The girlfriend and I are re-watching the entire Battlestar Galactica recent series on Blu Ray, the gift that keeps on giving. We even placed the two straight to DVD movies in their proper place, chronologically. By complete accident, I saw an original series episode on one of the new sub-channels for digital broadcast and I was struck by how different the two series are, if for no other reason than the aesthetic tastes of today versus 30 years ago. I was a huge fan of the original BSG. Meeting Richard Hatch a few weeks ago was great because he was a childhood hero. He bridges the gap because he was on both series. Even then, one of the things we talked about was how they gave him not just a throw away cameo, but a real character with depth that provided an acting challenge.
So far (as we’re only at the beginning of Season 3 of BSG) the most striking difference between the old series and the new series is in the character of Baltar. In the original series, the part was of a guy who betrayed the human race. Why? Just because. He was the bad guy. Like the flaw in a lot of TV shows and movies from the 1950’s to the late 1990’s, there was no motivation or complications. The old adage “the villain is the hero of his own story” somehow got forgotten. In the new incarnation of this same character, we have a man who is rich in motivations, very real in intent, and relatable in his complexities. To show a person offered choices and making the wrong ones based on selfishness is a bit more “realistic” and relatable which exemplifies why the show Battlestar Galactica garnered so much acclaim in its current incarnation.
Since the 1990’s, we’ve experienced a surge in anti-heroes. Batman really is more of the Dark Knight when comparing the 1966 Batman to the 1989 and now to the 2008 version. That trend began with the Dark Knight Returns graphic novel by Frank Miller in the late 80’s but that realistic and very adult version didn’t start to appear on screen until 2008, and even then in ways for more down to Earth than imagined.
In popular culture we’re in a phase of “realism” and it’s even bled over into our fantasy worlds because the audience demands as realistic as possible effects and worlds like Lord of the Rings and Avatar provided. The goal remains to engage the audience by making something relatable to their own experience, no matter how fat fetched or deeply imaginative like aliens or robots or goblins.
In the 1950’s it was about the big spectacle movies, period costume dramas and big musicals. By the late 1960’s the pendulum swung back to realistic movies, like EASY RIDER and it ushered in a decade of similar such movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION and MEAN STREETS. Then George Lucas came in with STAR WARS and ushered in another several years of big fantasy. Everything is cyclical, but even the current trend of big fantastical movies have a more “realistic” edge; trying to appease both sides.