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1997-12-21 00:00:00 - (REVIEW) The Conversion (no real spoilers) - (Mike Horne <mike@whispers.demon.co.uk>)


It seems that Sky TV are stopping TOL over Christmas, but it is back in the schedule in January. PAY ATTENTION UK FANS: It's on Wednesdays at 9pm, sandwiched between Space Island One and the new series of Millennium. Oh, and for fans of Sliders I think the new series is on Sky One starting the first week in February. The Outer Limits Reviews The Conversion "For every human act, there is a moment of decision." "Henry, with every move we make, we change the world." "We're all the same, we're made of particles born in the primordial stars. We're not separate; it's the way the Universe works." Just this afternoon, I returned to the first season of The Outer Limits to rediscover an episode that I have long admired and respected. The Conversion is a story that you really have to 'get' in order to enjoy it. For a change, the creators have given us an episode that relies very heavily on our view of the world. It was a brave move, and this review looks at whether it was successful or not. Henry Marshall (Frank Whaley), a young executive who has recently been released from prison, goes to the building where he used to be employed. His mind is on revenge and as we look into his thoughts, we learn that he is going to go upstairs in the elevator, with a gun, to the company's Christmas party. He is going to go into the room and blast away at the person who let him take the fall for a white-collar crime. Before he can get up from his bar-stool, a woman (Rebecca DeMornay) buys him a drink and begins to talk to him. Even though he hasn't told her anything about the situation, she tries to dissuade him from going up to the party. She fails and Henry heads towards the elevator. She joins him and starts to seduce him in the elevator. Just as it seems that she is having an effect on him, the elevator doors open and Henry sees the man he is looking for. He pushes the woman away and starts blasting at the other man. Henry misses and shoots the other people at the party. A security guard appears and shoots back into the elevator and Henry takes two hits in the stomach. The elevator closes and, once he is outside, Henry hijacks a car and drives off. He speaks to Jack (Beau Starr), the police officer in charge of the investigation on a mobile phone left in the car and finds that three people have died after the shooting. Henry drives North and runs out of gas. He ditches the gun in a lake and heads for a bar/tavern. As he rests and nurses his wounds, a stranger sits down opposite him. The stranger, Lucas (John Savage) knows his name and knows what will happen to Henry if he leaves the tavern that night. This episode is the story of two men talking about the ways of the world in a tavern. In this respect, it is very much like a stage play, and I'd actually like to see The Conversion done in stage. Anyway, down to business. As usual, I'll start with what I liked about the episode, beginning with the acting. Whaley and Savage make a very odd pair of actors and they have very unique styles. Because of the difference, they seem, rather perversely, to be a perfect match. Whaley first, even though he is last in the credits (very strange, but never mind). He is a familiar face, but does not normally get central roles to play. He takes on the part of Henry Marshall with great confidence and enthusiasm and I was thoroughly impressed with the performance. He is nervy, scared and hyperactive in a way that makes him sometimes uncomfortable to watch. This is effective, however, and defines the character very neatly without going overboard. The character is, at his basic level, a decent human being. However, even the best of us make mistakes (like, for instance, the person who wrote Re-Generation. But, back to what I was saying.) Whaley also seems, as an actor, to be perfectly comfortable to share the stage with John Savage, who I'll come to in a moment. It is good to see, in a two-person episode, that one actor doesn't barnstorm the scenes he is in. Credit where credit is due, then. John Savage is also excellent and is a direct contrast to Whaley in method, just as the character of Lucas is to the character of Henry. Where Whaley is nervy and hyperactive, Savage is calm, almost serene, and measures each line he gives as though it were the most important thing in the world. The character, you feel, never messes with Henry and always tells him the complete truth, no matter how painful that truth may be. Savage also brings a depth that immediately said 'ancient' to me. Although Lucas looks all of forty, maybe younger, his feelings and words come through as having been carefully thought about for many more years. Obviously the scenes between Savage and Whaley make up the bulk of the film, and are therefore important. However, there have been episodes before where the acting was not up to the 'momentous occasion' of the scene, but in The Conversion there is no doubt that these two are the solid, dependable foundation of the story. Supporting Whaley and Savage were: Rebecca DeMornay