A catch-up of some TV series and films I've been watching recently:
TV – Roswell, New Mexico (2019-20)
I gather that this is the second TV series to be based on the Roswell High book series by Melinda Metz. I have neither seen the first series nor read the books, so I came to this one cold. Two seasons have been shown so far, totalling 26 episodes. The story follows the lives of three young adults who, it turns out, are aliens who survived the famous 1947 "incident" and spent decades mending in hibernation pods. They are now trying to survive without being detected by the humans they live among (helpfully, they look exactly like humans and can even breed with them...). Leaving aside the somewhat preposterous background to the story (even by SF standards!), it is actually better than I expected. The focus is on the psychological stresses and shifting relationships, and the actors are good. I have found myself becoming more interested as the story has progressed. My main complaint is that I only understood (at most) 75% of the dialogue, the rest was too fast/quiet/slurred to understand. The result is that I didn't always follow what was happening. Mumbling actors are a common complaint these days – it's not just me! I understand that a third season is in the works.
TV - Fort Salem (2020)
Also known as Motherland: Fort Salem, this is a supernatural tale set in an alternative USA in which, 300 years earlier, witches had reached agreement with the government to act as a magical arm of the military, in return for ending the witch persecutions and burnings. Witches are far more deadly than humans (particularly in their use of modulated sound to achieve dramatic effects) but not all witches approve of the government deal; there is a dangerous terrorist witch organisation called the Spree which launches sporadic attacks. The series follows the fortunes of three new recruits to the witch army, with very different personalities and from very different backgrounds. Initially, it is very much a coming-of-age military boot-camp kind of drama, exclusively for females. It did become a little confusing at the end with the introduction of a second group attacking the witches, but I still found the series absorbing and entertaining, and would happily have watched all ten episodes straight through if not prevented by tiredness. There was an occasional problem with understanding the dialogue, but I got about 90 percent of it. I am pleased to hear that a second series has been approved, and will be looking out for it.
TV - Batwoman (2020)
I saw the first couple of episodes and quite admired the approach to the subject, which is somewhat more realistic and mature than usual, but the story didn't appeal to me enough to want to keep watching for umpteen episodes so I bailed out.
TV - Good Omens (2019-20)
This series (only six episodes, which is a big plus-point for me: I do get put off by those seemingly never-ending US series) was based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. A comedy about the end of the world (yep!) this focuses on the relationship between between an angel (Michael Sheen) and a demon (David Tennant) at a time when the coming of the Antichrist is anticipated, leading to Armageddon. I did have the book on my reading list but won't be bothering now I know the story. The TV series is very good, hardly surprising given the acting and writing talent involved, and I greatly enjoyed it.
TV - Devs (2020)
A very classy near-future mystery series created, written, and directed by Alex Garland, concerning the efforts of an IT billionaire to develop a way to recreate the past. It is told mainly from the viewpoint of software engineer Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno), whose boyfriend dies shortly after being invited to join Devs, the advanced software project being funded by billionaire Forest, who owns Amaya, a huge information systems company. She soon finds that her boyfriend was not who she had imagined and gets steadily deeper into the mystery of what is going on, and why. Not always an easy one to watch, but one of the best SF TV series I can recall. The eight episodes provide just the right length of time for the story.
Midnight Special (2016)
This film is set in the present day and concerns an 8-year-old boy with paranormal predictive powers who is being fought over by his parents, the church his parents used to belong to, and the government. Leaving aside the main plot element, the story was developed in a very realistic way, with excellent characterisation - the doubts and fears of the main characters being well-handled. I recommend it as SF for adults, as it is focused on the people rather than the powers of the boy (or any funny-looking aliens). On the other hand, the finale is spectacular enough to satisfy any SF fan.
Ad Astra (2019)
A late-21st century future in which Mars is permanently settled and travel to the outer planets is possible. Sixteen years before, the Lima Project – an expedition to search for extra-terrestrial civilisations – had gone to to Neptune to establish a base in orbit around the planet, but contact had been lost almost immediately. Now the Earth is being hit by a succession of massive power surges which threaten human life, and these are believed to originate in the Lima Project. Major Roy McBride, son of Clifford McBride the leader of the Lima Project, is depatched on a mission to Neptune, to discover what is happening and close the Project down. The film is well-made, serious, and with a strong emphasis on the psychology of the characters in general and the father and son protagonists in particular. Despite this, it was spoiled for me by a few improbabilities. First, how were "scavanger pirates" able to operate on the Moon? They only seemed to be in the film to provide an excuse for a novel form of car chase. Second, would a government really have ignored the fate of the Lima Project for sixteen years when, at any time, they could have sent a craft to find out what had happened? Finally, if "power surges" from the region of Neptune were so powerful they could threaten the existence of humanity, they would surely have a noticeable effect on Neptune not to mention instantly vaporise the Project Lima station. These improbabilities rather take the shine off a promising film which James Gray, the producer, director and co-author, wanted to be "the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie".
Guardians 2 (2017)
I was unimpressed by the first Guardians film so had low expectations of this one, and wasn't surprised. The first scene is a protracted close-combat battle between the guardians and a suitably revolting alien monster. After a brief pause for breath, the second major scene is a protracted space battle. I don't know what happened next, as I stopped watching. Unlike Midnight Surprise and Ad Astra (see above), this is definitely not SF for adults!