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

StarTrekVoyagerSeason3

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.

CollateralDamage

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

Star Trek: Voyager – season two (1995/96)

Deadlock

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

Best episode:
* Deadlock. A full-throttle, pacy, dangerous episode, which sees the USS Voyager split into two equally valid duplicates by a weird space cloud. There’s action! Intensity! Death! Sci-fi nonsense! It’s all here. Great stuff. (There’s also the pleasingly surreal detail that one of our regular characters is killed off… but then replaced by his equivalent from the other ship.)

Notables:
* The 37s. An odd, lowkey season opener (because it’s actually one of four episodes that had been held back from the first production block). It lacks much drama, tension or incident, but there’s fun in the idea of the crew finding 20th-century aviator Amelia Earhart and other human beings in suspended animation. The mirroring of Earhart with Voyager captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) – two pioneering women, of course – works reasonably well.
* Projections. An episode entirely from the point of view of the ship’s hologrammatic, computer-generated Doctor (Robert Picardo) as he comes to believe that *he’s* real and everyone else is an illusion. There’s a huge amount of technobabble but it’s still enjoyable stuff. Dwight Schultz reprises his Next Generation role of the neurotic Starfleet officer Reg Barclay.
* Elogium. Kes (Jennifer Lien) hits puberty, which for her race means she must mate or miss her one chance to be a mother. (Hang on… So, Kes was prepubescent before now? And was in a relationship with Neelix?!)
* Non Sequitur. Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang), the show’s blandest character, gets a rare chance for some focus in a nicely directed story. He wakes up one morning and he’s back home in San Francisco, living a nice life with his hot girlfriend. It seems he never did join the crew of Voyager – but what’s going on?
* Twisted. A diverting piece of whimsy as a plot-device space distortion causes the layout of the ship to reconfigure.
* Resistance. This is a rarity for early seasons of Voyager: an action plot that takes place on an alien planet with guest characters. It’s fairly conventional but features good guest turns from Joel Grey and Alan Scarfe. Janeway, security officer Lieutenant Commander Tuvok (Tim Russ) and chief engineer Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) go undercover on a hostile world, but two are captured and Janeway has to go on the run.
* Prototype. An android is found floating in space, and Torres takes it upon herself to reboot it. The episode keeps the interest by constantly evolving: at first it’s a mystery story, then a passion project for Torres, then a kidnap/rescue plot, then a Prime Directive discussion. (The robot is very reminiscent of the design used in the 1970s Doctor Who serial The Robots of Death.)
* Alliances. The fact that some of the Voyager crew are co-opted rebels is *finally* remembered; there’s friction and dissent as the ship comes under repeated attacks from semi-regular villains the Kazon and must consider a pact with some dodgy aliens.
* Meld. Tuvok psychically links his mind with that of a violent murderer and it has a severely bad effect on his own psychology. (The casting of the murderer isn’t going to win any originality awards, though: Brad Dourif has made a career out of playing weirdos.)
* Death Wish. A Q episode was perhaps inevitable if you know your Star Trek lore. A member of that godlike race shows up seeking asylum, then the Q we know from The Next Generation arrives to argue against it. A fun, quirky episode that’s actually about something: the being calling himself Quinn wants asylum from his people because they won’t allow him to kill himself. Gerrit Graham gives a decent performance, though a fan-baiting cameo from Jonathan Frakes’s Next Gen character Will Riker feels lumpy.
* Lifesigns. Too slow, but there’s sweetness too as the Doctor falls in love for the first time.
* Investigations. Two stories – the insubordination of helmsman Lieutenant Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), which has been bubbling away for a few episodes, and the ship’s morale-officer-cum-chef, Neelix (Ethan Phillips), having a desire to start a shipboard TV show – collide nicely. Tom eventually quits the ship and says his goodbyes… but, as surely every single viewer guesses, it’s all a ruse cooked up with Janeway to ensnare an evil ex-crewmember.
* The Thaw. A really good, old-style Star Trek episode – like one of those diversions into surrealism that the 1960s series was fond of. Michael McKean is great value as a clown-like trickster who keeps people trapped in a virtual-reality world. It’s all directed with a sense of humour and visual flamboyance.
* Tuvix. Tuvok and Neelix are combined into one being due to a teleportation accident. It’s a decent Star Trek-y idea: taking a sci-fi conceit and turning it into a character story.
* Resolutions. Janeway and first officer Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) have to be left behind on a near-empty planet because they’ve been infected by a disease that will kill them if they leave. The crew reluctantly go on their way, continuing their journey back to Earth… There’s watchable drama on both sides of the equation, even if you feel that punches are being pulled now and again (especially when it comes to Janeway and Chakotay’s potential romance).

Worst episode:
* Tatoo. As naff as TV drama can get: a simplistic and patronising episode about Chakotay’s Native American heritage and an alien race’s interference in it. There are also flashbacks to Chakotay’s youth featuring a dreadful kid actor. At least the comedy B plot – the Doctor gives himself a cold to see what it feels like – is quite fun.

