Star Trek: Discovery – Day 13 NaBloPoMo 2017

Star Trek: Discovery (2017-) CBS Television Studios. Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman.

As many of you are probably aware, I’m very much a movie person rather than television but in recent weeks I’ve become completely hooked on Star Trek: Discovery.

I’ve always loved science fiction and I’m old enough to remember the original when it first aired. Up until now, I’ve always thought of the Star Trek universe as reasonably vanilla but Discovery is a completely different beast. Characters are quite real, conflicted, have agendas outside of Starfleet, suffer very human maladies, like PTSD, and (despite all the standard space opera shenanigans) it has splashes of wry humour.

The cast are all excellent but Sonequa Martin-Green, Anthony Rapp and Jason Isaacs are absolute standouts and the scripts have been very solid.

I’ve just watched the first half of season one, apparently it will be resuming in January and it has been signed up for a second season. I can’t wait!

Let me know what you think and I’ll see you tomorrow 🙂

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Directed by Denis Villeneuve.

Okay. Let’s get it straight right from the start. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) is one of my all-time favourite films. I own multiple versions of it, watched documentaries and read books about it, studied it and written academic papers about it. So, I went in to see Blade Runner 2049 with the academic side of me harbouring some fairly hefty concerns and the rest of me full of fan-girl anticipation.

I came out floored. I wasn’t expecting it to be THAT good. I think this is a wonderful film and is true not only to Scott’s 1982 masterpiece but also to the original source material, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K Dick.

The screenplay by Hampton Fancher (one of the writers of Blade Runner) and Michael Green is terrific and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is simply beautiful. But I think the big technical gongs go to Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer for the soundtrack and Joe Walker for film editing.

Wallfisch and Zimmer breathe life into a score that evokes the memory of the Vangelis original but takes it in new and interesting directions, and Walker’s editing (particularly of the fight scenes) is simply sublime.

Though I loved him in Drive (2011) I was uncertain about Ryan Gosling but I shouldn’t have worried. Gosling is excellent as the LAPD Blade Runner. Similarly, Harrison Ford puts in one of his better performances, reprising his role as Rick Deckard and Robin Wright steals every scene she’s in – as always!

Villeneuve obviously loves the original film – it shows in so many ways. The framing and shot selection, lighting and colour palette all fit with and hark back to the original. There’s a thoughtful stillness at the core of this film that is lacking in so much of contemporary sci fi, and it talks (much like the original) about identity and what it is to be human. Blade Runner 2049 is a loving tribute but also a huge step forward in science fiction film. More like this please!

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) EuropaCorp Films, screenplay and directed by Luc Besson.

I’m a very forgiving film-goer. If a story is really good, or if a filmmaker has a particularly unique or ground-breaking vision I’m happy to buy into it. In short, I’d rather see films that are out of the ordinary and aren’t just playing it safe. Sadly, Luc Besson’s latest offering isn’t any of those things.

The source for this extravaganza are the much-loved and celebrated comic books by Jean-Claude Mezieres and Pierre Christin, which first appeared in the 1970’s and I confess I haven’t read them, though I plan to in coming weeks.

I should point out my allegiance from the outset. Lucy (2014) and Subway (1985) are interesting films I really enjoyed, and Leon: The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997) while both flawed movies remain firm personal favourites. But from the very start, there’s something not quite right about Valerian.

It opened very promisingly, with the wonderful set up of Alpha (and a much too brief cameo by Rutger Hauer). In the first act however, there’s a narrative misstep that set up a dissonance which jarred and stayed with me for the whole film. On the plus side, the visuals are sumptuous, the styling is really beautiful and the fight scenes (hand to hand and space battles) are well choreographed.

The second act lost its way badly, getting bogged down in an unnecessary subplot. This held up the action and made me focus more on the actors. While I admire Clive Owen, I feel he was only there for the pay check. Sam Spruell was much better as General Okto-Bar and both Herbie Hancock and Ethan Hawke were too briefly on screen.

With respect to casting, three things stand out in this film. Firstly, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are very pretty and have the right look for the film. As a property that’s developed from an existing visual source, that’s reasonably important. Secondly, they couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper bag and have zero on-screen chemistry. One of the many saving graces of The Fifth Element is the casting of some serious acting talent, in particular, established action star Bruce Willis, who carries the film on his back, with able assistance from Ian Holm and the always watchable Gary Oldman. Sadly, there is no heavyweight help here – they don’t have enough screen time to pull it out of the mire. Third and finally, while I’m no fan of her music, Rihanna is fabulous as Bubble, and I think it’s worth seeing this just for her scenes.

I think in many ways Valerian shows how far ahead of its time The Fifth Element was. Besson has admitted that the original comics influenced his earlier film greatly and there were framing moments, edits in action scenes, even sections of dialogue in Valerian that took me back to it. So I think I’ll watch The Fifth Element again.

In conclusion, it’s an okay popcorn flick, the two leads drag it down but it was worth paying to see it on the big screen just for the spectacle.