According to a report in Variety, NBC has signed on to a deal with Ronald D. Moore (the new Battlestar Galactica) to bring a new time travel adventure series to the Peacock Network.

to be called, The Pen and the Sword, the story revolves a temp worker who discovers a portal at his job that allows him to travel back and forth between a medieval alternate reality and this reality.

“It’s definitely something different for a broadcast network,” Moore told Variety.

Still in development, if the series is approved by the network, it could appear on the fall 2006 NBC lineup or as a mid-season replacement in January 2007.

According to a report in Variety, NBC Universal (NBCU) has struck a deal to keep Ronald D. Moore around for another two years.

Under the terms of the deal, Moore will continue to lead the production of the new Battlestar Galactica (BSG) on the NBCU-owned Sci Fi channel.

In addition to that, NBCU will produce other projects by Moore, including a pilot for a new one-hour series called Warehouse 13 for Sci Fi. He also will create a science fiction series called The Pen and the Sword for NBC.

Past TV works by Moore include the first season of HBO’s Carnivale (he left after the first season to create BSG as an updated series), Good vs. Evil, as well as many scripts for Star Trek:Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.

King Kong

9 out of 10
King Kong (2005)
NO SPOILERS

This movie is proof that director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) is no one trick pony. This newest – and possibly best – version of King Kong had even the most jaded movie goers squirming in their seats and jumping at startling moments.

Somehow this film pulls off being a lyrical fantasy, an action adventure, a horror film, a comedy, a tragedy, a road movie, a biting commentary on exploitation of the innocent by the powerful, a buddy film and a love story all rolled up in one. It really is that good.

Some critics have complained about this new Kong Kong‘s length; usually saying something akin to how at three hours, it could use a good trimming. I’m not so sure.

In Peter Jackson’s hands, we get a movie that starts out on a slow burn – like the first big hill of a rollercoaster. The extra-long buildup is worth the payoff of the second half of the film.

Jackson gives us time to become involved in the lives of the characters of this film. We get to know them – and suffer and laugh with them. We feel for them.

This version of King Kong is a movie with a soul.

The Breakdown:

ACTOR HIGHLIGHTS: For a good portion of this film, there is no dialogue. Lead actress Naomi Watts (The Ring, Tank Girl) plays “Ann Darrow,” the beauty. But in this 2005 version, she is not played as much a damsel in distress as a survivor and fighter. Watts has that gift some great actors have of being able to communicate through her eyes, emotions and intent pouring out of her. Her meaning and intent crystal clear without the need to actually utter a word.

Can a computer-generated “cartoon” act? After I saw this film, I’d have to say yes. King Kong himself pulled off the most surprisingly good performance. He was “played” by Andy Serkis (“Gollum” from Lord of the Rings) who also pulls off the dual role of playing the ship’s cook. As Kong, Serkis acted out all of the gorilla movements, which computers captured and converted into a computer-animated 25-foot-tall silverback gorilla.

SPECIAL EFFECTS: The scenes of Depression-era New York city are flawless. The scenes on Skull Island are pulled off with near-photo realism. Kong himself looks alive.

WRITING: The original story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace was expertly adapted and fleshed out by writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson. For true fans of Kong, they included nods to the original movie and cast peppered throughout the film.

But by far the best touches were the back story on Ann Darrow and the growth of the friendship between her and Kong.

This is by far the best fantasy genre film of 2005.


RATINGS
Overall: 9 out of 10
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre:Fantasy
Sex: None.
Violence: Fantasy violence. Graphic depictions of death.
Special Effects: Excellent
Other: One of the best films of the year.

CAST
Naomi Watts … Ann Darrow
Andy Serkis … King Kong
Andy Serkis … Lumpy the Cook
Jack Black … Carl Denham
Adrien Brody … Jack Driscoll
Kyle Chandler … Bruce Baxter
Colin Hanks … Preston
Jamie Bell … Jimmy
Thomas Kretschmann … Captain Englehorn

NOTE: Sci Fi has not officially confirmed this.

The following story is provided thanks to an alert from SFTV.org.

According to the January Sci Fi channel schedule, reruns of former Fox series John Doe will be added to the cable network’s Friday night lineup at 7/6c p.m.. starting January 20, 2006.

