The Great Canadian Guide to the Movies (& TV) Presents...


 

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Sample: Title; rating (out of 4); principal setting; year of release; international co-producer (if any); cast; description; scriptwriter; director; content warning; running time.

THE SQUAMISH FIVE * * * 1/2  setting: B.C.
(1988) Michael McManus, Robyn Stevan, Nicky Guadagni, David McLeod, Albert Schultz, Kim Renders, Trisha Lamie.....True story of a borderline activist (Stevan) who becomes involved with "urban guerillas" called Direct Action, and their increasingly dangerous activities. Very effective, non-partisan made-for-CBC TV docudrama about idealists gone bad. It annoyed both the Left and the Right when first released. Strong performances. It received the Best Movie/Special Gemini. sc: Ken Gass with Terence McKenna. dir: Paul Donovan. - casual male nudity.- app. 100 min.

STAKE YOUR CLAIM see The Adventures of Smoke Belliou

STALKED  * *
(1994) Maryam D'Abo, Jay Underwood, Tod Fennell, Lisa Blount, Karen Robinson, Robert Morelli, Vlasta Vrana, Vivian Reis, Alex Karzis, Tom Rack.....Psychotic young man (Underwood) -- with the obligatory domineering mum -- becomes obsessively fixated on a restauranteur and single mom (D'Abo). Competently done suspenser, and Underwood (imported along with D'Abo) is pretty good, but the problem with these films is: once you've heard the premise, you've seen the movie. The scenes, motivation, etc. are extremely formulaic. Still, if that sounds like fun, this is slightly better than director Jackson and Allegro films' previous riffs on the subject (Deadbolt and The Paperboy). sc: Craig Hamann, Mark Even Schwartz (story Pierre David, Cyndi Pass). dir: Douglas Jackson. - partial female nudity, violence.- 95 min.

THE STALKING OF LAURIE SHOW  * * 1/2  setting: USA.
(2000) (/U.S.) Jennifer Finnigan, Marnette Patterson, Mary-Margaret Humes, Rel Hunt, Jessica Greco, Joanne Vannicola, Richard Fitzpatrick, Polly Shannon.....True story of a Pennsylvania teen-ager (Finnigan) who gets on the wrong side of the local prom queen (Patterson) and her friends -- a prom queen who happens to be psychotic and starts harassing and threatening her. Made- for-TV true dramatization, like a lot of "shocking, true story" movies can, at times, seem a bit like watching a train wreck for 90 minutes. Brisk and arguably well-intentioned, and draws attention to a little commented upon aspect of teen violence -- girls attacking girls -- but there's a broadness to the presentation and the performances (the bad guys seem like creepy bad guys right from the beginning) that makes it more like a youth-aimed "After School Special" from Hell. But maybe that's the filmmakers' target audience. One of the executive producers was American talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael, which, depending on your attitude toward such afternoon talk shows, will either enhance the movie's credibility, or undermine it. sc: Jennifer Salt. dir: Norma Bailey. 89 min.

STAR RUNNER  * * *  setting: other
(1990) (/New Zealand) Andrew Thurtell, Alison Bruce, Miranda de Pencier, Lawrence Dane, Martyn Sanderson, Angeline Neville.....Young man (Thurtell) with a troubled past, gets a job at a harness racing stable in New Zealand where he gets caught in the middle of mystery and his boss' (Bruce) own secret past. Entertaining suspense film is one of those rare family films that actually is interesting enough for adults to watch...even on their own. Though, obviously, it's not science fiction like the title implies. Edited together from the 8 half-hour episodes of a mini- series. sc: Kan Catran (story Richard Carpenter, Ken Catran). dir: Peter Sharp. 97 min.

