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04.23.09

future


(It's airing in just a few hours, but if anyone reads this in time, they can catch me on The Michael Coren Show's monthly culture panel on his show on the CTS network. Times and stations can be found here.)

WHEN IT FINALLY ENDED AFTER FOUR VERY ELONGATED seasons earlier this year, Battlestar Galactica did its best to underline the phrase that had, as the series headed into its home stretch, come to sum up the show's message, such as it was. "This has happened before, and will happen again," was uttered by the human/Cylon "Hybrid" in Razor, the feature-length special episode that kicked off the fourth and final
season, and the show's creators, Ronald Moore and David Eick, made sure it was hammered home by the time we left the remnants of the colonial fleet on prehistoric earth and shuttled forward to Baltar and Six, bantering like an old couple in present-day Manhattan.

Caprica, the 90-minute pilot that launched Moore and Eick's Galactica prequel this week, might take place over 50 years before their reimagining of BSG starts, but it comes with an even heftier baggage train of deja vu. Eick and Moore have stressed that the new show will be less space opera and more family drama, a wise attempt to preempt fans' expectations, and a prudent move to tighten the budget for sets and special effects. What they've come up with is a future that looks very much like a bustling high-rise city - like Vancouver, say, which has been Galactica home base since filming began.

It's an art director's present day, however, where the slouchy, colourless sportswear we see every day has been replaced by tailored suits and hats - 2009, but one where the '60s, with its tyranny of the casual, never happened, and it looks pretty good. The Capricans aren't just well-dressed; they have some pretty fantastic consumer technology in their homes, including computers with paperlike, foldable interfaces, and domestic robots that look like oversized bowling pins and hover above the ground. Their streets, however, are filled with boxy sedans right off our showroom floors - obviously, the show's designers are being selective with their technology.

Before we can pick out all these details, however, we have to navigate ten very confusing minutes, set in a huge, posh nightclub where good-looking, fashionably dressed kids are mixing with tattooed thugs, while enjoying orgy rooms, bloody brawling and arty human sacrifices, all set to thumping techno. Imagine Gossip Girl: Beyond The Thunderdome.



The camera finally settles on Zoe (Alessandra Toreson,) as she scans the crowd for ... herself. From the balcony overlooking the stage, she spies her clone in front of the human sacrifice stage, before the doppelganger disappears in a buzz of static, then reappears in a vaultlike room in the club, where the two of them talk about the amorality of the clubgoers, and some sort of ominous mission ahead of them. It's all very confusing, and it almost feels like Moore and Eick are trying to see how long you're willing to hang on before giving up.

It turns out that Zoe has been hanging out with her avatar in a virtual nightclub that's all the rage for Caprica's disaffected teens, an underground digital refuge made possible by the holoband - a wildly profitable bit of technology invented by Zoe's father, Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz,) who seems to be the source of most of the gee-whiz tech on display in Caprica. His daughter is something of a prodigy, and her avatar is a virtual copy of herself, imbued with the sort of artificial intelligence that her Dad has been struggling to build into a robot soldier he's developing for the military.

By the time this is revealed, you've probably already put the pieces together. Not surprisingly, the robot is a stripped-down Cylon Centurion, and Zoe's avatar will be a crucial part of the chain of events that will lead to the Cylon war of annihilation that kicks off the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, some fifty years hence.

But before that can happen, we get to see the flesh and blood Zoe die in a suicide bombing carried out by her boyfriend, who detonates a bomb belt on an elevated subway train while they're running away from home and their parents' pantheist religion to some monotheist underworld. Among the victims of the bombing is the wife and daughter of Joseph Adams (Esai Morales,) a civil rights lawyer whose son will grow up to become Edward James Olmos, the captain of an obsolete battlestar in the right place at the wrong time.

In addition to nice clothes and great computers, it seems Capricans also live in a world of interstellar travel, where immigration is interplanetary, and Adams is really Adama, an orphan who ended up on Caprica after his parents died during a civil war on Tauron, his home planet. As imagined by the show, the Taurons are clannish, with a reputation for stoicism, blood feuds and criminality - a cross between Mexicans, Maori and Sicilians, and Joseph has family ties to the tattooed, yakuza-like Tauron mafia.



Joseph and Daniel Graystone bond in their grief, and a fast friendship develops, which Daniel quickly takes advantage of by asking Joseph to do a bit of corporate espionage for him, after he discovers his daughter's avatar and becomes obsessed with the idea of using it to bring her back to life in a cybernetic body. Admittedly, it wasn't a difficult plot point to anticipate, and one can only hope that it's being dispensed with as mere exposition in the pilot, and that there are some real surprises waiting to come. It would be nice for Stoltz to get a chance to do more than play Dr. Frankenstein, right down to the wild-eyed speeches about usupring the gods and creating life, front-loaded with all the standard issue hubris.

