Caprica: Season 1.5

When “Caprica” first premiered, I wondered (out loud) if anyone was really clamoring for a prequel to the “Battlestar Galactica” story and outlined the obstacles that the series faced at the time:

“Caprica” has the same challenge that the “Star Wars” prequels had: Everyone knows how it turns out. The question is whether or not the history is compelling enough to outweigh the certainty of the story’s outcome.

The two-hour premiere was solid, but the plodding start (lots of death and mourning) and uneven storyline made it something of a tough watch for many “Battlestar Galactica” fans. In fact, our own Ross Ruediger gave the Season 1.0 DVD set just two stars out of five:

With “Galactica,” we rooted for the characters because they were fighting for survival. With “Caprica,” there is nobody to root for, mostly because the characters are nearly impossible to care about and their struggles are negligible. It was probably too soon to mount another lengthy chapter in the “Galactica” concept. I don’t think creators Ronald D. Moore and David Eick had enough distance from the original series to be able to see this one clearly. It was also too soon for viewers, who weren’t clamoring for this new story, having been exhausted by the ride that was “Galactica.” The series feels as though it was put together solely to capitalize on a brand name, and not because there was actually a compelling story to tell.

I was willing to forgive the slow start in the hopes that Moore and Eick would be able to pull it together for the long haul. As it turns out, the series was canceled before the final five episodes even aired, so we now have the Season 1.5 DVD set to review. It contains the final nine episodes, along with a plethora of special features, including deleted scenes, cast and crew commentaries, podcast commentaries and more.

Having finally watched the entire run, I’d only recommend the series to “Battlestar Galactica” (and easily pleased) fans who are interested in finding out how and why the Cylons were created and how they became sentient. Most of those fans have probably already watched the series, so I’m not sure what subsection of sci-fi fans this review really speaks to. There’s no doubt that “Caprica” is a disappointment when compared to its predecessor, but those expectations were probably impossible to meet from the get-go.

For those fans that lost track of the show after the first nine (or thirteen) episodes, it’s worth finishing, because Moore wisely ramped up the action and intensity in the final hours and provided a five-minute “Shape of Things to Come” epilogue that quickly shows what happened to the main characters in the “Caprica” story, answering a few of the lingering questions along the way and providing some closure for those that need it.

Despite excellent acting from its ensemble cast (especially Polly Walker, who is positively loathsome as Clarice Willow) and the trademark Moore production values, “Caprica” was done in by largely unlikable characters and a meandering storyline that took way too long to get moving. The conflict between the humans and Cylons in “BG” was clearly drawn, but over the course of 18 episodes, I never really understood why the two religious factions in “Caprica” (monotheists and polytheists) hated each other so vehemently. Seeing as this was the crux of the plot, it’s understandable why “Caprica” failed to capture an audience as devoted as its predecessor’s.

  

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“Caprica” finally takes off

In my first impressions of the two-hour pilot for “Caprica,” I wrote the following:

While I’m certainly excited about Ronald D. Moore’s next project, I can’t help but be a little leery of a prequel. “Caprica” has the same challenge that the “Star Wars” prequels had: Everyone knows how it turns out. The question is whether or not the history is compelling enough to outweigh the certainty of the story’s outcome.

Were there any “Battlestar Galactica” fans clamoring for a prequel? I’m sure there were a few, but I hadn’t even considered the prospect until I heard that “Caprica” was already in development. How interested are we in seeing how Cylons were developed?

On the whole, I enjoyed the two-hour pilot, though I didn’t find it as compelling as “BG.” And the next two episodes consisted of a lot of mourning, religion and setup — in other words, it was a little slow. It wasn’t until the most recent episode — “There Is Another Sky” — that the series really took off.

And it would seem that most viewers out there agree. The series was getting consistent scores in the 8.2-8.8 range at TV.com, but the latest episode garnered a 9.2, the highest of the series. On the whole, “Caprica” is getting an 8.7 compared to a 9.2 for “Battlestar Galactica.” Some might argue that “BG” fans are being too hard on “Caprica,” but there is also probably some element of support for the show that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Those two factors may very well offset each other.

There are spoilers ahead, so if you recently gave up on “Caprica,” you might want to track down this episode and give it a go. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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TCA Tour: Caprica

Although Syfy’s “Caprica” is a prequel to “Battlestar Galactica,” the fact that the series are separated by 58 years and an apocalypse (give or take) doesn’t mean that the two don’t share similar elements. Indeed, writer / executive producer Jane Espenson immediately offered up two words that link the shows: moral complexity.

“There’s no stark bad guys and good guys,” she explained. “This is a world that is perceived by some of its residents as sort of sliding over the edge, there’s a whole bunch of people who think they’ve got the answer, and it’s not at all clear that any of them have the answer. The guy who believes in technology thinks that’s the answer. The person who believes in religion thinks that’s the answer. And if everybody has moral shadings, we can tell very complex stories as a result.

Espenson’s fellow writer / executive producer, David Eick, clarified another similarity: the two shows take their genre very seriously. “We really do try to involve depth of character, realism, grounded-terrestrial naturalism to a science fiction world,” he said. “That sort of came from what we always admired about the greats and the classics, from Asimov to Heinlein to Philip K. Dick, this idea that science fiction was not just fun and games. We wanted to go sort of the opposite direction of George Lucas, if you will. We wanted to make it less about escapism and more about moral complexity, as Jane was saying, and great characters.”

For those who have seen the pilot to the series, which will air again tonight on SyFy, you may be wondering if its tone and content will remain consistent when the series officially kicks off next week. Apparently, so were stars Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales. According to Eick, both actors wanted some reassurance that the pilot was not going to be a one-off, with the series going in a different direction altogether.

