Monday, March 28, 2011

Blurging: Battlestar Galactica (the original)

I've decided out of sheer whimsy to start re-watching the old Battlestar Galactica series. Many of you would say "Why?!? It's terrible! Don't destroy what time you have left on this planet watching that garbage." Yes, but those people don't understand the siren song of late 70's early 80's genre television! Battlestar obviously owes it's initial popularity to it's proximity to Star Wars. In 1977 Star Wars was a game changer across all media platforms and that includes television. Suddenly everyone was looking for a successful copy to help rake in the moolah. Enter Glen Larson.

Larson had another series in mind when creating Battlestar, but Star Wars provided the vehicle to hitch his concept to. Debuting on September 17th, 1978 Battlestar Galactica premiered to a nation wide audience caught up in the grips of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In many ways, Galatica is viewed as an interstellar mash-up of Exodus and Noah's Ark from the Bible. While Galactica lasted all of one year on TV in it's original form, it's impact on the cultural landscape and underlying core concept were strong enough to support a brand new series that scored immense critical acclaim and popularity on the SciFi channel 25 years later.

Enough of the Wikipedia trolling! Get onto the review!

Episode One: Saga of a Star World, part one:


Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict and so on...

For 1978 genre television, this is a hell of an opener. It is so much better than I remember it being. All the pieces get put into place pretty tidily and the obvious blueprint is established for many of the 2003 version's sub-stories. Your special guest star is Ray Milland! Also showing up are Ed Begley Jr (St. Elsewhere), Jane Seymour (Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman), and as the ill-fated Zack Adama... Rick Springfield! Yes, years before Jessie's Girl and General Hospital Rick got strut around flashing a killer smile, awesome feathered hair, and wear that awesome Egyptian Pharoah inspired flight helmet the series was famous for. Way to go Rick!

The plot: The full Armada of the 12 human colonies is on it's way with the full council of 12 and the President to sign a peace accord with the dastardly Cylons who consider humanity an abomination to be wiped from the universe. The President is hopeful that a new day is dawning as the Cylons have proffered peace. However Pa Cartwright isn't buying it. He knows deep down the Cylons want to run him and the rest of the Cartwright family off their lan... Sorry, not Bonanza, I know. Well, sure enough Commander Adama is right. While out on a scouting mission, the boys Adama; Apollo and Zack (Seriously? Your first child is Apollo and the second is Zack? Talk about an inferiority complex.) discover thousands of Cylon Raiders parked in a gas cloud with a tanker waiting to ambush the entire fleet. While Apollo makes it back in one piece, Zack couldn't quite make it back in his damaged Viper before succumbing to the Cylon's superior numbers. Cheer up gang, did I mention he went on to write Jessie's Girl? Meanwhile, the Galactica crew figures out the ruse and hightails it back to Caprica where a Cylon basestar is hovering in orbit raining down hot Cylon death.

Yep, they pulled the entire fleet into an ambush while all of the colony planets were sitting ducks with no defenses. For that matter, why did the colonies need to send every Battlestar to the signing of a peace accord? Better not to ask. Seriously though, the storyline is pretty well laid out with an aging President looking for validation of all his work at the same time being led down the primrose path by the traitorous Baltar who was in league with the Cylons the whole time. Jump to Starbuck. The series real standout character and the one fans got their knickers in a twist about having his gender flipped for the 2003 update. It's all there right away, the trademark cigar, wisecracks, the gambling obsession. All the trademarks that made Dirk Benedict a household name.

Meanwhile Athena is wrestling over the loss of her brother, the loss of everyone else in the colonies and Starbuck's devil may care attitude. We get our cheesecake scene as Athena is getting undressed after a long day of chest beating and hand wringing only to have Starbuck pop in mid strip to apologize for his roguish charm. We now get a scene where one character wanders around with his back to the other and the other standing behind a locker door for modesty's sake. When you think about the 2003 Battlestar's uni-sex bunks and bathrooms, it is all a bit quaint. If this were the modern version, Athena and Starbuck would have had at it, only to have Starbuck run for the hills as things got too intimate.

We end up with Lorne Greene and Apollo at the charred remains of their home on Caprica looking for any last mementos before they get the hell out of dodge and avoid the obligatory Cylon cleaning squads. Wait! What's that? Coming down the it? Yes, it is! People! Capricans who survived the assault lead by Dr. Quinn herself, Jane Seymour. They ain't happy though. Like me, they were wondering why there wasn't a Battlestar to protect the planet. Little do they know, there is no good explanation. Instead Apollo and Pa Cartwright spill the beans that they are indeed the last Battlestar. Greene gets to pull his Moses, and calls for any survivors to pack up, jump on any ship that will hit space and follow them away from the 12 colonies. Cut to the exodus as what remains of the colonies does indeed fly every piece of space worthy crap away from the Cylon purge. You even get a space moving company with painted logos on the side of the ship that says" We move anywhere!" A bit of unintentional Spaceballs style comedy.

You would think that would be a good ending for the first episode, but then we get some extra scenes with Apollo, Starbuck, and Boomer inspecting ships and reassuring people that food and water are coming. Just like the 2003 version, the original does a really nice job of selling the plight of the refugees who have no clue what is going on other than they are being hunted to extinction. We also get Baltar on Caprica as the big reveal of his treachery telling the Cylon Centurions to hunt down and kill any remaining humans.

Overall: Like I said, a much better episode than I remembered. Richard Hatch is really good as Apollo which makes his turn as anarchist Tom Zarek in the 2003 version all the more fun and chilling. The episode holds up to the test of time whereas Buck Rogers looks pretty hokey by comparison. The special effects are really good considering this is 1978 television. The costumes are fairly iconic, and the look of the Cylon centurions continues to be one of the best designs ever. In fact the look of the whole show is pretty strong. The Vipers have a sleek look and the Cylon Raiders are appropriately menacing. Galactica herself looks incredibly impressive and heroic, explaining why the 2003 version didn't stray far. Lorne Greene and James Edward Olmos couldn't be further apart in performance style. Greene plays Adama as a reserved, wistful general forced to play his militaristic hand despite his doveish tendencies. Olmos's Adama is big, brash, and every bit the hawk. Both command your attention in very different, but equally effective ways.

I'm optimistic about the rest of the series even though I know the clunkers are waiting in the weeds.