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Posts tagged ‘battlestar galactica’

I feel all kind of violated . . .

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Concept art by Nathan Schroeder for Bryan Singer's 2001 Battlestar Galactica remake

After a week of rumours, Universal have announced that Bryan Singer is to produce and direct a cinematic adaptation of Battlestar Galactica.

It’s not the first time Singer (director of The Usual Suspects, the first two X-Men movies and most recently Valkyrie) has been attached to a remake of Glenn A. Larson’s 1970s television cheesetacular. In 2000 Singer developed a mini-series based on the original series for Fox, but despite being scheduled to go into production in November 2001, the project came unravelled in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In the aftermath of the collapse of Singer’s remake Ronald D. Moore and David Eick were commissioned to reimagine the franchise yet again, leading initially to the 2003 mini-series, starring Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, and subsequently the recently concluded television series.

For those struggling to understand where a remake would fit in the Battlestar Galactica universe created by Moore and Eick, which ended (satisfactorily or not) with the remnants of the Human and Cylon civilizations finding Earth, they need struggle no longer, because it is clear Singer’s version, which is being produced in collaboration with Larson himself, will not be a continuation of Moore and Eick’s show, but a wholly new interpretation of the material.

Superficially at least it’s difficult to imagine why Universal, and more particularly Singer, would want to make a Battlestar Galactica without Edward James Olmos’ Adama, or Mary McDonnell’s President Roslin, or Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck, to say nothing of their extraordinary vision of Cylon society, particularly given that, with at least one television movie, The Plan, still to screen, and the prequel spinoff, Caprica, scheduled to begin on SyFy next year, Moore and Eick’s version isn’t even cold in its grave yet. With what is now widely regarded as one of the most audacious and powerful television shows ever made so fresh in the memory, why make a movie the very existence of which seems certain to alienate much of the show’s fan base? And what, given the sheer complexity and metaphorical power of Moore and Eick’s version, does Singer think he can bring that is fresh to the material?

Of course there’s nothing new about the cannibalistic nature of science fiction, and science fiction film and television in particular. Like horror and fantasy, science fiction has a long tradition of freely borrowing, adapting and just straight appropriating tropes, devices and ideas. Remakes abound, as do thinly-disguised copies. Indeed the original Battlestar Galactica owes its existence to the success of Star Wars, and was the subject of a lawsuit by George Lucas for copyright infringement, a lawsuit which is itself ironic given the fact that it is difficult to imagine a film more aware of cinematic history, and more laden with appropriations than Star Wars itself.

As I’ve observed before, Moore and Eick’s version makes powerful, and often amusing use of this same history. Intended as a reboot rather than a sequel of Larson’s original 1970s version of the show, it incorporates elements of the original version without ever quite accepting the original series as prehistory. The basic premise, of a catastrophic attack on the Twelve Colonies, and the desperate search of the survivors for the lost Thirteenth Colony, Earth, is retained, as are the names and identities of many of the original characters, but simultaneously the now-dated futuristic technology of the original show is utilized as the technology extant in the Cylon Wars 40 years earlier, transforming the original series into something like mythological prehistory.

In places this prehistory is given playful, or ironic effect, as in the Cylon helmet on display in the museum in the mini-series, the chainsmoking Dr Cottle, or the antiquated computers of the ageing Galactica. And in this sense it is only one of a number of echoes of other science fiction texts within the fabric of Moore and Eick’s version of the show, in particular the appropriation of the term “skinjob” from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (itself, of course, an adaptation of Phillp K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep?) or the use of Minority Report’s dreaming precogs (again themselves inspired by a Dick story) as the model for Battlestar Galactica’s Delphic Cylon Hybrids.

But more importantly, Moore and Eick’s play with the original series allows their reimagined version to incorporate the original series into their version’s already somewhat overdetermined mythic structure, joining texts as disparate as Virgil’s Aenied, Exodus, Paradise Lost, The Book of Mormon, more potent, contemporary anxieties about terrorism and the War on Terror, and the Classical, zodiacal associations invoked by the names of the Colonies and the characters as part of the dense web of allusion within which the show operates.

But the cannibalistic nature of the genre – and indeed the show itself – aside, it’s still difficult not to feel there’s something peculiar in the notion of rebooting the show again, so soon. Why, one wants to ask, what can a reboot do that Moore and Eick’s version didn’t?

