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Posts Tagged ‘The Expanse’

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that in their ongoing effort to take over the world, Disney have announced a series of television programmes in the Star Wars universe. You would be forgiven for thinking by the title this is about those shows, it isn’t!  This is about other Star Wars television programmes, in other words television programmes from the past and currently airing that like Star Wars are set in space and feature some form of conflict.  There are many other shows that fit the criteria, some that I have seen, others that I haven’t, these are my recommendations: 

Blake’s 7 (1978-81) I saw the last ever episode of Blake’s 7 as a kid, I then watched the whole series over thirty years later.  Made by the BBC in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the production design is amazing but the production values are on a par with early Doctor Who.  A group of political dissident’s, rebels and criminals escape the totalitarian federation who rules Earth and its colonised planets. As with many of the best shows on this list the thing that makes it great is a combination of a great cast of characters and timeless political subtext. blakes 7

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) The most relevant Star Trek show to this list.  A spinoff from The Next Generation, DS9.  Set on a space station rather than a exploring starship,it is a departure from the other shows in the Star Trek Franchise.  There are two distinct story arcs the involving conflict with other races.  Although not as initially popular as The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine holds up better to repeat viewings. Star Trek Deep Space Nine

Babylon 5 (1994–1998) Airing at the same time as DS9 above and sharing some similar ideas.  Set in the 23rd Century on the Earth Alliance space station Babylon 5, located in neutral territory, it becomes the centre of the universe and its best chance at peace, and survival.  Filled with diverse characters and interesting stories with contemporary relevance.  revolutionary  in its day as the creators went into the project with a five season story arc planned out.  It dived opinion in its day, but has been hugely influential since. Babylon 5

Farscape (1999–2003) Similar to Blake’s 7 and Firefly with its mismatched crew of fugitives and the totalitarian regime.  Our way into the show is a modern-day America who arrives via a wormhole.  The notable thing about the show is the Henson Company puppets.  I haven’t actually seen the final season of the show, but like what I have seen enough to include it on this list.  Farscape

Firefly (2002 -03) – Running for just fourteen episodes and often referred to as the most prematurely cancelled shows.  Created by Joss Whedon, it is essentially a space western.  Set in a future where mankind has colonised space.  A mismatched crew are living on the edge of society run by the totalitarian “Alliance”.  Keeping exposition to a minimum, the brilliance of the show is a snappy script, universally relevant stories, and a fantastic cast. firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) When I was kid in the early 80’s I used to watch the original Battlestar Galactica every Sunday evening for years. Or did I? How the mind plays tricks on us, it only ran for 21 episodes (plus 10 episodes of Galactica 1980, which I didn’t see).  While I loved the show at the time, re-watching it in the 90’s revealed that it wasn’t very good.  However, the re-imagined version is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Retaining the original concept, and technically a sequel to the original show.  The action and drama of the show were enhanced by a smart script with political undertones with contemporary relevance. Battlestar Galactica

Killjoys (2015- ) What started out looking like it was going to be a second-rate Syfy channel space opera gradually became more interesting and compelling.  As well as an overriding story arc, it also included more relevant characters and storylines.  Beyond all this, the real reason for watching is the shows secret weapon, rising star Hannah John-Kamen in the lead role. Killjoys

The Expanse (2015- ) Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  Set in a future with a colonized Solar System, a fragile cold war like peace exists between Earth, Mars and the Belt (an asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). Essentially a cold war/conspiracy thriller, the brilliance of the show is that as an audience we don’t take sides; all three sides are represented, and there are good and bad on all sides.  This is further complicated as the good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have redeeming features, just like real life!  Simply one of the best shows around at the moment.  The Expanse

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I subscribed to Netflix, predominantly for TV, namely the Marvel TV shows.  I have enjoyed them all, Jessica Jones being the best of them.  I have since mainly watched TV show, including: Breaking Bad, The OA, The Expanse , 13 Reasons Why, Hannibal, and Orphan Black (that I had started watching on the BBC).  I have recently also started watching Star Trek Discovery and Mindhunter, both of which are excellent from the couple of episodes I have seen. 

I have also watched several movies, mainly older ones that I have wanted to re-watch.  This is because I see most films that I want to see at the cinema.  Netfix (and Amazon Prime) can be useful for catching up on films that I missed at the cinema, and those that didn’t get a wide enough release to make in to a cinema near me.  And this is the problem.  With Netflix (and Amazon) getting more into the business of making movies are the chances of seeing some films on the big screen diminishing?  Is this a 21st century version of the vertical integration of Hollywood’s studio system? A system ended in 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Paramount decision, aka the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948.  Not exactly but there are similarities.  I hope the industry can find a solution to the issue without the need for legislation, or one of the methods of screening suffering.mcu-netflix

The reason I have come to this conclusion; I have seen two films recently on Netfix that I would have liked to have seen on the big screen.  The first, Gerald’s Game is a Netfix Original, the second The Bad Batch skipped UK cinemas after Netflix acquired SVOD rights.

