Last year, the SciFi Channel in America brought back an old series in a new format - the late 1970s series, 'Battlestar Galactica', born on television to attempt to ride the coattails of the popularity of 'Star Wars' in the cinemas. There are some similarities, but major differences. The SciFi Channel floated a four-hour miniseries of the new Battlestar Galactica to gauge reaction, and it came back favourably. The new series is in production (fortunately the network had the presence to sign the actors to continuation agreements should the series get picked up).
There won't be any spoilers here (there can't be, as the series isn't finished yet), but the stage is set from the miniseries, which now serves as the series pilot. However, first a brief description of the original series is in order.
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In the original series, the saga opens at a peace conference, ending the 1000-year war between the humans, congregated mostly on twelve planetary colonies, and the Cylons, a machine race bent on galactic domination. Due to treachery by one of the colonial leaders (Baltar, played by John Colicos), the peace conference is in fact a trap, and a Pearl Harbouresque attack destroys all but one of the primary warships (the Battlestar Galactica). Meanwhile, the undefended colonies are similarly ransacked, left indefensible and uninhabitable. The commander, Adama (Lorne Greene), assumes leadership of a ragtag fleet of several hundred ships that sets out for a distant world known only in legend - Earth. The series continues throughout the course of the year with adventures of the human fleet encountering minor human settlements and lots of Cylons along the way - lots of space battles feature the Viper pilots Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), who have relationship situations with Casseopia (Laurette Spang), Serena (Jane Seymour) and Athena (Maren Jensen).
The original series ended before the journey ended; there was an earlier attempt at resurrecting the series in 'Galactica 1980' which mercifully fell victim to well-deserved bad ratings rather quickly, and purists never considered a true continuation of the series. This, of course, sets the stage for the new series criticism.
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In this series, with a few nods to the original ideas, there are still humans on twelve planets who have an advanced civilisation, but an aging military fleet. They've been at peace for twenty years, since the Cylons (here the humans' own creation) departed, having never signed a formal peace treaty. There is no peace conference here - rather, the aging battlestar Galactica is about to be decommissioned, when an unexpected attack by dramatically more advanced Cylons takes place, incorporating not only direct military strikes but also computer internet/network hijacking, facilitated by the mentally unbalanced but ingenious Dr. Baltar. Adama takes the Galactica to a safe location while the rest of the colonies fall quickly to the Cylons; various ships in the interstellar routes survive, including one with a cabinet minister elevated to the presidency due to the emergency, Laura Roslin. The ragtag fleet assembles at a forgotten supply depot, and does a sort of light-speed jump to safety after fighting (and essentially losing) against a new Cylon death star.
There are small nods to the old series - on the Galactica preparing for decommissioning, a museum has been set up, which has models of old Cylon death stars (these are models from the original series). The specifications for Cylons show the old metallic storm-trooper, but we are also informed that no one has seen a Cylon in twenty years (they've outgrown their shiny metal armour). In one scene, the museum chatter about the history of the Galactica mentions a Commander Hatch as its first commander, an obvious nod to Richard Hatch, the star of the original series.
The character of Laura Roslin is new, and the figure of Adama is a very different one from the original. Perhaps the most shocking change is that Starbuck here, while still a cigar-chomping, swaggering, swearing, card-playing rogue of an ace pilot, is also a woman.
The pilot shows people to be very human - whereas in the original series, they were almost playing archetypes of hero, villain, father-figure, etc., in this new show the roles are nowhere as distinct. The characters have flaws, and not Persian-carpet flaws, but real, honest-to-goodness problems and personality quirks. Adama is adamant about keeping the Galactica safe but also in engaging the enemy; his clashes with the authority of Laura Roslin, a president essentially without a nation, promises to be an interesting one. Apollo is still the solid captain of the fighter squad, and Starbuck and Boomer his able lieutenants, but there are secrets lurking here, too. And then there is Dr. Baltar, in whom the line between genius and insanity is constantly being redrawn.