This move is more than a little ironic to Firefly/Serenity fans. After Firefly was cancelled by Fox in the 2002-2003 season, it was John Doe that replaced it on the that network’s schedule.

John Doe the series follows the life of the character “John Doe,” a man with amnesia, played by Dominic Purcell (Prison Break, Blade Trinity, Mission Impossible II). As the show progresses, we discover abduction and government conspiracy issues as Mr. Doe tries to find the answer to his true identity.

Adding the sci-fi (or spy-fi) zing, it is apparent from the very beginning that Mr. Doe has some astonishing talents; talents that go way beyond those of normal humans.

Although John Doe lasted longer on the Fox Network than Firefly, it too was cancelled at the end of the season. Networks executives thought the show’s 20- and 3-something audience was a little too old for its tastes.

Nightstalker will live again on the Sci Fi channel – at least temporarily.

According to a report in television industry magazine Broadcasting & Cable, the ABC network and Touchstone Television have reached a deal to sell all nine episodes of Nightstalker to Sci Fi. The episodes are set to air of Friday Nights at 7/6c p.m. as a lead-in to the new season of Stargate:SG1.

Sci Fi is following the successful strategy it used last year when it picked up the rights to cancelled FOX network show, Firefly. Sci Fi will only air the nine filmed episodes already made; there are no plans to produce new episodes of the show.

B&C says Sci Fi will announce the arrival of Nightstalker to its summer season Friday lineup as soon as Monday morning.

Sci FI’s parent company, NBC Universal, reported played between $15,000 and $50,000 an episode for the rights to Nightstalker. This ending is a fitting, if ironic, twist to the Nightstalker story. Just last year, ABC and Touchstone Television bought remake rights to the series from NBC Universal based on the failed 1970s TV series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

After it went into production, ABC aired just six episodes of the X-Files-flavored Nightstalker in the deadly timeslot of 9 p.m. on Thursdays. It was quickly slaughtered by the triple threat whammy competition of CSI on CBS, The Apprentice on NBC and baseball playoffs on FOX.

An additional seventh episode is only available for download on Apple’s iTunes website. B&C says the eighth and final episodes of the new Nightstalker also will appear on video iPods well before the series ports over to the Sci Fi channel this summer.

Pooh loses his oldest friend as Walt Disney “kills off” Christopher Robin by replacing him with a new Disney-created character for 2007.

Last week, with a major court victory under its belt, The Walt Disney Company consolidated its hold on the film rights the Winnie the Pooh stories and characters. The media giant had been locked in a bitter battle for years with descendants of author A.A. Milne and representatives of his estate.

The Milnes had claimed Disney owed the estate and family millions of dollars in royalties from its profits from the Pooh franchise. Forbes magazine says Pooh generated $5 billion in sales in 38 countries and 29 languages for Disney.

With that issue settled, Disney plans a major re-branding of the Pooh franchise into a computer-animated and decidedly non-Milne direction to be called My Friends Tigger and Pooh, which is set to debut on the Disney Channel in 2007. As part of that makeover, Disney says it has no place for the only human Pooh character, Christopher Robin.

This has Winnie the Pooh fans in an uproar. A.A. Milne created the Pooh stories specifically for his son, Christopher Robin Milne.

The first Pooh stories appeared in print in 1926. For its 80th birthday, Disney plans to scrap the original concept of a gentle, idyllic 100-acre wood that has appealed to generations of children and rebuild the Pooh universe as an action-oriented cartoon for the Disney Channel.

“The feeling was these timeless characters really needed a breath of fresh air,” Nancy Kantor, Vice President of Programming at Disney said.

That means in a bid to appeal to its target audiences, gentle British Christopher Robin was given the sack. He will be replaced by an (as yet) unnamed little girl, an American character Disney calls an action-loving tomboy.

Hunky men and beautiful babes are set to invade the Sci Fi channel and spice up the mornings starting the first Monday in February.

In a press release issued Friday, Sci Fi said it has bought the repeat rights to air the NBC soap opera Passions starting Feb. 6, 2006. The channel plans to air episodes twice a day each morning at at 9/8c and Noon/11c Monday through Friday.

Sci Fi says it will start at the beginning with episode No. 1 of the six-year-old soap opera about witches, ghosts and the supernatural.

