Your Obedient Serpent (athelind) wrote,
Your Obedient Serpent

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A few people have asked my opinion of the new Battlestar Galactica that just aired on Sci Fi (and at least one person has insisted that he doesn't care in the least).

First off: I didn't dislike all of it, and the elements I did dislike probably aren't the parts that other people -- especially other old-time BSG fans -- disliked.

The Female Starbuck didn't bother me at all, primarily because I really quite liked the character as presented. Despite the gender bender, Starbuck was nonetheless the character who made the transition most intact.

The Humanoid Cylons didn't bother me, either. I thought it was an interesting plot twist, particularly the way it set the stage for further Cylon infiltration. Note to normanrafferty, who's probably reading this even though he hasn't seen it and claims to not care: the "Fembot" (that archteryx so memorably dubbed "Six of Twelve") is not the only humanoid Cylon, and there are still K.I.T.T.-eyed Centurions around. I really quite liked the "Cylon Raider" ships with no cockpits -- if you want a dedicated space fighter, why load it up with a trio of complicated humanoid robots manning manual controls? Just build the robot brain into the ship. The idea that the Cylons were created by humans was moderately interesting, though hardly original; it did give them a bit more of a motive for their antipathy than did the classic series, where they were the robot warriors left behind by an extinct or nearly extinct race.

Technology: Unusually for TV or movie SF, they actually put some thought behind the technology. For example, the way Galactica used deliberately primitive technology because it was designed to fight an enemy that could hack into sophisticated computer networks. I liked the way they handled the FTL drive, too -- no doubletalk technobabble explanations of FTL physics in the dialogue, just the jargon used by people who know the tech to other people who know the tech. Bridge chatter -- ever since I first saw an uncut version of "The Cage", I've loved starship bridges that sound like a cross between a real ship's bridge and Mission Control. And, wow, Newtonian Mechanics. Spacecraft that move like spacecraft should.

I also liked some of The "Grit" -- the tense sequences that underscore the survival scenario, the need to make hard decisions, the questions of triage ethics when the fate of an entire species is at stake, the conflict between civil and military authorities. I also would like to give a great big enlisted man's applause for making the people who maintain the glitzy Vipers into actual characters with lines and everything, and making the flight deck chief a major character. I don't think I've ever seen that done before in sci fi.

And now, the parts I did dislike.

First, Everyone's A Jerk. This is the Lazy Writer's Shortcut To Character Development. It's the New Millenium, Baby, and Grit is In. The Wise Patriarch Who Inspires Confidence becomes unreasonably, even stupidly militaristic. The Stern Authority Figure becomes an alchoholic, ill-tempered martinet. The Happy-Go-Lucky Scoundrel aquires a nasty vindictive streak.

This isn't "adding depth to old-fashioned stereotypes". It's just replacing them with new, more fashionable -- and less sympathetic -- stereotypes.

Second, and more importantly, is... The Parallel Evolution of Ties.

The premise of both versions of BSG is that Our Heroes hail from Twelve Colonies, worlds colonized in the mythic past by the "Lords of Kobol", and that they have legends of a long-lost Thirteenth Colony, "a shining planet known as... EARTH."

This permeates the original series. Several characters bore the names of Greek gods. Clothing had a future-classical motif, most evident in the uniforms of the Colonial Warriors and the Egyptian Headress design of their helmets. The mythology and lore of the people were integral to the story developent, and the dialogue reflected that. (Given normanrafferty's regular complaints about science fiction settings that assume a technologically-advanced starfaring civilization will "outgrow" religion as a "primitive superstition", I'm surprised that he doesn't at least acknowledge the pervasive influence it had on the society of the original BSG.) It gave the original series a sense of scope, of epic grandeur -- and perhaps one reason why the series is often remembered with derision is that the effects and dramatic conventions of the day did not always do justice to that vision. It did not take long, however, for even a casual viewer to pick up on the fact that These People Weren't From Around Here.

In accordance with the "dramatic conventions" of the present day, the remake strives to make things look as much like Y2K America as possible, in the name of "realism", I suppose.

The result is... schizoid.

The first two-hour segment of the four-hour movie barely mentions these elements at all. I found myself wondering if, in all the other "reinventions", they simply decided to set the new series in Earth's own future. We saw and heard very little to contradict that thesis. Gradually, almost as an afterthought, we start hearing about the Twelve Colonies, and, by the second installment, people started to swear by the "Lords of Kobol" -- more and more frequently, as if the writers realized their oversight and were trying to make up for it, to remind or belatedly inform the viewer that This Is Someplace Else.

Wardrobe didn't help matters. The uniforms look like variations of present-day military uniforms. The civilian garb, even moreso: suit jackets abound, and there are more than a few people wearing ties with them.

The flamboyant names of the original series are now just "callsigns". Everybody has a personal name and a family name now, in that order, just like good Americans and modern, right-thinking people anywhere. "Apollo" is now "Lee Adama". "Boomer" is "Sharon Valerii". Commander Adama's first name, according to the inscription on his old Viper, is "William".


This culture diverged from ours centuries ago, so long ago that we've forgotten our common roots save as badly-distorted oral traditions, and yet, we're expected to believe that they just happened to develop fashions and names and social structures identical to modern-day Western Industrial Culture? Well, sure! That's "realistic"! We don't want this looking like... like... like it was on another planet or something weird like that!

As "dramatic conventions" go, I think I prefer velour military uniforms and robot dogs.

Does this outweigh all the positive things I said about the remake up above?

For me, it certainly does. The society and the culture that Larson envisioned were one of the strongest elements of the original series. It gave the series style and character and charm. If I had decided to revisit Galactica -- and I have considered it as a setting for role-playing -- those are exactly the aspects I would have played up. Instead, they got jettisoned. We're left with a setting that's unimaginative, banal -- and Just Doesn't Make Sense.

I don't mind changes. I don't mind "re-invention". I do mind Shit That Makes No Sense.

And that's enough for now.

There will be a short quiz next class. I do hope you've taken notes.

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