“I think, if anything, we go towards that even more rather than shying away from it,” said Stoltz, “because that’s what interests all of us as actors: playing these ambiguous, conflicted people living not in a black-and-white world and trying to find their way in it. We wanted to be exactly like that, so we’re all striving to make it as good as possible.”

“Also,” added Morales, “the naturalism in what I see from my fellow actors and their acting, it’s very unlike anything I’ve seen on television. The atmosphere of the show as well. The planet feels like it has a presence, a consciousness, in a sense, that I think is taken from the pilot, and it moves. It’s rooted in the pilot, but I think the show will evolve from what you saw in the pilot.”

Rest assured, however, that you don’t have to have to know “Battlestar Galactica” to appreciate “Caprica.” In fact, as Eick is quick to point out, the network’s marketing strategy for the series involves a notable lack of the words “Battlestar” or “Galactica” in the title of the show. Still, it’s not as though there’s a single article that’s been written about the show that doesn’t mention the connection, so why should newbies join in the fun?

“The same reason they come to any well-marketed and, hopefully, well-executed television show,” replied Eick. “That it’s compelling in its own right, that it has ideas embedded in it and a visual style that looks inviting and exciting. On that front, I’m not terribly concerned. From the standpoint of the execution within the show once you’re in, new viewers will find that there’s virtually no tether to ‘Battlestar Galactica’ from a storytelling standpoint whatsoever. There are the occasional Easter eggs and nods and acknowledgments for the faithful to enjoy or maybe deepen some of their appreciation for it, but I think legitimately the show stands on its own. Other than the fact that, if you happen to know ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ you know that that show had its roots in some of the stories we’re telling now, there really is no relationship between the two shows whatsoever.”

“Imagine you were watching a show that you knew nothing about and they were developing sentient robots,” added Espenson. “You might very well get a glimmer that these sentient robots are going to be trouble down the road. You don’t need ‘Battlestar Galactica’ to tell you that. In a storytelling sense, (‘Caprica’) tells you that.”

“I have a lot of friends who have never seen “Battlestar Galactica,” don’t like sci-fi, and they watch it because of me,” admitted Magda Apanowicz. “But when they actually end up watching it, they love it. Like, they’re shocked, and they’re, like, ‘There’s so much that you can take away from it. There’s so many different storylines that you can relate to.'”

“We just have fun, guys,” said Morales. “We hope you do, too.”

  

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A Chat with Dean Stockwell (“Battlestar Galactica: The Plan”)

Dean Stockwell is one of those generational actors, the kind who’s known for a different project for every decade that he’s been in the business…and since he was playing against the likes of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly by the time he was ten years old, that’s a lot of projects. Maybe you know him from “The Boy with the Green Hair” or “Gentleman’s Agreement,” or perhaps from his work as Al on “Quantum Leap,” or as Ben in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” In short, the guy gets around. As of late, he’s been picking up raves for his portrayal of the Cavil model of Cylon in “Battlestar Galactica,” a role which he has reprised for the new film, “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan.” We chatted with him about just how evil Cavil is, of course, but we also learned about his connection to Neil Young, his longtime friendship with Dennis Hopper, and that, once upon a time, there was actually a chance that a film entitled “Werewolf of Washington” could’ve been a classic.

Join us now for…

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Battlestar Galactica: The Plan

“Battlestar Galactica” is the gift that keeps on giving. First, we learned that its prequel/spinoff, “Caprica,” will debut on Syfy in 2010, and this Tuesday “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” hits the shelves. It’s a 110-minute look at the planning, execution and aftermath of the Cylon attack on the colonies, completely from the Cylon point of view.

The film’s timeline spans from about two weeks before the attacks all the way through the initiation of the human-Cylon truce. It revolves around two copies of Number One that develop two very different perspectives. The original plan was to annihilate the human race completely, but when that plan fails, “Brother Cavil” orchestrates a Plan B as part of the fleet, interacting with and directing Leoben, Doral, Boomer, a couple of Sixes and a Four. The film re-visits a few key moments of the series, including the initial attacks, Boomer’s failed assassination attempt and subsequent murder, as well as Kara’s visit, incarceration, escape and return to Caprica.

The story jumps ahead and around, and it takes a good understanding of the “Battlestar Galactica” mythology to keep up. Newbies who are considering jumping into the series should not — I repeat SHOULD NOT — start with “The Plan,” for three major reasons: 1) this was meant as an epilogue, not a prologue, 2) it could be extremely confusing, and 3) there are way too many secrets that would be revealed in one fell swoop. Don’t do it.

Since the Number Ones really came up with the plan, Dean Stockwell sees a ton of screen time and carries it beautifully. It’s interesting to watch the embedded Cylons, sleeper agents and Final Five interact when only the embedded Cylons really know what’s going on. They try to manipulate the humans and Final Five, with varying degrees of success. The straight-to-DVD version is uncensored so there is some gratuitous nudity and a sex scene. It’s so gratuitous that it feels completely out of place.

Qualms aside, “The Plan” is a compelling look at a big part of the series run and is a must-watch for those fans who want to see some of their old friends once again.

In addition to filmmaker commentary, special features include a featurette that follows director Edward James-Olmos around for a day, a series of interviews with the actors who play the key Cylons, a behind-the-scenes look at the planning and execution of the special effects behind the Cylon attack on the colonies, and a featurette that explores some of the visual effects added during post-production of “The Plan.”

Click here to buy “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” on DVD
Click here to buy “Battlestar Galactica: The Plan” on Blu-ray

  

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