Space Ramblings

Category Archives: Dvd Reviews

Galaxy Quest Makes a Comeback in a Deluxe Edition DVD

Everyone loves a good comeback story, and the story here is really simple. Cheesy SciFi TV show airs and picks up a passionate fanbase. Cheesy SciFi TV show gets canceled and its cast seems doomed to spend the rest of their careers answering hokey questions from fans at conventions or opening supermarkets with their worn out catch phrases. That is until pacifist aliens with no concept of fiction mistake the actors for the characters and equipping them with real life versions of the weapons, gadgets and starship right off the show, recruit them to save their race.

Years before Tropic Thunder or Star Trek’s own comeback, Galaxy Quest was already there. It’s not Star Trek, though it could be, but with Star Trek itself making a big comeback at the box office, it’s long past time for Galaxy Quest to get its due. Ten years ago, while the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises were busy killing off the goodwill of their fans, Galaxy Quest appeared out of nowhere as a breath of fresh air bringing with it the energy and enthusiasm that mainstream Science Fiction movie franchises had lost along the way. Look back at Galaxy Quest and you can see the genesis of Star Trek’s revival, from the bright white eggshell sets, to the amazing diversity of aliens and that sense of awe, the “gosh factor” that kicks in when everyone from Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith on down actually sets foot inside a starship.

All of those things are part of why we watch Science Fiction movies in the first place, and Galaxy Quest brought them back into theaters, ten years before Star Trek did, backed by that mixture of uneasiness giving way to absolute enthusiasm that sums up what being a fan is all about. So it’s only fair that ten years later, Galaxy Quest is making its own comeback in a well deserved Deluxe DVD edition.

Though the concept of Galaxy Quest started life as a more explicit take off on Star Trek, as the creative process developed (ably chronicled on the DVD in The Story of Galaxy Quest) it came to take on a vivid life of its own, and while the performances of Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver or Sam Rockwell might remind you of famous Science Fiction characters and their portayers, they stand on their own as completely entertaining and believable characters on their own SciFi journey of faith.

Though this is a cast with some faces many will recognize, and others they won’t; no one actor steals the show. Instead they all come together with everyone getting their own moment. From Sam Rockwell’s comic nervousness, to Tony Shalhoub’s unearthly sleepy calm to Enrico Colantoni’s childishly enthusiastic adoration to Tim Allen’s bluff unrelenting confidence, this is a cast that really delivers.

And while Galaxy Quest is filled with inside jokes running across multiple Science Fiction shows and movies, the movie is easily enjoyable even without being able to get all that “inside baseball”, because it plays both as straightforward identifiable comedy and a heroic narrative, side by side. From the opening scenes, the cast know that what they’re doing is ridiculous, and so does the audience, and yet over the scope of the movie, the cast and the viewers come to believe in the ridiculous, and make that journey of faith with them.

“Never Give Up, Never Surrender” is the tagline of Galaxy Quest, both the fictional Galaxy Quest and the meta-fictional Galaxy Quest, holds by that belief. And what seems like a goofy slogan gets taken to heart as Jason Nesmith, Gwen DeMarco, Alexander Dane and Guy Fleegman find that Galaxy Quest is becoming real around them, thanks to the naive faith of a childlike alien race, of their fans and finally of themselves.

Galaxy Quest may have an alien planet, faster than light travel, a giant rockmonster, futuristic weapons and ships… but the story at the heart of it is a very human one, about believing in yourself.

The first time out in theaters, Galaxy Quest did a respectable amount of business and then faded away, the way cult classics usually do. Its comeback as a Deluxe Edition DVD gives anyone who never saw it a chance to discover it for the first time, and people who remember seeing it and enjoying it, a chance to get the full package. From the gorgeous holographic cover that just seems to shoot out at you, to the many extras and specials inside, the Deluxe Edition DVD feels like as much of a labor of love as the movie itself.

Though it has a healthy dose of parody and self-parody, Galaxy Quest also boasted groundbreaking visual effects and alien makeup for its time, with work from ILM and Stan Winston, that still hold up really well today. From the giant convention scenes to the gleaming interiors and exteriors of the NSEA Protector, to the Rockmonster smashing his way through or the near collision between the Protector and Earth, this is a movie that was meant to look good, not just feel good. Which means if you’ve been clinging to a dog eared VHS of Galaxy Quest like I have, it’s time to trade up to the Deluxe Edition.