‘Passions’ dramatic blend of magic, romance, the supernatural and fantasy makes it an ideal choice for Sci Fi’s morning line up,” Dave Howe, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Sci Fi channel said in the announcement.

The channel says Passions, which centers around families affected by the supernatural world has a strong appeal to young women; which fits nicely into Sci Fi’s strategy to bring in both younger and more female viewers.

Young women may be attracted to the fact that the male stars of Passions have a habit of losing their shirts at a moment’s notice. That eye-catching hunk factor has launched the careers of such actors as Jesse Metcalf (Desperate Housewives) and Dylan Fergus (Hellbent [pictured]).

New first-run episodes of Passions currently air weekday afternoons on NBC. Both Sci Fi and NBC are owned by NBC Universal, a subsidiary of General Electric.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

6 out of 10
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005)
NO SPOILERS

If only I were 30 years younger, I’d probably adore this film.

First of all for the avid C.S. Lewis fans, rest assured, that by far this is the best film adaptation of this book ever, it easily eclipses previous TV versions filmed in 1967, 1979 and 1988.

For non-fans of C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (LWW), is a nice little family film that at times is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, but without its touches of masterpiece. Also unlike the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this Narnia film has slow parts that some viewers may find utterly boring.

And to put one so-called controversy to rest for good. There has been a lot of hype in the media about this film’s Christian overtones. Sure they are there as broad themes – but that’s it. No where in the film are the words “God” or “Jesus” spoken.

I’m suspecting that the PR people at Disney created this controversy to get media attention away from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – which is a better movie, by the way.

But back to this film. Ever since the first teaser previews started appearing in theatres for this film, I was caught up like many others in anticipation of this film. After having seen it, I can say it was well worth the ticket price, but I’m not sure I’ll be buying the DVD when it comes out.

I think the main flaw with this version of LWW is that I am an adult and at its heart, this is a Disney film. When a hero kills a villain with a sword and is told to clean it, I expect to see blood on it – or at least some consequence of the violent act.

As an adult without children, this film was just too sanitized. The violent deaths and blood and … realistic consequences to deadly action happen off camera. That’s OK in many cases. There really is no need to show blood and gore for blood and gore’s sake in a movie like this.

But in this case, I think the film makers went a little overboard. It has been so scrubbed clean … it verges on being boring. And with some of the best special effects, wonderful acting and gorgeous scenery – that was a hard thing to do. But somehow, the makers of this film turned what should have been a blockbuster into something merely OK. Too bad.

Despite that, I found some parts of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to be brilliant, including:

  • Direction by Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2). Here Adamson uses his skills honed in 3-D animation to perfection. He also knows enough to play up the comedic parts of what could have become a preachy film.
  • The computer-generated animals. It is amazing how far this technology has progressed. The animals actually look and act like real animals. I was astonished at the realism and how seamlessly the live actors blended in with what are basically high-tech cartoons.
  • Tilda Swinton (Constantine, Vanilla Sky, Orlando) as the “White Witch.” With this performance, we see one of the best villains to appear on screen in the past decade … or longer. Swinton’s witch is pure evil in a befittingly original and chilling way. You actually believe that she is capable of doing the acts she does in this film.
  • The two youngest cast members, Georgie Henley as “Lucy” and Skandar Keynes as “Edmund” shine. These two, and Swinton carry this movie. They saved this show from the mediocrity the producers seemed hellbent to create.

RATINGS
Overall: 6 out of 10
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre:Fantasy
Sex: None.
Violence: Fantasy violence. Unrealistic consequences to violent behavior.
Special Effects: Excellent
Other: Definitely a children’s film.

CAST
Tilda Swinton … White Witch
Jim Broadbent … Professor Kirke
Georgie Henley … Lucy Pevensie
Skandar Keynes … Edmund Pevensie
William Moseley … Peter Pevensie
Anna Popplewell … Susan Pevensie
James McAvoy … Mr. Tumnus
Liam Neeson … Aslan (voice)
Ray Winstone … Mr. Beaver (voice)
Dawn French … Mrs. Beaver (voice)
Rupert Everett … Fox (voice)

Just in time for holiday shopping, Apple Computer’s iTunes downloading service announced that NBC Universal will start porting over episodes from its catalogue for viewing on the new video iPod – or on a user’s home computer.

