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Alice (Part 2) – “Welcome to a whole new Wonderland”

And we’re back, with the conclusion of the SyFy Channel miniseries Alice. (For my critique of the first part, follow this link.)

Part 2 of Alice picks up right where part 1 left off, naturally – with Alice (Caterina Scorsone, Edge of Darkness; 1-800-Missing) imprisoned in a crumbling house while Doctor Dee and Doctor Dum (Eugene Lipinski, Rollerball; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) interrogate her to learn where she hid the Stone of Wonderland, a ring with the ability to open up a portal between the real world and Wonderland via the looking glass. Meanwhile, Hatter (Andrew Lee Potts, Return to House on Haunted Hill; Warrior Queen) and the White Knight (Matt Frewer, 50/50; Dawn of the Dead) break into the casino in order to rescue her from the Queen and King of Hearts (Kathy Bates, Midnight in Paris; Titanic and Colm Meaney, Get Him to the Greek; Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, respectively). Once free of the Hearts, Hatter and the White Knight take Alice to the ancient Kingdom of the Knights (once again), where Hatter sends word to the resistance movement that Alice needs to meet with their leader, Caterpillar (Harry Dean Stanton, Rango; Alien). The resistance sends an emissary in the form of Jack Heart (Philip Winchester, In My Sleep; Thunderbirds), son of the Queen and King of Hearts and former boyfriend to Alice. Despite Hatter’s misgivings, Alice decides to leave with Jack after he tells her that the resistance knows where her father is and could get him out of Wonderland with her. One thing leads to another, Alice and Hatter set everyone free, the White Knight helps bring down the casino and with it the reign of the Queen of Hearts, and Alice leaves Wonderland to live happily ever after.

Top left – Alice; top right – Doctors Dee and Dum and Alice; middle left – the White Knight and Hatter; middle right – the Queen and King of Hearts; bottom left – Caterpillar; bottom right – Jack Heart, Alice, and Caterpillar

Before I go on, I feel this needs to be said, and it cannot be stressed enough – they left out the Cheshire Cat, and for that, there can be no forgiveness.

Anyway. One big thing worth noting is that in this second part, Alice, a black belt karate instructor, finally starts fighting back against the Hearts, quite literally at times. One thing you’ll notice if you watch enough horror or SyFy Original movies is that women characters often serve only to run around screaming or give the men characters something to fight for or after. I’m not sure at all why this is the case, but it does seem to be widely true. Thus, when you find a movie (or in this case a miniseries) with a strong female lead, it’s often refreshing. Sadly, the first half of this miniseries completely missed that point, portraying her as weak, timid, and scared. Still, it was good to see her take more control of her fate in the second half of the miniseries.

“I’m going with him, and there’s nothing you or King Skellington can do to stop me!”

While the first half managed to avoid too many terrible effects, either CGI or sets, the second half fell well behind. While there was no increase in the CGI (always a boon), the use of green screen backgrounds became way too common, and in general, they were not done well. I found myself remarking on how bad they were numerous times throughout the second half, especially during the two flamingo chase scenes. But hey, who doesn’t want to watch guys in suits fire shotguns while riding flamingos altogether too quickly?

Like this

The second part of the miniseries continued the social allegories and commentaries begun in the first, as expected. For example, in order to thwart the plans of the Hearts and start a revolution, Alice and Hatter free the kidnapped Oysters (see the review of part 1) in the casino by telling them to wake up and realize what was done to them, conveying the not-so-subtle undertones of individuality and disbelieving the story told by power; basically, the idea that blind complacency is the best friend of a dictatorial leader. Likewise, when their actions cause the emotion collection vats to overheat and be destroyed, the entire casino comes crashing down to the ground, a direct visual showing the Queen’s loss of power and authority. After the collapse of the casino, the Queen orders her henchmen to arrest Alice, but of course, they refuse, instead forcing her to hand over the Stone in order to reopen the looking glass and return the Oysters to the real world.

“The Stone or my finger? Off with your head! Please?”

