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Babylon 5: The Lost Tales (2007)
I was disappointed with this effort for what may be an odd reason. It isn't that the stories were bad.. But the presentation was static and overly talky.
The thing which made B5 great in my estimation was a combination of well written, compelling ideas with a DYNAMIC presentation. The series presented us with Babylon 5, inhabited by "a quarter million beings." It is against that backdrop that the marvelous characters and dialogue were set. We believed these people were moving the course of the galaxy, because the backdrop helped sell it.
In contrast, Lost Tales shows us settings that are virtually empty. That can work, such as in the series episode where Sheridan was isolated and interrogated at great length - but only because it was in CONTRAST to everything that had gone before.
When Tracy Scoggins as Col Lockley (who I actually always liked, BTW) explains what she has figured out in the first story, it just goes on, and feels like J. Michael Straczynski is simply belaboring the point. Similarly, in the conversations between Sheridan and Galen, there is just no sense of urgency. We know far in advance what decision Sheridan will have to make.
Overall, I'm glad I saw this, but not glad I paid as much for it as I did. Fans should probably see it, but newcomers should absolutely not judge the series from this entry.
Don't let the artwork fool you!
That Terminator-like metal skull with the pointy teeth and glowing red eye has absolutely nothing to do with this movie. That was obviously just some ad executive's attempt to play on the popularity of "Ahnold's" film successes. Ditto for the tag line "The future is not friendly." Instead, "Prototype" is a thoughtful, well played drama about two character's struggles to understand and deal with the world around them. Christopher Plummer is on solid ground as the scientist who wants his creation to have a chance at life, and David Morse is spectacularly understated as the android prototype of the title.
What makes this so compelling is the same thing that makes all of the best science fiction or fantasy work: The principle players take the situation and their part in it as real, without engaging in histrionics. As Michael, Morse indulges in neither the overplayed "childlike wonder" nor the hyper-mechanical stiffness so often poured into similar roles by lesser actors. Michael is "other" without being weird.
Well worth a look.
Lacks the "Poetic Vision" of the TV series
I won't argue the point of whether "hardcore fans" will love/hate this film versions. I can only say that, having watched the TV adaptation first, and later having read the books with great glee, I was disappointed in what was for me a lackluster filming with dis-spirited acting. (Having never heard the radio version, I cannot comment there.)
A few comparisons come to me right off. The TV version caught me early on with the earnestness the actors gave to phrases such as "What would you say if I was to tell you..." or, "This must be Thursday. I never could...". The book caught me with Adams' visualizations such as the Vogon constructor ships hanging in the air "in precisely the fashion that bricks don't." The stars of this film throw lines like that away without any real care, and the readings from the book are too few and far between to much carry the load.
The revisions to the story did not much trouble me. It's obvious that a story told in books, radio, TV and movies cannot carry exactly the same elements and still make sense. The only revision that did bother me was the way they changed the Trillian/Artthur relationship, but that only because it was weakly written and even more weakly acted.
Character by character:
TV-Arthur was hilariously befuddled and wallowing out of his depth from crisis to crisis. Movie-Arthur seemed merely grouchy and put-upon.
TV-Ford came across as a traveler convinced of his own sophistication and trying to bring along his ape friend. Movie-Ford just didn't seem to be there most of the time.
TV-Trillian was slightly ditsy but ultimately a powerful brain. Movie-Trillian never convinced me she would have ACTUALLY run off to the other side of the Earth, let alone off-world with...
TV-Zaphod got several million points for cool, without ever really being mean-spirited. Movie-Zaphod just comes off as a brainless jerk.
The new character played by John Malcovitch (the name eludes me at the moment) has no TV counterpart. But JM plays him with all the comic genius of Cyrus The Virus. The bit with the glasses COULD have been funny if it was just done in passing. Instead, it was handled with all the "now watch this carefully" subtlety of a 10 year old with a new magic set.
Movie-Marvin was OK - great voice casting. Unfortunately, they didn't give him *enough* dialog, and the physical design makes it difficult to emphasize his dejected slump. It looks more as if the size of the headpiece is tipping the actor over than that the Android is having trouble coping with "life".
The Vogons - THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE FILM! Not only were the Vogons technically more advanced than in the TV version (the passage of time and application of technology could hardly do less), they get much better dialog and a lot more screen time. They are the *only* characters in the film that REALLY carry forward Adams "theatre of the absurd" touch. ("He's got a TOWEL!")
Overall, the film was competent and not BAD - it just lacked the "spark" for which I would have hoped. Perhaps those who worked on the film can be convinced to take the first spaceship to the new world, so that they can set up the hair-salons, create the marketing plans and sanitize the phones before the rest of us get there.
Weak Perry Mason Wannabe
As much as I like John Larroquette, I found this "mystery" a little hard to watch, mainly for what it didn't deliver - John Larroquette. He is playing it so low-key in this un-puzzling story that I was afraid he had fallen asleep.
