TV review: ‘Falling Skies’ S3 EP7 “The Pickett Line”

This review contains SPOILERS

Starring:  Noah Wylie as Tom Mason, Moon Bloodgood as Anne Glass, Will Patton as Captain Daniel Weaver, Colin Cunnigham as Pope, Drew Roy as Hal Mason, Connor Jessup as Ben Mason, Maxim Night as Matt Mason, Sarah Sanguin Carter as Margaret, Seychelle Gabriel as Lourdes, Doug Jones as Cochise.

Series created by:  Robert Rodat

Episode Directed by:  Sergio Mimica-Gezzan / Written by:  Jordan Rosenberg & Heather V. Regnier / aired in the UK:  27/08/13

What’s this episode about?

The Mason’s search for Anne and Lexi is interrupted by an encounter with a family who have managed to avoid the war with the aliens…

In review

“The Pickett Line” opens with Tom Mason and his sons ambushed and robbed by a masked band (thankfully there are no cries of “stand and deliver!”).  The Mason’s return the gesture by tracking them back to an out-of-the way farm house and taking them by surprise only to learn it’s a family headed by Gil Pickett (Christopher Heyerdahl).  Pickett explains that they’ve been isolated from the war and have only observed the aliens from afar.

Back at Charleston, Pope continues to shun authority (even with the change in Presidency) as the newly installed President, Marina Peralta (Gloria Rueben) has “Popetown” moved to make way for refugees.  It all falls flat as he soon finds himself jailed for urging disruption of work relating to the Volm weapon.  Pope’s persistent rebellions never become tiring, with the 2nd Mass largely an extended family, it naturally leaves the human conflict to be served via the outlaw and his band of ragtag Berserkers and is always enjoyable given the witty quips and put-downs are always delivered well on the mark by Colin Cunnigham.

The absent Cochise returns with the injured President Hathaway (Stephen Collins) and addresses the concerns of both Presidents and Weaver about the lack of clarity about the Volm weapon – namely that the excess of power will be used to destroy the entire Espheni energy field which although will allow the Volm reinforcements to arrive, could destroy all life on Earth should things go awry.  For this reason and the breach of security in Charleston it was decided between Tom Mason and Cochise that the full details should be kept under wraps.

I have to admit this all sparked radical thoughts as I found myself pondering if the Volm have struck a secret arrangement with the Espheni – a wild notion, surely?  Viewers in the States will no doubt have (at least) some of the answers since the season finale has already aired there and I look forward to seeing what the writers have in store as the dénouement approaches for UK viewers.

With the inclusion of Skitters, Volm and Mega-Mechs in this episode it made me realise something to admire about the production of Falling Skies is the collected use of CGI, puppetry and prosthetics to create the various aliens proving that as great as CGI is, equally inspired results can also be achieved via practical elements.  Of course CGI is still welcome and I wonder if we’ll see the Espheni “fish-heads” again soon, easily one of the best alien creature designs seen on screen (both big and small) in recent years.

As always there are plenty of strong character moments in this episode, Ben’s regret that the Masons may never return to Charleston just as he’s finally being accepted, we see Matt shoot a man and dealing with the consequences and further interplay between Pope and Weaver as the two strike a secret pact given their mutual distrust of the Volm (Weaver clearly not settled with Cochise’s earlier explanation).

Most significant of all these moments though is a shock turn of events with Lourdes as she murders Hathaway, identifying herself to the viewer as the true mole (skin crawling parasites and all).  It’s a welcome decision as it seemed to have been so easily resolved last week and not only allows Seychelle Gabriel her chance to tackle some character development but also offers a tantalising twist at a moment least expected from a character you would never have had reason to suspect.

This week’s proceedings come to a close as Tom heads back to warn the Picketts (following tense exchanges and face offs with the group) of an approaching alien patrol, leading to Tom being cornered by Skitters and a Mega-Mech…

The bottom line:  Another thrilling instalment of the ever thrilling Falling Skies, hopefully the stakes can be maintained at a high level through to the season finale.