The other big theme in the second part of the miniseries is the idea of reuniting with a lost parent, in this case a father. It turns out that the lead scientist for the Queen, and the one in charge of collecting the emotional essence from the Oysters, Carpenter (Timothy Webber, Cypher; The Grey Fox), is in fact Alice’s missing father, who finally manages to wake up with the other Oysters when Alice and Hatter set them free, only to die in Alice’s arms before the casino collapses in an all-too-common scene wherein he apologizes for everything and urges her to save herself before the building comes down (Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, anyone?).

“I can’t be her father. I do science!”

“Go, Alice. Return to your mother and your life.”

One of the concepts I’ve always enjoyed in movies like this, or like Labyrinth, or MirrorMask, or any of those movies where the hero travels from our mundane world to a fantastical one and back, is the melancholy at the end where the character (and the viewer) struggles with the question of whether any of it actually happened. It creates a very unique poignancy and sense of loss, while at the same time maintaining a shred of hope that that other world is still out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Of course, this melancholy is completely destroyed if one of the characters from that other world follows the hero back into his or her world, as happens here. To me, probably the biggest point of these things is the idea that it might have all been a dream, and when that uncertainty gets removed, the piece also loses a big part of its impact and significance.

“Is this real or a dream?”

“Real. Definitely real.”

“Oh. Okay then.”

So that’s it for Alice, and this installment of Miniseries Week. I hope you enjoyed it, and that you’ll join me in a thorough scathing of SyFy Channel for cutting out the Cheshire Cat. Because honestly, he’s just plain awesome. ’til next time!

“That’s for leaving out the Cheshire cat!”

Alice (Part 1) – “Welcome to a whole new Wonderland”

Given the nature of SyFy Channel, they tend to make a number of miniseries, some of which (like the Battlestar Galactica miniseries) go on to be highly successful full series; others, such as Tin Man or Riverworld, are never really intended to be more than retellings or re-imaginings of well-known or popular stories. So it is with Alice, the subject of this installment of Miniseries Week. (This review only covers part one of the two-part miniseries. Part two will be reviewed later in the week.)

Alice is a retelling of the Lewis Carroll classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (naturally). Alice (Caterina Scorsone, Private Practice; The Devil’s Arithmetic) is a 20-something karate instructor who’s been living with her mother since her father went missing ten years ago. Jack Chase (Philip Winchester, Flyboys; The Patriot), Alice’s boyfriend and karate student (and secret Knave of Hearts), joins Alice and her mother for dinner one night, after which he gets a mysterious text telling him to “RUN”. He offers to take Alice to meet his own family, and when she hesitates, he presents her with a very old ring passed down from his ancestors. She kicks him out of her apartment, but not before he slips the ring into her pocket. After a moment of indecision (and a talk with her mother who reminds her that not all men abandon their families; just her father), she runs after him, finding him just as he gets kidnapped. As the van he gets thrown into pulls away, an elderly gentleman with a white rabbit pin asks her about the ring. He manages to take the ring box from her, then proceeds to run. Alice follows him through a mirror, falling into the world of Wonderland. Soon, all sorts of well-known characters appear – the Hatter (Andrew Lee Potts, Primeval; 1408); the Queen and King of Hearts (Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law; Misery and Colm Meaney, Hell on WheelsStar Trek: The Next Generation, respectively); the White Knight (Matt Frewer, Watchmen; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids); and of course, Dodo (Tim Curry, Charlie’s Angels; The Rocky Horror Picture Show).

Top left – Alice; top right – Jack Chase; middle left – Hatter; middle right – Queen and King of Hearts; bottom left – White Knight; bottom right – Dodo

Alice is by no means the first remake of a popular children’s book to grace the SyFy screen. The same writer and director, Nick Willing, is also responsible for the SyFy re-imaginings of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (in the 2007 miniseries Tin Man) and J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy (in the 2011 miniseries Neverland). Both Alice and Tin Man (I have not yet seen Neverland and so can’t comment on it) are a good deal darker than many more popular versions – think Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to get a decent idea of the tone of Alice. In Willing’s telling, Alice finds herself in Wonderland 150 years after the events described in the story (much like Burton’s has Alice returning after however many years), and the world depicted is both fantastical and allegorical. The Wonderland of Willing’s Alice shows a world where people seek instant gratification, and those who can afford the prices can buy any emotion they want. These emotions, of course, have to come from a source; namely, the so-called “Oysters”, or people from the “real” world who are taken by order of the Queen of Hearts and locked in a casino, where they are continuously confronted with a situation designed to elicit a specific emotion, which is then drained from them and purified into a liquid essence to be imbibed by those wishing to experience that feeling. (Obviously, the ones in charge of distilling the emotive essence are Walrus and Carpenter, and if you don’t know why that’s obvious, read this poem in its entirety.) And if that allegory weren’t quite clear enough, they saw fit to include a stock market where people buy and sell the various emotions.