Also, I must have watched too much "Law & Order" over the years, because I found myself wanting to leap up and cry "objection" in the courtroom scenes. From Perry Mason to Ben Matlock, TV attorneys have almost always bent the rules of the court by revealing facts in their "questions" that no judge would ever allow in a real trial. But even the staid and stoic Owen Marshall did it with more vigor than Larroquette's somnambulent McBride (no first name given).
The charge for this one: Dullness in the first degree.
They Live (1988)
Didn't need the glasses
Tripping across location shoots is not that unusual in Los Angeles, where I lived and worked when this movie was produced. But this was one of the stranger instances. I and several others left our office building for lunch, only to be confronted with plain white newspaper boxes labeled "OBEY" where "USA Today" boxes normally stood, and posters exhorting us "Don't Question Authority".
Didn't realize that it was a location shoot right away - this was where they shot the convenience store scene, and everyone was inside trailers or in the building at the moment.
But, when "They Live" came out in theatres, and I finally understood what I had seen that day, I REALLY had an appreciation for what Roddy Piper's character went through. The messages are far more subtle in real life, but we DO get programmed. I just wish it were as innocuos a message as "crass commercialism".
A Christmas Carol (1984)
Christmas? A Humbug? Surely not!
I have seen many fine and many not-so-fine adaptations of Dickens' masterwork, from Alistair Sim to Mr. Magoo, but this is the only one where I BELIEVED Scrooge. The dialogue has been etched into our collective consciousness so long and so often across the years that it is virtually impossible to say "Bah! Humbug!" without it echoing every ham actor for a half century. (Try it!) But when Scott recites the signature phrases they are not just lines but a heartfelt expression. He brings a miserly old man to life on the screen, rather than the caricature of a miser. I would not want to be the charity collector standing before him or the negotiator on the exchange trading floor. And when he repents, I'm not sure how genuinely he HAS repented. There's that element in his voice and manner which speaks of a man desperately WANTING to change his ways, but not certain if he can really do so.
Another Nice Mess (1972)
See? I WASN'T Hallucinating!
Ever have the feeling that you are the only one in the world who saw something? And everywhere you look to verify what you saw, there's nothing? So it was for years with "Another Nice Mess". If I didn't already have plenty of other reasons to doubt my own sanity, trying to find anything on this little film would have been a BIG reason. Rich Little and Herb Voland (probably best remebered today as General Clayton in the early run of M*A*S*H) do Nixon and Agnew as Laurel and Hardy. Need we say a lot more? Probably not. But give it a look if you ever run across it. This one truly belongs in the "What were they thinking" Hall of Fame.
Ellery Queen (1975)
"Have you figured it out yet?"
And thus we approach the wrap-up for another Ellery Queen mystery. This direct audience involvement was just one of the great touches in this all-to-brief series. "You have all the clues..." Well - yes and no. For example, it might have helped to know that, in 1940's Manhattan, telephone numbers were 6 digits long, not the 7 digits we knew in the 70's, so the victim was REALLY dialing...(I won't give it away). OTOH, I had to stop reading TV Guide when I watched this show. This was back in the days when TV Guide had to stretch to fill pages, so they not only gave story synopses, they printed Guest Cast lists for network series. But unfortunately it seemed that The Killer was always listed first in the Guest Cast (or second if the victim was first.) And that was a clue that even dear Ellery lacked!
The Adder in America?
I only saw one or two episodes of this short-lived series, but based on what I saw, I must wonder if the producers intended an American version of the British series "Black Adder". Certainly there seem to be some parallels, especially with the third Black Adder series, set during the reign of Mad King George. The conniving and scheming Mr. Pfeiffer seems awfully much like Mr. Blackadder, while Pfeiffer's man Nibblet and Blackadder's man Baldric share much in common.
What they did not share, unfortunately, was a deeply embedded sense of wit. The buffoonery surrounding Pfeiffer was played far too broadly to remain funny for very long. The most effective clowns are generally those who do not seem to realize their own clownishness. Dann Florek (much better known for roles like that he played in Law and Order) seems to be playing buffoon to a mirror.
Nero Wolfe (1981)
Off the Mark - But at least it introduced me to Wolfe
I had never read any of the Nero Wolfe books before this series aired. I was drawn to it because I like William Conrad. How fortunate that I saw this and thus found the books!
After reading a number of the novels, I was struck by a couple of things:
First, the old brownstone was perfectly reproduced. Author Rex Stout made you feel you were really in that building when he wrote the novels, and the set designer followed suit.
Second, the casting was a mixed bag. Conrad was an acceptable, though obviously softened, Wolfe. The characterizations of Fritz and Horstman were very well done, if mostly background. But Lee Horsley was badly out of place as Archie, as were the choices for Saul Panzer and Inspector Cramer.
Several years later I saw the movie version with Thayer David and was very pleased. He would have been a letter perfect Wolfe.