Friday, 6 November 2009

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan (2009)

Friday, 6 November 2009

"The Cylons were created by man. They rebelled. They evolved.
They look and feel human. Some are programmed to think they
are human. There are many copies. And they have a plan."

It ain't over till it's over. But, these days, the fat lady can be persuaded to do an encore with alternative lyrics. Months after the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (hereafter BSG) bowed out after four feted seasons, staff writer Jane Espenson goes back to the well to show fans a different perspective on the show's first two seasons. "The Plan" is pitched as an informative peek behind a curtain to see what the mysterious Cylons were doing during these formative years, but in reality it's an indulgent exercise in retrospective repair...

Fact is, as much as I love and admire BSG for a great many things (the characters, the action, the aesthetic, the allegories), its mytharc never really held together that well. The broad sweep worked fine and it had an emotional clarity to it, but even showrunner Ronald D. Moore admitted they were making things up as they went along; twisting exciting ideas into shapes that tried to fit the past -- with varying degrees of success. Now, there's nothing categorically wrong with a half-improvised approach to storytelling (it prevents boredom setting in with the creative team, you can react quicker to audience concerns), but I think it's fair to say that BSG could perhaps have done with a unified vision emerging sooner than it did.

"The Plan" is an unashamed way for the BSG team to correct a few storytelling mistakes and oversights with the benefit of retrospection, and generally aims to make the first two seasons feel more cohesive in light of the last two season's sweeping revelations. Fanboys who put the show under a microscope have picked a few too many nits, and now the writers are scratching the resulting itches...

Sandwiched between the scene of "Galactica Cavil" and "Caprica Cavil" (Dean Stockwell) about to be blasted out into space for their crimes (see: "Lay Down Your Burdens"), we jump back in time for a prologue to the introductory mini-series, again witnessing the genocide of humanity by the hand of erstwhile slave 'bots the Cylons, led by the humanoid Number One/Cavil model. Only now we witness intolerant Cavil preparing to insert his skinjob kind's parents ("The Final Five") amongst their beloved humans, programmed to think they're likewise human, as part of a sick moral lesson. If none of this makes sense to you, let me remind you that "The Plan" has been designed for diehard fans. It builds and fleshes out a storyline constructed over six years on television, so this is the worst possible place for a dilettante to start their education.

For the first twenty minutes or so, "The Plan" is an entertaining and marvelous showcase for the special-effects team (the nuking of Caprica is now a ballet of destruction akin to Pearl Harbor-meets-Independence Day), if ultimately window dressing. This revisit allows for some engaging Ying/Yang in how the Cavil aboard Galactica stays focused on ensuring the Cylons wipe out the surviving human "cockroaches", while his counterpart on Caprica comes to the opposite conclusion and eventually becomes the figurehead for a truce.

A few wasted humanoid Cylons from the series also get more screen time, belatedly -- particularly the Simon model (Rick Worthy), one of whom is living aboard Galactica with an adopted wife and child, while another's on Caprica as part of Anders' (Michael Trucco) band of holocaust survivors. We also learn specifics about how Boomer's (Grace Park) sleeper agent status was triggered, that Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) actually shared Starbuck's visions of the mandala and sensed she had a great destiny, and we get to see a smidgen more of Tory (Rekha Sharma), who became a prominent character in season 4 but was little more than a glorified extra in the early days.

Overall, "The Plan" isn't worthless, but it felt like a superfluous addendum to me. I'm sure there are those who will lap up the canonical trivia and ignore the whiff of revisionism, while others will see it as little more than a clip show with "deleted scenes" reinserted. For me, while a few of the revelations worked well, the plot generally meshed with the old episodes nicely, and it was enjoyable seeing these characters one last time, "The Plan" ultimately felt sluggish and redundant.

George Lucas infamously went back to his Star Wars trilogy and re-released them with shiny new CGI in 1997, and "The Plan" felt like the same kind of "remastering" job has been done on BSG's dense plot. It's of mixed success and narrow appeal, but it'll play well to pernickety fans who gnash their teeth at inconsistencies. But for the majority of easygoing fans, it is what it is: an indulgent hodgepodge of alternate perspectives, impressive effects, retrospective patches, and a handful of impressive scenes from director Edward James Olmos. It's just a shame its good work is smothered by a story robbed of all urgency and relevance because it's merely a different path on a journey already taken.

written by: Jane Espenson directed by: Edward James Olmos starring: Tricia Helfer (Number Six), Grace Park (Boomer), Edward James Olmos (Adama), Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben/Number Two), Kate Vernon (Ellen), Dean Stockwell (Brother Cavil), Rekha Sharma (Tory), Michael Trucco (Anders), Alisen Down (Jean Barolay), Michael Hogan (Tigh), Maya Washington (Sue Shaun), Alex Ferris (Boy), Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), Matthew Bennett (Aaron Doral/Number Five), Colin Corrigan (Nowart), Tiffany Lyndall-Knight (Hybrid), Lymari Nadal (Giana) & Rick Worthy (Simon/Number Four)