With Battlestar Galactica officially over and Joss Whedon’s newest science fiction drama being merely mediocre, there is a lot of pressure on the SyFy network’s upcoming BSG spin-off, Caprica. The show will air in 2010, but the network has put out a teaser film-version of the pilot episode. The film’s claim to fame is that it takes place in the BSG universe and has the same executive producers, but it looks like that is all it has in common. If Caprica had nothing to do with Battlestar Galactica it would barely be worth mentioning, but since it does a comparison is necessary.
Where Battlestar looked expensive to the point of opulence, Caprica looks not even good enough to be a cheap knockoff of its origin show. The best part of the BSG universe is, ultimately, that it is 100% science fiction… cylons, spaceships, lasers and all… Caprica is a mere 40% sci fi, with cell phones, passports, cars and other normal accoutrements from our very own universe popping up left and right. The movie is just not sci-fi enough.
Caprica begins 58 years prior to where BSG picks up and follows the story of Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), the inventor of Caprica’s version of the internet. The story begins with his daughter, Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), in a virtual reality teen club, complete with girl on girl sex, human sacrifice and gunplay. Turns out that Zoe has created a copy of herself that lives in said teen club. After getting pulled out of the virtual reality world, Zoe runs away from home in order to join a cult that believes in “one true God,” but is thwarted when her boyfriend blows up the train they’re escaping on. After her death, technology wiz Daniel discovers the virtual copy of his daughter and decides he wants to bring her into the real world. All the while, he works on the original version of the cylon, which becomes more and more deadly throughout the film. The cliffhanger ending leaves us with multiple loose ends and one cylon with the ability to create other cylons.
It feels like the writers of Caprica are trying a little too hard to be controversial; there are race issues between planets, those teen sex clubs, religious undertones and personality cloning. All of these topics feel extremely forced and as if they were trying to whip up seductive issues from nothing. Once we get introduced to the virtual version of Zoe, she brings lots of moral quandary along with her, mainly the question of whether or not you can “copy a soul.” The themes are ones that we come across in our own very own, technological landscape; they aren’t far fetched at all. I think the point of all of these reality based ideas are that the writers are trying to make the show relatable to our own world, but the issues feel so forced and obvious that they become laughable.
The characters in the film are all extremely obvious vehicles for the plot. Daniel serves as the pro-cloning model, while his new friend, Joseph Adama ( Esai Morales), is the anti-cloning perspective. The acting is pure schlock, but that could just be the fault of the script, which goes nowhere slowly. Although BSG has been called a “space opera,” it has never been as soapy as Caprica is in its very first episode. The virtual reality plot feels like a copy of Strange Days or The Matrix, nothing new to see here. There is one extremely cool scene in which Joseph visits the virtual reality copy of his daughter and she screams that she can’t feel her heart beating. It is a rare moment of originality in a movie that screams rip-off from the nineties.
This sci-fi show did not transport me to another dimension, did not wisk me away into another reality nor astound me with out there concepts, like any good sci-fi show should. Rather, I felt like I was watching something that was a little too much like our own reality, with a little too many of the same issues. One of the cool things about BSG is the subtle differences between our reality and theirs that popped up throughout the show, like the use of the word “frack,” or the rounded edges of all of their papers. Caprica does have these same touches, but never creates any idiosyncrasies of its own. If it were over the top crazy stacked with kooky concepts I would at least respect it more for being creative. But it isn’t; it is merely average, lightweight sci-fi.
The disc is pretty stacked with bonus features, for a television movie. There are five deleted scenes, four video blogs, one Ghost Hunters episode, and feature commentary with three men involved in the making of the show. The low point of the special features is, obviously, the episode from SyFy original series Ghost Hunters. It’s obviously a cheap promotional move on the part of the network, and an extremely bad fit for the potential Caprica audience.
The deleted scenes are actually highly satisfying, for deleted scenes. Three of the five flesh out the subplot of the conniving “Sister Clarice Willow,” (Polly Walker) who was actually behind the teen’s decision to follow the “one true God,” and behind the bombing of the train. It’s a shame that Walker’s part in the final product wasn’t larger, because she is wildly magnetic. The other two scenes contain dialogue about Joseph’s home planet, Tauraun. That heritage is treated as ancestral lineage. Joseph gets a lecture from his mother about how William needs to be taken back to his home planet. He also has a conversation with another Taurean about the “Taurean way.” The deleted scenes were clearly cut towards the end of the editing process, because they are all in complete harmony with the ascetic of the finished product.
Even after watching the “video blogs,” I’m still not really that sure what a “video blog” is. I thought they would be Real World-style confessional cam footage, but they are really just behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes. The first of the four, “What the Frack is Caprica” goes into what the point of the series is and is supported by interviews with the director and executive producers. One of the producers explains that it is “a family drama that takes place in a sci-fi atmosphere,” and that it is “a very different show from Battlestar Galactica.” The second, called “The Director’s Process” is a look at Jeffery Reiner’s three camera technique; we also get some interviews with him about his “process.” He claims that “[Caprica is] not going to look anything like Battlestar Galactica. It is not going to feel anything like Battlestar Galactica.” Obviously, everyone involved in Caprica is trying to get some good distance from BSG. The third featurette is the lamest, called “The V Club” it follows Torresani through the set of the teen sex club. I think we can all agree that actresses are only fun to watch when they are acting, so this was just a doldrum extra. The last video blog, “The Birth of a Cylon” is about the last scene of the film, in which the cylon capable of creating other cylons comes to life. It’s worth your time, since Reiner starts picking up pieces of the robot and explaining what each part’s function is, before taking us through the room in which the cylon comes to life. OK maybe these aren’t all that informative, but they were mostly fun to watch.
The feature commentary includes director Reiner, executive producer/writer Ronald D. Moore, and executive producer David Eick. Typically, executive producers don’t give good commentary and this situation is no different. I did, however, learn a lot about the vision of Caprica from the boring commentary. Turns out that Caprica was pitched as its own show and then turned into a BSG prequel later in re-writes. Much of the commentary is more of the men involved in the show trying to get distance from both BSG and science fiction in general. They address the fact that the characters live in a world populated by architecture, cars and cell phones that look just like ours. They claim that they didn’t want the reality of the show to “feel much different from our world.” One of them explains that the technology used in the show is really just a heightened version of technology we have now. They even explain the lack of science fictiony looking stuff by saying “We didn’t want sci-fi details to distract from the plot.” Mission accomplished, but I think this plot could have used some good old fashion sci fi to distract from the fact that it’s terrible.