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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Caprica: Season 1.5
Caprica: Season 1.5
Universal // Unrated // December 21, 2010
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted January 4, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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The (Other) Half Season:

Nothing would've made me happier than to deem Syfy's decision to cancel Caprica a grave and unwarranted one, but that's something which simply can't happen. Bear with me now, because there's a reason for saying this. As a defender of the series when it was on the brink of cancellation, there's no joy in stating that it's easy to see why Ron Moore and David Eick's offshoot from Battlestar Galactica received the axe when it did. Though far from faultless, the first half of the series established a fine foundation for a world rife for exploration: the mechanics of a society that would ultimately create a sentient lifeform, robots which would rebel and eventually annihilate most of the human race. But concept's only part of the journey, and Caprica saw tonal and storytelling issues that shaped it into a rough, erratic exploration of those ideas, reaching an especially stagnant point at the beginning of this second half. It's a shame, then, that the writers and producers finally discover their rhythm in the last five-and-a-half episodes, as it truly becomes the series I had hoped it'd become.

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Those who haven't seen Caprica: Season 1.0 should obviously do so before reading any further, which contains the same synopsis point-for-point from DVDTalk's previous review:

The story revolves around the polytheistic, technologically-advanced colony of Caprica roughly sixty years before "the downfall", focusing on the conflict between, and within, two families: The Graystones, and the Adamas. Lawyer Joseph Adams (Esai Morales) lives a somewhat normal life with his wife and two children, Tamara and Billy, attempting to juggle his high-profile stature in the legal realm with his domestic life. He fights a bit with keeping himself as distanced as he can from his unsavory lineage, the Tauron mob Ha'la'tha, though it's hard since the organization funded his education and requires his services regularly -- usually by messages delivered through his brother, Sam (Sasha Roiz). BSG devotees with get a jolt in seeing the blossoming of young "Billy" in this environment early on, watching the growth of the semi-troubled youth that'd transform into the disquieting, powerful Galactica commander Bill Adama.

Caprica's central draw, however, is the Graystones. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) heads a tech development firm working on a mechanized super-soldier that's just not cutting the mustard, all the while generating profit (60% of net, to be exact) with virtual reality headsets -- holobands -- that connect to a network of fully-interactive, realistic digital worlds. Graystone's seemingly safe digital construct quickly broke down into a laissez-faire underground, filled with hacked sections that exploit sex, drug-use, and violence. Daniel's daughter, a silver-tongued high-school student named Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) who battles with her mother Amanda (Paula Malcomson) over authority, frequents the holoband V-Club with boyfriend Ben (Avan Jogia) and timid best friend Lacy (Magda Apanowicz), yet they're beyond the carnal satisfaction that the place has to offer. Instead, they've found purpose in monotheistic religious belief within an activist organization, the Soldiers of The One (STO), and, in the process, created an exact digital copy of Zoe who will somehow aid the resistance.

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Caprica utilized a cliffhanger episode at the end of the first half of the season, one that leaves the mortality of several characters up in the air. It's uncertain whether the depression-driven grief that Amanda's been going through truly led her to suicide; similarly, we're unsure if the full-throttle abrasiveness that Zoe was enacting inside the U-87 Cylon body destroyed her at the end. Then, Syfy opted to go on a very lengthy mid-season break (read: they shelved the episodes), leaving curious minds in the dark for roughly seven months and, effectively, knocking the wind out of Caprica. Already, the series wasn't on the strongest of legs; as mentioned before, it establishes a fine world that explores the emotions coursing through decisions to either reject or embrace digital memories of loved ones, while also giving some deep-rooted glimpses into the underpinnings of Moore and Eick's Emmy-winning Battlestar Galactica. Yet it wasn't all gelling together as of yet, only improving as the series went along but ultimately lacking the joie du vivre that pumped its inspiration forward.