The fleet is assembled, and heading off toward Earth. Here, however, Earth is not the ancient migratory memory of Adama as in the original series as much as it a mythical invention to give people hope in the fleet - this could set up a very different character to their run from the Cylons. Also, the fact that the Cylons are ultimately the creation of the humans, and now look like the humans, will factor heavily into a revised story line.
Edward James Olmos .... Commander William Adama
Mary McDonnell .... Colonial President Laura Roslin
Jamie Bamber .... Captain. Lee Adama (Apollo)
Katee Sackhoff .... Lieutenant. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)
James Callis .... Dr. Gaius Baltar
Tricia Helfer .... Number 6
Grace Park .... Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer)
Michael Hogan .... Col. Paul Tigh
Important note: The 'Season 1' box set contains
this mini-series that started the whole thing off. You
do NOT need this if you buy 'Season 1'
One of my favorite television series of all time along with 'The Wire'
and 'Breaking Bad'.
Like 'The Wire' this is a complex, Dickensian study of human nature,
not afraid of asking big questions, and meticulously plotted like a
great novel, so that each episode is a chapter in a much larger whole.
Just as 'The Wire' used the overly familiar cliché' world of the cop
show to jump off from and shatter our preconceptions, and 'Battlestar
Galactica' uses the sci-fi series, and the idea of human versus robot
wars the same way.
This is thinking person's sci fi, in the tradition of Arthur C. Clarke,
or Isaac Asimov. It's about why we are how we are, what it means to be
a human being, morality under constant pressure in times of war,
fathers and sons, impossible loves, metaphors for modern and recent
politics and real world situations.
My wife, far from a sci-fi fan was hooked after 3 episodes, and we tore
through 5 years of shows in just a few days. It's that addicting.
The acting is all at least quite good, and some cast members are
remarkable, creating characters full of depth, complexity and
contradiction. The writing is terrific, allowing the characters to
change and grow, but always in ways that make sense, creating seemingly
inexplicable conundrums, only to find surprising, sometimes shocking -
but ultimately logical and satisfying - ways to explain where they've
taken us. The special effects are generally very impressive for TV,
even if they're not really why you watch this show.
It also has some of the most tense episodes of television I've ever
seen, and some of the season enders left me completely wrung out and
blown away. I was sad to get to the last episode, just as one is sad to
finish a great book.
on November 5, 2004
... and the look of the show is a new artistic standard thanks to the people at Zoic! FX.
Battlestar Galactica was a Star Wars ripoff from the late 70s that became a TV show... and was cancelled after a season. The show was cheezy, badly written, and was mostly about Starbucks hair... which survived to play a role in The A-Team!
This remake, or reimaging, looks great and has a completely different tone. Rather like the original shows focus on the characters so too does this new production but with a definate edge that pushes the show into actual drama. The characters are all connected to each other emotionally without the silly stereo types. Starbuck and Apollo have a real reason to be close friends, for example.
The action shots are truly fantastic! Unlike other Sci-Fi shows that just look like toys shooting rays at each other in a video game, BG breaks into shaky cameras and clumbsy zoom shots giving the action tention, speed, and real ... hey I'll say it again - drama. I can tell these SPFX are done by Zoic! I also noticed Serenity (from the canceled show Firefly) landing in one shot! LOL!!!
The cylons were just robots to shoot, but in this new show the cylons have done something no one seems to have noticed. They destroyed all of humanity with almost no effort... because it was easier to use human weakness (Baltar) to destroy us. Drama!
Most Sci-Fi shows in the past have had ships floating about like little toys shooting rays at one another. Everything was smooth and easy - and boring. Well you know, I love spacy ships as much as the next guy but here comes something that, imho, makes all the space battles of the past seem like old fashioned SPFX. We are seeing the dawn of a new era where being slick isn't good enough... you have to be dramatic! Exciting!
You know, we have been flooded with slick CGI space battles and such for years. Hey great but it all has started to look suspiciously like someone was trying to sell me a toy. You know, a good French Connection car chase would be lame incarnate if it was filmed like a TV ad.
This new BG used shaky cameras, clumbsy zooms, and just blew me away with the tention and drama of these visuals. A real accomplisment in my view.
SO glad this is to be a series. Now if only Starbuck would come to my place and knock me around for a bit. :D