitas as his character was conflicted over the killing of his father. He also projected natural leadership and honor when he starred in Black Panther and later MCU films. As we know, Black Panther was a huge box office hit and reverberated in the cultural zeitgeist in that it was a wildly successful superhero film that featured Black characters in prominent roles. This was remarkable given the hesistancy of the head of Marvel Entertainment (Ike Perlmutter) to greenlight MCU films starring people of color and women, because he believed they would not be successful. That struggle to bring Black Panther and his futuristic kingdom to life was justly vindicated by the mammoth success of Black Panther.

black panther at wakanda

Boseman appeared again as T’Challa later in the year in the MCU epic film Avengers: Infinity War and last year in Avengers: Endgame. A sequel to Black Panther was announced last year but its production status was unknown because of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the film was expected to be released in 2022; in the meantime, Boseman provided voice work for the same character in the upcoming animated series What If…where his episode would examine what if he became Star-Lord instead of Black Panther. At this point, it is unknown if a sequel to Black Panther will ever happen. It probably will with either T’Challa recast or with another character assuming the role of the Black Panther. The Marvel comics and the MCU films established that other people assumed the mantle of Black Panther.

The sudden news of Chadwick Boseman passing away hit many of us hard because of his young age (43) and the fact that he passed away after battling colon cancer for four years. Boseman looked healthy and fit in his appearances, which is why his death was so shocking. His burden as he portrayed the mighty T’Challa in Black Panther and other MCU films was truly remarkable in that he was able to continue his role while he underwent treatment while none of us were aware of his battle.

As we mourn his death and ponder what might have been, it is important to commemorate the man for his contributions and honor his memory. Another may take over the mantle of the protector of Wakanda but Chadwick Boseman will never be forgotten.

tchalla wakanda forever

Wakanda Forever.

 

DC FanDome Brings The DC Universe To Fans

 

We were robbed of Comic-Con this year thanks to the ongoing pandemic (the less said about their virtual convention, the better). However, comic book and DC fans were entreated to the virtual event DC FanDome which showcase all that is going on with the DC Universe in comics, film, TV, video games and much more.

There were many highlights in the virtual event and many avenues for fans to explore. Visiting the website, one could see there were different sections to view such as the Hall of Heroes, WatchVerse, KidsVerse, InsiderVerse, and so on. The most talked about highlights of course were the exclusive looks at the upcoming DC films and TV shows seen in the Hall of Heroes. For example, we were treated with a new trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 and a glimpse at Wonder Woman’s chief villain, the Cheetah (a bit too CGish but that’s fine). Other clicks revealed the first look at the re-designed Flash suit for the upcoming film of the Scarlet Speedster. Looking at the sleeker suit, it is obvious the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) version of the Flash was clearly inspired by his brief encounter with The CW version of the Flash as seen in his cameo in the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” TV crossover event. Frankly, the new suit is a great improvement as it looks more aerodynamic and befitting of the character.

There also was a lively panel of The Suicide Squad hosted by the film’s director, James Gunn. For the first time the roster of supervillains was revealed and what a motley crew! Leave it to Gunn to pick some of the most obscure and goofy villains for The Suicide Squad. Comic book speculators and collectors will have their hands full trying to hunt down the comics that debuted the likes of the Polka-Dot Man or the Weasel. The panel itself was quite funny and gives fans who were disappointed by the previous Suicide Squad that the sequel will be injected with James Gunn’s humor and be reverant to the original comic book as he promised in the panel.

The suicide squad panel

Director Zack Snyder presided over a presentation of his original vision for Justice League. Featuring appearances from the film’s stars like Ben Affleck (who made news recently when it was revealed he would reprise his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the upcoming film, The Flash) and Henry Cavill, who looked really buffed out–a hint that he will return to the DCEU as Superman? After taking questions from fans who championed for his original cut, Zack Snyder unveiled a teaser trailer for Justice League. What stood out is the huge amount of original footage including a new and better version of Steppenwolf, Darkseid and Superman in his black suit. With a running time of four hours, the original vision of Justice League promises to be a true superhero epic.

The other big movie news was the premiere trailer for next year’s film The Batman. What can be said that has not already been written online about this first look at the new Batman film? As it has been said everywhere, this film looks awesome. Easily one of the most anticipated films next year, The Batman seems to be a spiritual successor to the Christopher Nolan Batman films, especially Batman Begins. The film looks gritty and promises to be more of a crime thriller peppered with intimidating scenes with the Caped Crusader.

Aside from giving us previews and first looks at upcoming property, DC FanDome was a celebration of all things DC. The event showcased brilliant and imaginative fan art and cosplayers, which captured the spirit of past conventions. Visitors got to see how influential and widespread DC was as videos showcased fans and creators from all over the globe. The Celebration of DC Pets was really cute, by the way. It was impressive to see how DC captured our imagination. DC FanDome also took time to celebrate the rich and vast history of DC with clips and images from past incarnations of its superheroes and villains.

On a technical level, there were the usual technical glitches that we are all experiencing these days with our Zoom meetings and other video calls, but for the most part, the event went off smoothly and was slickly produced. Their online store, there should have had more variety of merchandise because the only thing on sale were different kinds of t-shirts. But fans were able to read online comics and check out all the things related to DC, whether it be the latest with the DCEU or the thrilling video game Gotham Knights.

The DC FanDome was a great success and was actually better than what could have been done at Comic-Con. For a long while, Comic-Con was too exclusive as tickets to the yearly event were rare and expensive and frustrated nearly all of the fan community who were not privy to view first looks at trailers or concept art. We were forced to scour online for amateur videos taken at Hall H for just a glimpse or an upcoming film. The way DC FanDome was done should be continued in the future and can be done by other companies (hint, hint Marvel) as a way to better reach fans.