Monday, 6 July 2009

All of This has Happened Before… But Not Quite in the Same Way!

Last week I talked about Caprica, the new spin off from Battlestar Galactica. However, now, I have finally watched the last episode snapshot(6)of the parent series and I wanted to write something, to express my love for the show. I’ve been pondering though, how to start, because as I said last week, I came to this show with a sceptical view on the merits of a reboot of a show I had never had any interest in and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The truth is that Science Fiction, as a genre, generates a preconceived response from a significant portion of the population. “I don't like Sci Fi.” Throw in the fans of the old series who doubt the credibility of a new series that dares to change even the most minute detail and you have a dwindling fan base. snapshot(7)So how did it survive four years on air? By being frakkin’ awesome, that’s how.

So, what I thought I would do, rather than take the plot of four years and write it all out, I would instead do a tribute to the creators Ronald D More and David Eick and all the cast and crew of Galactica, while hopefully tempting those amongst my readership with the affore mentioned preconceptions to overlook them and dip their big toe in the ever shifting waters of Sci Fi.

This post, I promise, is spoiler free, it focuses purely on the nature of the show rather than specific plot details. Howevsnapshot(8)er before we start, just a quick lowdown for those who don’t know the premise of the show.

About 50 years ago: Man created the Cylon, a robot that would effectively be a slave to mankind. However man was too clever for his own good and the Cylons rebelled. After a bloody war they vanished without a trace.

Present Day: The Cylons returned in human form and destroyed the 12 homeworlds of humanity, only a handful of the original population escaped aboard a starship known as Galactica. Hoping to evade the snapshot(9)Cylons they begin their quest, searching for a new home, called Earth…

If you look at Battlestar from a distance the show may seem strange. It looks directionless, a floppy floundering behemoth of a series with both dedicated fans and outraged cynics. BSG will start storylines only to apparently abandoned them, offer explanations which seem to contradict all that we know to have gone before and the creators appear to be just as lost as the characters in the show.

However, when you look at this show from a distance, with an objective eye, you miss out on what makes this show so special, the people! There is a reason why BSG will run with a storyline only to dash it to pieces after weeks of alluding to its relevance, they do it because that is real life. We can’t know what will happen in our own lives and yet we see meaning in the patterns that surround us. Imagine then, that you were one of the last survivors of a holocaust that wiped out humanity, would yousnapshot(11) not believe that you had been spared for a reason, that you had a special destiny?

And yes, sometimes BSG feels like it is just humming along, but directionless, without a conductor to lead it. It does seem that it doesn’t know where it is going, but that is what the show is all about! Humanity has been annihilated and is floating through the universe in search of a mythical home, Earth, the characters in the show certainly don’t know where they are going, they don’t know who to trust or which of their friends might turn out to be a cylon. Then the fact that the writers and creators themselves don’t know these things works massively in their favour. They can play about, throw all manner of foreshadowing and allusion at us but in the end when they know something, we know something and that is a very different format for a show indeed.

Is BSG an original idea? Certainly not, for a start it is a reboot of an old series. The idea that man creates machine, machine destroys man has been around since the very first day we turned on a light bulb. The concept that our enemies are living amongst snapshot(14) us could not be more pervasive in modern culture than it is right now with the “War on Terror” at is peak. Even the approach BSG takes is not original. For example Firefly showed the world that science fiction could exist without monsters and that it could be clever and witty, while Farscape showed us how dark and mind-bendingly twisted the genre can go without losing a fanbase.

So, it’s confusing, unoriginal, the creators have no direction and yet somehow I think you should watch it? Why? Because none of that matters. It doesn't matter that a show called Battlestar Galactica existed back in the seventies and just because Farscape opened the door to the darkside doesn’t mean we shouldn’t walk through that door again. So, here goes then, ten reasons to watch BSG:

  1. The Cast: This show is cast brilliantly. Beautiful ladies, hunky men (if you’re into that kinda thing ;) ) and brilliant acting.
  2. The Writing: The writers on this show have amazing talent, they have the ability to make you care about the characters, even the enemy!
  3. The Effects: The special effects on BSG are brilliant and unlike most Sci Fi shows they don't just reuse the same shots over and over.
  4. A Dedication to Style: The thing about BSG that really leaves an impression on you is just how dedicated Moore and Eick are to retaining the style of the show. Many shows start out with an idea “Lets shoot it this way…” and over time it either gets dropped or it becomes so in your face that you don't want to watch it anymore. BSG however remains true to its style throughout it’s run. The freestyle camera work with snap zooms bring to life this gritty, almost documentary style show, helping to ground it firmly in reality, despite how distant it is from any reality we know. And this dedication extends right across the show, everything from the way the characters are portrayed, to the effects, to changing the title sequence every single episode.
  5. The People: Above everything else BSG is about people, it is about social interaction, professional interaction. It places people in impossible situations and asks them to choose the right path and the best bit? The people are far from infallible, they make a lot of wrong moves. Even if you don’t like science fiction, if you like good drama then BSG is for you!
  6. Consequences: One thing I have always disliked about old sci fi shows, like for example Next Generation, is the one shot nature of it. There is a problem, they solve it, end of story. With shows like Farscape we moved beyond this method of storytelling, we began to crave series-long arcs for our characters, for each decision they make in the show to have far reaching consequences and that is what we get with Battlestar.
  7. Mystery and Mythology: Battlestar has a very rich mythology for both the humans and cylons and that is something that really shines in the show. In fact the exploration of the cultural past of the two factions often takes a front seat and drives the narrative forward. Mystery too is there in reams, for a start the bad guys look human, they could be anyone, even the writers didn’t know who was a cylon when they started. All good drama revolves around mystery, just look at Lost, and BSG delivers it in spades.
  8. It’s dark: It's nice to sit down and watch a light hearted comedy that demands nothing of you as a viewer, but it is not as engaging as a show that isn’t afraid to go to dark places, to make hard decision come to life and feel real right before your eyes. BSG is full of those moments where you have to ask yourself “They didn’t just do that?” only to reply, “Yes they frakkin’ did!”
  9. But it’s fun: And right alongside those dark moments you have those jovial moments, those moments of extreme camaraderie, those righteous moments where people stand up for their beliefs, those moments where you are rewarded for surviving through the hard times.
  10. It’s Real: Yes they are on a space ship and they use octagonal paper but BSG is one of the most down to earth, real sci fi shows around. While Farscape thrived on amazing creatures and cultures and Firefly was wonderful escapism BSG is real life, real situations. The characters are all flawed, some are so flawed that they cannot be redeemed (and yet…), no one is invincible, they can all die. The ship is a relic, a museum, retired from active service, not the pride of the frontline, every day is a struggle just to survive. And yet, instead of this realism bringing the down the show and making it a hard slog, it remains full of life, fully engaging with your emotions, taking you on a hair raising ride through a series of events that seem neither convoluted nor orchestrated, in other words, it’s life, but not as we know it.

So there you have it, just ten of a thousand reasons to watch this show, this show that is no longer on the air… but snapshot(13)is available on DVD at Amazon or through My Store (exactly the same but I get 5% instead of Amazon :P) I hope, even if I have not endeared you to buy this series, that at least I have opened your mind to science fiction, the ever changing genre… This has been My Two Cents…

Coming next week a blast from the past (2006) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip…

***A Quick Note: The Seasons 1-4 Boxset curently available through Amazon is not the complete series, I will make a post when that boxset is available, which will probably be after the Tv Movie and final special, The Plan airs in Novemeber***

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