Falling Skies Season 3 airs Tuesdays at 9pm on Fox (UK).  Seasons 1 and 2 are currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Comic book review: ‘Superman Unchained’ #3

This review contains SPOILERS

What’s this issue about?

In “Prayers”, Superman comes face to face with the creature known as Wraith who is as powerful as Krypton’s Last Son – will he be friend or foe?

In review

Writer Scott Snyder and penciller Jim Lee continue to carve out their area of the Superman comic book universe with the slightly delayed (just as this review is a little late – sorry folks!) third issue of Superman Unchained.

Not quite as spectacular as the first two issues, this month’s edition is still an enjoyable read that’s quite heavy on exposition as we’re formally introduced to the mysterious super-being known as ‘Wraith’ who we learn had arrived on Earth in 1938 (an apt tip of the hat to Superman’s 75th Anniversary) and has been utilised as the U.S. government’s secret weapon since.

As I mention there’s a lot of exposition (there is a story to be told after all but it’s a shame that Superman’s inner monologues are largely absent this issue) and General Lane takes centre stage as he explains his reasons for disliking our Man of Steel, through which Snyder nails his understanding of Superman – a beacon who serves to guide humanity, leading by example via his positive actions whereas Lane believes that a ‘hero’ more like Wraith is needed, solving Earth’s problems by forceful intervention.

All that being said this is a Superman title and there’s still a smattering of action with this issue opening with the tense and weighty standoff with Wraith who proves a REAL physical challenge to Kal-El and there’s trouble for Lois as she finds that Ascension have sabotaged her plane.

With the shipping delay of this issue Jim Lee’s pencils, although still generally great, seem a little more rough and hurried (maybe it’s just me but there seems to be a lot more hatching than usual) – hopefully the book can get settled back into schedule with subsequent issues.  I quite like the design of Wraith, a sort of cross between Darkseid and Doomsday with the fiery Phoenix-esque symbol blazoned across his chest.  We also get to see Wraith’s very own Fortress of Solitude(?), decorated with warplanes, missiles and tanks – all displayed like trophies.

“Prayers” reaches its dénouement with Wraith and Superman teaming up to save Tokyo from drones hijacked by Ascension, and Wraith’s regret that he will soon have to kill his new ally.

This issues draws to a close with the (very short) continuation of the Jimmy Olsen focused back-up strip (with art from Dustin Nguyen) with an unexpected entrance from Lex Luthor…

The bottom line:  Superman Unchained continues on with a dialogue heavy issue that non–the-less lays more of the foundations for the currently unfolding storyline.

Superman Unchained #3 is out now in print and digital formats from DC Comics.

TV review: ‘Falling Skies’ S3 EP6 “Be Silent and Come Out”

This review contains SPOILERS

Starring:  Noah Wylie as Tom Mason, Moon Bloodgood as Anne Glass, Will Patton as Captain Daniel Weaver, Colin Cunnigham as Pope, Drew Roy as Hal Mason, Connor Jessup as Ben Mason, Maxim Night as Matt Mason, Sarah Sanguin Carter as Margaret, Seychelle Gabriel as Lourdes, Doug Jones as Cochise.

Series created by:  Robert Rodat

Episode Directed by:  Adam Kane / Written by:  David Weddle, Bradley Thompson & John Wirth / aired in the UK:  20/08/13

What’s this episode about?

Tom Mason’s plans to search for Anne and Lexi are foiled when he is taken hostage by Hal…

In review

Hot on the heels of the final moments of last week’s episode, “Be Silent and Come Out” opens with Tom Mason, still recovering from his injuries, scrambling to mount a search for his missing loved ones.  Luckily he yields to Weaver’s pleas to wait 24 hours so that the Skitter rebellion’s leader, ‘Red Eye’ can gather intelligence from his spies.  All seems to settle within these opening few minutes but as we see from Hal’s reaction there’s a lot more in store for the viewer.

Picking up on threads from the last episode, Marina (Gloria Rueben, enjoying and increased role these past few weeks and adding to the tapestry of the series) raises her concerns about the Volm with Tom who is dismayed at his trusted aide’s trepidations.  It’s a tight little scene that gives both Wylie and Rueben the opportunity to spark off one other and I trust that all will be revealed in good time especially as this season progresses to a close.  I also wonder if we’ll see – the still missing – Cochise again?

Hal, once again under Karen’s control, interrupts and after knocking Marina down and leads Tom by gunpoint into a Humvee, which Maggie takes out with a machine gun.  It’s all a tense affair as Hal drags Tom into a nearby building (as I’ve noted before, the ruins of Charleston are aptly reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan).  A hostage situation ensues allowing for some neat moments between Noah Wylie and Drew Roy as Tom tries to reach his son as an increasingly manic Hal fights to regain control.

It seems not much has changed with Pope even after the events of the previous episode as he find himself relieved of duty (along with the rest of the Berserkers) by Weaver after stirring up dissent leading to conflict with Ben and a later, Wild West style showdown at the Nest (Charleston’s Saloon Bar) where Weaver (another great turn form the understated but always excellent Will Patton) warns Pope who is running a betting pool on the outcome of the Mason crisis.

Matt leads Maggie and Ben to a secret entrance to the building Tom is being held in, quickly diffusing the situation as Hal breaks down and attempts to shoot himself.  An already intense performance from Drew Roy reaches its apex as he is strapped down in the infirmary with Tom making the decision to utilise a procedure disclosed by Red Eye to remove the parasite Karen is using to control Hal.

It works and all seems well with Hal back to normal, but it definitely feels there is some ambiguity about his identity as the mole – could the writers be about to pull one out of the hat?

With the crisis resolved, Tom tenders his resignation and as Marina is sworn in as President of the New United States, he is accompanied by his three sons as they head out to search for Anne and Lexi…

The bottom line:  A tense episode with some standout performances, “Be Silent and Come Out” continues the expected trend of quality episodes and decent characterisation throughout this season of Falling Skies.

Falling Skies Season 3 airs Tuesdays at 9pm on Fox (UK).  Seasons 1 and 2 are currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.

TV review: ‘Falling Skies’ S3 EP5 “Search and Recover”

This review contains SPOILERS

Starring:  Noah Wylie as Tom Mason, Moon Bloodgood as Anne Glass, Will Patton as Captain Daniel Weaver, Colin Cunnigham as Pope, Drew Roy as Hal Mason, Connor Jessup as Ben Mason, Maxim Night as Matt Mason, Sarah Sanguin Carter as Margaret, Seychelle Gabriel as Lourdes, Doug Jones as Cochise.

Series created by:  Robert Rodat

Episode Directed by:  Sergio Mimica-Gezzan / Written by:  Jordan Rosenberg / aired in the UK:  13/08/13

What’s this episode about?

Mason and Pope, having survived the plane crash, must work together and evade the Espheni.  Meanwhile, back at Charleston Anne and Alexis are reported missing…

In review

Not the all-out action follow up you might have expected after last week’s cliffhanger, “Search and Recover” is a non-the-less important character piece (and perhaps a relative calm before the proverbial storm?) as tensions between Mason and Pope come to a necessary head.  Whilst the two don’t emerge from their fight for survival as best buddies they reach an understanding of sorts and maybe that mutiny that the writer’s appeared to be alluding to won’t come after all?

There’s always been an enjoyable yin and yang sort of situation between the two characters (which Wylie and Cunningham have gotten plenty of mileage out of) and we learn that Mason’s upbringing was less than rosy with a drunk and uninvolved father and the incident that lead to Pope’s imprisonment prior to the invasion (and the anger and pain of that being the last he saw of his son and daughter).  Despite the bonding, the tension is ramped up again as an injured Mason provokes Pope into leaving him behind.

Unfortunately Bressler was killed in the plane crash so it’s exit stage left for Matt Frewer and there’s no sign of President Hathaway or Cochise.

