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I’ve seen some episodes of the old “Battlestar Galactica” TV show, which appeared about 25 years ago and went off the air after only a yearlong run, but I was never really impressed with it. I’ve also heard all the brouhaha about the upcoming Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, including the much discussed gender change of a major character. For all intents and purposes, the mini-series has all the earmarks of a pilot for a TV series. This pilot just happens to be 4 hours long (plus commercials) and will be shown in consecutive nights on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Night one opens with dignitaries gathering for the decommissioning of the legendary space carrier the Battlestar Galactica. The commander of this giant ship is Adama (Edward James Olmos), who is still having familial problems with son and Viper ace Apollo (Jamie Bamber). Meanwhile, the Cylons, absent for 40 years since they last tangled with humanity, has returned with a vengeance — with intentions of finishing off their creators: man. Leading the way is sexy blonde and android Number 6 (Tricia Helfer), who tricks vain scientist Baltar (James Callis) into giving her military secrets.
The first thing you notice about “Battlestar Galactica” is just how clunky it is. Immediately a lot of questions spring to mind, such as: why are humans flying around in spaceships still using paper? Can someone explain why this seems logical to writer Ron Moore, who has proclaimed that he wants the show to be “realistic”? Having seen a few episodes of the original show, I can see some resemblance in aesthetics between the two incarnations, but the mini-series seems not to have done itself any favors with its much bigger budget. Why does space and spaceships look so darn uninviting?
Add to that director Michael Rymer’s irrational insistence on treating his space battles like he’s playing pool, with no coherence at all. Rymer (“Queen of the Damned”) also shoots almost every scene with handheld cameras, but handheld in the sense that he wants you to know the camera is jiggling for some strange reason only he can comprehend. I didn’t know TV was supposed to make me seasick. Gee, thanks.
For the first episode of a 2-episode mini-series, “Battlestar” starts off quickly. In no time the Cylons are attacking, using their new technology to disable the human ships and slaughter the pilots like lambs. This advantage backfires when they meet the Galactica — the almost-decommissioned Battlestar is not only obsolete in the fleet, but its Vipers are all museum relics. Instead of this being a big disadvantage, it means the Vipers are immune to the Cylons’ new weapon.
Script-wise, “Battlestar” is just not very impressive. This is the fault of writer Ron Moore, who is a veteran of a host of sci-fi series. With “Battlestar”, there seems to be an overwhelming number of characters, and all of them ring false, in particular a number of forced melodrama. Jamie Bamber (“Band of Brothers”) is moody and quiet and is mostly dull. Katee Sackhoff (“Halloween: Resurrection”), as the female incarnation of Starbuck, looks like a futuristic Butch lesbian and acts like she’s suffering from prolong PMS. I guess Moore thought a female has to act like a crude brute in order to be seen as “strong” and “independent”.
The only person who comes out of the first night with any touch of class is Edward James Olmos (“Stand and Deliver”), but unfortunately his character has little to do except stand around the Galactica’s bridge giving updates on the war. You’d think the commander of a giant ship would have more to do. Speaking of veteran actors, Mary McDonnell (“Donnie Darko”) looks very old and uninterested in the whole affair. Her character is supposed to be the Secretary of Education who ends up being President when everyone else in the Government is killed by the Cylon surprise attack, but McDonnell just looks like she’d rather be elsewhere.
Will fans of the old TV show like the revamp version? Probably not. Even though I’ve only seen a few episodes of the old series, I can tell that the leads had more personality than the young bucks of this new Galactica. Actress Kate Sackhoff, much maligned by the online community, will not convert any new fans with her angst-ridden portrayal of Starbuck. I would say more about Bamber’s Apollo, but there’s nothing to say. The actor, and the character, mind as well not exist at all for all the interest he generates.
Night one offers up a lot of special effects-laden fights. If you’ve seen “Wing Commander”, then you’ve seen the “realistic” space environments of the mini-series. In fact, these guys probably borrowed the effects generators from the cancelled TV show “Space: Above and Beyond”, which came out years ago.
It deserves mentioning that the show’s “never create what you can’t control” concept reeks of lazy writing. Here, the Cylons were created by man to serve, but rose up against them 40 years ago. So, according to the script, mankind’s eventual downfall is all its fault. How many science fiction writers have fallen back on this old standby? (Apparently this is not the reason for the conflict in the original TV series.) Coupled with Moore’s misguided effort with the Starbuck character, the presence of this lazy explanation isn’t much of a surprise.