Though I have no idea what this guy’s feeling…

As in the book, the Queen of Hearts is not known for her kindness; it’s been a while since I’ve read the book, though I don’t remember this being in there, but I do know that the Burton film included a resistance movement, as does Willing’s miniseries, again getting at the idea of dystopia. Once Alice meets the Hatter, he takes her to see the leader of the resistance, Dodo. The resistance base is in a library housing 5000 years of history; when Alice asks about it, the Hatter remarks that the Queen of Hearts would burn it to the ground because “wisdom is the biggest threat” to her power. Now, I could be a cynic, but it seems to me that this is also a jab at the current state of government in the United States. (I don’t want to politicize this blog if I can avoid it, but I have to say that I have definitely noticed over the past two or three years a decided rejection of facts by politicians, of both parties, in favor of more desirable delusions which have then been spread to the public in various ways. In this world order, it is very definitely true that wisdom is a threat to power. Of course, as was seen recently with the Occupy movement around the country and the world, a rejection of the current power balance is not necessarily predicated on wisdom, either.)

And can land you in a room with giant men spying on you

But that’s neither here nor there, because this is SyFy Channel, and everything’s grittier with a good resistance running in the background. Right? Right.

After the run-in with Dodo (who, of course, wants the ring that Alice conveniently held onto when confronted by the White Rabbit), Alice and the Hatter try to return to the Hatter’s tea shop (a front for the emotion stock market; or vice versa, it’s not really clear at all which enterprise is the legal one), but when they arrive, Mad March (as in the March Hare), the deadliest of the Queen’s assassins (and, for some reason, a Chicago or New York-style mobster) is already looking for them. He chases them into a nearby forest, where they run afoul of a jabberwock (because duh), but also meet up with the White Knight, who takes Alice and the Hatter to the ruined Kingdom of the Knights.

Note: the White Rabbit is the one without a rabbit head

First of all, the White Knight is very much in the style of Don Quixote, crossed a little bit (in my mind) with the Grail knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The White Knight is also a self-described inventor, which puts him in one of the most classic clichés – the Mad Scientist. He’s certainly a lot smarter than he seems at first, and smarter than most everyone perceives; but he is also absent-minded and manic, just like all the best inventors from television and movie history.

“Mad, you say? Would a mad man tilt at windmillsHMMMM?

Second, though, he talks about how the Red King (as in, chess piece king) once ruled the land with wisdom, before the Queen of Hearts overthrew him and refused to accept that bad things could happen. I’m not sure whether this was intended by Willing, but this history of Wonderland presents a war between cards and chess, arguably allegories for impatience and simplicity on the one hand, and thoughtfulness and planning on the other. Of course, those of you who know me know that I love a good card game; you also know that I’m not terribly talented at chess. But however you look at it, it’s difficult to make the case that chess is a game of instant gratification, or that many card games take much strategy. So again, it seems as though Willing is trying to tangentially force certain allegories between the Wonderland dystopia he’s created and the real world in which we find ourselves.

“Ahead truth-factor 7. Engage.”

Before I go, I need to mention some of the basics. Despite the beauty of Wonderland shown throughout much of this episode, the run-in with the jabberwock demonstrated poor enough CGI to make me notice it and remark that it just barely avoided being called “bad”. The acting, on the other hand, was pretty good across the board. Certain characters were exaggerated, of course, but then, they’re kind of supposed to be. The dialogue and music served to complement and complete the desired effect of a restless sort of dystopia, and overall, the darker tone throughout was handled well and served as a successful homage to the strangeness of the source material. My one main complaint is that the Cheshire Cat, my favorite character from the book and possibly one of the best characters from fiction, was almost entirely absent. Hopefully, he’ll be back in a big way in part two, but to find out, you’ll have to wait for the next review! See you then!

