Caprica DVD Review
Brilliant and frustrating by turn, executive producer Ronald D Moore’s retooling of the beloved but clunky Battlestar Galactica had been (according to its creators) hard wired with a 4-year life span. This “ticking clock” element infused it with a sense of narrative urgency that helped reel in the show runners when the plot seemed to wander (as it did many times during its final 2 seasons) but also gave the Sci-Fi Channel a giant hole in their schedule that loomed closer and closer. Not that they worried about filler; checking out the programming at almost any given moment showed a network consisting almost entirely of filler, ranging from unwatchable original series (The Dresden Files, anyone?) to ultra cheap DTV movies that would have to aspire to be considered dreck. Battlestar Galactica gave the network real cultural cache for the first time ever – a genuine case of appointment television that the network couldn’t have been looking forward to seeing end. Moore had been planning a series that would take place in the 12 Colonies of the Galactica universe, but Universal (Sci-Fi’s parent company) had dragged it’s feat, fearing the story-arc heavy concept would be off-putting without the strong space-action elements of Galactica to lure unsure viewers. The Caprica pilot film was finally greenlit, and production commenced just as the final season of Galactica was being completed, with the Sci-Fi Channel liking what they saw enough to order a full season of the show that will begin airing early next year.
Caprica follows the fortunes of two families some 50 years prior to the destruction of the 12 Colonies at the hands of the Cylons. Technology magnate Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) and criminal attorney Joseph Adams (Esai Morales) both lose their teenage daughters in a suicide bombing aboard a commuter train in Caprica City. The bomb was set off by Ben Stark, a classmate of Daniel’s daughter, Zoe (Alessandra Toressani) and a member of a mono-theistic religious sect that opposes the traditional Gods of the 12 Colonies, resulting in the group being driven underground. Zoe and best friend Lacy Rand (Magda Apanowicz) are brought into the group by Ben, and hold their meetings inside a virtual world called ‘V Club’, a non-stop rave where all the hedonistic desires of Caprican teens are lived out. Ben convinces the girls to travel with him off the less tolerant Caprica to one of the outer Colonies, though at the last minute Lacy decides to remain just as Ben and Zoe board the doomed train. Zoe has no idea what Ben has planned until he lifts his shirt to reveal a bomb strapped to his chest, which kills everyone on the car instantly, including Shannon Adams (Anna Galvin) and daughter Tamara (Genevieve Buechner). Joseph and Daniel first meet outside of a press conference announcing the identity of the group responsible for the blast; united by loss, Daniel befriends Joseph, inviting him and his 11 year old son, William, to his seaside home. While William plays, Daniel confides in Joseph that he has found the avatar used by his daughter to enter the V Club, an avatar that Zoe had programmed herself using every scrap of the electronic trail that she had left in cyberspace throughout her life. Daniel promises Joseph that he could do the same for his wife and daughter, and convinces him to steal the required technology from one of Graystone’s competitors for a government contract for an AI combat prototype. A native of Tauron (occasionally derided by Capricans as “earth eaters”), Adams seeks the aid of the Taurnese organized crime family to steal the technology, putting him in their debt; however, a virtual reality encounter with the avatar of his daughter – now a conscious entity yet not actually alive, and terrified that she can’t feel her heart beating – convinces him that the approach is unnatural and an affront to the natural order. Leaving Graystone’s home, he feels pride in his Tauron heritage reawakened and tells his son that their family name, Adama, was changed upon his arrival on Caprica and that William should always remember it with pride. Undeterred, Graystone attempts to download Zoe’s avatar into his newly created combat robot; after taking a few short steps (and uttering Zoe’s voice) the robot falls lifelessly to the floor, Zoe’s data gone. We leave Graystone presiding over a successful demonstration for the Caprican military, the stolen technology having been adapted perfectly to the robot’s combat AI. The contract secure, the defense secretary asks him what the robot’s name is – “It’s a cybernetic life-form node” replies a still-despondent Graystone, “But we call it a Cylon”.
Almost impossible to classify, the feature-length pilot for Caprica debuts on DVD in a form that works surprisingly well as both a stand-alone movie and as the launching pad for a series. The edit included on the DVD is considerably more lusty that will likely air on the Sci-Fi Network when the series begins early next year, with a large amount of nudity (contained almost entirely in the virtual “Club V” sequences) that would reek of desperation in a less successful show. As a Sci-Fi show (the genre, not the network) Caprica is unusually daring – a multi-character family drama dressed elegantly in a futuristic trappings, a setting that will not be new to Battlestar Galactica devotees.
We’ve seen glimpses of Caprican life on Battlestar – both in the series opener and through flashbacks during the course of its 4 year run – but we were impressed by how show runner Moore has fleshed-out the society, from the ultra wealthy Graystone family to the working-class Adamas.
Easi Morales is a good choice to play Joseph Adama; a strong actor who we lost track of after a superb performance in Gregory Nava’s Mi Famila, a film in which he co-starred withEdward James Olmos, the actor who has (or will) play his son William in the future (or past). There’s a dark side only hinted at when we see Adama’s ties to the Taurian underworld, and we look forward to seeing what Morales does with the character next year.
Morales’ co-star Stoltz, however, has some trickier character aspects to play: Graystone is a brilliant software developer driven to an unethical extreme in a quest to bring his daughter back to life (we also hope to see Paula Malcomson’s role as Graystone’s wife enlarged once the show goes to series, so memorable was she as Trixie from the beloved and lamentably cancelled Deadwood.) We thought that Stoltz was a bit dry in the early scenes, but the turn that his character takes into Dr. Frankenstein territory seemed to energize the performance – in spite of having to deal with the already hoary concept of virtual reality.
Exploited well in Strange Days after nearly being taken to the grave yard in Virtuosity, the concept of virtual reality has had a rough ride in the mass media, turning quickly from a supposed cutting edge technology into a B movie plot contrivance; fortunately, Jane Espenson and Ryan Mottesheard’s sharp screenplay convincingly ties the technology into Caprica’s recognizable world and in the process nearly erases two decades of narrative snake oil. Morales’ scene with the virtual avatar of his daughter carries an undeniable emotional charge and becomes genuinely chilling.
The show has a cleaner look than the deliberately grainy Galactica Obviously, digital trickery is responsible for much of Caprica City’s ever present skyline, but smaller details represent an interesting mix of practical future-tech and retro ’50s era fashions. We weren’t thrilled to see a return of the religious overtones that became the guiding light of all Cylon storylines during Galactica’s final two seasons, but producers Moore and David Eick have done a truly amazing job turning an iffy concept into a riveting launching point, so we figure they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt.
Universal’s unrated DVD hits shelves on the 21st with a sparkling anamorphic 1.78×1 transfer that highlights the Caprica‘s bright, clean aesthetic – only with a fiber optic cable connection will the show look better when broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel, a notorious repository for highly compressed programming on our dreaded Cablevision system.
Extras include a commentary with director Jeffrey Reiner and producers Moore and Eick, along with several deleted scenes and video blogs, similar to what we saw supplied for Galactica season sets. We found ourselves disappointed to learn that the series proper wasn’t going to begin until 2010, but it’s probably a good idea to let Battlestar Galactica pass further into memory in order to give its prequel the breathing room that it deserves. Recommended.