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Where Cylons Failed, Ron Moore and David Eick Succeeded:  The Deconstruction and Subversion of Battlestar Galactica (1978)

 


Introduction

 

Skip the introduction.  We all know what happened.  Ron Moore and David Eick “re-imagined” a series originally aired in 1978.

 


Why did Moore and Eick do what they did?

 

It wasn’t for love or respect for Battlestar Galactica (1978).

"The storyline that we thought was interesting was the Battlestar Pegasus. And so, naturally, we put a pretty unexpected and, I think, pretty subversive spin on it.” – David Eick (2005)

 

It wasn’t for love or respect for the fans of Battlestar Galactica (1978).

"This character does have a name, by the way. While we always call Six, Number Six is how she's referred to in the scripts. This character is called Gina. And Gina comes out of the fact that there are certain- (laughs) I love this- there are certain people out there in the fan- in the fan community, and I know who you are, that refer to the show as "GINO." "Galactica in Name Only." And there was something so funny about that, and I always got a kick out of people who refer to the show as GINO. (Laughs) They couldn't even bring themselves to just call it Galactica, they had to really make up this other name, that it was GINO. And I just decided that, "Let's call the tortured Six Gina." (chuckles) But it's never actually spoken in the show."  - Ron Moore, “Pegasus” podcast (2005)

 

It wasn’t for love or respect for the science fiction genre.

"It's an anti-sci fi show." -  David Weddle

 

Why not set it on a submarine in World War II then?

“It's a war movie. It's a political film." - Michael Rymer

 

Was it because the themes expressed where wrong or outdated?

“To remake is to want to reread—to believe in an explicit (and thematized) way that the past reading was wrong or outdated and that a new one must be done.” – Leo Braudy (1998)

 

 

What if no one watches it?

 

Blame the name.

The audiences, who haven’t found the show and might like show, are the ones who have been kept at bay by the title or based on the network that we are on.  – David Eick (2006)

 

Blame the ignorant masses.

“You're afraid the audience isn't going to like it. You're afraid that they'll be turned off and that they're not as smart as you are. They won't get what you're going for. Can't it be safer? Can't it be happier?” – Ron Moore (2007)

 

We’ve must have taken stupid pills since 1978.

We feel a strong support from the SF community, and they’ve been very good to us.  We get very literate mail from them, and they certainly don’t miss much, but at times it’s very painful.  When we know we’ve missed a stroke or two and there was nothing we could do about it, we anguish over it and then wait for the mail to come in and realize once again that this is not a group you can put anything past.  On the other hand it’s reassuring to know these kind of viewers exist, because they sort of refute the notion that audiences are idiots. – Glen A. Larson (1980)

 

How does anything get done in Hollywood?

“Never underestimate how scared everybody else in town is.  I said this on ABC’s 20/20:  ‘People in Hollywood pee themselves the moment their feet hit the floor in the morning.’ ” - Joe Eszterhas (2006)

 

Maybe this is the real reason everyone is afraid.

Unemployable:  The biggest scare word in Hollywood – as in, “You’ll never eat lunch in this town again.”  As in, “NO – MORE – MONEY!” - Joe Eszterhas (2006)

 

I wonder what he thinks of Season 3?

“And while fans of the old show cry bollocks and feign righteous indignation, lamenting that the new Battlestar Galactica has traded bell-bottoms for body bags, they miss the point entirely….Extraordinary as it may seem, a re-imagined series from the 1970s is turning the spotlight on the difficult issues of our 21st century, but doing so in a way that simultaneously blends in naturalistic situations and flawed, multidimensional characters….It is the most unyieldingly post-9/11 series on television, having eschewed humanist soliloquies, putty-headed aliens and planet-of-the-week stories in favor of a context that anyone familiar with current events can grasp.” -  Robert Falconer (2005)

 

Is this the real audience Moore and Eick are aiming to please?

“Redeeming Social Values:  The values (liberal, progressive, or elitist – that’s your choice) shared by most Hollywood studio heads, producers, directors, stars, screenwriters, and all those other who want to work in this town again.” - Joe Eszterhas (2006)

 

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull****.

“In the contemporary culture wars, an abstruse style is the surest hallmark of a degenerate mind – an intellect ultimately governed by some motive other than truth.  A prolix, ideologically impacted poetics would quite naturally oppose a classic tradition that has long honored dispassionate reason expressed with conciseness, precision, and memorable grace.  Bad writing of the right sort – i.e., employing the “right” vocabulary toward the “right” political ends – has therefore become both a mark of membership and a weapon.  This charged obscurity, when it is not the result of sheer incompetence, derives from a will to convert or to subjugate.  It creates a false aura of profundity and at the same time enables the author to elude full responsibility” -  Richard Vine (1995)

 

Dark and gritty bull****.