With this latest move, the number of sci fi-flavored shows available for download has grown from three to six. The cancelled ABC series, Night Stalker, has disappeared from TV but still lives in the iTunes service, along with Lost were joined by four genre shows from NBC, the Sci Fi channel and the Universal TV archives, including:

  • Surface, NBC (2005 episodes)
  • Battlestar Galactica, Sci Fi (2003, 2004 and 2005 episodes)
  • Knight Rider, Universal Television (vintage repeats)
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents (vintage repeats)

As with current episodes of ABC’s Lost and Night Stalker, the new shows’ episodes will be available for sale for $1.99 each. Although they do not offer the quality of a DVD, $1.99 may seem like a very cheap price for a rabid fan who missed an episode because the VCR or TiVo screwed up.

Aeon Flux

5 out of 10
Aeon Flux (2005)

Aeon Flux is a hit-and-miss live-action big screen adaptation of a series of animated shorts that first appeared on MTV’s Liquid Television series (which also spawned Beavis and Butthead and the film Office Space) in 1991. The film succeeds in capturing the look and feel of the original cartoon, which was virtually a silent film – but fails where it departs from the original as cheesy dialogue mars an otherwise entertaining film.

Imagine a society 400 years in the future when the entire population of Earth exists behind the walls of Bregna, a single city of 5 million. The rest of humanity has been killed off long ago by disease associated with industrial activity.

This is the world of Aeon Flux, starring Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron in the title role. She plays a Monican agent working covertly to overthrow the oppressive government, led by the Goodchild dynasty.

The Goodchilds are similar to the old Chinese dynasties and rule with a caring, iron fist. Under their care, Bregna has grown into a very well-manicured and very ordered society.

Imagine Singapore – where instead of being publicly caned (beaten) for violating laws after the fact, the landscape itself smacks down violators of the social order. You don’t need ugly “Keep of the Grass” signs when the grass itself is beautiful, but razor sharp enough to cut through flesh, bone and soles of shoes.

The plot of the film revolves around Monican agents trying to take out the Goodchild dynasty – and a mysterious ailment (of which only the government knows) that threatens the few remaining humans.

Directed by Karyn Kusama, whose only other film was 2000 female boxing movie Girlfight, and starring Oscar winners Theron and Frances McDormand (Fargo) as well as Oscar-nominated Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), the film has a definite feminist slant. And that is a good thing for this movie.

In what could have devolved into a fetishist exploitation flick with scantily-clad women with guns (like some of the scenes in Sin City), Kusama pulls off a lyrical film that is stunning in its visual beauty, but cold and distant – like the call of a mourning dove.

This cold distance means Aeon Flux is not a film that will find a mass audience. It is more of an art house science fiction film, with more in common with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Brazil than Star Wars or War of the Worlds.

Aeon Flux also is a little heavy-handed in its anti-science and anti-genetically modified themes. Bregna takes lethal measures to keep wilds of nature from encroaching upon its over-manicured walls.

But the weakest point in Aeon Flux is the writing. Audience members were openly snickering or even outright mocking some of the clich├ęd dialogue. I haven’t sat through dialogue this bad since George Lucas unleashed Attack of the Clones teen angst love scene between Anakin and Padme upon us a few years back.

The screenplay by the writing team of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (Crazy/Beautiful and The Tuxedo) steals many of the one-liners from Peter Chung’s original MTV series, but fails to capture any of the excitement or cutting-edge mood and attitude.

This flaw is probably why the studio chose not to prescreen Aeon Flux to film critics. Probably from fears of dealing with reviews like “Aeon Sucks.” Because, frankly, parts of this movie really do suck.

Thankfully, the stunning art direction and top-quality acting save this film. It is worth seeing for the visuals alone.


RATINGS
Overall: 5 out of 10
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre:Science Fiction
Sex: Adult themes, one minor sex scene which doesn’t show any nudity and was less graphic than much of what is seen on network television and much less graphic sex than what was shown on the original MTV animation effort.
Violence: Fantasy violence. Martial arts-style fighting. Firearm-related deaths.
Special Effects: Very well done

CAST
Charlize Theron … Aeon Flux
Sophie Okonedo … Sithandra
Frances McDormand … Handler
Marton Csokas … Trevor Goodchild
Jonny Lee Miller … Oren Goodchild
Pete Postlethwaite … Keeper
Stuart Townsend … Monican Agent