Next time: Season three

The Last Stand (2013, Kim Jee-woon)

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.

TheLastStand

Watched: 21 August 2019
Format: A secondhand DVD I bought from a branch of CEX while on holiday in Whitby, North Yorkshire, in February 2019. It cost £1.
Seen before? No.

Review: Arnie’s first leading role after his seven-year stint as Governor of California sees him as local sheriff Ray Owens, a man who lives in a sleepy border town where everyone knows each other and Harry Dean Stanton is a cantankerous farmer. But the film often feels bored by this setting and its characters, because we cut away for long stretches to Forest Whitaker’s FBI agent. He inhabits a coarse, CSI/techno-thriller world and is called into action when an elaborate heist busts a drugs kingpin free from federal custody. (Meanwhile, back in Somerton, Arizona, Arnie gets a call from a woman who’s worried because her morning milk hasn’t been delivered.)

The criminal – Eduardo Noriega’s stunningly uninteresting Gabriel Cortez – then speeds off in an easily recognisable, one-of-a-kind, 1000-horsepower Corvette ZR1. It’s a sub-Fast & Furious plan to race for the Mexican border, and when Ray gets wind of it he and his cohorts (Luis Guzmán, an irritating Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander from the Thor films) prepare for the kingpin’s arrival in their town…

There are half-hearted nods here and there towards the Western genre, but the film is overwhelmed to the point of suffocation by macho A-Team action and misfiring comedy. There’s an appalling script – heavy on jarring exposition, light on any character depth – and some truly dreadful bad guys. This could have been Schwarzenegger’s Copland or Logan, a meditative drama about an ageing tough guy in an increasingly unhinged world. Instead it’s more like his Death Wish 5.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘With that movie, a lot of the pressure did fall on me. In fact, the script had been written for me… It’s a great, great role. The sheriff knows if he succeeds, it will mean everything to his town. His reputation is on the line. Is he really over the hill or can he do it?’

Four wheat fields out of 10

Next time: Collateral Damage

Star Trek: Voyager – season one (1995)

star-trek-voyager-1

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 one…

Best episode:
Eye of the Needle. When this series was being developed in 1994, some big decisions were made by the production team in order to differentiate it from its Star Trek stablemates The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. A big choice was to catapult the regular characters across the galaxy, sending them 70,000 light years and 75 years of travel away from home. This cut them off from established Star Trek continuity, which was a terrific idea given how loaded down with recurring characters and races the other shows had become. Nevertheless, this early episode dips back into the familiar well by having the crew make contact with a Romulan via a wormhole. It seems to offer a quick way home or at least a way of sending messages to loved ones. But then comes a sucker-punch ending… The episode also has a charming B-plot about the ship’s Doctor – an artificial-intelligence hologram played by Robert Picardo – and his concerns over his role in the crew.

Honorable mentions:
Caretaker. A decent feature-length pilot episode. The regular characters get good introductions and all make an impression (except maybe Jennifer Lien’s Kes, an alien who the crew encounter and adopt). It also sets up many of the fascinating ideas that Star Trek: Voyager had inherent in its make-up. After being flung halfway across the galaxy, Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her crew must form an uneasy alliance with a group of resistance fighters who are similarly lost. There’s also the general jolt of being removed to another part of the galaxy and knowing it’ll take 75 years to get home. Then there’s the character of Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill), a convict with a shady background who is brought along on the mission and has to step up the plate… This is *a lot* of potential drama and story. It’s such a shame that it was so quickly squandered. The conflict between the Starfleet crew and the Maquis rebels, for example, is resolved in this episode with risible speed (and mostly off-screen!). The episode’s ‘A plot’ (godlike entity draws people across the universe because it wants a mate) is also wishy-washy.
* Parallax. The plot is technobabblistic nonsense – something about the ship being trapped in a singularity. But by focussing on chief engineer B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Biggs-Dawson), a half-Klingon who’s one of the former rebels subsumed into the crew, we get a bit of drama as the Maquis characters struggle to adapt to Starfleet life.
* Time and Again. Anther script powered by an awful lot of gobbledegook dialogue, but the time-travel element of the story works well: Janeway and Paris are trapped on a planet in its recent past, just hours before a catastrophe is due to strike.
* Ex Post Facto. Paris is convicted of a murder on an alien planet in a fun, film-noir-ish mystery story.
* State of Flux. A paranoia plot, which sees Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) under pressure as fingers are pointed at one of his former Maquis colleagues. As a character, he’s been the blandest so far and oddly stuck in the background of many episodes. So this one gives us a bit of focus on Voyager’s new first officer. (The fact that he wears a Starfleet uniform, however, continues to be maddeningly frustrating. A show with a better sense of drama would have had him accept the post of second-in-command for pragmatic reasons, but *never* lose sight of his rebellious nature.)
* Heroes and Demons. Holodeck-goes-wrong stories were already old hat in Star Trek by this point, thanks to The Next Generation’s over-reliance on the cliché, but this episode gets away with it because the Doctor finally has a chance to get out of the sickbay and engage with some guest characters. He has to go into a Beowulf RPG to search for missing crew members and the actor has a ball with the idea.
* Faces. Thanks to the meddling of some organ-harvesting aliens, B’Elanna Torres is – rather implausibly, but let’s go with it – split into two separate people: a human and a Klingon. As a metaphor for her troubled personality it’s obvious but works rather well, and the actress does a good job with the two roles.
* Jetrel. A rare bit of depth for Neelix (Ethan Phillips), an eccentric and optimistic alien who hooked up with the crew in episode one and now acts as their tour guide to the Delta Quadrant. After encountering a doctor from a race who murdered Neelix’s community, he experiences anger, doubt and maybe even forgiveness.
* Learning Curve. Perhaps Star Trek’s most low-key ‘season finale’ (because it wasn’t intended to be one when made), this story reheats the frozen Federation/Maquis conflict. Vulcan security chief Tuvok (Tim Russ) is charged with teaching some new and sarcastic crew members about Starfleet protocol. It’s cheesy but effective.

