Ronald Moore’s latest attempt at SF is a tv-movie/series pilot. In a surprise development, Fox appears uninterested in getting behind the show, so this movie will likely be all we see.

What did we make of what we saw?

Cast and Crew

Directed by Peter Berg
Written by Ronald Moore and Michael Taylor

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Captain Pike, the fearless leader
Sienna Guillory as Rika Goddard the “over-sexed sexually repressed woman.”1
James D’Arcy as Dr. Roger Fallon the Genius who may not be on the crew’s side2
Ritchie Coster Dr. Johnson the tortured genius
Clea DuVall as Sue Parsons the butt-kicking hotshot female pilot whose resemblance to Kara Thrace is, I’m sure, completely coincidental
Omar Metwally as Dr. Adin Meyer, the… Hmmm… Any suggestions?
Kerry Bishé as Billie Kashmiri the casually beautiful computer babe
Joy Bryant as Alice Thibadeau the token Black crew member and female who regrets giving up motherhood for the space program
Belson Lee as Kenji Yamamoto the token Asian crew member3
Jose Pablo Cantillo as the gay guy who doubles as the ships chef but it also a brilliant mathematician who fails to realize there’s no way the ship could possibly get to its stated destination in the allotted time, but it’s tv SF, so who cares, right?
Gene Farber as the other Gay guy who doubles as the chef
Jimmi Simpson as the Scary Mysterious Stranger

Synopsis

A ship leaves the solar system on a ten-year mission to save the human race by finding an inhabitable planet. Part of the mission’s financing comes from the fact that portions of the show are being beamed back to earth as a Reality-TV show. The one place the crew can escape is their VR system– and, unfortunately, something has gone very wrong there.

High Points

1. When one cuts through the considerable clutter, one finds a fascinating (if familiar) premise that might have made for a strong series. Some of the virtual escapes work very well, imitating as they do various kinds of videogames. (And consider Kashmiri’s hilariously geeky fantasy– which suddenly turns into a horrifically disturbing nightmare). Let’s face it– VR is where our recreation time is heading. It’s a pity the movie, intending as a pilot, lacks closure.

2. It’s remarkable how far production values have come for SF tv series.

Low Points

1. Moore has some great ideas and an excellent (if familiar) central premise. Unfortunately, it gets buried beneath the layers of subplot. Focus on what is important; if the show sells, then introduce all of those subplots at which the first episode should only hint. The “Reality TV” elements, in particular, wasted time. Too often, we were being told things that could be (and in some cases, were) better-told through conventional dramatic means.

2. And on the subject of reality television: the sort of disciplined, exceptional people you’d choose for an historic ten-year deep space mission are not the unstable drama queens who populate Reality TV. Your pilot, for example, would not be someone who, when a program goes wrong, starts casting blame, and when a friend dies, starts smashing things. To some degree, the show tries to address this problem– but I’m still not buying it. The satiric angle– the fact that these people are being manipulated for ratings– clashes with the nature of the mission and the gritty look. The disparity, instead of creating drama, detracts from the show’s potential.

The Scores

Originality: 2/6 The idea of Virtuality, crossing SF with reality-tv conventions, shows potential. And yes, I recognize that naming the commanding officer “Pike” and giving Jean Hal’s eye could be considered homages. However, this show has tech and shots plagiarized from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a VR program that malfunctions with dangerous results, shaky camerawork, a score by Wendy and Lisa, and a homey dining room where the crew meet to discuss matters. The general premise, meanwhile, has been addressed in written SF, but that’s excusable. Most mass-media SF imitates what has already been covered in print.

Moore and company seriously needed to develop an original look, at the very least.

Effects: 6/6. Ron Moore’s people continue to do exceptional effects, and ones that look markedly different from Galactica’s.

Story: 4/6. In fact, this features several good premises for an episode. Too many, in fact, thrown at us at once, resulting in an episode that manages to be both plot-cluttered and slow-moving, before arriving at no resolution.

Acting: 5/6. The cast features some strong actors. I wish it had stronger characters.

Production: 6/6. As with Galactica the show boasts strong production values, filmed by a stylistically unsteady hand.

Emotional response: 3/6. I wanted to like this show, and certain scenes– in particular, certain scenes in VR– did affect me. The second hour manages at time to be what the first hour should have been….

Overall: 4/6. …Overall, however, Virtuality gave me too much at once, and too little reason to care about any of it.

Virtuality receives 30/42.

Notes

1. Quoted at Nicegirlstv.com

2. The tension between his role as producer and role as psychiatrist, while initially interesting, results in someone very like the sort of annoying twit you knew in high school (and in some offices), who spreads rumors and incites drama. On a mission this important, the people would suss out what he is doing very quickly and (if they were as unstable as they appear here) blow him out the airlock at the first opportunity.

3. I recognize that referring to a character as a token may seem insulting, and that these (conspicuously underused) characters would likely be developed in the series Moore hopes to launch. However, with only this movie at present, Yamamoto is little more than the Asian guy and Thibadeau is the Black/woman. I think in 2009 we should’ve come a little further than Star Trek: TOS with casting.