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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.

Nothing new on television, and so this column contains three short movie reviews.

The Dark is Rising (**) by John Hodge, based on the series of novels by Susan Cooper
The Dark is Rising We've been lucky. Until now, the movies based on fantasy classics have been good ones. It was only a matter of time, however, before someone picked up a fantasy classic who has no sympathy for fantasy, and whose only interest was in exploiting a popular trend. I've read the Susan Cooper books, really enjoyed the first one, found less and less to interest me as the series attempted a progressively more serious tone. The movie, based mostly on the second book, is fantasy by the numbers. Out young hero has a destiny. He is the seventh son of a seventh son, and must travel through time to find six magical items. So, he travels through time and finds an item. Then he travels through time again and finds another item. And so on.

The filmmakers are not without talent. The mundane scenes work best. There is one memorable moment involving a gum ball machine. But they have no talent for fantasy and, I suspect, not much interest in the genre.

Martian Child (**) by Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins, based on a story by David Gerrold
Martian Child This film is not fantasy or science fiction. Neither is the story upon which it is based. But the story won a Hugo Award for best science fiction, and so the movie merits a review.

The story was very good. The film is not really very bad, but it makes two major changes. First, it gives the story a Hollywood ending that is entirely out of place. Second, it changes the hero from gay to straight.

Now, the short story never mentions the main character's sexual orientation. It never comes up, and it would have been inappropriate to dwell on a character's sexuality, whether gay or straight, in a story about the relationship between a man and a child. There was no need to bring up sexuality any more than there was any reason for the Harry Potter books to bring up Dumbledore's sexuality. On the other hand, there was no need to emphasize, as the movie does, that the movie character is not gay. Cowardly filmmakers are unlikely to make great films.

Star Trek, The Menagerie (****) by Gene Roddenberry
Star Trek, The Menagerie So, how does the original Star Trek hold up on the big screen, with a rerecorded score and new special effects? Very well, thank you. The directing in the first half is a little weak. The action directing could be improved throughout. But the Bob Jefferies matte paintings are still beautiful, the acting holds up well, and the script is an order of magnitude more intelligent than most of the scripts in modern media SF.

For those who came in late, The Menagerie was the only two-part episode in the original Star Trek series, and incorporates about forty-five minutes of footage from the first Star Trek pilot, "The Cage," which featured Spock but not Kirk. "Too cerebral," the Paramount suits said, and so Roddenberry gave them "Where No Man Has Gone Before" by Sam Peeples, which also has a good script, but is more firmly in the action/adventure genre, Wagon Train to the stars.

The remastered print is wonderful. I have mixed feelings about the new special effects -- a little too much pink and purple, but lovingly done, and with no serious changes. In a way, the showing on the big screen is a commercial for the remastered DVDs. Still, I had a lot of fun watching it.

Copyright © 2007 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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