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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Belly of the Beast"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven t seen the episode yet, beware. In brief: Corny, reckless abandon, even for Andromeda ... and
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2002
      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
      episode yet, beware.

      In brief: Corny, reckless abandon, even for Andromeda ... and yet often
      surprisingly fun.

      Plot description: The crew must improvise an escape when the Andromeda is
      eaten by a giant space creature.

      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Belly of the Beast"

      Airdate: 4/21/2002 (USA week-of)
      Written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer
      Directed by Allan Harmon

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: ***

      "When the universe collapses and dies, there will be three survivors: Tyr
      Anasazi, the cockroaches, and Dylan Hunt trying to save the cockroaches." --

      To my own amazement, I find myself giving my approval of "Belly of the
      Beast," which is by far the silliest, most lunatic Andromeda outing since
      "Dance of the Mayflies," and yet manages to be fun instead of grating.

      Have no illusions: This is an episode with little in terms of seriousness or
      depth. It has scenes of jaw-dropping cheesiness. Why, then, do I give it a
      thumbs-up? Because it reveals full awareness of its silliness, it manages to
      use its characters more effectively than most Andromeda shows of late, it's
      admirably efficient as an action show -- and, well, I confess that I'm
      *really* wanting to give a positive review of Andromeda right now. Call it
      guarded praise, but praise nonetheless.

      And another thing: I like that this episode is actually a space adventure
      instead of a "Hercules"-style fight show with endless kung-fu and/or blazing
      guns. Instead of scores of mindless villains and endless shootouts, we have
      one mindless villain (a massive space creature), two spaceships, and plenty
      of stuff getting blown up real good. I will take a hardware tech show any
      day over endless action in a Canadian forest, gunfire, and/or lame kung-fu.

      The premise is sublime simplicity: The space creature -- a myth called the
      Cetus -- is about to take a bite out of a nearby populated planet, and the
      Andromeda must stop it. Dylan and Trance are on the Maru planning to assure
      the threatened planet that they'll be okay. The rest of the crew is on the
      Andromeda when they unexpectedly run into the Cetus, which -- gasp! -- isn't
      just a myth after all! From here it's all about identifying problems and
      working through them. When things go wrong, the characters must try to make
      them better.

      We never really find out the true nature of the Cetus (sentient? Malicious?
      The equivalent of a shark in space?), and it's just as well; this is the
      sort of threat that we need to identify and destroy and not think about
      beyond that. It's reminiscent of the original Trek's "The Immunity
      Syndrome," in which the Enterprise crew had to contend with a giant
      all-consuming amoeba in space. That show wasn't about much of anything
      either, but the characters really had a chance to shine.

      In this episode, the characters have a chance perhaps not quite to shine,
      but to come pretty close. While the chemistry on Andromeda will never be in
      the same league as the original Star Trek cast, there are moments here where
      characters can detach from the frankly ridiculous events going on around
      them and simply exist as themselves, interact with their peers, and bounce
      around with crazy dialog.

      The central crisis here is that the Andromeda is swallowed by the Cetus and
      the crew must figure out how to escape before they're digested (I hate it
      when that happens). Meanwhile, Dylan and Trance in the Maru realize the
      Andromeda has been swallowed and they must figure out a way to save the
      Andromeda and/or destroy the Cetus, in the grander mission of ultimately
      saving the defenseless planet.

      As special-effects creatures on this series go, the Cetus is sometimes well
      above average (when it swallows the Andromeda, it looks pretty convincing),
      and other times pretty shoddy (scenes where the Cetus chases the Andromeda
      through the camera frame sometimes bear a humorous resemblance to chase
      scenes in "Scooby Doo" cartoons, with their static and 2-dimensional

      The story starts picking up momentum midway through, as the script develops
      a two-tiered structure that tackles the problem from both ends, with the
      crews in the Andromeda and the Maru both trying to anticipate what the other
      will do. It's like a guessing game of scenarios where the ultimate goal is
      having one's cake and eating it too (while thinking outside the box, etc.),
      but also recognizing that such a solution may not be a possible goal.
      Questions are posed: How to destroy the Cetus without destroying the
      Andromeda? How to release the Andromeda without destroying the Maru? How to
      destroy the Cetus at all costs, even if it means sacrificing the Andromeda
      and/or the Maru? Such scenarios are considered at various points, and not
      everyone is in agreement at all times.

      Most interesting is the game of prediction various characters play in coming
      to make their decisions: Did Dylan die in a Maru kamikaze to attempt to
      release the Andromeda? Should Harper (therefore/not-therefore, I'm not sure
      which) eject the slipstream drive to give the Cetus an awful stomach ache?
      Who will do what, and how do we take a course of action based on these
      predictions? And so on.

      In particular, Tyr gets a chance to be Tyr, with a few standout lines,
      including, "I trust Dylan to be Dylan" (a nice mirror image on Dylan's
      previous "I trust Tyr to be Tyr"), and also the most hilarious Tyr line in
      quite some time: "When the universe collapses and dies, there will be three
      survivors: Tyr Anasazi, the cockroaches, and Dylan Hunt trying to save the
      cockroaches." Where has this guy been? He and Beka get some good dialog
      scenes -- interesting scenes that work while at the same time play goofy
      games on the levels of sexual tension that make you grin at the silliness

      Meanwhile we have Harper's motormouth fully engaged as he attempts to gain
      manual control over the ship's AI, which has become scrambled in a way not
      so severely as in "Its Hour Come 'Round At Last," but severely enough to
      cause plenty of problems. The show cuts back and forth between the two sides
      of the narrative (Andromeda, Maru), keeping the show inside the two
      spaceships, both of which take a pounding as sparks and bodies go flying
      and/or hurtling through the air. It's chaos done relatively well.

      After the Cetus is destroyed (communicating and reasoning with a monster
      like this -- let's face it -- is for squares and Starfleet captains) and
      both ships saved, we get crew members dancing with each other on the
      Andromeda command deck. This has got to be one of the cheesiest happy
      endings not seen within the confines of a Saturday-morning cartoon. My eyes
      were in disbelief before I was rolling them uncontrollably.

      Also, eye-roll-worthy are lines that qualify as Exposition For Dummies,

      Beka: "Plot an intercept."

      Harper: "What?!"

      Beka: "Get in front of it."

      Or overblown bouts of self importance:

      Trance: "If the Cetus eats the Andromeda and gets filled, wouldn't that
      save the planet?"

      Dylan: "That ... might ... save the planet -- but we ... would lose the
      universe." (Sorbo has mastered the Shatner-like pauses between words; all he
      needs now is a passion that makes him sound anything but bored.)

      Still, there's got to be some sort of medal for courage the writers deserve
      for this kind of reckless abandon. Creatures that eat starships. Dialog that
      exclaims: "The Cetus gets one hell of a Heimlich and spews us out like your
      autochef's three-day-old chopped liver, faster than you can say "uncle," or
      in this case, "anti[matter]." And "You could even say that we had our cake
      outside of the box and ate it too." The crew dancing with each other on a
      wrecked command deck. To 20th-century swing music. I think. (Rest assured
      you cannot envision this sight with as much cheese as actually seeing it
      played out here.)

      I'm feeling generous -- three stars. Is this good art? Hardly. But it's
      zany, ridiculous, and sometimes quite fun. Just know first what it is you're
      getting yourself into. And if you find at times that you're smacking
      yourself in the forehead, don't say I didn't warn you.

      Next week: The inevitable "Hercules" guest star.

      Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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