Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Battlestar Galactica Season 1

When BSG was on television, I shrugged it off based on what it looked like on the surface. I have a bad habit of doing this. A vampire slayer named "Buffy" sounded so ridiculous that I passed by on the TV show, no doubt thinking of the extreme silliness of the movie as well. That one is now one of my favorite series of all time. So I decided that even though I tend to gravitate away from most Sci-Fi shows that aren't Star Trek, so many people were raving about this show, and it was of course now completely finished, that it was time to give it a chance. There's something really refreshing about watching a show that's already done. You can expect an ending, and you will know in advance if that ending is a complete one or if the show got abruptly canceled without a chance to tie up the loose ends. You rarely get that with shows currently on the air, unless you're talking about Lost where the end was set years in advance. If someone had told me Heroes was going to consistently suck post Season 1, I could have saved myself a lot of hours, let me tell you.

I started BSG by watching the mini-series that introduced this modern version of the show. It's packaged right along with the first season, so if you're out there looking to jump in you don't have to go hunting for it. My brief non-spoiler version is this: I felt like the mini-series dragged and was not really what I was looking for, but by the end it picked up speed and turned into something a bit different, and now I have reached the end of Season 1 and am completely hooked. If you like any of the shows I have mentioned above, you will enjoy this one too. Don't worry about not liking sci-fi, the drama between the characters is so compelling that the setting is just the backdrop. This is what sci-fi is supposed to be: an allegory for humanity's struggles, temptations, and triumphs. You won't be disappointed.

Spoilers below, continue at your own risk.

I had a really hard time starting off with the show. The mini-series in the beginning really reeked of military based sci-fi, the thought of which bored me to tears. My dad and grandfather may love their "war pictures" but that trait was never passed on to me. The details to which they were showing the battles just was not exciting me in anyway. Come to think of it, the battle sequences in the first Star Wars movie also fail to hold my interest for similar reasons. I'm not opposed to action, but apparently I prefer to see my action in hand to hand combat far more than shootouts or tank/plane/starship sequences. However, the entire mini-series is really about setting up the entire world that BSG is based in. They have to show us Caprica because otherwise it would mean nothing to us when the colonies are destroyed and they have to show us this war between the Cylons and humans because how else would we understand the stakes. So while I was really close to just turning the thing off somewhere around the end of the first part, I hung in there. Boy, am I glad I did.

A sign of a good show for me is if I become really invested in the characters. I know there are some people out there who, for instance, only watch Lost because they want to know the big mystery of the island, and really that's okay. But to me it's also about the journey the characters are going through, and why I hate Kate so freaking much - when you have a shitty actor like Evangeline Lily with no emotional range the character is ruined because you're not going to see anything in them that you like or enjoy. So far on BSG, I've not run into a single actor who has this problem. There are characters I don't like, certainly, but it has more to do with who the characters are and nothing to do with anything lacking on the actor's part. The situations they often find themselves in are also believable in the context of the series. I can see easily now why people love this show. This isn't sci-fi military battles on spaceships with robots - this is a civilizations trying to rebuild itself and survive in the face of being annihilated, with an enemy who is almost impossible to distinguish/detect and who very rarely shows any kind of mercy.

Perhaps the most interesting dynamic is all about the Cylons themselves. As a group they are merciless, intent on destroying humanity. Individually they believe in God and seem to have a weakness for falling in love with humans. It definitely sets up this idea that maybe who we are seeing as the "bad guys" are not in fact the bad guys at all. It at least presents the idea to you that the bad guys are still living breathing people with thoughts and feelings of their own. It's something I've always appreciated myself. There were nice people in Nazi Germany, and there were benevolent slave owners. Sometimes good people do bad things because they've been led astray and don't know any better. In the end it's quite possible that neither the Cylons or the humans are the bad guys - they both may be operating under the wrong impression. That in itself is a reason to be in love with this show.

