Star Trek: Voyager – season seven (2000/2001)

Workforce

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the science-fiction series Star Trek: Voyager. So, as the show celebrates its 25th anniversary, here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of the final season…

Best episode:
Workforce I & II. Sadly, Star Trek: Voyager concludes with a fairly uninspiring season. The pick of the stories, perhaps, is this well-paced two-parter. It begins in the thick of the action with Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), security chief Tuvok (Tim Russ), crewmember Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) all working on an industrial planet – and none of them can remember their true identity. Being a double-length story allows Workforce the chance to breath a little and for the character stories to bed in (Janeway, for example, has a romance). It also helps that the planet’s aliens are essentially human: the society and class interactions are more plausible than many of Star Trek’s invented cultures.

Honorable mentions:
Repression. It gets muddy towards the end, but this is a mostly watchable episode  about paranoia. Tuvok must investigate after several of the crew – all former members of the Maquis resistance movement – are attacked.
* Inside Man. The latest episode in the long-running ‘Pathfinder’ story arc sees a hologram of recurring character Reg Barclay (Dwight Schultz) beamed across space and onto Voyager. However, as is the way in such stories, not all is as it seems….
* Body and Soul. Buried inside a humdrum plot about aliens who don’t like hologrammatic life forms is a run of reasonably funny scenes that feature the ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram (Robert Picardo) inhabiting the body of his colleague Seven of Nine, giving actress Jeri Ryan a chance to have some fun.
* Nightingale. Passable fluff about Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) taking command of an alien ship. (Told you season seven was slim pickings.)
* Shattered. Another time-anomaly story sees first officer Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) discover he has the ability to move between different time periods – and therefore different iterations of Star Trek: Voyager’s backstory. It’s silly but at least it’s not dull.
* Lineage. A sweet one, this, with no external sci-fi plotline getting in the way. Torres discovers she’s pregnant – she and Tom Paris had married a few episodes earlier – but what should be great news causes her distress. She soon considers a prenatal procedure to reduce her baby’s Klingon-ness, leaving Tom concerned. It’s a good character story with flashbacks to Torres’s childhood that lead to a cathartic explanation of her motives.
* The Void. An interesting premise motors this episode. Voyager is trapped in an endlessly featureless region of space and the crew are forced to form shaky alliances with similarly trapped vessels.
* Human Error. Seven of Nine begins to yearn for a more normal life, so plays out fantasies on the holodeck, including a relationship with an ersatz Chakotay. It’s mawkish but at least it’s about something.
* Homestead. Neelix (Ethan Phillips), the upbeat alien from the Delta Quadrant who joined the crew in the first episode, stumbles across some members of his own race living inside an asteroid. (The fact that Voyager has been speeding away from Neelix’s home world for *seven years* – and has also had several artificial jumps further home in that time – seems to be ignored. Seriously, the ship is now an unfathomably far distance away from where Neelix grew up.) It’s a fairly drab and earnest plot, designed to write Neelix out of the show before the finale. But the last few scenes, as he chooses to stay behind on the asteroid as Starfleet’s ‘ambassador’ to the region and then says goodbye to his friends, are nicely moving.
* Renaissance Man. The plot is drivel, but it’s worth mentioning here because the final few minutes are fun. The Doctor thinks he’s about to be deactivated permanently, so admits a few secrets, betrays a few friends’ confidences and confesses that he’s in love with Seven of Nine. We then learn he’s going to survive, of course.
* Endgame. The last ever episode of Star Trek: Voyager is an oddly flat way to round off a seven-year saga. We begin with what is essentially a flash-forward: it’s 20 years later, and Janeway managed to eventually get her crew home… but it took several more years with there were some fatalities along the way. So the older Kathryn resolves to travel back in time and alter history, allowing her past self and her colleagues to get back to Earth much sooner. The sequence where the ‘present’ crew do indeed make it home lacks any emotional punch and as the end credits roll you’re left with a sense of the underwhelming rather than the joyful triumph it should have been.

Worst episode:
* Prophecy. Voyager bumps into some Klingons (again, the writers seem to have put aside just how *enormous* space is) who claim that Torres’s unborn child is the second coming or something. Then, with tedious predictability, they bang on about honour, ritual and sacred texts. Ghastly.

Sabotage (2014, David Ayer)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. 

CH__9751.CR2

Watched: 14 September 2019
Format: Channel 5 showed it on 7 February 2019, so I took a recording.
Seen before? No.