“If a reader must invest great effort to trick out the author’s meaning, he will – particularly if he is academically insecure – be predisposed to accept it, rather than admit the utter waste of some portion of his intellectual energy and ever-diminishing life.  Yet even this is a relatively healthy response.  For there is something infinitely crueler at work in truly execrable prose – a verbal sadism, a calculated terrorism of the word.” -  Richard Vine (1995)

 

But this is demeaning.

“Remember that first and foremost you’re an entertainer.” – Joe Eszterhas (2006)

 

Take it from a guy who had show with 65 million viewers.

Also bear in mind that “hard core” science fiction still hasn’t found a real mass audience on TV.  We’re not yet at the point where we can do a show for an elite viewership. . – Glen A. Larson (1980)

 

What about the critics who like the “re-imagined” show?

“They are at once heavily ego-driven and desperately insecure.  Film critics are movie geeks who write as much to impress other critics as they do to inform their audience.  They’re obsessed with being taken seriously, which can manifest itself either via quotes in movie ads or their anointing by the critical intelligentsia as one of their own.  Yet while critics sport the iconoclast’s soul, it’s mitigated by an almost child-like need to be loved – not necessarily by the public but by their peers.  They pine to be members of the club and at the same time somehow outside it, but not so much that they appear to be snobbish.  This is why most would never be caught dead lavishing too much worship on a mainstream blockbuster…unless of course their contemporaries did too (such as in the case of Spider-Man 2).  Then it would be cool.” - Ray Richmond, Hollywood Reporter columnist

 

What about the intelligentsia?

“And yet … if it’s [Star Trek] so defining, why has there been so little interesting critical writing about it? For years at SFS [Science Fiction Studies], the editors dreaded receiving manuscripts about Star Trek; they were with few exceptions intellectually naïve and fannish. Even when the critiques became more sophisticated, they remained snugly inside the myth.” – Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. (2005)

 

What about the academics?

“S. Elizabeth Bird critiqued this definitively, really, in her recent book on audiences for Routledge – pointing out that ‘cult’ and ‘edgy’ TV was getting lots of academic attention (and we could elaborate on this to suggest that fans of these sorts of shows also get more academic attention… plus they just-so-happen to share levels of cultural capital with many of the scholar-fans producing this work). By contrast, middlebrow TV or resolutely ‘mainstream’ TV, or shows targeting older audiences, weren’t and aren’t getting anywhere near as much academic attention, failing to be lit by the spotlight of scholarly buzz.” - Matt Hills (2007)

 

 

How to look intelligent:  Deconstruction 101

 

Turn right when they turned left.

“I vaguely knew what Star Trek was and I knew that its conventions had been ripped off and done to death by a hundred other shows.  I knew we had to veer away from that, and who better to bring on board than someone who knew Star Trek backwards and forwards and could go right every time they went left.  It did inform my decision to call him [Ron Moore]. – David Eick (2006)

 

What did Battlestar Galactica (1978) ever do to you?

"A lot of things about this show grew out of things I wanted to do at Star Trek or things I couldn't do," – Ron Moore (2005)

 

Postmodernism:  the freedom to do whatever you want without guilt.

“There is a problem.  All these theorists of the postmodern condition, whose fundamental claim is that one can no longer speak with any credibility of what is “real” or “true” in any generalized sense, do themselves in fact seem to be in the business of making statements of precisely this kind – offering us abstracted, generalized models of the “truth” of the postmodern condition – which raises a fascinating set of epistemological problems.” -  David Morley (1996)

 

Television is bad for you.

“The challenge is that TV wants to bend you and your characters to neat moral decisions and arguments. Ultimately, the forces of television want your heroes to be heroic. It wants the leading characters to make the "right" choice each week and it wants there to be a clearly defined "bad" person in the show. Or at the most, the character does the right thing and maybe at the end he looks wistfully off-camera and ponders how it might have been different. There's a certain phony-baloney quality to a lot of the moralism on TV. It does serve up pat answers to difficult questions. And when you try to make it more morally ambiguous, you immediately run into the buzz saw of ‘It makes the characters unlikable. There's no one to root for. The audience won't like the character if they can't say he's making the right choice and that's what separates him from his enemies.’ " – Ron Moore (2007).

 

I’ll remember this when Razor airs.

“What happens when stories move still further into fantasy, losing contact with their underlying archetypal purpose altogether, is that this opposition between “light” and “dark” disappears.  Everyone in the story is seen in a twilight.  We may see men inflicting violence on each other because they are obviously cruel, vicious and dark.  But since there are no “light” characters to oppose them, such acts of violence become just sensational images for their own sake, designed to excite the audience’s horror or disgust.

