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1998-01-27 00:00:00 - (REVIEW) In Another Life (very minor spoilers) - (Mike Horne <mike@whispers.demon.co.uk>)


The Outer Limits In Another Life "Do we have the power to shape our lives, or are we predestined to be who we are?" "Just kill me and get it over with, I don't care anymore!" 'Then, I'm just going to have to make you care." "...with every new choice, we're given, we can change who we're going to be..." Carrying on in the good tradition of time travel stories such as Season Two's excellent Stitch in Time, this episode manages to have an appropriate science-fiction content, while still keeping itself firmly grounded in human emotional drama. Mason Stark (Mitchell Laurance) stands in his office, distraught and at his wits end. He has been fired from his job and has, in recent years, seen his wife shot and dying in his arms. A colleague comes in, and the man's words send Stark into a rage. He throws the other man out of his office and barricades himself inside. Stark takes a gun from his desk and almost steps through the door to the outer office. Then, he sees the picture of his wife on his desk and he breaks down, crying. For a moment, his vision distorts and deteriorates and things do not appear as they should. He feels himself lift the gun to his head and squeeze the trigger... In a flash, he finds himself inside a futuristic looking room, naked and lying on the floor. Two men arrive and help him out into the corridor. There are a number of cells along the walls and when Stark looks into them he sees an astonishing sight: the cells are filled with men who look exactly like him... One of the duplicates is strapped into a chair but is pulled out and our Mason Stark is strapped in. A shadowy figure approaches from a control room and approaches Stark. To Stark's surprise, he is looking at another copy of himself. The new Stark, who is known throughout as Mr. Stark (Matthew Laurance), is running an experiment to find out at which points in time parallel versions of his own personality split to create alternate timelines. But, as his questions become more obscure and strange, it is clear that Mr. Stark wants much more than information... Plus points first, starting off with acting. There are three Mason Starks in this story. They are the focus of the episode. While it is possible to tell that there is a difference between the two actors, I'll deal with them together to avoid confusion. Matthew and Mitchell Laurance do a splendid job in this episode of playing essentially the same character, but acting well enough in subtle ways to show the difference between the versions of Mason Stark. The scenes between the two actors are, while not electrifying, certainly manage to carry the episode high into the upper levels of drama. I particularly liked the contrast between scenes with Our Stark and Mr. Stark and those scenes with Our Stark and Evil Stark. On the one hand, you have vast differences between the versions, and a higher tension but, at least at the start, there is no threat in their dialogue. On the other hand, the scenes with Evil Stark are positively tinged with danger and the possibility that he might suddenly snap. There were also a couple of moments where you could see that Our Stark was actually getting along better with Evil Stark than he was with Mr. Stark. This was interesting because it highlights just how alike Evil Stark and Our Stark are. So, fine performances from both. Kelly Rowan, who for some reason got top billing, played Kristin, Our Stark's dead wife. She does quite well with what she is given, but for the most part she is playing out the episode in order to build up Stark's character rather than her own. She does, however, give us an emotional focus to share with Stark, and she helps to bring us into the story. There were a few supporting actors who were fine and, considering how little screen time they had, made an impact which made some of their deaths rather shocking and unexpected. Directing this episode was Allan Eastman, who is building up a good reputation for himself. It is now possible to detect his visual style, in a similar way to how Mario Azzopardi now stamps his personality on episodes. I've noticed that Eastman tends to adopt very extreme camera angles and lets the camera float a little to produce a disorientating effect. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's an interesting method. The direction was strong where it needed to be, driving where necessary and non-distracting when it should have been. No better compliment can be paid in a series where visual style has as much to do with an episode as any other factor. A few scenes and shots, then. First off, there's the Steadicam (I think) shot through the office at the beginning, from the rear wall of the outer office right up to Stark. As you should all know by now, Steadicam is one of the things I appreciate most about an episode, and it was a nice start to get off on the right foot. The camerawork in the office after he is barricaded in, and again later in the episode, is nicely disorientating (there's that word again) and makes the audience as confused and queasy as the character undoubtedly feels. This is something that Eastman's style tends to bring out and it works well in this episode. The scene in the park between Evil Stark and Our Stark was also impressive. Eastman managed to set the camera up so that both Starks were always in the frame (I say always, I mean as always as I noticed). I especially liked the shot were Our Stark was on the left of the frame and the other side was filled with Evil Stark, just behind his twin. It highlighted the differences and brought the situation into focus, something the episode needed again at this point. One of the recurring things I noticed was that the two versions of Stark in the scene rarely had any physical contact. This is typical of stories involving twins, but is usually as a result of the use of the Vistaglide split-frame technique. In this episode, however, the director was clever because we automatically assume that it is the same actor playing the scene twice against himself. This was, though, not the case because we had a pair of actors. This is a similar technique used in the Sliders episode The King is Back, where Rembrandt meets the other version of himself, but which is actually played by the actor's almost identical brother. They hardly touched and, when they did, I was momentarily