Friday, March 12, 2010

Reality is Overrated

My wife and I were talking this evening as we prepared to eat dinner, and for some reason, the recent Battlestar Galactica remake came up. My wife expressed how disappointed she'd been at the end of the series because by that point, she no longer liked any of the characters. In fact, she so disliked them, that she no longer cared about their fates.

I agreed. And it got me thinking that while the new Galactica may have been a "better" show than the original in most quantifiable ways - arguably better overall production values and effects, more naturalistic acting and more sophisticated writing - and I liked the show okay, I still like the original, 1978 Battlestar Galactica better. Always did. And now I thought I could put my reasons into words.

As I told my wife, the old show may have had plots recycled from old war movies and Westerns, and the dialogue may have been frequently corny, but the characters were more likable. And not only that, they were in exactly the same situation as their 21st century SciFi Channel doppelgangers - their entire civilization had been wiped out, they were at the mercy of a hostile universe and omnipresent threat from the Cylons - but unlike the more "realistic" characters of the remake, the original Adama, Apollo, Starbuck, et al, stood up.

They faced their problems and enemies with a unwavering faith in the strength of the human spirit, and confidence that they would ultimately survive, thrive, and find their place in the universe -- Earth. They believed in - and relied on - family, duty, and their faith. They didn't backstab each other and wallow in self pity. They fought for their survival, and never considered surrender.

I know that in this day and age (ironically, the very future I used to look forward to back in the 70s), heroism is considered obsolete. We're all in this life for ourselves, and everyone else be damned. And if we believe we're right about something, we'll tear down anyone with an opposing view, rather than try and find a mutually-acceptable middle ground. We isolate ourselves from community, and sneer with cynicism at the idea of "good guys" and "bad guys." We know that there's no such thing - just varying degrees of self-interest.

The Colonial survivors of the original Galactica didn't always get along, either. There was corruption and conflict, and differences of opinion about how the fleet should be governed. That Council of Twelve was a right pain in the ass. There was loss - Zack, Serena, the Pegasus (maybe). But... the main characters never gave up hope.

Was it realistic? Well, not in the modern view, I suppose. But it was actually a pretty nice idea, wasn't it? That there was always hope?

That's probably why I love these old shows so much. The original Star Trek, Galactica, Buck Rogers - even Space: 1999. They all showed human beings as standing up to the immensity of a malevolent cosmos and facing it down with dignity and courage. No matter how often the Colonial Warriors got their asses kicked by superior Cylon numbers (or Moonbase Alpha found itself completely at the mercy of super powerful aliens), they kept on fighting.

It's a damned shame that nobility, dignity and heroism seems to have gone out of style, both in our science fiction and our world....


  1. Finally--FINALLY!--someone put to words exactly how I feel about Galactica (and the rest of contemporary scifi)!

    I can't even watch Caprica. Every time I try, I just think "This theme was done better on the Outer Limits 10 years ago"

  2. Totally agree! Thanks to you (and your wife) for putting a finger on what I dislike about so many contemporary sci-fi or fantasy stories being told nowadays.

    There are a few exceptions to the current trend, like "Firefly" and "Jericho". Two "scifi" TV series where the main characters were interesting, like-able, and kept trying no matter the odds. Although given that both those series were canceled prematurely, and the "darker" "grittier" BSG gets 4 seasons, a couple of TV movies, and now a prequel series to tell its stories just backs up your point, I guess.

  3. Its a post modern kind of world. Life has no intrinsic meaning so most people dimly assume that we should never strive for that. Sad. Its as I've always said...When I was a kid, even the future was cooler!

  4. Thanks for saying that.

    I hate that so many t.v shows and movies nowadays feel that it is obligatory to show every single family and relationship as dysfunctional. You know, dysfunction is "reality" for a lot of people, but not _everybody_.

    I really enjoyed the original BSG's Adama-Apollo father-son relationship. There was love and respect. And Starbuck was happy-go-lucky without having a nervous meltdown every other week.

    That's what I hate about the 'Lost in Space' movie "re-make", too. Enough with the "edgy" "reality" and dysfunction. Give us some fun, some escape, some joy.

  5. Damn straight.

    I love modern genre shows, but somewhere along the line someone decided that "angst" = "good story telling" and it doesn't always. Most often I find it to be lazy.

