Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Flying toasters are so 1989

I think I've figured out why I don't like the new Battlestar Galactica. As Kevin Smith said on Ebert & Roeper, "it's more drama than sci-fi [sic]." In fact, it's fantasy, but doesn't want to admit it. And that bugs me.

George Lucas got a free pass with his preface: "A long time ago, in a galaxy far away" (basically "Once upon a time"); but the producers of "BSG" have set their show in a universe where our Earth apparently exists, yet they never attempt to explain why-- well, I'll let The Flick Filosopher speak to this point:
Hey, wait: American accent? Aren't these people supposed to be on the other side of the galaxy or whatever, separated from the humans of Earth long before there was an America? What gives?

This may be the worst thing about this new Galactica: It looks like the society of the part of Earth we call the industrialized West, maybe a few years into the future, and where everyone dresses really sharp, like Armani did all the costumes. The captain of a civilian spaceplane, for instance, gives welcome-aboard and if-you-look-out-the-left-window speeches that are a stunning instance of pangalactic synchronicity. I mean, c'mon: The French think we're insane because we refrigerate our cheese, and let's not even get into how alien the Japanese are, and yet these people on the other side of the Crab Nebula would fit in right next door?
The original Galactica at least laid out its premise in the opening voiceover, and as cheesy and ridiculous as the "ancient astronauts" hokum was even then, it was enough. And they committed to that premise, with the wacky Egyptian flight helmets and made-up slang. It was clear where they were coming from and what they expected the audience to believe; I didn't have to wonder why expressions like "scot free" and "laughingstock" (both uttered by Ellen Tigh in "Resistance") would even exist in a world with completely different cultural histories. I just don't buy it.

Which brings us to the names: the BSG writers toss around names like "Apollo" and "Troy," names that are familiar in our real-world mythology, but use them haphazardly, without any connection or resonance. Why name someone "Apollo" if you're not going to explain or exploit the significance of the name? Why waste such a rich opportunity for establishing character?

This kind of thing works if you're using those references for effect, as in the satire of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the book, not the ghodawful movie). But BSG does nothing with these references; they just sit there, like interchangeable serial numbers, only used to label things, not to imbue meaning.

I mean, you wouldn't give the Lee Adama character a middle name of "Harvey." Because that's just too loaded (so to speak). The closest they came to actually getting leverage out of a name was establishing that a character who turns out to be a Cylon came from a city named Troy-- Trojan horse, get it?-- but there are so many other missed opportunities, it breaks my heart. They barely even acknowledge the original series, almost as if they're ashamed of it. So then why re-use the name, the premise, the characters, the structure?

Look, I'm not saying it's a bad show. It's just not for me.

Back in 1991, there was a brilliant episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled "Darmok." The featured aliens, the Tamarians, spoke entirely in metaphors. If you didn't know their stories, if you didn't know who Darmok and Jalad were and what happened at Tenagra, you couldn't communicate with them.

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with the new BSG. It doesn't build on the established power of its names, or tweak their existing mythological connections to any effect; it simply uses them because they happen to sound cool. Because they sound like they should mean something. But they don't.

It's not for me.

~CKL
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