Thursday, January 05, 2006

Battlestar Galactica: style over coherence

I've avoided watching Battlestar Galactica, frankly because I couldn't bring myself to watch a remake of a not even mediocre TV series. (As an aside, by what brand of logic does the Sci Fi channel reason that such a remake makes more sense than reviving a show like Firefly?) Anyway, given that I avoided the Stargate series for a similar reason (remake of a mediocre SF movie mostly memorable because you could almost see the telephone Kurt Russell used to phone his role in on), while later learning that the TV series was far superior, I tuned in tonight. I wasn't impressed.

The first thing I noticed was the style of using hand-held cameras. By this, I mean like the home video my wife shot before we bought a camcorder with image stabilization. It's not just annoying; it almost made me dizzy. It certainly made it difficult to track what was going on.

The next thing I noticed was that the military uniform in the series seems to include a liberal coating of blood, preferably over the face. I'm not sure what the characters in the series are doing, but they might want to use their hands more to keep things from smacking them in the face. Or put on football or hockey helmets with face masks.

Then there's the scenes on "Cylon occupied Caprica", in which the colors are all strange and the contrast is way too high. I guess Cylon occupation somehow changes not only the color of sunlight but also the ability of human eyes to adjust to it.

The Cylons are robots. Or they were in the old series. In this series, some are robots and some look like people, frequently platinum blondes in tight clothes. The characters talk about the human-appearing Cylons being machines, but then there's one that gets pregnant from a human. I may not be an obstetrician, but I don't see how that's possible, or even how it makes sense. Are they like goodlife from Fred Saberhagen's Berserker books? Then they wouldn't be machines. It's not just confusing, it just doesn't make any sense, no matter how hard I try to suspend my disbelief.

The final flaw I see is simply the size of the cast. There's so many characters, and so much cutting in between their stories, that I have trouble keeping track of them (the fact that their faces are often obscured by a coating of blood doesn't help). This doesn't make it easy to develop any empathy for the characters.

So, that's my first impression. Lots of "style" (jerky camera work, strange lighting, blood for "grittiness") and lots of complexity (many characters, multiple locations, ships full of twisty corridors, all alike and all strangely empty) make for a confusing, un-captivating experience. We'll give it another couple chances, but I'm not optimistic.

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  1. Ok. You are in a bad mood.

    *) It is a TV show. Give them a break regarding technical issues.

    *) It has very little to do with the previous incarnation of Battlestar Galactica. Yes, it is initially a remake, but now, it stands on its own.

    *) How can Cylons get pregnant? Ok. Battlestar Galactica happens after a technological singularity. If we ever achieve true AI, then it is conceivable that smart machines could then create even better machines, and so on, in a very close loop so that, in a few years, less than a century in this case, you'd have machines that are a match to humans in every way, and yes, they could possibly mimick human functions down to procreation. This is evolution or intelligent design on steroids. Imagine if you could create a new you, design it from the ground up? Now, imagine this new you can then create a new himself and so on... it is not hard to see that very quickly, you'd achieve near perfection.

    Ah! Would you? The Cylons are not perfect in the end. They appear quite flawed. There are more than a match for humans, and that's realistic: if we ever invent true AI, I expect machines to match us quickly... but they appear to have troubles the series hasn't covered yet, including religious troubles.

    We all want to know who we are and what the heck we are doing and why... these machines have deep philosophical issues. That it would end in the machines turning against the humans is not so unbelievable.

  2. I seems that I hit a nerve. :^) I know this is a TV show, that's why, though I'm puzzled by this Cylon pregnancy issue, I'm willing to accept some sort of excuse, and even wait for it under the assumption that it will be revealed eventually. However, I might point out that some might consider the ability to breed with humans to be a definition of being human.

    Now, imagine this new you can then create a new himself and so on... it is not hard to see that very quickly, you'd achieve near perfection.

    You're assuming I haven't already achieved it? :^)

    I'm not saying that BSG is total crap, I'm just saying that it has so much "style" that I can't see myself becoming immersed in it or caring for the characters.