Jack Hunter and the Star of Heaven

So now we come to the final chapter in the adventures of Jack Hunter. For my take on part 1 (Jack Hunter and the Lost Treasure of Ugarit) and part 2 (Jack Hunter and the Quest for Akhenaten’s Tomb), follow their respective links.

At the end of part 2, evil, beard-wearing German Albert Littmann (Thure Riefenstien) had managed to escape Egypt with a legendary staff and an idea of where to look for a companion artifact. Part 3 begins with the NSA trying to apprehend Albert in order to gain possession of the staff. When Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei) interferes with the operation, he gets taken in to NSA headquarters in Turkey, where he provides evidence that the second artifact Albert is searching for was in Constantinople at one point. So off he goes, meeting up with Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly) once more to find Albert and try one last time to take the staff from him. As the treasure hunt continues, it becomes necessary to enlist the help of Nadia’s old flame, leading to several betrayals. Finally, during the ultimate confrontation, a lot of people die, things explode, and the earth is saved once again by Jack and Co.

Look! A betrayal!

Before I begin my critique, I realize that I need to retract something I said in my review of part 2. Therein, I claimed that Albert had an unexplained character reversal by making the choice to keep Jack, Nadia and Tariq alive while showing no hesitation to kill tens of miscellaneous workers during the first episode in the miniseries. However, in the third part of the series, he directly articulates that he wants to keep Jack alive in order to work with him. So I apologize, Albert; I mistook your seeming change of heart for Bond-villain stupidity when it was, in fact, compassionate stupidity. I’m sorry. Now, on to the critique.

In this final installment of the adventures of Jack Hunter, we have yet another car chase, this time through the streets of Istanbul. Ignoring the overdone use of car chases through the streets of big cities in action movies in general, there’s a moment where Jack mentions how remarkable it is that he’s still being followed, after all of the evasive driving he’s done. What he seems to be forgetting is that it shouldn’t be too hard to follow someone, even at higher speeds, when they only make two, maybe three turns total. I’m not an expert driver, but I do suspect many people would be able to follow him through those two or three turns. Especially when it looks as though they don’t get going much faster than about 40 mph or so (though that estimate is a wild guess, and based on nothing whatsoever).

There was one scene in this episode with horrendous CGI, and it wasn’t what you’d expect. There were no monsters in the series, very few supernatural occurrences, and overall, very little use of special effects. Except for one unfortunate scene with fire. Some thugs light a pool of gasoline on fire, allowing the flames to make their way to a gas tank, causing it to explode in order to kill our heroes (who, needless to say, escape in the nick of time). But rather than film, you know, actual fire in a controlled environment, they use CGI flame that stands out so badly from the rest, it’s hard not to notice how fake it is.

Our heroes, more concerned about losing their passports than about the fake fire they “barely” survive.

I’ve written before on the use of flashback montages in movies, and while part 1 of Jack Hunter had one montage on which I remember remarking while watching the episode, I was willing to overlook it as it was also mixed with images from the present and generally served to demonstrate Jack’s grief at the murder of his mentor. Then part 3 of Jack Hunter came around. This time, the montage was used to drill into the viewers’ skulls the idea that Nadia had in fact finally fallen in love with Jack and Jack with Nadia, and that they were coming to terms with that. But anyone – anyone – who has seen movies of this nature before knew, from the beginning, that they would overcome all their differences and end up together, at least for a time. Viewers are intelligent, on the whole; they don’t need a five minute montage of scenes from the miniseries to remind them that Jack and Nadia care about each other. Part 3 made that pretty clear on its own, and the buildup while watching parts 1 and 2 only helped add to that. But, much as I am doing right now, the director decided to spell out every last reason why they fall for each other, and ends up with a fairly eye-roll-worthy scene.