 

“Where this process becomes even more obviously extreme, however, is when violence becomes entangled with the sexual urge, and is shown being directed against a woman.  This is where it at last becomes clear that the real unconscious drive of the process is to turn the archetype upside down, to show the figure who symbolizes the highest value in storytelling, the anima (and thus the Self), being violated in the most shocking way possible.” – Christopher Booker (2004)

 

Why people like old-fashioned stories.

“The psychological need to believe that the universe is fundamentally ordered and purposeful, rather than chaotic and meaningless, is called negentropy.” - Scott Robert Olson (1999)

 

The documentary style is to hide the lack of substance.

Carol McGuirk considers this an inherent trait of what she calls "s-f noir." Stylized "noir" protagonists experience their sorrows as extrinsically caused and largely irreversible, so they can achieve neither the bitter end of the tragic hero nor the final triumph of the epic hero. And while the whiff of satire hangs in its night air, s-f noir cannot be called fully satiric, because it depicts wounded and impaired characters for reasons different from satire's. Social malaise functions largely as a metaphor for character malaise in s-f noir -- not, as in satire, vice-versa. In s-f noir, the final destination of the narrative is not satire, tragedy, epic or humanistic utopia/dystopia. It is, as in Poe, symbolic statement or (to resort to oxymoron) lyric narrative, defined as a figuration employed to displace the literal world and put it to the uses of a private aesthetic vision, i.e., a style. Indeed, in many of these texts the only hero is style.” – Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. (1992)

 

 

The science fiction genre and its fans

 

It did not begin with Star Trek.

“My exposure to the [science fiction] field might be considered more limited, or my overall interests more varied, than people who are totally committed to SF.  As a kid I did a certain amount of reading in the field, and I particularly enjoyed H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and especially Isaac Asimov, whom I consider one of the really brilliant heavy thinkers, although he also manages to be very commercial.” – Glen A. Larson (1980)

 

Listen to Isaac Asimov; he sold a lot of books.

“However, don’t be scared off by “old-fashioned stories.”  I, for one, love them (and write them) and so do many others.  It is no crime for a story to have a beginning and a middle and an end.  It is no flaw for it to be clear and uncluttered.  Do I sound bitter?  I suppose I do, for I am tired of critics who keep looking for character development and deep philosophic significance, when all I am trying to do is tell an interesting story.” – Isaac Asimov (1990)

 

I am a fan who has been silent for too long; hear me roar.

“It was this set of poststructuralist concerns that led me to attempt to write about fandoms I was not a participant in, as I felt that otherwise I was in danger of reproducing, within my academic work, aspects of my pre-academic cultural identity – my gendering, but also my classed identity. I was contributing to a ‘canonisation’ of certain fan tastes over others, and hence was implicitly helping to silence a range of fan voices rather than working to include a greater range and diversity of fandom within the multiple projects of fan studies.” - Matt Hills (2007)

 

Get out of my secret clubhouse.

“However, there is another side of this story, one that perhaps is somewhat more hopeful and positive: Star Trek has now been returned to the care of its community of fans….I say returned because there was a time when the fans were the exclusive owners and operators of what would later become the Franchise….I was one of those fans; I was a kid growing up in the 1970's who found Star Trek in strip syndication and bought every book and magazine I could lay my hands on and every piece of fan merchandise I could con my parents into buying and I can tell you that some of those efforts were abysmal and some were brilliant, but all of them were driven by a sense of passion rooted in a belief that Trek was our secret club.” – Ron Moore (2005)

 
 
 
26 August 2007 @ 07:26 am

"S. Elizabeth Bird critiqued this definitively, really, in her recent book on audiences for Routledge – pointing out that ‘cult’ and ‘edgy’ TV was getting lots of academic attention (and we could elaborate on this to suggest that fans of these sorts of shows also get more academic attention… plus they just-so-happen to share levels of cultural capital with many of the scholar-fans producing this work). By contrast, middlebrow TV or resolutely ‘mainstream’ TV, or shows targeting older audiences, weren’t and aren’t getting anywhere near as much academic attention, failing to be lit by the spotlight of scholarly buzz." - Matt Hills, Reader in Media & Cultural Studies at Cardiff University.

