Early episodes of Doctor Who were made with a meager budget, often in single takes on black and white film. Amazingly these same episodes always had something amazing to see in the special effects department while still causing the ambitious viewer to say "Hey, I'll bet I could do that, man!" This, by the way, is why the Los Banos Homeowner's Association is right now debating my front yard fountain shaped just like a life-sized Dalek. Huzzah!
The Unidentified Craft shares that inventive design with Doctor Who and also shares one other important aspect: It's fueled by really good writing.
The writing and the directing can both be (actually, both are) credited to the creative Christopher Del Gaudio who hails from Long Island as opposed to Flushing where the show originates! I'd like to take a few minutes to make fun of the name "Flushing". I mean, I really, really would but, again, I live on a street called "Los Banos". Seriously... Los... Banos... If you don't speak any Spanish, look it up. In short, I... I can't.
After the introduction by narrator Catharine Bolz we're introduced to our three focal points, Jason Vinci's buff exercise addict Eli Masters, Jonathan French's revitalized Reverend Leis and Sandra Murtha's SUPER-HOT Caleigh. I really mean that, man! Great casting, Del Gaudio, great gosh darned casting. Helloooooooo Sandra!!! What's a nice girl like you doing in an unidentified craft like this???
And that brings us to our setting. These three good looking people (especially Caleigh) have been brought aboard a strange vessel of some kind to participate in an even stranger experiment run by a lovely scientist named Celia (Jacqueline Muro) and her associate, a former professor of all three test-subjects named Alice (Joanne Antonucci).
This initially seems to be a trio of good folks you wouldn't mind hanging out with. Eli is affable and committed to his fitness program. The good Reverend is filled with the word of God and gives credit where due, without ever seeming to be overly preachy or judgmental. Caleigh is cute, well spoken and fun with a winning smile and a glowing personality. However, before the experiment is complete and the reward can be granted, we learn a great deal about the true nature of these people, their pasts and what they might have been if their stories had shaped up a little differently. Where the story is going is far from predictable... and to tell you more would be saying way too much!
Del Gaudio tells the story in a paced, tight style with the care any self-respecting stage director would pay to blocking. His dialogue evokes strange and surreal memories of those aforementioned half-hour mystery shows and is written in a way only a well-read and educated person could do it. Del Gaudio feels as comfortable in this genre as he did in his creation of The Realm of Never: Moratorium.
The set design is minimalist and simple, yet effective. The camera pulls in the best possible views of each frame with the help of some good editing and interesting lighting. Even some of the establishing shots show a rich (and serendipitous) eye toward visual metaphor that makes the episode feel that much more well-rounded and visual, even (especially) on the small budget it's given. It's not the kind of filmmaking one ordinarily sees in the 21st century and it's a welcome change to see such budget-stretching invention.
That said, the very nature of The Realm of Never may be off-putting to some "modern" viewers. While generally the phrase "They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To" is used with a tinge of longing, the occasional viewer weaned on ready-made CGI and mass-produced, single serving catch-line oriented dialogue might utter the same phrase triumphantly and with a thumbs up. Therefore, it's not hard to believe that The Realm of Never is not for everyone. There are moments when the dialogue feels delivered instead of natural, the minimalist set may look much more like a set than a true "unidentified craft" and the very setting is, by nature, contrived. The special effects are not what you see on television these days. Many out there might not respond well to this old-school form of cerebral, science fiction television. However, those who would miss out on The Unidentified Craft would most assuredly be missing out. This may not be "perfect" viewing, but I challenge the intelligent viewer to do a whole ship-load better on such a budget with such a small backing. This is good, intelligent, inventive science fiction that not only gives the viewer something to look at and to think about but also might encourage the ambitious viewer to see what they might be able to do themselves.
On a side note, have you ever seen an infant sneeze and then get this look on their face like "Whoa, what the hell just happened, man?" Is there anything cuter on the planet? Seriously, folks. Just throwing that out there. Watch for it, you'll see what I mean.
The best part about The Unidentified Craft is that the beauty is not only skin deep here. Christopher Del Gaudio may have had to stretch his budget and set his mind to every trick he could to make it beautiful but it woudln't have worked without the substance beneath it. Four Stars out of Five for The Realm of Never: The Unidentified Craft, another surprise from Queens. Good work, Flushing folks! Now, if you'll excuse me... I'll be in the Gym! See you in the Next Reel, Caleigh!
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Doesn't burn that many calories.
So make sure you throw some Cardio in afterwards!
But don't go getting an EGO about it, now!