Therefore, when Caprica's second half starts off sluggish and overbearingly dour, it's almost like a death toll. Let's be perfectly honest here: the first three installments following a seven-month hiatus end up being misfired glut, something the series couldn't withstand at that point. Starting with a jump-forward in time that echoes the end of Battlestar Galactica's second season, it throws the story in a pit of depression, despair, and cutthroat politics surrounding Daniel that bloats beyond its boundaries. When the Ha'la'tha use killing one's mother -- someone unassociated with the crime syndicate -- as a sign of loyalty, when the STO enact murderous power moves over their religious heads, or when Zoe's avatar is bludgeoned to near-death for simply looking like the STO terrorist she's perceived to be, the tone gets molasses-level thick and fairly objectionable. It's as if Moore and Eick are overcompensating so their audience knows they're not pulling any punches, while the output they produce leans toward ham-handed and hard-faced discomfort -- and extremely awkward in "Things We Lock Away", a sloppily glued-together hodgepodge of poorly-orchestrated arena brawls in New Cap City and intent Lacy/STO development.

None of Caprica's issues root in the performances, however, or the production design. From the ground up, Moore and Eick continue the shrewdly-cast and stylish thrust of science-fiction with a fine vein of suspense, capturing the city's expanses with a unique blend of metropolitan polish, futuristic gris-gris, and slick '50s-esque allure. Locations like the Graystone mansion sport angular windows and a glaring pour of cold light, while the Adama household encapsulates a warm yet dark demeanor. These fitting aesthetic touches cradle some exceptional dramatic performances, including Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales whom have come into their own as tried-and-true denizens of Caprica. The same can be said for Magda Apanowicz as Lacy, who takes the complications surrounding a semi-innocent girl lost in the world of terrorism and runs with them with stalwart momentum. Lacy's role, which gets sloshed around in the first half of the season, begins to grow more focused as she embeds further into the STO (and learns of her affinity with post-Zoe Cylons). The faces of Caprica are what keep the series afloat, both during the well-executed and bungled stretches in the show.




Really, the issues hinge on a general question: "What's the driving force behind Caprica?" At first, the series closed in on the machinations of the Cylon origins, as well as exploring monotheism vs. polytheism, the benefits and hindrances of an abandon-free V-World, and the reluctance for people to let go of those whom have died. Upon the second half of Caprica, all that's somewhat switched out for direct drama involving the robots' "creator", as well as concentration on the gangster Adama network and the blossoming of the terrorist organization as idealists -- which, by the way, the STO material's fairly bland and oddly-executed during that stretch. In essence, it starts to go down a fairly generic path of aggressive human drama, leaving the intrigue behind Zoe's presence somewhat alone for a two-hour burst. It's pretty clear that the minds behind the show tinkered with some new (and time-weathered) ideas to try and wrangle together a new audience. And it didn't really pan out as such.

Fortunately, the creative team seems to have had an inclination towards this. Starting with "False Labor", Caprica begins to see an awakening, as if they both discover where their weaknesses lie and resurrect the spirit of Battlestar Galactica -- which carries over in "Blowback", marking the first of five episodes that Syfy shelved around the time of cancellation. In this episode, Daniel attempts to recreate Zoe's "resurrection" software, while in the process using an avatar of Amanda as a basis for comparison. Since he knows all the mannerisms and minutiae of his wife, he's able to determine exactly how human or inhuman she's acting, and the content that unfolds as he dissects this digital Amanda can be both penetrating and emotionally stirring. On top of that, Lacy gets her first hearty taste of the STO's domineering, contentious presence, while meeting other "recruits" similar to her. Moreover, it rediscovers its tonality; difficult drama remains, but the way it's handled regains the excitement of its inspiration. In short, it gets good. Really, really good.




With Syfy cancelling the show and five episodes still left to run, the big question likely will be: "Does it get a proper, strong conclusion?" Piggybacking off the regained proficiency that it rediscovers in "Blowback", Caprica sprints through the remaining episodes as if it knows that the end's coming, losing its abandon in a furious, gripping rush that certainly echoes to Battlestar Galactica's aptitude in 11th-hour intensity. It hits the accelerator and really doesn't stop until an unquestionably finite conclusion, bringing together Daniel's hunt for Zoe's avatar in V-World and the unsavory connections between Graystone Industries and the Tauron mob to a very fine, robust head. Moreover, the content surrounding Lacy's presence in the STO finally reaches a meaningful point, instead of evoking the sensation that it's a time-killing subplot like it did at first. But, much like the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica, it also ditches some sensibility in lieu of excitement, breaking some of its own rules and established character mannerisms just to find a definite close. When it all melts together, though, it'll be worth gritting one's teeth through a few questionable moments.

