It's the curse of Hollywood: We can't get new space opera movies unless they're the resurrection of 1960s workhorse Star Trek. And we can't explore artificial intelligence intelligently unless it's a Battlestar Galactica adjunct.
I've been realizing a lot lately that the only reason I'm excited for both the new Star Trek movie and the new Caprica series is because of the territory they cover. I don't particularly want any more Trek, and I think I've already hit my limit of Cylons and eye-twitching. But I desperately want more movies featuring space battles. And I would fervently greet any TV show that explores the themes of artificial intelligence and dead children (among other things) that Caprica is staking out.
I didn't actually realize until last week that Caprica didn't start its life as a BSG spinoff at all. At Paleyfest, producer David Eick explained that co-writer Remi Aubuchon had pitched the show to the Sci Fi Channel as a new show about artificial intelligence. And the Sci Fi execs thought that because of those A.I. themes, it would make a good continuation for BSG, and they told Aubuchon to work with Eick and Ronald D. Moore to revamp it into a BSG show.
Reading about that remark, I'm now dying to see Aubuchon's original pitch for Caprica, before the Adama family and the other BSG continuity baggage got shoe-horned in. If you watch the pilot, it's pretty obvious the Adama clan doesn't fit - the storyline makes a lot more sense if you take them out. In the pilot, Zoe Graystone dies in a terrorist bombing, but it turns out she found a way to scan her brain and create a virtual avatar with all her memories. And then her grieving dad strives to load that avatar into a robot body, inadvertently helping to create a super-weapon. It has a certain elegance, no? Until you shoehorn in the idea that Joseph Adama's daughter could also be restored to life, based on her Facebook page and whatever other info Google can dig up. Adding the BSG elements basically transforms this story into a giant "WTF".
And I'd be much more interested in seeing where Caprica goes - if I didn't already know where it ends up. I can only really get super excited about Caprica if I pretend I haven't already seen the saga's ending: Bob Dylan, gelatinous orbs, angels, mass shipicide, etc. I actually enjoyed the pilot a lot, but I also kept wishing it would be its own thing, instead of a prequel for a show that had already spawned a history that was way too sweeping and nonsensical.
As for Star Trek, I'm excited for it and hoping it does well - but a large amount of that excitement comes from the fact that I can count the number of space-opera movies in the past decade on a multiple amputee's fingers. There's the Star Wars prequels, the Riddick films, maybe Supernova, Serenity... and Star Trek: Nemesis. I'm reaching a bit here, and some of those films are barely space opera. (I'm thinking interstellar spaceships, ideally shooting at each other in space.)
Just imagine how cool it would be if there was a new movie about space captains venturing out into other star systems and getting into firefights with aliens or other space captains - and we didn't know what was out there, because it was a whole new universe.
So when I root for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek to do well, I'm really rooting for Hollywood to realize that there's still a market for movies about people on super-awesome spaceships exploring, fighting, emoting and defying several laws of physics at once. I'm hoping that if Star Trek makes Dark Knight money, we'll start seeing a slew of fatuous articles in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter quoting various execs as saying this proves the masses love faster-than-light travel and energy weapons. And aliens with funny heads. Please.
This is the real evil of franchises, after all: they subsume genres. Space opera is a genre, not a franchise. But these days, the only way we get to see space opera on the big screen (or small, for that matter) is as part of a franchise that someone has decided is still a cash cow. And then you have that example, where the Sci Fi Channel hears a writer pitch a cool concept about artificial intelligence - and instead of saying "Hey, this could be the next Battlestar Galactica," they say, "Hey, this could be turned into more Battlestar Galactica." Like stories about robots automatically need to be branded as BSG, or audiences won't "get" them.
Where does this stop? Do we eventually end up with just two or three franchises, with names like "Space Gloop" or "Time-Travel With Robots"? And heroes with names like "Captain Cocky Z. Valiant"? Does it eventually go full circle? Meaning, after franchises swallow up whole genres, do the franchises eventually melt down and become genres again? (I feel like this nearly happened to Star Trek already - Voyager and Enterprise managed to be utterly generic, even as they felt less and less connected to whatever Trek was originally about.) Or maybe the process will just continue, as franchises eat each other and we eventually end up with just one mega-franchise, called "Blam" or "Spow".
Anyway, consider this a plea: Continue Star Trek for another 50 years, spawn another dozen Battlestar incarnations, I don't mind at all. But please, please give us some original space opera and self-aware robot stories on screen. We'll still like them even if they're not an existing brand. I promise!