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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Dark Angel (***)
written by James Cameron and Charles Eglee
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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.

Dark Angel Good, but not good enough.

Time is all you've got. You may think you have other stuff, but when your time runs out, all that other stuff goes away. I spent two hours on Dark Angel. What I got was 36 minutes of commercials and 84 minutes of story including about 76 minutes of characters swapping dialogue that would have been hip ten years ago and about 8 minutes of action. Not a good enough return for the two hours I spent.

Action is expensive. The fifteen mil this two-hour episode cost only bought about 8 minutes of action. James Cameron only has writer credit, but he may have directed a minute or two that has a distinctive look. That's not good enough. When I stood in line for two hours to watch Terminator 3D, I definitely felt like I got my money's worth. Not so with Dark Angel -- and I didn't even have to wait in line.

Dark Angel is set in a dystopian future. This serves two purposes. First, since the cops and the government are totally corrupt -- obviously we elected Bush -- you need a superhero to save your ass. But even more important, nothing has changed in twenty years, so they can use present day sets and need not spend any money making the future look futuristic. And because of the general depression, teens in the year 2019 will speak exactly the same slang teens spoke in 1990. This makes writing dialogue easier. But if you want to hear how future teen slang should be written, oh my brothers and oh my sisters, then viddy a horrorshow filckety flic called A Clockwork Orange.

Max is a female teenage superhero. Because her inaction causes the death of her Uncle Ben, she realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, and starts fighting evil and stuff. Well, actually it isn't her Uncle Ben, it's her next door neighbour. But you get the idea. She is also trying to uncover the secret of her past.

My favourite character is a Rastafarian Deliverator in a bit part more memorable than the foreground plot.

Star Trek Voyager, "Unimatrix Zero" (**)
written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky from a story by Michael Sussman

Star Trek: Voyager It is still Star Trek, which means it is more complex, more intelligent, and has more interesting characters than any other SF on TV (now that B5 is gone).

That said, the season premiere has all the usual faults: not enough plot, not enough action, flat or forced characterization. To which I add a new complaint: obviously reused special effects. That same Borg cube is moving in the same way across the background of the Borg Queen's Hive on at least two separate occasions.

I'm a big fan of Disney animation, but there was a period between Walt's death and The Little Mermaid where the studio really began to cut corners. One way they cut corners was to reuse the same animation. (Watch the snake in The Jungle Book, for example.) Evidently filmmakers think audiences won't notice reused footage. This only shows how out of touch with their audience they are. The human eye is very sensitive to repetition, and reused footage always strikes a false note.

Now, I don't really mind when television Star Trek reuses a shot from one of the movies, as long as they don't overdo it. But to use the same made-for-TV special effects shot twice in the same episode is a bad mistake.

Another problem with this story is Brannon Braga's usual inability or unwillingness to distinguish between image and reality. It seems clear that Unimatrix Zero is a shared fantasy with no physical component at all. And yet the plan to defeat the Borg involves spreading a nano-virus by way of Unimatrix Zero. I can see spreading a computer virus that way, since a computer virus is pure information. But a nano-virus? "Nano" implies a microscopic physical component, which could not be spread by a shared fantasy.

Brannon Braga is a good writer, but he's no Joe Straczynksi, and it is a mistake for Rick Berman to turn over so much of the Star Trek universe to him. Berman needs to bring back writers such as Hans Beimler, Ira Steven Behr, and especially Ron Moore. The biggest reason Deep Space Nine was so much better than Voyager is this. When the Moore and Braga team split up, Moore went to DS9 and Braga went with Voyager.

Copyright © 2000 by 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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