Skip to main content

They must come to us.

Blake's 7
1.5: The Web


My understanding is that The Web has never had such a great reputation. Certainly, its effectiveness is hampered by elements of make-up/design that don’t quite work (the Decimas, Saymon). Balancing that we have Michael E Briant pulling out all the stops to direct an atmospheric and inventively shot episode. His work highlights that while Pennant Roberts and Vere Lorrimer have been competent thus far, that’s all they have been.


The location shoot in Black Park (Full Circle) makes a respite from two weeks of quarries, and the tracking shots through web-strewn vegetation sets the scene nicely. That said, the base here looks at best prefabricated and at worst like it would collapse if you breathed lightly on it. The interior is atmospherically lit, and the use of fades reveals Novara (Miles Fothergill, SV7 in Briant’s The Robots of Death, and a bit of a Paul McGann-alike) and Geela (Ania Marson, who would feature in Nic Roeg’s Bad Timing) reclining in separate quarters. So far so good, with an ominously breathy “They must come to us” repeated over the soundtrack.


But, then, oops. We get to see Saymon (Richard Beale, who did voice work on The Ark and The Macra Terror and featured as Bat Mastertson in The Gunfighters and Minister of Ecology in The Green Death). Achieving an effect by having someone stick their head through a hole in a wall and sticking a tiny fake body beneath them is unlikely to be dramatically powerful. Comedically, yes; if you’re Vic and Bob playing Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. As it is, the best I can say is that Saymon manages to be both laughable and simultaneously disturbing (the same is true of the Decimas).


Unsurprisingly, no sooner has Cally joined the Liberator than she’s acting all freaky-deaky with her alien telepathy skills. Briant again shows himself as a class apart, using handheld camera and POV in her encounter with hapless Vila. It looks like catty Jenna was right to be suspicious of her last episode as she is seen to be up to no good, planting an electronic device. Jenna wears a dress, so unfortunately we don’t get her arse this week. Blake has his shirt open and is wearing a medallion, so this is definitely a 1970s future.


There’s a well-written exchange between Avon and Cally, he ever-suspicious of everyone, as she milks him for information on the workings of the ship. Darrow’s great at pulling extra beats from scenes that probably aren’t there on the page, and this is no exception.

Zen being rubbish at helping, a bit like K9 breaking down, is clearly going to be a regular feature so that plots don’t get sorted out 10 minutes into an episode.


Cally’s “Must you invite death” on being restrained (by Gan, not rubbish for a change) is a very Leela comment, in tone and sentence composition. Jenna probably enjoys giving Cally a beating a little too much (she repeats  We should never have brought her on the ship” to Blake, who is setting a standard for making dubious decisions based on hasty considerations). Avon following this up with “You made this mess” sets the “alpha” crew members (Blake, Avon, Jenna) clearly at odds.


Avon saves Blake from the exploding device:

Blake: Thank you. Why?

Avon: Automatic reaction. I’m as surprised as you are.


I’m still mystified over why we keep seeing shots of the cardboard Liberator shooting by, and then we get proper model work of the ship getting caught in the web. Whether or not there’s good reason, it makes for very weak matching of elements.


Gan asks Avon why he doesn’t just let the Liberator’s automatic repair function do its job.

AvonIt’s slow. You should appreciate that problem.

His comment that there will come a time when Blake isn’t making the decisions is prescient, even if it takes a couple of years to achieve.

Jenna’s possession is a bit on the boggle-eyed side, but the lip-synching is effectively spooky. But tying her possessors to Cally (the Lost, cast out, unfit to share the soul of Aurona) is too convenient.


The wee Decimas are kind of rubbish, and yet intermittently effective. The one with red staring eyes (Deep Roy who appeared in The Talons of Weng-Chiang and later Mindwarp) is a disturbing sight when he’s throwing a paddy.



Briant shoots them in silhouettes trying to break into the dome, which works well.  The director also handles the cuts between location and studio very seamlessly; you never question the relationship between the two spaces.


If the ethical debate on their right to live is rather one-note (of course Blake will help the repressed tiny people – yet he isn’t fussed about ensuring the survival of the (also) genetically engineered Novara and Geela, not to mention Saymon) there are a few interesting concepts to make this distinct.


Novara and Geela, more intelligent but no less engineered life forms, accept their limited purpose seemingly on a philosophical level. They have no lives of their own. It is research that has been allowed to get out of control (the web, the Decimas) that poses a threat.  Slightly unexpected is that Saymon doesn’t want to take over the Liberator. He just wants a couple of power cells. His announcement that he is a “corporate identity” threw me a bit as it put me in mind of some sort of gestalt board of directors.


Incoming Federation pursuit ships seems like a weekly threat to put a ticking clock on proceedings and give the crew remaining on the Liberator something to idly fret about.

Avon’s thorough disinterest in Blake’s moral dilemma (“If it concerns you, don’t give them the cells”) leads to a rather hamfisted bun vendor of an exchange with Novara and Geela where Avon is threatened and Blake hands the cells over.


The Decimas infiltration of the base and their little screaming voices as they go beserk is chilling (particularly as weirdy man Saymon’s screams add to the effect). Even more so, they then start playing football with the skulls of the now disintegrating Novara and Geela, having had a good stomp up and down on their bodies.


Blake: They’re fighting for their lives.
Avon: Who isn’t?

Blake’s assertion thatAt least the Decimas stand a chance now” reflects his position that oppressors surrender any rights whatsoever (they have met their just desserts). The end of the episode features the now compulsory verbal skuffle between Avon and Blake which is already like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers (on this occasion it relates to the right to life of all sentient beings). The ongoing plotting is not forgotten for this diversion, as Blake still wants to reach Centero (he mentioned this at the end of Time Squad too). I wonder if we’ll meet some Federation luminaries soon?



This really has the odds stacked against it, with some very patchy design work and a rather simplistic ethical conversation at its centre. But somehow Michael E Briant mostly pulls off an episode that is big on atmosphere and unsettling imagery. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

All the way up! We’ll make it cold like winter used to be.

Soylent Green (1973)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in Chuck Heston’s mid-career sci-fi trilogy (I’m not counting his Beneath the Planet of the Apes extended cameo). He hadn’t so much as sniffed at the genre prior to 1967, but over the space of the next half decade or so, he blazed a trail for dystopian futures. Perhaps the bleakest of these came in Soylent Green. And it’s only a couple of years away. 2022 is just around the corner.

Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window.

Black Hawk Down (2001)
(SPOILERS) Black Hawk Down completed a trilogy of hits for Ridley Scott, a run of consistency he’d not seen even a glimmer of hitherto. He was now a brazenly commercial filmmaker, one who could boast big box office under his belt where previously such overt forays had seen mixed results (Black Rain, G.I. Jane). It also saw him strip away the last vestiges of artistic leanings from his persona, leaving behind, it seemed, only technical virtuosity. Scott was now given to the increasingly thick-headed soundbite (“every war movie is an anti-war movie”) in justification for whatever his latest carry-on carried in terms of controversial elements, and more than happy to bed down with the Pentagon (long-standing collaborators with producer Jerry Bruckheimer) to make a movie that, while depictinga less than auspicious intervention by the US military (“Based on an Actual Event” is a marvellous catch-all for wanton fabrication), managed to turn it into a parade of heroes pe…

Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…