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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Enterprise, "Broken Bow" (** tv version, *** DVD version forthcoming)
by Rick Berman and Brannon Bragga, 82 minutes
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Ratings
Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Enterprise

I was excited by the prospect of watching Enterprise, the new Star Trek series. The excitement did not survive the experience.

The reviews were good. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+. But I think mundane reviewers are afraid to give Trek an honest review -- the magazines they work for want all those trekie entertainment dollars. Or maybe it is just a matter of hope mingled with nostalgia -- the reaction that generates rave reviews for mediocre Disney animated features such as The Emperor's New Groove. Or maybe it was just that the reviewers saw a version of "Broken Bow" that was not interrupted by commercials, because the medium was a large part of the message last Wednesday night.

To enjoy reading, you must not be aware that you are reading. Unless you are lost in the story, reading is a chore, as it is for most people, who have never learned to loose themselves in books. In the same way, nothing kills the enjoyment of a film more than suddenly becoming aware that you are sitting in a dark place watching images on a screen.

Television, because of the commercials, is always a compromise. Most people watch television not with any prospect of happiness, but only to dull the pain of everyday life. Since my everyday life is pretty happy, thank you, I do not watch television as a mere distraction. Up to now, when I do watch television, I have found a way to drift through the commercials without loosing the thread of the story. It was easy in the original Trek, with 8 minutes of commercials. It was relatively painless in the Next Generation, with 15 minutes of commercials. It was marginally possible in the last season of Voyager, with 17 minutes of commercials. It proved impossible during Enterprise, with 19 minutes of commercials for every 41 minutes of story. I would get bored, get up and do something else for a while, come back to click pause off at the right moment, and spend a minutes or so getting back into what was happening on the screen. About the time I was beginning to loose myself in the story, it was time for the next flock of commercials.

The awful quality of the satellite feed didn't help. It went from light to dark to light again and actually broke down at one point.

And the fact that television signals cannot yet shake hands with my new wide-screen high-definition television meant that the letterboxing was largely wasted. On the full screen setting, the black bands were still there. The picture was stretched when it should have been enlarged.

But the medium was not the only problem.

I like sex and violence as much as anybody, but television is never going to compete with films in either department. What television can offer -- what Star Trek has offered -- is ideas. Ideas are anathema to big-box-office blockbuster films. Good television can sneak them in under the viewers' radar -- which is why The West Wing is so much smarter than anything Hollywood has done recently on the subject of politics.

What "Broken Arrow" really lacked was new ideas. We saw the corn field in The X-Files, the strobe lights in Alien, the ship leaving dry dock in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the slo-mo effects in The Matrix.

And T'Pol changes her mind too easily. A Vulcan should be made of sterner stuff. The only crewman who made any impression on me at all was the alien doctor. I like his smile.

Don't misunderstand me. "Broken Bow" wasn't bad, by any means. The production values and special effects, especially the matte paintings, were good. But I was hoping for more. Not bad is not good enough.

I will continue to watch Enterprise, but I have a feeling that The West Wing, which follows it at nine, is going to make the new Star Trek look like pretty weak tea.

What to watch in October:

Tuesday, October 2
Buffy "Bargaining" (season premiere)

Wednesday, October 3
Enterprise "Fight or Flight" by Rick Berman and Brannon Bragga

Wednesday, October 10
Enterprise "Strange New World"

Tuesday, October 16
Smallville "The Pilot" by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

Tuesday, October 23
Smallville "Metamorphosis" by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

Tuesday, October 30
Smallville "Jitters" by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld

The buzz on both Buffy and Smallville is good.

Copyright © 2001 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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