STAR RUNNER (TVMS) see Star Runner (movie)

STARBUCK  * * * 1/2  setting: PQ.
(2011) Patrick Huard, Julie Le Breton, Antoine Bertrand, Dominic Philie, Marc Bélanger, Igor Ovadis, David Michaël, Patrick Martin, Divid Giguère, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse.....Shiftless, middle-aged man (Huard) discovers the sperm he sold to a fertility clinic 20 years ago resulted in hundreds of children who are now seeking a court injunction to discover his identity -- and though initially horrified, he also begins to anonymously look in on their disparate lives. At first glance, the premise can sound a bit like a sophomoric vehicle for a "Saturday Night Live" alumni. But the result is actually slick, good-looking, and very funny...and also surprisingly clever, sweet, thoughtful, and even touching, with a few phases to the narrative so that it's not just running over the same ground for the whole movie. Well acted, with some well drawn supporting roles (including Bertrand very funny as his lawyer), and anchored by Huard's involving performance that is both deftly comic, and emotionally nuanced. In French. sc: Ken Scott, Martin Petit. dir: Ken Scott. - sexual content; brief female nudity.- 109 min.

STARDOM  * 1/2  setting: CDN./other/USA.
(2000) (/France) Jessica Pare, Dan Aykroyd, Charles Berling, Robert LePage, Thomas Gibson, Frank Langella, Camilla Rutherford, Victoria Snow, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, Joanne Vannicola.....The rise of a young Canadian woman (Pare) who becomes a model and an international celebrity, told largely (though not entirely) through the media (that is, talk shows, documentary clips, etc.). Denys Arcand's second English language feature is a good-looking satirical comedy-drama -- and almost a complete misfire. The media, and super models, are hardly an unusual topic for satire, but Arcand attacks without subtlety, rendering it neither funny, nor convincing. And when he tries to get serious toward the end, it doesn't work emotionally. Nor does he really give the thing enough of a narrative thread to make it more than a collection of scenes. The characters are largely annoying (they're supposed to be) and Arcand's attitude towards his subjects seems to range from contempt to condescension, rendering the whole affair cold and unpleasant. Ironically, in making a movie satirizing shallow superficiality, and the dehumanizing effect of stardom, Arcand has made a largely shallow, superficial movie, thin on humanity. Ultimately, the basic ideas (including the technique of telling the story through the media) could've been interesting, but there's a feeling Arcand's ambition outstripped his abilities. Put another way, it's like he set out to emulate American filmmaker Robert Altman...and ended up emulating a bad Robert Altman film (though he can take comfort from the fact that Altman's own fashion industry satire, "Ready to Wear", was also poorly received). Still, the movie's constant reminder of its Canadianess (like a running gag of people mis-identifying Pare's character as American, or Langella as a Canadian ambassador) gives it some freshness. sc: Denys Arcand, J. Jacob Potashnik. dir: Denys Arcand. - brief female nudity.- 102 min.
 
 
STARGATE: ATLANTIS (TV Series)

(2004-2009) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2  Joe Flanigan ("Major John Sheppard"), Tori Higginson ("Dr. Elizabeth Weir") (-6th), David Hewlett ("Dr. Rodney McKay"), Amanda Tapping ("Samantha Carter") (3rd-), Rachel Luttrell ("Teyla Emmagen"), Rainbow Sun Francks ("Lt. Aiden Ford") (-2nd), Paul McGillion ("Dr. Beckett"), Jason Momoa ("Roron Dex") (2nd-), with Robert Thurston, Craig Veroni, Mitch Pileggi, Jewel Staite.....Science fiction, spun off from the successful Stargate: SG1, about a multinational earth team that takes a potentially one way trip to a distant galaxy that had once been colonized, aeons ago, by the same vanished people as founded the mythical city of Atlantis. There they set up base in a deserted, high tech city, and explore the surrounding solar systems and civilizations using stargates, as well as encountering the malevolent Wraiths -- creatures that feed off the bio-energy of other beings and who prey on many of the planets in the area. By the second season (the producers presumably feeling the "lost in space" premise was too restrictive) the characters had re-established contact -- and even transportation -- with earth. Flanagan plays the easy going military leader; Higginson the overall head of the project; Hewlett the brilliant but obnoxious chief scientist; Luttrell a warrior woman native to the galaxy; Francks a junior soldier; and McGillion the team's medical doctor. Momoa joined in the second season as an alien warrior who was skilled at fighting Wraiths. Higginson's part was phased out, essentially replaced by Tapping, whose character was brought over from Stargate: SG1. Others play various scientists, save Pileggi who had a recurring part in the second season as the captain of an earth star ship. Of the main cast, Flanagan is American (as well as Momoa and Pileggi in the 2nd season), everyone else is Canadian. 