Current impressions of various characters:

Colonel Adama & Captain Adama - The difficult father/son relationship isn't anything new, but the way it's handled here is fantastic. You can easily see things from both their points of view and feel for them, yet I also find myself just really wanting these two to just hug it out and be a strong family again. And of course every time they get close to that, something else happens to pull them apart. They are the old guard vs. the new, and I'm currently refusing to believe that the shots the Colonel took killed him. If I've learned anything from movies and television, it's that stomach wounds take a long time to die from (Thanks, Reservoir Dogs!).

Kara "Starbuck" Thrace - I want to be Starbuck when I grow up. I'm not sure there are enough words to describe how in love I am with this character. She's flawed, to be sure, but she's just so strong and competent and doesn't take shit from anyone and can do just about anything and she's funny and hot and if anything happens to her in the course of the series I'm going to scream and cry about it for days. The main reason I refuse to look up anything online is that I don't want to be spoiled on what happened to her. I was literally cheering her on in that battle with Number 6 in the season finale. I love you, Kara. Please only change for the better.

Gaius Baltar - I hate him. That's really okay, because I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to. He's morally ambivalent and only out for himself. He also may be crazy. Honestly, if anything was annoying me in this series it was the constant presence of Number 6 in his head and the way he would talk to her even though no one else could see her, and how she would make him do things, etc. While I appreciated the one episode that purposely cast a lot of doubt as to whether or not she was just in his head or not, overall the device is just being overused, to the point where when he was all set to have sex with her I was literally groaning aloud. Why wouldn't he lock the damn door first, anyway? I got long before that that she's an influence on him, and any cheap jokes around the fact are just getting old. I'm really hoping that now that he's on the planet that foolishness will end and maybe he'll just start living with her and the other Cylons or something. I can't take much more of it, though it's not enough for me to stop watching the show.

President Roslin - I really love the whole setup. The bottom of the succession ladder who never expected to get there, and on top of that she doesn't have long to live. Her visions are also becoming more and more interesting, and this idea that she's a fabled leader to help them reach earth adds so much more depth over her role as government rep vs. the military philosophy.

Sharon - My feelings are so mixed on this character. I started off really liking her, and now I'm not so sure. And I don't mean because she's a Cylon.. regardless of her species I'm just not sure I'm enjoying who she really is. I do know that while watching the finale I wished that the one aboard Galactica would die and the one on Caprica would remain. By the time we reached the end of the finale.. well I just don't know what to think anymore. The pregnancy is interesting, and the conflict between her "human" side and her "agent" side is interesting.. I'm just sort of finding myself currently ambivalent to her fate now.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I think that video games have been a part of my life since pretty much when my memory begins. As a small child we had my dad's Intellivision on which we would play Kool Aid Man, Bomb Squad, Snafu, Poker, Football, Astrosmash, B-17 Bomber, Bowling, Soccer, and a tank related game that I'm totally losing geek points for not being able to name. At my grandparents we would frequently play the Summer Olympics game on their Commodore 64. They also had that little handheld version of Mrs. Pacman. I wasn't particularly good at any of these games.. the Olympics game mostly consisted of us making up silly names for our characters, and then watching the diver do belly flops and laughing at him.

We got our Nintendo a little later than most kids, I think. I seem to recall that Super Mario Bros 3 came out not too much later after we had gotten it. We had that one, along with the requisite SMB/Duck Hunt, Dragon Warrior (Free with Nintendo Power, of course), Cabal, and RBI Baseball. We also rented games for it constantly. My ability was improving with my age, though to this day I've still never beaten Super Mario Bros, warping or not. I also never really understood just what you were supposed to do in Dragon Warrior back then.. it seemed to be mostly a guessing game to see what direction you could move in before you got to enemies that could kill you in one or two hits. I remember pushing down on the A button so hard in the hopes that maybe I would score a critical hit. I don't think I ever got past the point where I was able to kill the ghosts and warlocks.