Now to the end of the miniseries. By the end of the episode, Albert has both artifacts – the staff and a ring that fits on top of it – and is getting ready to sell them to the Russian mob. Jack has already called the NSA to let them know where the deal is happening, but he, Nadia, Tariq and Nadia’s former fling drive out there to try to stop Albert because the NSA might not get there in time. In order to distract the half-dozen machinegun-armed Russian mobsters, everyone gets out of the car and then Jack sends it directly into the meeting between Albert and the lead Russian. Naturally, all the lackeys open fire with their machineguns and, this being an action movie, naturally the car explodes. Completely. Big fireball, shrapnel, no more car – all from machinegun fire aimed at the engine of the car (not even the gas tank). Later, using a confiscated machinegun, Jack manages to do the same to a helicopter. Mythbusters demonstrated that this was essentially impossible, unless using the right ammunition from the right distance. In other words, both car and helicopter should have survived the final scene.

Left – the third member of the evil beard society (the lead Russian). Right – the guys who open fire on the NSA.

I’m gonna take a moment now and address Hollywood. Hey, Hollywood. I know you like big explosions and bullets, and what could be better than combining the two? Well, have you thought about realism? You make so many action movies that try to be mostly realistic, and then this sort of thing comes along. Stop. Just stop. Cars can still be incapacitated by bullets – bullets can destroy engines, they can cause fuel leaks, they can put cars out of commission in so many ways; just stop allowing bullets to cause cars to explode. Okay? Okay. Glad we had this talk.

Anyway, eventually the NSA shows up – I’m talking twenty or thirty agents in tactical combat gear (bulletproof armor, actually good guns, etc.) in order to take down the dozen bad guys with no such protection and not even any cover (the NSA agents have rocks and such to hide behind). So the Russians do the smart thing and surrender, right? Of course not. They start shooting, as though that’s a good idea. To me, this makes no sense at all, and of course, the Russians all end up dead. Of course, so does the NSA team, but that’s because it turns out that the staff and ring, when combined, form a really big laser gun, which Albert then uses to vaporize everyone (except Jack and Co., obviously). Long story short, Jack manages to disarm Albert, the staff gets thrown into lava, and Albert gets thrown in after it. (SPOILER ALERT – the bad guy dies.) Which brings me to my next point – what’s the deal with movies having characters getting thrown into fire to kill them? Look at this series, look at Lord of the Rings, and look at pretty much any Disney movie ever. The villains always get thrown into pits of fire. What’s up with that?

Ring… plus staff… equals LASER!

The last thing I need to say about this series is that it was filmed on location in Turkey. And that, to me, is pretty awesome.

So that’s it for the adventures of Jack Hunter, Indiana Jones wannabe, and for the first in the occasional Jumping Sharks feature Miniseries Week. I hope you enjoyed it, and check back here next week for more movie reviews.

Jack Hunter and the Quest for Akhenaten’s Tomb

For those of you just joining us, this week Jumping Sharks introduced the first in an occasional feature, Miniseries Week. The first entry can be found here, in case you missed it.

The good guys – Tariq, Jack, Nadia, Lena (l to r, left pic).

When we left Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei) and Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly), the evil bearded German archaeologist Albert Littmann (Thure Riefenstein) had beaten them to the legendary treasure of Ugarit and absconded with a staff of unnatural power. The second part in the miniseries starts off with an excavation in Giza, led by Lena Halstrom (Alaina Huffman, SGU Stargate Universe, Painkiller Jane), finding an ancient obelisk with Ugaritic markings on it. She brings in Jack to help decipher what the writing says, not knowing that Jack has already been recruited by the National Security Agency to track down the staff and another artifact that goes with it. The obelisk leads them on a treasure hunt to find Akhenaten’s tomb, and has them run afoul of the Russian mob (who are backing Albert), a colonel in the Egyptian army (who wants to use the discovery of Akhenaten’s tomb to get promoted), and a gang of bandits whose leader claims to be a descendent of Akhenaten and therefore the rightful heir of the treasure. As the three groups periodically encounter each other, hilarity ensues.

The bad guys – Albert Littmann (top left); Egyptian army colonel (top right); leader of secret society (bottom)

First, I’d like to bring up this little adventure movie trope – whenever these movies have ancient artifacts/secrets/locations of legendary importance, why do they always – always – have secret societies guarding them? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Secret society. The Mummy? Secret society. The Da Vinci Code? Hell, that whole movie is about a secret society. I get that these things need to have bad guys, and that secret societies are easy enough to explain without going into a lot of detail; but when Jack Hunter already has the Russian mob and the Egyptian army after him, does he really need to have a secret society chasing him, too?

