Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 4 Beans
Okay, you say. Wait a minute. This site is called, "Bad Movie Night." "Battlestar Galactica" was a bad TV show. It doesn't belong here.
See, this was a particularly expensive bad TV show. According to some sources, it was, at the time, the most expensive TV show ever made. In order to recoup some of the costs, its creators tried to generate a theatrical revenue, too, in at least three ways:
(1) The summer before it premiered, the TV-movie pilot episode made the rounds of certain select Canadian theatres. Unlucky Canucks were suckered into paying movie prices to see this space-turkey on the big screen, just weeks before it appeared on American television (apparently, it also played Japan that summer).
(2) After the show went down in flames (which, according to one episode, can burn wildly in the vacuum of space), they trundled the pilot out again, to American theatres. Apparently, the show's creators had even less respect for their fellow citizens than they did for mine.
(3) The same episode has become (of course), a mainstay in the "Sci-Fi" section of many video stores.
So "Galactica" is also a movie. And it's so bad, I had a hard time knowing how to approach my review. So I wrote several "mini-reviews," little space-fighter attacks on this monstrosity.
I. "Rip Off Sinks TV SF"
Speculative fiction, science-fiction, science-fantasy, space opera, and fantasy proper-- they've long been regarded by writers as the "Golden Ghetto." People who read these genres generally read more than the population at large. If you write them, you'll sell, but you won't be taken seriously by many academics. Kurt Vonnegut once said that the file drawer labelled "science-fiction" often gets mistaken by critics for a urinal. This historic contempt often spilled over into the mainstream media-- who really have no right to hold ANYONE in contempt. Never mind that Tolkien sold for decades, even when fantasy wasn't popular. Never mind that the hokey British series "Dr. Who" outseasoned nearly every other TV show in history. Never mind that "Star Trek" did better in reruns than many new shows of the early 70s. Or that even "serious" critics sat up and took notice of "2001" and "A Clockwork Orange." Nope, SF was unprofitable trash.
And then came 1977: "Star Wars," and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
The Media Gods took notice.
Of course, they still didn't understand why this stuff was popular, or even what it was. They saw dollar signs and special effects, and began the movement which has made SF and fantasy (though often in their most denuded forms) a major part of the entertainment industry.
Enter Glen Larson, a TV auteur who makes Aaron Spelling look like a visionary genius, announcing his intention to do "Star Wars" for TV.
And he killed the genre on television for a decade.
II."Rip Off? Did I Say, 'Rip Off?'"
You know, it takes nerve to rip off every single element of the most popular film of all time (at the time), and still call it original.
"Galactica" is set a long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away. The introductory narration even uses the phrase, "far, far away."
We get introductory narration. It is spoken, instead of written and, unlike the deliberately over- the-top opening of Lucas' films, it is ponderously self-serious.
The larger ships, built by a breakaway company from "Industrial Light and Magic," copy exactly the "cannibalized model battleship" look of "Star Wars." Little fighter ships, meanwhile, imitate the X-wings, Y-wings, and TIE fighters.
The villains, the Cylons, are a chrome weld of Darth Vader and the Imperial Stormtroopers.
Luke Skywalker becomes Apollo. Rogue Han Solo becomes the appallingly one-dimensional Starbuck. Leia gets doubled into two predictable, Betty-and-Veronica types. Commander Adama replaces Obi-Wan.
We get an alien casino scene instead of a bar, with extra-terrestrial disco singers replacing the Mos Eisley cantina band.
"Star Wars" gave us funny sidekicks, two robots and a furry alien. "Galactica" needed to save money, so it combines them, and presents us with a furry robot, Muffit.
An entire planet explodes, as does the Cylons' Death Star, I mean, main ship.
Lucas drew on many mythic and movie sources. Larson covered that angle, too. Bible-epic- inspired costumes, and characters named things like "Apollo," "Athena," "Cassiopeia," and, of course, "Adama" fill the show. The main characters' homeworld features Egyptian pyramids as high-rises. Of course, the film does nothing of interest with these evocative aspects. They're window-dressing for a wildly predictable shoot-'em-up.