When this spin-off premiered in the US on the Sci-Fi Channel, it apparently garnered the highest ratings ever for a new series on that station. Admittedly, it's not an especially innovative spin-off (earth team uses stargates to visit alien worlds, all the while involved in a battle with an ancient, remorseless species who has been preying on said worlds for generations -- even many of the characters here parallel the character-types from Stargate: SG1). With that being said, the characters are more colourful versions of the ones in the original series, and the setting in an alien, unfathomable city is more snazzy. Briskly paced, with a lot of wit and wisecracks to supplement the drama and action, it can be entertaining, though the humour can, ultimately, undermine the seriousness at times. You can enjoy the series more than become involved in it. As well, the plots tend to be serviceable but lacking much that makes you say, "Wow, what a good story". And, like so many modern series, tend to be bogged down in their recurring concepts (Oh, look -- it's yet another Wraith!) The series also suffers from too much pointless bickering between hyper-macho characters and some ethical problems, with an unfortunate fascist streak, the characters tending to settle disagreements by chain-of-command orders rather than discussion. I mean, isolated at the far end of the universe, the colony seems to have no arbitration mechanism, no avenue of appeal. But if you don't take it too seriously (and, unfortunately, it wants to be taken seriously) it can be an okay, briskly-paced watch. 

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the show is that Hewlett's character is actually supposed to be Canadian (including saying "zed" instead of "zee"). Although Canadians have made many of these big budget sci-fi shows (from Andromeda to Earth: Final Conflict to StarGate: SG1 itself) with predominantly Canadian casts, never before has a regular character been identified as Canadian -- let alone a flamboyant, key character (hhe's essentially a prickly version of Mr. Spock and is the guy who, more often than not, comes up with the solution). It was always claimed that to have any Canadian reference in such shows would turn off the audience...yet this series earned the highest ratings to that point for an original series on the Sci-Fi Channel! Of course, most of the characters are still supposed to be American...though, interestingly, far and away the most sympathetic and likeable character is McGillon's Scottish doctor. Jessica Steen played Higginson's role when the character was first introduced in a couple of episodes of StarGate: SG1 (Steen apparently was uninterested in returning for a weekly series). Created by Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper. Hour long episodes, shown in Canada on The Movie Network, then Space. 


 

STARGATE SG-1 (TV Series)