Review: Arnie’s back as an 1980s-style action hero! Specifically, he’s the tough, respected leader of a squad of DEA agents who split their time between going undercover, bashing down doors while firing machine guns, and bickering like children. The fact Schwarzenegger was by now in his mid 60s has a consequence or two. You have to ignore the issue that he’s too old to be an active agent out in the field, but his age does help with the weight on the character’s shoulders. John ‘Breacher’ Wharton is a man mourning his wife and son, who a few months before were sadistically murdered by Mexican drug lords. 

The exciting incident of the plot comes early. We see Breacher and his team storm a drug kingpin’s mansion. They find an enormous stack of cash in the basement… and promptly siphon off a few million for themselves, hiding it in the sewerage system. The sequence is crass – lots of swearing, macho bravado, gunplay and punch-ups – but it’s also quite slick and some fun. This is typical of the entire film, actually. It’s not great, but it is watchable in a rough-round-the-edges way. However, when the team later return to collect their skim, the money has vanished and we’re then thrown into a paranoiac mystery story.

As things develop, members of the team are killed in brutal ways by an unseen assassin, and this draws the attention of investigators played by Olivia Williams and Lost’s Harold Perrineau. They feel like they’re on secondment from their own HBO cop show; they have nicely written banter and an everyday, cynical attitude. Williams’s Caroline Brentwood soon begins to put the clues together and also forms a bond with Breacher.

All this gives Arnie a tad more acting to do than is usual. He’s grieving, he’s bitter, he’s world-weary. He leads his team like a loving father who’s not adverse to showing his anger. He has a crewcut and tattoos. The gang includes Mireille Enos as a livewire agent hooked on drugs herself, as well as Josh Holloway (also from Lost), Terrence Howard (Iron Man), and Sam Worthington (who, coincidentally, was the star of the only Terminator film that Schwarzenegger skipped). The characters have the feel of old friends and their childish name-calling reminds you of similar gangs in films like Aliens and the pre-heist scenes of Reservoir Dogs. (Caveat: Sabotage is nowhere near the overall class of those movies!)

You could argue that the story is about the hypocrisy of law enforcement, about the breakdown of trust within a team, or about how far a broken man is willing to go. But in truth, it’s a balls-to-the-wall exploitation movie and it makes no apology for that. It’s like a Tony Scott thriller done with less money, less glamour and a lot more horror-movie violence. Surprisingly entertaining.

Six sensible shoes out of 10

Next: The Long Goodbye

Star Trek: Voyager – season six (1999/2000)

Blinkofaneye

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the science-fiction series Star Trek: Voyager. So, as the show celebrates its 25th anniversary, here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season six…

Best episode:
Blink of an Eye. Some of the dramatic detail is rushed, certainly, but this story is built on a bold and inventive science-fiction idea. Voyager gets trapped in the orbit of a planet where time is moving much more swiftly. So for every second aboard the ship (and elsewhere in the universe), a year passes on the planet’s surface. We cut between scenes of the Voyager crew attempting to free themselves before they do too much damage… and scenes down on the ground as *centuries* pass by. Various generations of the populous look up at this strange object circling above them. Some are scared, others enraptured; there are attempts to investigate, explain and mythologise it. We watch omnisciently as Voyager’s presence has a profound effect on the planet through prehistory, medieval culture, a renaissance, and eras equivalent to our Victorian and space-race periods. Then an astronaut (Daniel Dae Kim, later of Lost and Hawaii Five-O) makes contact with the Voyager crew… There are deeply woven themes of religious superstition, scientific endeavour, fear and ignorance, as well as the domino effect of consequences. A lovely subplot also sees the ship’s hologrammatic Doctor (Robert Picardo) spend three years living down on the surface. He’s only gone from the ship for a blip, but in that times he makes friends, falls in love and becomes a stepfather.

