Welcome back to The Colour Out of Space Opera! It’s been a while since the last instalment in the series (sorry, it’s been a very busy summer for writing things, as you may have noticed), so if you need to get up to speed again, here are links to part one, two, and three.
This episode, I’m going to follow on from the discussion of Star Wars, and explore how nature/culture imagery is used in the costuming and styling of Battlestar Galactica and its spinoff Caprica.
Before I do, though: reader Taz, from AO3, messaged me with a very good question based on last instalment, namely, why is Palpatine’s dominant colour purple?
“Characters mixing red and blue are usually in an ambivalent relationship between rationality and emotion. Palpatine is himself rational, but he incites others to destructive rage— Anakin first, and later Luke.”
More on this later in the series…
Anyway. Battlestar Galactica, like Star Wars and Firefly, references nature and culture in the way it styles its heroes and villains. This is not unexpected (while it’s not fair to call original BSG a ripoff of Star Wars, as some of its contemporary detractors did, it was certainly made with one eye on the popularity of a certain space-opera movie). What’s different, though, is that BSG does this less through colour than through styling. Our Colonial heroes’ closeness to nature is represented through clothing that evokes nature: warm earth-tones for flight uniforms and medical staff, silver and gold-trimmed dark blue velvet (evoking the night sky) for bridge personnel:
Meanwhile, the Cylon bad guys are all culture, being mostly chrome and lights:
And our ambivalent characters? Baltar, the human traitor, dons a Cylon-like helmet in “The Living Legend”,
echoed in the uniforms of the humanoid Cylons in the Galactica 1980 story “The Night the Cylons Landed”:
While cute cyborg-dog Muffit is a mix of natural fur and cultural metal, hinting that the humans and Cylons may not have as many differences as they think:
The reimagined series picks up on this, giving us Colonials in green uniforms with lizard-like elements (which picks up on the idea that the Cylons, in the original series, were once a reptile race), and warm orange tones for the technical crew:
While the interior of the Cylon basestars is again all minimalist decor and blinking lights:
And yes, these elements do blend repeatedly. For instance the Battlestar itself has a retro-technological look, while the Cylons’ attack ships are literally natural, being intelligent animals armoured and sent out into space. Some of the Cylons (e.g. Leoben) wear natural fabrics and colours, while some of the humans’ palettes skew the other way (e.g. Gaeta). However, since the point of the series is to get the viewer questioning where the boundaries between human and Cylon are, if indeed there are any meaningful boundaries at all, this is to good effect.
Which brings us to the prequel series Caprica. In this series, nature and culture imagery, and indeed colours, are used throughout. The most obvious way is by differentiating the cool, technological world of the Graystone family:
from the organic, emotional and violent life of the Adama family:
However, it also does something more subtle. Watch how colour is used in the title sequence (go on, it’s only 45 seconds, I’ll wait):
Note that, in the title sequence, blue-grey, cultural, colours are used for both families. The point at which the reds and greens start to come in is when the viewer enters the online world. This sets up the subtext of Caprica itself as a repressed, restrained society, which, like Morbius in Forbidden Planet, is possessed of a dangerous, roiling id under the surface.
Finally, on that score, note the advert for Caprica Season two:
The Temptation of Eve imagery is fairly obvious. Perhaps slightly less obvious is that Zoe, as Eve, is a cyborg woman represented in technological colours– biting into a very natural, and very red, apple. The threat to order in Caprica isn’t the Cylons: it’s their own repressed id.
Next episode: a different take on nature, culture and colour, with reference to classic British space opera Blake’s 7.