The problem is that this is exactly the wrong question to ask. Universal aren’t interested in finding something new in the material, any more than the creators of Transformers or GI Joe were interested in the ideas behind them (such as they were). What they want is a property that will allow them to unleash the machinery of the contemporary Hollywood spectacular, together with the associated merchandizing and marketing campaign. The precise nature of the property is relatively unimportant in the whole equation. What matters is that it provides a canvas upon which the digital wizardry of contemporary filmmaking can be unleashed.

Looked at this way a number of the more puzzling revivals of recent years seem a little less peculiar. Land of the Lost didn’t come into being because someone had a burning desire to tell the story of the Sleestak on the big screen. It came into being because the studios knew they had the technology and the promotional machinery to create a summer blockbuster, and Land of the Lost provided a convenient tentpole for them to deploy them. And, by using an extant property, they didn’t even have to go to the trouble of creating something new.

With this in mind it’s not difficult to imagine what Singer’s Battlestar Galactica will be like. Say goodbye to Moore and Eick’s handheld camera work and silent, spinning space battles; say hello to digital explosions and monster robots. Say goodbye as well to the complex political subtexts: no doubt there will be gestures in that direction but the nature of the beast (and indeed the somewhat lugubrious nature of Singer’s filmmaking) almost ensures they will be little more than gestures; what Universal will want is Transformers in space, and that, presumably, is what Singer will give them.

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Screw the Emmys

AdamaAfter my little spit about the Emmy nominations a week or two back, it’s nice to see something like justice prevail at the Television Critics’ Association Awards, where the final season of Battlestar Galactica was named Program of the Year. The members of the Association, which is made up of approximately 200 American and Canadian journalists and critics covering television, followed in the footsteps of the Emmys in recognizing Mad Men, which took out the award for Outstanding Achievement in Drama, and Bryan Cranston, who took out the award for Individual Achievement in Drama for his work in Breaking Bad. True Blood took out the award for Outstanding New Program.

The full list of awards is available here.

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And the winners are . . .

bsgbloodscalesThe nominations for the 2009 Emmys have just been announced. Unsurprisingly (and deservedly) Mad Men has done exceptionally well, taking four of the five nominations for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, one of the Directing nominations, and a number of other, smaller nominations (including Outstanding Hairstyling – woo-hoo!) as well as a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series.

The other standout drama of the year, Breaking Bad, does less well (how its amazing pilot didn’t get nominations for Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Directing is beyond me) but does pick up a nomination for Outstanding Drama (along with the neglected but brilliant Big Love) and a couple of smaller nominations.

At the other end of the spectrum, Battlestar Galactica has been almost completely ignored once again, picking up only one major nomination, for Michael Rymer’s direction of ‘Daybreak Part 2′. The take-home message? That even when a science fiction show produces episodes of the calibre of ‘Revelations’, ‘The Oath’ or ‘Blood on the Scales’, all of which are, quite simply, some of the best television produced in the last ten years, it’s still not enough to find mainstream recognition.

Not, it must be said, that the literary world is much better.

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The future begins now: first Caprica reviews

capricaAlthough I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive, the first reviews of the DVD-release version of the Battlestar Galactica spin-off/prequel, Caprica, have begun to pop up around the traps.

Created by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, the driving forces behind the revisioned Battlestar Galactica, Caprica looks like being a very different creature from its parent, even as it explores similar – and similarly troubling – territory. Set 60 years before the events of Battlestar Galactica, and starring the man with the charisma bypass, Eric Stoltz and Polly Walker, who lit up the screen as Rome’s scheming Atia, it focuses on the creation of the first Cylons (or the first non-Final Five, Earth that wasn’t Earth Cylons, but we won’t go there) and the lives of two families, the Greystones and the Adamas. Like the troubled Ian McShane vehicle, Kings (which has already been shifted to Saturday nights in the US, usually the prelude to a show being taken round the back and put out of its misery) it depicts a science fictional version of contemporary America, a place of almost unbridled wealth and decadence riven by religious extremism and the perils of technology. These are of course questions explored with great power and suggestiveness in Battlestar Galactica, but as the trailer below suggests, Caprica has ambitions to be more than a simple companion piece to its parent series, even as it draws on its aesthetic and mythology.