    Original BSG had it's share of problems and "silly" plots. But you are 100% dead right. The characters were much more heroic than anything the New BSG had to offer.

    I liked the new BSG for a bit, but it got to be damn near unwatchable after a while. But I can always re-watch the old BSGs.

    Excellent post.

  6. Amen, brudda! All I could think about when the show began was that I really hoped that miserable lot didn't find Earth because I dealt with enough losers like that all the time as it was.

    Did dig the way the space scenes were done, tho.

  7. I appreciate your perspective, Christopher. Your complaints about the Galactica reboot mirror my own reservations about modern comic books. Where's the all-ages material?

    My own problem with the reboot was the way it looked; it's hard for me to get excited about a show that's so thoroughly gray.

    Ha, perhaps that "gray" comment applies to your perspective also!

    Still, I did appreciate the reboot as its own thing, independent of the original series.

  8. In the original BSG, Adama was always worried about fleet moral that is why they had the pyramid games & opened up the restaurant on the Rising Star even though there was a waiting list. In the new BSG I was always wondering why more people didn't just chuck themselves out the airlock.

  9. Give me the original Battlestar anyday of the week.

  10. I couldn't agree with your post more. There has been too much fascination in our culture with gray areas and anti-heroes for far too long. Han Solo only worked as a scoundrel and rogue because he had actual heroes to off-set and compare him to and truly evil people to combat.

    It is far easier to be a "quip and a nut shot" kinda of character than it is to have actual principles that you stand up for. Writers and Madison Avenue have figured this out.

    Batman has eclipsed Superman in popularity.

    I still prefer Big Blue.

  11. I actually enjoy antiheroes and characters who have shades of gray. I don't think any good guy is *all* good, nor bad guy *all* bad.

    But I do think that human beings can rise up when the occasion arises. Not *every* human being, but some. And I do think that the nobler ideals are worth *trying* to live up to.

    My biggest problem with new BSG was that it was so unrelentingly grim and defeatist. I can only really recall one episode where I felt good at the end. It was riveting drama for a while, and had some fascinating ideas, but in the end, I wasn't so certain that they really deserved to survive.

    And I agree with Jon about the look - and production design. It really chafed my ass that they wore business suits and ties.

    And that they were all given, basically Anglo-Saxon names. I also didn't like that their society didn't seem to be any more technologically advanced than ours (less, even - where were the cell phones, iPods and PDAs, etc.) but they had FTL drive, and (in the past) highly advanced robotics.

    Seemed not only unlikely, but blatantly cheap.

  12. I cannot reply in mere words; they do no justice to how much I agree. So I will reply in dance. Vigorous, laser-show-backed, fist-pumping dance.

  13. AMEN. (Or, to crib a phrase from the otherwise-ignorable remake: "So say we all.")

  14. Agree with your review 100%. I love the 1978 original and hate how its been maligned by fans of the new show. Many seem to think Ronald D.Moore created it, not Glen A.Larson. I hope tye proposed Bryan Singer movie gets made.

  15. Superb post. The new show was such a wasted opportunity. Post-modernism is killing our culture!

  16. Thank you for expressing exactly how I feel about OBSG.

    I tried the new show but when I tune into 24 in Space (down to the torture) I know its not the show for me.

  17. IMO original Galactica was vastly more realistic than the remake. When things are really bad, you either pull together or fall apart. The original lot pulled together, the new ones are constantly falling apart. Only constant authorial fiat deus-ex-machina prevents them from being wiped out by their enemies or each other.

  18. Thanks for posting about the decline in standards for storytelling. I'd like to see more admirable people. What lessons are we teaching our children?

  19. I'm not sure this is the fault of the passage of time. More like just an "artistic" decision by the producers and writers. For instance, even the BSG remake's contemporaries Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis still had that sense of fun and camaraderie of the old shows. By the same token, when the producers tried to copy the modern BSG with Stargate Universe, it was the same kind of drab, depressing and ultimately unwatchable show with characters I couldn't and didn't care about.

  20. Agree 100%. I'm really sick of shows where everybody hates everybody and they spend all their time yelling as a substitute for real drama. I couldn't watch more than a few episodes of the new BSG because the character relationships were so depressing. Give me heroes any day over this kind of crap.