CRITICS' REVIEWS OF THE

NEW BATTLESTAR GALACTICA


Roush Review

I almost rejected the assignment of reviewing Sci Fi's remake — or is it relaunch? — of Battlestar Galactica. No good can come from this, I told myself. I know all too well how passionate sci-fi fans can be about their pet franchises. (Imagine someone trying to destroy my beloved Farscape. Oh, wait. Sci Fi already did that.)

Hearing of the furor that erupted when news of this revisionist miniseries began to leak, I was reminded of how I felt when my own childhood fave, Lost in Space, was turned into a laughably leaden big-budget movie.

Full disclosure: I was never a Battlestar Galactica fan. In college during its brief initial run and watching precious little TV at the time, I had no interest in what seemed to me to be an especially cheesy Star Wars clone. Time has not improved my outlook. I recently watched some of the original series on DVD — love the Cylon packaging — and, while respecting the budget limitations of the time, couldn't imagine what people ever saw in it.

So when I give Sci Fi's new version a cautious thumbs up, put it in perspective. I especially liked the conceit that as this miniseries begins, the original Battlestar is being retired into a tourist-trap museum, an artifact of an earlier and simpler time (much like the original series). Yes, it's predictable that this underequipped vessel will once again become the flagship for the battered remnants of the human race, outmatched and outfought by the Cylon robot warriors they had created. And yes, it takes an awfully long time to get to that point in this leisurely paced two-part movie.

But I was impressed by this new Galactica's grim, apocalyptic tone. It's a serious attempt at dark sci-fi action-adventure, rarely corny and far less self- infatuated than the recent series of Star Wars prequels I've had to fight not to fall asleep while watching.

My main objections involve the gratuitously graphic hanky-panky in the opening reels. This is no longer a show for the kiddies. When first we meet this movie's sexually rapacious Big Bad — a humanoid Cylon in slut's clothing known as Number Six (shades of Seven of Nine?) — she gropes a diplomat before causing some explosive chaos, and later beds the devious Dr. Baltus before launching an attack on the 12 Colonies that leaves only Galactica to lead a retreat to the mythical refuge known as Earth.

The dialogue is almost always too portentous. The acting (including Edward James Olmos's mopey Commander Adama) is often wooden — although I kind of enjoyed the brashness of Katee Sackhoff's controversial distaff version of the cigar-chomping pilot Starbuck. And the entire enterprise has a musty déjà vu quality. But if this were to go to series, I'd almost certainly go along for the ride for a while.

In some aspects (mostly technical), this is the Battlestar Galactica the original producers could only dream of making. Was it worth the effort? Let the debate continue.


Variety Magazine Review

www.variety.com

Posted: Thurs., Dec. 4, 2003, 4:02pm PT

Battlestar Galactica

(Miniseries -- Sci Fi, Mon. Dec. 8, Tue. Dec. 9, 9 p.m.)

Filmed in Vancouver by Michael R. Joyce Prods. and distributed by USA Cable Entertainment. Executive producers, David Eick, Ronald D. Moore; producers, Harvey Frand; consulting producer, Glen A. Larson; director, Michael Rymer; writers, Moore, Christopher Eric James, based on a teleplay by Larson;

Commander Adama - Edward James Olmos
Laura Roslin - Mary McDonnell
Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo) - Jamie Bamber
Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck) - Katee Sackhoff
Gaius Baltar - James Callis
Number Six - Tricia Helfer
Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer) - Grace Park

By BRIAN LOWRY

Like a present-day aircraft carrier, "Battlestar Galactica" takes a while to find its directional heading and build up steam, but once it does, this proves to be a surprisingly engrossing odyssey. Surprising because it's based on a 25-year-old concept that was jettisoned out of orbit, mostly remembered as a "Star Wars" knockoff (there was even a lawsuit contending as much) with pricey special effects by John Dykstra. In this new version, however, the martial themes resonate with a certain timeliness, making it easy to see how this backdoor pilot could make the hyperleap to a series revival.