Worst episode:
* The Cloud. A boring, character-less sci-fi plot, a pointless holodeck diversion and a scene where Chakotay teaches Janeway how to talk to her imaginary friend. Eugh.

Next time: Season two

The Villain (1979, Hal Needham)

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.

TheVillain

Watched: 17 August 2019
Format: I’d recorded the film from the amazing TV channel Talking Pictures on 3 May 2019.
Seen before? Never. I’d not even heard of it before researching this blog.

Review: Who knew that, early in his film career, Arnold Schwarzenegger played a major role in a comedy Western that mixes the spoofiness of Carry On Cowboy with the physics-defying gags of a Wile E Coyote cartoon? Not me, anyway. This movie’s tone is set up early on: after a lengthy title sequence full of Monument Valley grandeur, we’re introduced to an enigmatic loner played by a game Kirk Douglas. Jack Slade attempts to jump onto the roof of a speeding train… only to miss it and fall flat on his face. This hapless crook then does a deal with a corrupt banker to steal some cash that’s being transported across country by a woman called Charming Jones (Ann-Margret, flirty and funny).

However, she has a protector: a handsome stranger actually called Handsome Stranger, played by a spectacularly miscast Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bulk of the film is episodic nonsense as Slade makes several idiotic attempts to nab the money, often with Charming and Stranger oblivious to what’s going on. Bless him, at this stage of his career all Arnie really had to offer was his body-builder’s physique – and the role of Stranger doesn’t especially need it. His stilted line-readings and charisma vacuum are difficult issues to ignore.

The Villain is directed by stunt expert Hal Needham, who was then in the middle of making assorted Smokey and the Bandits and Cannonball Runs, but this pushes even further into childish humour than any of those movies. There’s slapstick, cartoon absurdity (even a real-life recreation of the paint-a-tunnel-on-a-rock-face gag), lots of awful ‘comedy’ sound effects, an intelligent horse, a sexist ending, and white actors playing Native Americans as if they were from the Midwest. Fun at times but the shallowness doesn’t sustain.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘The name of my character was Handsome Stranger and the rest of the movie was just as lame… The best thing I can say about it is that I improved my horse-riding skills.’

Five runaway horses out of 10

Next time: The Last Stand

The Running Man (1987, Paul Michael Glaser)

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.

TheRunningMan

Watched: 10 August 2019
Format: DVD. I’d owned a copy for years, but then the week before I started this blogging process I was in Fopp – a wonderful shop near London’s Covent Garden – and upgraded to a reissue with extras and commentaries.
Seen before? Yes, several times over the last 30 years. 

Review: The first film picked out of the Schwarzenegger hat is a pleasingly relevant one: sci-fi flick The Running Man may have been released in 1987, but most of the story is set in 2019… and I started the research for this odyssey in August 2019. I first saw this film on VHS as a child and have always adored it for its fast-paced, gleefully bonkers vibe. We’re in an 80s vision of a dystopian future made up of haves (corporate types, celebrities, attractive women), have-nots (slums, hobos, resistance fighters), tech-noir aesthetics and overt commercialisation.

It’s a violent, harsh and cynical plot, which sees Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ex-cop Ben Richards framed for a massacre then forced to compete on a garish TV game show that features duels-to-the-death with spandex-suited ‘stalkers’. Sadly, we must admit that Arnie is not quite the actor this kind of story requires and his character comes off as pretty facile; the James Bond-style quips also ring hallow.

But as a satire of the crassness of reality TV, the movie gets more and more depressingly insightful with every passing year. What once seemed fanciful is now only a degree or so off-truth. There’s also a lot of other kitsch pleasures in this film, such as the crazy casting choices (an ex-NFL star, a wrestler, the drummer from Fleetwood Mac) and some terrific electronic incidental music from Harold Faltermeyer. It’s rough round the edges, but so much fun.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘The Running Man didn’t turn out as well as it should have… the film was totally screwed up by hiring a first-time director [Starsky & Hutch actor Paul Michael Glaser] and not giving him time to prepare.’

Eight court-appointed theatrical agents out of 10

Next: The Villain