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Past is present in 'Caprica,' a 'Battlestar Galactica' prequel

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Chicago Tribune (MCT) - Caprica Two men stand and smoke on an urban street corner. One man wears black gloves, which are traditional mourning garb in his culture.

Highlights

By Maureen Ryan
McClatchy Newspapers (www.mctdirect.com)
4/24/2009 (1 decade ago)

Published in TV

"Times like these, old ways are supposed to help, I guess," the other man says.

But "Caprica" (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; 3 ˝ stars), a meditative film that came out Tuesday on DVD and kicks off an upcoming "Battlestar Galactica" prequel series, is really about new ways and technologies.

As was the case with "Battlestar," this 93-minute film _ the first installment of a Sci Fi drama that debuts in early 2010 _ doesn't make blanket pronouncements about how technology is bad and will be our downfall.

True, "Battlestar" was about the war between the mechanized Cylons and flesh-and-blood humans, but the differences between the two races fell away over time. "Being human" was much more about the ability to empathize and feel than the presence of wires or chips in an individual's evolutionary past.

"Caprica," even more than "Battlestar," is an examination of how greed, selfishness, heedlessness and pain prompt people to use technology to avoid difficult situations.

Technology isn't really the problem; the trouble comes from our belief that we can always control it and use it to keep life from hurting too much or being too hard. Yet anyone who has ever tried to set up a balky new device or felt oppressed by the constant presence of a BlackBerry knows that things that are supposed to make our lives better don't always do so.

Even if you're not interested in "Caprica's" subtexts about technology, this handsome film works well as a thoughtful character study. The cast, including the men who play the two smokers mentioned above, is an embarrassment of riches. Eric Stoltz gives intelligence and quiet charisma to techno-industrialist Daniel Graystone, and Esai Morales ("Jericho") is perfectly cast as Joseph Adama, a lawyer and immigrant caught between the technocratic culture on the planet of Caprica and the more traditional culture of his own planet, Tauron.

As was the case with "Battlestar," there are compelling women at the heart of the story: Paula Malcolmson, a "Deadwood" veteran, has a lively, razor-sharp presence that makes her scenes crackle, and Polly Walker ("Rome") is also excellent as the steely Sister Clarice, the head of an exclusive private school and a major influence on the show's younger characters.

The younger set of actors, most of whom play students at Sister Clarice's school, have yet to prove they can match the gravitas and subtlety of the older cast members, but they hold their own. And I wish there was a deeper explanation of the religious beliefs that motivate some of the characters, but presumably that will come when the show returns next year.

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Maureen Ryan: moryan@tribune.com

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© 2009, Chicago Tribune.

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