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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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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.

Enterprise Star Trek Enterprise, "Azati Prime" (****) by Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and Manny Coto
The best episode of Star Trek in years! The war with the Xindi gets serious. There have been several very good Star Trek episodes recently. Apparently the news that he is in danger of being fired is what Rick Berman needed to take his writers off the leash, and let slip the dogs of war. Star Trek fans owe Berman. The third season of the original Trek demonstrated what Star Trek is like when the person in charge does not care about the show. Star Trek has never been that bad since, and we have Berman to thank. But, if Rick Berman has kept Star Trek serious and more or less scientifically literate, he has also, in the last few years, kept it from breaking new ground. Now, just as we were all about ready to give up and let the franchise die, Star Trek is full of surprises again. Enterprise may still be cancelled after the current season, but at least it will go out with a bang, not a whimper.

Stargate SG-1 Stargate SG-1, "Inauguration" (**) by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie
I have tried to like Stargate SG-1, really I have. But I find the plots unimaginative, the characters wooden, and the attention to detail non-existent. In this episode, a new president of the United States is informed of the existence of the secret Stargate project, and we see some of the history of the Stargate in flashbacks to earlier episodes. What struck me most about the flashbacks was how repetitive and dull they were. The relationship between the President and VP is totally unbelievable. The President has some charm, but the VP couldn't get elected truant officer.

Robert Picardo has a minor role, and brings more life to his character than any of the regulars. I liked Don Davis in Twin Peaks and in The X-Files, but here he cannot triumph over leaden dialogue. Somebody must like Stargate SG-1.

The eighth season premieres July 9, followed by the premiere of Stargate Atlantis July 16. So, if you are a fan of Stargate, more power to you. (I was a Lost in Space fan, once upon a time.) But I cannot recommend it.

Smallville Smallville, "Resurrection" (***) by Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer
Pa Kent needs surgery and a disturbed young friend of Clark has a brother in the same hospital needing a transplant. Average episode of a great series.

Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital, "Thy Kingdom Come" (***) by Stephen King, based on a Danish miniseries by Thomas Gislason, Niels Vorsel, and Lars von Trier
This mini-series is in the genre of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. The idea is to get as many weird characters and bizarre events as possible into each episode. Making sense is not a priority. But the good guys are appealing, the bad guys hateful, and the script well written. In the pilot, a famous resident of Maine is run over by a truck. Didn't King read Michael O'Donoghue's "How to Write Good" in the National Lampoon? That's how you're supposed to end your story, not begin it. All Kingdom Hospital needs to earn that extra star is music by Angelo Badalamenti. In fact, if it stays on track, it may earn that extra star yet.

DVD Reviews

24 24, Season One (****)
When the series 24 was on the air, it wasn't worth watching -- commercial interruptions are suspense killers. Now that it is out on DVD, I recommend you rent it and watch one episode each night. The suspense is almost unbearable. The plot threads are all too familiar: assassins, office politics, kidnapping, amnesia, ruthless politicians, family conflicts, cold-blooded killers. But familiar elements are put together well, and the series effectively uses several inset images in a larger picture, done here before Hulk. Not that this was the first use of inset images -- that would be Grand Prix in 1966. You'll find yourself looking forward to every forty-five minute hour of 24.


Serenity by Joss Whedon
The Firefly movie seems to be a go. I like the name, but I fear the name. Let's crunch a few numbers. The Firefly DVD sold 200,000 copies. Those are very good numbers for an expensive DVD set. But the Firefly series had 4,000,000 viewers, and those are not very good numbers for television. And that means that 3,800,000 people watched the TV show but did not buy the DVD. The movie has a budget of $35,000,000. To make a profit, it needs at least $70,000,000 in ticket sales, which means about 10,000,000 tickets. So, for the movie to be a success, 6,000,000 people who did not watch the TV show need to go to the movie. How many people who are not already fans of Firefly will go to see a science fiction movie called Serenity?

On the other hand, here are some more hopeful numbers. About 100,000,000 people bought tickets to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In fact, all of the top nine box-office hits of 2003 were SF or fantasy. Even The Matrix films, which were considered flops, are both in the top nine. (The others are Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Bruce Almighty, X2: X-Men United, Elf, and Terminator 3 The Rise of the Machines.) So, if just ten percent of the people who went to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King go to Serenity, it will be a success. Even minor SF and fantasy films often do well. Hulk sold more tickets than Seabiscuit, Daredevil more than Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Holes more than Mona Lisa Smile. To be a success, Serenity needs to sell about as many tickets as Holes. With a killer trailer, it just may do it.

Copyright © 2004 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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