Anyway, back at Charleston there’s news that Anne and Alexis are missing (and indeed they are, along with Doug Jones’ Cochise, absent from this episode) prompting a demand from Weaver that he be allowed to lead a search which Marina (Gloria Rueben) reluctantly agrees to – It would seem that only ‘Hal’ knows of their whereabouts.

Accompanied by Hal, Ben, Matt, Maggie and Jean, Weaver and his search party discover the body of a woman – allowing for some reflection between Ben and Matt about their mother – some nice interplay between Connor Jessup and Maxim Knight – whilst Drew Roy hangs back as Hal’s behaviour becomes increasingly strange, something Maggie seems to becoming aware of.

Gloria Rueben gets more to do this episode (with a little more from Seychelle Gabriel as Lourdes) and it’s also good to see another appearance by Robert Sean Leonard as Dr. Kadar.  Kadar reveals the truth about Alexis and her alien DNA and Marina approaches Kadar with doubts about the Volm’s intentions.  They’re concerns that Kadar echoes when he examines photographs of the device they’re constructing – purportedly to allow the Volm reinforcements to enter Earth’s atmosphere – as he believes that the power the device will draw/generate would be well in excess of what is actually required, “overkill” as he puts it.  As I’ve said previously could a deception by the Volm be all too obvious or will it be simply a case of blurring the lines between good and evil?  It surely won’t be long until we find out the truth.

The episode concludes with Mason and Pope successfully returning to Charleston and Weaver’s uneasy revelation to Tom that Anne and Alexis have disappeared…

The bottom line:  “Search and Recover” allows for further exploration of the characters of Falling Skies and some small, yet tantalising threads as we build towards the end of the season.  If previous seasons are anything to go by, it’s advised that you stay tuned!

Falling Skies Season 3 airs Tuesdays at 9pm on Fox (UK).  Seasons 1 and 2 are currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Film Classics: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

Looking at some all-time favourites…

 –

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…”

Star Trek II a

Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year: 1982

Starring:  William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Kirstie Alley, Bibi Besch, Meritt Butrick, Paul Winfield, Ricardo Montalban

Directed by:  Nicholas Meyer / written by:  Jack B. Sowards (uncredited: Nicholas Meyer)

What’s it about?

Whilst Admiral Kirk oversees a training cruise aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Commander Chekov, serving as first officer of the U.S.S. Reliant discovers Khan – the genetically engineered tyrant who once tried to kill Kirk and now seeks revenge against the former starship captain for ‘marooning’ Khan and his people on a now desolate planet…

In review: why it’s a classic

Surely the best of all the Star Trek films to date, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan restored much of the spirit of the original Star Trek television series that was felt to be absent from the more effects and concept-driven (but highly imaginative) Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Despite his diminished involvement, The Wrath of Khan is true to creator Gene Rodenberry’s intention that Star Trek be a way of telling entertaining and thought -provoking science fiction tales whilst also acting as a vehicle for stories exploring the human condition.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time), who, uncredited, also extensively rewrote the film’s screenplay, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the first of the classic Trek films to be produced by Harve Bennet after Paramount Pictures’ reduction of Gene Rodenberry’s role to that of ‘Executive Consultant,’ following their dissatisfaction with The Motion Picture.  The result is a film that takes a slightly more risky approach to the world of Star Trek and its characters without betraying the core tenets of the series or going against what fans would know or expect from Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew.

A sequel to the classic Star Trek episode “Space Seed”, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan sees the return of genetically engineered antagonist Khan (Ricardo Montalben), bitter after being left on Ceti Alpha V to establish a new home with his people, subsequently decimated when the neighbouring planet exploded and laying waste to the ecology of their world – with no contact from Kirk to check on the progress of Khan and his brethren.  Stumbled upon by the U.S.S. Reliant’s captain (played by The Terminator’s Paul Winfield) and first officer, former Enterprise crewman Commander Chekov (Walter Koenig), whilst they search for a test site for ‘Project Genesis’ – a scientific breakthrough in terraforming – Khan seizes the Reliant and sets out on a relentless quest for vengeance against Kirk.  With the Enterprise on a cadet training cruise under Admiral Kirk’s supervision, a distress signal from the Regula I space laboratory instigates an emergency – placing Kirk in command and drawing him into confrontation with the enraged Khan who now not only seeks retribution against Kirk but plans to obtain the Genesis device for himself.

