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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.

The new Smallville episode in January is on Thursday, January 31.

Sunshine (***) by Alex Garland
Sunshine Sunshine is certainly worth renting on DVD. Alex Garland got a million dollars for his script for Halo, which he gets to keep even if the film is never made. Sunshine is the first new science fiction film set off Earth in the future since Serenity, and the first in even longer that isn't based on a franchise. Like Serenity it has a title that does not sound like science fiction, which probably cost it dearly at the box office. If they had called it something hokey like "Journey to the Sun," it might have made more money. The acting, script, and special effects are excellent. The only thing it lacks is originality.

So many of the plot twists are familiar that there are several scenes where Sunshine deliberately pokes fun at its own use of tropes from other SF films. For example, in the first scene, the human being talks like Hal 9000 while the computer talks like Majel Barrett.

The movie tries to be "hard" science fiction; they even hired a scientist, Dr. Brian Cox, to add a little scientific verisimilitude to the script… after it was written. In a commentary track, you can hear him struggling with necessary compromises. Evidently, zero gravity costs, and so we get unexplained gravity inside the spaceship (or, if you count one deleted scene, badly explained gravity). The deleted scenes suggest another, longer, and maybe better movie, but it was probably a good commercial move to quickly cut to the chase. Or, rather, it would have been a good commercial move if more multiplexes had actually screened the film. Maybe the DVD will put the film in the black. If not, and if the new Star Trek film also tanks, you can write off SF films for another decade.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (***) by Josh Friedman, from characters created by James Cameron, swiped from characters created by Harlan Ellison for the Outer Limits episode Soldier
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Note that one of the characters in the TV series is named Cameron and another is named Ellison. Josh Friedman wrote Steven Spielberg's The War of the Worlds film.

Terminator is earthbound, present day, action SF television. The action is surprisingly good. Television can't compete with movies when it comes to splashy special effects. Remember the fire engine sequence in Terminator 3? Of course you do. But a good director can deliver effective fight scenes on a budget, and in David Nutter, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has a good director.

You need a tree diagram to chronicle the Terminator saga. It begins with The Terminator, followed by Terminator 2, followed by Terminator 3D. Then things get complicated. The time lines branch. On one branch is Terminator 3. On a different branch is Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. (Then there are a whole lot of itty bitty branches in Frank Miller's comic book series Terminator vs. Robocop.) And then we have Terminator Salvation, coming to theaters Summer 2009. Which branch that movie will be on remains to be seen.

The Terminator TV series offers a number of pleasant surprises, the nicest of which is the casting of Summer Glau as a Terminator. The script is intelligent. The writer sets you up for a cliché, and then delivers an unexpected twist. There is more characterization than you'd expect in a Terminator story, and the complex plot is just beginning to unfold.

See it Mondays at nine.

Copyright © 2008 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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