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Posts tagged ‘Cylon’

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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This ship is dead: Battlestar Galactica and the tyranny of explication

battlestargalactica-s4bLike most devotees of that most improbable of televisual phenomena, Battlestar Galactica, I’ve been blown every which way by the final episodes. With eight of the final ten down, the show has lurched from two of the most powerful and shocking hours of television I’ve ever seen (‘The Oath’ (4.15) and ‘Blood on the Scales’ (4.16)), to dot-point infodumps (‘No Exit’ (4.17)) and weird, slow car-crashes such as ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ (4.19).

At one level the sheer haphazardness of these final episodes shouldn’t be surprising. For all its power as a series, Battlestar Galactica has always been pretty variable episode to episode. In part this is a consequence of the show’s very particular aesthetic, which discards almost all of the connective tissue and explication ordinarily expected in a television show. Combined with the claustrophobic intimacy of the handheld camerawork, this paring-back lends the show its extraordinary, almost hallucinatory intensity, but it can also leave individual episodes feeling surprisingly ragged.

But it’s difficult not to suspect the haphazardness is also at least partly a function of exactly the qualities that have made the show so remarkable. Despite its complex and deeply unsettling political subtext, much of Battlestar Galactica’s fascination has lain in its suggestiveness, and the constant, teasing implication that in the end its many elements will come to form a larger whole (not for nothing do the opening credits inform us that the Cylons “have a plan”).

The problem is of course that it is difficult to picture an explanation capable of drawing the show’s many elements together. Getting echoes of The Aeneid, The Book of Mormon, Paradise Lost, Exodus and other mythic sources, as well as post-9/11 anxieties about terrorism and loss and the War on Terror into the air together is one thing, but once they’re married to the mystery of the Cylons’ origins, the show’s own mythology, questions as to Starbuck’s true nature, the President’s visions, the political subtexts and most particularly the show’s constant, haunting refrain that “All of this has happened before, and will happen again” it’s difficult to see how the show’s creators can keep them all aloft at once.

Certainly the explanations offered thus far have been pretty unsatisfying. Quite aside from the jarring note of the Final Cylon’s identity, the attempt to explain the Cylons’ origins and the nature of the Final Five have managed to be both confusing and unsatisfying, managing to simultaneously reduce the show’s complex political allegory to a squabble between a spoiled son and his parents (as io9.com’s Annalee Newitz has observed) and to make the uncanny and profoundly disturbing Cylons oddly mundane. Then there’s the slightly too literal metaphorical business of Galen repairing Galactica by grafting Cylon biotechnology into her body, and the messy process of reorganizing the Council to reflect the changed composition of Human/Cylon society. And then, for every great moment, such as last week’s funeral for the crew killed trying to repair the damage caused by Boomer’s escape, and its glimpse of three separate belief systems struggling to make sense of the same questions of mortality, and loss, there’s a bum note such as Baltar’s speech at the funeral’s conclusion (though I think this most recent incarnation of Baltar is pretty unconvincing in general).

As I’ve observed elsewhere, there’s always been something slightly unnerving about the show’s creator, Ronald D. Moore’s openness about the casual manner in which many of the crucial decisions about the show are made. We want, as viewers, for it all to connect in a meaningful way, and more importantly, in a manner which allows the explanation to be more interesting than the process of getting there. But the fact is, with a show like Battlestar Galactica, where the ambiguities its political and mythic allegories suggest are much of the point, that’s unlikely to be a desire that’s compatible with resolution, or at least conventional resolution of the sort series television usually demands.

I want to write at more length about the final season once it’s done and dusted (I’ll probably wait for the Cylon-centric Edward James Olmos-directed telemovie which is apparently going to appear as a weird sort of coda somewhere between Saturday week and the DVD release of the spinoff series, Caprica) but in the meantime, Sophie Cunningham at Meanjin has very kindly given me permission to reproduce a piece I wrote about the show, ‘All Of This Has Happened Before And Will Happen Again: Humanity, Inhumanity and Otherness in Battlestar Galactica for the magazine’s December 2008 issue, which I’ve made available via my Writing page. The piece was written in the interregnum between the first half of Season Four and the second, so parts of it have been oveertaken by the developments in recent episodes, but the bulk of it is still current, and may be worth a look if you’re a fan of the show.

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