December 08, 2004

This is not your father's Galactica

"The Cylons were created by man.
They rebelled.
They evolved.
They look
And feel
Some are programmed to think they ARE human.
There are many copies.
And they have a Plan."

--Prelude to episodes of "Battlestar Galactica"

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Flashback to 1977: President Carter was hosting Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat at Camp David. And on ABC, the pilot movie of "Battlestar Galactica" premiered, riding the "Star Wars" wave into television history.

The series starred Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch & Dirk Benedict, and told the story of mankind-turned-nomads of a "rag-tag fleet of ships led by the last battlestar, Galactica," on a quest for the fabled missing human colony: Earth.

That "Galactica" was hokey at best. It included really bad acting, hokey scripts, and oddball concepts that were insanely expensive to produce.

Flash forward to 2003.

After multiple attempts to resurrect the franchise, The Sci-Fi Channel finally put together a new "Battlestar Galactica," in the form of a four-hour miniseries. Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell headed up a cast of mostly unknown actors in a complete rewrite and rebuild of the story.

Twelve human colonies have existed in peace for many years.

Decades ago, a robotic race, called Cylons, were created to serve man. They rebelled and after a conflict, withdrew to another part of space.

The Sci-Fi Channel miniseries shows the story behind the Cylons return and their destruction of humanity. Humanity is reduced to a flotilla of starships, led by the last military vessel, the battlestar Galactica.

The Galactica is a true military vessel, and feels very much like an aircraft carrier, and is certainly far more gritty than the 70s version ever hoped to be.

This new "Galactica" is far darker than anything else out there. The miniseries showed more in terms of scenes of the destruction of the human civilization, and even in the scenes not shown, you are feeling the pain and despair of the remaining humans.

After the miniseries blew the top off of ratings records on Sci-Fi, a television series was inevitable, and with the help of the UK's Sky, the series went into production.

The entire cast of the miniseries returned, with Olmos as Commander William Adama, who is at odds as often as not with the new President of the human alliance, Laura Roslin, played by Mary McDonnell. Roslyn had been the Secretary of Education, 43rd in the line of succession prior to the holocaust, and finds herself reluctantly taking on the presidential mantle over the dwindling remnants of humanity.

The hokey names of the original "Galactica" have been turned into the call signs for the pilots of this version: Apollo is Captain Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber), son of the Galactica's commanding officer; Starbuck is -- yes, a girl, Lieutenant Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sakhoff). Thrace is the "top gun" of the fighter pilots on the Galactica, and shares the predilection for cigars that Dirk Benedict portrayed as Starbuck in the original.

Canadian character actor Michael Hogan plays the hard drinking, arrogant second-in-command, Colonel Paul Tigh. The easy-on-the-eyes Grace Park is Lieutenant Sharon "Boomer" Valerii, who is more than she seems.

British actor James Callis plays Doctor Gaius Baltar, who's actions may have doomed humanity, and whose mind is plagued by the enigmatic Number Six, a Cylon who seduces Baltar's mind, and who has an as yet unknown agenda of her own.

The opening credits start with views of the fighter battles and massive destruction that punctuated the miniseries underneath a haunting vocal meloday, sounding not unlike Enya. The music emphasizes the dire situation facing the remnants of humanity. The opening concludes with a tribal-sounding rapid fire drum beat over scenes from the present episode.

The series opens up a week after the events of the miniseries, but no one has been able to sleep.

Thirty-three minutes after the fleet arrives at a new location after a faster-than-light jump, the Cylons appear, attempting to destroy the fleet's ships. This leads to another FTL jump, followed by another agonizing thirty-three minutes, hence the name of the episode, "33 Minutes."

The episode is tightly-knit with action which leaves you on the edge of your seat, and starts to play off of the events of the miniseries, providing multiple catalysts for episodes to follow. "Shakey, handheld-type" camera work, not unlike that seen in other dramas like "The Shield" or "Homicide" punctuate the series, and actually add to the dramatic feel of the show.

Most of the other episodes aired to date certainly sit in that superior categoy, while one or two others fall short.

Eight episodes have aired on Sky One in the UK over the past couple of months, under a part of their agreement with Sci-Fi. The Sci-Fi Channel's four-hour miniseries is being edited into a three-hour movie, set to run on NBC Saturday, January 8. Regular episodes begin on Sci-Fi Friday, January 14.

The full four-hour miniseries goes on sale on DVD on December 28 at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.

Take a look. This is not your father's Galactica.

(Also posted at Blogcritics)

Posted by mhking at December 8, 2004 11:40 PM

(psst., Michael-- sorry for posting here, but there's no email address listed. Any chance of adding me to your blogroll?):)

Posted by: Tony Iovino at December 9, 2004 06:33 AM

Kudos for writing the only review of the new "Galactica" that I've read that doesn't talk about the show's parallels to 9/11.

Not that I'm complaining about the fact that the show clearly draws a lot of inspiration from recent events, nor that I'm complaining that people point this out. It's just nice to read a review that isn't a carbon-copy of all the other reviews.

Myself, I can't find enough adjectives to describe this show. It's over-the-top good. It's got tight, unrelenting storytelling, engrossing characters, and a distinctive look and feel that pulls you in. I hope it's able to find the audience that it deserves.

Posted by: Jeff Harrell at December 9, 2004 11:39 AM

With a reference to the original 12 Human colonies, I feel a Biblical undertone to Galactica, ver 2.0.

At least we wouldn't have to put up with intergalactic discomania! ;) (sheesh!)

Posted by: Jacques Vader at December 14, 2004 12:46 AM

I'm fairly sure the 12 colonies with earth as the 13th were part of the original story. I haven't seen anything yet in the religion of the colonists that wasn't already there. What's interesting in the new one is that the Cylons have a religion, and they're monotheists (unlike the colonists, who seem to have multiple deities, but I'm not exactly how that works; the Lords of Kobol may just be a group of prophets who have achieved worthiness of being prayed to, though I did think I heard someone saying something about "the gods" at one point).

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at January 15, 2005 11:58 AM
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