I’m sure more reviews will appear in coming days, but thus far the word is broadly positive, if not actually ecstatic. Wired’s Underwire gives it a 8 out of 10, suggesting it’s a little on the slow side but praising its intelligence and preparedness to tackle difficult issues. Wired‘s Geekdad is similarly positive, saying that while “it’s not the kind of action-packed, thrilling, anyone-really-could-die-at-any-moment kind of show Battlestar Galactica fans have been, well, fanatic about these past four seasons,” it is “a very good drama, with good science fiction thrown in”. Slashfilm goes further, saying it asks “some deep questions about the morality of creating artificial life,” adding that while “[i]t’s rare for a sci-fi show to attempt drama with very little action . . . it manages stay compelling without much reliance on ’splosions”. And io9’s resident smart cookie, Annalee Newitz, thinks it “works incredibly well, despite a few hiccups, helped along by some brilliant worldbuilding and terrific acting from stars Esai Morales and Eric Stoltz”.

Perhaps almost as interesting as the release itself is its nature. The version just released is not a pilot, but a special DVD-only movie release, complete with R-rating. And while the series itself is already in production, and is currently scheduled to screen in 2010, the version available now will not be seen on television. Instead the producers will reshape the television pilot (and presumably the series) on the basis of responses to the DVD version. Whether you see its release as a cynical cashing in on the gaping hole left in many fans’ lives by the end of Battlestar Galactica or an interesting use of the different delivery technologies is proably a matter of perspective.

Caprica is available from Amazon.

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Obama depressed, distant since Battlestar Galactica series finale

obama1This is priceless . . .

Obama depressed, distant since Battlestar Galactica series finale

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I couldn’t have said it better myself . . .

Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Adama (Edward Lee Olmos), SCI FI Channel Photo: Carole Segal

Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Adama (Edward Lee Olmos), SCI FI Channel Photo: Carole Segal

There’s a terrific piece by Laura Miller about the Battlestar Galactica finale over at Salon, which pretty much nails a lot of what went wrong in the final ten episodes, and most particularly the mess of the finale. Most tellingly, I think, she points to the contrast between the (admittedly controversial) non-ending of The Sopranos and the desperate and misguided desire to tie up all of Battlestar Galactica’s loose ends which so muddied ‘Daybreak’.

That said, she also argues that:

“Adama was always the series’ most conventional figure, the old-fashioned, admirable leader-hero that American popular culture typically insists upon. This also made him the least interesting character psychologically, but he was essential all the same; the rest of the survivors needed him as a fixed point, a star to steer by.”

At one level she’s right; Adama is one of Battlestar Galactica’s more conventional figures. Certainly without the strength of Edward James Olmos’ performance he would be little more than a cardboard cut-out. But the strength of Olmos’ performance also grounds one of the less conventional aspects of Adama, namely his violence and anger. The role he is playing, that of the leader-hero, is generally constructed in such a way as to allow the character to be an essentially decent, honest man, who only turns to violence when provoked. It is, in many ways, a peculiarly American fantasy of the soldier-farmer, the man of the earth who takes up arms to defend his rights and those of others.

Adama, by contrast, is a much darker creation. More Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven than Gary Cooper, his outward semblance of control is largely a facade, designed to keep a check on the anger and violence that seethe at his core. As we are reminded on a number of occasions, his impulses are authoritarian, even despotic, his first loyalty to his uniform. He is a soldier, and a good one, but soldiering is not, as we are often reminded, a profession which tends to make nice people out of those who excel at it.

This is of course of a piece with Battlestar Galactica’s deeper interest in the brutalizing nature of war, and its ambiguous attitude to the nature and exercise of power in general. Indeed Adama is in large part interesting precisely because his nature belies his conventional facade, so much so that the term of respect the crew bestow upon him, “the Old Man”, can often seem oddly ambivalent, conjuring associations of control, and violence as much as paternal affection.

(For those anxious to fill the hole left by Battlestar Galactica’s passing, SciFi have released seven clips from the upcoming prequel/spinoff, Caprica, all of which are available over at io9).

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Battlestar Galactica: some predictions for the final hours

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I watched ‘Daybreak, Part 1′, the first part of Battlestar Galactica’s three hour finale after I got back from China on Thursday night. I’ve seen a lot of carping on the intertubes about how bad it was, but I actually thought it was terrific, particularly after the mess of the episodes immediately preceding it (though I probably could have done without Laura Roslin in the fountain). The pacing was beautiful, there were a lot of lovely details, and there was a wonderful, elegiac sense of ending about it. I’ve always admired ‘All Good Things’, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which Ronald D. Moore also wrote, and ‘Daybreak, Part 1′, echoed many of the things that made that episode so moving, in particular the movement back in time to the series’ beginning, and the sense of a circle being closed that movement back to the beginning creates.

