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1997-12-01 00:00:00 - (Review) Dead Man's Switch (very minor spoilers) - (Mike Horne <mike@whispers.demon.co.uk>)

The Outer Limits Reviews Dead Man's Switch "Must keep pressing the button. Must keep pressing the button..." An episode about a situation both as basic and as complicated as this will always have some problems. These are overcome, however, by a sparkling script, spot-on restrained performances and the unnerving feeling that you're watching a stage play. A helicopter sweeps over an arctic landscape and lands beside a concrete building that, at first glance, looks like some kind of research centre. A man climbs out of the helicopter and, together with a high-ranking military officer, descends deep underground and emerges into a self-sustaining, hermetically sealed environment. The soldier is told the situation: there is a doomsday weapon on Earth that will launch every chemical, biological and nuclear weapon worldwide. The room in which they are standing is one of the control rooms. Periodically, there will be an alert siren and within thirty seconds, the soldier must press a red button to stop the countdown and prevent the weapon from firing. The weapon was created in response to an alien fleet that is heading for Earth, which may or may not be hostile. In the event the Earth is conquered, the weapon should be allowed to go off. The soldier asks what would happen if he decides that he doesn't want to just let the weapon destroy Earth, and himself. He is told that in one year all resources supplied to the room: air; water; electricity; will be cut off and he will die. If he dies, he will not be able to press the button: it is a Dead Man's Switch. The soldier, Lieutenant Ben Conklin (James LeGros) soon becomes accustomed to the station, having been picked for being self-sufficient and unshakable. He meets the four other people assigned to the weapon: Katya, a Russian (Kristin Lehman); Hong, from China (Yee Tee Tso); Donald, a South African (Ellis Williams); and Gwen, an Australian (Merrilyn Gann). Over the course of the year, we learn more about the characters, Ben and Katya develop a romantic relationship and one by one, they and their equipment begin to fall apart at the seams. You can tell by the time it took to explain the plot that it is quite a complicated situation. However, once the episode explained that much, it was easy to follow. The good things first, and boy-oh-boy are there a lot of them. I'll kick off with acting as usual. James LeGros, playing Ben, gives a performance that I would describe as 'warm'. Let me qualify that. Very rarely in The Outer Limits are we presented with a character who is completely likeable. Normally they are flawed in some way: the scientists in both New Lease and Double Helix are kind-hearted but also manic obsessives; the lead character in Last Supper was an adulterous liar at the core. Not since From Within have we had such a sympathetic central character, and, like that episode, it perfectly fits. The point about Conklin is that he is easy to get along with and is emotionally strong. LeGros manages to play this guy who most people would be friends with, and who has a good heart as well. When he finally has to develop a strong emotional response, both LeGros and the character slip smoothly, but cautiously into the moment. Accurately portrayed, and in a subtle way. As you gather from my past reviews, subtlety in acting is one of the things I look for in an episode. Kristin Lehman, as Katya, gives a strong performance. Typically Russian, but at the same time there is a hint of a deeper emotional state. Lehman manages to tap into that and bring it out to make Katya a sympathetic character who you care about. Donnelly Rhodes, playing General Eiger, the man in charge of it all, doesn't really have much to do, but he is a solid presence that holds the main story into the external background of Earth facing an alien threat. Tso, Gann and Williams are also all very good and they manage to put their characters across well, considering they have to act over television monitors. They each gave good characterisations: they were separate, but they all had within them what they needed to survive: the ability to be isolated and not crack under pressure. When they do all finally crack, they manage to do it in a thoroughly convincing manner. That's the acting done. Direction was provided by Jeff Woolnough, an unfamiliar name. He did a masterful job, however, presenting a small story in a confined space and truly pulling the audience into the grip of the episode. What I appreciated the most was the way we only ever (apart from the very end) saw Conklin's quarters. The set is small enough that it must have been a real pig to swing a camera around. This does, of course, put limitations on the story. We can never see what is happening outside, we can never have any real interaction with anyone outside of the circle of our six characters. On the other hand, this does fit the episode very well. The characters don't know what's happening, so why should we? Too often, the audience knows what is going on and sees what the characters don't see. It's a refreshing change. I would like to know how this was filmed. Were the six characters isolated from each other? Were they filmed separately and then edited together later? Dead Man's Switch was written by Ben Richardson, another new name. The episode is almost entirely dialogue-based. There are very few special effects and it is similar in the way it is written to Trial by Fire. We don't need to see what is happening outside because the story is character based. It is sufficient to be told, and it is better not to know if the characters don't know. The romantic scene between Katya and Ben works very well and it is the dialogue that makes the scene. It doesn't feel cliched, it doesn't feel forced. It feels weird, but so is the situation. One thing that struck me was how uncomfortable it made me. It was like I was intruding on the two of them. That is perhaps the charm behind the scene: they are two people, the dialogue and characters are real, but it isn't the sort of thing that we, as an audience, should be allowed to share. Kudos for that scene, it was one of the best moments in the episode. I just wish they had been allowed to have a bit more of it. Thumbs *way* up for the writing, then. Special effects. Very little, but the spaceship landing was effective. I would guess most of the money went to building sets in this episode. There was a nice matte painting towards the end of the show, and I'm beginning to think that's one of the things the TOL SFX crew does very well. Music was minimal, yet there were for people involved in it. Messrs. VonTongeren, Mancina, Robinson and Goldsmith were all involved. The only time I noticed the music, though, was at the end, and even that sounded like it was an add-on to the title music. Still, minimalism is fine by me. Only a few minor things in this second section that last time spelt doom for Double Helix. Yee Tee Tso as Hong was slightly irritating and I wonder whether the characterisation or writing was at fault here. Hong has been chosen especially because he won't crack under pressure and he will follow orders. Yet he seems obsessed with fiddling around with the equipment in his bunker. There's something wrong with Chinese screening program, obviously. I mentioned earlier that I felt sympathetic towards Ben and Katya, but I wish I could say the same for the other characters. Gwen seemed a little stilted, but that's down to the writing, and I felt that that was the idea. Hong was slightly too frenetic in places. The General was okay, but felt a little like Mr. X from The X Files. He comes in, gives out information, goes away again. The more interesting character of the remaining four was Donald. He wasn't given nearly enough screen time in my opinion, and I would like to have learnt more about him. However, neither of the four produced any strong emotional response from me. A shame, but it didn't spoil the episode which was mostly about Ben and Katya anyway. To sum up, then. There was an inherent coolness to the episode which kept me on the hook from beginning to end. There was a film in the 1980's called War Games, starring Matthew Broderick. Although the film wasn't outstandingly good, there was something about it that makes it one of the must-see films of all time. Dead Man's Switch had this as well. There's something about isolation in a bleak wilderness that speaks to me. Whether I'm just weird is for someone else to find out, but this isolation aspect always has a wonderful way of focusing the episode, and focusing the audience's attention. The ending of the episode was very Outer Limits-ish, if you know what I mean. Depressing in a heart-in-mouth kind of way. I just wish I could have suppressed the giggle when I saw the MIB-aliens. Dead Man's Switch was a brave episode. It wasn't afraid to be claustrophobic and it didn't shirk away from holding the audience inside the room with Conklin for the entire 43.5 minutes of the show. It is just on the borderline of being something special, and while it is not the 'Best Episode Of All Time', this one presses the right buttons and edges into my personal favourites category. Score: 9.1 Questions: Which episode was the clip-show? Is there just the one in the third season? Did I hear right, is there going to be a fourth season? -- Mike Horne mike@whispers.demon.co.uk * http://www.whispers.demon.co.uk "They say life is a river..."