Second, we have a return of the “that guy has a bad-guy beard, he must be a bad guy” issue, this time on an Egyptian. So now we have a German with a bad-guy beard and an Egyptian with a very similar beard, both trying to use our hero to find the treasure so they can take it for themselves. You’d think one of them might have a scar or an eye patch or something…

Maybe they’re both members of the same secret beard society…

Three more points – they have a scene wherein a car gets hit by a truck, and of course, the men in the car race out of it, getting out and away just before it explodes. In a big ball of fire. When where was no fire present after the crash. I’m not gonna say it’s impossible (I’ll let this website do that instead), but seeing completely unrealistic car crashes in every action movie ever is getting kinda old. Next, there’s a scene where our hero uses a gunfight between the Egyptian army and the secret society to escape, but the only way out is by jumping into a lake. Here’s the thing – he has a book on him with all of his notes about the Ugarit treasure that he’s tracking. Obviously, in a choice of his life or the book, I’d expect him to choose his life; what I wouldn’t expect is for the book to show absolutely no signs of damage later on in the episode, despite lacking any special protective covering and being carried in a satchel (not even a backpack). Again, not entirely impossible, I suppose, but certainly extremely improbable. Finally, our villain (the German one, not the other two) is led to a site he believes to be the tomb, but doesn’t find what he’s looking for and gives up to go search elsewhere. But before he goes, he has his men seal Jack, Nadia and Jar Jar – I’m sorry; Tariq – in the tomb. This is the same man who, in the first part of the miniseries, has a whole excavation team killed because they knew too much, but now he’s showing compassion and making the classic bad-guy mistake of locking the heroes inside? I get that dehydration is a much crueler way to kill someone, but isn’t shooting them the safest way to do so? Oh Bond villains, how misled you’ve made modern bad-guys…

Top left – a car blowing up completely realistically; top right – our villain about to give up; bottom – what happens after he does

And while this episode did leave out the unnecessary Indiana Jones references, it included two unnecessary gangster movie references. So that’s a plus? Kinda? Maybe?… Anyways, stay tuned for the final installment of the adventures of Jack Hunter here on Jumping Sharks.

Jack Hunter and the Lost Treasure of Ugarit

Continuing this week’s theme of adventure movies, Jumping Sharks is also proud to bring you the first installment of a semi-regular feature, Miniseries Week. First, let me make it crystal clear – this is a completely original miniseries, in no way stealing anything at all from Indiana Jones. Nope. No siree. Well, maybe just a bit. Okay, maybe a bit more than a bit. Oh, alright – they basically copied Indiana Jones, right down to his trademarked hat. Let’s see how they did.

I can’t tell them apart! Which is which?!?

The first installment in this three-part miniseries starts off with only-in-it-for-the-money archaeologist Jack Hunter (Ivan Sergei, Gravity, Jack & Jill) stealing a tablet, originally from the lost city of Ugarit, with details of a lost treasure. When the tablet leads to the murder of his mentor, Jack heads off to Syria to find the treasure and track down the murderers, teaming up with Syrian archaeologist Nadia Ramadan (Joanne Kelly, Warehouse 13) in a race to beat sinister German archaeologist/treasure-hunter Albert Littmann (Thure Riefenstein, Die Machtergreifung, Schwarz greift ein – seriously, we’re still using Germans as villains?) to the mythical treasure. Naturally, our heroes do all the work while our villain is content to follow after. Zero plot turns (okay, there might be one or two) and at least three obvious Indiana Jones references (not counting the hat) later, we have the villain escaping with a legendary scepter that has supernatural powers, conveniently setting us up for the second part of the series, to be discussed in a future post.

You can tell he’s evil ’cause of the beard.

So, let’s begin with the beginning. Mediocre acting (at best) – check. Poor CGI – check, although there was thankfully little of it. Overly dramatic dialogue – major check. Now, I’d like someone to explain the following to me – in the opening scene, Jack Hunter sneaks into a private museum guarded, as you would expect, by rent-a-cops. Of course he triggers the alarm, causing the guards to come running. But when the first guard to get there doesn’t shoot Jack and instead gets disarmed (because for some reason, he figures that he can’t actually shoot someone unless he’s two feet away from them), all of a sudden our guard is able to throw Jack against the wall and lift him a foot or two off the ground by his neck, but then goes back to being not a terribly good fighter, as one would expect from an average private security guard. So where did that neck thing come from? Can anyone tell me? Is it easier than I’m guessing to lift someone by their neck?