Perhaps oddly though, it was only while watching the episode that I realized how much I’m going to miss the show. For all the patchiness of this final series, Moore and Eick have created a show which has completely rewritten the rules about what science fiction television can be, both by creating a world which speaks in such complex and unpredictable ways to our own, and by giving breath to a cast of characters which live in a way television characters rarely do. Even in the first part I found myself tearing up more than once, which is testament of a sort to just how much I’ve come to care about these characters and their plight.

So, at the risk of making a fool of myself, I thought I’d make a few predictions about what will happen in tonight’s conclusion. These aren’t spoilers. I know nothing more than anyone, and I’ve actually tried really hard to avoid reading anything about these last two episodes in advance of watching them. But if you want to avoid going into tonight with preconceptions of any kind, you might want to stop reading now, and check back afterwards to see how right (or wrong) I am.

Here are my guesses for tonight:

The singularity will be important, both as a plot device, and in a deeper, narrative sense. If nothing else it will be a glimpse of the Eye of God, and of the desire for perfection and unity Anders described in ‘Daybreak, Part 1′, and which so many of the characters have been seeking since the show began. But I also think it will have a role in collapsing time and space, in making all times one, and thus bearing out the show’s oft-repeated promise, that “all of this has happened before and will happen again”.

Although I’d always assumed they’d kill poor old Starbuck in the final episode, I no longer think they will. Not only has she already died once (thus bearing out her Dionysian aspect by becoming twice-born) but having carefully removed the obstacles posed to her and Lee’s relationship by Dee and Anders, it wouldn’t make sense to go and kill her. More deeply though, she needs to live, and to end up with Lee, because by uniting the Apollonian and Dionysian in a union of opposites, we see a very literal embodiment of the show’s broader concern with the destabilizing of the boundaries between us and them, Human and Other.

That said, a number of other characters will die. Poor old Gaeta is already gone, as is Zarek and the rather dreary Dee, but I think a number more will die tonight. The most obvious is of course the President, though since she’s already dying that won’t be a surprise, but once she’s gone, Adama will die as well, both because he will no longer want to live, and because his death will symbolize the old giving way to the new, in the form of Lee and Starbuck (and indeed the broader Human/Cylon union).

Baltar will die as well, presumably in the final, selfless act we saw so laboriously set up in his conversation with Lee in the first part, thus completing the rather misjudged journey from narcissist to Messiah they’ve had him on since he was acquitted of crimes against humanity and collaboration at the end of Season Three (I’ve always thought the intrusion of the Paradise Lost/Jesus thread was a mistake, but I suppose having begun it they’ll have to play it out).

Beyond that I’m not really sure who will die. Probably Anders/Galactica, but in a way that lets Anders touch the face of God (perhaps in the singularity?). Definitely Boomer, though only after she changes sides one last time, and rescues Hera from Cavil. And Cavil, obviously. Maybe Tigh and Ellen, and perhaps the Chief. But Helo and Athena and Hera will all live, as indeed will all the characters who symbolize union.

And finally, but most importantly, I think we will hear the words which opened the first episode of the original series, “There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe,” invoked in the final moments of tonight’s episode. Somehow (possibly via the singularity) Lee and Starbuck and the surviving Cylons and Humans will turn out to be our own ancestors. I’m not sure how literal this process will be, but it makes sense for a number of reasons. The first is it allows the larger circle between the original series and the revisioned series to be closed. The second is that it means quite literally that all of this has happened before. And the third is because the show is and always has been fundamentally concerned with destabilizing the boundaries between us and them, Human and Other, and while that boundary between Human and Cylon is now completely blurred, making the characters on the show us, and us them, takes it one step further and makes us the descendants of that union, no longer Human, but a mixture of Human and Cylon.

One of the reasons I’m not sure how literal the process will be is because I’m convinced it has something to do with the singularity, and that we will discover not just that the show is our prehistory, but also our future. That will allow the Earth they discovered in the middle of Season Four to be our Earth as well, and will mean that somehow the distant future gives birth to the distant past, so not only has all of this happened before, and will happen again, but in some deep sense, we are all – Human and Cylon, past, present and future – one, and bound together for all eternity.

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