Those who've watched Caprica and cashed in their chips owe it to themselves to check out the tense follow-through, with the knowledge that the tone's anything but consistent. There's only a handful of great moments scattered within; however, there are assuredly some really great moments, ones that ensnare the type of essence I'd hoped would resonate in a depiction of the pre-Cylon world. In the middle of that, along with blatant reflection on the current climate of terrorism, it also provokes thought about the extents that some might go to preserve the memories and essence of those they love, and whether the recreation of an individual would push the boundaries of their belief structure. Caprica's an intelligent show at its core, one with a complex network of emotion buttons that simply never properly learned how and when to push them. What's a shame is that the show reveals a few glimmers at the end that suggest it might've found out how, ones that likely hadn't even been seen by those that made the decision to power down this tale of the pre-war Cylon race.


Episode Index:

Disc 1:
Unvanquished
Retribution
Things We Lock Away

Disc 2:
False Labor
Blowback
The Dirteaters

Disc 3:
The Heavens Will Rise
Here Be Dragons
Apotheosis




The DVD:





Video and Audio:

Caprica: Season 1.5 arrives from Universal in an arrangement of 1.85:1 widescreen-enhanced transfers, which are just as highly-stylized as the first half of the season. Colors in New Cap City lean towards stony, cold-leaning colors and harsh textures, while the photography around Caprica City itself finds a more natural palette. This time around, however, the cinematographers utilize some different camera tricks, such as shaky-cam motion and some impressive plays on depth-of-field focusing. Largely, these transfers retain the look of the HD-shot series with aplomb, retaining the graininess inherent in the photography while also preserving the moments of crisp detail -- the elements in the Cylon's armor, tree branches, and similar things. There are a few moments where shimmering becomes a problem, however, with wood grain showing some wavy lines and windows in buildings. The style's in-tact and looks rather good otherwise.

Audio remains the same from the previous half-season: It swoops in through a series of Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that replicate the series' feel with a fine level of punch and ambient delicateness. This is undoubtedly a quieter show than its predecessor, relying more on the gears clanking in a mechanized Centurion body and the blips and such through the holoband headsets, all of which are supported with impressive clarity here. Of course, there are quite a few scenes where the show's aggression escalates, especially in the V-World's "New Cap City"; gunfire rattles the speakers and the swarm of aerial ships sporting rocket launchers fill the design. Some of the effects fall flat for Dolby standard, with a few hollow explosions here and there, but the boisterous effects mostly punch through the audio streams with enough thrust to grab a hold of its audience. Most importantly, however, the dialogue stays audioble and appropriately mixed with each one, supporting the content just fine. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish.


Special Features:

As with Caprica 1.0, several of the episodes from Caprica 1.5 come with Podcast Commentaries, ones that feature executive producer David Eick, director Tim Lieber, and assorted cast members. The episodes that don't come with the stock podcasts are: "Things We Lock Away", "False Labor", and all the episodes on the third disc ("The Heavens Will Rise", "Here Be Dragons", and "Apotheosis"). On top of those, two additional Commentaries with Executive Producer Kevin Murphy on Unvanquished and Apotheosis (recorded in October) can be found across the discs.

Unfortunately, unlike most of the Battlestar Galactica sets and the previous Caprica set's inclusion of two cuts for the pilot, no extended or unrated episode appears in the special features this time around, though Deleted Scenes (16x9) again accompany a few of the early episodes. On Disc One, the only additional special feature is Re-Caprica (4:57, 16x9), a brief and silly lingo-heavy rundown of the events from the first half-season. Disc Two contains all of the online Video Blogs (30:52), covering assorted topics that span religious dissection to sound design, that gives a fine perspective on the constructive strengths underlying the series.


Final Thoughts:

Short and simple: those who have seen the first half-season of Caprica will have an interesting experience on their hands with Season 1.5. The first three episodes will be a bit of a humdrum slog, as they hone in some overblown dark drama that doesn't sit quite right in the series' confines, but the rest -- starting off with portions of "False Labor" and jolting towards the conclusion, through five shelved episodes -- really grab a hold of the intensity and clever science-fiction punch that would've made the Battlestar Galactica off-shoot a success. Even in its misfired moments, it's decent sci-fi-based drama, but the strong moments later in the season tap into a familiar robustness that'll spike the adrenaline like its successor. Recommended.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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