Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tron: Legacy Fun but Doesn't Live Up to the Legacy of the Original

Warning: Spoilers

I can't say I've been waiting for 28 years for a sequel to Tron. It was an amazing movie by itself, and that was enough for me. Besides, it never presented itself as a story that wanted or really needed a sequel. That being said, when word came out a couple of years ago that Disney was going to continue the story in some way, I was cautiously optimistic and, admittedly, over the past couple of months, fed some cool teaser trailers and the odd tidbit from the rumour mill, I've been pretty excited about Tron: Legacy.

Did that anticipation and excitement pay off when we went to the midnight premier on Thursday? Yes and no. Tron: Legacy is a fun action flick, but it's nowhere near as good as the original.

I tried to go in with an open mind, prepared to give this belated installment to the franchise a lot of leeway in terms of telling its own story and standing on its own feet, but in the end, Tron: Legacy just doesn't have the intelligence, heart, or character development that Tron had.

The basic plot is similar to the original: man goes looking for something, gets sucked into the electronic world, then has to find his way out, in the process saving the residents of said software realm from an evil tyrant. But the protagonist in the original was much more complicated and ultimately realistic than in this newer film.

In Tron, Flynn's motives are pretty self-centred - at least in the beginning. He's out to clear his name and get some revenge and compensation. That means hacking into the Encom system. When the evil Master Control Program uses a laser to send him into the Game Grid, Flynn's still focussed on getting his data, but now he's added escape to his list. Helping the programs overthrow the MCP is something he only engages in because he knows it will increase his chances of achieving his own goals. Their struggle isn't something that really matters to him until its reality is brought home when Ram dies (you might argue that it starts when Crom dies, but that's not about the overall struggle for freedom so much as it is about the seriousness of the situation being brought home to Flynn). It's then that Flynn starts to get an inkling that creators, in this case human users who are seen as gods by the programs, have a responsibility to their creations. But even then, he's still pretty focussed on getting home with the goods. It's not until the end, after he's had to revive Yori and is watching Tron fight a losing battle against the MCP and Sark, that Flynn makes the decision to put the needs of the programs above his own. Despite his brave words to Yori, you can tell that Flynn knows that throwing himself into the beam to distract the MCP is a gamble that's likely to get himself killed rather than a ticket home with his stolen data. Luckily for Flynn, it turns out otherwise. The point is that over the course of his journey, Flynn undergoes a very real transformation of his character.

Sam, on the other hand, sets out in his journey in Tron: Legacy determined to find his father, and that never really changes. He goes into the new Game Grid and is faced with life-threatening challenges, but he deals with them to look for his father. He then finds his father and tries to bring him home. But there's no change in same over the course of this adventure. He's the same dude in the end that he was in the beginning with the exception that at the close he's decided he's got to take a hands-on role in running Encom now, and I would argue that this has more to do with wanting to hold on to something that his father shaped (and thus metaphorically a piece of his father) than it does with any significant character development.

There's another, more unsettling difference between the characters in these movies, and that is how they deal with killing. In Tron, the first death Flynn has to deal with comes during the ring game with the accounting program Crom. Until this point, Flynn's been waiving-off the whole experience in the electronic world as likely being a dream (if one that is occasionally painful when it involves a jab from a guard's shock stick). But when Flynn's shot leaves Crom dangling over the abyss and Sark removes the support, killing him, the reality of the situation is brought crashing home to Flynn. Sure it was Sark that finished Crom off, and it's obvious that Flynn hates him for it, but it's pretty clear from the look on his face that Flynn's feeling the responsibility of firing the winning shot of the match and Flynn has to deal with that. After that, he seems to kill easily enough in the lightcycle match, but remember that this comes immediately after the ring game, and he's probably angry enough to be looking for revenge on Sark and his lackies, and once he's engaged in the match, he's also defaulting back to his game-winning mental zone, and focussed on the escape. By the time he kills one of Sark's men outside the tower, it's a matter of being puzzled at his ability as a user to simply derez a program by copying his colour signature.