(1997-2007) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2  Richard Dean Anderson ("Col. Jonathan 'Jack' O'Neil") (-8th), Ben Browder ("Lt.Col. Cameron Mitchell") (9th-), Michael Shanks ("Dr. Daniel Jackson") (-5th, 7th-), Amanda Tapping ("Maj. Dr. Samantha Carter"), Christopher Judge ("Teal'c"), Don S. Davis ("Gen. Hammond") (-7th), Corin Nemec ("Jason Quinn") (6th), Beau Bridges ("Maj.Gen. Hank Landry") (9th-), with Teryl Rothery ("Dr. Frasier"), Peter Williams, Claudia Black ("Vala Malduran") (9th-), Lexa Doig ("Dr. Carolyn Lam") (9th-), others.....Science fiction about a U.S. military team using alien Stargates to explore distant worlds. The background: thousands of years ago, a nasty alien race of parasites, the Ga'ouls, took humans from earth and seeded them throughout the galaxy as slave labour using teleportation portals (left by an unknown civilization). Now: our heroes encounter both descendants of those transplanted people, as well as occasional aliens, not to mention the Ga'ouls themselves (who had kidnapped people close to both the lead characters). American Anderson played the easy-going leader of SG-1 (there were other teams: SG-2, SG-3, etc.); Shanks the civilian anthropologist; Tapping a doctor; Judge an alien who turned upon his Ga'oul masters, though still carried one inside him; and Davis the project head. Rothery cropped up from time to time as the base doctor and Williams as one of the evil Ga'ouls (in a thankless part). Shanks left at the end of the fifth season, apparently feeling that his role -- initially a co-lead -- had been downgraded over the years, but he returned a season later. American actor Nemec joined the cast briefly in its sixth season, as another alien character. Davis left next, allowing Anderson to take a less central role by assuming his position, before eventually leaving too. Then American Browder was brought in, jumped into top billing (over the Canadian regulars) as the new team leader while American Bridges was added as the project superviser. Australian Black joined as another alien ally (Browder and Black had previously co-starred in another sci-fi series: "Farscape") and Doix (another sci-fi veteran with a connection to the cast -- she starred in Andromeda and is married to Michael Shanks) as a base doctor. Most of the cast (aside from those identified otherwise) is Canadian. 

Most big-budget, Canadian filmed fantasy/SF series are set in the States, with an American lead actor, and often based on American movies or premises: and if it's not too much of a backhanded compliment, this amazingly enduring series, based on a 1994 U.S. film, is one of the better ones. Not brilliant, with plots that can be a little bland and thin, and despite an overall gloss it seems suspiciously budget-conscious: housebound, often with much of the action taking place back at the base, or in restricted alien environs. A common circumstance of TV SF ("Star Trek", etc.) it's true, but Stargate seems, at times, unsure how to tell a meaty story under such conditions. But initially it could be pleasantly enjoyable and, despite the military milieu, (usually) eschewed martial machismo for likeable, level-headed, characters and, despite the shoot-'em-up antics of the original movie, and the pilot, there was more of "Star Trek" than "Star Wars" in the regular series. The cast is appealing, particularly Anderson (no stranger to Vancouver having filmed much of his "MacGyver" series there) and Shanks (more than a little reminiscent of James Spader, the actor from the movie), and the series benefits from a willingness to indulge in quirky humour ...initially without undermining the drama of the scenes. Unfortunately, later seasons developed a case of the cutes and the tongue-in-cheek humour sometimes undermined the drama. As well, as the seasons went along, the series seemed to get more and more mired in its own mythos and on-going story arcs, making it hard to just drop in on an episode from time to time. Yet, despite its inarguable longevity, it remained an "okay" effort rather than a true artistic milestone. The series has proven itself the "Little-Sci-fi-Show-That-Could" becoming the longest running (North American) science fiction series, and eventually spawning a number of spin-offs, including Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate: Universe and even a short-lived, youth-aimed animated series and, once StarGate: SG1 was over...it spawned a few TV/DVD movies with the cast. 

Though many of the actors were Canadian, all the characters they played were supposed to be American (or aliens), yet the team's base was NORAD headquarters, a joint Canada-U.S. organization. In other words, it would've been perfectly justifiable to have included some Canadian characters. Ironically, in the spin-off novel, Stargate SG1: The First Amendment (by an American novelist), NORAD's bi-national identity was acknowledged more than in any episode of this Canadian-filmed series! Most episodes feature at least one imported American actor as guest star. Developed for TV by Brad Wright & Jonathan Glassner. The series was made, primarily, for a U.S. cable station, but shown in Canada only on regular TV, meaning some of the episodes shown in Canada were edited for content (dag blast it!). Hour long episodes, shown in syndication.

