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[ANDR] Jammer's Review: "Under the Night"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Warning: This review contains extreme spoilers for Andromeda s series premiere, Under the Night. If you haven t yet seen the episode and do not want to be
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2 10:52 PM
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      Warning: This review contains extreme spoilers for Andromeda's series
      premiere, "Under the Night." If you haven't yet seen the episode and do not
      want to be spoiled, SET ASIDE THIS REVIEW UNTIL LATER. You have been warned.

      In brief: Some iffy execution in places, but it works as a premise-setter
      and moves along swiftly. Good, not great; series shows promise.

      Plot description: The starship Andromeda Ascendant is lured into a battle
      trap at the outset of a deadly war. After evacuating his ship's survivors,
      Captain Dylan Hunt attempts an escape maneuver that inadvertently freezes
      him and his ship in time for over 300 years, at which time a salvage crew
      intends to harvest the Andromeda and its components for profit.

      Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: "Under the Night"

      Airdate: 10/2/2000 (USA week-of)
      Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

      Regular cast: Kevin Sorbo (Captain Dylan Hunt), Lisa Ryder (Beka Valentine),
      Keith Hamilton Cobb (Tyr Anasazi), Brent Stait (Rev Bem), Laura Bertram
      (Trance Gemini), Gordon Michael Woolvett (Seamus Harper), Lexa Doig
      (Andromeda). Guest cast includes: Steve Bacic (Gaheris Rhade), John Tench

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

      "I'm telling you, the guy is huge. He's like some kind of Greek god or
      something." -- Harper on Captain Dylan Hunt (pop-culture in-joke, a.k.a.
      writer's conceit)

      Answering a distress call from a distant star system, Captain Dylan Hunt
      (Kevin Sorbo) of the Systems Commonwealth High Guard starship Andromeda
      Ascendant arrives to evacuate a colony threatened by a rogue black hole. The
      distress call turns out to be a trap set by the Nietzscheans, who have been
      planning a massive surprise war effort against the Commonwealth for years.
      Hunt's ship is ambushed. Facing a grim situation, Hunt orders his ship's
      evacuation and attempts to use the black hole's gravity to aid in an escape.
      The risky maneuver combined with the gravity effects of the black hole leave
      him suspended in time for 300 years. What does one do when the world as he
      knew it has disappeared?

      That sets the stage for the first half of the two-part premiere for Gene
      Roddenberry's Andromeda, the latest TV show based on Roddenberry notes,
      developed by Deep Space Nine alum Robert Hewitt Wolfe. My general impression
      for "Under the Night" is that it's good, not great, reveals that this series
      has potential, but that such potential must be exploited to find success. As
      it is only half a story, I find I don't yet have a mission statement to
      evaluate; we won't get that until part two. In the meantime, we get some
      decent action scenes and we're effectively introduced to an assortment of
      characters. The story serves as a good backdrop for establishing the series'
      initial elements, although the plot itself does not exactly provide great
      strides in originality.

      The episode opens with a big battle and some nifty special effects. I'm
      particularly impressed with the bold, artistic design of the Andromeda
      itself, which has a fresh look that sets it apart from recent Star Trek
      starship incarnations. The battle and subsequent war arises from the
      malcontent the Nietzschean society holds for the Commonwealth High Guard.

      Aside from the good special effects during the battle, "Under the Night's"
      opening setup scenes are probably its most uncertain. There's not enough
      about them that seems fresh, and the introduction of the Andromeda in its
      first fly-by lacks the awe it deserves -- especially given how cool this
      ship really looks. There are also some problems with a couple key characters
      in the early scenes. I for one found Hunt's pilot -- supposedly a sentient
      alien bug -- to be painfully unconvincing; this type of alien costume design
      has been dated for the better part of two decades, maybe more.

      The other, bigger problem here involves Hunt's traitorous first officer, a
      Nietzchean named Gaheris Rhade (Steve Bacic). Bacic's acting choices imply a
      cold dispassion apparently common for Nietzscheans, but the performance
      leaves much to be desired. There's a key scene of exposition set on the
      Andromeda bridge that doesn't work at all. It features lines of dialog
      sandwiched between firing weapons and finally a speech by Rhade that is so
      woodenly delivered that I was shaking my head in disappointment. (And sorry,
      but exposition in between flying bullets should be reserved solely for Riggs
      and Murtaugh in the "Lethal Weapon" pictures.) Nietzscheans may be cold,
      self-proclaimed superior people who are genetically engineered, but Rhade is
      simply an unconvincing muddle of random tones. The ensuing hand-to-hand
      fight scene works better, mostly because it's set eerily against the
      backdrop of time literally grinding to a halt. (The series' weapon of
      choice, used here and elsewhere, is known as a "force-lance," a retractable
      multi-purpose staff that can fire projectiles as well as perform the various
      duties of a Mag-Lite.)

