It looks like 2013 is going to be a good year for original sci-fi. With films like Oblivion, Elysium, and Pacific Rim on the horizon, we’re in for a treat (and I’m not even counting the franchise films like Iron Man 3 and Star Trek…). I love going to the movies, and I think the theater going experience is best for those high budget, high concept kind of flicks, and I’m super psyched to see everything that’s coming down the pike. That said, I’ve always had a soft spot for sci-fi on TV, and there has been quite a drought since BSG’s… “conclusion.” Consequently, I’ve been eagerly anticipating SyFy’s new series, “Defiance.” Peek below the fold for some spoiler-free impressions.
Defiance is set in a quasi-post-apocalyptic America, in the shadow of old St. Louis. It begins some decades after the arrival of the “Votans,” a collective of alien beings whose solar system suffered some calamity that drove them to find a new home. Of course, they set their sights on Earth, like you do. Despite having good intentions, it wasn’t long before humans and the Votans started exchanging blows of the nuclear variety, filling the sky with fragments of the Votans’ “arks”–giant vessels teeming with terraforming (Votanforming?) technologies. As these wrecks rain down on the planet below (so called “arkfalls”), malfunctioning and corrupted terraforming machines drastically changed a planet already reeling from the fallout of nuclear war. Now, alien landscapes and mutant creatures plague the survivors, and Human and Votan alike must rely upon each other in order to survive in a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Not a bad premise really. Certainly feels original.
The story is a somewhat different matter, however.
Yeah, the plot feels like a bit of a retread. Another sci-fi with western overtones. I mean, you’ve got a space-sheriff. You’ve got a hooker with a heart of gold. You’ve got alien Hatfields and human McCoys (and the attendant Romeo and Juliet plot). Not to mention, “spirit riders”–or Votan “Indians” on motorcycles. Frankly, there are no boundaries being pushed here, but that might just be part of the appeal. The somewhat pat story lets the much more intriguing setting take center stage.
Of course, the truly original part of Defiance is the show’s interplay with Trion World’s game of the same name. Like its TV counterpart, Defiance the Game doesn’t have much happening that I would call “innovative”–it’s pretty reminiscent of Borderlands, really. An online shooter with some MMO qualities. Again, what is intriguing is the world–you play an Arkhunter, whose role is to track down those crazy arkfalls to scavenge alien technology for fun and profit. Also intriguing is the suggestion that player actions in the game’s SF Bay Area setting will have consequences for the TV show. Two episodes in and I think it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen any such interplay, but I’m looking forward to seeing how that relationship ultimately shakes out.
Now, it may seem that my review has been lukewarm, and that’s probably fair. That said, I plan to support this show by giving it my most valuable commodity–my time. Frankly, it’s not that bad. And its hard to judge a series by the pilot. Not to mention, the game tie in is clever, and could have long lasting implications for future entertainment franchises. But beyond that, we’ve been denied decent TV sci-fi for a while now, and the only way to get it is to throw our support behind what’s out there. So tune your DVRs to SyFy on Monday nights. I think there is enough promise in Defiance to make it worth your while.