But with Sam, killing seems so easy. He's got time to adjust to the seriousness of the situation in transport to the arena, and he's been briefed by his father's stories about the reality of the electronic world, but when he's thrown into the arena in a disc fight, he's got no problems taking out the opposing program. Sure he's confused about how to orient himself properly on the floor or roof and how to use a disc effectively, but derezzing his opponent (which one would assume is hopefully the first time Sam has had to kill someone) doesn't seem to faze him. And that's how he continues through the story, knocking them all down and not really thinking about any of it.

And in terms of what we, as the audience, have to think about, Tron: Legacy falls short of the original. For an hour-and-a-half Disney movie, Tron had a lot to say. It asked us to think about who should control information and creativity, individuals looking to innovate, or the big all-powerful corporate entity only sanctioning what's in its own interests. It took a mature look at the Frankenstein fear of things that man creates going beyond his control - mature in that it didn't just point a frightened finger at the MCP as the example of the only and monstrous ends to man's attempt to make things that think (and this is only as far as most movies - even to this day - go when it comes to examining the possibility of artificial intelligence), it also held up the programs as a counterpoint - creations that thought and cared about each other and their makers. It asked us to consider that humans were on the threshold (and have now more-or-less accomplished) of constructing other levels of existence beyond the physical world. And, as I've mentioned before, it examines the relationship of creator and creation and what responsibilities gods might have to the things they create.

Tron: Legacy, on the other hand, primarily concerns itself with a simple look at the relationship between fathers and sons. With Sam and Flynn, it's a very simple look. There isn't any significant conflict and no examination of the nature of their relationship. Sam wants to find Flynn and wants to know why he was gone all those years. Flynn explains he got shanghai'd by Clu. Sam's fine with that and wants to go home. End of line. The father-son relationship between Flynn and Clu (and don't lecture me about how Clu is part of Flynn himself, a program reflection, rather than a literal son, because metaphorically sons are the reflections in one way or another of their fathers - Clu is just as much a child of Flynn as Sam is - Cain to Sam's non-murdered Abel - although Tron acts as a stand-in for this in a way in being transformed into Renzler) is more complex because Clu's brutality is something that he knows Flynn doesn't approve of, he actually tries to lure Flynn out of his retreat to kill him, he tries to kill Sam, and yet in the end all Clu asks of Flynn is for validation that he followed his programming correctly. But the film never gets into why Clu thought totalitarianism was the way to go, or how his need for Flynn's approval seemingly turned to hate even when things were supposedly hunky-dory between Flynn, Clu and Tron as they built the new world. Nor does the movie explore much in the way of Flynn's feelings towards Clu aside from a quick shot of fear when Tron is apparently murdered and then pity and apology at the end when he merges with Clu (which in and of itself was odd when you consider that in the original the programs resembled their users, but were not in fact the users and thus could be deleted without any apparent reintegration with the users or death on the part of the users).

Through Flynn and Clu, the movie also makes a pithy, shallow statement about the road to hell being paved with good intentions, but there's no real thought put into this because the action is moving too damn fast. As is the growing trend with Hollywood action movies, Tron: Legacy rarely slows down enough to catch its breath, let alone think about any philosophical questions it may raise. Remember that scene in the original Tron where Flynn sits with a dying Ram in a damaged recognizer, and there's a long, quiet moment where Ram studies Flynn's face, realizing at last he's in the presence of a user - one of the gods? Admittedly, that shot may have lasted a second or two too long, but it was a good shot, and a very necessary one for the story. You'd never get anything like that in Tron: Legacy, because it would mean stopping the action for a moment and running the risk of aggravating the ADD that directors, writers and producers in Hollywood seem to now assume that everyone in every theatre audience suffers from.

Beyond these major issues, there were other problems with Tron: Legacy. One of which was the fact that there were plot points that got a fair amount of screen time even though they did nothing to advance the plot itself. One was the whole digression into the bar owned by Castor/Zuse. While his Cabaret-style camping around was funny for a little while, it didn't add any significant element to the story. He was another obstacle, like guards searching on the street or a piece of rock in the landscape, nothing more. And he was totally unoriginal, and not interesting enough (or important enough) as a character to make up for this lack of originality. Sorry, Disney, but we've already seen The Merovingian in the Matrix flicks.