Along with Rescue Me and 24, Battlestar Galactica is often described as a "post-9/11 series," and the creators have done their level best to live up to that reputation with a relentless topicality that peaked during the third season, with its focus on military occupation, resistance, collaboration and suicide bombing. Caprica aims to be as provocative, with a suicide bombing in its first half hour, the first salvo in a battle between the rebel monotheists and the pantheist authorities that'll be revived years later in the Cylon/human conflict.

I've always found the many-gods/one-God conflict in Galactica to be a bit arch - an obvious jab at the certainties of believers made from what can only be understood as a skeptic's presumptions. In the reimagined series, the Cylons' belief in a single God motivated their war of extermination against the pantheist humans; in Caprica, the monotheists are zealots willing to engage in suicide bombings against what they see as monotheist oppression and decadence. If Moore and Eick aren't trying to draw explicit parallels with fundamentalist Islam today, they're the sloppiest science fiction writers in the history of the genre.



Frankly, it's always felt a bit glib to me, and Caprica isn't doing much to alter that impression. Clearly unwilling or unable to really get their hands dirty with any serious theological or philosophical heavy lifting, the show is simply mining an old story vein - privileged, angst-filled kids acting out their hypertrophied alienation by turning on their parents; the monotheist rebel storyline might as well be a throwback to the Weather Underground or some other '60s radical tantrum. Certainly there was no revelatory point to the same conflict in Galactica by the time the show ended, except to function as a lunge at a hot topic, in the hope that audience reaction and critical speculation would sketch in the missing relevance.

In any case, it looks like another bit of pilot episode foregrounding, setting up a larger, darker conspiracy brewing ahead, embodied in the person of scary Sister Clarice (Polly Walker,) the headmistress of Zoe's school, and a secret monotheist whose involvement in the suicide bombing is made more explicit in a deleted scene included with the DVD. In the end, the promising just edges out the predictable, though a lot could change before Caprica finally begins airing, after a maddeningy long delay, early in the new year.

SOME PEOPLE DESCRIBE ADAM SANDLER FILMS as a guilty pleasure, and what they're usually saying is they've found themselves laughing at films like Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy in spite of themselves, and that they're just trying to be honest about what, much as they might be ashamed of it, they actually find funny.

I'd say the same thing about Sandler, though I'm not talking about something as exhuberantly lowbrow as Don't Mess With The Zohan, which I'd be happy to recommend to anyone, especially as it's the closest thing to a positive portrayal of Israelis in Hollywood since Exodus. When I admit to a guilty Sandler pleasure, however, I'm talking about films like Spanglish, Reign Over Me or Punch-Drunk Love - his anomalous, "grown-up" films, to which he brings a persona - the hapless and hopeless, but somehow resilient, troubled male - that no one else in movies today seems to be able to access.



A movie like Bedtime Stories is closer to the latter films than, say, Big Daddy or Little Nicky, and as a Disney release, it features a Sandler meant for family audiences. Sandler plays Skeeter, a man with a boy's nickname, which is fitting since he's a goofball loser stranded somewhere between 8 and 38, a place that's probably a lot more tolerable in a Disney film than it would be in real life.

The story is simple enough - Skeeter gets stuck taking care of his niece and nephew for a couple of weeks, during which he discovers that the stories he tells them before they go to bed have a tendency to play out in real life the next day. Hoping to game fate a little, he tries to spin the stories so that they goose his luck as he competes for a big job and the boss' daughter, but he keeps getting thrown curveballs.

It's a goofy film that plays even more improbably than its plot should allow, and the ending is a clattering mess, but Sandler's obnoxious brand of charm almost makes it work. His loose, self-governed onscreen manner brings to mind Jackie Gleason, another actor with enough on-set power and charisma that no one seemed up to the job of editing him, though as long as Sandler relies on directors like Adam Shankman (and Dennis Dugan, and Peter Segal, and Steven Brill) it'll probably be a rare phenomenon.


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© 2009 rick mcginnis all rights reserved
WHO

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters. i've worked as a photographer, journalist and, recently, tv columnist. currently a member of the growing workforce awaiting new employment opportunities. church-going catholic.

punk rock was my crucible, lodestone and avalon.

i look nothing like william powell.

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