Thursday , November 30 2023

Stephen Spielberg Presents: Taken

As HBO’s Band of Brothers is to Saving Private Ryan, Taken is to Close Encounters of the Third Kind: a mini-series elaboration of themes introduced by producer Stephen Spielberg’s source flicks.
On the basis of the preview ep of this new ten-part series, it looks like Sci-Fi Channel may’ve gotten the better deal. Charting the lives of three families from the mid-forties to the present, Taken touches on U.F.O. mythology that’s become more common currency since the days Richard Dreyfus first sculpted a mountain out of spuds. Some of this is thanx to Spielberg himself, of course. When one doomed character experiences contact on the same type of isolated country road we saw in Encounters, the moment can’t help but recall the earlier scene in the Indiana countryside. (The car’s electrical system dies mid-radio song, only to be revived several minutes later with the same song playing – one of those moments of pure movie time.)

But years of govt.-bred cynicism have dulled the Peter Pan optimism of the original. In place of saintly humanist Francois Truffaut, we now get a sociopathic military careerist overseeing things. Should’ve known that we were gonna be in for a darker trip once I saw Tobe (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) Hooper’s name on the director’s credits: the man is not exactly known for warm & fuzzy.
The opening two-hour ep is set in the mid-forties and follows three basic plotlines: the travails of Illinois family man Russell Keys (Steve Burton), seemingly abducted during the war and slowly remembering what has happened to him; the Machiavellian machinations of Owen Crawford (Joel Gretsch), an Army man looking to take advantage of the proliferation of sightings around Roswell, New Mexico; and Sally Clark (Catherine Dent), a waitress in Lubbock, Texas, who has the closest kind of encounter with a mysterious stranger “from Des Moines.”
The first entry moves at a fairly decent clip – fifteen minutes into the show, and we’ve already seen our first alien skulking in a tree – thanks to Leslie Bohem’s expedient script. Could’ve done without the sub-Bradburyish child’s narration that crops up periodically (watching it w./ closed captioning reveals that the lyricism is courtesy a character named Allie – who we haven’t met yet). But anyone with enough taste to end his premiere outing w./ a Bob Wills song has won me on his side for at least another episode.
Much of the cast of Taken, with the exception of Michael Moriarty, is largely unfamiliar (though in our house, we did a loud double-take when we realized that Angel‘s Darla was now a Midwestern housewife). The ship fx & aliens look cool (a pile of dead ‘uns comes across as pretty rubbery, though). The extraterrestrial interlopers, we learn, can look like humans – but prolonged exposure to their presence appears to lead to nasty physiological side effects. Having just experienced Thanksgiving family time, I can relate.
Sci-fi Channel is scheduling this massive mini-series in solid weekday blocks, though fortunately for those of us with loyalties to other series, the net reruns each outing three times in a row the night it premieres. (Phew – and here I was worried about missing Kim Bauer’s flight from a psycho abusive yuppie!) Can’t blame Sci-Fi for plugging most of its weeknights w./ the Spielberg Show. In terms of network p.r., this is even bigger than the time South Park took on Crossing Over.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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