With a story that, like all good science fiction, taps into human concerns as it explores themes such as heroism and loss, The Wrath of Khan is made even greater by featuring a formidable and intelligent adversary who, like all good antagonists doesn’t see himself as the ‘villain’.  The late Ricardo Montalben was a memorable guest star in “Space Seed” and with his reprisal of Khan he effortlessly takes things to the next level with a scintillating and intense portrayal of the character.  The threat of Khan is enhanced with a touch of horror in the form of the mind influencing Ceti eels which he uses to bend Chekov and his captain to his will – the unnerving scenes of the creatures slithering into their ear holes providing the most unsettling moment in any Star Trek film.

Star Trek II b

Khan (Ricardo Montalben) embarks on a relentless quest for vengeance (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

The Wrath of Khan is infused with literary reverence – Khan’s obsessive pursuit of revenge not unlike that of Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab (accentuated by quotes from Herman Melville’s novel) – as well as morals and ethics as it deals with Project Genesis, a powerful form of technology that could prove to be destructive in the wrong hands.  It also boasts some strong characterisation, from Kirk’s crisis as he regrets accepting promotion out of the captain’s chair whilst pondering a life that could have been as a father and husband (his son David and former partner Carol, played by Merrit Butrick and Bibi Besch respectively, the creators of Genesis), to Spock’s (spoiler!) sacrifice for “the needs of the many” and Khan’s anguish at the loss of his wife and the plight of his people adding to the drama.  Nicholas Meyer, though unfamiliar with Star Trek, brings all the creative elements suitably into play and encourages terrific performances from the cast, especially William Shatner (as Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (as Spock) – who share several wonderful scenes which highlight the unwavering bond of friendship between their respective characters – and, again, the superb Ricardo Montalban –as well as maintaining the tension and excitement during the film’s space battle sequences.  It’s also worth noting the increased role afforded to Walter Koenig in comparison to The Motion Picture and Kirstie Alley (future star of classic sitcom Cheers) makes her big screen debut in a fan favourite turn as Spock’s young Vulcan protégé, the equally logical and analytical Lieutenant Saavik.

Meyer also brings his love of all thing nautical to the fore (the Naval-esque orientated depiction of Starfleet, whilst more militaristic, provides an identifiable portrayal of the organisation) with the climactic nebula-bound battle between the Enterprise and the Reliant a fitting homage to tense World War II submarine thrillers such as Robert Wise’s Run Silent, Run Deep.  James Horner’s rousing, exciting and emotional music score is the icing on the cake that together with all of the other elements not only make Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan a fine piece of science fiction film entertainment that resonates on a human level but represents the franchise at its cinematic best.

Standout moment

The Enterprise crippled by Khan’s surprise attack, Kirk uses his experience and ingenuity to gain the upper hand, utilising the Reliant’s command code sequence to lower its defences…

Geek fact!

Amongst the crew of the Reliant is Commander Kyle, a popular supporting character from the original series, with John Winston reprising the role.

If you like this then watch…

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country : Nicholas Meyer returns to co-write and direct the original crew’s final outing in a gripping “whodunit?” that utilises the science fiction backdrop to comment on issues of the time – namely the collapse of the Berlin wall and with it, the Cold War.

