Book to Big Screen to Small Screen
Nightflyers has had a special place in my heart since I first saw the 1987 movie some time in the 90s. It has spaceships and telepaths and telekinetics, so it hits many, many of my buttons where content is concerned. It also has Michael Praed as Royd Eris and Micheal Des Barres as Jon Winderman - 2 of my favourite 80s actors.
For many years I had no idea it was based on a novella, but when Game of Thrones came out and everyone was talking about George R.R. Martin I discovered it. Once again I enjoyed it, although not as much as the somewhat campy 80s film.
So when I heard that it was being remade for TV I was somewhat hesitant, especially given how I really don't like Game of Thrones. Hence, when it hit Netflix I didn't leap in immediately. However, I have to say that, mostly, my fears were unwarranted. Rob and I sat down to watch it and mainlined the first eight eps in one sitting, then went back for the final 2 last night.
The General Plot
The underlying plot of the story, and hence all 3 versions is, a group of explorers and scientists are investigating a space going entity called the Volcryn. Among their number is a powerful, slightly unstable telepath, who is supposed to help contact the entity if and when they find it. The ship is called the Nightflyer and her captain is a man named Roy(d) Eris who is very cagey about himself and his ship. The coordinator for the expedition is a genetically enhanced woman, and the scientist in charge is a man called D'Brannin. Things on the ship start going wrong and people start dying (what else would you expect from George R.R. Martin?).
When it comes to the novella, I have to admit, I don't remember a huge amount of the details, I just remember it being close enough to the film to be satisfying, but different enough to be interesting, and that it ends with less finality. It's worth a read, but it did not stick in my brain. Hence this is about all I will be saying about it.
The 1987 Film
The 80s film is where my love of this franchise came from.
This is more of a grunge sci-fi than a shiny sci-fi, along the line of looking like Blade Runner rather than Star Trek. The Nightflyer is dark and industrial looking, except for the main lounge, and Royd appears as a somewhat scratchy hologram.
Michael Praed plays Royd, with his long 80s hair and dashing looks.
He's all mysterious and reserved, and fascinated by Miranda (Catherine Mary Stewart) the project coordinator.
The whole film is very, very 80s. Just look at Miranda (right) - can you get more 80s than mullet, shoulder pads and mirrored shades?
She is also the definition of "strong female character" as far as the 80s was concerned, in that she is stoic, strong, very, very fit and also a little bit mysterious.
And then there is Michael Des Barres as Jon Winderman, the unstable, often drunk telepath, who really doesn't seem to like anybody very much. As ever Michael Des Barres can be relied upon to be great as the character you know is going to go off the rails and be trouble at some point.
I always know I am going to enjoy a film if Michael Des Barres is in it, if not for just him.
The plot moves fast, keeps us involved and entertained, and has enough gore and action to be exciting. It is sci-fi with a side of fantasy, because it pushes the whole telekinetic and telepathic parts a little too far too be scientific.
It is very much a movie that fit 80s sci-fi and, hence, I was somewhat confused as to how it could be remade thirty years later, let alone turned into a series.
As you can imagine the series differs from both the movie and the novella in some very significant ways, since it is basically going from a short tale format, to a longer story idea.
First big difference is the much bigger cast.
In the novella and the movie the Nightflyer is a ship with only one crew member: the captain, and the rest is run by computer.
In the series the ship has a whole crew, which gives the main cast so much more to play off of.
|Roy Eris - Melantha Jhirl|
Third difference, it feels very much an ensemble cast with no one character being the main player. Different characters are important for different reasons. D'Branin is the impetuous behind the search for the Volcryn. Lommie is the somewhat naive heart of the team. Melantha is the strong, unshakeable team lead (to begin with at least). Roy is the mysterious, possibly dangerous captain. Rowan is the cynical but caring friend to D'Brainin. Etc, etc.
|Roy Eris - Thale - Dr Agatha Matheson|
The work-around for this and how they move forward with his character is also beautifully done.
|D'Branin, Rowan, Melantha, Auggie, Lommie|
There are habitat domes that remind me of Silent Running, a robot spider thing that makes me flash back to Tom Selleck's Runaway, and jacking into computers that starts off making me think cyberpunk, but moves a bit beyond that later on.
The ensemble cast means that the plot is never slow or boring, and all the characters have a development path that makes them more interesting. They are all very much not 2D.
Along the way there were a couple of eps that I found did not make a lot of sense in the scheme of things. It's the fact that there does not seem to be a why about them. I don't want to add spoilers to the main review, so I won't say what they were about, but there were two that stuck out as not like the others. One of them seemed to have nothing carried forward, and the other did have some consequences, but the reasons behind the plot of the ep just didn't hang together.
The ending was also a bit of a let down. It's clear they're going for a continuation, which left the end of this season not quite as exciting as the rest of it. Given that George R.R. Martin's name is associated with it, I will say, more people survived than I thought would ;).
There is one bit in the last ep that made me go "Seriously!" very loudly at the screen. I can't help wondering if it was a nod to Game of Thrones, but I also can't say anymore because that would be spoilers. If you see it, you'll know what I'm talking about.
Mostly I found it a very cohesive and well plotted season. Please tell me it has been renewed because it's ends on one hell of a cliff hanger and I want more.
One last thing: it made me so happy to see Josette Simon in Nightflyers because I got all sorts of Blake's 7 feelings seeing her in sci-fi again - I only ever seem to catch her in police procedurals. Mostly I kept thinking, ooh Dayna is playing Servalan :).
Have you seen the movie or the series, or read the book? What did you think?
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