Another irrelevancy was the Iso people. Clu's genocide of them is terrible, but by the time we hear about them we already know he's a homicidal asshole. Besides, up to this point there has been no mention of them and no physical traces of their civilization that would make their loss poignant in anything other than a simply moral sense - we've seen nothing of them to really make us, as an audience, care. Near the end we learn that Quorra is an Iso, but so what? She hasn't demonstrated that she's significantly different than other programs/electronic forms of life. For all that Flynn talks about how the discovery of the Isos could revolutionize human life and philosophy, he hasn't said how that's any different than his discovery 28 years ago that programs, in their own world, are self-aware and have culture. Quorra's ability to come into the real world doesn't seem special either, since it's pretty clear that Clu could have brought himself, his army, and his wacky New Game Grid vehicles into the real world through the uplink in the same manner that Quorra came - it's not like Flynn just brushed-off Clu's advancing army by saying "don't worry - they're only regular programs, they'll never make it through" - he indicated they were a real threat. So why even bother with the Isos?

Something else that didn't work for me was the Daftpunk soundtrack. It had its moments, but after a while, really, it just became a monotonous background of audio oatmeal. It all sounded the same after a while, like background music at a club or rave, as opposed to a real movie score with variety (like original, which also combined electronic with symphonic music - it just did it well). This is even putting aside the fact that the much-lauded "Derezzed" track sounds a lot like the stuff John Carpenter cooked up himself for some of the escape from the Wing Kong Exchange scenes in Big Trouble in Little China (not that I have a problem with Carpenter's electronic score, just that you'd think Daftpunk could do something original maybe). What I did like was the use of the 80's music that kicked in when Sam turned on the power in Flynn's arcade, especially the faint strains of "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurhythmics as he was heading downstairs, about to be zapped into the electronic world. The Daftpunk tracks though... let's just say that by the end of the movie, when Sam, Quorra and Flynn are in the lightplane trying to elude Clu's fighters, the Daftpunk score seemed to actually make the scene less exciting.

I had a few visual nitpicks too:

Why didn't we get to see the laser zap transporting Sam from Flynn's basement to the electronic world? All we had was now he's in one world, now he's in the next. No transition. What a missed opportunity to show off some funky SFX. The abruptness of the change of worlds could also could leave new viewers who haven't seen the original wondering if "it was all a dream", especially if they picked up on the Eurhythmics song just prior to the transition.

Then there were the vehicles. The first one (and admittedly it was a fitting visual bridge to the original movie) was a recognizer. The new look for the recognizers was cool. But it was a bit of a disappointment that these models are clearly smaller than their predecessors. It also appears that they're only being used as transport. In essence, the once feared recognizers are now merely transport helicopters rather than gigantic, weird, stomping attack craft. And what's with the engine wash? Especially with engines that look like they give vertical thrust even though the vehicle moves horizontally? Lots of vehicles seemed to have exhaust or to kick up dust in the new film, even though others, like Clu's command carrier, didn't. Why no consistency?

The clothing was odd too in that is was more-or-less normal (if limited to black and white and orange only for colour and motorbike or space-age chic designs). In Tron, the clothing seemed, for the most part, to actually be a part of the programs. When Flynn arrives on the Game Grid, he's already suited up, and there's no change of wardrobe for him or most of the programs (with the exception of the tower guardians, but that always seemed to me more like they'd been removed from machinery consoles or cockpits than disrobed). In fact, when they're feeding on the liquid energy, or when they're feeling strong emotions, the energy lines (whatever) on their uniforms brighten, and correspondingly dim when they're being derezzed. Here, the clothes are simply... clothes, and the energy lines are merely decoration.

It was a little odd to see Flynn's banquet too, given the liquid energy (electricity?) seemed to be sufficient for the programs in the original film.

And there was far less variety to the landscape in Tron: Legacy. Lots more detail to the buildings in the city, but the surrounding landscape was just jagged black mountains and black ocean with more jagged black mountains. No variety, and so black I couldn't really make out much in the way of details. At least the original, for all its crude, limited texture, tried to present different landscapes with weird creatures and a little colour (red or blue to accent the grey).