Those with a hazy recollection of the original, starring Lorne Greene, probably don't recall "Galactica" as a seething cauldron of sexuality. Still, that was a long time ago, and the target audience of young males (many born since the show signed off in 1980) has doubtless come to expect a bit more sizzle from their sci-fi.

Exec producer Ronald D. Moore, who shares script credit with Christopher Eric James, and director Michael Rymer have concocted a knowing update of the earlier concept that also draws liberally from other science fiction sources. The mix includes paranoia over sex-crazed robots that resemble humans (assuming said humans are Victoria's Secret models) and a "Starship Troopers"-like combination of youthful lust and massive loss under fire from a formidable enemy.

As the story opens, the floating fortress Galactica is preparing to be decommissioned and turned into a museum piece, its starboard launch already transformed into a gift shop. No one has seen the dreaded Cylons -- a race of rogue robots once bent on destroying humankind -- in 40 years, so the biggest headache facing Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) is his estrangement from his son, Apollo (Jamie Bamber).

All at once, however, the Cylons strike, obliterating the core of the 12 colonies' fleet and inflicting millions of casualties. The troops are exhorted to "kick some Cylon ass" (do they have asses?), but the overmatched Galactica is soon in full retreat, struggling to save refugees, while the 43rd cabinet member in line of presidential succession (Mary McDonnell) is thrust into command.

Beyond the soap opera elements, with characters hopping in and out of bed, the series plays as a rumination on military preparedness and vigilance. Young soldiers drilled in peacetime suddenly find themselves in combat, overmatched by a foe that, in an early encounter, exerts control over their computer systems -- their Cyclops eyes flashing like the robot Gort in "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

Olmos and McDonnell provide the stabilizing core of what's otherwise a cast of mostly unknowns; he's all grit and clenched teeth as he watches his troops routed and the death toll mount.

Among the various twists, the hot-shot pilot Starbuck (originally played by that dreamy Dirk Benedict) is now a woman (Katee Sackhoff), who chomps cigars and punches out a superior officer.

Meanwhile, a brilliant scientist unwittingly seduced by a beautiful Cylon mole (Tricia Helfer, who is, in fact, a former Victoria's Secret model) is plagued by her taunting image -- part of the mini's they-look-like-us Cold War paranoia, reminiscent of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or John Carpenter's "The Thing."

Despite some languid moments along the way, there's a strong sense of tension in the concluding hour, which cleverly establishes where a potential series might go without leaving so many strands dangling as to be unsatisfying if the voyage ends here.

Oddly enough, then, as the "Star Trek" franchise runs low on fuel, the semi-obscure "Galactica" could be ripe for a relaunch. After all, TV and science fiction have long had one thing in common: Each has a penchant for looking to the past in order to chart the future.

camera, Joel Ransom; editor, Dany Cooper; music, Richard Gibbs; production design, Richard Hudolin; visual effects supervisor, Gary Hutzel; casting, Eric Dawson, Robert Ulrich, Coreen Mayrs, Heike Brandstatter. 240 MIN.


TV Review: Battlestar Galactica

A disappointingly minimalist and uninvolving rendering of a very promising concept.

December 05, 2003 - "Never create what you can't control" implores the promotional campaign for the Sci Fi Channel's "reinvention" of Battlestar Galactica. Perhaps the network should have heeded its own advice: Rarely in the history of entertainment has a "re-imagining" demonstrated so much contempt for its source material – and rarely has a project with so much innate potential failed on so many fundamental levels. The new Galactica is not just a sewer dweller of a remake – it is a behemoth of troubled and inprecise storytelling whose brightest moments are only dim approximations of what they might have been.

The trouble seems to stem from the ground up – it's difficult to look at this "miniseries" (a two-part, four-hour TV movie) and believe The Powers That Be had any true understanding of the qualities that allowed the original 1978 television series to remain in people's memories for over two decades, or possessed the slightest comprehension of the stirring human drama indigenous in the concept itself.