Star Trek Into Darkness : though divisive, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek sequel revisits The Wrath of Khan as Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise face high stakes against a new iteration of Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Amongst all the contemporary blockbuster excitement are faithful homages to the franchise’s roots and commentary on issues such as terrorism and military intervention.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

TV review: ‘Falling Skies’ S3 EP4 “At All Costs”

This review contains SPOILERS

Starring:  Noah Wylie as Tom Mason, Moon Bloodgood as Anne Glass, Will Patton as Colonel Daniel Weaver, Colin Cunnigham as Pope, Drew Roy as Hal Mason, Connor Jessup as Ben Mason, Maxim Night as Matt Mason, Sarah Sanguin Carter as Margaret, Doug Jones as Cochise.

Series created by:  Robert Rodat

Episode Directed by:  Greg Beeman / Written by:  Heather V. Regnier / aired in the UK:  06/08/13

What’s this episode about?

The resistance, with the assistance of the Volm, repels the Espheni attack on Charleston and Lt. Fisher helps Tom Mason establish contact with President Hathaway leading to a face to face meeting…

In review

There isn’t currently anything negative I can say about Falling Skies, easily sitting at the top of my must watch list above the likes of Arrow, Person of Interest, Revolution and Continuum (all of which are thankfully due to return for further seasons).  If there was any criticism I could offer it would be that ten episodes a season is too short, so I more than welcomed the recent news that season four has been expanded to twelve.  The series continues to build upon its ongoing premise, held together well by the writers and cast as they peel away more layers of the characters.

Picking up from the closing events of the last episode, “At All Costs” opens with all guns (literally) blazing as an intense battle ensues in an attempt to hold back the Espheni assault on Charleston.  Cut to HQ below ground and things move at a brisk pace as ceilings crumble and orders are being frantically relayed by General Bressler (the presently underutilised Matt Frewer) and Colonel Weaver.

Of course regular viewers will cite that many episodes of Falling Skies open in this manner and once the credits roll the pace becomes more settled allowing the story to unfold.  Understandably at this stage, with all of the developing plotlines this season the focus needs to remain on the dramatic details as much as possible.  The writers seem fully aware of this and provide the right balance of action and intrigue and “At All Costs” is an excellent episode and a prime of example of how this can be achieved.

Through Lt. Fisher (Luvia Petersen, reprising her guest role from “Badlands”), Tom Mason establishes contact with President Hathaway (an authoritative turn from Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s Stephen Collins) and enlisting the reluctant help of Pope (and the use of his plane), arrange a rendezvous to discuss the efforts of the resistance and their alliance with the Volm.

Accompanied by Bressler and Cochise, the party head out on their secret mission much to Weaver’s unease.  Upon arrival, Mason is greeted by General Donovan (a slightly type-cast Michael Hogan, best remembered as Colonel Tigh in Battlestar Galactica) who’s reaction to Cochise is to have him detained.

We get to see a lot more of the enigmatic Cochise this episode then, as Doug Jones (through all the prosthetics) gets a chance to provide some levity as he questions the viability of Pope’s plane and delivers – soulfully – some poetic dialogue in a speech reflecting on the reasons for the Volm’s crusade against the Espheni that manages to win over Hathaway.  There’s’ still an overall smattering of distrust towards the Volm and their plans, it seems all too good to be true that victory is just a grasp away and they may have a hidden agenda – could this all be too obvious?

Back at Charleston, Lourdes explains to Ben, Deni and the other deharnessed kids that the Volm technology would allow for the remnants of their harnesses to be removed but makes the choice difficult as it would mean sacrificing their enhanced abilities.  There’s certainly more of Ben and Deni (Megan Danso) again this episode not only giving him a contemporary to interact with but as it seems, a burgeoning romance.

Meanwhile, Hal is even more troubled giving Drew Roy more meat to chew on and the revelation that there is another ‘personality’ fighting for control (one particular scene reminding me of that classic Twilight Zone episode “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room”).  What’s left ambiguous is whether Hal truly is the mole, again is this an all too obvious option?  Perhaps the writers have some other twist in store?  Either way I have faith that they will satisfy.

