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1997-10-22 00:00:00 - (REVIEW) The Camp (Spoilers marked) - (Mike Horne <mike@whispers.demon.co.uk>)

The Outer Limits Reviews The Camp "The simple need to be free..." For the second week running, The Outer Limits gives us an extremely odd episode (odd, even for Trilogy) which doesn't quite succeed in holding all the attention that it asks for. The episode is set in a concentration camp in which humans are used as slave labour for a mysterious alien race known as the 'New Masters'. The camp is run with an iron fist by the Commandant (played by David Hemblen) and his overseers. At the very start of the episode, the humans' elder, their 'leader' and spokesman, is spirited away by the overseers and never seen again. A new elder steps forward, prisoner 91777 (Bill Cobbs). Meanwhile, another of the prisoners, 98843 (Harley Jane Kozak), an electronics engineer who keeps everything in the camp running, begins to work on repairing the Commandant's artificial eye, unaware that by doing so she is alienating herself from the rest of the humans. The scene was set very early on with two scenes: an indoor scene in which we are given a brief history as to what happened when the New Masters came; and an outdoor scene in which the Commandant managed to lay out the rules of the camp without making the audience feel stupid. Halfway through the story, however, it was unclear as to what the story was actually about, and what its actual point was, a problem Streams of Consciousness also had. More of that later, though. Let's go through the good points of the episode. As usual, I'm kicking off with performances. Harley Jane Kozak and David Hemblen managed to hold the episode between them, even though their acting wasn't as good as it possibly should have been. I was trying to work out, when I started this review, whether it was the acting or the writing that left the characters ill-defined. I've decided now that it was a combination of both. Kozak was good at reacting to the situation, especially the parts where herself and her daughter were in peril, and also when she realised that she was now considered an outcast. Hemblen managed to convey a sense of superiority and also a lack of humanity, which is to be expected from a man who betrayed his species when the New Masters arrived. I haven't actually seen him in anything before, but this was an advantage in this episode because it meant he didn't carry any baggage with him that might have made the viewer identify with the character. I know, this doesn't make a great deal of sense, but if you've read my reviews before, this won't be anything new... The episode was interestingly shot, although I couldn't help thinking though, all the way through, that it should have been a bit darker than it was. There were two contrasting styles: one for the scenes with the prisoners, and one for the scenes with the Commandant. The prisoner scenes were very grubby, the sets, the costumes, the actors themselves. In the end, this made the scenes look like slightly better lit version of Se7en. The other scenes, with the Commandant, were cleaner, almost sterile. Now that I think of it, the scenes in his office were interesting because you couldn't see the walls. The dark lighting and sparse set design gave it a theatrical feel and made you concentrate on the dialogue. All credit to director Jonathan Glassner for these focus points, it makes it so much more interesting to write a review. The music for the episode, by Joel Goldsmith, was appropriate and is probably the best score Goldsmith has done this season. He is usually slightly heavy handed, but in this case, the music was gentle in the scenes between mother and daughter and loud and fast for the action scenes. I especially liked the cue at the end when... no, that's a spoiler. Special effects? Well, for a change, they were first-rate. SPOILERS BELOW. <SPOILERS> The cutaway of the Commandant's robotic face was, I think, better than the effects in Terminator 2. The camera pans across from the human side to the robotic side with seemingly no break. Mind you, for those of you who like techie stuff, using VistaGlide I would think that pole down the middle of the apparatus was probably the cut point. The robot graveyard that 98843 works in was also nicely done and well detailed, and the scene where the robot grabs her throat made me jump. </SPOILERS> The writing was okay, but I expected more from Brad Wright, who has given us several outstanding episodes in the past. I would have preferred more interplay between the Commandant and 98843, but it's not a perfect world. Now for the bad parts. The trouble with this episode was that it twisted too much at the beginning and not enough at the end. It was remarkably similar in structure to last week's Dark Rain in that it left the viewer so off-balance that it was hard to follow the story. Acting-wise, I must admit to being slightly disappointed with Bill Cobbs, the incoming elder. There was nothing outstanding about the performance, and it wasn't helped by some lame dialogue throughout the entire episode. Still, he should have done better. One small nitpick: The humans know that there have been twelve generations of their race imprisoned by the New Masters. They also know that there were people on Earth who betrayed their people for power, wealth etc etc. If that is true, then, why do they say that the Commandant and his overseers were the ones who betrayed Earth? For that matter, how do the New Masters choose their trusted humans? Pick them at random from the camps? A short review this week, isn't it? Well, there's not much to be said about this episode except that it is odd, very odd, and irritatingly non-descript. The acting wasn't bad, the writing wasn't dreadful, but somehow the episode just didn't work for me. I much prefer episodes where they focus on one or two issues, one or two performances and one or two sets. The Camp tried to keep us guessing, just like Dark Rain did, but as with that episode, it failed. This is by no means the worst episode ever, it just wasn't as good as it could have been. They could have done so much more with the idea of a concentration camp, but instead they turned it into an uncomfortable mix of Prisoner versus Jailkeeper and escape thriller. Score: 5.3 The season so far There's been a disturbing dip in quality since Dark Rain last week, so hopefully the season will improve again starting next week. Highlights: The Last Supper, most of Streams of Consciousness. Lowlights: Dark Rain, The Camp. -- Mike Horne