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Caprica: Season 1.0

Universal // Unrated // October 5, 2010
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 29, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Half Season:

Creators Ronald Moore and David Eick relied on three key components for their hit SyFy series, Battlestar Galactica, to stay fresh and compelling for as long as it did: complex ideas behind evolved sentient lifeforms, religious parables, and the fondness for the characters' home worlds -- especially that of Caprica. The characters all look back at their previous lives almost as ghosts; Admiral Bill Adama painfully drudges up memories of his ex-wife and lawyer father, while Kara "Starbuck" Thrace carries memories of her small, ramshackle apartment and Samuel Anders yearns for the thrill of a sports stadium. Seems like such a rich mythos created just to be the ruminants of a past life, doesn't it? The Moore-Eick team also sees this potential, now capitalizing on the gap left by Battlestar Galactica's end to create the appropriately-titled Caprica. Though it moves slowly at first while constructing an involved narrative framework in its predecessor's shadow, this mythos-rich offshoot eventually finds the footing needed to fall in-line with the original series' current of storytelling.

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 Adams. 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.

Observant fans will see where Caprica's going with the duplicate Zoe, coming together in an introductory pilot that realizes the germ of an idea behind the genesis of the Cylon race, but it certainly doesn't leave newcomers in the cold. Moore and Eick, with this freshness in mind, go in a startling direction with the content surrounding the Cylon conception; a murderous STO-related terrorist attack on a train rattles the city of Caprica, leaving the Graystones without their daughter and Joseph with only his son, Billy. The grief they endure becomes a convincing dramatic catalyst for what's to come, breaking a floodgate for aggressive decision-making regarding family memories and Daniel's technological advancement -- with the idea of an exact digital replication of both mind and memory, such as the avatar of Zoe that lingers after her death, propelling it forward. It's a thought-provoking launch that tackles some rather challenging concepts, including that of the human psyche as raw data and the extent that open-minded intellectuals might go to preserve those they've lost. And, of course, the narcissistic power behind potential immortality.

Upon the second episode, "Rebirth", one fact becomes very clear: Caprica isn't cut from the same cloth as its inspiration, instead existing as a compelling new creation with its own hurdles to cross. In retrospect, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica painlessly continued the momentum from its original two-part miniseries, thrusting forward with space warfare and political components into the dazzling episode "33". With Caprica, a shrewd character-driven thriller with complexity surrounding terrorism and family grief, the carry-over isn't as easy. Thankfully, the Moore-Eick team never shies away, hitting the gas with some rather incisive writing as they drive deeper into Caprica's unraveling and the Graystone company's waning success in the wake of the terrorist attack. Along the way, they also grapple with themes of Tauron racism ("dirt eaters") and religious extremism through the STO and one of its leaders, Zoe's teacher Sister Clarice (Polly Walker), that correlate to actual issues, while also cleverly using the concept of a digital underground -- especially in the anarchistic "New Cap City" game simulation, a mix of World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto -- as a way of escape and purpose-finding.

Yet as Caprica focuses on these modern analogous ideas while its characters develop into a mixture of morally desolate entities, the first batch of six or so episodes move at a deliberate, slow-burning tempo that shifts between intrigue and sluggishness. The harsh chemistry between Daniel and Joseph as scorned parents electrifies, driven by Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales in two stark, authentic performances, and the pacing focuses on the causal events that unfold around their family-affecting decisions. But focusing on this calculated slow-burn can, at times, temper the series' manner and cause the multiple plot threads to stray from the course, weaving intuitive dramatic performances around a lot of existential meditation and shots of neo-religious content without the right energy to propel it forward. I still find it compelling; the depth of Daniel's egotism reaches a genuine depth that's unexpected, while offering a cluster of explosive moments -- such as the board meeting in "There is Another Sky" that actually starts the Cylon race -- spliced within the persistent, astute drama.

Then, as Caprica approaches "Ghosts in the Machine" and the mid-season finale "End of Line", the gradual tension sees a much-needed outburst. These prior episodes extend into what's essentially a rather lengthy fuse leading to this batch of dynamite, using brewing family turmoil and growing suspicions into an emotionally-taxing, brilliantly-realized culmination point. "Ghosts in the Machine" plays with the intensity of psychological torment in a staggering rush of emotion, while "End of Life" finds the first episode of the series to use the familiar "__ Hours Before" time mechanic frequently used in Battlestar Galactica. Quite simply, the build-up becomes worth the time at this point, igniting the series with the narrative outbreak it desperately lacked to become fully involving. Whether Caprica can maintain this momentum still remains to be seen, but the succession of these explosive developments that derive from subtly-evolving plot points -- Amanda's weakening sanity, Daniel's obsession with meeting the development deadline, and the presence of the STO as violent radicals -- satisfies with evocative, edge-of-your-seat chills at this midpoint, finally achieving that addictive science-fiction adrenaline that hallmarked its predecessor.