Sinister events continue to unfold with the strange behaviour of baby Alexis as Anne takes a DNA swab along with samples from the deharnessed kids to Dr. Kadar (a role which Robert Sean Leanoard handles with skilful eccentricity) for analysis – revealing her daughter’s alien genes.  This is enjoyably to Moon Bloodgood’s benefit as we see Anne Glass become more and more unhinged by the situation as motherly despair culminates in her assault of Dr. Kadar and drugging of Lourdes as she flees Charleston in desperation, only to run into a harnessed kid with a Skitter companion…and Hal!

Another superb episode comes to an expectedly exciting close as Donovan warns of incoming enemy aircraft, grabbing Cochise and fleeing with Hathaway as Mason, Bressler and Pope have no choice but to escape separately – only to be shot down…

The bottom line:  Falling Skies season 3 continues to grip, excite and intrigue in equal measures and ranks as no less than essential viewing for fans of good science fiction television drama.

Falling Skies Season 3 airs Tuesdays at 9pm on Fox (UK).  Seasons 1 and 2 are currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Have you seen… ‘Westworld’?

The films you may not have seen that are definitely worth a look…

Year: 1973

Starring:  Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin

Director:  Michael Crichton

What’s it about?

In the near future, Peter Martin accompanies friend John Blane on a vacation to the high-tech $1,000 per day adult theme park known as Delos, split into three themed areas – Roman World, Medieval World and Western World.  During their stay in Western World (aka ‘Westworld’) the android ‘characters’ begin to malfunction and the two men are soon running for their lives…

In review

Written and directed by the late Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, Westworld presents the chilling notion of technology gone awry that holds just as much relevance today as it did back in the 1970s.  It’s an idea that Crichton would adapt just as successfully to Jurassic Park (whereas the park’s attractions would be biological as opposed to mechanical, the failure of technology would still precipitate disaster) but is perhaps more unsettling here given that the very human-like (only discernible from real people by inspection of the palms of their hands) androids programmed to fulfil the fantasies that the guests take for granted in safety and comfort, would unexpectedly turn on them.

Yul Brynner, in homage to his character from classic Western The Magnificent Seven is key to the film’s success by providing a virtually emotionless, cold and robotic performance as the homicidal Gunslinger.  Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger made you believe he was an unstoppable killing machine in The Terminator so does Brynner (the difference being that he was actually a damn good actor anyway), instilling fear and chills in the viewer by using simple body language and flat delivery of the little dialogue he has.

There is some fun interaction between Benjamin and Brolin (Brolin’s character constantly prodding at Martin until he starts to loosen up and ease into the spirit of things) and until Brynner appears the tone of the film is fairly light but it is then that Westworld really draws you in.  Although Brynner’s ‘character’ is gunned down twice with relative ease by Martin, it adds gravity to his return the third time as Westworld starts building to a terrifying and tense climax as the Gunslinger (upgraded with infra-red vision) pursues Martin relentlessly through the park and the corridors of its control centre.  With the staff and guests murdered by the android attractions, Martin stands alone against a machine without conscience.  The influences on James Cameron’s afore-mentioned Terminator are clear, also providing the basis for the hilarious “Itchy & Scratchy Land” episode of The Simpsons (back when it was still good).

Why you should watch it

Westworld is a gem of science fiction cinema that’s a tense and unsettling ride, particularly in its last half hour, with a truly chilling and iconic performance from the late, great Yul Brynner.

Standout moment

Martin and Blane have not long since arrived in Westworld and enter a saloon, an android Gunslinger enters and starts to taunt Martin.  Blane convinces Martin to get into the spirit of things by shooting down the Gunslinger – little do they know that it won’t be the last they see of him…

Did you know?

The late Majel Barrett – wife of Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry – has a cameo appearance in the bordello scenes as ‘Miss Carrie’.

Watch it if you like…

Jurassic Park, The Terminator

Westworld is currently available on Blu-ray (select territories) and DVD from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.

Yul Brynner's chilling and mechanical performance in 'Westworld' is key to the film's effectiveness.

Yul Brynner’s chilling and mechanical performance in ‘Westworld’ is key to the film’s effectiveness.