Friday, January 21, 2005

Science Fiction

Four months remain until the newest (and last?) Star Wars film release. My interest in George Lucas's mega-franchise has been hot and cold over the past twenty-eight years; I saw two of the three original films in the theater, but I had all but forgotten about them until the Special Editions were released on videotape several years ago. Not until The Phantom Menace did I realize what a gripping saga this was, even if Lucas seemed to have gotten too dependent on CGI effects to tell the story. Attack of the Clones was like the animated portions of Mary Poppins, or even parts of The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Episode II was virtually a cartoon.

I have no idea whether I will be able to make it to the cinema to see Episode III, but the DVD purchase is a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, there is a cover feature in the current issue of Vanity Fair that sounds rather intriguing, primarily for the pull-out photo spread of Star Wars cast members, new and old.

My interest in Science Fiction is not limited to Star Wars; that just happens to be the big thing right now. When SW was all the rage in the late seventies, I took a liking to ABC-TV's Battlestar Galactica, which many people (including litigious Lucas) accused of being a SW ripoff. The differences far outweighed the similarities, however, and the show had a good run for about half of the season. The villain, Count Baltar, was well played by John Colicos but usually ended each episode as too much of a "Curses, foiled again!" Snidley Whiplash type. The show suffered during second half of the season after the Cylons disappeared from the show. The struggle between the good guys and the somewhat cool bad guys appealed to me, as an eleven year old boy. Without that, I found the show rather boring. In the last episode, the Cylons returned, and things were looking up. The only reason for the cancellation, so I heard, was the enormous price tag for the network to produce the show. Too bad, so sad. I was hoping it would last long enough for the Cylons to win.

(Nothing to say about Galactica 1980, just move along...)

When the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries premiered over a year ago, I had some misgivings. Would the new show's human cast retain the lightheartedness of the originals? Would the revamped Cylons be as cool as the old ones? Would we actually get to see more of the Imperious Leader in this one? The new show turned out to be different, perhaps too different. I honestly could have done without the first half hour, in which the Cylon spy (Number Six) has conjugal relations with Baltar and snaps a little baby's neck to spare it from the coming nuclear holocaust. In fact, I nearly changed the channel. But I decided to give it a chance and was pleased with the rest of the show. The first three episodes of the regular series have been the most entertaining television that I have seen in a long while. Even the guest appearance by Richard Hatch was well done -- he didn't try to act campy or steal his scenes with Captain Apollo. One thing lacking from the original series was continuity, which the new show has in spades. Current SciFi shows know how to work in a story arc that will keep the audience tuning in to see how loose threads will be tied up. I hope this series has a good, long run.

I also hope we get to learn more about the Cylons. There is no Imperious Leader in this version, and the Cylons were originally man-made robot servants who rebelled against their masters, rather than a robot race created by lizardlike aliens. No robotic-looking Cylon has spoken yet. I am curious as to whether they have scary buzzing voices like their predecessors. Time will tell -- or not.

My personal favorite science fiction series, one which is shared by at least one of my children, is Doctor Who. I first discovered this one when I was a child. As an American, I had trouble getting accustomed to the British accents, and found the whole thing tedious. There were no explosions or chases for the entire half-hour like the cartoons that I was used to, and the stories dragged on from week to week in a manner that I was unaccustomed to. Ten years went by before I re-discovered Doctor Who on the local PBS station. It was good. Much better than I remembered it, in fact. And it was on every day, so I did not have to wait weeks for the resolution of a story. I even taped some episodes, so that I could go back and view my favorite bits at my leisure. But videotapes do not last forever, and neither does a television station's program schedule. Welcome to the age of the DVD. The shows are worth getting in this format, not only because of the medium's longevity but also because of the glut of features (including Easter Eggs) on every disc. American release dates are usually a few months behind the UK's, but it is always worth the wait. It will take a few years for the entire run of the show (all 27 years of it) to be released, which is fine since I would never be able to afford the whole thing at once.

If all goes well, we ought to be able to see the new series of Doctor Who here in the US without too long a delay.

Look for some DVD reviews here in the coming months. There's plenty to rave about these days. If Star Wars: Episode III is as good as initial reports indicate, I will have three good reasons to be a science fiction fan this year.

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