STARGATE SG-1: The Children of the Gods  * * 1/2  setting: USA
(1997) (/U.S.) Richard Dean Anderson, Michael Shanks, Amanda Tapping, Christopher D. Judge, Don S. Davis, Jay Acovone, Robert Wisden, Peter Williams.....When aliens attack a U.S. army base using a secret, and believed inactive, interstellar transporter, the only people who had previously used the Gate are reunited to discover where the attackers are from...and to stop them. Professionaly mounted, well-acted SF action pic is both a pilot for the TV series...and a direct sequel to the U.S. movie "Stargate"; the latter means that, though you don't need to have seen the original, it'd help (and the story contains spoilers if you ever intended to) and the former means that it ends with a few loose ends intended to lead into the series. Enjoyable, but this is intended less as "Star Trek" than "Star Wars", and as such, the filmmakers need to familiarize themselves with Edgar Rice Burroughs, "Flash Gordon" and others who knew how to write swashbucklers, because it's frustratingly thin on twists and clever cliffhangars. Made for a U.S. cable station, this contains some nudity, though the version shown on on commercial TV has been edited for content slightly from the U.S. version. sc: Brad Wright, Jonathan Glassner. dir: Mario Azzopardi. - partial female nudity, violence.- 89 min.
 
 
STARGATE: UNIVERSE (TV Series)

(2009-2011) (/U.S.)  * * 1/2  Robert Carlye ("Dr. Nicholas Rush"), Louis Ferreira a.k.a. Justin Louis ("Col. Everett Young"), Brian J. Smith ("Lt. Scott"), Elyse Levesque ("Chloe"), David Blue ("Eli Wallace"), Alaina Huffman ("Medic Tamara 'TJ' Johanson"), Jamil Walker Smith ("Sgt. Greer"), Peter Kelamis ("Brody"), Patrick Gilmore ("Voker"), Ming-Na ("Camille Wray"), others, with Lou Diamond Phillips, Ona Grauer, Richard Dean Anderson.....Science fiction about a group of soldiers and scientific personnel who find themselves inadvertently stranded on a millennia old derelict space ship, Destiny, travelling through distant galaxies. So they must learn to survive, and understand their vessel, and with the ability to do local teleportations to worlds they pass...as well as having an ability to communicate with earth using crystals that allow them to temporarily exchange bodies with someone on earth. Carlyle plays the brilliant scientist...but whose motives and agenda weren't entirely trustworthy; Ferreria the pensive military commander essentially in charge; Blue the brilliant college student caught between then; the rest a mix of soldiers, scientists, and politicos stranded on the ship. On earth (and still able to interact with the characters thanks to the communication crystals) were Phillips, as a colonel hostile to "Young"; Gauer as "Young"'s estranged wife; and others. Anderson cropped up occasionally, reprising his role from the original Stargate series. The cast was a mix of American, Canadian, and (in the case of Carlyle) Scottish actors...indeeed, it featured the highest ratio of non-Canadian actors of any of the StarGate series -- and no one seemed to play Canadians (despite there being a high profile Canadian character in the previous series, StarGate: Atlantis).