      What we learn from Rhade's tirade is that the Nietzscheans have become fed
      up with the Commonwealth's constant compromises with alien aggressors; the
      last straw for the Nietzscheans was the Commonwealth's peaceful resolution
      with the Magog, an apparently nefarious race who "eat other sentient beings"
      and "reproduce by rape."

      Three hundred years after Rhade is killed in this struggle and Hunt is
      frozen in time, enter the starship Eureka Maru, which is engaged in a
      salvage operation to pull the Andromeda Ascendant from the clutches of the
      black hole's gravity forces. It's here where "Under the Night's" sense for
      characters begins to take hold. The ship is captained by the competent and
      forceful Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder), who has charge of a small
      crew-for-hire. They are all employed by scheming opportunist Gerentex (John
      Tench), a nasty guy from a race called the Nightsiders.

      Valentine's crew is a fairly interesting set of personalities, of which the
      story gives us a nice little sampling. The resident techie/pilot is Seamus
      Harper, played by Gordon Michael Woolvett with a convincing and sarcastic
      madcap exuberance. Harper gets some decent one-liners (including the
      obligatory "Hercules" in-joke) and plenty of contemporary riffs on lines
      including "Let's kick some ass!", "We rule!", and "I am a god!" (It's
      reassuring to see Generation X is still alive and kicking several millennia
      from now.) I like that the typical dialog rules imposed by Trek have been

      There's also Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram), the purple girl with a tail. We
      don't learn much about her, other than that she's a bit naive and ditzy; at
      one point she has to be reminded to put her space helmet on before opening
      an airlock.

      Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch so far is pithy Rev Bem (Brent
      Stait), a Magog with a social conscience. The fact that he's a Magog gives
      the character a useful dose of guilty baggage; he wants to make amends for
      the suffering his people -- himself included -- have inflicted on others.
      Like the other characters, we don't learn much about his past yet, but the
      door has been opened a crack and I think I can see something of substance
      behind it.

      Despite the brief character insights, the story moves along at a pretty fast
      clip: The goal is this crew's attempt to remove the Andromeda from the
      clutches of the black hole so Gerentex can sell it for a huge profit. Once
      the Andromeda is extricated, however, Hunt returns to normal time and
      realizes the severity of his situation.

      The crew of the Eureka Maru boards Andromeda, but Hunt is not planning to
      let them simply take his ship, not even after Harper explains to him that
      the Commonwealth lost the war against the Nietzscheans and has been gone for
      300 years. The fact that the Commonwealth has fallen is obviously a major
      point this series will be playing. It was huge (it "spanned three galaxies"
      and had "over a million member planets"), so even if much of it dissolved
      one would think there are still traces or even large segments of it to be
      found. (The question of how the Nietzscheans alone could bring down an
      organization with a million planets is a bit puzzling to me, but we'll take
      it at face value for now.)

      For the moment, Captain Hunt's only ally is the ship herself. The story
      utilizes the concept of a ship with its own sentient intelligence. It's
      aware, and it has its own personality. It speaks to Hunt in the form of a
      holographic image (Lexa Doig), which even comes preprogrammed with an outfit
      featuring a low neckline. (The only remaining question: If Andromeda is
      sentient, does she have the choice of what to wear to work?) Hunt has a
      rapport with Andromeda that goes beyond the rapport any Star Trek captain
      would have with their ship. The ship here is an individual, which of course
      is a potentially compelling story point.

      Since Hunt does not intend to give up his ship quietly, Gerentex brings out
      the Big Dudes With Big Guns [TM] -- mercenaries he brought along just in
      case of such a confrontation. The head mercenary is a very big Nietzschean
      named Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb), whose sole action in "Under the
      Night" is to walk in looking very menacing while holding a large firearm so
      we can be sent into cliffhanger mode -- nothing more, nothing less. For what
      it sets out to do, I suppose it's effective.

      Given the setup sans resolution, I don't have much to say about "Under the
      Night" in terms of riveting themes. Not until part two, anyway. This first
      episode of Andromeda is primarily a plot-based adventure with a good glimpse
      at some personalities. As far as production goes, it looks like a good deal
      was done with less money. There are of course rough edges, and Andromeda
      doesn't have quite the polish that larger-budget sci-fi shows like DS9 or
      Voyager had coming out of the gates. But the technique (some of the uneasy
      performances notwithstanding) is solid. I particularly liked the gritty,
      more claustrophobic production design on the Eureka Maru, and the pervasive
      use of hand-held cameras whenever we were there. All the characters here are
      closer to ground level than Trek characters, which is a nice change of pace.
      I especially appreciate that Valentine sees her crew members more as equals
      than as subordinates.

      Is "Under the Night" a great launch for Andromeda? No. But it gets the job
      done, and in the end it gets its hooks in. It's entertaining, and I'm
      interested. Not bad for a pilot.

      Next week: With intruders on his ship, will Hunt have to play "Die Hard"?

      Copyright 2000 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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