The Galaxy Quest Deluxe Edition DVD’s specials such as “Never Give Up, Never Surrender: The Intrepid Crew of the NSEA Protector”, “Actors in Space” and “Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest” take you inside to show you just how much of a labor of love it really was. And there’s even an unbelievable bit with Sigourney Weaver rapping. And of course that’s not mentioning the deleted scenes and just the good feeling that comes from seeing an often overlooked SciFi classic get the treatment it deserves.

Futurama Bender’s Game DVD movie review

All the Futurama movies have had that stretched out element that reminds you of a stand up comedian with a half hour set who just Bender's Game Futuramarealized he’ll have to make the jokes stretch for an hour and a half, but on Bender’s Game the stretch marks are really obvious and very much in your face.

While the first two Futurama movies were certainly flawed, they at least had a big idea behind them, from time travel to deism. Bender’s Game has nothing like that. Instead Bender’s Game is nothing more than a mediocre Futurama episode with another story about Mom trying to take over things, stretched out with an extended Lord of the Rings and generic fantasy quest parody. There’s no big idea, but even worse there’s not even much in the way of comedy.

To shoehorn in the long fantasy quest parody, the first half hour of Bender’s Game brings us long unfunny scenes of the Professor’s clone and Hermes’ son playing Dungeons and Dragons. Arguably Dungeons and Dragons jokes are a little dated in the age of World of Warcraft, but so is an extended parody of the Lord of the Rings movies in 2008, and half of the jokes that fill Bender’s Game.

Bender however becomes obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons, until he actually believes he’s living in an imaginary fantasy kingdom and has to be institutionalized. Meanwhile Mom, who now runs an energy conglomerate, has cornered the market on Dark Matter, which the professor can undo by bringing his anti-crystal close to her crystal, the mission that will fill the rest of the movie. But not until even more tedious stories about Leela entering a demolition derby and getting a shock collar to control her anger are wrapped up.

The rest of Bender’s Game is dedicated to the gang trying to break into Mom’s arctic fortress only to be sucked into the fantasy universe, for an extended fantasy quest parody, which also holds the only funny elements in the movie. Unfortunately that means waiting around for the last half hour to get any laughs that don’t involve Mom’s sons posing as owl exterminators or Dr. Zoydberg pulling keys out of the professor’s stomach with a magnet.

And it’s Dr. Zoydberg’s occasional bits and the return of Roberto that are the only reliably funny things in Bender’s Game. Bender’s Game has all the staples of Futurama movies, the outdated references, the stretched out episodic feel to the whole thing, the bits of pointless cartoon nudity to remind everyone that we’re not watching this on FOX anymore, and the B Stories that aren’t funny and don’t really matter. But Bender’s Game has nothing to transcend those flaws the way previous movies did. There’s no big idea, just a half-assed series of stories divided up among the writers, that with their failure makes you really appreciate what the previous Futurama movies did right.

Starship Troopers 3 Marauders movie review

starship troopers 3 marauder movie posterMost people remember the original Starship Troopers for its combination of ruthless warfare, gore and satire doling out heavy doses of action scenes, political commentary so pointedly ironic it could cut and bloody corpses by the planetload. Starship Troopers 3 Marauders makes the effort, but despite taking place during an actual controversial war, is curiously bloodless, both on the battlefield and in its storytelling.

A decent but uneven effort from original Starship Troopers screenwriter Ed Neumeier, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders does its best to simulate its big screen ancestor with a small screen budget, but the action scenes and special effects just aren’t there, and even the satire is oddly weak and watered down. If anything marked the original Starship Troopers, it was its complete commitment to being the most ruthless embodiment of itself with officers and soldiers who showed no hesitation or mercy, with blood poured out by the buckets and satire that mocked military and political propaganda, even as the movie showed us the realization of a truly fascist government faced with a ruthless and inhuman enemy. It wasn’t Heinlein’s vision, but it stood on its own. Starship Troopers 3 Marauders does not.

Starship Troopers 3 Marauders still serves up some of the violence, nudity and satire of the original, but much of it is directionless and comes off as an attempt to compensate for the small budget, as battle at a doomed outpost on a farming planet leaves the Skymarshal, Lola, played by Jolene Blalock and the usual cast of mismatched characters, a drunken doctor, a cowardly cook, a religious aide and a tough Chief stranded on a planet inside the Arachnid quarantine zone who have to be rescued by the Marauders, a team wearing the powered armor from Heinlein’s novel, led by a court martialed Johnny Rico, fighting the bugs and a power mad Admiral’s coup.