taken aback even though I knew what was going on. That's it for direction. I'll move on to writing. The story for In Another Life was by Brad Wright, Chris Brancato and Naren Shankar, who then wrote the script alone. There are a number of things I look for in an episode of The Outer Limits. First off: an intriguing beginning. This episode had it in spades. Perhaps not quite matching up to Feasibility Study or A Stitch in Time, but close up behind. The beginning moved fast, set up the character and his situation then dropped the farm on the audience without letting us know the hurricane was coming. Second, I look for the script to be human-based, while still having a strong sci-fi back support. Again, In Another Life had this. Last Supper was one of the episodes that worked because of the strong human emotional drama content, and In Another Life reminded me, in certain ways, of that episode. Thirdly, I look for the strong writing and dialogue that can make an episode great. Again, Last Supper had this, so did Trial by Fire (which let itself down a bit by the time it was broadcast). In Another Life was well-paced and had some very affecting dialogue which highlighted the episodes main moral and emotional point: we can't change who we are because we've made decisions already. But, by learning from our mistakes and recognising our weaknesses, we can make better decisions later in life that can make our future a lot brighter. It's not often an episode has a point this strong. Inconstant Moon basically said: Let every moment count and live each as if it was your last. Trial by Fire was: don't jump to conclusions and don't fire at aliens (sorry, sorry, couldn't help that). It's encouraging that the producers will let a writer make point that he or she obviously feels strongly about and not mess about with the creative process too much. It's also something to mention that the best episodes always seem to come about where there are technology- or action-driven parts balanced well with scenes dealing with raw emotions and strong feelings. The episode also has one of the most romantic and philosophical endings of the entire series. Music was by a selection of the usual posse: Joel Goldsmith, John Van Tongeren and Graeme Coleman, who's beginning to crop up quite often now. Y'know, with Stargate SG-1 and TOL at the same time, Joel Goldsmith must be a very busy man. The music for In Another Life was a mix of two different styles. First of all, there was the foreboding and driving score which was used during the action and intrigue part of the episode. Secondly, there was the gentler music that complemented the touching scenes between Our Stark and Kristin. This latter collection of cues included another fine CD-worthy track in the park scene where Stark tells Kristin what sort of man he wants to be. The music hardly put a foot wrong, except for one place... and I think you can guess what the problem is going to be. Read on below. Special effects were surprisingly strange in this episode. The set for the universe-jumping machine was good, but looked a little low- tech. Perhaps that was the general idea, though. Just because a machine does something which we think is impossible, doesn't mean to say that it has to look particularly flashy, it just has to work. The torture device looked a little dodgy with its repetitive jolts of electricity or whatever going into Stark's head, but it was fine. Effect of the week, though, has to be that midair video screen which keeps on cropping up. It was on a much bigger scale this week and the SFX boys are really getting good at it. This week, it was totally convincing. That's it, then, the good points taken care of. Now, let's see what let In Another Life down. The answer is... not a lot really. It wasn't flawless, but the problems were few, far between and hardly distracting at all. The acting was top notch. Nobody stole scenes and the actors complemented each other nicely. Direction. Well, as I said before, sometimes Eastman's camera style works, other times it doesn't. There are a few scenes where it's slightly irritating, even fewer moments where it is downright distracting. Perhaps next time the DoP Rick Wincenty should use a firmer hand with the director and tell him when enough is enough? That said, though, there's nothing wrong that would take away more than a couple of decimals away from the rating I'll give it later. Writing. Nothing wrong there. Music. I will say this again, and again, and again if I need to. The Outer Limits guys really need to get it together when it comes to music volume. I'm now beginning to guess when it is going to be too loud. About two-thirds of the way through, I found myself thinking: "Any moment now, those strings are going to get slightly... Yup, there they are..." How often are we going to see the same thing happen? I know I'm ranting a little, but it is the one aspect of the series which should have been fixed ages ago. Basically, we're not deaf and we would quite like to hear the dialogue... please. That's the lot. Not many flaws, but enough to knock it down a few points. I'm feeling generous, so while I think up a score, I'll summarise. In Another Life was another prime example of where The Outer Limits should be going. All-action episodes, like Hearts and Minds, Tempests and, to a certain extent, Bodies of Evidence are all very well as filler episodes, but what The Outer Limits does best is high drama mixed with a healthy dose of science fiction and/or fantasy. That's what we get with the episode I've reviewed here. We have the basic device of parallel dimensions and given the twist of emotional attachment to characters in the story. Strangely, the primary emotional focus, that of Stark's wife Kristin, is dead but still manages to hold the attention. In Another Life can be seen as a science-fiction episode that deals with parallel dimensions. But, it can also be seen as a character study of one man who has been given the one thing that so many of us want: a second chance. Rating: 9.0 Next week: Who knows, I only work here... Coming soon: An Outer Limits website for UK viewers. New episode information, episode statistics and those all-important schedules for terrestrial and satellite television. -- Mike Horne mike@whispers.demon.co.uk * http://www.whispers.demon.co.uk "They say life is a river..." The Outer Limits Reviews Archived at http://www.whispers.demon.co.uk/shakaar/reviews/tol/ Or, just go to the root page and follow the Shakaar link