This TV series was the third live action series in the remarkably enduring StarGate franchise (that began with the Hollywood motion picture). Although this time with a clear stylistic shift from the two earlier series (SG-1 and Atlantis -- both reviewed above). While the first two StarGates had a similar visual look, tone, and even character dynamics and narrative themes, SG-U clearly borrowed its tone and style from the then-critically acclaimed revival of "Battlestar Galactica", going for a darker, more sombre tone, and aping the use of hand held cameras, find-the-subject zooms, and sweaty, angst-riddled characters wandering dark corridors. Though the problem with that is less the borrowing a style from another series (that's how drama evolves, as everyone borrows from what went before -- BSG being, itself, a revival of a 1970s series!) so much as it could be argued that it then applied that style to a similar premise -- like BSG it's less about "Star Trek" like adventures and allegories, and more about simple survival...refugees dealing with dwindling supplies, or needing to restock water, etc. (despite being on this ancient ship...most episodes weren't about the ineffable awe of being in this enigmatic environment). Even some character dynamics were arguably similar to the revived BSG, with Ferreira and Carlyle evoking Adama and Baltar (maybe with Ng as President Roslin!) With that said, the old StarGate style of slightly broader, comic book-y tone was still in evident, notably with Blue wandering around making quips like Matthew Broderick circa the 1980s! Carlyle's character could equally be likened to a darker version of "Rodney" from Atlantis and, of course, the initial premise of characters stranded in a distant galaxy was a recycling of the initial premise of StarGate: Atlantis. Still, it was a slick, well acted series all around, with Ferreira arguably the stand out. Of course, like the previous StarGate series -- and a lot of SF series -- there was a decided fascist streak underlining the series, a pro-soldier (and benevolent dictatorship) and anti-civilian (and anti-democracy) undercurrent. Y'know, one day someone needs to make a science fiction series that doesn't seem to envision the only reasonable future as one in the armed services!

And maybe that was SG-U's weakness. Despite being a perfectly decent series, expensive-looking and well mounted, and -- yes -- arguably the most "adult", it proved the shortest-lived of all the StarGate series. Possibly that was because it was too dark, lacking the gee whiz fun of the earlier series, or the plots a little too deliberately paced (ie: slow). But equally, it's possible that it just seemed like we'd seen it all before: in plots, in visual style, in philosophical undercurrents, lacking that key concept, or character, that would inject some new life into old ideas. Two seasons of hour long episodes, shown in Canada on Space. 


 
 
STARHUNTER (TV Series)

(2000-2002) (/U.S./British)  * 1/2  Michael Pare ("Dante Montana") (1st), Claudette Roche ("Lucretia Scott") (1st), Clive Robertson ("Travis Montaya") (2nd), Dawn Stern ("Callista Larkadia") (2nd), Tanya Allen ("Percy"), Steven Marcus ("Rudolpho"), Paul Fox ("Marcus Fagen") (2nd), with Murray Melvin ("Caravaggio") (1st), Graham Harley ("Caravaggio") (2nd).....Science fiction, initially about an interstellar bounty hunter (Pare) and his crew on the spaceship, The Tulip, with recurring plot threads involving his quest for his kidnapped son, and the discovery of some sort of genetic code, the Divinity Cluster. Roche plays his tough gal partner, Allen his niece and the ship's engineer. Melvin was the ship's holographic computer, and Marcus was their boss, usually appearing at the beginning as a radio transmission. Pare and Roche were gone by the second season, with Allen emerging from a blackhole a few years in the future, now joined by Robertson as Pare's now-adult son, also a bounty hunter, and Stern as the new (and, arguably, prettier) tough gal partner; Marcus was now a full-time member of the crew and Fox was added as a young engineer. Harley was the new computer hologram. Of the above cast, Allen is Canadian, as is Harley (though of British origin), and Roche was British but seemed to work some in Canada (based on other credits); Pare and Stern were American; Marcus and Fox British. 

Produced by G. Philip Jackson and Daniel D'Or -- who've produced quite a number of low-budget, not very good, Canadian-made action/sci-fi flicks (many starring Pare) -- this intentionally grungy series started out very much cut from that same cloth: gratuitously violent, frequently incoherent and very -- very -- sluggishly-paced, with wildly uneven performances. Though the special effects involving the depictions of space ships and space stations could be quite impressive (even if scenes with actors in them tended to revert to standard issue sets). To its credit, the filmmakers seemed like genuine SF fans, but that could be its own problem, as scripts sometimes seemed to be borrowing ideas from previous science fiction movies, with very little regard for whether this concept belonged in that episode. Still, the series seemed to improve marginally as it went along. A massive cast shake up for the second season seemed to indicate the makers were aware it wasn't working, and though arguably an improvement, there still wasn't exactly an explosion of thespianic excellence. But a slightly better focus to the scripts seemed to continue the series' gradual climb in quality. Unfortunately, it's still not a good series...but it's slightly better. Heck, at this rate, after another couple of seasons, it might even be O.K.! 

