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1998-01-21 00:00:00 - (REVIEW) Feasibility Study - (Mike Horne <mike@whispers.demon.co.uk>)

SPOILER ALERT! The Outer Limits Reviews Feasibility Study "Welcome, Mr. Haywood, we are encouraged by the apparent feasibility of your species." A welcome return to the small-town dramas that have led to some of the best episodes of TOL, such as From Within, Inconstant Moon and Hearts Desire, this week we have the story of an area of a city which disappears overnight. A girl, Sarah Haywood (Laura Harris), and her boyfriend return to her house late at night and announce to her father, Joshua Haywood (David McCallum), that they are getting married. By the time Joshua has finished talking to him, the boy has changed his mind and leaves the house in a hurry. Sarah lies on her bed as the boy drives away from the house and snatches the phone from its cradle when it rings. As he speaks to her, the boy sees a bright flash of light and is cut off from Sarah. As he watches, the section of town which he has just left is lifted from the Earth, and taken into the clouds. The next morning, the Haywood's neighbourhood is without power and water and Joshua, on his morning jog, meets Pat Dooley, a neighbour. They discuss the situation and Pat asks Joshua if he can catch a ride into town with him. As they approach the outskirts of the neighbourhood, they see a shimmering, blue frontier beyond which they cannot pass. I'll start off, as usual, with the better aspects of the episode. Acting's first off. David McCallum can sometimes be absolutely terrible in television (just look at B5's Infection), but more often than not, he is given decent material (U.N.C.L.E., Invisible Man). This episode is one of the best roles I have seen him in for some time and he does carry the episode, while at the same time restraining himself enough that his co- stars have a look-in. He brings a genuine compassion to the role, particularly once Study reaches it's halfway mark. His reactions to the aliens' plans is spot-on and it is through him that we live the events of the rest of the day. He is good, also, in the scenes with his daughter, played by Laura Harris, and I thought the relationship between father and daughter portrayed here was very believable. Occasionally, I found him a little overbearing and a mite method-y, but for the most part he gave an affecting performance which puts it at the top of this seasons honours list. Laura Harris is also very good as Sarah and through her subtle performance, we live the other part of the story, the human aspect which is sometimes lacking from TOL. As with Neil Patrick Harris in From Within, it is through her eyes that we see many of the events, and it is our sympathy for these characters that lets the episode out-do itself. I know I'm going a little overboard, but I really did think it was that good. (grin) The rest of the cast, supporting these two key players, were good and fitted together well as an ensemble. The annoying businessman who won't help, the ringleader of the rest of the people, the priest who believes everything is a message from God, and the kindly security guard who is the only person, aside from Joshua, to have any courage whatsoever. The actor playing Pat (couldn't get the name) was good, though he was possibly the weakest link in the episode. That could've been the character though, so I won't hold it too much against the episode. Director for the episode was Ken Girotti. There was a certain amount of flair going on here and, as is normal, I will pick out some scenes I particularly admired or enjoyed. The scene where the section of the town was lifted up into the sky was, of course, well-handled, and the composition of the phone-booth and the town section together in the frame was quite nice. The early scenes in the town where the people are discussing the barrier and their lack of provisions was good. The camera was kept nice and active and there were several places where it moved quickly and then swept through, giving a nice view of all parts of the scene. When Sarah is walking through the woods, Girotti used one of my favourite shots where the camera is moved past the person and then reverse-swung around them so that the overall effect is quite dizzying. In fact, the camerawork is a nice balance for the nature of the episode. It is very 'talky' and there is very little action, in the traditional sense of explosions etc. The camera, in contrast, is rarely still and it does bring a sense of urgency to the scenes and paces the episode evenly. The examination scenes were clever because they moved about rapidly, with plenty of POV shots that totally involves the audience, as well as disturbing them at the same time. The sight of the various implements and devices moving towards the screen is scary enough without also seeing the reaction of the actors. Generally, the episode was handled very well and is typical of the high standard I've come to expect from the series. The town setting was particularly well used and did well to identify key places. This has always been essential to visual storytelling, both on the large screen as well as on TV. Hearts Desire, by contrast was bad at isolating key locations and how they were positioned with respect to one another. Inconstant Moon wasn't too bad at this, From Within was slightly better. Study has managed to take this art of location to the top. Simply by having somebody sketch out the boundaries and showing the process of walking from one place to another, the audience always knows roughly where they are. Finally, the cross-fades at the end, which I won't describe too clearly, are very effective, as well as disturbing. Writing. Joseph Stefano has taken an interesting concept and made a clever episode from the initial idea. 