The real key to accepting all of the minor differences in the physical forms of things in the film is to remember that 'Legacy isn't happening in Tron's world, it's happening on a New Game Grid - presumably the place next door. Flynn gives us this info (crucial to an existing fan's ability to reconcile the story with the original, but largely irrelevant to a new viewer) midway through the film when Sam finally catches up with him; Flynn telling his son that he brought Tron from the old Game Grid to help him run the new one with Clu. So we can probably infer that when Flynn & co built the new world, they based some of their designs on the old one but made aesthetic changes. But while this accounts for physical differences like clothing, vehicles and landscapes, it doesn't make up for the plot or character weaknesses.

What did work were the action sequences and special effects. The lightcycle match in the first half of the movie alone was worth the price of our IMAX tickets to see it on a huge screen in 3D. The aerial chase in the movie's finale sealed the deal. Throw in some cool disc fights where gladiators have to constantly re-orient themselves around the inner surfaces of their arenas, and catchy new vehicle designs (I wasn't a fan of the new lightcycles, but Flynn's retro bike, the solar sail freighter, Clu's updated command carrier, the wing packs, and the light planes were pretty impressive), and you've got a stunning collection of visuals.

Other sights I really enjoyed included the loving restoration of Flynn's arcade, complete with bachelor pad upstairs and his favourite hand-held videogame (in this case lying down in the basement lab as opposed to up on the couch). Sam's waterfront garage home was cool not merely for being an ultimate rough-and-ready bachelor pad, but most especially for the faded "Dumont" sign on the front of the building - a nice nod to Walter, the character from the original Tron who founded Encom and rhapsodized about the good old days when it had only been in his garage, and who was represented in the Game Grid by his program Dumont the Tower Guardian. Best of all though was the Black Hole poster in young Sam's bedroom. I make no bones about it, I'm probably one of the few people you'll run into who likes that old Disney SF flop, and I'm really hoping that the Mouse, as reported a while back, will take a crack at rebooting that movie if Tron: Legacy does well enough at the box office.

There's also the exterior shot when Sam is at Flynn's retreat that worked really well in my opinion, where the audience sees the lair seperated by a black gulf of wilderness from Clu's city - a nice nod to The Two Towers. Speaking of allusions, I also liked how Flynn's apartment was reminiscent of Dave Bowman's holding quarters at the end of 2001.

It was great to have Bruce Boxleitner come back as Allan Bradley/Tron. He created a nice continuity with the original film, and besides that, Tron, being the title character, had to make an appearance at some point. Given the direction of the plot, I'll even go so far as to say that I was okay with Tron getting Darth Vadered against his will by Clu, especially since he manages to reassert himself at the end (and, from the looks of it, survives his crash and swim).

Another slick little bridge to the old movie that worked really well for me was the board meeting scene where we find out that Dillinger's son has worked his way up the Encom ladder. Seems to be a very clear indication of where future sequels will probably go.

And no fan of the original could help but chuckle at the rehash of the "Now that's a big door!" joke.

So with all of its flaws taken into consideration, is Tron: Legacy worth seeing? If you're looking for a simple action flick with great special effects, yes. If you want a truly worthy successor to the original Tron, one with a smart storyline and interesting characters, you'll probably want to wait a while and rent it at your local videostore or from iTunes or some other online service. I had fun watching this movie, but Tron: Legacy just doesn't measure up to the original.

End of line.

Friday, December 10, 2010

1 Week until Tron: Legacy!

Only one week until Tron: Legacy hits the big screen and I'm pretty excited!

My wife and I have tickets to see the Wednesday/Thursday midnight screening in IMAX here in Richmond (the suburb just south of where the movie was shot in Vancouver and Burnaby - in fact, looking at some of the "real world" shots in the trailer shows a couple of recognizable locations around the city). I've been deliberately holding off rewatching the original Tron for a few months now, just so I can play it Wednesday night before we head out to the bazillionplex to have it fresh in my memory (not that I really need a refresher, having seen it so many times over the years).

Is there any point to this post beyond simply gushing about the nearness of the movie like a kid asking how many more sleeps until Santa comes? No! I'll freely admit, after all the teasers, trailers and waiting, I'm just so damn happy that Tron: Legacy is finally almost here! Now let's just hope the story and acting are as good as the special effects look - I'd hate to be this hyped only to have my hopes derezzed.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Not Entirely Wild about Harry - Review of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Warning: Spoilers (although, is it really necessary to give a spoiler warning when the film's based on a book that's been on the shelves for 3 years?!)

