Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Questions. I have Questions ...

Re-watching Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) recently, I have questions, profound questions. They start out merely as practical issues ... but they grow, into an exploration (and note that word choice as I get comparative) ...

How is it, a world bombed about five minutes ago, with nuclear explosions we SEE engulfing most of the surface of the planet is (a) habitable by humans (yes, even with radiation meds - what are they EATING? and, in that one episode, how are they conceivably imagined to be fertile?) and (b) filled with *still-standing cities* ... when a planet bombed-out TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO is unsuitable for settlement?

In a fleet where networked computers are verboten: how do they communicate with one another by phone? Across vast distances? I know we see much made of staticky radio, but their feats of electronics and communications without wireless networking of any kind do begin to stagger the imagination - most especially with the extraordinary precision of their faster-than-light jumps through space.

There are those who think BSG made huge leaps forward in every way from all the Trek series. I'll grant, the writing is taut. But BSG depends, with a frequency none of the ST series ever quite matches, on The False Deadline. "If this person isn't recovered by X moment, we all die, or they die, or whatever - and DISASTER ENSUES" ... but recovery is made just in time - or just after time, but because we fudged the deadline. This creates tension, maybe, but the tension is false.

As to the rest, the acting is not entirely superior; only different. The major nit people pick relates to production design, and I'll grant that BSG looks "lived-in" and bears internal logic most of the time in the way things work, but there are weird set choices and usage of space, and Trek's relative slick sheen was of course intentional - the idealized look of a world originally conceived to BE ideal, pretty, perfect. But put Grace Park next to any ST castmember in any series you like, including TOS, and I'm going to call BS if you claim the acting is better. Honestly, for all he's been sainted time and again, I found Olmos pretty one-note (gravelly) and ponderous at times. Not unbelievable, but not exactly a deeply layered character - stamping "complex" on his name on a script doesn't convince me. And I have every bit as much trouble watching Kara Thrace's overly poochy pout as I do with Jolene Blalock's overly poochy pout in Enterprise.

Image: Wikipedia

Adama and Athena. He is profoundly betrayed by her - "throw that thing in the brig" - heals offscreen - she's his loyal, trusted sidearm - he is profoundly betrayed by her - and then he gives her her kid and lets her out, again. The reversals, I can't accept them. Not ALL of them. It's too regular. And it too-well suits the needs of one episode's plot and/or heartstring-tugging to be believed.

BSG has often been touted for its focus on humanity - no silly rubber masks and so on. But BSG's idea of "humanity" is extremely limited. Only the Greco-Roman heritage exists. There are a few faces of color, but zero culture exists but - essentially - white Western history. Anyone looking more diverse is merely assimilated, not actually representative of anything but the Greek (and LDS) traditions on display. Even the Cylons are strictly and entirely part of this tradition.

So ... in the entire universe, wherein they meet no form of life other than humans and Cylons (and what's the difference there being the final point of the whole series' arc, we really meet nothing but humans and watch them squabble) ... no form of culture exists, AT ALL, but this?

At least ST *tries* to represent diversity. Even when it fails (see also: kind of a lot of TNG), it attempts. (Though let it be said, I have diversity issues with ST; not least, the overwhelming tendency of black actors being put under layers of makeup to hide their faces altogether - ask me YET AGAIN why DS9 is my favorite series: see Benjamin Sisko and his son, and "Far Beyond the Stars", as well as *many* other episodes directly dealing with prejudice and bigotry, Earthly and otherwise. DS9 is notable for its redemptive treatment of the Ferengi, who were written as shameful stereotypes in other series.)

BSG's fleet is really just a construct. Apart from central cast and recurring characters, the forty-seven thousand (and less ... and less) survivors of humanities might as well be a pack of redshirts. Even with their avatar, "the press", they have almost no presence in the breathlessly emotional stories of Kara Thrace, Laura Roslin, the Adamas, the arbitrarily-assigned Final Five, and so on. It's a decent sized ensemble, but as a representation of all of humanity, the all of humanity part is pretty elusive. We *hear* about unrest and upheavals, but surprisingly often, we're told, not shown.

On one occasion we're shown - a young student assigned to a job he does not want because of his background, and his disgustingly contrived death because of that job - we might just as well be told, because it's insultingly badly done.

But the real question I have is ... why there must be a rivalry between BSG and Trek at all. Why people hold them up as opposites.

Ronald D. Moore alone is a major part of the DNA of all three ST series of the 1980s and 1990s, TNG, DS9, and Voyager. He's so much involved in BSG his image appears in the ending production titles on every dang episode.

The real wonder is how different they appear - or, at least , how differently they are received and perceived - given the commonalities.


Lennon Faris said...

Gaius is one of my fav characters of any show!

DLM said...

Callis is astonishing in a hell of a demanding role. He's compulsively watchable, which is fascinating for such a superlative slimebag.

Stephen G Parks said...

Is there a big rivalry between BSG and Trek? I’m not aware of it. Trek and Star Wars, sure. I grew up a diehard trekkie when 1977 hit big and my friends (both Trekkies and those who hated Trek) couldn’t understand how I could embrace The Force too. It was an awkward decade or so until the two sides made their peace.

When the new BSG came out, I remember the “Starbuck can’t be a girl!” faction, but I don’t remember a Trek-related clashes. Is this a younger-generation thing?

And you’re bang-on about how DS9 rehabilitated the Ferengi image, although I’d never thought about it before, similar to how TNG rounded out the Klingons. I’m re-watching “Beyond the Farthest Star” right now.

DLM said...

Hee - well, being close to 50 myself, I may not be able to speak to the young generation thing. And certainly I would not say I know of "clashes" - but there is a persistent snobbery that I've seen.

Television Without Pity, in its day, filled recaps of both Caprica and BSG with commentary about how crappy sci fi on TV was before BSG. References were direct, or at least thinly veiled. As often as not, comparisons focused on production values, in what appeared to be ignorance of actual content where Trek was concerned, and the breadth of the universe.

I also recall some of the obstacles Enterprise was up against - though at the start it had a good budget and a strong look, there were reviews that it still fell short against the grittier BSG. Which is ironic, because there were simultaneously people who were afraid Enterprise was going to be too much of a departure from the classic Trek look.

BSG is great TV, but it has weaknesses, just like Trek does, just like Marvel shows do, just like any television or movies. I'm still pretty much an open fan, and I take weaknesses without much complaint (let's be honest, sometimes it's *fun* to roll your eyes just a little when the character who's a splendid shot comes up against the heroine or hero, peppers bullets at them, and inevitably suddenly can't shoot them).