So we’re midway through the latest Syfy offering and I thought by now I would have a sense of what to say about it. But to be completely honest, I don’t know what I’m watching. After initially reading about the release and watching the teaser trailer, I thought great, we have a long form version of Paul W.S Anderson’s Event Horizon, which still holds up to this day. If you haven’t seen what was equated to a haunted house movie in space, do yourself a favour and watch it. Starring Sam Neill, Jason Isaacs and a younger looking Laurence Fishburne, it was a terrifyingly good movie.
But getting back to the show at hand.
Nightflyers was written by George R.R Martin, of Game of Thrones fame, as a science fiction/horror novella and set of short stories. Adapted to film in 1987, it is said that Syfy initially planned to adapt the source material but later opted to follow the events of the movie (which I have yet to see but will report back on this if there’s anything of note).
The story follows a team of scientists aboard the Nightflyer ship as they attempt to make first contact with a mysterious alien spacecraft and the beings that inhabit it, known only as the Volcryn. The lead scientist, Karl D’Brannin, who was responsible for discovering the Volcryn craft is hoping to ask this seemingly advanced race for help in saving the earth after it has been ravaged by disease and humanities hubris. The series sets up the theme of whether humanity is worthy of being saved pretty much immediately with Rowan, the Xenobiologist on the team.
And this theme is echoed with the telepath in Thale, a misunderstood teen with terrifying powers, brought on to the team with the intention of using his ‘teke’ energy to communicate with the Volcryn, which just happen to have the same sort of energy emanating from their spacecraft. I’m really hoping that this connection pays off and wasn’t just an excuse to have a mutant X on board the Nightflyer.
Things go wrong almost immediately after take-off, as they always do, and it becomes a case of whodunnit as things start to malfunction and people start dying. All fingers are pointed at Thale and his powers but that theory get’s the old red herring treatment, so we think, but the hints are pretty obvious. Giant glowing red orbs watching the crew remind you of anything? Say, a classic film by a prolific director from the past with a monolith floating through space?
And therein lies my main critique of what I’ve seen so far. There are some interesting concepts in Nightflyers, but they are concepts that we’ve seen before, in different films and media. Undoubtedly science fiction as a genre is rampant with tropes and concepts that get recycled repeatedly, but there’s nothing original in what we’re seeing, and we’re seeing a lot.
When you can relate each episode back to something you’ve already seen, in another series or movie, you’re not appreciating what it does for the Nightflyer narrative, you're remembering how cool something else was. As a result, you can sometimes predict what will happen next and if not exactly as expected, it’s not far off or removed from what you thought.