Web Search nikon coolpix digital cameras The Miserable Annals of the Earth: Should we, or should we not, watch the galactically stupid <i>Battlestar: Galactica</i>?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Should we, or should we not, watch the galactically stupid Battlestar: Galactica?

So, we watched the first two episodes (after the pilot, I mean) of Battlestar Galactica's first season. And, yeah, interesting characters, fascinating human interactions, decent dialogue, hot naked blonde chicks in virtual hot tubs... I get the appeal. Really, I do.

But does it have to be so, well, galactically stupid, from the scientific POV?

First -- as with nearly any TV SF, I'm already working hard to ignore so much on this show. I mean, these characters are, literally, unEarthly human beings. Which is to say, they are not from Earth. They have never been to Earth. Earth is naught but a vague, ancient legend to them, and it's not even the human race's common origin point from millenia in the past... no, it's the mythical '13th Colony', that is 'beyond the farthest star', a place which is as exotic, alien, and utterly unknown to them as their planetary settlements are to us.

And yet, they wear the same clothing styles and fashions as we do, not just on Earth, but in Western 21st Century culture. Their clothes hangers, their padlocks, their bricks of plastic explosive, their detonators, their carrying cases and tool boxes, their flashlights, their small arms, their books... all are virtually identical to the items that perform the very same very specific tasks in our own Earthly culture.

Plus, while the actual cards are somewhat differently shaped and designed, these unEarthly human beings pretty obviously play poker, too.

And they use the exact same kind of money we do. And they're all free market capitalists, and their government is a republic that places an obvious premium on individual liberty which is ruled by democratically elected representatives. And their chief executive's title? President, naturally.

Now, I think it was Shakespeare who noted that tools designed to be used by similar beings for similar purposes will often end up similar in appearance, and I'm not discounting that, but these are very very specific artifacts designed to perform very very specific tasks, and there's no reason why, for example, we need to be watching characters from a distant star system who have never set foot on Earth opening what is obviously a clothes closet and taking what is obviously a military jacket off of what is obviously a clothes hanger. Why can't they have some kind of oddly geometrical gridwork with hooks jutting off it at irregular intervals that folds into the wall once you hang your clothes on it? Why can't their hand weapons look like laser pointers or chrome eggs or headbands or jeweled brass knuckles or wristbands with metal spigots or something? Why can't they read geometrical printing on triangular plastic scroll sheets wrapped around metal batons, instead of Earthly printed volumes? Why can't their explosives be lengths of metallic cord, and their padlocks be open triangles of metal with little dial-rings embedded in one vertice?

And if I can come up with all these viable, completely exotic seeming alternative presentations of very common, everyday artifacts in five minutes of free association while I'm typing, why can't the professional writers employed on Battlestar: Galactica come up with something even better? Why do they seem so absolutely determined to never, ever remind us that these people aren't from Earth, except when someone mentions it in a specific bit of expository dialogue?

And, for the love of the jesus, why can't these characters wear articles of clothing besides jackets with zippers, and skirts, and V neck sweaters, and button up collared white shirts with neck ties, and goddam nylon stockings with goddam high heels? I mean, NECK TIES? A race of humans from beyond the furthest star completely independently invented NECK TIES as formal wear for the male half of the race? And I completely balk at the idea that any other sentient race anywhere has ever inflicted nylons and high heels on their women. I just absolutely balk.

I mean, I'm already willfully ignoring -- not suspending my disbelief, there isn't enough titanium alloy cable in the universe to let me do that, but by sheer force of will, straight up refusing to think about -- stuff like what the hell these people do for gravity when they're out in space, and how they have Hispanics and Asians and Africans and other very recognizable, very specific Earthly human subraces, and how is it exactly that they can create artificial intelligence and live comfortably for an indefinite time period in the harshest natural environment known to man and travel faster than light, and they can do all this and yet, still, the remainder of their clearly evident technological infrastructure is exactly identical with that of industrialized 21st Century Earth?

They have cheap, apparently limitless power, but they don't have focused energy weapons. They have artificial gravity, but they don't have anti-grav. They have some kind of effective radiation shielding that works for years on end in space, and highly efficient environment control technology, and they can create autonomous, self programming artificial intelligence, yet they don't seem to have any kind of cloning, or genetic engineering, or rejuvenation of injured tissue, or any sort of advanced medical technology at all (although they do have some kind of anti-radiation medicine they can inject themselves with, when, as always, the plot requires it).

