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.

Planet of the Apes (2001, Tim Burton)

planetoftheapes012

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Where, when and what: This movie could be viewed as a second adaptation of the 1963 novel La Planète des Singe, a remake of the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, or simply a waste of everyone’s time. The story starts aboard a United States Air Force space station called Oberon in the optimistically chosen year of 2029. But the bulk of the action is set on an alien planet in the far future. The end of the film then brings a surprise twist, though not the same one as in the 1968 film. The action moves to the Earth of 2029, but history has been changed. Apes now rule this world too. It’s never explained how. Or why. It’s a silly sequel-baiting coda that was never followed up.

Humans: Our lead character is Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg, who dropped out of Ocean’s Eleven to star in this sludge). He works with primates being trained for space missions. After one of them is sent out in a small pod and falls through a wormhole, Davidson follows and ends up on a planet where intelligent apes are in charge and humans are kept as slaves. It’s not all bad news, though: he soon meets a cute woman called Daena (Estella Warren; what she lacks in acting talent she makes up for in standing around looking confused in an adorable kind of way). Kris Kristofferson plays her dad and there are a few other featured people. In a change from the 1968 film, the humans of this world can talk – which makes the apes’ control of them seem even more cruel. We learn that the humans used to be the dominant species, and once Davidson tracks down his space ship he infers the planet’s backstory. The ship crashed here centuries before Leo did (somehow…) and populated the planet with intelligent apes.

Apes: The ape masks are well designed and more articulate than in the original movies. Also, more thought has gone into giving the characters non-human postures and movements. But little of that work was worth it… Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) is the most interesting of the apes. She’s sensitive, smart and opposes the harsh treatment of humans. She buys Davidson and Daena for her father, Senator Sandar (David Warner), then helps them escape. Meanwhile, General Thade (Tim Roth) is a warmongering chimpanzee; he also has a thing for Ari, but she’s not interested. In one scene, Thade’s father is played by – get ready to prevent your sides from splitting – Charlton Heston. He even has a jokey reference to the original movie: “Damn them all to hell!” he says before dying. Also worth mentioning is Limbo (Paul Giamatti), who’s a slaver and the comic relief – two things that don’t often go together.

Review: This film was a turning point for director Tim Burton. He was coming off a decade-plus run of wonderful movies – but this has none of the wit, style or creepiness of Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood or Sleepy Hollow. It feels like a studio film where creative decisions have been so flattened out by committee that nothing of any distinction remains. There’s cheesy dialogue, paper-thin characters, painfully weak comedy, a score that drones on, and a general absence of wonder. Wahlberg is a dreadful leading man, lacking charisma, while many exterior scenes are shot indoors and feel drab and lifeless. Rubbish.

Four skankiest, scabbiest, scuzziest humans out of 10

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

TheManWhoWasntThere

Written by Joel and Ethan; directed by Joel; produced by Ethan

A mild-mannered barber discovers his wife is having an affair, so plots to blackmail the man she’s sleeping with…

Seen before? Yes, on 15 November 2001 at the Metro – an independent cinema in Derby run during the evenings in my university lecture room – with Stuart Oultram, Andy Fisher and my ex-housemate Hilary Neale.

Best performance: Frances McDormand as the cheating wife, Doris.

Coen regulars (running total of appearances): As well as McDormand (5), there’s Jon Polito (5) as a crooked businessman, Richard Jenkins (1) as a piano-playing teenager’s father, Tony Shalhoub (2) as the slick lawyer, and Billy Bob Thornton (1) as lead character Ed.

Best bit: The scene where Ed ‘invents’ a story about what happened on the night of the murder – the lawyer buying it as a fiction, but both Ed and Doris understanding that he’s telling the truth.

Review: Barton Fink to O Brother was a run of five really entertaining movies, full of vim and fun and especially heart. This, however, harks back to the feel of Miller’s Crossing – both films are lovely to look at (in this case, black-and-white and stylized 1949 design), but it’s difficult to care about the characters or get invested in the story. It’s so cold and detached. Soulless, in fact.

Six Heavens to Betsys out of 10.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

AI

A new type of robot, a child capable of love, is adopted by a couple – but the robot, David, soon finds himself alone and on the run…

Seen before? Yes, on 26 September 2001 at the UCI Derby.

Best performance: David is played by Haley Joel Osment (the best Anakin Skywalker we never got). He’s simultaneously innocent and creepy, adorable and unsettling, familiar and unusual. And he never at any point blinks.

Best scene/moment/sequence: “I love you, David.”

Review: The look of this film is simply stunning – freeze-frame any random moment and you could hang the resulting image in a gallery. It’s Spielberg letting his peerless imagination loose with camera, lights, filters, smoke, shadows and budget. Wonderful production design and cinematography lead us through the film’s three discrete sections: a cold, clinical, quiet and airy opening (childhood); a grimy, gritty, seedy and almost post-apoc middle (growing up); and a lyrical, fairy-tale ending (death). Each one is, in its own way, *entrancing*. There’s real emotional substance here. It’s a film about some heavy subjects – love, identity, innocence, guilt, motherhood, belonging, human rights, cruelty… It has one of the best juvenile leads in cinema history. It’s challenging and demanding and emotional. It’s probably Spielberg’s strangest film. It’s certainly his most underrated.

Ten blue fairies out of 10.