III. "Hey, 'Star Wars' had Cartoony Characters, Didn't It?"
The classic "Star Wars" had a narrative force and mythic resonance that made the characters work, and actors who could suggest an underlying humanity, even if they were playing stock types and archetypes.
In "Galactica," Apollo (Richard Hatch) and his wife Serina (Jane Seymour, who left the series a few episodes in), come the closest to giving us anything beyond one dimension. The cast look good, but most of them aren't called upon to act.
They pose. They let the winds of space fluff their 70s dos.
They blast Cylons.
IV. "Well, the Cylons are... They're the Bad Guys, Okay?"
Why do the Cylons hate humans so much, that they would destroy twelve planets' worth? Are they seeking new territory? Are they hunters by nature? Did they get annoyed with humans for all the times we taunted them for being really bad shots?
No, they just hate humans, "with every fibre of their existence," Adama says. Later, he mentions some early run-ins over the Cylons' attempts to conquer other species, but these don't really explain a thousand-year genocidal war.
What sort of fibres make up their existence?
That's a tough one.
Some of the pre-movie publicity, in Canada, at least, suggested that they were lizards (as the Cylon Imperious Leader is) in armoured suits, rather like the Imperial Stormtroopers. The movie itself suggests they are lizards who have been cyborgized, and they often behave like living organisms, mechanically enhanced, save for their inability to hit a moving hero, with precision weapons, in a small room (also rather reminiscent of the Imperial Stormtroopers). Later, concerns about violence, and the killing of living beings led to the series, at least, declaring them purely robotic creations of the long-dead lizards.
Did anyone give much thought to this thing before they started filming?
V. "Be Fair. The 'Movie' Has Some Good Points."
It had the potential for an exciting space opera, but no one seemed to be thinking much beyond, "if we rip off 'Star Wars,' we'll be rich. The pilot/movie does work better than the mind-numbingly dumb series which followed. The space exodus has some dramatic moments. The Ovian/casino subplot which develops an hour or so in, was much better than any of the episodes I've watched. It relies, however, too heavily on stock horror-movie conventions: screaming females, suddenly appearing villains, clutching claws.
The casting is marginally more multi-ethnic than "Star Wars," though that doesn't take much effort. And while we get two non-white characters-- Starbuck's sidekick, Boomer, and Adama's, Colonel Tigh-- the ruling council consists of Caucasian males.
VI. Why Are the Characters So Stupid?
Both sides possess some sort of precision ray-gun which causes its targets to explode. Such a weapon makes a kind of sense in a space war. But the Cylons also use it to wipe out the human planets. Why? Their aim is genocide. A great many easier ways exist for wiping out whole populations: even today. We see the Cylons, however, flying over human cities like WW I-era pilots, firing at small targets with precision lasars. This seems darn inefficient.
The humans, after a thousand-year war, are lured into fake peace talks-- and they leave their planets totally undefended. After a thousand years of conflict, they leave twelve planets completely undefended! The entire fleet (there are no other defences apparent) congregates at the peace talks-- each battleship containing about two-hundred fighter pilots (Yep. That's 2400 little ships to defend twelve planets). Meanwhile, the one colony shown has been conducting business as though the war-- with an enemy who wants all humans destroyed-- were some distant, foreign affair.
Why were the Cylons handled so casually, even after a thousand years of war?
In one scene, an officer who knew he would be dealing with humans from other colonies struggles because he doesn't know their language. Awhile later, another officer is shown using a "Languatron" to instantly translate an entirely new alien tongue. Did they just invent this gizmo between scenes?
And then there's the series premise, established here:
After the Cylon sneak attack, surviving humans go searching for Earth, the mythic lost colony.
The home planets remain inhabitable. The "rag-tag" fleet of ships led by the Galactica is almost as much a target as any planet (it has the advantage of mobility). Earth, if they find it, will be EXACTLY as much of a target as the old colonies. The Cylons, it is made clear, will follow them. Remember, they hate humans with every fibre of their being.
So-- when faced with an enemy who wants to destroy you, you band all known humans together into one target, and then lead your opponents, past many inhabited worlds, to the one other place where humans might be found.
The characters, alas, were only as bright as their creators.
Other reviews for this movie:
Roger M. Wilcox