They can jump entire fleets of space ships across parsecs of empty space instantaneously, and yet, they still use motorized vehicles to get around on the surface of their planets.

There may be plausible explanations for some of this, but the only reasonable explanation for ALL of it... for the exact technologies we need to fulfill the requirements of the ongoing story arc to be the only advanced technology they have, and to have those things have absolutely no impact whatsoever on the surrounding technological infrastructure -- is that godlike aliens showed up at some point in their past and gave them everything they need to travel in space. The ability to construct viable long term artificial life support environments, the artificial gravity, the cheap and apparently limitless power, the faster than light drive, the capacity to build self aware artificial life forms -- they can't possibly have actually invented or developed any of it themselves. Because if they had, this stuff would have grown out of other technological advances and it would have spawned other advanced technological offshoots. That's how an actual advanced technology works... but not on Battlestar Galactica.

So I have to willfully ignore all that to watch this show, and I do it, and it's damn hard work. But they'd make it enormously easier for me to do this if they'd put just a little bit more imagination into dressing the sets. Hire some actual SF geeks to work in the props department. Come up with some truly alien appearing tools, weapons, and wardrobe choices. And, hey, maybe even spend a little money making a few extras up as members of an exotic, unEarthly in appearance human sub-race, as well. Maybe a completely hairless people with visibly reddish skin. Or a group of overly hirsute dwarves with pointed ears and epicanthic folds around their eyes. A gold skinned race with solid black eyes, and webbed fingers and toes that lives on a mostly aquatic planet. People with really weird hair. People with antenna. People with horns, or chitinous spurs projecting from their heels and wrists. The possibilities are endless, and you wouldn't need to have many of these weirdos around. One regular supporting character, and the occasional sight of a few others in the background would go light years for establishing verisimilitude on this show.

But while SF in books is for the intelligent and the imaginative, SF on TV and in the movies is nearly always for brain-dead droolers who not only don't notice any of this shit, but who would probably be deeply troubled (without understanding why) if a nominally science fiction TV show presented any kind of truly exotic, unEarthly environment or characters on a regular basis. So I understand why they can't do any of this, or why they choose not to, anyway.

It tasks me, but, yeah, I get it.

But here's what I don't understand -- in the second episode of the first season, a stinking Cylon saboteur blows up half the Galactica's water tanks, and 60% of their available water gets vented to space, and this is a huge thing, because suddenly a water supply that would have lasted for several years with their completely efficient recycling systems will now only last, maybe, three hours and twelve minutes if they go on strict water rations. So Edward James Olmos has to order all his cool little cargo ships out scout around the nearby star systems desperately looking for water, and if they don't find it by the end of the episode, then they're all doomed to die... a horrible death.

And nobody apparently is aware that there's plenty of water -- in fact, there is exactly as much water as they need to replace what they've lost -- traveling in the exact same ballistic path as the Galactica, in the form of a cloud of ice particles surrounding the Galactica. I mean, jesus christ, you idiots, the water didn't vanish into a fucking black hole when it blew out of your tanks, it turned into ice instantly and is still floating out there in the vacuum of space. Yes. RIGHT THERE, you fucking dumbasses. Give your crew-guys in their dorky orange coveralls some space suits, jet packs, and butterfly nets and go get it back, dipshits.

I mean, I'm sorry, but this is just galactically stupid.

Now, as I said, I like the interactions and I like the drama and I like the humanoid Cylons and I like the dialogue and the characters and the actors and all that stuff. But you know what? The backdrop, the science, and the essential internal conflicts in the plots themselves are also important stuff.

I don't know why I'd expect any better from Ronald D. Moore, a man who has mastered the art of creating utterly craptastic and completely brainless hack non-science fiction for television while toiling in the moronic franchise vineyards of post Roddenberry Star Trek and the likable but perpetually stupid Roswell. And honestly, I don't know why I keep hoping for real, honest to god science fiction to show up on TV. And I'm perfectly aware that on the very rare occasion when SF does show up on TV and the internal science makes sense, either the human elements are hackneyed and utterly predictable (Babylon 5), or the show itself lasts only eight episodes before vanishing forever (Max Headroom).

I'm still very pleased I got this for Christmas. But I'd be a great deal more pleased if the producers of this show would hire, like, the Comic Shop Guy from The Simpsons, or some other ubergeek, to fact check their scripts and make intelligent suggestions to the prop department.