Honorable mentions:
Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy. A playful episode that sees the Doctor begin to believe that his vainglorious daydreams are true.
* Alice. In this pervy story, helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) becomes obsessed – to the point of sexual fantasy! – with a shuttlecraft.
* Riddles. It’s a humdrum mystery plot but the character element, which sees security chief Tuvok (Tim Russ) lose his knowledge and memories, is surprisingly tender and effective. It plays like a great man afflicted by dementia, which opens his eyes to a different way of viewing the world.
* One Small Step. Sentimentality dominates as the crew find a 300-year-old command module from an early Mars mission in a space anomaly, which sparks off a discussion of discovery, exploration and wonder. Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) at first has no interest in something so antiquated, but learns the power of history and context.
* Voyager Conspiracy. A gimmicky episode but an enjoyable one. Seven develops paranoia and fears that Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) are colluding in a secret mission.
* Pathfinder. An excellent sidestep, as we cut to recurring Starfleet character Lieutenant Reg Barclay back home in the Alpha Quadrant and his obsession with finding a way to contact Voyager. Reg has always been an interesting, well played character, and his no small success in this episode has emotional punch.
* Live Fast and Prosper. The crew become aware of a gang of aliens who are crudely impersonating them and ripping people off. There are some fun details, such as the con artists’ Starfleet uniforms being *just* off, as well as a few twists in the lighthearted plot.
* Muse. Chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) is stranded on a pre-industrial planet, where she and her descriptions of Voyager become the inspiration for a local playwright. We get some neat discussion of how stories work, self-referential jokes, some good costumes (especially the masks used the performances of the poet’s plays) and even a hint of Shakespearean grandeur (the poet uses his scripts to influence the opinion of the local king, a la Hamlet).
* Fury. Kes (Jennifer Lien) returns after 73 episodes’ absence. It’s a time-travel special, with a convoluted structure, but it’s also a daring use of an old regular character. The years away have not been kind to her and she wants revenge on her former friends, so this is a rare Star Trek plot driven by the bitterness and regret of a ‘good’ character.
* Life Line. Since day one, the Emergency Medical Hologram character has been one of this show’s true successes – a really interesting character and a performance that marries sarcasm with sincerity. Here, the Doctor is beamed halfway across the galaxy, all the way back to the Alpha Quadrant, and actor Robert Picardo also plays the EMH’s human designer, who is suffering from an inexplicable ailment. It’s a rather sweet episode, with of course the prerequisite number of split-screen shots to show us both characters at the same time. (Just generally, this season’s slow-burn story arc about the Voyager crew finally having contact with colleagues back home has worked very well.)

Worst episode:
* Fair Haven. Nothing better illustrates the old-fashioned nature of Star Trek: Voyager than the fact that the game-changing episode Pathfinder is directly followed by a trivial, disposable story which makes no mention of the new status quo. In Fair Haven, various characters enjoy visiting a holodeck fantasy recreation of 19th-century Ireland. (Well, a 19th-century Ireland that looks like the standing set on an LA studio backlot, anyway.) But Janeway then takes an uncharacteristic interest in one of the avatars, even artificially tailoring him to her tastes. Any dramatic substance about the captain’s loneliness is swamped by a parade of awful Irish accents, stereotypes and tweeness. Later in the season, Fair Haven gets a sequel. It’s also terrible.

Next time: Season seven

Conan the Barbarian (1982, John Milius)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.

ConanBarbarian

Watched: 7 September 2019
Format: A DVD found in a charity shop.
Seen before? Nope.

Review: In the 1970s and 80s there was a glut of films that mixed medieval settings with magic and fantasy. This sword-and-scorcery fad took in such varied movies as Jabberwocky (1977), Hawk the Slayer (1980), Excalibur (1981), Ladyhawke (1985) and others of a less interesting aspect. Conan the Barbarian, based on the pulp stories of Robert E Howard, was one of the most successful, taking nearly 10 times its budget at the box office. Sadly, it’s possibly the most boring of the whole genre.

Large portions of the film play like a silent movie. Dialogue is sparse, with director John Milius preferring to tell his simplistic revenge story via action, violence, gesture, close-up and an awful lot of Basil Poledouris’s strident, energetic incidental music. Not a bad idea per se, but a bizarre notion if you’ve cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first leading role of note. Playing Conan – an orphaned prisoner in a time before recorded history who hunts down the warlord who murdered his family – Arnie certainly has the physique. But as a character he’s a big blank space where our emotional connection should be.

The film looks handsome enough, thanks to the genius of production designer Ron Cobb, and there are some striking visual sequences such as ethereal demons attempting to abduct an ill and injured Conan. You can also, no doubt, read any number of historical subtexts and precedents in John Milius’s fetishistic love of weaponry and ritual. But the story drags interminably and the cast is variable (ranging from James Earl Jones to a mate of the director’s). It’s often very difficult to care what happens next.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘For Milius, Conan was making a statement that went way beyond action movies and comic books. It all went back to Nietzsche… When Conan opened nationwide on May 14 [1982], it became the first blockbuster of what is still talked about as the best movie summer ever. That summer also brought us The Road Warrior [aka Mad Max 2], Rocky III, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blade Runner, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The World According to Garp, Poltergeist, An Officer and a Gentleman, Tron, The Thing, and, of course, E.T. Conan the Barbarian held its own among them all.’

