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Caprica (2009)
Director: Jeffrey Reiner

review by J.C. Hartley

I never watched the original series of Battlestar Galactica back in the 1970s, seeing it as an extension of the cheesy SF exemplified by Space 1999, and followed by Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. I was also perhaps too quick to accept the contention that it was a cheap cash-in on the success of Star Wars. To be honest I wasn't as big a fan of SF then as I had been; ironic, as the films being made then were realisations of the kind of ray-gun and space-battle space operas I had yearned for as a child and which had only existed in books up to then.

I was certainly aware of the premise of Battlestar Galactica, it's a poor student of popular culture who doesn't at least keep abreast of what's on. Similarly, the re-imagined series Battlestar Galactica sounded intriguing enough for me to promise myself the complete series boxset for when I retire. But I never watched the show at the time. Apparently that isn't a problem with this sort-of prequel, described as "television's first science fiction family saga." That's code for SF soap. It's The OC or One Tree Hill in space. Perhaps not quite, but it's an attempt to get a bigger audience than the male-dominated demographic that BSG engendered.

This series, for which Caprica is the pilot film, will show the events surrounding the creation of the Cylon race, which will eventually attempt to wipe out its human masters. And there's a bit of the problem. With something like the re-imagining of The Prisoner there is an element of mystery. You watch the first episode and, provided you're not hopelessly devoted to the original, you decide whether or not to stick with it over the whole six shows (I intend to, by the way). You assume, in the case of The Prisoner, that the new show will be sufficiently different to the old one to keep you guessing. It possibly helps that the old show continues to keep people guessing to this day.

But with a prequel, even one 'of sorts', the conclusion is known. The trick is to make the exposition interesting enough to seize and maintain your attention. Now it is perfectly possible to do this with a fast-paced action series with that end in sight, but a 'family saga' or SF soap is concerned with the development of character and teasing out of plot strands. The audience is perfectly entitled to say - as with every modern soap - that's all very well, but everyone is going to die. At the end of Caprica I was speculating as to what event, or train of events, would lead to the Cylon race attempting genocide but I did not feel sufficiently engaged to go along for the ride. Admittedly I didn't think seeing Hayden Christensen bolted into a Darth Vader suit merited having to sit through three mediocre movies either.

Fifty-odd years before the Cylon attack the planet Caprica is enjoying peace and affluence. Kids utilise virtual reality technology to indulge in sex, drugs and violence scenarios. One girl, Zoe Graystone (Alessandra Torresani), uses a virtual environment to hide her creation, a version of herself created by using powerful search engines to gather together all her 'tags', the traces imprinted on cyberspace, and then coached and mentored into a 'perfect copy'. I see that the term Googlestein is already in the public domain. Zoe is a recent convert to monotheism, polytheism is the accepted norm on Caprica. Zoe and her friends Lacy and Ben have joined a radical group Soldiers of the One, and while attempting to go off-world to Gemenon, where fundamentalist monotheism is practised; Ben detonates a bomb killing all the passengers on board a train.

Zoe and Ben's fundamentalist beliefs about the sickness in Caprican society could be drawn from the responses of Christian or Islamic radicals to perceived failings in our own world. While Zoe clearly had a plan for her Zoe avatar, Ben's suicide bombing was not part of that plan. Lacy survives the attack and inadvertently reveals to Zoe's father Daniel (Eric Stoltz, The Triangle) the continuing existence of the Zoe avatar. Daniel is the creative leader in the virtual technology adapted by Zoe's contemporaries for their sex and violence play.

He is attempting to create a semi-sentient machine for the Caprican government but lacks a fundamental piece of technology to do so. He realises that he could download Zoe's avatar's 'personality' into such a machine to bring his daughter back to life. When he encounters Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) a Tauron with links to a mafia-like organisation, a widower who lost his wife and daughter in Ben's bombing, he encourages him to use his connections to steal the doohickey (of Tauron construction) he requires to make the download. Daniel's attempts to download Zoe into his Cylon, 'cybernetic life-form node', appears to fail with an irrevocable loss of data (what, no backup?) but by the end of the pilot it is apparent that the virtual Zoe is self-aware and housed in a powerful machine-body.

It is at this point that the mind starts wandering ahead and one wonders if the Cylon philosophy will derive from Zoe and her views of Caprican society, what part Tauron beliefs will play in Cylon development, or will it all be part of a terrible mistake. Of course a bit of judicious research suggests that none of this ultimately matters and the Cylon backstory is pretty much established, but equally I cannot provide the much needed citations to support that view.

So a good-looking series, well-made, well-written and well-acted, but on the basis of this pilot in attempting to widen its appeal beyond the usual audience for science fiction I fear it may end up appealing to no one very much. Having said all that the actual series seems to have enjoyed a promising critical reception, but in common with American series viewers appear to be in for a long haul.

Caprica on DVD

Caprica TV poster



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