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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Taken (review)

Alien Abduction Weblog

12.02.02
Episode 1: “Beyond the Sky”
directed by Tobe Hooper

Okay, creepy. Confusing, but creepy. It’s a bit hard to keep all the military guys with buzz cuts separate in my head, but I suspect they’re going to differentiate themselves very nicely in future episodes.

There’s Captain Owen Crawford (Joel Gretsch: The Emperor’s Club, Minority Report), ruthless and ambitious, who’s trying to take over the project that’s sprung up around a crashed saucer recovered in New Mexico in 1947. It really was a secret U.S. spy project that crashed on Brazell’s ranch in Roswell in July of that year… a very terrestrial object that was taken down by a big honking saucer that crashed nearby. Hoo boy. Pretty nice effect for cable TV…

There’s Russell Keys (Steve Burton: The Last Castle), a WWII vet whose post-traumatic stress has more to do with his alien abduction from the skies over Germany than anything to do with Nazis. Extremely cool, that opening zoom in on Earth from space, right down through the atmosphere and into the middle of a dogfight. Kinda a reminder that we’ve always just been crawling around on a minuscule grain of sand in the universe, and that Earth was merely a tiny planet swimming in the cosmos even before we started to think of it that way.
There’s John (Eric Close), who may or may not be military but definitely has that late 40s ‘do. He turns up in the West Texas garage of Sally Clarke (Catherine Dent: The Majestic, Someone Like You), and the unintentional wooing commences: supersensitive guy, lonely wife of traveling salesman, you fill in the blanks. …[several commercial breaks later]… Okay, he ain’t military. He’s an alien — one with the convenient ability to look human — holing up till his rescue can come, and falling in love while he waits. Paging Starman. I smell an alien love child in the offing. Will that adorable moppet Dakota Fanning (Trapped, I Am Sam) have some connection to it all? She doesn’t appear but offers poetic narration about feelings and appreciating the night sky — she’s gonna be somebody’s descendent by the time this catches up to today. And there’s the star-shaped earring Sally gives “John” before he goes “home” — surely, that’ll be Important.

A tad much to take in all at once, but wow: this is just the setup, the prelude for the next 18 hours to come. A 20-hour miniseries. This is old-style stuff, spanning decades and generations, a big soap opera with aliens and saucers and abductions as the background, but avoiding politics and focusing on the very personal. And why not? It’s the great myth/ urban legend/ mystery/ fantasy/ wish of our time, a replacement for religion, a pseudoscientific way to believe in something bigger than ourselves. You want sweeping? Is the universe itself big enough?

tomorrow: alien baby?

12.03.02
Episode 2: “Jacob and Jesse”
directed by Breck Eisner

Oh man: Last night’s episode worked in every hallmark of your standard Alien Abduction Scenario: nosebleeds, bedroom invasions, lost time, cars’ electrical systems temporarily shorting out, strange marks on the body. Just hints of the horror. Tonight: probing. Yuck. We’re into the late 1950s now, and Russell’s son is getting abducted and experimented on, too — the aliens are keeping things generational, snatching the son, Jesse, from time to time to poke and prod him. Very disturbing, spindly Grays holding struggling human beings down and inserting long metallic things into them. The abduction tale hangs on in pop culture, I think, because it’s so visceral, reflective of a deep-down human fear of physical powerlessness and bodily invasion. The stuff of great horror… and Taken‘s depiction of it, however brief, is pretty horrible, particularly when these Grays use our own fears and desires to ensnare us.

Forget evil aliens, though: Joel Gretsch is the villain here, his Crawford heading up the reverse engineering, at Area 51, of that big saucer, and willing to do anything necessary to crack it (including using his rugged, all-American good looks to be mean to the ladies). Every government conspiracy of the second half of the 20th century is thrown in the mix of Taken, including the alien origin of Velcro (also recently seen on Enterprise) and Deep Black Magic, the secret project researching ESP and mind control. It’s like they made a movie out of every other site on Geocities. I can’t wait to see how they work in contrails, black helicopters, Art Bell, the Illuminati, and FEMA.

I want to take it all seriously, folks — I do. It’s great to see fantasy treated so thoughtfully, but does it have to be so painfully earnest? A bit of Mulderesque snark wouldn’t go amiss, and if I have to supply it myself, so be it.

Oh, and the alien baby, Jacob (Anton Yelchin: Hearts in Atlantis), is now 10 years old and has weird mind powers, like his Starman dad. Crawford needs him to help them figure out the saucer, cuz no one else can, and this doesn’t go well at all. I’m guessing some sort of vengeance will be in the offing on Jake’s part.