The first season seemed a largely British production in the casting, but for the second season there was a greater preponderance of Canadian guest stars. And the series even boasted some memorable performances, such as Nigel Bennett, very good as a grieving father of a son who O.D., hoping to trackdown the drug suppliers. The first season, at least, was originally made for cable (shown in Canada on The Movie Network) and, in addition to lots of shoot outs, featured occasional -- very occasional -- nudity (not involving the regulars). Butt that seemed rare and may have been dropped entirely by the second season (which wasn't carried on TMN). Such scenes were, apparently, edited when it hit commercial TV and, in the United States, apparently it was edited even more simply to allow for more commercials. Hour long episodes, shown in Canada on The Movie Network (1st season) and on Space (all seasons).

STARLIGHT  *  setting: B.C.
(1996) Rae Dawn Chong, Billy Wirth, Willie Nelson, Jim Byrnes, Deborah Wakeham, Alex Diakun.....Alien (Chong) comes to earth in search of a human (Wirth) whose dad was an alien, hoping to solicit his help, but a bad alien (Diakun) is hunting him too. Pretty awful SF drama-suspenser tries to seem high-minded, but, like a frightening number of Canadian filmmakers, Kay seems narratively-challenged: the flick's a slow-moving mess of flashbacks, hallucinations, musical motages, illogical characterization, beautiful B.C. scenery, voice-overs, Willie Nelson-firing-lasers-from-his-eyes-for-no-explainable-reason, and a host of other problems that stem from the fact that Kay doesn't know how to put his ideas into coherent story. Wirth and Nelson aren't very good, Chong seems bored (as well she might), and Diakun's name is misspelled (he's billed as Daikun). One of those movies that's so dreary, the only point of interest (sexist as it may be) is wondering if Chong will have a nude scene; she does, but it's filmed so artsily, you hardly see anything! Some nice, stylish visual f/x, though. sc./dir: Jonathon Kay. - partial female nudity, sexual content, violence.- 100 min.
 

THE STARLOST (TV Series)

(1973) (/U.S.)  * 1/2  Keir Dullea ("Devon"), Gay Rowan ("Rachel"), Robin Ward ("Garth"), with William Osler.....Science fiction about three people from a primitive village who discover their "world" is just one of many on board a huge, derelict space ark evacuated from earth centuries before. While exploring the ship and the various civilizations, many equally ignorant of the reality of their worlds, they search for the knowledge to repair the ark...which is on a collision course. (Sounds a bit like the old "Star Trek" episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", doesn't it?). Dullea and Rowan played young lovers while Ward was a blacksmith and her former fiance. Osler played the ship's computer's image.

This filmed-on-video TV series was initially fronted by a host of American celebs: created by the writer Harlan Ellison, co-produced by movie f/x giant Douglas Trumbull, with scientific advisor writer Ben Bova. Before the series aired, all had pulled out (including Ellison who substituted his regular pseudonym of Cordwainer Bird). The series actually had some interesting, even memorable, ideas and wasn't dumb -- but it wasn't very good either. Really slow moving and stilted with dull, ill-defined characters and American Dullea, given the character restrictions, was no William Shatner -- or Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee for that matter. Strong guest performances though. And with that being said -- that the series wasn't very good -- the Devil deserves his due, because there's no denying it had a genuine...something and sticks in your mind: the premise, the milieu, the visual look, something. You can remember it with a certain fondness even if you don't remember it as being that good -- and decades later, rumours recur of possible re-makes. 