Four giant snakes out of 10

Next: Sabotage

Star Trek: Voyager – season five (1998/1999)

LatentImage

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of the science-fiction series Star Trek: Voyager. So, as the show celebrates its 25th anniversary, here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season five…

Best episode:
Latent Image. A really lovely piece of storytelling, this. It’s an existential meditation on the nature of individualism; an ethical debate about the power of guilt; and a compelling sci-fi plot all in one. The ship’s self-aware Emergency Medical Hologram (Robert Picardo) realises that some of his memories have been deleted and he pleads with his colleagues, all of whom know what he’s ‘forgotten’, to restore them. Picardo is terrific – as he has been throughout Star Trek: Voyager. So too is Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway, who must wrestle with her own moral quandaries and her doubts over whether the Doctor counts as a life form.

Honorable mentions:
Night. A bizarre little season opener. With no cliffhanger to pick up from the previous run, we rejoin the crew two months later. They’re travelling through a huge void of empty space, which will take two years to cross, and it’s having a terrible affect on morale. Boredom sets in, tempers are frayed, some crew turn to frivolous distractions such as the Buck Rogers-style VR game favoured by Lieutenant Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). Captain Janeway, meanwhile, is wracked with guilt over their plight and has become a snarky recluse. It’s decent drama – certainly more drama than many earlier episodes bothered with – even if ennui is a peculiar theme with which to launch a new season of an action-orientated show. The crew eventually come up against a plot-of-the-week that re-energises them, and along the way there’s also a fun maritime metaphor going on: it’s like Voyager is drifting in the doldrums.
* Extreme Risk. During a mission to build a new shuttle quickly enough to beat some aliens to a prize, chief engineer Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) is distant and sullen. She’s also secretly self-harming via dangerous holodeck games. A downbeat episode focused on character.
* Timeless. A razzle-dazzle time-travel special from new showrunner Brannon Braga, but with a twist: it’s only a message that travels through time, not characters. Fifteen years into a possible future, Commander Chakotay (Robert Berltran) and Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) are the only survivors of Voyager after an accident, so they attempt to change their history for the better…
* Counterpoint. A well-structured and paced episode that sees a character story for Janeway woven into a thriller plot. It’s another showcase for Kate Mulgrew, who’s been consistently watchable and impressive. (There’s a parallel universe out there somewhere in which the Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold played Janeway. In our reality, she was hired but then let go after two disastrous days’ filming. Mulgrew stepped in to replace her; we got the better end of that bargain.) Mark Harelik guest stars as an alien cop who repeatedly searches Voyager under the pretence that the ship is flying through his jurisdiction. He’s looking for refugees – who we know Janeway is hiding – and spars entertainingly with the captain. The two actors have chemistry, especially after a plot twist brings their characters closer. The episode also represents a welcome change of emphasis that’s been happening in Star Trek: Voyager since last season – events now take place is a murkier, harsher, more cynical and less delineated world. The cosiness levels have been reduced.
* Bride of Chaotica! A slice of throwaway nonsense as a blah-blah-blah plot device forces characters to play a holodeck programme based on a 1930s movie serial.
* Gravity. A not-bad one about Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ) falling for an alien woman (played by Lori Petty) when he and Paris are stranded with her on a planet.
* Bliss. All the crew are brainwashed into thinking they’ve found a way home – all except the former Borg drone Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).
* Dark Frontier. A feature-length epic: a balls-to-the-wall action movie with a huge-impact plot and plenty of drama. The Borg Queen, who had debuted in a recent Star Trek movie, shows up. The story also casts doubt on Seven of Nine’s loyalties and adds more texture to her mother/daughter-like relationship with Janeway. Great incidental music too.
* Juggernaut. A passable episode about a radiation-affected alien ship that may have a monster on board. The scenes on the alien craft are nicely shot and the aliens themselves are refreshingly normal.
* 11.58. You do have to make your peace with the groansome idea of a regular cast member playing their character’s ancestor – in this case, Kate Mulgrew stars as Janeway’s 15-times great-grandmother, a down-on-her-luck wannabe engineer who falls for a stubborn bookshop owner in the year 2000. But once you do, this flashback tale is a nice diversion from Voyager’s usual storylines. There’s also an extra layer. In the present-day scenes, Janeway learns about her forebear’s life but comes to realise that maybe the process of history cannot be relied on to be wholly accurate.
* Relativity. A head-scratchingly convoluted time-travel episode, which appears drunk on its own twists and turns but ends up being frothy fun.

