Available on YouTube Premium
What a difference a year makes. This time in 2017, I started reviewing some of the new scripted dramas that YouTube Red was putting out. It was slightly promising yet ultimately B-movie, also-ran material such as Lifeline and Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, rather than anything that would inspire you to stump up a subscription fee each month to watch it.
Since then, however, YouTube Red has rebranded as YouTube Premium, become available in the UK, and has gone on to produce Netflix-worthy fare such as Impulse and Cobra Kai. Now just a year later, we have Origin, which makes Lifeline look like someone tried to make a TV series with a Box Brownie and whatever they had in a jam jar on the mantlepiece.
Directed by Paul WS Anderson (Resident Evil, Event Horizon, Alien vs Predator) on a budget the size of a small third world country’s GDP, Origin is a star-filled sci-fi/horror extravaganza that, unfortunately, is total bobbins. It sees a bunch of largely British (Harry Potter‘s Tom Felton and Natalia Tena, Fraser James, Adelayo Adedayo, Nina Wadia) and European (Nora Arnezeder, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) actors, with varying degrees of American accent, get stuck in a hodgepodge of sci-fi and horror movies, struggling to survive.
Initially, they’re in Passengers, since they’re on a spaceship, the Origin, travelling to a far-off colony to start new lives, but wake up a tad early. Why have they woken up? Where is everyone else? Are they close enough to their destination that they won’t die of old age before they get there?
However, then they’re in Event Horizon and Alien as they discover that everyone has already left the ship because something has got on board it, leaving them behind with it. It doesn’t seem to be an it, so much as infection, however, since anyone who comes into contact with it starts to go a bit weird from the inside out.
What is it, will they survive and will we care?
Those left behind are a motley bunch who don’t really play well with each other. Why should that be? Well, we flashback in each episode to learn about each of the characters’ back stories, starting off with former yakuza Sen Mitsuji. These weren’t people leaving Earth for something so much as to get away from something, usually their own lives.
The other problem is that they’re trapped on a ship designed by idiots. There are no signs, no instruction manuals, no walkthroughs to tap on. Instead, we just have big, unlabelled buttons to push. What does this button do, they wonder? Dare we touch it? What’s the worst that could happen? Ah… It triggers the death slide on the other side of the room. Obviously, you’d not only engineer a lift to become a death side, you’d also put an unlabelled button without any warnings on the other side of the room from it to activate it. That makes perfect sense. It would certainly make me a bit tetchy around other people, too, knowing I could lose a leg simply by putting some rubbish in the bin.
Of course, we shouldn’t blame engineers – it’s the writers who are to blame. They imagine a Japan of the future where people speak Japanese and then switch into perfect English to ensure that no one else can understand what they say, including the police. Gosh, imagine not having Google Translate in the future. Or Japanese people who’ve lived in Tokyo their whole lives speaking unaccented perfect English.
In the hands of Paul WS Anderson, it’s fair to say Origin does look very beautiful, at least, whether it’s down on Earth or in the spaceship.
But Anderson’s a director who can make things look nice – he’s not necessarily a people person. Every time we go to a flashback, some poor actor has to stand staring off into the distance, saying nothing, until Anderson cuts in the flashback. It’s so like the end of an episode of Police Squad, it’s hard not to laugh. I’m surprised the actors manage, too.
He’s also not that top at pacing. Not only is the story slowly paced and uninvolving, it’s also derivative of every other sci-fi horror knock-off of Ten Little Indians – to an extent that it’s actually tedious to spend all your time waiting to see who’s going to be knocked off next. Since each episode’s flashbacks are dedicated to just one character at a time, all we get is 30 minutes of character development for one character, followed by everyone else shouting at each other and being twats, without any story development of their own. As with Christie, it’s hard to care for Generic Character 7 until Episode 7 turns up to give us some background to them. Assuming they make it that far without a serious breach of the Health and Safety At Work etc. Act 1974, of course.
It’s fair to say, the actors do their best with both the accents and the script. Felton has been a lot better elsewhere, but here little is asked of him except to be a bit of a git. Mitsuji does well with his lead role, but his nonsensical back story undermines his good work. Everyone else just has to bark at each other, look panicked, get killed or be a dick.
I managed to get about halfway through the second episode before I decided that life was too short and there were better programmes on even YouTube Premium, let alone the rest of the TV and movie canon, for me to be wasting my time on this.
YMMV, but I doubt it. Still, if you want to give it a whirl, here are the first two episodes for free: