Skip to main content

Without paranoia, how are you going to know who your enemies are?

Star Cops
3. Intelligent Listening for Beginners

One thing about the Chris Boucher scripted episodes, they have marvellous titles; evocative and cerebral at the same time. Intelligent Listening for Beginners has surveillance as it’s starting point, the idea of all this information being recorded (legally or otherwise) and how to possibly analyse it with any coherence or rigour is a pertinent one in an age where just that is happening (if there were intelligent listening, there’d never be a successful terrorist attack…) Then there’s his use of computer viruses; if he were really prescient, everyone would have got around the problem by using Macs.


This one also features an operational Channel Tunnel (construction began the year after broadcast), terrorist hijackings and corporate interests buying whomsoever they want. The cover-up instituted by Michael Chandri (David John Pope, whose biggest claim to fame might be playing the Kandyman in Doctor Who’s The Happiness Patrol the following year) is perhaps the least effective part of the episode, simply because he announces that “Intelligent listening is a failure” yet we’re never given an insight as to why. Certainly, something of that order ten years from now (on top of whatever “they” have at the moment) doesn’t seem so remote.


By now, there’s a pattern of secret projects being developed in disparate off-Earth locations. It was there in the last episode, and it will be there in the next, but there are probably only so many space cases to think of and so far they are distinctive enough that the choices don’t feel repetitive. The quoting of William Blake for the virus (“The invisible worm that flies in the night”) is effectively creepy, and there’s some impressive stunt working in the opening sequence (and explosions).


More noteworthy is the claustrophobia of space, though; the prospect of being immobilised and isolated in the moon buggy on the way to visit Chandri, and later Spring’s escape from his base as it counts down to destruction.


Spring: You know, it used to take a lot of talent and the right sort of upbringing to be polite and have filthy manners at the same time. Now it just takes a computer.

Literary references go hand-in-hand with the continued slights against technology. Chandri doesn’t like Kindles and has a physical library. Spring continues his boundlessly enthusiastic tirades against machine minds. He’s also as snappy as ever, scalding David again when they don’t learn what Chandri was hiding (“If you talked less, and listened more, we might have found out what”). Spring’s also disapproving of the Black Hand Gang’ (an offshoot of The Organisation of Pan Continental Anarchists) getting their name and historical referencing wrong; they should have been called the Black Hand.


Chandri: My world, the world I came from, reveres all life.
Spring: This is a dead world, sir.

The attempt to reference Chandri’s religious background (Hindu, I’m guessing) is fairly clumsy (although not nearly as much as the sort of racial and cultural awareness being attempted in Doctor Who of that same period), but David’s description of a the laser weapon Kenzy’s trying to sell, which can pick out the pigmentation in the victim’s skin, as “Oh, the bastards have finally come up with a racist weapon” is quite funny. Evans continues to show his limitations, however. Particularly poor is his “Don’t patronise me, you supercilious bastard”, although it’s not a line that rolls of the tongue. Evans also has a distracting habit of putting a foot on tables.


Much of this episode is about setting up Kenzy and her fractious-to-respectful relationship with Spring. Linda Newton is more assured than some of her co-stars but one wonders about stereotyping again with a loud, cocksure Aussie who also happens to be a crook (rather than crook) and in the pocket of the Allied Pacific Consortium (she’s based on The Coral Sea space station). Spring is clearing the decks, getting rid of the rot, which means “Hubble is rubble” while Kenzy is caught on tape taking a bribe by new recruit Devis.


She isn’t going lying down, though (despite Devis’ innuendos; his sexism is overdone, even if he is “very cuddly when you get to know me”). The lack of Star Cops is noted (“Well, you will keep sacking people”) but there’s never a noticeable uptake beyond this point (unless recruits all work off screen). The climactic hijacking isn’t too bad, but trying to do the weightless thing means everything is slowed down, inimical to building up any tension.


The spying theme never really forms as much of a core point as it seems poised to in the early stages. There are familiar gags about military intelligence and the better quips about the value of paranoia, but generally the theme of secrets and surveillance is more immediately notable in the following episode. Also notable here is that sexism isn’t just limited to Devis. The normally restrained Spring refers to Kenzy as “the bloody woman” when she slyly wangles her way to reinstatement at the heroic post-terrorist-foiling press conference. Spring will also refer to her again the same way the following week. There’s a reference to the High Frontier here, one of the considered titles of the show.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

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 can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

Seems silly, doesn't it? A wedding. Given everything that's going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
(SPOILERS) What’s good in the first part of the dubiously split (of course it was done for the art) final instalment in the Harry Potter saga is very good, let down somewhat by decisions to include material that would otherwise have been rightly excised and the sometimes-meandering travelogue. Even there, aspects of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I can be quite rewarding, taking on the tone of an apocalyptic ‘70s aftermath movie or episode of Survivors (the original version), as our teenage heroes (some now twentysomethings) sleep rough, squabble, and try to salvage a plan. The main problem is that the frequently strong material requires a robust structure to get the best from it.

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.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

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…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…