Source: fandebate
"Gender and Fan Culture (Round Twelve, Part one): Catherine Driscoll and Matt Hills"
August, 24, 2007

http://community.livejournal.com/fandebate/4816.html?format=light

 
 
 

"This character does have a name, by the way. While we always call Six, Number Six is how she's referred to in the scripts. This character is called Gina. And Gina comes out of the fact that there are certain- (laughs) I love this- there are certain people out there in the fan- in the fan community, and I know who you are, that refer to the show as "GINO." "Galactica in Name Only." And there was something so funny about that, and I always got a kick out of people who refer to the show as GINO. (Laughs) They couldn't even bring themselves to just call it Galactica, they had to really make up this other name, that it was GINO. And I just decided that, "Let's call the tortured Six Gina." (chuckles) But it's never actually spoken in the show."  - Ron Moore, the guy in charge of the "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica (2003)

Source:  Ron Moore's podcast for the GINO episode "Pegasus" (2006)

 
 
 
20 August 2007 @ 11:21 am
Vanity publishing at its worst.

Starbuck and friendsCollapse )
 
 
 
12 August 2007 @ 10:42 am

The Sci-Fi Channel’s Flash Gordon is another provocative and insightful rereading of the source matter in the manner of Battlestar Galactica.

Instead of the simplistic binary oppositions of good and evil as previously embodied by Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless, this production has brought the characters down to Earth by portraying them as ordinary people. Flash is no longer the “Yale graduate and world renowned polo player” of the 1930’s comic strip but Steve “Flash” Gordon, a struggling mechanic devoted to his mother and a marathon champion in a small town. This retelling has rejected the white, male privilege of the past in favor of the realities of the 21st century.

Dale Arden is no longer simply a “passenger” but an independent woman, university graduate, and reporter for the local TV station. This change provides a feminist “anchorage” as detailed by Barthes of the program’s narrative to counter the typical patriarchal assumptions of such narratives. That this is the case is clearly demonstrated when Dale identifies a “slave girl” as Ming’s daughter, Aura, which Flash had earlier overlooked, no doubt blinded by the centuries of white, male privilege that has shaped his (and our) culture.

The most perceptive alteration of the characters is Ming himself. Previously a stereotyped oriental-appearing tyrannical ruler with the appellation of “the Merciless”, Ming is now an unremarkable appearing caucasian man to perfectly convey Arendt’s “banality of evil”. With respect to contemporary issues, Ming’s power is through his acquisition and distribution of his region’s natural resources with clean water, a clear allusion to the power manifested in the control of oil supplies. Water also denotes environmental concerns in the suggestion that if Ming has one of the few operations that can purify water then there must have been some wider despoliation of the environment by a short-sighted society which allowed rampant and uncontrolled industrialization.

That the misuse of technology is one of the main subtextual themes for this retelling of Flash Gordon is evident in the characters of Flash, Dr. Zarkov, and Rankol. While a modicum of technology is beneficial as illustrated by the down-to-earth use of understandable mechanics of automobile repair, more advanced technology is demonstrated as questionable by Zarkov’s meddling with the natural order of things which has opened a rift between Flash’s world and Ming’s domain. Even more destructive is the advanced technology used by Rankol, Ming’s chief scientist who uses his knowledge for torture, again a reference to the Arendt’s exploration of the “banality of evil”.

Finally, there is Flash’s presumed dead father. Flash’s denial of his father’s death and belief of his father being abducted signifies the contemporary break-up of the family in the 21st century, particularly in cases where a mother has had to struggle with raising children on her own after the father has disappeared. Flash’s obsession with finding his father indicates the void in his life of a father figure which a boy needs to mature into a responsible independent adult. This theme is cleverly contrasted with Ming’s daughter seeking her father’s approval.

In future episodes it will be interesting to observe how these subtexts play out. Those viewers and reviewers who have failed to note these obvious points have clearly demonstrated they are only viewing the most shallow reading of the surface of the narrative and do not have the insight into recognizing the deeper meanings and subtexts that await one who is willing to delve deeper into the narrative.


 
 
 
31 July 2007 @ 04:53 pm
"On the other hand you can rarely do Shakespeare in completely modern dress because that limits the imagination.  Basically the audience is saying 'Why does he look like that, and yet talk like that?'" - Peter Hall, Managing Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company


Source: 
"Avoiding a Method"
Hall,Peter
Theatre Arts, August-September 1963, Vol. XLVII, No. 8-9
Page 25
 
 
 
29 July 2007 @ 07:59 pm
"As I said, there are always people willing to endure the most dismal boredom if it enables them to boast of superior perception." - Ben Hecht


Source: 
"Audiences are Too Acquiescent"
Hecht, Ben
Theatre Arts, July 1963, Vol. XLVII, No. 7
Page 15
 
 
 
09 July 2007 @ 10:52 am

"Higher education in our society is, to quite some extent, an education in detachment, abstraction, and decontextualization (and against naturalism), and this results in an attitude which does not equate the appearance of things with reality, but looks for a deeper truth 'behind appearances'."


Source: 
Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design
Kress, Gunther and van Leeuwen, Theo
Routledge, London, 1996
Page 170