Star Trek and Abraham director Joseph Sargent dies at 89

josephsargent-aJoseph Sargent, an Emmy-winning director who worked on many TV shows and occasional films such as Colossus: The Forbin Project and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, passed away today at the age of 89.

Sargent played a key role in two of the genres that I follow on a regular basis.

First, in 1966, he directed an episode of the original Star Trek series called ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’. It was the first regular episode of that series, following the two pilots, and it was also the episode that introduced the world to Dr McCoy, Lt Uhura and Yeoman Rand.

Then, in 1993, he directed Abraham, one of the first TV-movies produced as part of ‘The Bible Collection’. It starred Richard Harris and Barbara Hershey as Abraham and Sarah (this was only five years after Hershey played Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ), and while it meanders a bit — just like the biblical Abraham did — it’s a fairly decent adaptation of the biblical story.

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Roberto Orci: the first Trekkie to direct a Star Trek film?

Deadline reports that Roberto Orci, who co-wrote the last two Star Trek films and has overseen the comic books that take place between the movies, is “the clear frontrunner” to direct the next one.

I could be mistaken, but if Orci gets the job, I believe he would be the first Trekkie to direct an actual Star Trek film.

Of the twelve films produced so far, six were directed by veterans of the various TV shows: actors Leonard Nimoy (ST3:TSFS, ST4:TVH), William Shatner (ST5:TFF) and Jonathan Frakes (ST:FC, ST:I), plus episodic director David Carson (ST:G).

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Review: Transcendence (dir. Wally Pfister, 2014)

Transcendence is, in theory, the sort of film I ought to like. It’s a science fiction film with big ideas about the increasingly blurry line between humanity and technology, and it addresses the question of whether some creations can ever outgrow or improve upon their creators. The film also has some fantastic production design. It’s a treat to look at.

But in execution, the film — the first to be written by Jack Paglen and the first to be directed by Wally Pfister, a cinematographer who has shot all but one of Christopher Nolan’s films — leaves a lot to be desired, almost as though the ideas at play were simply too big for the filmmakers to really get a handle on.

Most significantly, the film sets up a conflict but can’t decide whose side it’s on — which makes for a curiously subversive bit of entertainment but also leaves the story feeling quite muddled, especially in its final moments.

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The Prince of Egypt came out fifteen years ago today.

It was fifteen years ago today that The Prince of Egypt opened in theatres across North America. To mark the occasion, here are twelve things you may or may not know about the movie. (I would have come up with fifteen things, but didn’t have quite enough time.)

1. It came very close to being the first DreamWorks cartoon. It may seem hard to believe now, given that the DreamWorks brand has become associated with adolescent wise-ass humour and lots of pop-culture references, but when Jeffrey Katzenberg left Disney and co-founded the DreamWorks studio with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen in 1994, he aspired to epic greatness. After Katzenberg pitched the idea that animated films could take place on a grand scale like Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Spielberg suggested that they make an animated version of The Ten Commandments (1956) — and the resulting film was supposed to help establish the DreamWorks brand. [Read more...]

Bible movie of the week: Slaves of Babylon (1953)

By now you may have figured out that I’m using the “Bible Movie of the Week” series as an excuse, or opportunity, to focus on some of the more obscure films out there, rather than the blockbusters that everyone knows and loves (most of which I have already written about at some length anyway). And so today I come to Slaves of Babylon (1953), a sort of adaptation of the Book of Daniel that I had barely even heard about until very recently.

In fact, I only bothered to go looking for this film a few weeks ago, after I had written a post about the Persian King Cyrus, who is celebrated in the Old Testament (Isaiah even calls him “the Lord’s Messiah”) for letting the Jews return to Jerusalem following their exile in Babylon. Cyrus might not be the most prominent of biblical figures, but he did play a significant role within the history of the Jewish people, and it seems a shame that there haven’t been more than a couple of films about him.

Slaves of Babylon is one of those films. While it dramatizes some of the better-known stories from the Book of Daniel, it also revolves around a mostly made-up story in which Cyrus becomes king of Persia with help from one of Daniel’s followers. I say “mostly made-up” because it seems the film’s depiction of Cyrus’s early life is derived in part from a legend passed down to us by the Greek historian Herodotus. So basically, Slaves of Babylon represents a pop-cultural attempt to bridge religious and secular history — and those are the kinds of films I find particularly interesting, whatever their aesthetic merits may or may not be. (Another example would be the 1985 mini-series A.D.: Anno Domini, which alternated between the Book of Acts and the lives of the Caesars, with a bit of Josephus thrown in for good measure.)

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Jay Robinson: from Caligula to Watergate and outer space

Via Fred Clark, I learn that character actor Jay Robinson died a couple weeks ago. Robinson made his big-screen debut as the insane emperor Caligula in The Robe (1953) and its sequel Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), but his career was sidelined by a stint in prison for drug possession, until he started getting bit parts and guest roles on TV shows like the original Star Trek (where he played an alien named Petri) and Planet of the Apes (the TV series, not the movies). He also popped up in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) in the sequence where we see what goes on inside a man’s head as a man has sex; while Burt Reynolds and Tony Randall tell the rest of the man’s body what to do, Jay Robinson shows up as a priest who tries to sabotage the proceedings.

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