Worst episode:
* Someone to Watch Over Me. An earlier episode is almost as bad – Nothing Human, in which various characters treat a computer-generated image of a war criminal as if it were the real person (kinda like shouting at a photo of Hitler). But at the risk of sounding like a Millennial who’s seen Friends on Netflix and thinks it’s racist, Someone to Watch Over Me feels so old-fashioned it actually hurts. The Doctor attempts to tutor Seven of Nine in the ways of dating (a human ritual that may, he explains, lead to marriage). Any Professor Higgins subtext is dwarfed by its antiquated and conservative social attitudes towards women, gender, sexuality and relationships. Eugh.

Next time: Season six

Red Heat (1988, Walter Hill)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.

RedHeat

Watched: 31 August 2019
Format: I’d recorded it from TV channel 5Spike on 25 March 2019.
Seen before? Once before, on TV a few years ago. I may have also seen it at the time on VHS. I was a huge Schwarzenegger fan as a child so it seems strange if I didn’t watch this one, but I don’t remember specifically.

Review: Director Walter Hill had energised the buddy-movie format a few years earlier with the caustic 48 Hrs, pairing a racist white cop (Nick Nolte) with a motormouth black crook (Eddie Murphy) to entertaining effect. The clash this time is that James Belushi’s underwritten American policeman must work alongside a stoic and humourless Soviet counterpart played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It all feels tired and sluggish.

The film begins with a bizarre prologue, which sees a near-naked Arnie undercover (well, under loincloth) at a sauna. But outside the steamroom, cold-war Moscow is a snowy, harsh, drab place. This makes the contrast all the more effective when events then shift to America: Chicago is vibrant, colourful and scored by some prime James Horner funk-bass and saxophone. It’s a city where violence is never far from the surface and the police are coarse men willing to plant evidence to coerce a confession. Peter Boyle is the frustrated captain, Larry Fishburne an angry lieutenant: good actors going through the motions. Later, Gina Gershon shows up for a perfunctory role as the bad guy’s wife.

The rumours have it that the script was in flux during filming, with several hands at the typewriter, and that sense of messiness is evident in the finished movie, which is both aimless and shallow. The plot – a Russian drugs baron flees to the US, so Arnie’s Captain Ivan Danko gives chase – is simplistic and you never at any point believe in or care for any of the characters. It’s competently filmed in the right-wing, tough-guy mode – wetted-down streets, savage gunfights, police stations full of bored prostitutes being booked – but compare it with 48 Hrs, or the previous year’s slick and smart Lethal Weapon, and Red Heat is dead cold.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘Red Heat was a success, grossing $35 million in the States, but it wasn’t the smash I’d expected. Why is hard to guess. It could be that audiences were not ready for Russia, or that my and Jim Belushi’s performances were not funny enough, or that the director didn’t do a good enough job.’

Five sacks of shit lying on the sidewalk out of 10

Next time: Conan the Barbarian

Star Trek: Voyager – season four (1997/98)

StarTrekVoyagerNemesis

Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: Voyager. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season four…

Best episode:
* Nemesis. Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is stranded on a warring planet and is forced to join up with one side’s guerrilla soldiers. The culture is pleasingly odd, in the way that sci-fi can do so well when it puts some thought into it. The guest characters, for example, have an ornate vocabulary (‘glimpses’ rather than ‘sees’, ‘fathom’ rather than ‘understand’), which is not only interesting in itself but also plays a storytelling role: the more Chakotay empathises with them, the more he starts to talk like his new colleagues. Then comes an effective twist, which pulls the camping mat from under what we’d previous thought. It’s an examination of war, propaganda and the psychology of hate, enriched by visual references to movies Predator, Platoon and the Manchurian Candidate.