Obviously I’ll refrain from making a final judgment on the mini-series until I’ve seen the second half. The above is only surface reflections on what I’ve seen so far. In truth, I don’t find the mini-series to be very interesting, and if not for the sake of completing this review, I probably wouldn’t tune in otherwise.
The second night rejoins the two groups of human survivors left standing at the end of night one: the Galactica and the President’s caravan. If night two of “Battlestar” says anything, it’s that writer Ron Moore is definitely taking his inspirations from the “Wing Commander” movie. As the Galactica begins to collect survivors, the “spaceship as submarine” parallels come hard and fast. This leads to one inevitable conclusion: it appears as if the makers of this “re-imagining” has taken about, oh, a century or so of technology away from the original series. I guess this is improvement…right?
Of note in the second half is how puppy doggish Apollo gets around the newly elected President McDonnell, who continues to look like she’s sleepwalking through the mini-series. The character, we learn, has cancer, which may explain her lack of energy. Regardless, I kept expecting Apollo to start suckling at the sleepy McDonnell’s bosom at any moment. Another thing that keeps appearing is the presence of eyeglasses. Wait a minute. It’s the future, man is flying around in spaceships, and we still haven’t found a way to give everyone laser eye surgery? Man, the future sucks!
I was also informed that the Boomer character, played by Grace Park, was originally a man in the original series. In the mini-series, Boomer is not only a woman, but also Asian. I guess Moore made Starbuck and Boomer female because his intention was to “sex up” the show. He doesn’t exactly succeed, even though everyone on the Galactica seems to be constantly “getting it on”, regardless of military protocol. At this rate, the Galactica will turn into a giant spaceship/nursery in a few years. That is, except for Starbuck, who still looks like she’s secretly prowling the Galactica’s corridors for hot women.
Like the first night, the only real standout is Edward James Olmos, who exerts the only credible acting in the whole group. Here, Adama gets more time and as a result, impresses. His reunion with his son, who he thought was dead, is quite moving; as well as the two men’s eventual understanding — all without one of those embarrassing scenes where they tell each other about their feelings and whatnot. The only other face one can look forward to is model Tricia Helfer, who oozes sex appeal. Permanently outfitted in a complimentary red dress that reveals her generous chest and legs that go on forever, the tall, blonde, and impossibly beautiful Helfer steals every scene. It also helps that she brightens up a show mired in mazes of blocky metal.
Night two also introduces an intriguing concept: with Baltar having escaped to the Galactica, he realizes that Number Six (Helfer) has implanted a computer chip in his head that allows her to, in short, “be” with him permanently. Although Six is one of many similar Cylon models, this particular Six seems to genuinely be in love with Baltar’s atrocious personality. The premise isn’t new — “Farscape” did the same thing with the lead character having an implanted version of his arch nemesis stuck in his head. Like that sci-fi series, the implanted Number Six aids Baltar instead of impeding him.
As I mentioned before, fans of the old series will probably not like this remake. If anything, the mini-series looks even clunkier than the budget-constrained original. The show’s perplexing world is still perplexing, such as its use of paper, the presence of eyeglasses, and communication gears that look like they belong in an old attic and not on a spaceship. How exactly does this type of “technology” not be a liability in space? Compared to the Cylons, the humans look like they’re riding around in a garbage can.
All in all, I don’t think “Battlestar” is all that bad. It has promise, and the continued adventures of a possible TV series would be worthwhile to follow. That is, if the producers tell their directors to stop treating the show like “NYPD Blue” and to stop shaking the camera and using insane zooms for no apparent reason. That, and a number of cast changes will do wonders.
On a final note, apparently making both Starbuck and Boomer women wasn’t Moore’s only middle finger to fans of the old series. The mini-series closes out with a big revelation that is bound to make Moore Enemy No. 1 among the old series’ diehard fans. Good luck at the next “Battlestar Galactica” convention, Ron. Wear a bulletproof vest.
Michael Rymer (director) / Ronald D. Moore (screenplay)
CAST: Edward James Olmos …. William Adama
Mary McDonnell …. Laura Roslin
James Callis …. Dr. Gaius Baltar
Tricia Helfer …. Number 6
Jamie Bamber …. Captain Apollo
Katee Sackhoff …. Starbuck
Grace Park …. Boomer