I feel I must preface all comments by saying that I was a faithful viewer of the most current Battlestar Galactica series, which just completed its run. I was enormously invested in the characters and the mythology and the intricate storytelling that virtually reinvented the original series of 1978. And while I was also a fan of that first creation, nothing about its second life was remotely similar — not its tone, not its stories, not even the look of the cylons themselves. The only thing that remained was the name and the idea of being at war with a cybernetic lifeforce. I loved the new Galactica as dearly as I’ve loved any television series, and it will forever be my standard for science fiction; it’s a very high standard of drama and character before special effects, and it is very, very rare.
In 2010, the creators of Galactica will bring a prequel series to television that explores the roots of the cylon beings and follows two families that become inextricably connected. In its pilot film, Caprica, the story is set over 50 years prior to all that we knew from past series, and the two families are bound together through the tragic deaths of daughters. From the midst of this grief, each of the fathers seeks to move forward in vastly different ways: one by seeking to recreate his daughter’s image through technology, and the other by simply learning to cope with the loss. The connection of these two fathers is the reality of the original Galactica, as we learn that the coping father is patriarch to the surviving fleet’s commanding officer while the father using technology will ultimately be responsible for the near-annihilation of the human race. And still, knowing all this, the drama rests fully in the humanity of each family and their attempts to make sense of a senseless present.
It is not necessary to know anything at all about Battlestar Galactica prior to watching Caprica. Having a base of knowledge will only give you small insights into various motivations or moments of time. Instead, Caprica begins with a fresh slate, seeking to tell a story from its origin point and hoping to draw viewers into its own mythology and characters. In that way, it succeeds. Where the film fails, however, is in its presentation of the story. In fact, the film begins with an assault on the viewer, focusing long and steady on outright debauchery in a “virtual club” that is used simply to show an underground movement among adolescents. The setting is used again and again throughout the film, but it is simply a gateway to an alternate space that has decried the club’s activities as immoral and unrighteous. The fact that the director and producers chose to continually assault viewers with these graphic images seems less for story and more about feeling unconstrained by television censors. I am grateful that the series will be on TV, for that will shield me from feeling as unsettled and repulsed as I was in watching the pilot. I am especially disappointed in this creative decision because the full run of the Galactica series was crafted so well and used many of the same themes, but never felt it necessary to resort to such gratuitous imagery.
Despite this negative perception, I still enjoyed the bulk of the Caprica film. It is intelligent, complex, and features outstanding performances by its lead actors, Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales. The initial film sets up the series perfectly, and it left me wanting more as it completed its final scene. I don’t feel the same urgency that I felt with Galactica, but I am intrigued enough to be looking forward to the new series. And I have very high hopes.
image from scifi.com