Thursday, March 26, 2009

1978: The Meaning of Feldercarb

I was a child when Battlestar Galactica premiered in the fall of 1978. It was my favorite thing to watch and set lasting precedents for the type of science fiction I enjoy now.

To love as a child is glorious; the object of such uncritical devotion is observed without pause from eye to heart, blooming into the brain's deepest chambers with lasting effect. What are the chances that something so beloved is translated into maturity? Certainly Battlestar Galactica-as-was has lost a great deal in translation and is indeed a painful thing to view decades later. Which makes it all the more incredible that the re-imagined version that premiered in 2003 is such a treat; it goes entirely against expectations by taking the germ of what gave the old show such staying power and transforming it into the fine television series that finished its run last week.

The basic premise remains: a ragtag fleet of holocaust survivors fleeing into the universe in search of a new home, the planet called... Earth. The survivors, as one might easily imagine, are a mouthy lot. They don't hesitate to use colorful language. This aspect of the show has carried over into the updated version and there is no lack of futuristic euphemisms when tensions run high. "Frak" and "gods dammit" are the two most heard; what is not heard very often is "feldercarb".

Feldercarb is a word meant to describe situations that are unfair or undeserved to the person uttering it. According to Urban Dictionary, it should be associated with what can politely be described in contemporary speak as "bullpucky". While frak seems to be find sympathy among viewers, feldercarb is hardly if ever mentioned, on- or offscreen. And why should it be, when the locutive effort required nowhere near matches the impact of bullpucky.

Next: Setting the standard for 21st century science fiction!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: an appreciation by a lifelong fan

At least it feels like a lifelong affection, despite discovery in childhood followed by a gap of over twenty years -why quibble over numbers? Even when the television series was reimagined for this century, I paused before embracing it: what is loved in childhood does not necessitate automatic acceptance when it returns in the fullness of our years. The flame had not died, burning all the brighter once I gave the new series a proper viewing. That was a few years ago. Now the series has ended and the finale has aired and friends let me tell you, it has never been better than this.

More to come...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Battlestar Galactica at the UN

BSG ends tomorrow night and tears will flow, mine not least among them; along with West Wing and Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica is the best thing that ever happened on tv, a bang-up space opera with unforgettable stories and fully-realized characters. I will miss experiencing that special anticipation for new episodes.

Before leaving us forever, the crew showed up at the UN this week to discuss how real-issues have been represented in the show. Amazing... especially when you see how Edward James Olmos used this moment to make a great statement.

Stay tuned for my reflections on the show following its last broadcast.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Watchmen is terrible, a bad adaptation of an over-rated book, a big budget over-hyped turd that leaves a slick of grease on your brain. Where it postures with high-minded hautuer translated directly from the source, it takes the (comic) book's provocative conceits and renders them into so much high cholesterol junk.

The actors are superb and perfectly cast for their parts, especially Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Haley embodies the character and makes him sympathetic, arguably more sympathetic than originally fashioned, in a performance that sadly is not supported by the film as a whole. A psychotic crimefighter, Rorschach is the soul of Watchmen. He is allowed long pontifications of voice-over to remind us what a horrible cesspool this world is. Does this sound familiar, perhaps like Notes From The Underground, Camus' The Fall, or Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver? We know this man, this voice, this rant. It is updated for juveniles everywhere in the shifting face of Rorschach.

In Notes From The Underground, when the narrator visits a prostitute he is made vulnerable and confesses how the rot of the world is reflected within himself; the pompous narrator of The Fall reveals his own failings in a philosophy that does not encompass hope or virtue; more recently, we see Travis Bickle driven to the edge of sanity as he impotently rationalizes a growing cascade of venality and avarice. In all three cases, context serves to illustrate the point that humanity is in trouble and looking for answers. Watchmen attempts the same and comes up short, in both versions; since this is a criticism of the film, I'll not address what I see as the book's failings but focus on the adaptation.

The author of Watchmen is Alan Moore, a gifted and educated writer. If you look at a body of work that includes From Hell and V for Vendetta, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Moore finds common cause with Rorschach (Moorschach?). Like V and Dr Gull, Rorschach is entirely bent on correcting society, and Moore is savvy enough to craft narratives that support their mission. This enables us to see them as heroes battling a world gone wrong -is this not the definition of a superhero?

At the close of Watchmen, when we witness Rorschach's fate it is an incisive blow to optimism made all the more profound by our sympathy for the erstwhile but clearly misguided hero. In the written form, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, the story capably and efficiently delivers the tragedy. Here is where the film adaptation goes wrong.

When the book portrays sex and violence, it does so in obligatory fashion. We see that these elements of life are prevalent and ordinary, part of the human condition. Given that the context is costume-clad low-grade sociopaths finding their way in a world that no longer accepts them, this is a brilliant accomplishment by the author and illustrator. The film adaptation goes to great lengths to portray Rorschach as written -and then undermines our sympathies entirely with raunchy fights and coupling, thereby rendering the audience as the object of the hero's contempt; by gratifying the very impulses the hero decries, we are turned (fairly or not) into the thing Rorschach so despises and fights against with every fiber of his being (is being truly fibrous, like bran cereal?).

The tragedy that makes Watchmen so stark and effecting on the page becomes an attack on the audience. Because of the film's commercial aspect -boffo box office or bust!- the story's integrity is undermined. When we see Rorschach's fate in the film, it is no longer anything more than pathetic and superficial, and we are left with nothing more than an ill feeling as if we've had a greasy meal that churns inconsolable in our guts.

In news reports we hear about Alan Moore's refusal to participate in adaptations of his work, or to even watch them; in this case, I can hardly blame him. For an adaptation that so clearly holds the source material in high esteem, this is a terrible failure of execution. Director Zach Snyder says that if sales of the book are increased, he has done his job. Judging by how copies of Watchmen are flying off bookshop shelves, I'd say mission accomplished. Too bad that in the process of selling Watchmen he did it such a disservice.