Cool behind-the-scenes coincidences: Jesse is actually played by a kid named, can you believe this, James Kirk (Head Over Heels). And the brilliant German physicist brought in by Crawford at Area 51 is played by Willie Garson, who also played Marty the alien in a couple episodes of Stargate: SG1.

tomorrow: just a guess but: Joel Gretsch gets more evil?

12.04.02
Episode 3: “High Hopes”
directed by ???

October 1962. Will the aliens have something to do with the Cuban missile crisis? JFK’s assassination? Was this episode directed by Oliver Stone? (Forgot to make a note of it, and the official Taken site is thoroughly useless in this regard.) Are aliens throwing the World Series this fall? How cool would it be if Taken wrapped every event of the last 50 years into one Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory?

Joel is Colonel Crawford now, and he is downright sociopathic, what with the making the wife crazy and all the secret gubmint stuff he’s in charge of. Bad Joel, bad! Anal probing for you!

It’s only Night 3, and already I’m starting to get a little bored with this — can you tell? Not enough anal probing, a little too much of Dakota Fanning’s precious philosophical voiceovers.

Russell, the WWII guy, has a tumor from the aliens, kinda like how Scully got sick from her abduction, too. (If the aliens could make Russell pregnant like they did to Scully, then maybe I could consider them advanced.) Evil Colonel Joel Crawford tricks Russell into getting his brain opened up so the Area 51 people can have a look at whatever the aliens did to his head — the surgery takes place in the office of a used-car lot, with lots of ugly brown paneling and fluorescent lighting. This whole bit reminds me of a time when I was driving through the South and stopped for breakfast at a place called Huddle Hut, which also had lots of ugly brown paneling and fluorescent lighting as well as a bunch of guys in army fatigues, and my traveling companion and I were convinced the whole place was a front for something insidious.

The alien insect thing is so totally stolen from The Matrix.

Only 14 more hours to go. *drums fingers on keyboard, waiting for something to happen* Russell is starting to look like this guy I used to go out with. He was a little weird, too — maybe he was an abductee.

tomorrow: Joel actually goes “bwahahahahahahaha”?

12.05.02
Episode 4: “Acid Tests”
directed by Bryan Spicer

What the hell is this crap? Hippies in 1970 railing against the military-industry complex, Inuit burial chambers, the inevitable crop circles. Joel’s gone round the bend, thinks the Apollo 13 “accident” was the doing of aliens. God, this is so bor—-

*snooooooooooooooore*

tomorrow: 18 more promos for Steven Spielberg presents ‘Taken’ brought to you by ‘Catch Me If You Can’ a Steven Spielberg film

12.06.02
Episode 5: “Maintenance”
directed by Felix Alcala

Hey, it’s Taken: The Next Generation, and it’s starting to succumb to sheer silliness. Colonel Crawford’s son, Eric (Andy Powers), is now in charge at Area 51, and he continues his father’s legacy of assholery, including, if you can believe it, seducing a Clarke gal, this time Becky (Chad Morgan)… just as his dad seduced Becky’s mom, except apparently Eric is genuine? Whatever. Ridiculous.

But what a relief: the incomparable Matt Frewer has turned up to lend an air of gleeful levity to the proceedings. Sure, he’s another government scientist involved in the conspiracy and coverup, but his Dr. Chet Wakeman gets how incredibly, you know, cool the whole thing is. He’s got the attitude that’s needed here: When he finally catches up with Jesse Keys (who, remember, is a multiple abductee, like his dad, Russell, the WWII pilot) and Jesse’s docs want to know if Wakeman wants the alien insect thingie in Jesse’s head, Frewer elicits the first (intentional) laugh of the series, tossing off his line “Oh, I don’t want the implant, they’re a dime a dozen” with a Mulderesque panache.

This episode on the whole is a dramatic improvement over the previous one — we’re back to abductions and implants and nosebleeds and glowing cornfields. Sure, it’s repetitious. And Dakota’s voiceovers are really reaching now, with metaphors about green lawns covering up unhappy homes and such. And I don’t quite understand why Jesse now has an alien handprint on his chest after his latest ride into space when that never happened before…

But hey: now we have the first new additions to UFO lore: Genetically, the aliens are us! Cool!

Monday: that dead alien in the jar that ain’t so dead? I bet it’s really, really mad…

12.09.02
Episode 6: “Charlie & Lisa”
directed by Thomas J. Wright

These aliens: they’re so interested in everything, and all in this one episode! From the nuclear nonproliferation of space to when little girls with alien DNA get their first periods, the Grays have their spindly fingers in a lot of pots. Oh, and apparently they had something to do with the grunge movement in Seattle in the early 90s, too — Courtney Love makes so much more sense now.

D’ya think the aliens said to Lisa, “Today, you are a woman,” too? Just wondering.