Both my brother and I played NES so frequently that I think my parents were much more willing to spend the money on the Super Nintendo at an earlier release date. I'll never forget that we got it on my brother's birthday, and that he literally fell to the floor in a dramatic display of excitement. (He'll probably tell you he doesn't remember that, and that I specialize in remembering "embarassing" moments for him. But I just think its cute.) Once again the games we had were few: Super Mario World, Mario Paint, and eventually Mortal Kombat II and Final Fantasy 3 (that's 6 to you kids today). We rented Link to the Past, Final Fantasy 2 and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest so frequently that we probably should have just bought them and if it wasn't one of those we were trying something else. I was apparently becoming a better player too because I know I at least beat all but the last two of those games as well. Mario Paint doesn't really count, unless you include that fly swatter game as something you can beat.

By the time the Nintendo 64 came out I was dating, and the b/f actually got me the special green one that came with Donkey Kong 64. He may have been the same guy who yelled at me for reading my comics instead of talking to him, but video games were one of our common grounds, and we played both the 64 and his Playstation quite frequently. We even played MajorMUD together along with a good portion of our friends (think World of Warcraft, but all text and on a local level). This was of course the on set of 3D into gaming, and so my skills took a step back and suddenly jumping from platform to platform became a lot harder.

I eventually got all three Playstations and the Wii, and with my tastes I tend to mostly own a lot of fighting games, JRPGs, puzzle games, and the occasional platformer. I bought Metal Gear Solid 4 but have never played it.. I'd rather let someone else play and just watch the story. In what I can only describe as temporary insanity, I bought Grand Theft Auto 4 because everyone was talking about how great it was. See, it's insane because I hate those games. I hate GTA because very few people I know actually play the game, and even among those who do, they love to waste hours of time randomly stealing cars and running over pedestrians, beating people up, etc.. and to me that's just boring. I'll play a racing game if I want to drive a car and I'll play a fighting game if I want to beat people up, and I won't have to worry about having cops on my trail the whole time. The only thing that would possibly be more insane for me is if, say, I went out and bought Modern Warfare 2. I've never been able to get into first person shooters of any kind. I can't handle the controls and the games never seem engaging enough for me to want to try. I chose a PS3 over an Xbox 360 because it seemed to me like the vast majority of exclusive titles on the 360 were FPS, while the PS3's were a bit more varied. Occasionally a game will come out for the 360 that will make me stop and think if I want to be one of the few that owns both, but I just can't do it for monetary reasons more than anything else.

I would consider myself a gamer, without any question. The thing is, I'm fairly certain a lot of people within the gaming community would try to dispute me on that. FPS games shatter records when it comes to sales, yet I don't like them and don't play them, so can I really be a modern gamer? If online play is any indication, I'm also not anywhere near as good as the average gamer, regardless of what type of game we are talking about. So if I'm not any good, can I call myself a gamer? As I've described above, I'm not that good at the old stuff either unless its SNES era.

I own a bass guitar and a keyboard, but I'm no where near proficient enough in either and would not be so presumptious as to call myself a musician. Of course, I also go months or years without ever touching the things. The PS3, on the other hand, gets turned on at least once a week. The Wii gets turned on at least twice a month. As long as I'm playing video games, is it ok that I'm not getting any better? Does the genre of the games I choose to play make me only a casual gamer and not a hardcore one, regardless of how often I'm playing? They're valid questions, I think, in an industry where so many people do not even consider the Wii as competition to the PS3 & 360 solely because of the type of games it has and it's lack of HD graphics.

When it comes to labels and titles, I think everyone has the right to choose their own. Even if you only play Bejeweled Blitz, if you feel passionately enough about it to want to call yourself a gamer, go ahead. Fanboy hate can make you angry or upset if you let it but in the end it's just some idiot judging you unfairly. How we choose to identify ourselves is a big part of who we are as individuals.

Expect me to post the occasional video game review as they come up.
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