Actually, I'd really really like it if they'd hire me, because, you know, that's got to be way better than working in a call center.

9 Comments:

At 3:18 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Yeah, if you do get a call, mention my name, willya? Maybe they need a write for Stargate SG1 or something...

 
At 6:54 PM , Blogger fnord motors said...

oh, that is priceless. i haven't started watching Galactica properly yet, and i'm beginning to wonder if i should...

 
At 10:10 AM , Anonymous Always Esteemed Scott said...

They have cheap, apparently limitless power, but they don't have focused energy weapons. They have artificial gravity, but they don't have anti-grav. They have some kind of effective radiation shielding that works for years on end in space, and highly efficient environment control technology, and they can create autonomous, self programming artificial intelligence, yet they don't seem to have any kind of cloning, or genetic engineering, or rejuvenation of injured tissue, or any sort of advanced medical technology at all (although they do have some kind of anti-radiation medicine they can inject themselves with, when, as always, the plot requires it).

They can jump entire fleets of space ships across parsecs of empty space instantaneously, and yet, they still use motorized vehicles to get around on the surface of their planets.


Sigh. Yeah.
I wish I could tell you it gets better, but, well, it doesn't. In fact, from a purely scientific POV, it gets stupider.
What's frustrating to me is that the creators clearly have some kind of clue - the little directional jets on the vipers are a nice (and relatively unusual) touch, showing that someone at least understands some of the principles behind spaceflight.
If I recall, there *was* an attempt to handwave some of the low tech away in the miniseries - something about how the Cylons had infiltrated a lot of the networked computers and blah-blah-blah - and if that had been expanded a bit I'm sure someone could have come up with a half decent explanation for a lot of the stuff that you mention in your post.

Of course, I still think BSG is well worth watching, despite these limitations. Up until about half way through the third season (the current one), it's consistently excellent, and occasionally brilliant. It's kind of fallen off a cliff in the past few weeks though, and has recently been stretching even my relatively flexible credulity to the limit.

 
At 4:29 PM , Blogger AaA said...

The 'networked computers are totally unreliable because of Cylon infiltrators' thing only explains away a few things. There's so much more that lies unanswered.

*SIGH*

What I wouldn't give for real, well-written sci-fi on TV.

BSG is still the best sci-fi on TV, now that SG-1 is orbiting its shark.

Hell, I'd even WRITE it, just so it'd BE there for the rest of you.

 
At 4:36 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

What I wouldn't give for real, well-written sci-fi on TV.

Hell, I'd even WRITE it, just so it'd BE there for the rest of you.


Kind of you to fall on that grenade for the rest of us, Natester. However, I suspect there would be 1.7 bajillion fanboys/girls panting after that assignment, and I would happily kneecap every single one of you if it would let me get there first.

 
At 7:06 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Hey, it was a legitimate offer of sacrifice...

...if I wrote the episode, watching it would be at least slightly diminished by knowing what was going to happen.

Somewhat diminished anyway.

A little.

Yeah, if we end up that last two vying for that job, well, my condolences to your widow...

 
At 9:30 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Oh, please.

NATE: Prepare, fool, for the Flying Head Butt Of Doom!

D: You actually take your head off and fling it?

NATE: It... yes! It has the benefit of surprise!

D: It certainly would. But, alas, it is impossibluh.

NATE: You doubt me, worm? ::seizes himself in a totally illegal full nelson:: Watch in awe! Nrrg... ng... hrnng... why -- won't -- this -- head -- come -- OFF -- ?!?

D: So much of the time, Lord, it is just too, too easy. ::draws silenced Mauser in leisurely fashion, aims casually, blasts Nate's kneecaps into rubble::

NATE: Aiieeeee! ::rolling on ground, grasping ruined kneecaps in anguish, blood fountaining between his fingers::

D: Ah, yes. This, I believe, is mine. ::strolling over, picking up BSG writing assignment::

 
At 9:33 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Oh, yeah, and playing quick catch up --

I see the fnords! Well, fnord motors, anyway...

Scott,

Yeah, I've already seen it get worse. I mean, they have TOASTERS. And cargo pants.

I'm not sure I can accept 'consistently excellent and occasionally brilliant' for such an obviously limited, completely unimaginative show. Yeah, I like the characterization, but that's all this show has, and while that was true of BUFFY too, BSG doesn't have the Whedon dialogue.

 
At 10:29 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Good thing I wasn't drinking.

I yield, good sir.

 

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