Earth: Final Conflict Review
Gene Roddenberry, the Great Bird of the Galaxy, a pilot turned script writer with a vision. A vision that TV would become one of the dominant forces in home entertainment; all he needed was a show to capture that small but growing market. That show, as I'm pretty sure the entire world knows, was Star Trek. It took two TV pilots, and a tag line of Wagon Train in the stars to sell the idea, but once made it ran for three tempestuous seasons before its cancellation (apparently) devastated its audience. In point of fact it was syndication where Star Trek really found its audience. A steadily growing audience were starting to see the ideas behind the show, equality, bright, forward thinking ideals without war or famine. (What I found really interesting is Roddenberry's vision of the future encompassed equality between the sexes all the while dressing the women in the most revealing costumes). During the seventies there was no denying the fan base of Star Trek, and when Fox released Star Wars in 1977, Paramount were quick to jump on the bandwagon with the new science fiction craze and resurrect the failed Star Trek phase two TV program to a fully fledged motion picture; it was a phenomenal success spawning the franchise that we know today. It was, however, during these early years that Rodenberry conceived of other TV series', but due to other work commitments was never able to fully develop them; it would take his death before these idea could be realised. Majel Barrett, Rodenberry's wife, reportedly found these 'lost scripts' and realising their potential approached the networks, one, an amalgamation of several of the ideas, became Andromeda (2000-2005), the other entitled Battleground Earth became Earth Final Conflict. The name change was implemented to distinguish it from L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth, a film it has similarities with (but then the Psychlos aren't too dissimilar to the Klingons). It also had a striking resemblance to Kenny Johnson's V (1983), however, by shrewdly attaching Rodenberry's name to the title, and giving the writes the remit to remain faithful to Rodenberry's 'Star Trek' ideals the show was green lit and for one season was a tight and focused show before successive cast and direction changes killed it off just as Fred Freiberger was able to kill Star Trek all those years before.
In the twenty first century the Earth is visited by and plays host to an alien race called the Taelons. In the three short years since their arrival they have cured disease, eradicated war and famine and seem willing to share with the human race their extensive knowledge wanting nothing in return except to be treated as companions with peace and friendship. However, human nature being what it is, there are some that do not believe the kind nature of the Taelons, they believe that there are sinister motives to their 'occupation'. One such person is billionaire industrialist Jonathan Doors (David Hemblen) who even goes as far as to fake his own assassination so that he can delve deeper into the alien's agenda. Enter Police Officer William Boone (Kevin Kilner) charged with the security of the area where Doors was 'killed' whose recommendations were ignored thus leaving the window of opportunity needed by the 'assassin'. Shortly afterwards he is approached by Taelon spokes'person' Da'an (Leni Parker) and FBI American Companion Attaché Ronald Sandoval (Von Flores) with an offer of 'Commander Head of Security and Inter Species Relations'. He initially declines the offer but when investigating the mysterious death of his wife in a car accident he is spirited away by Taelon chauffeur Captain Lili Marquette (Lisa Howard) to the secret underground hideout of the Liberation headed up by none other than Doors himself. They confide in Boone their suspicions of the Taelons, even down to the death of his wife, he therefore agrees to accept Da'an's proposal. In doing so he is required to undergo a Cyber-Viral Implant; an implant that increases mental awareness, but brainwashes their host into little more than Taelon slaves. Dr. Julianne Belman (Majel Barrett Roddenberry), a member of the resistance, and surgeon who carries out the implants, has devised a way to engineer Boone's CVI; he has the heightened senses but retains control of his mind. To make his transformation complete Boone has a bio-weapon called a skrill attached through his arm to his central nervous system. Thus the scene is set, Boone the double agent, working for the human race to discover the Taelon hidden agenda.
The above description neatly encapsulates the plot of the first episode; it does well in introducing all the principle characters for the forthcoming season, over the coming weeks their interaction becoming an integral part of the show. Kilner is the centre pin, it is through his eyes that we see the events unfolding; he plays Boone with an innocence and bitterness about his situation. Constantly at odds with his emotions, be that having to show none or sporadic outbursts his task is not easy, more than once is he left alone and desperate at the situation he is in; a slave to two masters, his direction is clear but the path is always bumpy. The anti-hero Sandoval at first instance has it easy, brainwashed and single minded; Flores has the chance to really shine when problems arise with the CVI driving the character into rash and unpredictable places, even when all is 'restored' Flores manages to convey just how changed the Sandoval character has become through his ordeal. Howard as Marquette hasn't much to do and her character doesn't really expand upon its initial set up, thought there is a good chemistry between her and Boone, their banter is enjoyable. Hemblen holds his own as the leader of the resistance, even with his own hidden agenda to reconcile with his son, adding some layers to what could have been a by the numbers part. Finally Parker is suitably alien as Da'an, though I question his humanistic qualities that come out later in the series, an obvious ploy to make Zo'or, his replacement, that much more repellent.
So it can be seen that all the cast are given a journey, of sorts, to discover over the course of the twenty two episodes, and whilst each episode has its own specific plot there is the constant feeling of continuity, later episodes answering questions already asked. Of course it never answers the over riding question of what thye Taelons are actually up too, not at this early stage, but with tantalising glimpses and the laying out of ideas to be developed in the future there is much to be appreciated. It is this respect given to the audience combined with intelligent and thought provoking scripts that makes Earth Final Conflict stand out from its peers. By placing Rodenberryan precepts with a healthy does of eighties paranoia the writers managed to maintain an enthusiasm and impetus that ensured a dedicated fan base and four more series' - even if the later seasons successfully managed to destroy all the hard work set up in this season, but that is another story.
One thing is for certain, the show looks good; of course it could have looked great had it been shot in 1.78:1 widescreen but this is 1997 and such aspects were few and far between. As it is the 1.33:1 aspect make full use of the frame even if the two shots look a little crowded, and it never really escapes its TV origins. With shows like TekWar, PSI Factor and La Femme Nikita to his name cinematographer Michael McMurray was in a perfect position to give the show the distinct look it needed, bathing the screen in hues of blue, purple and green it looked out of this world, which was the intention. Although there were a variety of directors for the show each managed to give a tight and fast paced feel, which in turn gave the season the same immediacy. Whilst there isn't the same sense of building to a climax as say Buffy, or Angel would in their later seasons, there is a sense of story completion.
In the end the creators took Rodenberry's initial concept, though not terribly original, and formed an original show; it is good enough to survive on its own merits without the need for his name. Even now, this first season holds up very well, ok some of the effects are less than stellar, but the scripting, acting and design are right there. During its early years it was the recipient of numerous awards and even now has countless fans, a slight let down then that this complete season set is all rather bare bones.