Release Date: April 21, 2009
Starring: Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcomson
Executive Produced by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick
Written by Ronald D. Moore and Remi Aubuchon
Directed by: Jeffrey Reiner
Caprica is the pilot episode for the upcoming Sci-Fi Channel series that acts as a prequel to the just-completed Battlestar Galactica. While it’s made by several key members of the same creative team (Ronald D. Moore in particular), there are many striking differences. If Galactica was a depiction of “the last five minutes of a civilization” after the bombs have dropped, Caprica is a depiction of the final hour BEFORE the bombs drop, and an examination of why the tragedy will come to pass. Galactica began with the statement “The Cylons were created by Man.” Caprica, then, is the explanation of that statement. And in terms of writing and directing, this first episode is certainly intriguing. The tone and the camera work is a lot smoother (excepting some deliberately rough virtual reality sequences), and the feeling overall is more of a classical melodrama or tragedy. Ronald D. Moore begins this story with its own tragedy already in motion, and then uses the fallout from that to show not only how Cylon intelligence is formed but also the origins of the one God/many gods dichotomy seen in Galactica.
SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH, SO READ ONLY AFTER WATCHING IF YOU WISH TO BE SURPRISED: The story for the new series follows the aftermath of an apparent terrorist bombing in the middle of Caprica’s capital city, in which the daughter of powerful computer magnate Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) and the wife and daughter of mob attorney Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) are killed. The plot hinges on Graystone’s discovery that his daughter had encoded her memories, her DNA and almost everything about herself into a digital copy. If he could download that copy into a physical body, he might be able to actually bring his daughter back from the dead. So the arrogance initially implied about the creation of the Cylons is actually compounded by man’s attempt to conquer the threshold of death. The performances by the leads are fairly good, particularly Stoltz and Paula Malcomson, with Stoltz skating the same fine line between empathy and ruthlessness seen in characters like Ben Linus on Lost or Tony Soprano. Not everyone else in the cast does as well. The younger cast members simply can’t stand up to the intensity of those playing their parents much of the time, and early scenes of the kids in a virtual reality sex/violence club simply don’t ring true. The “V Club” itself is another issue. Shot in the same theater as the Galactica Opera House, the pilot opens with images of nudity and violence that are clearly intended to be shocking and/or provocative but instead result in more of a “huh?” reaction than anything else. (And it’s not like we haven’t seen this stuff before in many films over the past twenty years.) At the same time, the pilot does establish what could be some interesting plot threads that may play out over the 18 additional episodes ordered by Sci Fi. There are some interesting meditations going on here about class and race, as well as about the difference between a family that actually cares about each other and a family that thrives on appearances. And the whole thing ends with what I can only describe as a virtuoso CGI shot that presages interesting things to come in the series.
The DVD release of Caprica is intended to give audiences an advance look at the series, which will not debut on the Sci Fi Channel until January 2010. So while the iron is still hot from the conclusion of Galactica, Universal is making the pilot film available now for those fans who would like to see what’s coming next. (This will be followed by the release of the complete Galactica series along with Season 4.5 this summer, and then a Galactica flashback telefilm in the fall.) Another interesting part of this is that the actual series has not begun production yet, so the feedback from critics and fans may well have some impact on what gets filmed up in Vancouver starting in another month or two.
VIDEO QUALITY: 2 ½/5 ½
Caprica is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer that provides a good variety between the cold look of the Graystone mansion and the warmth of the lower class Adama household. The show is being recorded on HD cameras rather than film cameras, which lead to occasionally mixed results. Some footage looks terrific – particularly the contrast between the characters in the Matrix-styled virtual world and what they really look like when they take the headsets off. Other shots are a little dicier – specifically a CGI establishing shot of the Graystone mansion that doesn’t quite come off. But the transfer does provide a sleeker, more classical look to this series than the rough, post-Armageddon stylings of the mother series.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Caprica is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English. Much of the mix consists of dialogue and effects in the front channels, but there is some use of the surrounds for atmosphere and music. The “V-Club” scenes are obviously more active, and the subwoofer gets an occasional call to duty. Some dialogue was a bit unclear to me, and I accessed the subtitles a few times to catch up, but for the most part, the words are clear.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 2 ½/5 ½
Caprica comes with a commentary track, a few deleted scenes, almost 15 minutes of video blogs, and, inexplicably, an episode of the Sci-Fi Channel series “Ghost Hunters” that I did not watch.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference. When the first disc is initially started, the viewer is presented with an optional series of non-anamorphic previews including Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series, a teaser for the new Warehouse 13 Sci Fi series, the Universal Blu-ray preview, a teaser for Caprica, and the anti-smoking ad seen on most Universal DVDs these days.
I should also note here that I have been given a couple of weblinks for those interested in looking a little further into this title. Caprica on DVD 4/21/09 is an official website, with unlockable clips that fans can find each day. There is also a YouTube channel with material at YouTube - Broadcast Yourself..
IN THE END...
Caprica is definitely not the same series as the recently departed Battlestar Galactica. It has some flaws, particularly in the performances of the younger cast, and in some ideas that don’t quite work. But there is something interesting going on here, and given some time, the creative team and a strong adult cast led by Eric Stoltz may be able to do some interesting things here. (I should note that the 2003 miniseries that rebooted Galactica had its own issues, which were quickly ironed out as the series took shape.) This DVD is well-crafted and intriguing enough to merit a rental for interested casual observers. I don’t think I need to say the same to fans of Galactica as I’m sure they already have it by now.
April 20, 2008.
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