Original series creator Glen A. Larson's multifaceted, allegorical epic has been replaced here by a one-dimensional "bottle" show (industry term for a show that rarely leaves a contained environment). The original series could be seen as a scathing examination of reverse imperialism: An enlightened, borderline decadent culture (the "human race" – a.k.a. Western Civilization) is run from its homeland by an oppressive empire of mechanical warriors who relentlessly hunt them down – bent on genocidally exterminating mankind. These automatons were utterly uninterested in the desires, hopes, or fears of others – they wanted only one way of things in the universe – their way – and would settle for nothing less. So, in essence, Galactica was originally an allegory for Western Civilization (the United States, Great Britain, etc.) being bullied and burned in the same way we have bullied and burned other nations for centuries.

Piled on top of this sublime socio-political undercurrent were several other intriguing ironies and conceits:

These mechanical nemeses were called Cylons. They were a humanoid species who became so entwined with its technology that the technology became a physical part of them. I.e., they were "the Borg" – about a decade before the Borg debuted on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Despite their technology-over- naturalism approach, the Cylon hierarchy of command was actually rotting from within due to some very human failings: Greed, opportunism, and lack of accountability perpetually hindered the Cylon efforts to exterminate mankind. The human failings of these technically perfect machines was slowly becoming their undoing.

These humans, who are being hunted from existence by these pesky lords of technology, repeatedly turn to technology to save themselves.

No matter how you look at it, the show's core was about faith. The characters in the original series did not always agree with each other, nor did they always comprehend (individually, or as a populous) what their future held. Not all of them were certain they would even find the new home they were seeking – "a shining planet known as Earth" – nor did they always believe in the people leading them there. But, somehow, they always found faith. Not just faith in "Gods" or "lords" (although religion & its place in society were certainly elements in the series) – faith in The Way of Things. Faith that tragic endings really can herald new beginnings. Faith in the axiom that we are only as alone as we let ourselves be. Faith in the strength of fellowship – sometimes having someone at our side in the darkest hour is more meaningful than the most powerful weapon anyone can construct. Faith that hope is more significant than all the answers we could ever actively seek. Faith that somehow, in some way, things will be better.

These qualities are not being mentioned in order to talk-up the (admittedly flawed) original series. This is simply meant to provide a sampling of the innate conceptual depth you will not find in the new Galactica. Gone is nearly every edgy and unique undercurrent that fuels the basic premise. Galactica is about a holocaust, yet the new movie offers no moments as gutwrenchingly truthful as the original series' pan around the Battlestar's bridge...to see the faces of Galactica's crew...crying in anguish...as they watch live video feeds of their homeworlds being obliterated. Here, Galactica gets wind of the Cylon attack on the human's homeworlds, and her crew stands around discussing the incident as if chatting about the score of a football game. There's a moment when lead Edward James Olmos believes someone he loves to be dead – he looks more like he needs laxatives than appearing genuinely upset. The people in this movie are as cold and mechanical as the Cylons they are fighting – and as cold and mechanical as the desperately contrived plot around them. All things considered, it's rather silly – and extremely distancing.

There's a very real sense this new Galactica is terrified to be genuine. Which is odd given the producers' repeated insistence that their new "take" on the show was designed to accentuate both realism and humanity. But every moment that (even skittishly) approaches being "real" or "human" is catastrophically muted by innate tackiness and sleazy excess. There is sex on this show – more sex than many viewers have likely seen (or had) in some time. But there is no love making. There is hostility, doubt, and anger – but not towards ideas that matter. The humans focus it on each other – where is affection, respect, and cohesion in a time of apocalyptic crisis? There is spoken remorse, but where are the tears? The good ship Galactica rarely embodies heroism, decency, or any quality that makes humanity exceptional – only dysfunction, distrust, and antagonism are evident. And if this is the measure of the human race, why...exactly...are we worth saving?

Galactica is utterly annihilated by narrative laziness, and a staggering inattention to detail – but this is only a reflection of logic gaffes which eventually grind the show's Teletubbies-like pacing to a nearly complete halt. Bizarre inconsistencies like:

Cylons use nuclear weapons. If "nukes" exist in this universe, then so must the Electo-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) that accompanies the blast. EMP can stop machines dead in their tracks. Why isn't it used against the Cylons here? It is not – here, with no explanation given. In this Galactica universe, the holocaust that sets mankind on the run to begin with would, in actuality, be something of a wash.

