TV Series: 2002-2004
Writer/Director: Joss Wheadon (others)
Vault Rating: 8.5
2005: Joss Wheadon
PG-13 : 119 minutes
Vault Rating: 9
Today in the Vault, we’re mucking about in the sci-fi / horror genres with two efforts that are going to be hard to find. See below for something completely different …
For now, we’ve been very much enjoying the short-lived television series, “Firefly,” of late and its movie version, “Serenity.”
I noted last week that the brilliant series at once “uses and blows away” a number of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” archetypes. Writer/Director Joss Wheadon’s work here suffers only because it didn’t come first, but he uses and spins the basic staples wonderfully.
The setting is 500 years in the future where human beings have moved out into the stars … the final frontier … and in the best sense, there is a kind of western feel to the program that comes with it. But it aint no “Little House on the Prairie.”
There’s been a war between rebels and this thing called “The Alliance” and, in this universe, the rebels lost out. The Alliance exists in this space between Star Wars’ evil “Empire” and Star Trek’s distant and benevolent technocracy, “the Federation.” We’re clearly on the side of the rebels (and our heroes in this picture) but the Alliance doesn’t come off as evil, just kind of coldly bureaucratic. It has standing armies and they run around in Death Star-sized ships that look more like folded up skyscrapers.
Our anti-heroes here are many and in the mold of Han Solo. Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is a rebel fighter turned captain of a Firefly class space transport. He takes jobs above and below the letter of the law, doing what’s needed to stay fed and fueled while they run the “outer planets,” where the Alliance is still not so prevalent.
Reynolds is a space pirate, a chaotic-neutral operator with a chaotic-good heart. His crew, akin to the Enterprise model, includes a holy man, a prostitute (called a “companion” here, Morena Baccarin, as Inara, is a practitioner of an honored profession), a medic and his brainy (possibly psychic — I’m only on disc 2) sister who are on the run from the authorities, a chief engineer (Jewel Staite) who looks great in greasy coveralls, a black female first mate (updating Uhura and giving her far more to work with is Gina Torres) and a rough and ready crewman (Adam Baldwin) named Jayne and some others.
The show flexes its good humor while weaving tales of one pirate job after another, blending adventure into a decidedly multi-cultural space opera.
Background details here either feature western style saloons or oriental accoutrements or — especially noteworthy — a neat, surprisingly evocative blend of hard acoustic country and Middle Eastern music all of which lends “Firefly” an especially exotic feel.
Oh, “Firefly” has its Klingons too. Here they are called “Reavers.” Reavers are marauding bands of malevolent humanoids who have suffered space madness and evolved into something really nasty. Reavers come off as really scary. I think they would make Ricardo Montalban poop his pants, to be honest with you.
Thanks to the spies for cluing us to this great little show — living now on DVD. It really never caught on, but it should have. Vault began with the 2005 film version, “Serenity,” which now takes its place among the best sci-fi I’ve ever seen. The movie will have you looking up the series. Both are well worth your time.
2006 : Korea
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Rated R: 119 minutes
Vault Rating: 7
And now for something completely different …
Next up is a pretty darn good monster movie from South Korea called “The Host,” which should not be confused with other less recent titles. The Korean language title is “Gwoemul.”
This picks up where the great Japanese rubber monster movies left off so long ago, although film graphics now make our monster less laughable and more vivid than a guy in a rubber suit stomping through a scale model of Tokyo.
Here, chemicals are dumped into the Han River with predictable results. The great mutant fish that emerges to exact its ecological vengeance is a good deal of fun, especially in the first 20 minutes of the film, which plays like a horror comedy from a hapless Korean man’s point of view. It isn’t long, though, before the film settles into its horror movie paces.
The dubbing here even works because the actors’ lips aren’t supposed to match the dialogue anyway, right?
Some of the spies with whom I viewed the feature were more keenly aware of a mild kind of anti-American sentiment that might be the product of the long military situation on the Korean peninsula. This, to me, seemed natural and did not get in the way of enjoying a decent monster-fest. The giant bug and monster movies of the 1950s warned of the effects of nuclear proliferation, after all.
ASIDE: Does anyone remember “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman?” Awesome movie. And how about The Tubes’ song by the same name? “A 50 foot woman’s never satisfieeeeeeeeeeed!” Outstanding really.
But we were talking about large, vengeful, animated, human-chomping sushi, were we not? This movie departs from its giddy beginning when a little girl, the aforementioned hapless man’s daughter, is spirited away by the beast to its secret lair. All else is rescue horror that is not particularly scary, but kind of fun nonetheless.
Given the slim opportunity that you might actually find “The Host” (remember: “Gwoemul”) perhaps you might like to stay a while. If you dare!
Until next time — When your Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club might find themselves impossibly in striking range in the National League Central — Enjoy!