During the five-year run of Ronald Moore and David Eick’s revamped Battlestar Galactica, fans got so acclimated to the cramped quarters and wall-to-wall machinery that when the series arrived at a verdant, primitive world, the effect was jarring. Those fans will likely be similarly jarred by Caprica, the pilot movie for a new BSG prequel series. Set “58 years before the fall,” Caprica takes place in a civilized, largely complacent society, with schools, sports arenas, and an agreed-upon system of laws. There’s very little of the making-up-the-rules-on-the-spot tension of Battlestar, and much more of an atmosphere of comfort and luxury. But there are two ominous indicators of the universe to come: a band of monotheists has begun advocating violent action as a protest against Caprican decadence, and a few top scientists have begun building robots to do humanity’s everyday gruntwork.
Eric Stoltz plays one of those scientists: a super-rich technophile whose rebellious daughter Alessandra Torresani is killed in a terrorist bombing in one of Caprica’s opening scenes. When Stoltz learns that Torresani was spending time in a virtual nightclub where kids gather to act out their violent fantasies and sexual desires, and that she’d created an avatar fully invested with her own memories and personality, he becomes determined to find a way to use that virtual version of his daughter to revive her in robotic form. But he needs some proprietary technology to do it, so he asks for help from another man who lost a daughter (and a wife) in the bombing: Esai Morales, a foreign-born lawyer with ties to a criminal organization. Initially intrigued, Morales gradually begins to question the morality of what Stoltz is proposing.
When Caprica goes to series next year, it’ll reportedly be about the ongoing contest of wills between Stoltz and Morales (the latter playing the father of Galactica’s Admiral Adama). There are also hints in the pilot movie of future BSG-like inquiries into religious fanaticism, racism, and human arrogance. On the whole, it’s a well-plotted introduction to the world of Caprica, in terms of establishing both the premise of the series and the tone, which is clearly going to be more grounded in familiar human drama—almost soap-opera-like—than Battlestar was. Some BSG stalwarts may have some difficulty with the muted science-fiction/action elements, but it’s a lovely piece of work on its own merits, imbued with real visual poetry by director Jeffrey Reiner, who’s been the go-to guy on Friday Night Lights for its first three seasons. This new show feels different, but its concerns are the same. Eick, Moore, and company aim to show how grief and fear drives us to construct precarious paradises, with the seeds for their own destruction rooted underneath.
Key features: Deleted scenes and a frank, detailed, entertaining commentary track by Eick, Moore, and Reiner.