The characters are no longer the ruthless bastards they used to be, even the Federal Network has been watered down, giving equal time to the other side running polls on whether blowing up planets is immoral. The Skymarshal sings and dances on television and sells merchandise with his picture on it. Almost half the movie focuses on Lola stumbling around the desert with a group of mismatched characters, none of whom follow orders, and who spend most of their time complaining. There’s Holly, the aide slash stewardess who sings religious hymns and insists everyone pray with her. There’s the deranged Skymarshal who never stops smiling and insists everyone pray with him, while talking about his god. There’s Jingo, the annoying frightened cook who winds up running away and right into a group of bugs. Where the recent Mutant Chronicles at least gave us a SciFi version of the Dirty Dozen, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders, give us the Whining Six. Even Lola comes off as childish and indecisive over the long trek. They’re every bit the sort of people that Michael Ironside’s Rasczak would have shot out of hand before marching on to the next objective.

Reimagined as a satirical judgment on both Heinlein’s novel and militarism, the original Starship Troopers pointed the guns at the bugs and let the satire come from the war effort. Starship Troopers 3 Marauders instead goes light on the action and seemingly borrowing from Battlestar Galactica’s religion oriented story, introduces a Lovecraftian uberbug half the size of a planet that the bugs and the Skymarshal worship as god. In a virtual regurgitation of a portion of the first film’s plot, the uberbug turns out to be the ultimate brain bug who wants to tap the Skymarshal’s knowledge of the fleet and uses his betrayal to penetrate and destroy an outpost.

Starship Troopers 3 Marauders’ one saving grace is the return of Caspar Van Dien, who isn’t much of an actor, but knows this is his one lead role and gives it everything he has, delivering ridiculous lines with the complete conviction of a man who really believes them. The movie is at its best when Johnny Rico is paying homage to the original, it’s at its weakest when it’s lost in the desert with Lola. Unfortunately the movie is more desert than anything else, and by the time the Marauders are thrown into the fight, they prove to be so ridiculously indestructible and the special effects so hopelessly bad, that there really isn’t much point to it all except to introduce a closing portion heavy on religious satire with Holly reimagined as the Virgin Mary and the Marauders as heavenly angels.

Light on action and stuck with some really poor special effects and unable to even produce blood that looks like blood instead of Heinz 57, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders loses out on the action and its satirical jabs are weak and all over the place, at once mocking the Federation and the anti-war protesters and religion, and mostly failing to deliver. There are understated references to everything from Stalin’s introduction of religion after Hitler’s invasion to the JFK assassination and 9/11, but none of them manage to connect to anything larger. Marauders’ plot is even weaker, compensating for the low budget with an extended desert scene with some of the most annoying characters you’re likely to find in any movie. Aside from the introduction of religion into the Federation most of the plot developments in the movie go nowhere. General Hauser and Rico become friends then enemies and then friends again. The Admiral’s coup against the Skymarshal turns out to be completely justified. The Uberbug has apparently been destroyed and yet the war shows no sign of ending. A seeming love triangle between Rico, Lola and Dix never goes anywhere either.

Overly ambitious, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders never really manages to get anything right. Considering the budget and that Ed Neumeier is a first time director, Starship Troopers 3 Marauders can be excused for a lot of this, but that doesn’t make it worth watching.

Stargate Continuum review

stargate continuum DVDAfter all these years Goa’uld System Lords are still hard to get rid of. As Stargate Continuum gets started, Ba’al is finally about to be killed by extraction in a prolonged ceremony that has brought the SG-1 gang and Jack O’Neil together for the occasion. But as it turns out a clone of Ba’al has a time machine which he uses to go back to 1939 when the Stargate was being transported to America, take over the vessel and insure that there is no Stargate program. This wipes the Tokra out of history and Stargate command as well, except for our gang who manage to get to the gate before everything goes to hell and then return to an earth with an alternate timeline in which Stargate command never existed.

It’s not exactly the first time Stargate has done an alternate timeline that wipes out Stargate command story, but no one really expects originality from Stargate anyway. Unlike Ark of Truth, Stargate Continuum isn’t based on an idiot plot and boasts some fairly decent locating shooting and special effects. At its best Stargate Continuum focuses on the SG-1 team as stranded on an earth in an alternate timeline that doesn’t trust them and doesn’t want them anywhere near the Stargate, leaving them little choice but to live their new identities in a world not quite their own while waiting for the worst to happen. And when it does and Goa’uld scoutships are crisscrossing the sky and playing tag with F-15 fighters on the evening news, they’re the last hope for cleaning up the disaster even as the bombardment of earth begins.

At its weakest though, Stargate drags us right back to the endless Goa’uld politics of the System Lords, which by now I doubt even dedicated Stargate fans care about. Ba’al might have made for a better villain following his initial plan to approach as humanity’s benefactor offering peace and technology, which would have made for an intriguing story with the SG-1 team as the only ones to know for certain what a mistake listening to him would be. Instead though Ba’al is assassinated, Te’alc as First Prime reunites with the remains of the SG-1 team in a hurry leading to the usual, but fatal race against time to go back in time. The ending is a bit anticlimactic, though adequate enough, but leaves you wondering just how one of the team can age 10 years without anyone actually noticing. Even assuming that he managed to time travel back with whatever gadget Ba’al brought along with him.

Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs review

When Futurama returned on DVD with Bender’s Big Score ( read review here) , for fans who had not expected the series to ever return, the movie was a mix of nostalgia and disappointment. Like Bender’s Big Score, Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs has an epic universe spanning storyline (literally) but where Bender’s Big Score felt like it was stitched together out of three incompatible episodes and reminded you of an aging ex-major leaguer trying to throw out a pitch, Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs is a single epic story that may not be a perfect home run, but it does give you a real show for your money.

So besides not being a disappointment, what else is Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs? For starters it’s classic Futurama, from the Futurama Beast with a Billion Backsadroit SciFi references like St. Asimov’s Day, Deathball and two ceremonies on Kif’s home planet that gently parody Spock’s Vulcan ceremonies, to a clever storyline involving a tear in space that introduces a giant being from another universe made of electromatter, who’s lonely and promptly begins sticking tentacles in the heads of everyone in the universe before whisking them off to a faux heaven that comes with bird angels and Mattress Island that mixes theology with science fiction with invader paranoia and manages to tie in Fry and humanity’s loneliness into the mix. Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs manages to make pretty good use of the series’ stock of supporting characters, from Calculon to Zoidberg’s uncle to Zap Brannigan while introducing new ones, like Fry’s new girlfriend Colleen. But if there is one flaw to Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs, it’s that the movie has plenty of chuckles but not a lot of big laughs.

Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs is funny, but it’s funny more in the way that The Day the Earth Stood Stupid was, rather than Insane in the Mainframe, it’s too busy telling a story to set up punchlines. As a movie it’s cheerful, funny and even insightful, but don’t expect to watch Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs while rolling on the floor. It’s a good enough trade-off, especially considering Bender’s Big Score, but anyone with expectations of watching this and laughing till it hurts is going to be disappointed.

In many ways Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs walks or jets over well worn territory for the series, from Fry’s loneliness serving to represent humanity, Leela’s determination not to join in what others follow, Bender’s refusal to resolve his own contradictions and the pulp SciFi storyline that mutates into something more articulate and insightful, Futurama The Beast with a Billion Backs is classic Futurama, no doubt about it. And with the DVD also holding the Futurama game footage that producers have described as a lost episode, there’s plenty here to enjoy.

The Man From Earth – movie review

The Man From Earth

The Man From EarthThree men and two women gather to bid farewell to a man who is leaving them without telling them where he is going or why. Dr. John Oldman is departing the college where he has taught for ten years and only reluctantly does he agree to stay and attend a farewell party with his colleagues. Over the next few hours a story unfolds that stretches from the ancient world to the new, covers religion, politics, violence, death and all of human history leading up to an unbelievable ending.

The Man From Earth is the work of Jerome Bixby (Mirror Mirror, Day of the Dove) and almost half a century after he began work on it, his screenplay The Man From Earth has been resurrected posthumously as a movie. Produced by his son, acted out by a cast tied to Star Trek and even referencing Star Trek, it is an appropriate enough tribute to Bixby whose most enduring work may have been Star Trek’s evil alternate universe in Mirror, Mirror;

The Man From Earth is a Science Fiction movie but one made on a budget and accordingly takes place entirely inside a cabin’s two rooms and the land around it. It sounds claustrophobic but it proves that you can duplicate the impact of the Twilight Zone’s stilted bottle episodes even today. The Man From Earth is certainly stagey, not only because of the confined quarters but because the dialogue and the action is very much a product of the theater, the key sources of action involve revelations about the characters and members of the cast entering and exiting the room. At one point a gun is waved around but proving Chekhov’s truism wrong (no not that Chekhov) no one gets shot with it.

