Skip to main content

I thought it was about time I recruited some little green men.

Star Cops
9. Little Green Men and Other Martians

It’s one of those ironies that Star Cops feels like it’s really coming together just as it gets kiboshed (it was planned as the tenth episode, the ninth falling by the wayside due to strike action). Chris Boucher and Graeme Harper converge for a densely plotted, twisty little number that even tantalises with the prospect of aliens (proper science fiction!) showing up. That would be too far out, of course…


Spring: We’ve got drugs, Mayan sculptures, dead pilots. How many cases have we got going on here?

As Spring opines, there’s enough material here for an episode double the length of Little Green Men and Other Martians and, as with a couple of the earlier Bouchers, it feels like it’s rushing a bit to reach the finishing line. It turns out that the aliens are a big archaeological con, picking up on the Chariots of the Gods craze (Were the ancient Gods really astronauts?: a bit passé by 1987, but that makes it better for this kind of take on the idea, in a way).


A 2000 year-old Mayan sculpture has been planted on the Mars surface to create a revenue stream for the museum that will host it. Along the way, a picture leaks, and the instigators indulge in a spot of murder and sabotage to keep their tracks covered. This is a solid idea on Boucher’s part, since it doesn’t require fabricated evidence that would eventually be torn apart; the object itself is real, its just where it allegedly comes from that isn’t.


If I’m honest, some of the method seem a little OTT (blowing up a passenger freighter bound for Mars, having already dispatched several pilots), and ringleader Philpott (Nigel Hughes, about as threatening as Chris Addison and just as appealing), who has a profoundly rubbish name for a villain, is rather unconvincing in the lengths he is willing to go to (which include blowing himself and the Star Cops up with him). But with an episode as pacey as this, one you have to really concentrate on to keep up with, it’s a relatively minor failing.


There’s even a greater sense of scale than on previous super saver outings. Harper opens on an atmospheric shot of the Martian surface, with a suitably eerie soundtrack, and there’s a whole sequence in a convincing-looking shipping silo. There’s also a bustling flight control, and a very Boucher line in unshiny futures where under-resourcing leads to important details being missed. For a series doing its best at real science though, Harper’s decision to include an explosion sound effect for the sabotaged freighter is glaring.


A drug smuggling plotline appears in the mix, which turns out to be a red herring (“It’s a lot of trouble to go to for powdered beef casserole”), and there’s a knowing wink at the stereotypes of the nosey journalist. Roy Holder (a memorable Krepler in Harper’s The Caves of Androzani) comes on in a raincoat (“And another thing; it doesn’t rain on the Moon”) and equipped with a hip flask (it’s got water in it). He tries everyone’s patience, but his lead is rock solid and Spring would have been blown up with the freighter if it wasn’t for him. 


Throughout the episode, Spring is due to imminently depart for Mars, in order to set up a Star Cops base there. He’ll be leaving David in charge (Erik Ray Evans missed out on the final episode due to a dose of Chicken Pox; his lines we’re divided between the remaining regulars and, to be honest, I only missed him when I realised he kept being referenced without making a showing), and Pal is initially only concerned about getting the deputy spot.


So she says. Actually, she’s cut up about Nathan going (it’ll be a couple of years, which sounds about right), even more so when she thinks he’s dead. Theirs is a nicely low key, growing mutual respect, and I’m not sure how welcome developing it further would have been in a second season. Although, I’m sure some tension would have been eked out of the situation, this not being a happily ever after world.


Vishenko continues to be a sore thumb even here, however. It’s not Jonathan Adams’ performance per se, unlike some of the regulars, it’s that his character is just too broad for a supposedly grounded series. Perhaps he’d have been less involved in a season two, if they were at least partly Mars-based.


Ending Star Cops like it did at least resulted in none of the fall-out that followed the cancellation of The Tripods two years before. That was cut off before the grand finish, an act of sheer bloody-mindedness emblematic of a corporation that continually behaved with embarrassment over science fiction. Perhaps the strangest thing is that Star Cops was commissioned in the first place, although that may have had more to do with its niche slot on BBC2. Who knows the precise reasons for it being dumped at an unholy time (8.30, midway through any challengers on one of the other main channels) and season (the height of summer), but it’s suggestive that even if it had miraculously done well there was little inclination to follow it up.


Is that a shame? Well, it’s 50-50. Star Cops really needed Boucher’s direct oversight rather than that of producer Evgeny Gridneff, the man he saw as ruining it. The first four episodes, although not perfect, are consistent in actualising the touchstone of germane space-based detective work, and the finale very much picks up that baton. In between, the best we see is lip service to the setting, and one wonders if it wouldn’t eventually just have fallen apart, such that the not-at-all-what-it-sounds-like title became a more accurate depiction of the show, a Dempsey and Makepeace in space. There are glimmerings here of a more melancholy, Morse-esque series with a twist, one that with sufficient investment and disinclination to indulge inappropriate fireworks, could have been something special. A reboot of The Wild Frontier might do well in the current landscape even, if viewers were able to get past the misleading title.



Star Cops ranked:

1. Little Green Men and Other Martians
2. Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits
3. Intelligent Listening for Beginners
4. In Cold Blood
5. Conversations with the Dead
6. An Instinct for Murder
7. Other People’s Secrets
8. This Case to Be Opened in a Million Years
9. A Double Life







Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

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.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

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…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

How many galoshes died to make that little number?

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
(SPOILERS) Looney Tunes: Back in Action proved a far from joyful experience for director Joe Dante, who referred to the production as the longest year-and-a-half of his life. He had to deal with a studio that – insanely – didn’t know their most beloved characters and didn’t know what they wanted, except that they didn’t like what they saw. Nevertheless, despite Dante’s personal dissatisfaction with the finished picture, there’s much to enjoy in his “anti-Space Jam”. Undoubtedly, at times his criticism that it’s “the kind of movie that I don’t like” is valid, moving as it does so hyperactively that its already gone on to the next thing by the time you’ve realised you don’t like what you’re seeing at any given moment. But the flipside of this downside is, there’s more than enough of the movie Dante was trying to make, where you do like what you’re seeing.

Dante commented of Larry Doyle’s screenplay (as interviewed in Joe Dante, edited by Nil Baskar and G…

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

You’re a slut with a snake in your mouth. Die!

Mickey One (1965)
(SPOILERS) Apparently this early – as in, two years before the one that made them both highly sought-after trailblazers of “New Hollywood” – teaming between Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn has undergone a re-evaluation since its initial commercial and critical drubbing. I’m not sure about all that. Mickey One still seems fatally half-cocked to me, with Penn making a meal of imitating the stylistic qualities that came relatively naturally – or at least, Gallically – to the New Wave.