Monday, June 16, 2008

Battlestar Q

16 June 2008

I have blogged recently about Jian Ghomeshi's broad-brush enthusiasm for Canadian arts, culture and entertainment. It was the very eclectic and literate Ghomeshi, host of the CBC Radio program Q, who opened my mind to the Battlestar Galactica television series, which has run from 2003 through its scheduled denouement in 2009.

As I am not a television watcher, I have to derive my television-related news from other sources. In this case, Jian Ghomeshi's CBC Radio program worked for me.

It was Ghomeshi's interview with Katee Sackhoff and Grace Park of Battlestar Galactica that brought this cutting edge program to my attention. I was already a science fiction fan, but I didn't know about this program - until I learned about it on "Q."

Jian Ghomeshi's Sackhoff-Park interview brought me to the point of purchasing the DVD version of this program.

I had never previously thought twice about taking time to watch a remake of the
1978-1980 Battlestar Galactica series.

I am interested in what I call "authentic" or "classic" science-based science fiction, the primary function of which is to explore the implications of ideas of scientific interest by constructing future scenarios which allow those ideas to play out in possibly complex and interesting ways, including development of the psychological, interpersonal and societal implications of such ideas.

Recycled 1970s science fiction "cheese" didn't capture my imagination. That is, until I was surprised to hear Ghomeshi, Sackoff and Park discussing how such contemporary issues as suicide bombing, civilian versus military government, detention and treatment of unlawful combatants, and the capacity of the human heart for far-reaching and complex manifestations of evil and good, are treated in this program.

Soon thereafter, I purchased my first Battlestar Galactica DVD set (season 2.5 happened to be on the shelves at the time). I discovered
Battlestar Galactica to be a highly relevant, brilliantly scripted and subtly acted program. I already knew through the interview on Q that it is produced in both Canada and the US, with most of the filming taking place in Canada.

Despite its confinement to the (now-also-wide) television screen, Battlestar Galactica is cinematic in scope. The parallels to Tolstoy's War and Peace have certainly crossed my mind a few times while watching the best-scripted episodes of the program....

It turns out that Battlestar Galactica has two academy award winners on staff (Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell). There is plenty of depth of field in the cast to back them up, and the writers (spearheaded by writer/director/executive producer Ronald D. Moore) deserve credit for their ability to reframe the issues of our time in an alternative context which reilluminates some perhaps obvious points that are not always quite so clear while we are living them out today. (Ron Moore's blog here.)

The program's creators have also rethought the original program's reliance upon male leads, by substituting many of the key original characters with females.

In other words, this program does what science fiction is supposed to do, by examining timeless concepts and the range and limits of human capacities in a radically altered set of social, environmental and technological circumstances.

Similarly to Firefly, the other recent high quality made-for-television science fiction program, Battlestar Galactica is in fact much more about psychological and social exploration than about scientific possibilities.

The program in fact teaches very little about science per se - in contrast to the works of the classic science fiction writers, such as Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke - but the lack of depth in science fact is, for now at least, a forgivable omission... though I do fret about the scientific illiteracy of our North American youth in an increasingly science-driven world.

Hats off to Jian Ghomeshi for alerting me to this hidden artistic gem.

Battlestar Galactica - despite the distraction of its perhaps unfortunate title, is fundamentally a program about ideas. If you are interested in the implications of complex social, ethical and political questions, sign on to Battlestar Galactica for a mind-stretching ride!

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