Monday, October 19, 2009

Leaving out Muffit

Watched the Battlestar Galactica mini-series in one sitting last night, and have the series to follow. Yes, I am several years behind. And yes, Scott thinks I'm wasting my time because of how much he hates the final episode. But anyway.

It's a rather dour re-fit of the 1970s TV show which so incurred the wrath of George Lucas. It's odd: the original was clearly a show for the whole family, with the adventures of a kid and his robot dog as key to proceedings as the brave space pilots fighting evil robots. Boxey appears briefly in this new version, but barely gets a word in.

Instead, its dark and violent and girls take their clothes off. As I found writing Doctor Who stuff myself, trying so hard to be darker and more adult can just seem adolescent. That's not to say I don't like a bit of angsty, angry sci-fi hokum. There's an effort to make it more morally complex, but I'm not sure the mini-series is nearly as clever as it thinks.

The opening scene is immediately odd. On a spaceship filled with densely info-dumping captions, a guy falls asleep waiting for Cylons not to show up. And then – blimey – one does. And it's not a Cylon like we used to know them (though there's a nice glimpse of the old-skool versions). This one's a slinky, snoggy blonde. Who snogs him and blows up the spaceship.

This is apparently a declaration of war. Which is odd, since no mention of it is made again. The twelve colonies and one ancient old battleship all react in total surprise later on when the Cylons attack. So what was that introductory explosion all about? Or did they just think the opening was a bit dull without it?

Because a lot of the opening 45 minutes is pretty dull. It's got a lot of characters and planets to set up, but mostly it does that through earnest conversations in corridors. Though there's a multi-racial cast, it doesn't seem very multi-cultural – the soldiers, the civilians, a whole dozen planets, and there's little to suggest richness and contrast. It has the same bland feel as a Next Generation planet. Nice people living rather tidy lives and being very earnest.

There seems to be one, all-encompassing religion and one, all-encompassing and democratic government. It all might have rung more true with reference to internal disputes and wars, so that where you come from is important – even (perhaps more so) when it no longer exists.

When the Cylons do attack, the series rather pulls its punches. We see explosions as reported on the news, or in the distance or even from space. In the first wave of attacks, we see very few people die – and certainly none we've been given a chance to know. The emphasis is very much on the survivors – on that shared experience of not being the ones who died. I guess that's tapping into most people's experience of 9/11, but it creates a distance from the events. I didn't feel any great loss for these worlds and people.

Things hot up when some plucky human pilots take on the Cylons in dogfights. That was the exciting bit of the old show, and the first Really Cool Bit here is when the humans realise they're completely outmatched. The Cylons can just turn off the human's computers, leaving them dead weights in space. A character with lines realises he's going to die – and we see him burning up in the explosion. It's a shocking, vivid and unsettling. And just the right kind of thing to do.

As the scale of the attack starts getting felt, and we realise how few humans have survived, the tension really mounts. The Cylons attack the remaining, weak communities, and more people we've met start to die. As the humans squabble about who's in charge and whether they should fight or run, I found myself getting more and more involved. I stayed up till 1 a.m. to watch the whole thing, which must count for something.

There's a certain amount of clunky dialogue and character. There's not a lot of jokes. There's a tedious interest in duty and the chain of command. But there's some knotty, not-easy moral stuff about sacrificing people for the greater good. And I like the general wheeze that Commander Adama, ready for war for 50 years, must learn not to fight.

Making Starbuck a girl – but still a rough-and-tumble, cigar-chomping one – is a neat move, and the hastily elected President – a minor politician until the attack, and also dying of cancer – means, I hope, there'll be less of the tiresome military swagger of so many warships-in-space TV shows. We'll see. The mini-series worked best, I think, when it played against the Top Gun stuff, and went weirder and more morally complex than just Soldiers Being Brave.

I like how they're using the old-fashioned, chunky designs and computers of the old show as a plot point. The Cylons can sabotage anything more modern and networked. Nice cameo by the old TV theme tune, too, though I'd have then brought that back as an anthem later on, if only for the closing credits.

And I like what they've done with the Cylons themselves. They're tricksy and clever and pretty and cool. The final scene is a world of Woah Cool. I hope we'll learn more about why they're so cross with humanity. And I worry that the Bodysnatcher thing, with the baddies hidden amongst the goodies, will wear off pretty quickly. Was getting bored of Baltar's invisible friend towards the end – it didn't seem to lead anywhere.

So I'm keen to see more – and will report back – but not exactly wowed out of my brain. It seemed pretty run-of-the-mill hokey sci-fi most of the time, with flashes of something much better and more involving just under the surface. Glad I've finally seen it, and can see why it appeals, but it needs to improve if I'm going stick it to the end.


Tara O'Shea said...

I actually prefer the miniseries to the series itself in a lot of ways--and it does tend towards angst-porn now and then where The Worst Possible Thing That Could Happen, Happens For The sake Of OMG DEEP AND MEANINGFUL DRAMA to a degree where my ability to actually connect with characters was lost because everyone was living tragedy on a Wagnerian operatic scale. Including Tyrol, who was my Miles O'Brien for the first 2 years (i.e. the Guy I'd Most Likely Be Like If I Lived In A Space Opera).

However, Boxy does appear eventually (and with the same haircut). And he has one of my all time fave scenes in the series which I think is on the DVD cut, but not the US aired cut, for some reason.

Roslin is probably my fave character. I started off madly in love with Starbuck, but that waned over time, whereas my love for Roslin and her relationship with Adama remains steadfast pretty much all the way through to the end. Part of what I love about her is her occasionally absolutely ruthless pragmatism, when it comes to the survival of the human race. In terms of what they do with gender roles, it's interesting that Roslin ends up holding the hard line, while Adama tends to be characterised as more sentimental and constantly making exceptions for individuals. Usually those are flipped, with the girls being mushy and the boys being stalwart and stoic.

I still hide behind a cushion sometimes when Baltar comes on-screen, cos I have an embarrassment squick. However, weirdly, Baltar and Caprica Six turned into faves of mine as well.

Anonymous said...

Glad you got through the opening. I was told it was the 'Bestest Thing Ever' but the opening hour had no enjoyment for me whatsoever.

I tuned in for a later episode where they find the Pegasus, which didn't appeal to me either. From what I've seen, the series is summed up by lots and lots of grey corridors and sex.

And what happened to the stand-alone episode? You couldn't join BSG for a few weeks, you have to get the DVDs and watch the whole thing to understand half of what's going on. It's an unfair commitment to ask of a viewer, I think.

0tralala said...

Hullo! If you could hold off the spoilers, that would be good.

Just seen first episode. Better, I think. Though why they can't have shift patterns, I don't understand. And woah does the God Wills Its stuff grate.

Unknown said...

I've watched most of BSG, up to half-way through the final season. I wasn't entirely convinced for most of the first season, but got hooked with season 2, though it's more a show that I like and find interesting rather than a show I absolutely love. It could do with a bit more humour and less self-importance!

Since I've not got to the end yet, I'm still waiting to see whether everything gets a satisfying pay-off. Fingers crossed...

Adaddinsane said...

Personally I think it's superb - but then I am known for being less judgmental.

You want morally difficult choices? They just keep on coming. I'm working my way through season 3 and I find it hard to watch because it gets so painful. So many impossible decisions.

Cheerful? No. Powerful? Yes.

Like Children of Earth - for season after season.

Liz said...

I started enjoying BSG a whole lot more when I stopped listening to the people who told me it was Very Serious Television, Not Like That Doctor Who Rubbish. Once I embraced the crack -- and a show with a line like "No more Mister Nice Gaius" has crack aplenty -- I started having fun.