1997-12-03 00:00:00 - Re: (Review) Dead Man's Switch (very minor spoilers) - (Mike Horne <mike@whispers.demon.co.uk>)

In article <19971202011801.UAA22507@ladder02.news.aol.com>, StoOdin101 <stoodin101@aol.com> writes >>Questions: Which episode was the clip-show? Is there just the one in the >>third season? Did I hear right, is there going to be a fourth season? > >"A Special Edition". It is a sequel to the one in the first season, and IMHO >works better than that one. (There was no clip show in season 2, of course.) >4th season is currently filming in Vancouver. What was the season one clip show called? > > >>The ending of the episode was very Outer Limits-ish, if you know >>what I mean. Depressing in a heart-in-mouth kind of way. > >To me, Dead Man's Switch starts off with such a grim premise that it >short-circuits its finale...no matter WHAT happened, it wasn't going to be >_good_. >My rating is : 3 on a 4 scale. True, true. But, on the other hand, the aliens could have been here completely in peace... yeah, right ;) I know what you mean though: if you build it, it will explode... -- Mike Horne mike@whispers.demon.co.uk * http://www.whispers.demon.co.uk "They say life is a river..."

1997-12-04 00:00:00 - Re: (Review) Dead Man's Switch (very minor spoilers) - (stoodin101@aol.com)

>What was the season one clip show called? > > VOICE OF REASON, though I;m still not sure why. NECRONOMICON, all-instrumental electronic music inspired by H.P.Lovecraft, now available on c-60 cassette. E-mail StoOdin101@aol.com for details.