Indiana Jon – I mean, Jack Hunter and the Raiders of the – I mean…

Moreover, when our villain gets introduced, I’m sorry to say that the movie resorts to the unfortunate cliché of having him gun down a bunch of innocent workers excavating a site for him, just to let us know that he’s evil. On top of that, he also spends a certain amount of time breaking antiquities seemingly to accentuate the fact that, yes, he is in fact evil. As if his being German wasn’t enough…

It’s like Satan Himself gave him that beard…

Speaking of movie clichés, there’s a fight scene in an antiquities shop during which it seems like the fighters go out of their way to break as many things as possible. I’m not saying this is unrealistic or anything, but I do have to say it’s an incredibly overdone trope. I also have to wonder about the following little exchange – after returning with the tablet, Jack gets into an argument with his mentor about going after the treasure, wherein Jack says that he doesn’t care about the treasure despite being, according to his mentor, the person with the most knowledge of the Ugaritic language in the world. Now, I’m not a scientist – oh wait; yes I am! As a scientist, I can’t easily imagine a situation wherein someone would study an ancient language, which I can’t easily imagine is easy to understand well enough to read and interpret, without having a keen interest in the culture, on the whole, from which that language originates. That just doesn’t make sense to me, as a scientist, and so it doesn’t make sense that Jack would not want to go after the treasure. But maybe that’s just me.

Devil-beard agrees with me.

Two more points that struck me as odd/unfortunate/bizarre – there’s a car chase scene (because of course there’s a car chase scene), part of which includes a passenger in the attacking car shooting into the air. At first I thought he was intentionally trying to not harm our heroes (instead trying to force them to stop), but later it is revealed that he was, in fact, shooting at them. Which I don’t really see as being possible, given that our heroes’ car was next to the shooter’s, and not above it. The other point that stuck out was that of the obligatory comic-relief sidekick. Clearly the creators of this miniseries didn’t learn anything from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace because the character they created to be comic relief is what I would imagine an Arab version of Jar Jar Binks to be. He has eccentric hand gestures, a very bouncy way of moving, and even refers to himself in the third person way too often. He also bears a striking visual resemblance to the Gungan and has a voice in an eerily similar register. I would have thought they’d have learned, but noooooo, learning would be too easy.

I’m seeing double!

However, there are two things I thought this first part of the miniseries did well. First of all, Jack Hunter actually makes intelligent use of technology – he takes pictures of things and uploads them onto his laptop, instead of relying on the physical copies that always manage to either get stolen or broken. The other thing this episode did that I thought was surprisingly well-done was the music. Very rarely does a movie on SyFy Channel make me remark on how fitting the music is, at it tends to be fairly rote and uninspired. Maybe I’m a sucker for the large, open orchestral style, but I found myself pleasantly surprised, at multiple parts of the episode, by how good the music was. Too bad that doesn’t happen more often…

So where does all that leave us for this, the first part of the legendary tale of Jack Hunter? Well, it leaves us more or less where we’d guess we’d end up just based off the premise – with a predictable Indiana Jones rip-off, right down to the hat. I know it goes without saying, but Harrison Ford did it better.

Lookin’ good.

Finally, on a serious note, given where I went to college I would be betraying my alma mater if I didn’t comment on this point. The below images are clearly remarkably similar, but with one glaring difference – the female co-star has been taken out of the one on the right. I don’t know why that change was made or how extensively each was used to advertise the episode, but it strikes me as a pointless devaluation of the female role in this miniseries, and I can’t imagine a situation where such a change would be desirable. It’s not as though she was cropped out of the image to make it fit a smaller area – I can only guess that she was deliberately taken out of the right-hand poster to help focus more attention on the hero. (We here at Jumping Sharks don’t intend on preaching to our audience too often, but this, to us, seemed too blatant to not at least mention.)