The biggest problem with going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1!) last week was that it's been so long since I read the book that it was hard to place everything in context. It was hard to figure out what was faithful to the novel and what wasn't, and whether that was good or bad. Hell, I'll come right out and admit it, I've completely forgotten a lot of details from the book (such as the titular Deathly Hallows themselves!), and while in most cases with a film adaptation that would be alright because the film would be faithful to the book and have a plot that ran smoothly or because it would diverge from the book but still have a plot that ran smoothly, in this case it was a major problem.

The film tries to be faithful to the book (at least, from what I can remember), but faced with the daunting task of trying to compress and represent a huge amount of story (even though it's only half of the story) in 2-and-a-half hours of screentime the pacing is extremely choppy. One minute you're in a scene, the next it's jumped somewhere else - possibly with the same characters, sometimes with a completely different set. It was as though the movie was frenetically trying to jam in everything it could to paint the whole big picture of everything that was going on, even though the only way to adequately do this was to have the huge amount of time and space that the book was able to devote to it. The consequence of the rapid changes from scene to scene was that often scenes were robbed of their full impact.

Case in point: the broomstick escape battle near the beginning. This was significant to the story because it's the big opening act that tells the reader (now viewer) in no uncertain terms that the war is now on. Oh sure, there have been fights in the previous installment of the Potter franchise, but those have been quick skirmishes. This is full-on war with a pitched, take-no-prisoners battle involving many soldiers wielding powerful weapons/spells. I remember the book devoting a fair amount of pagespace to describing the aerial clash between Voldermort's minions and Harry's friends. But the movie just gives us a rapid, confusing, largely dark, twisting flight with distant flashes of light and every now and again an enemy swoops into view before Hagrid dives down to the highway or something. There's no sense of the scope of the battle. Maybe that was deliberate. Maybe director David Yates thought a kid-heavy audience would enjoy a visual rollercoaster ride more than a Midway-style dogfight (in which case I'd say he's seriously underestimated an audience that goes bonkers for Star Wars fighter battles). Maybe Yates has done it deliberately to try to show us the confusion of battle where an individual soldier wouldn't take-in the entire scene, but would rather be focussed on his own survival. And there might be some merit in that point of view, but I think there's an argument to be made for combining the two perspectives, as was done in The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan, because as valid as it is to show how confused and frightening the speed of things in a battle can be to the individual, it's also important to the overall story to paint the larger picture of what's going on because it helps emphasize the stakes.

And it's the sacrifice of the larger picture and the stakes of the opening battle that create a serious weakness in the movie right from the start. It's a battle where Harry witnesses two significant deaths: Mad-Eye Moody and Hedwig the owl. While everyone would agree (and I have some vague memory of someone saying something to this effect in the book) that old Mad-Eye going down fighting was they way he'd want to die, this death was important because it reiterates right away the lesson that Harry learned with Dumbledore's death in The Half-Blood Prince, that even very powerful wizards can be killed by enemies and that fights are generally not fair. But we don't see this in the movie - it's mentioned quickly in passing later on and then the story jerks off in another direction. The death of Hedwig is important too because Harry has to deal with the death of a true innocent (say what you will about the death of Cedric in The Goblet of Fire, an animal is far more of an innocent for being unaware of and unable to comprehend what's happening - Hedwig only knows that she was more or less content until everybody took off and suddenly someone threatened her boy, she moved to prevent that harm, and got blasted out of the sky) who was close to Harry and died because someone wanted to harm him. It's an especially significant event because this death, possibly more than any other (from what I can remember of the book), weighs on Harry throughout the story and is something that he revisits often. There's no weight given to it in the movie though, just a quick moment when the snow owl swoops in out of nowhere to attack the Deatheater and then she's an exploding clump of feathers. It's quick. It's shocking. But the film promptly discards the moment, doesn't revisit it, and the impact on Harry is totally lost. Sure he shows that he's depressed throughout the film, but he doesn't vocalize it, we get no real window into his thoughts, and so there's no indication of how these things are affecting him.

And this was just the beginning. There were plenty of other scenes that I thought were given short shrift by the choppy pacing.