Gerald’s Game: Based on a Stephen King novel and directed by Mike Flanagan who had previously made the excellent Oculus.  Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood play a married couple who visit an isolated lake house in an attempt to rekindle their relationship.  Gerald (Greenwood) suffers a heart attack leaving Jessie (Gugino) handcuffed to the bed without the hope of rescue.  At times it goes where you expect it to, at others it will surprise you. Geralds Game

The Bad Batch: Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  A young woman (Suki Waterhouse) dropped inside a vast fenced-in wasteland, declared to be outside of the U.S. and thus, American laws no longer apply.  There she encounters many strange people, most notably a group of cannibals.  The movie drifts along with a strange dreamlike narrative occasionally finding its way back to a plot.  It has been compared to every near future or exploration movie you can think of, none of these are appropriate, although the look and tone sometimes make me think of Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park.the bad batch

I really enjoyed both movies but with one big reservation.  I really wanted to see them on the big screen, but for different reasons.  The Bad Batch is beautifully shot in a vast landscape that needs a big screen.  As a horror/thriller, Gerald’s Game has moments that are best enjoyed with an audience.  But my thoughts go deeper than this;  if Netflix are making movies, or buying distribution rights before they make it to the big screen, this is surely the start of a new era of filmmaking.  A two tier system where cinema can be the only loser, and if cinema is a loser, the ultimate loser is the audience.

It is clear that streaming is the future of the home cinema market.  I don’t have a problem with movies being released on VOD at the same time as at the cinema; letting people watch movies at home legally and cheaply is a good way to cut down on piracy, but not when it’s at the expense of cinema screenings.  Streaming needs to be an addition or alternative to cinema not a replacement. 

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The Expanse

Anyone who read my article a couple of weeks ago will know that I recently signed up with Netflix. I still believe that the cinema is the best place to watch a film, the larger the screen the better.  For this reason I still visit the cinema an average of twice a week.  It will therefore come as no surprise that I watch more TV than movies on Netfix.  I have mainly been catching up on shows that I have been keen to see for some time but not gotten around to, however, I have just watched The Expanse based on the robotic recommendation of Netflix.the-expanse

For those who haven’t heard of it (I hadn’t a week ago), the Expanse is scf-fi crime drama / space opera.  Based on the series of books by James S. A. Corey ( a pen name for collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) set in a future where has spread out and colonized other planets.  The United Nations controls earth, Mars has its own military government.  Both planets depend on the resources of The Belt, the outer planets and asteroids whose inhabitants are treated like second class citizens.  The largest planet is Ceres (a real place, it is a dwarf planet in the orbit of Neptune located in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  It is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture).  In the belt air and water are in short supply and are therefore a precious commodity.  The three factions are on the brink of war.  As a viewer we follow three main characters who stumble across a conspiracy and can’t let go:

Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo): UN Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration who becomes personally involved in events.chrisjen-avasarala-shohreh-aghdashloo

Joe Miller (Thomas Jane): an archetypal heavy drinking police detective on Ceres who is given an assignment that he isn’t supposed to solve.joe-miller-thomas-jane

Jim Holden (Steven Strait): an officer on an ice haulage ship who fall down a rabbit-hole that begins when he answers a distress call.

The opening credits have elements of The Man in the High Castle and Game of Thrones lending an air of familiarity.  The show itself is well constructed with great use of time.  Rather than relying on simple flashbacks within scenes the narrative moves around within its timeline with the same dexterity as it does within its universe.  This is achieved with a mixture of clearly dated and ambiguous variations that work well to keep the drama tense.  The story is similarly well constructed keeping an air of uncertainty and excitement.  Many of them main characters are well rounded and developed with believable histories, they are however, largely clichéd and unoriginal.  The acting is solid and natural without any wooden or over the top performances, however, on the other hand it lacks any of the standout performances that we can expect on modern TV shows.  It clearly doesn’t have the budget of a cinema movie or top TV show but the effects really aren’t bad and largely, it actually looks good.  The costumes are a little hit and miss with the space set elements using an effective mix of military uniforms and industrial overalls.  The planet based characters fall into most of the same clichés of other similar shows.   The biggest visual problem though, is Thomas Jane’s haircut.  Both too flamboyant and high maintenance for the deadbeat character he plays, but more significantly, it looks stupid.  The vehicles and planets have a sense of believably and reality as we have seen in Battlestar Galactica and Firefly.  It also shares a dirty industrial look of these shows.the-expanse-florence-faivre

It isn’t a classic show within the genre that we will be seeing alongside Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones on best of lists, but it does have both a charm and quality making it worth a recommendation.  I am looking forward to season two. 

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