Despite its confined space, The Man From Earth is a quiet intelligent piece of storytelling that is well worth seeing. In part that is because of the cast, Star Trek Enterprise’s Dr. Phlox, John Billingsley appear as a jokester biology professor not too far afield from the actor himself, Tony Todd (Captain Kurn) plays a soulful anthropologist and Richard Riehle (The Inner Light, Fair Haven, Cold Station 12) plays Dr. Will Gruber, a volatile psychiatrist with a bitter secret. David Lee Smith plays Dr. John Oldman as part philosopher, part savior and part innocent. The rest of the cast is filled out by Annika Peterson as Oldman’s colleague and girlfriend, Ellen Crawford as a rather cliched biblical literalist, William Katt as an equally cliched evocation of a mid-life crisis in progress and Alexis Thorpe as his student slash girlfriend.

If none of this sounds like Science Fiction yet, that’s because The Man From Earth is not your conventional Science Fiction movie. There are no special effects or beam outs or technological weapons of mass destruction or aliens. There is only the incredible story of a single man and the question, how prepared are you to believe in the seemingly unbelievable? That over the course of the movie is the question that the characters must face and the question that the audience faces as well. In Hollywood Science Fiction tends to mean creature features but The Man From Earth is a reminder that a Science Fiction story is primarily about the sense of awe at the vast possibilities of the universe. Stripped of special effects and a large budget, the cast of The Man From Earth are forced to maintain the suspense and the believability of the story on their own. In feebler hands, The Man From Earth might have easily become a horror story, instead it’s a testament to the potential of humanity and the human spirit.

The Man From Earth dates back to the sixties and the screenplay is dated by its fascination with a species of popularized anthropology and the Buddhist origins of Christianity but the brilliantly simple concept of the story still holds its sway until the closing revelation and the closing minute. This is not a movie recommended for those who want their Science Fiction only when it’s flavored with cyborgs and spaceships, but those who have stayed up late watching Twilight Zone marathons and reading a more thoughtful brand of Science Fiction, this is a movie well worth watching and well worth supporting.

Also up at Trekweb.com

Futurama : Bender’s Big Score Review

Well Futurama is back for better or worse and throughout Bender’s Big Score, it’s not always obvious which it is. By the fourth season Futurama was in many ways a much weaker series than it had been starting out and while Bender’s Big Score is mostly better than the fourth season, it’s not that much better.

Not that long ago another animated TV series, Family Guy, decided to make a movie featuring its most popular character, Stewie, and a Bender's Big Score Futuramaplot involving time travel and duplicates. Well Futurama to do the same thing with Bender’s Big Score. Like the Family Guy movie though, Bender’s Big Score is completely unbalanced. Where the Simpsons movie at least had a coherent plot, Futurama’s Bender’s Big Score is a dozen plots crudely tied together.

Just about every character who has had a memorable appearance on Futurama returns for Bender’s Big Score, from evil Robot Santa to Al Gore to Leela’s parents to Fry’s nephew namesake to Zap Brannigan to Nixon’s head. But the stories feel very much like trunk stories that were kicking around for years. Case in point the plot involves spam, the sort of thing TV writers were writing about years ago. The jokes are so old one of them involves the 2000 election.

The Straight to DVD format allows for slightly riskier material, but not by much. The opening takes the crew to a nude beach planet which isn’t far afield from what you would have seen on Futurama on TV. After that it’s pretty much tame city.

Characterwise, Bender and Fry and Leela get to be front and center and bizarrely enough the writers though that Hermes needed a lot of screentime. Zoydberg barely even shows up. Bender gets overexposed, a problem that became common with Futurama Season 4, see Bender Shouldn’t Be on TV. Leela’s storyline is tedious and mostly so is Fry’s. The entire premise of who Lars is, is silly and absurd. And Leelo the Narwahl whale is even more tedious.

Somewhere inside Bender’s Big Score is a pretty funny 30 minute episode. But like the Hedonism Bot (yes he makes an appearance too) as a movie it’s swollen out of proportion into an obese waddling mess composed of too many stories and too many plotlines and reveals. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of funny moments, from Bender raiding Sweden to the Professor and the Spanish National Lottery, it’s just that as a Futurama movie, Bender’s Big Score just doesn’t hold together.

Futurama Bender’s Big Score goes straight to DVD November 27th. That’s 5 days from now.

Custom Avatars For Comments
UA-32485431-1
%d bloggers like this: