AN EXCITING LEARNING
ADVENTURE ABOUT SPACE
Macintosh CD-ROM; with Patrick Stewart.
The scenario is this: You are a seeker from Earth who has been chosen from oblivion by some wise men from Mars (who look surprisingly like actors in futuristic period costumes) concerned with Earth's inability to live in peace, our advances in space travel, and what this combination may portend for the rest of the galaxy. Your mission: Learn the history of space travel on earth, some basic facts about Mars, and then decide if Earth should be destroyed or left alone to further explore the universe. Interactive media succeeds when the design and content are well integrated, providing a synergy where the advantages of interactivity (user-controlled paths and pacing) facilitate learning and/or entertainment. Unfortunately, Next Step, Mars? which is adapted from the public television series Space Age, doesn't achieve this. Although the content is pretty cool (presumably you wouldn't buy this unless you were interested in space exploration), and the premise is one worth considering, the design doesn't support the information in any way and the navigation process actually lessens the CD's potential to teach. A barren stretch of Marsscape with four towers arranged symmetrically around the center makes a visually uninteresting virtual space, yet you are required to travel it to access the content through pedestaled icons associated with history and space exploration. When clicked, these icons provide information in the form of text, photographs, and audio and video clips about the past, present, and future of space travel from Galileo to present-day American and Russian experts in rocketry. A certain amount of information must be retained to go on to the next tower. After all four towers have been explored, you are faced with the big decision - commit earth-i-cide or let us be free. This "design" does little but separate the content by a few clicks, forcing you to experience some boring graphics as you patiently wait for your computer to orient itself in the space. And although within a tower you could randomly choose which information to read or watch, your procession from tower to tower can only be done in a direct, linear fashion. Where's the excitement? Where's the adventure? I had plenty of minor gripes, too. For example, although you can save an "adventure" to continue later, you'll have to sit through Patrick Stewart's boring intro every time you start up. You'd think they'd put that clip behind the "new adventure" choice, instead of at the top of the tree. Although the content of Next Step Mars is interesting, design flaws make it impossible to live up to its interactive promise. It would, however, make an outstanding, glorious picture-filled coffee-table book. Producers, are you listening? - Gary Lipkowitz NEAR DARK
D: Kathryn Bigelow; with Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson.
With her numbing sci-fi epic Strange Days currently playing in wide release, director Kathryn Bigelow has once again shown herself to be among the most interesting of American filmmakers working within the action genre. This fact was just as evident eight years ago when Bigelow gave us Near Dark, an intense take on the vampire movie with western motifs and a pinch of romance thrown in to spice up the mix. Adrian Pasdar plays Caleb, a young cowboy who joins up with a nomadic band of hellraising vampires after being bitten by one of their group, a mysterious woman played by the appropriately spacey Jenny Wright. For my money, Near Dark is a far more interesting take on vampire lore than either the big-budget Interview with a Vampire or the low-budget Nadja could manage (although Abel Ferrara's upcoming The Addiction certainly looks promising), and it contains at least two sequences - our heroes hair-raising attack on a roadside bar (set to the tune of The Cramps' "Fever") and a thrilling gunfight in a motel which makes full use of the vampire aversion to sunlight - that have become deservedly legendary among fans. Although the picture does slow down a bit once Caleb is rescued and "cured" by his father, the performances are more than enough to help round out the script's rough edges. (The writer, Eric Red, was also responsible for authoring the equally riveting The Hitcher.) Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein, all veterans of James Cameron's Aliens, turn in great work as the most aggressive members of the vampire gang, creating a truly memorable, not to mention fascinating, group of bad guys - even if they do overshadow all other performances in the film. The other actors also manage nicely; even child actor Daniel Roebuck, who is saddled with a particularly difficult role, pulls it off smashingly. Bigelow, in dispensing with the clichéd gothic trappings that have become so typical of the genre, has created one the most interesting, exciting, and original American horror pictures of the 1980s... and, as if that weren't enough, it seems her best work still lies ahead. - Joey O'Bryan