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Washington Post Review Of TAKEN

From: Steven Kaeser <steve@konsulting.com>
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2002 05:15:32 -0500
Fwd Date: Tue, 03 Dec 2002 10:15:14 -0500
Subject: Washington Post Review Of TAKEN 


Tom Shales at the Washington Post never seems to like the same
programs that I do, which I generally find to be the case with
most "critics". However, his review of TAKEN would seem to place
it in a class by itself. Having only seen the first two
segments, I can only hope it's as powerful as he seems to


Source: The Washington Post


Sci Fi's 'Taken' Grabs You and Doesn't Let Go

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 2, 2002; Page C01

"Taken" is mammoth, imaginative and thrilling in more than one
sense of that word. It's certainly the most ambitious sci-fi
epic ever produced for cable TV, or maybe any kind of TV -- a
20-hour miniseries that constitutes a landmark for the Sci Fi
Channel, which will air it over the next two weeks. It might
even qualify as cable's "Roots."

Be warned, however, that even though children figure prominently
in the plot -- the last six hours are dominated by a beguiling
star-child named Allie -- the miniseries includes graphic and
nightmarish violence that makes it unsuitable for little kids.

The official full-length title is "Steven Spielberg Presents
Taken." Yes, that old dreamy-eyed spacenik Spielberg is back,
but he didn't exactly produce the miniseries, nor did he direct
any of the episodes. He is one of the executive producers and he
"presents" it -- starting tonight at 9 on Sci Fi, continuing for
nine weeknights and ending Friday, Dec. 13.

Although it deals with aliens from outer space, these are by no
means the friendly neighbors who dropped by for "Close
Encounters of the Third Kind" or, by a long shot, the cuddly and
homesick sweetie of "E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial." Even so,
"Taken" has many Spielbergian traits, mixing intense suspense
with a stubbornly sentimental streak. Emblematically, the final
chapter is a riveting combination of the heart-pounding and the
tear-jerking, and there'll be a spectacular light show as well.

To buy the show, you have to buy the premise, one that is hardly
new: For years, aliens from another world have been swooping
down and scooping up Earth people, taking them to some sort of
medical laboratory in space, experimenting on them and then
depositing them back in their homes. "Taken" envisions an entire
UFO subculture consisting of multiple abductees, their families
and others who qualify as believers, and a covert part of the
military-industrial establishment that mercilessly pursues the
takers and the taken for their own nefarious schemes.

The aliens are highly advanced and yet even after 50 years of
tinkering with earthlings, they still feel the need to do more
"tests," which include inserting snarky tentacles up their
victims' noses so as to implant tiny mysterious doohickeys in
their frontal lobes -- creating a species of "test subjects" who
can be re-snatched and re-studied and even re-snarked at any
time. But then they don't just want to examine us. They want to
interbreed. And do.

A story spanning half a century and telling the sometimes
interweaving tales of three alien-involved Earth families isn't
easy to summarize. At times, "Taken" seems refreshingly
challenging and at others, simply hard to follow. But the scope
of it is awesome and the tension levels sometimes astronomical.
The aliens aren't "monsters" as in a '50s sci-fi horror film,
but they haven't come down to Earth just to say howdy and borrow
a cup of sugar, either.

The first episode, "Beyond the Skies," was directed by Tobe
Hooper ("Poltergeist") and opens high over Germany in June of
1944. American pilots fighting an aerial battle are bedeviled
not only by Nazi fighter planes but also by strange blue lights
whizzing all around them. On seeing the blue lights, one
American pilot says -- in a line of dialogue that does not ring
true -- that the good guys may as well "surrender right now"
because they have "no chance of beating that." Jeez, the lights
haven't done much but zoom about and twinkle at this point.

Returning home from the war to a typically Spielberg idealized
American town -- that is, something derivative of Norman
Rockwell and Frank Capra -- Capt. Russell Keys (Steve Burton) is
haunted by nightmares in which German doctors perform ghastly
surgery on him. Eventually he realizes those aren't Germans in
his dreams; they're spindly, prying gray aliens, and he's in
some kind of hovering hospital.

However menacing they become, the aliens never achieve the
status of pure evil represented by Col. Owen Crawford (Joel
Gretsch), a vicious and murderous Air Force officer. He takes
over the military's investigation of UFOs after a saucer is
found in Roswell, N.M. -- where many people believe a saucer
really did once land. There are five seats in the craft, but
only four dead aliens are found at the crash site.

Meanwhile, in the countryside near Lubbock, Tex., a woman named
Sally Clarke finds a beguiling stranger hiding in a shed, a man
who identifies himself only as John. Sally and John not only hit
it off, they get it on. Sally becomes pregnant. What she didn't
know but rather suspected is that John is an alien in human
form. Sally's half-alien son has the power to give people awful
migraine headaches -- and to make them see "all their memories
and all their fears" flash blindingly before them.

As is the case throughout the miniseries, the casting of Sally
and John -- two of the most pivotal characters -- is ideal,
Sally played by the angelically pretty Catherine Dent and John
played by the angelically handsome Eric Close. You'll think
you've seen the last of John by Part 2, but don't be too sure.
He'll be back. So will Sally's little farm in Lubbock.

The loathsome Col. Crawford chases aliens with a berserk
vengeance, largely because he fears their advanced technology
will fall into the hands of the Soviets. He's a Cold Warrior of
the old school, determined to capture any Americans who, like
Russell Keys, appear to have been abducted and tinkered with.
Crawford is one of the vilest villains in movie memory. I kept
watching because I wanted to see him killed, or at least die a
miserable death. Later, though, in next week's episodes, an
equally villainous figure will emerge: Heather Donahue as Mary,
a similarly obsessed and misguided scientist who doesn't mind
being described as "one cold and nasty bitch" by Gen. Beers
(James McDaniel), one of the Army's more effective alien-

Mary wouldn't necessarily mind shooting her own boyfriend in the
back, either.

In the third episode, "High Hopes," set in 1962 (and airing this
Thursday), Col. Crawford authorizes brain surgery on an abductee
he's managed to kidnap -- a man who becomes open-minded in a
very literal sense. This sequence may be the most terrifying
I've ever seen in a movie made for television, one that roughly
recalls the moment when madness overtook the Nazis who opened
that forbidden crate in Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

There are plenty of scares to come, but perhaps none to equal
this grimly chilling pip.

Along the way, real names are dropped -- Presidents Eisenhower,
Kennedy (derisively called a "pretty boy" by Col. Crawford) and
Nixon -- and past decades are evoked with loving or amusing
details, like the song "Purple People Eater" playing on the
radio, or a clip from what looks like the stone-age space-age
adventure show "Captain Video" on an old black-and-white TV set.
Sally touchingly tells her part-alien son Jacob, "Oh, I love you
-- every day and twice on Sundays," a sentiment that will echo
through the years.

Allie enters the story in the seventh episode, and she also
narrates many of the other chapters. Dakota Fanning, who plays
her, has the perfect sort of otherworldly look about her, an
enchanting young actress called upon, as is Allie, to carry a
great weight. Matt Frewer, so long ago "Max Headroom," shows up,
too, as a slightly daffy but fiercely determined scientist named
Dr. Wakeman.

Obviously the miniseries has similarities in theme and treatment
to many other works for film and TV, including "The X-Files"
(though it's not nearly that pretentious or morbid), but it also
has a sanguine spiritual appeal that makes it particularly
welcome in particularly troubled -- even, arguably, hopeless --
  times. "Taken" is a fascinating and fantastic adventure set
against a panorama of America in the second half of the 20th
century. It asks a lot of viewers just in terms of couch duty,
but once you get hooked, you may find yourself on the edge of
that couch much of the time.

C 2002 The Washington Post Company

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