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Expanse: Season One [USA] [Blu-ray]
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The answer is absolutely. The story follows the first novel, Leviathan Wakes, and it does it with minimal paring down of the scenes and characters. You can't fit an entire novel into a movie format, even if it is ten hours long, the length of the first season, but they've managed to be true to the story without being handcuffed to it.
You'll see N=popp's recommendation that you watch it with subtitles, and it's a fair point. The voice audio is muddy in places, typically when we're listening to suit radios or Belter patois. The book has the advantage of everything being clear, but in space, no one can hear you talk. I'm pretty sure that's done by design here, just as Kubrick's sterile 2001 feel was done to evoke a sense of alienation, they're using it to establish that this is an environment with a high noise to signal ration…and you're got to work at it.
George R. R. Martin's quoted on the book jacket saying it's the best space zombie book he's ever read, and while that comment gets a bit ahead of the first episode, it's clear that the whole thing has a deliberately Game of Thrones in Space vibe. Earth, Mars, and the Belters form an unstable compound and we're just waiting for the catalyst to show up.
And it will.
If you thought the freighter in Aliens was gritty, you haven't seen the interior of the Canterbury, which comes off as completely authentic in its scarred and beat up way. So does the interior of Cere's and all together they've done an impressive job not just with Zero G effects, but with selling the fact that gravity isn't just on or off, it's all over the place depending on what's going on. Maybe you're growing up in a little gravity, maybe you're about to be mashed into your seat by an emergency burn. Depends.
I wasn't sure about Thomas Jane as Miller, the burned out detective, but I'm totally good with it. Also Holden played by Steven Strait, Namoi by Dominique Tipper and everyone else.
This isn't the book, and it will have its own vibe, although I'm starting to feel it overwrite my internal notions of who everybody was from reading the series. Fortunately, Jason F. Brown (Exec Prod) have done a solid job bringing The Expanse to life. To have wasted such a good story would have been criminal.
Hang on. It's going to get bumpy in the episodes ahead.
Four episodes in and so far I literally have no complaints about it. For a TV show about a book that I really enjoyed, it's hard to describe how unlikely that is.
The show doesn't treat you like an idiot. It's willing to start multiple plot threads with multiple characters and expects you to trust that they'll eventually intersect. There is some "as you know, [explanation of thing that everyone in this situation would already know]", but some of that is reasonable I think. It isn't constant, and it's mostly just there to explain things that are both important and would otherwise be extremely confusing. The first episode throws a lot at you at once, but if you trust the show and keep with it, you learn all the major characters pretty quickly.
The effects are far, far better than anything I'd expect from the Syfy network. I've seen some people complaining about the zero-G effects being crappy, but those people must be picky as hell. It might not be all blockbuster movie level effects, but they're extremely good. (The one caveat I can think of is Ceres, which is supposed to have very low gravity. This is usually ignored, because the amount of CGI required to make entire sets seem as if they were in low G would be absurd. The few times they do try to show off low gravity, it looks a bit iffy. Although I did really like the bird.)
The ships need to thrust to move, and to slow down they flip around and thrust the opposite direction. I literally don't think I've ever seen that mechanic on TV. (Babylon 5 did that somewhat with the Starfuries, but that was only quick maneuvers in battle. In general, when a ship cut off its engines, the whole ship would slow to a stop.) "Gravity" in space is directly an effect of thrust: ships under thrust have gravity, ships without thrust don't, ships under heavy thrust and undergoing extreme maneuvers have hard, erratic gravity that requires drugs to stay conscious through. The ships are set up so that "down" is towards the engine, the way it should be. Ceres (an asteroid habitat) has low gravity that it gets by spinning.
There is sound in space, but it's not super jarring. Most of the time it seems like it's the sound you'd hear from inside the ship, almost.
The show is full of little things that I just really like. In the most recent episode, they gave someone a strong sedative and he didn't immediately fall unconscious. It took a second or so. The vast majority of time in movies or TV, when someone is injected with something, they immediately slouch over and go unconscious. The fact that this had just a half second or so of delay was just really impressive.
At first I didn't really like the casting choices for a few characters, but I no longer care much. I still think Miller should look older and more grizzled, but meh. Extremely minor complaint, and the rest of the show is so good that I can't bring myself to really care whatsoever.
I'm a fan of the plot structure so far, as well. The first episode immediately hits you over the head with a huge mystery. Then it backed off. Since then, the two major groups of characters have slowly become aware of the mystery and have been finding more and more hints to point at something big going on, but they don't know what yet. It's well done, because the viewer also doesn't know what's going on, but they know something big is.
This is also quite possibly the closest to the book I've ever seen a movie/TV-show come. I'm only four episodes in, so it's always possible this is going to go way off the rails later on. But so far I'm extremely impressed. When reading this series, I noticed it wasn't quite as "hard scifi" has some reviews were talking about it being, but it was still on that side of the scale. I actually thought about how the books were plotted almost as if they were made for TV, and how it was far more "hard" than any other TV scifi. And so far the show has lived up to that. It may not be perfectly hard science fiction, but it's closer than anything else I've seen on TV.
So far, this has been absolutely delightful. Anyone who likes science fiction should be watching this. If it's canceled, I'm blaming you all personally.
Since reviews that bash a movie or TV series for not dogmatically following the source book(s) are frankly tiresome, I'll spare you the disparaging remarks and leave that to someone else. The Expanse includes the important details from the books, such as a crew "going on the juice" for a high g burn (the juice being an injected cocktail of drugs to [optimistically] keep the pilot et al. from "stroking out"), but it also does surprisingly well with the unimportant details from Leviathan Wakes, such as Captain Shaddid's favoring a forced-air scent of coffee and cinnamon in her office via that diffuser on her desk.
Cast: Solid. Of the major players, Cas Anvar as Alex, Thomas Jane as Miller, and Shohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala are the seasoned actors. Dominique Tipper as Naomi Nagata is the wildcard, but so far, so good. I was expecting Amos to be more imposing than Wes Chatham, but he still looks enough like the muscle of Holden's fantastic four. Chad Coleman (aka Tyreese, former tank on The Walking Dead) was well cast as Fred Johnson, and Jared Harris (David Robert Jones of Fringe / Lane Pryce of Mad Men) was an incisive pick for the Ceres OPA bigwig.
Effects / CGI: Fair to excellent. Obviously the show's sizable budget is going to be revealed in some scenes more than others, but thankfully they chose to pour money into what matters most for this story: the off-world spacecraft and no/low g scenes. They've done a proficient job of conveying physics (varying degrees of gravity, etc.)
Story / Dialogue: Characters in the SA Corey books spend a lot of time sharing their thoughts with the reader, and it's difficult to convey enough of that through a visual medium. The Expanse tries to compensate for this drawback by keeping the story moving along at a brisk pace, with tons of visuals to gawk at. The dialogue is acceptable, with plenty of the lines verbatim from Leviathan Wakes.
Final thoughts: Not as good as the books, but did we expect The Expanse to surpass the source material? Since several are published now, the screenwriters are able to draw upon the larger world of James SA Corey (i.e., not confining story details to Leviathan Wakes), which is turning out to be a boon. If you haven't read them, at least watch The Expanse through episode 4 ("CQB") before drawing premature conclusions.
If it can keep up this level of quality and keep to the tone and story of the books this will be an EPIC show. The likes of which we have never seen.