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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Short Reviews
Other Babylon 5.1 Columns
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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.


Farscape Farscape, "John Quixote" (**) by Ben Browder
Crichton plays a virtual reality game.

I really want to like Farscape. I do. It reminds me of Pigs in Space. I love muppets. Yoda is a muppet. If Crichton were played by Kermet, I'd probably like Farscape. But the writers seem to think that the way you write television is to string together borrowed ideas with no particular regard to whether they fit together or not. In this episode, we get a little Max Headroom, a little Hitchhiker's Guide, and then, just for a touch of class, a little Quills. And so it goes. It doesn't help that the action direction, costumes, and special effects are on the level of Dr. Who. Of course, Buffy has the same problem with fights and make-up. But Buffy has appealing characters. As best I can tell, Crichton has no hobbies, desires, or interests to distinguish him from dozens of other heroes who share his age, gender, social class, sexual orientation, and boyish good looks.


Lilo and Stitch Lilo and Stitch (***) by Chris Sanders
Lilo and Stitch is much better than the last few wretched Disney animated features. (Atlantis was so bad it convinced me that I really didn't need to have every Disney animated feature on DVD, which also saves me from wasting money on Oliver and Company.) Lilo and Stitch is smart, fast, fun, and funny. The characters are appealing, even the villains, and the two plots come together nicely at the end in a way I didn't expect.

Reign of Fire Reign of Fire (***) by Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka, and Matt Greenberg
"Reign of Fire kicks ass!" a good friend of mine said. I wouldn't go quite that far. Like all B SF movies, it only has enough budget for about eight minutes of dragons, and has trouble filling up the rest of the hour and a half. It doesn't make sense, but then, it's not supposed to. It is kinda fun, and there are a few good lines.

     New to DVD

The first season of Babylon 5 is finally coming out on DVD. Lets hope enough people buy it so, unlike the VHS, they are able to complete the series.

It Came From Outer Space It Came From Outer Space (**) by Harry Essex from a story by Ray Bradbury
You really don't have to see It Came From Outer Space. It's about equal parts charm and cheese. I dearly love 50s science fiction. I even did a column on the subject. But there was no really great SF on film during the 40s and 50s. The first really great SF films were the three that Stanley Kubrick directed (1964 -- 1971) and the original Star Trek (1966 -- 69). I am glad to have this film on DVD. If you have any interest in 50s SF, you remember the eerie music, which in the years before Twilight Zone served to identify anything you hummed it at as that crazy science fiction stuff. This is the one about the "meteor" that crashes in the Arizona desert.

Silent Running Silent Running (**) by Deric Washburn & Mike Cimino and Steve Bochco from an uncredited treatment by Douglas Trumbull
Silent Running is beautiful, innovative, and dumb. Of course, human beings do dumb things all the time -- the current and ongoing destruction of the rain forest is almost as dumb as the destruction of the space forests in this movie. But to be as dumb as this film, we would have to start nuking the rain forests. That dumb I think we're not.

After the three Kubrick SF films and the original Star Trek, there was another long dry spell for film science fiction, six years with nothing really first rate -- the best those six years had to offer were a couple of SF comedies: Sleeper and Dark Star. Then, in 1977, came Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and we have had almost non-stop great SF cinema ever since.

With passable film SF so rare, Silent Running was welcome for its special effects. Except for 2001, which Douglas Trumbull also worked on, it has the best pre-Star Wars special effects -- lots of beautiful machinery. It is also memorable for the Joan Baez soundtrack, for the cute robots, and for Bruce Dern's remarkable performance. The film looks expensive. It was not until I watched the DVD extras that I discovered that the entire film had a budget of only one million dollars. It is still a pretty film to watch. But the dumbness is unforgivable.

Legend (****) by William Hjortsberg, director's cut by Ridley Scott
As rare as really good SF films were before Star Wars, really good fantasy films were even rarer. Not counting animated features, there was The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Thief of Bagdad (1940), The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1952), Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959), and Dragonslayer (1981). That comes to less than one first rate high fantasy film per decade. Then, in the late eighties, in one five year period we had five interesting fantasy films: Dark Crystal, Legend, Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, and Willow. After Willow flopped, we had to wait another ten years before the next good high fantasy: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Legend is almost as good as The Princess Bride, but we didn't know it. Just as the studio had taken Blade Runner away from Ridley Scott four years earlier, to tack on voice over narration and a happy ending, they foisted on Legend a forgettable rock soundtrack, a few inappropriate passionate kisses between Jack and Lili, almost thirty minutes of cuts, which made hash of the plot, and a final moment in which, as was conventional at the time, Darkness had the last laugh.

The restored version is one of the most beautiful films ever made. The Jerry Goldsmith score is a treasure. The expanded version may be just a hair too long -- DVDs tend to use all the available footage -- but is much more enthralling than the short version (also included on this two DVD set).

Even if you didn't enjoy Legend when it first came out (I didn't) the Director's Cut is definitely worth a look.

Copyright © 2002 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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