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STUDIO: Paramount Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 540 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary on the pilot
Behind the Scenes Documentaries
It’s The X-Files rejiggered for the indiscriminate genre fans who keep Stargate and her spin-offs on the air.
Carla Gugino (seen once running in her nightgown), Peter Dinklage (seen once naked, post-coitus), Brent Spiner (seen once really trying to act), Rob Benedict (seen once serving me a latte on Sunset), Brian Van Holt (seen once leaned against a wall in the corner, unblinking and motionless, for two solid hours) and Charles S Dutton (seen often silently weeping).
After Lost became a big hit, everybody tried to roll out the next sci-fi serial show – even ABC, who aired Lost, tried to double down with Invasion. None of the shows made it past the first year, which indicates that once again the mass media found itself with a hit and tried to replicate it without actually understanding what made it a hit in the first place.
For CBS the sci-fi serial show was Threshold, which took its name from the government’s super-secret plan for an alien invasion. That plan involved gathering a number of decent to very good actors with less chemistry than Liza Minellia and David Gest and then dropping them smack dab in a number of repetitive, blatantly X-Files inspired scenarios.
The thing about Threshold is that the core concept seems strong – an alien vessel (and we’re talking VERY alien here: it exists in 4D space and as such is bizarre and unfathomable to our 3D eyes) shows up over a fishing trawler and emits a noise. The noise is a signal that begins scrambling the very DNA of the men on the boat – some die horribly while others get transformed into triple-helixed aliens, whose only mission is to spread that signal and infect as many people as possible. It’s an invasion from within as the aliens are bioforming the planet, making us into them.
Cool idea, with a lot of possible resonance for today’s world, where we’re fighting terrorists among us who recruit based on the power of their insidious ideas. The show pays some lip service to that, and every now again the characters will have an argument about whether they should be testing someone’s DNA without a warrant – think of the civil liberties! – but it never goes anywhere. It’s especially tough to sit through these seventh grade level political discussions after watching a show like Battlestar Galactica, which weaves the politics perfectly into its storylines instead of delivering it in clunky exposition.
It’s funny that BSG is on the SciFi Channel and Threshold was on CBS, since their places should have been switched. Threshold is the classic nerd show in that it’s all about the plot, and the characters exist only to service the plot. One of the lessons David Goyer and Brannon Braga, the creators of Threshold, didn’t learn about Lost is that we’re just as interested in the people on that island as we are in the monster and the hatch. When I tune into Battlestar I care just as much about what Starbuck is going through as a person as I care about whatever tragic reversal the fleet will suffer at the hands of the Cylons this week. With Threshold there are no real characters we can grasp, just actors playing jobs. Carla Gugino is the brainy thinker who made the Threshold plan, Brent Spiner is the doctor-of-all trades who crankily does autopsies and stuff, Peter Dinklage is the drinky mathematician, Rob Benedict is the whiny physicist and Charles S Dutton is Charles S Dutton In a Suit.
I blame all of this on Braga, a Star Trek veteran. Threshold is filled with classic Trek style storytelling, where you can tune in every week and see the same general nonsense. On Threshold it follows the formula of: In the teaser an infected person wilds out on someone, usually in a surprisingly violent fashion and always to nu-metal (thanks probably has to go to CSI for this bullshit); Threshold gets called in to investigate and they pretend to be another branch of the government; Gugino runs around in the field with hunky secret agent Brian Van Holt (on the acting scale this guy is sub-Caspar Van Dien) and they sort of flirt in a sort of Mulder and Scully way, but no one actually cares; meanwhile back at Threshold HQ the rest of the nerds do math and study stuff and have an Astounding Breakthrough that indicates the alien invasion is getting worse (usually because every week the aliens come up with new – and potentially ludicrous – ways of transmitting the ever more amorphously defined signal); Gugino and the hunky secret agent kill/incapacitate the alien threat and return to Threshold base to have a talk with an ever more defeated looking Charles S Dutton. That’s pretty much every episode.
I do like the idea that Threshold is a television series with the balls to pair theoretical thespian Brent Spiner and Peter Dinklage. It has that much going for it. You have to wonder why the Dink is in the show – he’s the best thing here, but even still he’s sleepwalking. What’s sort of neat is that being a dwarf is not part of his character; they seem to have just given him a role written for anybody. That’s fun, especially because he fucks hookers. However, the special features indicate that a future storyline would have had his height being a big thing in the coming alien invasion, which sounds beyond stupid.
Threshold is packaged in a slip case with two thin DVD cases, each housing two discs. The final disc only has one episode (Alienville, an episode so X-Filian I hear Chris Carter has a hit out on Braga) and most of the special features are there. There are four docs about the show – the creation of the concept, the casting, the making of, and what would have happened in the future if the show had not been hastily shitcanned by the network. Everybody seems in pretty good spirits about the thing, which is weird after seeing how bitter everybody still is about the cancellation of Action. There is also a documentary about the show’s visual FX, which are pretty solid.
The first episode, the two hour pilot, has commentary by Braga and Goyer. It’s OK but not that gripping – again, the lack of audible frustration is weird; CBS made them turn the one hour pilot into a two hour event, which forced them to weld the second episode onto the first, creating an ungainly bloated thing with no momentum. Obviously these two must have known the show was not that good or they have a development deal with CBS still.