December 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Battlestar Galactica
Sci-Fi Channel Media: Premier: 12/08-09/03
Review by
Ernest Lilley

Official Site: http://www.scifi.com/battlestar/

Directed by Michael Rymer  Writing credits Glen A. Larson (teleplay) Ronald D. Moore

Cast: Edward James Olmos .... Commander William Adama / Mary McDonnell .... Laura Roslin / James Callis .... Dr. Gaius Baltar / Tricia Helfer .... Number 6 / Jamie Bamber .... Captain Lee 'Apollo' Adama / Katee Sackhoff .... Lieutenant Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace / Grace Park .... Lieutenant Sharon 'Boomer' Valerii / Aaron Douglas .... Chief Petty Officer Tyrol / Paul Campbell .... Billy Keikeya / Kandyse McClure .... Dualla / Connor Widdows .... Boxey  

It's no surprise that fans of the original series suffered cognitive dissonance watching the Sci-Fi channel's remake of Battlestar Galactica. It's not especially important. SF remakes have been upsetting fans since Star Trek (The Motion Picture) left spacedock to reveal an aging Kirk who had lost touch with the cool guy he once acting out a midlife crisis that seemed impervious to phaser fire. You just can't go back. You can, however go forward all over again, and that's what really savvy remakes do. Smallville  for instance, succeeds not because we know the Superman story, but because it challenges what we know. The new Battlestar has a chance to do the same thing for Adama's ragtag fleet of lost-in-space skynet survivors.

Starbuck, once played as a male maverick by Dirk Benedict, is now a scrappy blonde played by Katee Sackhoff. While she retains the original character's cockiness, she lacks much of a sense of humor. Baltar, for all his libidinous larceny, has had his testosterone level halved, but the blonde babe Cylon making the scene - Number 6 - has plenty of cyber-hormones to make up for it. In fact, a lot of the subtext of the new show is that women are the new men and that men are the new women...or like Adama Sr... dinosaurs that somehow escaped the asteroid impact. Fans stuck in a 70s something reality have trouble with this notion, but while it's not universally true, it's a valid reflection of today. Interestingly, Apollo, who was a sensitive kind of guy in the original series has been recast as considerably tougher this time around.

Commander Adama plays the tough dinosaur perfectly, giving no quarter and our own experiences with computer viruses and lessons driven home in T1,2, and 3 make the threat of computers usurping control of our systems all too real. In the original show, Lorne Greene's Adama orders the ship to return to its home planet, leaving its viper space fighters to hold off the Cylons. Here, Edward Olmos's Adama makes equally hard decisions, abandoning colonists to save the last functioning Battlestar and his XO screws himself up to condemn crew trapped in a burning section of the ship, both realistic strategies steered clear of by the Trek generation, but that was then, when the world was (officially) at peace. Now, post 9/11 and three waves of Persian Gulf war, we are no longer so confident that we are at peace, and hard choices no longer seem so alien.

The look and feel of the new show reflect an attention to the realities of warships. Hundreds of years of tradition, unchanged by progress isn't a surprise by anyone who's served on a warship, and the sight of gray walls crowded by cable and gear ring more true than the Holiday Inn in space look of the TOS Enterprise. Watching the premier, my Navy officer wife pointed out (she always does this) pieces of actual Navy gear on the bridge. I don't think that's a bad sign. She's done that on Navy ships hundreds of year's old, and it won't surprise me if some things transcend time and space.

The science in the new show creeps towards getting better. Spaceships maneuver in non-aerodynamic ways...except when they sweep and bank through arcs. Ships and missiles make satisfying sounds as they zoom by, but those sounds are just stylized enough to make me think of them as an element of the score...not of space. Force fields and transporters aren't in evidence, though ironically science is starting to talk about making them reality.

Overall I liked the two part pilot for a new series, though I cringe at any show whose plot revolves around a desperate search for a way home. Of course, in the final scene of the pilot, Adama confesses that Earth is just a fairy tale he cooked up to give the crew hope, but we know better, and I suspect he does too.

I'm looking forward to the series, if it actually materializes despite my misgivings about the underlying premise. Running from the Cylon threat isn't going to stop it from popping up again. Sooner or later humanity and cyberkind are going to have to bury the hatchet, preferably not in each other. Media SF's current fear of computers isn't absurd, but neither is it all that useful. Fortunately, the folks at the Sci-Fi channel aren't as clueless as your standard network executives, so one can hope. In the meantime, I'm all for keeping the vipers loaded and ready for launch.

2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
columns - events - features - booksmedia                    home  /  Join Mailing List