The other effect of the herky-jerky scene changes was that it heightened my sense that I was missing elements of the plot. It not only reinforced to me the fact that my memory of the story wasn't perfect, it left me with the sense that there was stuff going on - possibly important stuff - that it wasn't showing the audience and that we were just expected to know. No movie should create this feeling. A film, specifically because of its limitations of time, narrative perspective, and scope, should make the audience feel like they're seeing all they need and want to know, and all that's relevant. The illusion should never be weakened or shattered like it is here - it's integral for a movie that you never get the sense that the man behind the curtain is frantic because he can't fit everything in; the audience can't be left wondering if something is missing or walk away with the vague feeling that something didn't make sense.

And yet, for all of the rapid scene changes, there were plenty of moments which were far too slow. Some of the scenes with Harry, Ron and Hermione on the road seemed to drag (and while Clerks 2 may have made jokes about how The Lord of the Rings trilogy had a lot of walking shots, at least those scenes were effective and interesting), and the bit where they're in the Lovegood home limped along painfully slowly aside from the telling of the Deathly Hallows story via animation, which despite being interesting, had a fairly mellow pace.

What's the solution to the pacing issue? Maybe it shouldn't have been a 2-parter. Maybe The Deathly Hallows should simply have been a single, 4-hour movie. Oh sure, a 2-part flick holds the promise of making waaaay more money in box-office and DVD/Blueray sales revenue than a single film does, and the studios need all the money they can get right now, but if Part 1 was choppy, I'm not convinced that Part 2 won't be as well, and that's a serious disincentive for me to shell out extra money to see Part 2 in the theatre or to buy either of them on DVD. Besides, we're talking about how to solve the pacing issue, and clearly splitting the movie in 2 hasn't worked for scene changes. I think forcing the studio to put together a single 4-hour story would require the director to make it flow better and feel more coherent in order to make it watchable - especially for that length of time. One might argue that a film with a large percentage of its audience composed of children couldn't run that long because the kids wouldn't sit still for it, but I disagree; give a kid an interesting plot, and they'll stay locked to the story for hours. Look at kids watching Saturday morning cartoons (at least 20-30 years ago when networks actually ran Saturday morning cartoons and the cartoons were worth watching), or these days playing plot-oriented videogames, or, most importantly, kids reading the Potter books for hours on end. Make it good enough, and they'll sit still to watch it (although an intermission like they used to have for long movies in the 60's & 70's might help). Could a 4-hour film, even if it was cut better so as not to be choppy, contain all of the plot elements of The Deathly Hallows. Probably not. I'll openly commit heresy here and suggest that some of the plot elements in the book could be removed entirely (far more than the current presentation) to make a story that was able to flow onscreen. It worked for LOTR, it could work for The Deathly Hallows. But that would probably take a braver director than currently exists in Hollywood, and somehow I doubt JK Rowling would go for it.

The other problem, and call me shallow if you want to, is that looking at Emma Watson and Rupert Grint onscreen together in the later Potter films is increasingly and alarmingly like looking at a new rendition of Beauty and the Beast. The kid who plays Ron can't help how he looks, of course, and we should probably be giving the Brits serious kudos for casting (and continuing to cast) an unattractive guy in a lead movie role since Hollywood sure as hell wouldn't, but... eeesh!

It wasn't all bad though.

The movie does capture some nice moments in the growing relationship between Harry and Ginny. There's also a nice scene (which I recall reading somewhere was not in the book but rather written for the film) where Ron has left and Harry and Hermione are dancing and experience a quick moment of uncertain attraction that you'd expect from a couple of teens who have shared as much as they have and suddenly find themselves in close quarters with no-one else around. And the scene where Bellatrix tortures Hermione (largely off-camera) is well-done in terms of being genuinely scary - in fact, I don't remember it being as unsettling in the book as it was in the film.

Is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 worth seeing? Well, if you've followed the franchise this far, yes. If I had to do it again though, I probably wouldn't have paid full price at the theatre - a cheapo Tuesday or discount matinee would be worth while, but if those options aren't available I'd probably go as far as to recommend just waiting to rent it on DVD/Blueray or download it online. Those options might not be available until next summer or close to the release of Part 2, but if it does get released for purchase that late, at least you will stand less of a chance of forgetting the details ahead of Part 2. Who knows, it might even look less choppy when seen closer to Part 2.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Quick Thoughts on the Finale of Caprica

Warning: Spoilers

In following the buildup hype towards the finale of Caprica, I recall reading on some US sites that the final 3 episodes were to be shown in January, and yet here in Canada, Space aired what it calls the series finale tonight. Doesn't make much sense that they'd delay the finale in the US but show it in Canada now, but it's been officially labeled the series finale, so that's the info I've got to go on and will proceed with this review on that assumption.