The human race has now mastered faster-than-light travel of some sort, and the creation of artificial intelligence. Why are we still having trouble beating diseases like cancer, against which significant headway has already been made in our (much more primitive) modern time? Instead, we are treated to a profoundly awkward sequence in which Mary McDonnell – suffering from the disease – sneaks into the restroom of a space shuttle to feel her breast on- camera.

The Cylons despise mankind so much that they will settle for nothing less than bombing us out of existence. So, the next generation model of Cylon...what...looks human? They're embracing the template for the very thing they wish to destroy? No matter how desperately the filmmakers try to misdirect us from this fact, it doesn't bring any integrity or – or any baseline points of association – to the proceedings. If anything, the humanizing of the Cylons nearly completely undercuts the story both variants of Galactica are trying to tell. Which goes back to the lack of understanding...not just about Galactica, but dramatic dynamic in general...mentioned above. It is difficult, if not impossible, to undertake an endeavor successfully if its essence has not been clearly defined.

Regardless of whether this miniseries is judged as a "remake" / "re-invention" – or if it is considered on its own merits – Galactica may ultimately be remembered as one of the most dispassionate, antagonistic, pessimistic, and impersonal "dramas" mounted for television in some time. It shuns the most precious conceit in its own basic story...indeed, the most precious commodity anywhere: Hope. This doesn't make for a show that is evocative, atmospheric, or emotionally challenging. This simply creates for a relentlessly unpleasant viewing experience. Battlestar Galactica is as artificially inflated as some of the most hollow programming ever aired on television. Beautiful people...posing and posturing...spend their time being smart asses (or shouting and bickering) because they are not grown-up enough – or professional enough – to communicate more effectively, or attain their goals through any other means. Galactica more closely resembles an episode of melodramatic oldies like Melrose Place or Dynasty than epic science fiction, or any mythos ever created. It feels (and even looks) more like the Wing Commander feature film than a show that is trying to be as unique and as different as its producers have repeatedly asserted. In fact, Wing Commander isn't a bad comparison to this new miniseries. If you've seen that movie, then you've a fair clue what to expect here.

Which begs the question: If this is all The Powers That Be ever intended to bring to the show, why bother to utilize such a compelling premise at all, especially in light of the abandonment of its most basic tenets? Glen A. Larson – who did not write this miniseries, but was owed a "written by" credit on this new project (as creator of the source material) per Writers Guild of America stipulations – opted to not place his real name on this reboot, installing the pseudonym Christopher Eric James instead. Which, in itself, speaks volumes.

In the end, it is Galactica fans – who have waited decades for their show to return – who will be most hurt by potentially negative fallout from this miniseries. Should the project evolve into a television series, it's unlikely anyone interested in the original will be able to stomach Battlestar Light on a weekly basis. Should ratings for this broadcast not pan out, the fanbase will be summarily blamed by a network decrying "no one wants to see Galactica anymore!" – and little thought will be given to the disenfranchising nature of the product being generated.

This has happened before, when Warner Bros. (unaffiliated with this project) decided fans didn't want more Batman movies, after the dismal failure of Batman and Robin. No one stopped to think that fans did, in actuality, want more Batman – they just wanted better product...and something more truthful to the namesake...than what they got. They voted with their pocket books, and they got burned. It's taken 6 years for another Bat flick to finally hit the pipeline. It's likely Galactica would take quite a bit longer to be re-re-born if things don't go well when the miniseries airs on December 8 and 9. Which isn't a reasonable fate for any title of this nature, and a graphic exemplification of why more care should be taken when undertaking such endeavors.

The new Battlestar Galactica embodies everything wrong with the creative process in filmmaking and television these days – and plainly illustrates the all-too-obvious hazards of remaking material simply for the sake of remaking it. Perhaps someday Galactica will live again...again, and someone will come along and reverse engineer the damage that Moore and company have brought to the equation. Maybe then we'll end up with a product that actually demonstrates a bit of thought and common sense – and find a show that remotely resembles the series being deliberately evoked through the use of the title itself...

-- Glen Oliver


Enter Sheba's Galaxy