You want a snappy blurb from Judge Jim Thomas? Write it yourself.
The battle for humanity has a beginning.
You only have to look as far as Star Wars and Star Trek: Enterprise to understand the perils of prequels. Look, I had something more substantive planned for Caprica, the highly anticipated prequel to Battlestar Galactica, but the flu has shown up and I'm running a 102-degree temp, so just take what you can get, OK?
Facts of the Case
Daniel Greystone (Eric Stoltz, Mask), the preeminent scientist on Caprica, is struggling to keep a military contract for a robotic warrior. He's got the mechanics all worked out, but can't crack the AI. Joseph Adams (Esai Morales, La Bamba), an immigrant from the neighboring colony of Tauron, is a defense attorney with connections to the Tauron mob (think Russian mob, with less borscht). Their lives intersect when a terror attack by The Army of the One [God] shatters their families. As Greystone struggles to deal with the loss of his daughter Zoe (Alessandra Toressani), he makes a horrifying discovery—his daughter, a computer genius in her own right, has discovered how to store her personality and manifest it in a virtual environment. Greystone's pursuit of this technology will eventually bring humanity to the brink of annihilation.
But then, you knew that already.
Ron Moore has proven himself a master of pacing; Caprica is no different. From the opening, which establishes an underground virtual nightclub, or "V-club" where literally anything goes, he is relentless in his quest to hold your attention. There are a multitude of plot threads in play here, and the one that brought us running—the rise of the Cylons—is perhaps the least interesting, precisely because by the end of the pilot we have a pretty good idea of how that one goes down. What isn't as clear is how the others will play out. For instance, how does Joseph Adama get from being a defense attorney with mob connections to being a renowned civil rights attorney? There are other issues as well: Adama's struggles to come to terms with his Tauron heritage; the relationship between Greystone and his wife Amanda (Paula Malcomson, Deadwood), already strained to the breaking point before the tragedy; Zoe's best friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz, The Butterfly Effect), desperately trying make sense of it all, with some assistance from school headmistress Sister Clarice (Polly Walker, Enchanted April), who appears to be involved with the Army of One herself. Oh, yeah, there's also this Willie kid (Sina Najafi). With all that emotional baggage, do you really think he'll ever amount to anything? The clever thing about the various plots is twofold—we get enough information about the Cylons to get a rough idea how that one's going to play out—there are bound to be surprises, but the foundation is already laid out.
Layered on top of this dense storyline is a sense of religious and cultural tension. Towards the tail end of BSG we got suggestions that the colonies didn't exactly get along; here, that prejudice is front and center—the reason Adama changed his name to Adams upon arriving on Caprica is a deep-seated mistrust of Taurons. The show also has a strong visual feel, a retro look consciously patterned from Gattaca. We really haven't seen much of the other colonies yet, but I'm certain that similar dynamics will be in play. There's an overall sense of cultural decay, most clearly evidenced by the Sodom & Gomorrah-level decadence of the V-club.
Morales is pitch-perfect as Joseph Adama. He shares Edward James Olmos' quiet intensity, commanding attention even when he is just sitting and thinking; in fact, he even throws down one of Olmos' trademark glares.
Stoltz has more trouble as Greystone, as he is forced to navigate between mad scientist, ruthless businessman, and grieving father; during one scene with Morales—the scene that draws the Glare, in fact—he's saddled with a speech right out of Frankenstein. But the real revelation in the pilot is Toressani and Aponowicz as Zoe and Lacy. They shoulder a lot of the narrative and emotional weight in the film, easily as much as Morales and Stoltz, and they rise to the occasion amazingly.
There is one scene that resonates all the way through to BSG. I won't spoil it, save to say that you would be well to recall exactly why several models were always on hand to help a Cylon adjust after resurrection.
Technically, the disc is about what you'd come to expect from the BSG crowd. Video is sharp and crisp, and the audio makes full use of the sound field, using Bear McCreary's music to full effect. The extras are relatively weak; the commentary track has some good stuff, but never quite seems to get off the ground, and the video blogs are forgettable. There are a few deleted scenes, but the presentation is problematic. They are introduced simply by a scene number; the problem is that it only gives us a general idea of where the scenes would have fit in. An explanation as to why the scenes were deleted would also be nice.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Everything about the industrial espionage used to obtain a critical microchip reeks of convenience; it's the one aspect of the plot that doesn't ring true.
The story is great, and it clearly sets up series with a lot of potential. This is a very different show than BSG, in both tone and style. While this is a very good pilot, it may have trouble finding an audience, particularly on the increasingly lobotomized SyFy channel.
Not guilty. Pass me the damned Nyquil.
Now that my damned fever has finally broken, our Chief Justice has graciously allowed me to extend my review. My opinion hasn't changed, it's just that a couple of additional points need to be made.
It's easy to compare Caprica to the BSG miniseries and find the new pilot wanting, primarily because we get such a sketchy image of Colonial society. Geminon is only mentioned in passing, Tauron is held in contempt, and Caprica is the be-all and end-all. In fact, we get a better feel for Tauron culture than Caprican. In this case, the sketchiness is all but unavoidable. Keep in mind, the BSG miniseries, as a pilot, had three key advantages Caprica does not…
1. Twice as much time.
2. It had a previous incarnation, as a frame of reference. Even if you didn't watch it, it was enough of a presence you understood the basic premise.
3. Particularly for a science fiction story, a show grounded in a military environment is much easier to establish than one based in a civilian culture. Whether it's the Minutemen, the Green Berets, Starfleet, or the Colonial Fleet, the basics of the military are the same. We hear the ranks, we hear the callsigns, and we understand. That's why M*A*S*H is timeless, while After M*A*S*H is a largely forgotten footnote, despite exceptional writing and acting.
If it is to succeed, Caprica: The Series will have to flesh out the cultures of all the colonies, and do so without sacrificing story in favor of backstory. They're in a good position to do that, because the rise of the Cylons can take place in the background, making room for plots that advance our understanding of this pre-Cylon civilization. It's not going to be easy by any means, but the potential is definitely there.
One final thought: I can't help but wonder why Caprica is being released almost a year before its series premiere. One possible explanation is that SyFy is hoping between Caprica, the DVD release of Season 4.5 and the Complete Series in July, and BSG: The Plan in November, they will be able to maintain some momentum leading into Caprica.
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