One of the most divisive issues among science fiction geeks in 2003 (even more than Matrix sequels) was the re-make of Battlestar Galactica.
Richard Hatch, Apollo on the original series, had been fighting for years to see Galactica resurrected, and many fans of the original science fiction series wanted to see his vision realized. Another, less likely project was the creation of an IMAX feature involving one of Galactica’s sister ships, the Pegasus. At one point, Bryan Singer — of X-Men fame — was going to helm a new TV series.
And then there was the last possibility, a SCI-FI Channel re-make that would “reimagine” the series for the 21st century while ditching all of the original actors. As the year progressed, it became clear that the remake was the option that was going to be realized. Reimagining is rarely a good thing for sci-fi, and this seemed to be more of the same — heck, there were rumors that Starbuck was going to be a woman. Months were spent debating (well, more like slamming) the merits of SCI-Fi’s effort.
Personally, I wanted to see Hatch succeed — his updated plans for Galactica were easily the most compelling. But that loyalty wasn’t enough to keep me from watching — and surprisingly, enjoying — the mini-series.
To start, I appreciated Galactica’s low-tech tactics vs. the Cylons — it allows them to do the retro thing AND have a good reason for doing it. It also reminded me of the “Comet Empire” season from Star Blazers , in which the rest of the fleet has been automated and has TWO wave motion guns, but it’s the trusty old Argo, about to be scrapped, which saves the day.
I liked how the Galactica was being converted to a museum — I’ve been to the U.S.S. Intrepid in New York and the Yorktown down in South Carolina (I think it’s SC … it’s been a while), and I’ve always found it to be very surreal to see what was a fighting ship turned into a mothballed antique. Having an entire flight of ancient Vipers on board seems a bit over the top, but ultimately, I think it worked.
I didn’t have a problem with the much-maligned Starbuck, save that she (and Apollo) didn’t get nearly enough screen time). The rest of the cast was adequate, but hardly stand out.
I cringed when I heard the Cylons were being turned into sex kittens, but I think that actually worked — I appreciated having the earlier Cylon models hanging around. The drone fighters make sense, but the big glowing eye detracted from their overall effectiveness — I think they could have done that effect differently (maybe several smaller sensors?). And as far as demonstrating Cylon menace goes … having one snap the neck of a baby was gruesome, but utterly perfect for demonstrating their inhumanity.
Now as for what I didn’t like…
“There’s a heck of a lot of sex in the future.” My wife Sue said that after walking into the room a few times during the first hour. I didn’t time it, but I think that there were three sex scenes in the first 45 to 60 minutes of the show. It got to the point that I was expecting Starbuck to tear open the cell bars and jump Apollo’s bones as soon as he walked into the brig. A little sex isn’t bad, but this much is just silly.
And then there the action, or the lack there of. Too much of the fighting happened off screen. Sure, we got a few distance shots of the colonies being bombed from outer space, but we didn’t actually see the Cylon fleet doing it. I didn’t need close-ups of cities being destroyed necessarily, but one big battle scene in which the Cylon fleet tore through the modern Battlestars would have been excellent. Heck, even just a few glimpses of the BaseStars raining hellfire down on the colonies would have been great. The second two hours of the series were better in this regard since it contained the climactic battle between the Galactica and the Cylon fleet.
Also, there were a profound lack of dogfights — I wanted real, cockpit perspective, “damn what was that chunk of debris?!” dogfights. In the first battle, the Colonial fighters just sit there and got annihilated by the Cylons (yes, I know this was supposed to demonstrate their ineffectiveness) and in the second the camera flitted all over the place, not focusing on any one aspect of the battle. The final battle was decent, but still didn’t have the sort of in-your-face dog-fighting that I wanted.
Galactica also suffered from what I call the “NextGen Curse” — the attempt to recreate Star Trek: The Next Generation’s ensemble crew. Many science fiction series (including every Trek series since TNG) have tried this and they almost always fall flat. Galactica is no exception — by scattering its huge cast to the four winds, it fails to provide the sort of depth we needed if we really wanted to get to know Adama, Apollo and Starbuck. Secondary characters are ok, but get them back on the Galactica ASAP.
Musically, the mini series did not open with the Galactica theme, which just plain sucks. Heck, we only heard a bit of it during the flyby scene — at the very least it should have rolled with the opening credits.
Finally, I found Adama’s little “is humanity worth saving?” speech to be annoying. He mulls over the fact that even after having survived the prior Cylon onslaught, humanity has continued to scheme, murder and betray one another. He never answers his own question. The scene is an awkward one, and it strikes me as a line that some humanity-hating Hollywood liberal decided to throw in there. It wouldn’t annoy me so much if he’d answered his own musing with a strong affirmative. I get enough of this anti-human crap on CNN — I don’t need it in my sci-fi too.
Strangely, I think the reason I ultimately enjoyed watching Galactica had more to do with the old Wing Commander games than the original Battlestar Galactica. It certainly had much more of a WC feel to it — the retro feel of the ship, the nature of the command and flight crews, the use of old-school ordinance — it all harkens back to WC much more than Galactica.
While I’d rather have seen the mini-series as a continuation of the old storyline rather than a “re-imaginging”, Battlestar Galactica proves to be a capable alternative to the original.
- BattleStar Galactica
- Director: Michael Rymer
- Starring: Edward James Olmos, Katee Sackhoff, James Callis, Jamie Bamber
- SCI-FI Channel
- Format: Mini-Series
- Buy it from Amazon