I'm pretty certain that this was the finale though, for no other reason than the big wrap-up in the last 5 minutes showing more-or-less what's happened with all the main characters and laying down the foundations for the coming Cylon war. Moore & Eick and their writers certainly don't like to leave many loose ends/mysteries/unanswered questions lying around, do they?

That being said, I'll give them credit for answering all the questions in a quick, punchy 5-minute set of sequences. This was far more effective in terms of keeping the pacing - accelerating it, in fact, and actually building some tension into the wait for the coming series about young Bill Adama in the war - while giving necessary information than the closer of BSG was. Say what you will about the flaws of the BSG finale (and there were many), one of the things that really bugged me about it was the self-indulgently long and painfully slow wrap-up on Earth.2 of all the characters' plot lines/fates. The bitter irony was that this, what, half-hour, 45 minutes? of television at the end of BSG felt a hundred times longer than the 4 or 5 entire hour-long episodes that it took to do the same job for Babylon 5 - and the B5 wrap worked! Caprica's final group of short, sharp shots was emotionally satisfying, if not shocking.

The Adamas: After last week's shoot-out ending with Willy's death, I figured the only way the writers were going to explain Admiral Bill Adama would be to have Joseph and his secretary/girlfriend have another son and name him after the first boy a-la the Atreides family in Dune with the Letos.

Also no surprise that the Adama boys would go looking for some vengeance against their mafia kingpin. I have to say though that I was pleased at the resolution of the conflict, with the Guatrau's/Don's daughter helping in the assassination and taking over as the new boss. It would have seemed like too much of a stretch for the Adamas to not only survive the gang war, but to come out in control of "the family". This way, they get their revenge and a smart woman who can be trusted takes over the organization, allowing the Adamas to remain comfortably in the upper middle, but not at the top, of the power structure, which leaves Joseph free to pursue the legal legacy that's referred to in BSG.

What I was unsatisfied with, in terms of this family's role in the finale, was the lack of any real presence of Tamara. You'd think that will everything going on in the world(s - real and virtual) that she'd have shown herself, if for no other reason than to watch. Really, given their relationship, I'm surprised that there wasn't any dialogue between Zoe and Tamara about what was going on and what their role would be. Granted, Zoe's probably thinking about herself and her chance to be with her parents again and what to do about Clarice, but given the amount of time she's spent with Tamara and the bond they've formed, I really doubt Zoe would just ignore her co-virtual-goddess throughout the unfolding crisis. It felt like this was a major oversight on the part of the writers. What's intriguing is Tamara's presence in Clarice's virtual chapel at the end. Part of me thought it was a last-minute add-on by the writers who may have realized they'd forgotten Tamara in the finale and had to tie-up her storyline. And yet part of me wonders if this scene means that she was deliberately left absent from the entire episode as a means of indicating that she was just watching from the sidelines. In the end (literally and figuratively), this quick shot in the chapel strongly hints that Tamara will play some role in motivating the Cylon rebellion years down the line. Zoe may proclaim herself to be god, but with Tamara in the chapel among the Cylons, one has to wonder if it's the quiet Adama girl who will in fact grow into the role of the Cylon god.

The Graystones: (for some reason, I've always got to do a mental check when I think of this family's last name, as I always swap it with Greystoke from Burroughs' Tarzan) I have to admit I didn't quite accept the plot device of the monotheist police captain/inspector/chief/whatever going so far as to declare the Graystones to be suspected terrorists after Clarice's failed attempted murder of them. Really, Daniel's company is so huge, wielding so much influence, that even with the admission of Zoe's involvement in the train bombing that happened in the pilot episode, I seriously doubt he'd have the authority or that he'd get the backing, for a carte-blanche warrant against the Graystones - especially after the break-in and attempted murder. He might have been able to get them tailed, but (without any knowledge of Caprican criminal law particulars) I'd wager he'd be bogged-down in the warrants process and backroom police and prosecutorial and judicial politics so long that the attempted bombing of the stadium would be resolved long before he was able to get a public warning put out against them.

