Friday, February 02, 2007

The House Between: The Seance

Today we continue our countdown to the premiere of my dramatic, independently produced online sci-fi series, The House Between with another "sneak peek."

In this week's compiation clip from The House Between, we're introduced to the mysterious character named Theresa (played by Alicia A. Wood). We see (and hear...) Theresa in action as she conducts a seance with the other denizens trapped in the mysterious house.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TRADING CARD CLOSE-UP # 9: "Resistance is Futile"

For the seven years that Star Trek: The Next Generation aired in syndication, (1987-1994), I was an avid fan. I didn't always "like" the show (I grew tired of the endless Alexander and Lwaxana Troi and holodeck storylines, for instance...); but I watched religiously. This was Star Trek, after all.

For me (and, I suspect for many fans...) the series reached its apex at the tail end of the very strong third season, in the episode entitled "The Best of Both Worlds." Yes, this is the classic (and it is a classic...) two-parter that saw the long-awaited return of the Borg, the villainous race that had last been seen in the season two story, "Q-Who."

The episode "Best of Both Worlds" (Part One) was brilliant for a number of reasons. First, you had the return of what was clearly the ultimate bad-ass space villain (and there was as yet no silly "Borg Queen," which - truth be told - makes mince-meat of the "hive" Borg concept.) Secondly, you had great character fireworks with Commander Shelby coming aboard the Enterprise and threatening Riker's "safe" position as executive officer (he'd been offered a command of his own). And then you had that great scene with Captain Picard in Ten-Forward, pondering what could be the end of days for the human race with his friend, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).

And, oh yeah - there were cool special effects in the space battle between the Borg Cube and NCC-1701-D, and even a moment reflective of Star Trek history, as Picard hid his flagship in a nebula (shades of Wrath of Khan!!!).

But, of course, the best reason to laud "The Best of Both Worlds" is clear on the face of this very trading card, from the Star Trek: The Next Generation "Inaugural Edition" Collectors series (1992; Impel). It was that crazy cliffhanger ending, with Captain Picard abducted by the Borg and re-engineered to be their mouthpiece; Locutus.

I'll never forget chills -- the goose-bumps -- I felt as that half-Picard thing shambled forward, out of the darkness of the Borg ship, and came slowly into the light. A mockery of the human form. Transformed into something antithetical to the individuality we (and the Star Trek...) characters cherish. And his cold; so lifeless. And he spoke those great words too. "Resistance is futile." Of course, this became a catchphrase in the Trek universe; and rightly so. (Although you can also go back in time and hear identical words spoken by the ultimate Space:1999 "evil race," the Dorcons, from a 1977 episode written by Johnny Byrne...)

And then, of course, Riker gave the order to kill his captain, and we had to wait a very, very long summer to see how everything would turn out.

Was The Next Generation ever better or more compelling than in this episode? I don't think so. "The Best of Both Worlds" (Part I) got every detail and mood right. Hard to believe it came around seventeen years ago, that's for sure.

So today, enjoy this view of Captain Picard transformed into Locutus. It's card # 30 of this particular set. On the back, the card reads "Locutus: Borg Identity of Captain Picard."

The card legend also reads, in part: "After the first contact between the powerful Borg and the U.S.S. Enterprise halfway across the galaxy, the Borg came into Federation space looking for Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Their goal: to "absorb" the Captain into the collective Borg intelligence and use his knowledge to destroy Starfleet and enslave the human race..."

Monday, January 29, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Cave (2005)

Do you remember those funny signs at amusement parks that are perched at the entrances of the roller coasters? They show a little clown or other figure of fun, and note that if you are as tall as he is, you can ride the roller coaster. Yippee!

If you're not tall enough, it's back to the kiddie rides for you. Enjoy the teacups, all right?

For whatever reason, I was reminded of that all-important sign while I watched the generally atrocious subterranean horror movie, The Cave. I'll be blunt. If you're tall enough, if you can endure it, rent The Descent instead. It's my choice for the best horror film of 2006, and it will scare you to your horror-movie-loving core.

The Cave? Well, it's the equivalent of the kiddie ride version of The Descent.

This movie, directed by Bruce Hunt, begins in the Carpathian Mountains thirty years ago, as a team of thieves uncover a secret Templar church. All the iconography in the church, from the gargoyles to the relief on the tiled floor, show strange winged demons. You think this might be a warning to the interlopers. But it isn't.

Anyway, there's a CGI avalanche, and the thieves fall deep into a cave beneath the earth...

Flash forward to "now," as a team of generic, off-the-shelf characters embark on an expedition to explore a heretofore "virgin" underwater cave under the same Carpathian Mountains. We get a "lady scientist" (as they were once called, in 1970s movies...), some multi-ethnic cannon fodder, the helpful, loyal tough-guy African-American - here named Top - and two hunky brothers (Cole Hauser and Invasion's Eddie Cibrian...) who have some sort of deep sibling rivalry. That's so when they're not underwater, they have something to talk about.

The first several minutes of The Cave linger on exposition. I have to admit, I learned a lot. Do you know how many cave divers per year end up dead? One in fourteen. Do you know how long you can stay submerged with the film's high-tech re-breathers? Twenty-four hours. If this is sort of material is your cup of tea, you may just love The Cave.

If not, just settle in and let the wave of crap wash over you. A fun game to play while you're waiting for the next murder is to think about what movie The Cave is currently stealing from. There are a series of monster P.O.V. shots that are reminiscent of Predator (1987), but most dramatically, this film cribs the plot and characters of Pitch Black (2000). Now, Cole Hauser also starred in Pitch Black (as a strung-out junkie space marshal...) but he plays the tough-guy Vin Diesel/Riddick role here. He even gets "special vision" (like Riddick) while fighting the monsters, and protecting his team.

In a movie where the heroes are 2.4 miles inside a mountain, and one mile deep within the Earth, you'd think there might be some claustrophobia and tension (like in, say, The Descent...), but there's surprisingly little of that. The film is rated PG-13 for "intense creature violence," but there's not much intense anything here. I did get a case of the creepy-crawlies in one scene involving a cavern filled with scorpions. Grossly, they're crawling around at eye-level. Ick.

In The Cave, you end up seeing some nice aerial photography over the mountains, and there's some good, well-photographed sequences in the "closed" eco-system where a "primeval" life form thrives, but going back to my amusement park metaphor, the film is like a walking tour of the old Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Now you're on the rapids, now you're underwater, now you're on a mountainside, now you're on an ice shelf, and now you're in Hell. Movie hell, that is. Particularly after one of the most seriously wrong-headed and insulting final sting-in-the-tale/tail moments I've ever had the misfortune to watch.

There are so many diverse environments on display in The Cave it's more a geologic travelogue than a horror movie. And I had to ask myself: how do these people keep finding their way back to each other after they separate? It just never seems particularly plausible. The cave divers, perhaps (except that 1 in 14...), but the scientists and documentary filmmakers? How do they find their way around down there, in the dark, with swooping parasitic dragons picking them off?

I know this isn't nice, but I was rooting for the swooping parasitic dragons...