Battlestar Galactica

:: A few weeks ago at practice, a fellow band member mentioned the revived, or as it is being called, reimaged Battlestar Galactica series, speaking favourably of the new version. (Canadian site here.) I was vaguely aware that a mini-series version had aired in 2003, but paid no attention to it at the time. When the original series first aired in the late 70s, I detested it, with the exception of having a major crush on Maren Jensen at the time, which caused me to watch more episodes than I care to admit. The show was pure camp, featuring characters with horrid names like Starbuck, Apollo, Athena, Adama, Boomer, and Cassiopeia, combined with bad acting and writing.

I decided to dial up the new series, and much to my surprise, found myself hooked in a very short time, albeit confused from the outset because I hadn’t seen the three hour miniseries. I did remember the show’s premise from the original series, still in place for this one. From the episodes page:

It had been more than 40 years since the humans of the 12 Colonies of Kobol battled with the Cylons, the sentient robots that turned on their creators with deadly results. The robots had observed the armistice that ended the Cylon War, but the promised diplomatic relations between man and machine never materialized. The Cylons remained quiet for years and soon their threat was all but forgotten.

When the robot Cylons infiltrated the human defense system, they launched a surprise nuclear attack that decimated humanity and all of civilization, leaving a ragtag fleet of humans as the sole survivors. Faced with an un-winnable battle against a deadly enemy, they were forced to flee under the protection of their one remaining warship, the outdated Battlestar Galactica. Pursued by the Cylons — some of whom have now taken human form — Commander Adama and President Roslin lead these last remnants of humanity in search of a new home – a planet called Earth.

After watching the first four episodes and remaining in the dark about major plot lines, I found the miniseries, and watched it this weekend. Needless to say, major story gaps were immediately filled, and the show makes much more sense.

What makes the “reimaged” series better? For starters, an outstanding cast led by Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, rock solid character actors with long pedigrees, cast as Commander Adama and President Roslin. Olmos gives immediate credibility to Adama, a natural leader whose presence bleeds authority and leadership. McDonnell’s Roslin is also tough, dealing with not only being made President on short notice, but also with advanced cancer, known only to her and two others. As Education Secretary, she was 43rd in line of succession to the presidency. The only remaining member of cabinet known to the Galactica and the ships surviving with it, she is sworn in as President, and must govern the 49,000 remaining members of humanity. A two-time Oscar nominee, McDonnell breathes life into Roslin, facing personal challenges on many levels that most couldn’t handle on the best of days.

The ridiculous names used in the original series have been reduced to what appear to be nicknames or handles for the pilots, although the names are used prominently in each episode. The characters of Starbuck and Boomer have been replaced by ballsy women, strongly portrayed by Katee Sackhoff and Grace Park.

Canadian übermodel (and fellow Albertan!) Tricia Helfer is Number Six, one of twelve Cylon human models, some of which apparently don’t even know they are Cylons. Six (not too far from Seven-of…never mind) spends two years seducing James Callis‘s Dr Baltar into revealing everything about the defense system of humanity while planting a chip in his brain, so that she appears in the flesh to him, and no one else, constantly teasing and annoying him whenever it moves her to do so. The seduction leads to the near total destruction of humanity, as the Cyclons lay waste to the twelve colonies in a swiftly executed nuclear holocaust. (I can only imagine how tough it must be for Callis, having to play a character that is constantly being smothered and suffocated by Tricia Helfer. Such a cross to bear…)

In 2005, it is expected that special effects in a show like this would be state-of-the-art, and such is the case here. What is unexpected is the darkness and grit of the show. Emphasis is placed on character and story. With survival of humanity hanging by a thread, there is never a moment in the show when you feel any ease or relief. The characters bring enormous baggage. Jamie Bamber is Apollo, Adama’s son, estranged from and blaming him for the death two years earlier of his brother Zack, with which neither man has come to terms. The XO, Tigh, portrayed by Michael Hogan, is an alcoholic, and at odds with Starbuck, Zack’s fiancé before his death.

Production values on the show have not been ignored. The strong fx are matched by production design and cinematography. Planet-based scenes are shot with colour filters, adding a realistic feel to images of alien territory. The docking bays, housing the fighter ships and maintenance crews, are shot in very bright light, in contrast to the command centre and various housing quarters throughout the Galactica, which are shot in darker, contrasting tones.

All we know about the Cylons is that they were created by man decades ago, and eventually turned on humanity, destroying them for reasons unknown. The new show’s creators (or reimagers?) chose to maintain the look of the original robotic creatures, which I felt from day one looked altogether rather silly, with the red beam of light pulsating back and forth where normally one would find eyes. A small price to pay in exchange for a show of such high quality. Another smart choice: the elimination, at least so far, of the annoying child character, Boxey, who appeared in the miniseries, but is nowhere to be seen in the episodes broadcast to date.

In his Dec 2004 review, Michael King described the new version as “not your father’s Galactica”, and Matt Shafer followed earlier this month, calling it “the best show you’re probably not watching”, adding “In only five episodes Battlestar Galactica established itself as not only the best Science Fiction show on television but one of the best shows on television bar none.” Both are accurate descriptions of the most pleasant surprise of the 2004-2005 television season. The good news is that after five aired episodes, the Sci-Fi Channel has ordered a second set of 13 episodes. The bad news is, I’ve lost another hour during the week when I could be doing something else besides watching television!

NOTE: This review also appears on Blogcritics.com

5 Responses to “Battlestar Galactica”

  1. jenB Says:

    i am not watching the show, but what else could you be doing? embrace the teevee! its winter!

    that said. coincidentally, i was over at my parents recently searching high and low for a photo of me and a ceylon circa 1982? from universal studios. i was SCARED crapless of them.

  2. Steve 40 Says:

    I was talked into watching this series at VCON this year as a number of actors and others from the show were at the convention. It is rare for me to meet and talk with someone and then a couple of days later see them acting in a role on TV. I also have been hooked by this show. I hope someone is going to show it in High Definition some where as it is filmed that way. There was the mini series that was shown on NBC in High Definition ( a little bit cut up but still watchable ). It looked incredible.

  3. KT475453 Says:

    Hey, Good to see another fellow Albertan hooked! I know waht Steve 40 means though, its even stranger for me. I have known Tricia froa anumber of years and was both suprised and amazed to see her in Battlestar. I was very glad to hear that it has been picked up for a seond season already.

  4. Nick Says:

    1. Does Battlestar air on basic cable in Edmonton?

    2. When?

  5. randy Says:

    In Edmonton, the show is on Space, Channel 43 on cable, Saturday at 6:00 pm, repeating Sunday at 3:00 pm.

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