July 14, 2008 Jill

Mike McPhaden did me the enormous favour of reading the Caprica pilot script and writing this review of it:

When I first heard that David Eick and Ronald D. Moore were planning a spin-off to their acclaimed reboot of the Battlestar Galactica series, I reacted with predictable fanboy glee. But when I learned that Caprica would be a “science fiction family saga” set on the titular planet before the Cylon wars – in fact 50 years prior to the events in BSG – I was a little worried.

Wouldn’t The-Thorn-Birds-in-space be a bit of a let down after Battlestar’s gritty human-against-Cylon war stories? And didn’t Deep Space Nine teach us that a spin-off set in a fixed location can feel awfully static in the shadow of its space-faring parent? Based on the two hour backdoor pilot script by Moore and Remi Aubuchon (The Lyon’s Den, 24) which is currently jumping around cyberspace, fans can breathe easy.

The pilot introduces us to teenager Zoe Graystone, her friends Lacy and Ben, and her parents, tech-wizard and kajillionaire Daniel, and mom Amanda, a respected surgeon. We also meet Joseph Adama, a lawyer with a nine-year-old son named Willie, who, fans know, will grow up to be Edward James Olmos. When Daniel’s state-of-the-art gadgetry and Zoe’s online social life intersect, the result is a leap in artificial intelligence that will soon make sexy, people-killing Cylons possible.

The pilot does a masterful job setting up a new, high-tech world that will thrill longtime BSG fans while welcoming new ones. In fact, all the neophyte viewer really needs to know is that eventually, things will go very, very badly between the humans and Cylons, a fact that gets to the heart of the key change between the two series. Battlestar featured pulse-pounding space battles and grim musings on freedom vs. survival, but in Caprica, this storm is just starting to brew, lending ominous overtones to the most innocent moments. It’s as though every scene were set on a pre-iceberg Titanic.

The script is a fifth draft dated September, 2006. It runs 105 pages and has eight acts. The script itself is a quick, clean read and nearly typo-free. It has an engaging tone that’s neither stiff nor causal. There’s certainly no swearing outside of the dialog here – not even “frak.” A rough count of major scene headings puts it at around 115 scenes.

The acts break down as follows:

ACT # of pages # of scenes

ACT 1 22.5 19
ACT 2 13 17
ACT 3 19 24
ACT 4 15 17
ACT 5 13 10
ACT 6 6.5 9
ACT 7 5.5 5
ACT 8 9 14

Act One runs long in an effort to hook viewers in for the long haul. Although we meet most of our leads before the first break, the act is really Zoe’s — she’s in all but one scene. The act out is very strong: a surprising twist, serious jeopardy for a number of characters, and the opportunity for some great visuals.

Act Two deals with the fallout of Act One, splitting the story into divergent (yet tightly related) threads. Daniel and Joseph head down one path, Amanda another, a police investigation begins, and Zoe’s friend Lacy takes on new prominence. The act out features a strong reveal that’s very sci-fi.

Act Three finally introduces young Willie, who admittedly doesn’t have much to do in the pilot. Although the act is tightly paced, the act out is pretty soft, simply zeroing in Lacy’s emotional state.

However, Act Four ramps up the police investigation while giving more sci-fi goodies, and ends with a classic story turn: the double-cross.

Act Five is more character driven, ending with one of the longest scenes in the pilot: a five-page emotional standoff between Joseph and Daniel.

Acts Six and Seven are about half the length of other acts. Act Six ends with a slick montage, cycling between scenes of sex, violence, and raw emotion in three storylines. Act Seven mixes sci-fi A.I. fun with high emotional stakes, and ends with Joseph and Daniel now locked in a battle of wills.

By the conclusion of the final act, there is a compelling storyline established for every character and plenty of unanswered questions. Best of all, like the 2003 BSG mini-series pilot, the Caprica pilot ends with a short, sharp hook that demands continued viewing. I wouldn’t call it a cliff-hanger, but it certainly left this fanboy wanting more.

Watch for more from Mike in this space soon. He’ll be attending the Just Comedy festival in Montreal on July 17 & 18, 2008 and reporting on it all right here.