Technically, the series was ahead of its time and on the cutting edge. Attempting to do a big-budget premise on a limited budget, many of the sets and backgrounds were non-existent, and were added in later -- it didn't entirely work, but decades latter, series like "Babylon 5" and movies like "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" used similar techniques to create their realities. Some of the episodes were later edited together into TV movies and released to video (reviewed separately). A novel, Phoenix Without Ashes, based on the original premise, was written by Ellison and Ed Bryant; Bova, meanwhile, wrote a novel called The Starcrossed, satirizing the behind-the-scenes process. At least 17 hour long episodes, originally on CTV. 

THE STARLOST "The Alien Oro"*
(1982) Keir Dullea, Gay Rowan, Robin Ward, Walter Koenig, Alexandra Bastedo, Henry Beckman.....Our heroes encounter a somewhat deceitful alien ("Star Trek"'s Koenig). Two theme-related episodes from the cheapo '70s series aren't very good but the second does have a sense of humour and a nicely eccentric performance from Beckman. See The Starlost. sc: Mort Forer, Marion Walman and Alex C. James. dir: Joseph L. Scanlan and Francis Chapman.

THE STARLOST "The Beginning"* 1/2
(1982) Keir Dullea, Gay Rowan, Robin Ward, John Colicos, Sean Sullivan, Barry Morse, Dominic Hogan.....Three people discover their world is one of many on board a huge, doomed spaceship and they start to explore the ship and the other civilizations. Two episodes edited together from the early '70s low budget, S-F series. As often happens, a third rate series makes a fourth rate anthology movie because of the longer running time and the lack of continuity. Some of the guest stars like Colicos and Morse give good performances, though. Followed by more compilations. sc: Cordwainer Bird and Martin Lager (from a story by Ursula K. LeGuin). dir: Harvey Hart.

THE STARLOST "Deception"* *
(1982) Keir Dullea, Gay Rowan, Robin Ward, Ed Ames, Angel Tomkins, Pat Galloway.....Our heroes discover a warmongering, industrialized society and a place where illusions rule. Two more episodes from the '70s series. Actually, the first one isn't bad, though the second's only so-so. Ames is good. sc: Arthur Heineman, Norman Klenman and Alfred Harris, George Ghent. dir: Joseph L. Scanlan and Ed Richardson.

THE STARLOST "The Invasion"  *
(1982) Keir Dullea, Gay Rowan, Robin Ward, Stephen Young, Donnelly Rhodes, Patricia Collins.....Our heroes meet up with a medical ship and encounter a society ruled by brain implants. Two more episodes from the '70s series (neither of which relate to an invasion). The first is pretty dull and the second more exciting, but not much better. sc: Paul Schneider, Martin Lager and Helen French. dir: George McCowan and Joseph L. Scanlan.

THE STARLOST "The Return"  *
(1982) Keir Dullea, Gay Rowan, Robin Ward, Lloyd Bochner, Edward Andrews, Linda Sorensen.....Our heroes encounter returning astronauts and go through a meteor shower. Two more episodes from the '70s series are edited together rather badly and the stories themselves are poorly done. The first is so-so but the second becomes tedious. Good performances from Bochner and Andrews. sc: Norman Klenman and Douglas Hall. dir: Leo Orenstein and Ed Richardson.

STARSHIP INVASIONS  * *
(1977) (/U.K.) Robert Vaughn, Christopher Lee, Daniel Pilon, Tiiu Leek, Helen Shaver, Henry Ramer, Victoria Johnson, Doreen Lipson.....An evil alien (Lee) plans to conquerer earth after first destroying a kind of Intergalactic U.N. post, and the surviving good aliens (led by Pilon) recruit a UFOlogist (Vaughn) and a computer scientist (Ramer) to help them fight back. Audacious little flick is a kind of straight-faced homage to '50s flying saucer flicks, with nods to '60s costume designs and '70s UFO fever. On that level, it could have been fun, but drags in too many spots. The low-budget f/x are actually kind of nifty in a way -- particularly the climactic space battle. sc./dir: Ed Hunt. - violence.- 89 min.

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