as the woman in the bar (at the beginning); Beau Starr (as Jack the police officer); and Kerry Sandominsky as Mary, the manager of the bar. DeMornay, who also directs the episode, has always had a strong presence on the screen, whether that screen be large or small. This fact is no less true than in The Conversion where the brief appearance she makes is important and powerful. She gives the same impression of age that Savage brings to the character of Lucas. The words she says seem to pound their meaning out on the screen and DeMornay says them with such conviction that you can believe that she is part of a moment where the world changes. (I know I'm going a bit overboard, but I'm trying to make a point.) Starr has a very small part, even though he is number two in the credits. He is convincing as a police officer and the way he talks to Henry on the telephone makes me believe that he was the officer who originally investigated the white-collar crime that sent Henry to jail. There's not much I can say about the acting, as there was not much to be done, but it was fine. Sandominsky (he says, typing carefully) also has a small role, but she is very good. In particular, the scene where she first talks to Henry is nicely done and she portrays well the warmth that her character should have. Her entire manner comes across as well as the words she is saying and that is why I give her a special mention in this review. She is only in the guest credits at the end, even though she has probably more to say than Starr and DeMornay put together. An extra break here because I went overboard on the acting comments. As mentioned above, Rebecca DeMornay directed the episode and, although I haven't seen anything else she has directed, I wish her all success in the future. It is obvious she has an eye for visually- striking shots, and (my one complaint) perhaps she uses too many of them in forty-five minutes. Having said that, though, the episode is supposed to be slightly weird and ethereal, and the direction added to that. As usual, here's a few scenes and shots I liked. The first shot. The pull back from space through Henry's eye. Although this would have worked better if it had been slower and not cut after the move back had been completed, it was a nice touch. The entire pre-credits sequence feels somewhat like a music- video (especially with the Ei-Ei-Ei-oo-wei-ooh-wei in the background *grin*). There's a mixture of slo-mo, extreme close-up, pull-back focus- forward and steadicam which had me slightly swaying in the intensity. Then again, I'm not against something a bit different, and thankfully the style did settle down later. Just after the credits, Whaley emerges from the building with bright sunshine behind him. The steadicam is back and the sun blinds the camera for a moment and gives the shot a surreal look that is not completely needed, but again it was different. It made it feel like a documentary and perhaps DeMornay felt like using the steadicam a bit. It is a stylish, action-packed start. This was what was needed. The rest of the episode is very slow and the camera doesn't move around a lot in the tavern. The start makes you sit down and pay attention and is in-your-face until Henry gets rid of the gun. The camerawork also gives the impression of time stopping and is consistent with the episode's theme of moments in time affecting everything that comes after. The winter scenes are very, very bright and white and it is a striking difference when Henry finally enters the tavern and we are thrown into a world of deep browns and reds indicating warmth and sanctuary. Either that, or I'm reading too much into it and it was just good lighting. When Henry and Lucas talk for the first time, there are lots of extreme close-ups (ECUs) on Henry's talking mouth and Lucas's hands and eyes. While they are effective and put the viewer into the emotional centre of the scene, it was a little distracting. Again, this over-style disappeared later. The scene where Lucas tells Henry how he affects the little girl has a lovely slow zoom-in shot over Lucas' words and the music (which I'll get on to later) combines for a heart-rending couple of pages in the script, and highlights the major turning point of the episode. Finally, the last scene outside the tavern is beautifully lit and shot with an almost wondrous glow that effectively gave us the start of a new life. DeMornay should be given all the praise we can give her, and she has surely learnt a few things from the episode. In The Conversion, Richard B. Lewis' short story 'Two Strangers' is adapted into a screenplay by familiar name Brad Wright. Lewis is on the staff in the TOL studios and, in fact, contributes music for the episodes (and may be one of the producers as well). The story is nicely paced and starts with scenes that leave you off-balanced and unexpectant for the rest of the episode. This is just how TOL should be, in my opinion, so kudos to them. What I particularly liked was that the episode seems to have a philosophy on life and sought to present this philosophy to the viewers. There have been other episodes like this (Inconstant Moon, Falling Star,