Friday, August 14, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Battlestar Galactica Classic

With today's news that Bryan Singer is signing on to direct a new Battlestar Galactica movie, inspired by the original series, it seems only appropriate that this Friday's Hulu recommendation be the Glen Larson epic.

Singer has a strong track record in genre films, with only one argument starting hiccup. Singer's X-men movies perfectly captured the tone of what made the Claremont/Byrne run of the comics so engaging, while simultaneously translating the narrative to a different medium. This was no small task and Singer should be rightfully praised -- especially since audiences would soon learn how easy it is to make a bad X-men movie when the third film in that franchise hit theaters.

Singer's one hiccup is his attempt to make an engaging and topical Superman film. His Superman Returns managed to simultaneously get everything right regarding how amazing Superman can be, while getting everything wrong about what makes the character great. The film is beautiful and follows in the footsteps of two excellent Superman films, ignoring the misguided 3rd and 4th films, but it is exceedingly flawed. While it is plausible that in the minutes following the ending of Superman II Kal-El would fly off into space to find news of his home -- especially after the meaningful final conversation with Jor-El -- Superman as deadbeat dad is still a painful concept with which to grapple. It also forgets the most critical aspect of Superman's personality, and the underlying reason Superman has a secret identity. There is no practical reason for Superman to have a secret identity. If Superman were Superman full time, no one would be at increased risk of villain attack. Unlike Spider-Man, Supes secret identity doesn't protect an "Aunt 'Em." Unlike Batman, his identity doesn't protect a vast fortune that can be used to aid the needy. Superman's having a human identity actually puts people at risk rather than protects them. His secret identity causes more problems than it solves. But it does do one thing, it allows him to become human and connect with community. Superman -- like the "perfected man" in Aristotle -- needs the city, that's why he has a secret identity. Singer would have been well served to remember this one fact. Still, the film is spectacularly beautiful and contains two of the best Superman sequences ever filmed. It is a work of contradictions.

The same may end up being true of Singer's Battlestar Galactica. All signs point to his version being closer to the vision of series creator Glen Larson. Larson's BSG was Mormonism as SF narrative. It was biblical allegory with a touch of humor. It was filled with hope in the face of despair. It was more Orson Scott Card than William Gibson, it was more Heinlein than Haldeman. For these reasons, a generation of viewers were engrossed each week as the show aired for its sole season -- we won't count Battlestar 1980. It was a perfect example of golden age SF Space Opera.

When Ron Moore -- who shall forever be known to Cinerati as the man who killed Kirk because Picard couldn't win a fist fight -- re-envisioned the franchise for his 73 episode run, he did so as a writer influenced by Gibson and Haldeman and the events of a post-9/11 world. The story was dark and hopeless, and featured a human civilization not worthy of saving. The colonies of Moore's BSG are craven and deserve destruction, but as individuals they are more human. The series is often praised for its writing, but such praise is misguided. The show is amazingly acted -- the cast does a phenomenal job -- but any series that ends with the ultimate SF cliche ("and their names were Adam and Eve") lacks the depth that its facade presents to the world at large. BSG is the poster child for a generation of viewers/readers who believe "grim means philosophically deep." For those who grew up on the SF of Heinlein and Asimov, deconstructive tales are refreshing. For those who grew up on the SF of Moorcock, Haldeman, and Gibson, deconstructive SF is stale.

I am among those who found BSG stale and staid, but well directed and acted. It is the "reconstructive" narrative that I find refreshing. Give me The Incredibles and Wall-E over most modern SF. Give me Old Man's War instead of Forever War. These are what I find well crafted, innovative, and refreshing.

Singer will have an arduous task ahead of him. Moore's BSG won critical acclaim and brought new audience to the IP, at the expense of losing some of the nostalgic crowd -- people like me. Larson's original is dated and overly campy, so it can't be directly remade. It must be properly reconstructed or those fans who were dissatisfied with Moore's work will still be dissatisfied. But it also has to have complex characters, something Moore's definitely had, or those newer BSG fans will reject the vision as well.

Singer has the same challenge he had with Superman Returns, presenting a narrative of hope that contains complex characters. It is likely any Battlestar he creates will contain some of the same flaws as Superman Returns. Given Singer's ability to craft beautiful visuals and given the stable of actors who frequent his films, I look forward to seeing Singer's Battlestar...flawed or not.

As always -- for those in the US -- hit play, then click on the full screen button and enjoy.


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