Monday, April 20
Caprica is a religious experience.
That's not to say the highly anticipated Battlestar Galactica prequel, which comes out on DVD Tuesday, is a blinding experience that will transform you forever. But the movie-length pilot makes it clear that theology will play a huge part in the series when it hits the airwaves in 2010, just as it did in Galactica.
In the "uncut and unrated" Caprica pilot, there are no nuclear explosions, no grimy spaceships, no sexy or deadly encounters with robotic Cylons.
Aside from a bloody assassination and some gratuitous topless shots, the show almost completely lacks the action and hard-edged sci-fi eye candy that helped give Galactica its gritty appeal.
Instead, Caprica delivers a broad, deliberately paced introduction to the themes that will presumably drive the show: the tension between science and religion, the dangers of religious zealotry, the racism that can simmer in a societal melting pot, the nature of humanity in a world filled with sentient machines.
(Spoiler alert: Minor plot points follow.)
None of this is new, especially to fans of the recently wrapped Galactica, but luckily producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick have imported to Caprica other hallmarks of their award-winning Sci Fi Channel series as well: the lean writing, the strong acting, the exceptional soundtrack by Bear McCreary, the Cylons.
Galactica fans get their first glimpse of the shiny cybernetic creations about a third of the way through the 93-minute pilot. It's a welcome blast from the future past that boosts the show after a somewhat sluggish start.
Like one of Galactica's less-frenetic episodes, the Caprica pilot unfolds languidly, introducing the Graystone and Adama families and framing the show's central themes.
The clans' wounded patriarchs, successful Caprican roboticist Daniel Graystone (played by Eric Stoltz, The Butterfly Effect) and tough Tauron lawyer Joseph Adama (Esai Morales, Jericho) are drawn together in the wake of a terrorist attack that shatters their families.
Lots of languid cigarette-smoking follows. The two men become unlikely friends, only to eventually be pushed apart as Graystone becomes obsessed with bringing his dead teenage daughter Zoe (the perpetually wide-eyed Alessandra Toreson) back to life, or something like it.
Stoltz transforms from a shallow Caprican technoyuppie to a Frankenstein-inflected mad scientist. And Morales brings the kind of backbone needed to convincingly play the father of the boy who will eventually helm Galactica.
The adult female leads — Graystone's wife, Amanda (Paula Malcomson, Deadwood), and Clarice Willow (Polly Walker, Rome) — get less screen time, but these strong actresses will undoubtedly shine as the series continues.
Playing the part of a religious school administrator with ties to the monotheistic cult Soldiers of the One, which is seducing teens on the technologically advanced planet Caprica, Walker shows just a smidgen of the deliciously manipulative creature she played so well in Rome. Let's hope Moore and Eick give her plenty of room to turn up the heat in future episodes.
Set 58 years before the Cylons' sneak attack on humanity, the Caprica pilot does not deliver the kind of explosive action that turned Galactica into a nail-biting sensation. Instead, it is a little like the "begat"-riddled genealogical sequence that opens the New Testament: It draws much of its tension from the knowledge of what lies ahead.
The characters are richly drawn and ripe for further exploration. And the show's willingness to tackle religion, immigration, corporate espionage and racism right out of the gate indicates that Moore is framing up another thoughtful sci-fi series.
Caprica could become another sacred text for sci-fi fans yearning for brainy television.
Wired: Old-school Cylon robovoice; hacked Holoband; cameo by The X-Files' "cigarette smoking man."
Tired: Virtual nightclub looks like Saturday night in San Francisco (except for the human sacrifice).
Addendum: In the press release announcing Caprica's premiere, Sci Fi Channel makes it clear that there are two reasons for the pilot's release so long before the series will be aired.
One is to capitalize on the buzz from Galactica's series finale. The other reason: To "get viewers' feedback before production on the Caprica series begins this summer," according to Mark Stern, Sci Fi's executive vice president of original programming.
Posted by Phantom Dennis at 17:37