'Aliens steal a bit of the Earth' must've sounded pretty lame, but the decision of making it completely character-based was the correct one. It could have so easily become a guns-blazing bug-hunt, but instead we are treated to something more cerebral and thought-provoking. I particularly liked the scene with Haywood meeting the aliens. The aliens' words would have been funny if they hadn't have been so threatening. This is another episode, like New Lease, which has two halves (although they aren't evenly balanced). The first, longer, part is like a disaster movie. You have the people who are set up to be unlikeable, the public services worker who knows the locations, the central characters who know a little about the location and what is going on and, naturally, the obligatory animal. The second part is the ethical question of what to do once you know everything that you need to know. I won't go into the specifics but suffice it to say that sometimes your choices are so limited that there is no choice at all. Both parts worked well and there was a clever dovetailing of one plot into the other. All credit to Stefano, he gave us an episode which was intriguing and thought-provoking, in the highest and best tradition of the series. I liked this episode. You can tell, can't you. Music was by the ever-reliable John Van Tongeren. As always, there was a problem with volume, but I'll go back to that later. The early scenes were nicely scored in particular, and the music was strong for most of the episode. Special effects gets a special mention because the effects were central to the story. They were all good, from the opening scene of the levitating neighbourhood, the shimmering barrier and all the way to that final matte shot of the gaping hole where a section of city should be. All excellent, all almost flawless. Sets were, as usual, very good. The colours in the alien scenes were particularly vibrant. A little too vibrant actually, but that was probably my TV. The examination rooms were cleverly done and the implements were nasty in the best tradition of medical dramas. On to the bad points, of which there aren't that many. Acting was completely good, except for that one weak link with Pat Dooley, but I can excuse that as I said earlier. Direction was also exemplary, as was the writing. Music was the one irritating thing. During the church scene at the end the music was so loud that, once again, the actors voices were hard to hear. I wish someone would get this sorted, because it's beginning to be an issue with every episode I watch! Sound quality during the alien conversation scenes was attrocious. As has been covered on the alt.tv.outer-limits newsgroup, I'm still unsure as to what they were saying. I got the general gist of it, but the voices were so different to one another it was difficult switching my ears up and down between frequencies (sarcastic grin). And that's all I could get out on the negative side. Not much, was it. Strangely, out of all the good things I have mentioned, there's still something that brings it down a notch or two. I'm not sure what it was, so I'm going to put it down to my mood. One thing I did find interesting was my reaction to the end of the episode. Normally I complain that the ending was needlessly pessimistic, or depressing. This time though, I totally agreed with the way it came to a conclusion. There was really only one way it could end without going wildly overboard. The ending was nicely set up and logical and because they didn't fall back on the 'destroying the Earth' plot, it didn't feel like a cop- out. Feasibility Study is, in the end, a story of courage. It asks the question of whether we, as individuals, would have the courage and decency to make the correct, selfless decision if the ultimate question was ever asked of us. It gives the answer for us, but it doesn't make any judgments about whether the decision that was made in the episode was correct or not. Admittedly it is very difficult to argue against the decision, but the episode is left open enough that you could if you wanted to. The episode, from a deconstruction point of view, was excellent. Acting was top-notch, direction was appropriate for the episode and paced it nicely, contrasting the fast and furious sweeps around the scene with the obviously wordy script. Add to this impressive special effects and, for the most part, good music, and we have an excellent episode. Score: 9.2 -- Mike Horne mike@whispers.demon.co.uk * http://www.whispers.demon.co.uk "They say life is a river..."