Finally it all starts to make a silly kind of sense: all of Dakota Fanning’s Chicken Soup for the Alien Soul voiceovers have been leading to this episode, in which Charlie Keys (Adam Kaufman) — grandson of Russell, who got abducted by aliens from his WWII bomber — and Lisa Clarke (Emily Bergl) — granddaughter of John, the Starman guy — get bred by the Grays to make Allie (not yet Dakota Fanning, but next episode), who talks to dolphins and will probably save us all from the aliens.

tomorrow: more ill winds blowin’ in from Tau Ceti?

12.10.02
Episode 7: “God’s Equation”
directed by Jeremy Kagan

I’m tempted to ask if this can possibly get any soapier, but I’m afraid that it can. Crawfords at the government’s secret alien research out-ruthless-ing each other? Charlie and Lisa discovering their sexy joint abduction experience? Therapy sessions that turn into hostage dramas?

Allie’s alien “superpowers” — as the continually delightful Matt Frewer calls them — start to manifest, and as nice as it is how being shot in the gut and stuff brings people together after they start squabbling out of the stress of learning that they have unwittingly given birth to a part-alien, part-abductee child, if Allie could heal people, why didn’t she do so right away instead of letting her own father suffer through several commercial breaks? Also, is it the ridiculously saucer-eyed state of both Charlie and Allie that makes the aliens so interested in them? (Saucers? Get it? Eh. Never mind.)

I knew contrails would get a mention!

And, here we go: At 13 hours, 20something minutes, we get our first X-Files reference.

Bleh. Only 6 more hours to go.

tomorrow: looks like abductee angst is being traded in for ‘ID4’…

12.11.02
Episode 8: “Dropping the Dishes”
directed by Jeff Woolnough

Dropping the Dishes? They call a military op to bring down a saucer Dropping the Dishes? Operation Gray Shield. Operation Space Storm. Operation LGM. Operation BEM. Operation X-Day. Operation L. Ron Hubbard. The list of alternatives is endless. For a series about aliens manipulating humanity, there’s a serious lack of imagination here.

Mary Crawford and Allie Keys meet again, the culmination of generations of alien intrigue and conspiracy on the part of the U.S. government, and 14-plus hours of plodding soap opera. Mary wonders if this is the end of it all, and Allie suggests it might just be the beginning. The beginning? Dear god no.

Here we have the most bizarre pop culture reference of the series thus far: Moonlighting. (Moonlighting?) And we also have the most obvious one: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Charlie and Lisa’s trek into Idaho (or wherever), the cover story of the toxic spill, the government types waiting for aliens… Charlie and Lisa are following in the footsteps of Richard Dreyfus and Melinda Dillon, but this sequence really shows up the lack of a sense of wonder like Close Encounters had. You’d think Taken would have a feeling of grandeur to it, but instead it feels petty. Too much focus on the paper pushers with a federal mandate than on the godlike beings’ earthly interference, maybe.

tomorrow: who cares?

12.12.02
Episode 9: “John”
directed by John Fawcett

What a gyp! All this stuff about the big saucer hovering over North Dakota, the battle to bring it down, Mary Crawford’s visit with her dead grandfather, the tollhouse cookies, the farmhouse in the blue alien glow like Dorothy and the tornado… and it’s all fake?! Allie did it all with her super mind powers?!

*grrrrr*

Funniest moment this episode: Charlie trying to be the tough guy. Poor Adam Kaufman. He just doesn’t have it in him, does he?

Wow. I was joking about Art Bell, but they got him in here through the “William Jeffries” late-night talk show thing.

tomorrow: hopefully, the answer to that big, overarching question that plagues UFO fantasy and ‘fact’ alike: what do they want with us?

12.13.02
Episode 10: “Taken”
directed by ???

Ah, the angst of the alien child: “I’m just a little kid — I didn’t ask anyone to make me special.” But then she goes ahead and gives 1000 UFO nuts implant nosebleeds? Make up yer mind, kiddo.

“She’s gonna be back,” Lisa tells Charlie, after Allie makes an extremely dramatic and overly drawn-out exit with the aliens. Coming soon to Sci-Fi Channel: Taken II, 20 more hours of excruciating soap opera as the grown-up Allie comes back to Earth in the year 2100 to gather together all the descendents of Charlie and Lisa, who lived happily ever after and had a dozen kids, all of whom were just as “special” as Allie, what with being the offspring of a quarter-alien woman and a multiple abductee, just like Allie.

Taken: the biggest mass missing-time incident in recorded UFO lore, as millions of people lost 20 hours out of their lives, time never to be recovered.


MPAA: rated TV-14 LV

viewed at home on a small screen

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