Notable episodes:
* Scorpion Part II. A decent opener to the season, picking up from the Borg-centric cliffhanger at the end of season three. Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) has daringly proposed an alliance with the Borg, which means her working with their appointed representative: a female drone called Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan). The latter is being introduced as a new regular character and right from the off she’s an intriguing addition – an outsider, a true rebel (rather than the neutered Maquis characters), and someone who will shake up Voyager’s too-cosy world
. In fact, just generally, season four feels like there’s been a big injection of drama. In this episode, for instance, there’s an all-too-rare falling-out between Janeway and her second in command, Chakotay.
* The Gift. Seven of Nine is the focus as she’s largely de-Borged and Janeway tries to undo her brainwashing. Meanwhile, the character who Seven is replacing in the title sequence – the underused alien Kes (Jennifer Lien) – is written out in a rather wishy-washy, sci-fi way. In the final scene, we then see Seven of Nine in her new non-Borg costume: a slinky, undeniably sexy catsuit that is patently a shameless attempt to pander to fanboys.
* Day of Honor. It initially feints at being a boring story about the Klingon heritage of chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), but we then get an engaging plot about Seven continuing integration into the crew.
* The Raven. Another episode about Seven’s deeply hidden humanity reasserting itself in interesting ways.
* Scientific Method. Another entertaining episode. Invisible, undetectable aliens invade the ship and perform imperceptible experiments on the crew. It’s artfully directed stuff, with good roles in the story for Seven (the one person who rumbles the invaders), Janeway (who is pushed to the limit emotionally by the ordeal), and helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Torres (Roxanne Dawson), who have by now started a relationship.
* Year of Hell Parts I & II. The plot is timey-wimey nonsense – an alien who has a weapon that can alter history targets the Voyager – and, maddeningly, the reset button is wheeled out at the end of the 90 minutes. But for most of its run time this is a terrific, action-packed two-parter. Taking place over several months, the story sees the ship badly damaged, friends killed, colleagues put at odds… This kind of stuff is what the whole show should have been, frankly – a desperate, dramatic journey through space with genuine costs and consequences. Year of Hell makes most of Voyager seem so tepid.
* Message in a Bottle. Not the best, but at least the Doctor (Robert Picardo) gets a fun solo mission as he’s transported a vast distance across space and ends up trapped on an Romulan-occupied ship in the Alpha Quadrant. The episode is part of a loose story arc that runs through season four about the crew finally making contact with Starfleet. The final scene is a touchingly understated moment as Janeway learns that the Doctor was able to get a message back home.
* The Killing Game Part I & II. Due to a tedious plot contrivance, most of the regular characters end up in a holodeck simulation of Second World War France…. and they believe themselves to be resistance fighters repelling the Nazis. All very Secret Army. Heavy-handed but the cast are having fun with their ersatz roles. There’s also an in-joke going on. Roxann Dawson (Torres) was pregnant in real life. While they have to keep hiding the fact in B’Elanna scenes, her holodeck character is visibly with child.
* Unforgettable. An alien shows up and claims she once spent several days with the crew – and fell in love with Chakotay – but because of a quirk of her race, they’ve all now forgotten her. Film star Virginia Madsen (Dune, Candyman) guest stars.
* One. The whole crew aside from Seven of Nine and the Doctor must go into suspended animation for a few weeks while the ship passes through a dangerous nebulae. How Seven deals with the situation – and especially how the isolation affects her psychologically – works well.
* Hope and Fear. The possibility of a quick way home is dangled in front of the crew, but not all is as it seems. A fun culmination of this season’s themes, as not only is there progress in the journey to reach the Alpha Quadrant, but Seven of Nine again has a central role to play in the drama. She’s very quickly become the de facto second lead after Janeway – and the show’s most interesting character.

Worst episode:
* Waking Moments. Dream-based episodes can be tricky beasts; it’s difficult to feel the tension when you know events aren’t ‘real’. Do it well – A Nightmare on Elm Street, certain episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and you’re winning. This, however, falls into a cliched round of ‘I’m still asleep!’ plot twists as various crew members suffer from the same vivid nightmares. There’s also another iteration of Chakotay’s boring dream-quest motif and everything is played and staged so earnestly.

Next time: Season five

Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.

TotalRecall

Watched: 26 August 2019
Format: A secondhand DVD bought for £2 from the Oxfam Bookshop in Greenwich, south-east London.
Seen before? Yes, when it came out on VHS and several times since.

Review: This is more like it! After seeing a few underwhelming Arnie flicks recently, it’s great to return to the kind of high-concept sci-fi/action thriller that’s exactly in his wheelhouse. We get a story and a tone that play to his strengths and don’t require him to be anything other than a movie star.

