My DVD Shelf: ‘Caprica’ review

04.20.09 9 years ago

Universal Home Video

Short review?

Loved it.  Bring on the series.

Longer review?

I have some issues, but overall, I’m encouraged by a pilot that I had 100% no interest in until it showed up last week.  I like “Battlestar Galactica.”  I have not yet seen the last 2/3 of the last season, although I have a general sense of what sort of kind of happened in the ending.  I will watch the show in its entirety again from the start and through to the finish once it all hits BluRay.  And I’ll do it in one fell swoop.

But I don’t think that matters.  “Caprica” has to work as a film first, and as a beginning to a new series second, and only after doing both of those things well does its relationship to “Galactica” matter.  If it’s not a good film… if it’s not an engaging sit in its own right… then I’m not interested.  Like I said, I like “Galactica,” but I’m not so crazy about it that I absolutely have to have something related to it on the air just so I can scratch my itch.

On its own, “Caprica” works as an interesting, sober, challenging piece of science-fiction.  Well-imagined, adult, and interested in ideas first and foremost, this is a rich set-up for a larger ethical world.  Eric Stoltz is one of my favorite actors of the ’80s and ’90s, and I think he’s a good fit as Daniel Graystone, a filthy rich tech genius who created the holoband, a device worn over the eyes that drops you into a sensory-rich virtual reality.  Esai Morales, a guy who has only gotten more and more interesting as he’s gotten older, plays Joseph Adama, a lawyer who does more than a little work for the Tauron mafia, introducing both organized crime and race into the material the show has to address.  They are both part of extended families both personal and professional, and those relationships are the way Ronald D. Moore and series co-creator Remy Aubuchon paint the larger picture of a society that has reached the final Roman days of excess and moral failure.  The reaction to that decay, the snapback in the form of a shocking act of terrorism, set Joseph and Daniel on a collision course.

[more after the jump]

Their chance meeting, the two of them both drowning in grief, is the moment that the rest of the series hinges on, but what comes before that point in the film is not just exposition or quick set-up.  From the opening frames, the film is clearly not a television episode.  Nudity, some extreme violence and shocking imagery, blatant sexuality… it’s a decadent, in-your-face opening, a guided tour of a nightclub where every depravity of man is on display.  In the midst of this hellish imagery, we find Zoe Graystone, played by Alessandra Toreson, who bears a striking resemblance to Zooey Deschanel in this role.  She’s Daniel Graystone’s daughter, and a bit of a genius in her own right.  She’s still a teenager, but she’s advanced beyond her years and, without her parents knowing it, she’s become very political.  She’s found a cause, and it’s led her to a dangerous social experiment that raises questions about the nature of the human soul.

That’s what I really love about the potential that “Caprica” shows based on this pilot… there are some great big SF ideas here, and that’s what good SF should do… make us question our relationship with technology or our ethical responsibilities or what it is we want from the future.  Science-fiction is where we wrestle with issues that may well become real-world issues, and hopefully, our best SF writers have laid road maps for how we can navigate some of these situations.  Here, “Caprica” appears to be a cautionary tale, since we know that the society we’re watching is doomed.  There’s a constant shadow of impending disaster over the world of the series, and part of the appeal here is seeing how these characters make the “right” choices that ultimately lead to the destruction of everything they hold dear.

There are four scenes in the film that deal with an early model of Cylon.  The first is just an introduction, a chance to look at the design.  The second is horrifying and sad and carries an emotional charge I didn’t expect.  The third is exciting because you see just how lethal these first Cylons could be.  And then the final scene of the film features a Cylon waking up, taking in its surroundings, and although it’s obviously a CGI robot with a face that really doesn’t allow for any emotional expression, it’s as haunting as anything in Karloff’s “Frankenstein.”  A line has been crossed, a corner turned, and from that moment on, nothing in human society will be the same.

The film has plenty of big moments, like the terrorist attack, staged in a way that will be acutely familiar to anyone who lived through 9/11, but it’s far more intimate in scale than even the pilot for “Galactica” was.  Fans who were addicted to the space combat and the adventure aspects of “Galactica” may need time to adjust to the decidedly different agenda of this show, but I suspect that fans of smart, writer-driven, idea-based science fiction will welcome “Caprica,” and although we won’t see episodes of the show until 2010, I’m officially onboard now, and I look forward to seeing what they’re going to build from this very, very enticing start.

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