Episode Index:

Disc 1:
Pilot: Unrated/Extended

Disc 2:
Reins of a Waterfall

Disc 3:
There Is Another Sky
Know Thy Enemy
Disc 4:
The Imperfections of Memory
Ghosts in the Machine
End of Line

The DVD:

Universal brings Caprica: Season 1.0 to DVD in a foldout digipack presentation that houses four overlapping discs, each silver-topped and void of design. The side of the foldout contains an episode listing with brief, spoiler-aware synopses, with a snapshot of Caprica City as the inlay for the packaging. A cardboard slipcover with raised lettering features the primary characters on the front and pack, which all comes together in a very nicely-design package. As owners of the May 2009 release of the Caprica pilot will notice, the menu design looks extremely similar -- just slightly tweaked.

Video and Audio:

Much like Battlestar Galactica, Caprica comes in a series of 1.78:1-framed, widescreen-enhanced episodes that rely on a stylish mix of high-contrast, blooming-light sequences and stark, cold photography for a more emotionally clean look. Universal handles these distinctions just fine, supporting the material to an appropriate degree with a few moments of well-textured and unique clarity. Light blooms off of Zoe and other characters in the V-World, which fits with the actual look of the series, while a deep concentration on grainy, slate shots also mingle with them. In turn, scenes on the real Caprica City support a wide array of textures and contours, from the skin roughness on Stoltz to the tattoos on Sam's body. Universal's disc sport a graininess that pushes over into digital fumbling and a few scenes with some aggressive shimmering due to line aliasing, while some shots can be quite hazy and lean towards pinker skin tones than desired. But, otherwise, Caprica looks rather good.

Audio 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:

For starters, it's worth noting that both the Original Cut (1:28:56) and the Unrated, Extended Cut (1:31:52) of the pilot have been included in this Caprica: 1.0 set, exactly like the May '09 standalone DVD. The differences are perceptible "unrated" style differences between the cuts, which includes some extra skin and such that add to the visceral fabric of the V-World. A Commentary for the Unrated, Extended Cut director Jeffrey Reiner as he accompanies Ron Moore and David Eick. They talk about the genesis of the project and the Moore-Eick team's inclusive insight on the project, explanation of the series' rules with the technology and the V-Club (along with throwing fans into the fray), what shots were done hand-held and not, character motivations in complex sequences, and how a specific scene works even with a scene/motivation cut away from Amanda's character.

Each episode from the arrangement of eight remaining installments all come with Podcast Commentaries, which fluctuates with guests between all of them (obviously, producer David Eick frequents the roster) and vary with content. Deleted Scenes (16x9) also accompany each of the episodes, as well as a wide series of Video Blogs (13:08 on Disc One, 35:02 on Disc Two) about scattered topics that mostly feature off-the-cuff interviews and a few neat behind-the-scenes shots. Several episodes, however, come with their own new commentary tracks; Ron Moore comes aboard in a Commentary for Reins of a Waterfall, an episode he directed and only the second time he's actually been behind the camera, while exec producer Jane Espenson hops on for a Commentary for Gravedancers, an episode she co-wrote that was actually the second half of another episode.

Disc Three and Disc Four hold the bulk of the separate, fresh special features for Caprica (aside from the new commentaries). On the third disc, a few quick features are available -- The Caprica Dynasty (13:41, 16x9), which essentially just covers the basis of the series' genesis and actors, and The Look of Caprica (4:57, 16x9), which talks about the difference between BSG and Caprica in terms of a visual aesthetic and how they tie it into real-life archetypal locations. On the fourth disc, a featurette Creating a World (6:25, 16x9) pops up that discusses the visual effects, primarily around New Cap City and Zoe's Centurion Cylon body, as well as a short-yet-exciting Season 1.5 Sneak Peek (3:04, 16x9).

Final Thoughts:

For fans of Battlestar Galactica and newcomers alike, the seven episodes sandwiched between Caprica's pilot and the last two installments come with a firm recommendation. Ron Moore and David Eick take the untapped, ghostly mythos of SyFy's juggernaut and create something fresh, focusing on sharp character drama and human complexity within themes of terrorism and the creation of sentient life. This slate of science-fiction, however, topples over to a higher recommendation for two specific reasons: the pilot itself, and "Ghost in the Machine". This one-two combo almost works as their own edgy creations, and are easily worth the time to jump into the series for however long it stays afloat. Universal's four-disc presentation looks and sounds just fine, while carrying over both familiar online supplements and a cluster of new commentaries and behind-the-scenes pieces. Highly Recommended.

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