It’s the year 2084. Schwarzenegger plays everyman construction worker Doug Quaid, who keeps dreaming of a life on Mars so wishes to move there. But when his wife (a very sultry Sharon Stone) resists the idea, he instead visits a company called Rekall and buys an implanted fake memory of an action-packed holiday on the Red Planet. However, the implant procedure goes wrong. Doug had chosen to spice up his fantasy by assuming the role of a secret agent on a dangerous mission. But after being injected by Rekall’s doctors he now thinks he *is* a secret agent on a dangerous mission, and his life as a construction worker was just a cover story. Has he been duped into believing the artificial memories he asked for? Or did the implant process uncover a real personality, which had been hidden for unknown reasons?

Loosely based on a Philip K Dick short story, and then focused through the sharp storytelling lens of director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers), the story is a spiritual sequel to Arnie’s previous sci-fi film The Running Man (1987). It’s easy to imagine this being the same world but 60 years on; there’s still the Brutalist design aesthetic, a totalitarian state and 80s fashions, but now we also have an off-world colony and radiation-affected mutants. We also get Michael Ironside as a typically watchable villain, some eye-popping special effects (literally so in the opening scene), and masses of tech-noir embellishments (driverless taxis, instant nail varnish, walls that turn into TVs, the scene where Doug disguises himself as a woman by using a fake robotic head). It’s frenetic, fun and fantastic, with scene after scene of surprises and shocks and excitement. *Huge* tongue-in-cheek entertainment. 

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘Paul [Verhoeven, who Schwarzenegger headhunted for the director gig] added a dimension of realism and scientific fact… So many things he said were brilliant. He had a vision. He had enthusiasm… The story twists and turns. You never know until the very end: did I take this trip? Was I really the hero? Or was it all inside my head, and I’m just a blue-collar jackhammer operator who may be schizophrenic? Even at the end you’re not necessarily sure. For me, it connected with the sense I had sometimes that my life was too good to be true.’

Nine women who make you wish you had three hands out of 10

Next time: Red Heat

Star Trek: Voyager – season three (1996/97)

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Over the last few months I’ve rewatched all of Star Trek: Voyager. Here’s what I thought were the notable episodes of season three…

Best episode:
* Before and After. In the midst of a fairly pedestrian season comes this really wonderful episode, which has one of those timey-wimey plots Star Trek can do so well. As the story starts, we’re several years into the future and Voyager nurse Kes (Jennifer Lien) is now an elderly woman. We then follow her as her consciousness jumps back in time every so often, so we see her at earlier and earlier ages but she only retains memories of her future experiences. But this is not just a sci-fi gimmick. Along the way, as Kes grows younger, she develops as a character and there are effective themes concerning memory, grief, senility, trust and loss. Superb stuff. (Aptly and bizarrely, the episode itself also seems to have knowledge of what’s to come: the structure is not a million light years away from the 2000 film Memento, while there are foreshadows of events we’ll see in Voyager’s next season.)