It also didn't make much sense to me that with a city-or-planet-wide warrant out for the Graystones that they were able to make it into the stadium at the end. You'd think that the Caprican security computer systems would be sophisticated enough and have good enough facial-recognition software, that Daniel and Amanda would have been snagged by cops on the street, regardless of the sunglasses-and-scarf combo, long before they got anywhere near the stadium.

That being said, I did like the resolution to the bomb crisis, with Daniel calling in the robotic troops to stop the bombing and take down the terrorists. Making the Cylons the heroes of the day was the perfect plot twist and sets up a delicious irony for their eventual rebellion and genocide of the human race.

It was also kinda cool as a Lower Mainland resident to see Caprica cast singer Mark Donnelly, who performs the national anthem at the Vancouver Canucks games, as the anthem performer at the C-Bucks game. Donnelly performs the Caprican anthem well, although the song itself is so ponderous that I had to wonder if it was merely a case of bad lyrics on the part of the series writers, or whether it was done deliberately as another subtle dig against the people of Caprica (as we've seen in other quick flashes from time to time in the series).

The wrap-up scenes with the Graystones made sense too. I thought that in his last media interview, Daniel's optimistic tone of voice despite his unwillingness to speculate how relations between humanity and the Cylons would go gave a hint that he'd grown as a result of the events of the series and wasn't quite so sure of himself or the world anymore. It was also bittersweet to see Daniel and Amanda reunited in the flesh with Zoe, knowing that this was something they'd wanted and yet leaving a nagging uneasiness given what we know of the humanoid Cylons' role in destroying the Colonies. What's also nagging is that the finale doesn't give a clear indication of Zoe's role in the Cylon war ahead. As I mentioned earlier, with Tamara in Clarice's chapel, there seems to be a sign that Tamara might be the Cylon god, rather than Zoe. Zoe may have decided to protect her parents from Clarice, and to destroy Clarice's heaven, but will the girl have any real or lasting sympathy for humanity, or will she become as jaded about humans as she was with her parents at the beginning of the series? And that begs the question that even if she does side with humanity, why was she not able to offset Tamara if Tamara becomes the force motivating the Cylons towards revolution? Wouldn't Zoe be able to stop the Cylons if there's a little of her in every toaster? Despite Moore and Eick's fondness for tying-up loose ends, I don't think we'll get the answer to this one.

Clarice: What happens with Clarice makes sense and is a sign of the talent of the series writing team. It's no surprise early in the episode when she cagily admits that she isn't planning on joining the others in the suicide bombing of the stadium. Clearly, she's a person who lusts for power and glory but firmly believes it's the duty of others to die for the cause - not her (that would interfere with her path to said glory). In washing her hands of that job, she's totally keeping with the nature of her character. I've always thought that there's a direct parallel between Clarice and the Cylon D'Anna Biers - I've wondered if the similarity in their personalities somehow implies that maybe Clarice was used by the Cylons as a personality template for D'Anna, although admittedly that's sheer pie-in-the-sky speculation. Best of all though is when her husband calls her on her ego and unwillingness to put her life on the line. His statement that she'll be in their god's light is as much a condemnation and a warning that she'll be judged and damned by their god as it is a lip-service parting blessing. No surprise either that in the wake of the plan's failure she'd waste no time in trying to set herself up as a religious authority again, targetting a new flock and stirring discontent in the Cylons. No surprise either when she goes to Gemenon and we find that Lacy is the Mother-Superiour of the monotheists with a Cylon on her right. The question is, what happens to Clarice when Lacy tells her to kneel?

I'll also give the finale of Caprica credit for the sequence at the end showing how the Cylons are being integrated into society as more than just soldiers - as slaves doing manual labour and menial chores like dog-walking. It paints a very clear picture of the world described in the Planet of the Apes movies just before Caesar said "no", except in this case, the rebellion is not entirely self-motivated. This time the Cylons, in place of Apes, are goaded by outside forces as much as they are driven by their own discontent.

And now the wait for young Adama's war.