Honorable mentions:
* Flashback. Produced to honour Star Trek’s 30th anniversary, and featuring classic-series character Sulu (George Takei), this is muddled, dull and has a plot constructed from various bits of nonsense. It even has a ‘Who knows?’ final scene because the script can’t begin to justify what’s happened. It’s mentioned here solely so we confirm that the equivalent episode made at the same time by sister show Deep Space Nine – a playful and postmodern time-travelling romp called Trials and Tribble-ations – is *far* superior.
* Chute. A not-bad one that sees Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and helmsman Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) trapped in an alien prison. It benefits from starting with them locked up, so we jump straight into the story, but it’s a shame the show’s episodic format means they can’t be locked up for that long. Where’s the bravery to say, ‘Six months later…’?
* False Profits. As the punning title suggests, this episode sees a pair of Ferengi, money-obsessed aliens often seen in other Trek shows, crop up. They’re posing as gods on one of those Star Trek planets populated by naïve locals. It’s not the best episode but it does point the way forward: familiar Star Trek continuity from the Alpha Quadrant is starting to encroach on Voyager’s isolationism now.
* Future’s End Part I & Part II. Essentially Voyager’s take on the 1986 Star Trek film The Voyage Home, this sees our characters flung back into Earth’s past – ie, what was the present day to contemporary viewers (1996). There’s a convoluted setup, but no matter: this two-parter is not asking to be taken too seriously. The script has a sense of humour, the cast are enjoying playing their characters as fish out of water, and guest stars Ed Begley Jnr (the villain) and Sarah Silverman (a 1990s woman who helps the crew) are good value. Enjoyably daft.
* Warlord. A member of the Voyager family is possessed by a despotic leader who promptly uses their body to escape the ship. The fact the character used for this plot is the sweet and hippie-ish Kes gives this hokey episode a fun incongruous feel.
* Fair Trade. An effective one about Voyager’s alien chef, Neelix (Ethan Phillips), whose loyalties tested by an old friend involved in some dodgy business deals.
* Blood Fever. A tedious and very possibly sexist episode about chief engineer Lieutentant B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) being affected by a chemical imbalance and becoming sex-mad. But it’s worth flagging up here because of its brief, rushed ending: Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) find the body of a Borg in some undergrowth. It was inevitable this would happen at some point in the series, given that the characters are stranded in the Borg’s area of space (and that the Borg – totalitarian, cyber-enhanced drones – had recently been given a boost of publicity thanks to being the bad guys in Star Trek movie First Contact).
* Unity. The Borg enter the story in an odd communism metaphor that sees a group of survivors unwilling to give up the order and security being part of a monolithic society had provided them. Chakotay has sympathy, largely because the group’s leader is blonde and pretty.
* Rise. A schlocky but enjoyable episode with one of those sci-fi gimmicks (an enormous elevator, basically) that works as both a setting for an action plot and as a metaphor for our characters’ predicament. Neelix and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok (Tim Russ) get lots of attention, the story feels like a disaster movie at times, and the guest alien race are refreshingly free of pomposity.
* Distant Origin. It gets lumpy in its second half, when the drama becomes very obvious, but this an entertaining one overall. For the opening few scenes, it breaks Star Trek’s usual rule by presenting the story from the point of view of guest characters: reptilian aliens who evolved on Earth in the distant past before heading out into space. (Doctor Who fans will clock this notion’s similarity to one of that show’s recurring races, the Silurians.) The story is a pastiche of the resistance faced by men like Galileo when attempting to advance our knowledge of the universe, and the script has plenty to say on the topic of science versus dogma.
* Worst Case Scenario. Torres stumbles across a virtual-reality game that’s essentially an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and various characters take turns to play its lead character. So we see lots of version of the same narrative. As it goes, a humdrum idea. But because the roleplaying game is set during a theoretical mutiny aboard the ship, the show is able to rekindle the long-forgotten tension that existed for about 30 seconds in the pilot episode. (Half the crew are resistance fighters who were sworn enemies of the Federation! Remember?!) There are also some smart comments made about storytelling devices and even inside jokes about Star Trek: Voyager clichés.

Worst episode:
Sacred Ground. Kes in injured on an alien planet, so Janeway has to spend an entire episode humouring some smug religious types who refuse to help an innocent woman. Woeful.

Next time: Season four

Collateral Damage (2002, Andrew Davis)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.

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Watched: 24 August 2019
Format: Secondhand DVD found in a branch of CEX.
Seen before? No.

Review: The wider world didn’t do this film any favours. It was set to be released in October 2001, but then pushed back because – in the immediate wake of 9/11 – no one was in the mood for a story about terrorist attacks on American soil. By 2002, however, the action-thriller genre was getting a psychologically deeper reboot thanks to The Bourne Identity. In comparison, Collateral Damage feels simplistic and immature.

It’s directed by someone who knows how to put these things together – Andrew Davis, who also made Under Siege and The Fugitive – so it has a certain energy and zip about it. But it’s a cookie-cutter action thriller where American individualism outfoxes foreign aggression, and the lack of any new ideas is a real issue. Essentially a rejigging of the much more nuanced 1994 film Clear and Present Danger (the same kind of plot, bad guys from the same country, even the presence of actor Miguel Sandoval), it sees Arnie star as fireman Gordy Brewer. After witnessing his wife and child being killed in a terrorist explosion, he feels the authorities are not pursuing the perpetrators for political reasons. So he decides – rather implausibly – to travel to Colombia to seek out the terrorists himself.

Maybe it would sing better with a more capable actor in the lead role, but Arnie’s performances have often struggled without a sci-fi or fantasy crutch to prop them up. And here he really feels lacklustre and laboured. At least there are some fun supporting roles, with Elias Koteas, John Turturro and John Leguizamo all working hard to elevate the flat script. The film passes the time but won’t linger in many people’s memories.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘Any other year, Collateral Damage would have been exciting, big-budget action entertainment, but after 9/11 it just didn’t work… It felt both irrelevant and painful to watch in light of the actual events.’

Five prison breaks out of 10

Next time: Total Recall