Universal // 2004 // 755 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // January 28th, 2008
The Cylons were created by Man.
Some are programmed to think they are Human.
There are many copies.
And they have a Plan.
-- Opening Text, Battlestar Galactica: Season One
In my opinion, there's no greater risk a production company can take than to tackle a beloved film or TV show from the past, hoping to reinvent it and ride the wave of nostalgic popularity to solid ratings and fan support. From Dukes of Hazzard to Miami Vice, studios have taken risks that have either crashed and burned, or been met with fan acceptance.
In recent years, Battlestar Galactica, or BSG as it is known by fans, has become one of those rare success stories that despite some minor hiccups and fan reservations, has successfully revived and reinvented a beloved TV treasure. But as is the case with any project of this kind, is it really possible to build on a classic concept, adding new loyal fans, without alienating those who are loyal to the original?
Man created Cylons to make their lives easier on the Twelve Colonies. Ultimately, the Cylons rose up against their human masters and a bloody battle ensued. An armistice was struck between the two races, the Cylons left Earth to colonize a home world of their own, and a remote space station was created to provide neutral ground for ongoing relations between the two species. Every year for 40 years, the humans sent a representative while the Cylons sent no one, until one day the Cylons came knocking again.
It's a nice surprise to discover this HD release of Battlestar Galactica: Season One also includes the miniseries that launched the reimagined concept as an added bonus to all 13 of the premier season episodes, spread over six discs as follows:
Battlestar Galactica Miniseries, Part 1
Battlestar Galactica Miniseries, Part 2
"Act of Contrition"
"You Can't Go Home Again"
"Six Degrees of Separation"
"Flesh and Bone"
"Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down"
"The Hand of God"
"Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1"
"Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2"
I'm a fan of the original series. I have fond memories of watching it on TV as a child, and I even had a toy Cylon fighter that came with a tiny Centurion that fit inside the cockpit. I had a crush on Athena (actor Maren Jensen) and I thought the Colonial Vipers and Cylons were very cool. But I wasn't so loyal to the original series that I folded my arms and frowned when I first learned of plans for a new take on the classic series.
Since the original series left the air, actor Richard Hatch, who originally played the Apollo character, has been very vocal about his feelings about BSG and the possibilities of a revival or reimagining of the series at some point in the future. Hatch is still fondly remembered by fans for his role in the original series, one that garnered him a Golden Globe Award nomination. Deeply committed to the original material, Hatch wrote, co-directed, executive produced, and starred in a trailer for his vision of a continuation of the original series, one that would include many of the original cast members. The trailer was intended to pressure Universal into returning to the original BSG universe one more time. Although the trailer was not successful in the development of an old-school BSG series, fan reactions to the trailer were extremely enthusiastic, proving without a doubt that Glen Larson's concept still had a loyal fan base and more stories to tell.
The concept seemed to be plagued by false starts and failed attempts. The original 1978 BSG TV series spawned three feature-length movies (essentially just episodes of the show re-edited into features) and 12 telemovies (also combined episodes). Galactica 1980, a new incarnation, lasted for just 10 episodes that aired between January and May 1980. Director Bryan Singer and his partner, Tom DeSanto, began work on a new BSG miniseries for FOX in 2001, but the attack on the World Trade Center and a looming production start date for X2 forced Singer to drop out and FOX to lose interest. Both fans and industry folks still saw considerable promise behind the BSG franchise, and finally in December 2003, the Sci Fi channel aired a three-hour miniseries that took fans back to the world of BSG. Although reviews of the miniseries were generally favorable among both old and new fans, there was some grumbling about supposed liberties the creators had taken with the source material. The core of the fan outcry focused largely on the changes made to the near-legendary characters that were first depicted in the original series. It's helpful to examine these changes in more detail:
Captain Lee "Apollo" Adama: Actor Jamie Bamber, who many fans may not realize is actually British, is one of the strongest members of the new BSG cast and does an excellent job filling Hatch's shoes in the Apollo role. It took me some time to get used to the fact that the characters in the new series weren't simply named "Apollo," "Starbuck," and "Boomer," like they were in the original series. For some reason, the creators of the new show decided to change those names to call signs, reflecting a more familiar Navy or Air Force naming structure. As I was mulling over the changes when the series was first announced, I couldn't help but think of part of the opening narration to the TV series Dragnet and the famous words "only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."
Lieutenant Kara "Starbuck" Thrace: With echoes of the outcry "Starbuck's not a woman" still echoing somewhere in the stratosphere, I think fans have come to accept and even embrace the casting of actor Katie Sackhoff as the new series' Starbuck.
Lieutenant Sharon "Boomer" Valerii: Sure, Boomer was a man in the original series, and if you feel it necessary to note this, he was also African-American not Asian, but does that really matter to the plot of the story? Grace Park does an excellent job in the role, and at the risk of revealing any spoilers at this point in the review, feel free to take a peek in the spoilers below for some of my other thoughts on her performance.
The Cylons: I'm not a huge fan of the "Cylons among us" concept created by their ability to disguise themselves as humans. It was intriguing for the first few episodes but began to wear thin as the concept was carried out through the entire first season. Personally, I still have a strong affinity for the old-school Cylons and was glad to see them make a brief appearance in the recent TV movie Battlestar Galactica: Razor. All that said, there's certainly no question that actor Tricia Helfer makes it easy to love the new concept in her role as the disguised Cylon Number Six. With apologies to my wife, she easily ranks right up there with Commander Wilma Deering from Buck Rogers and Seven of Nine from Start Trek: Voyager as a galactically-hot mama.
CAUTION! Potential spoilers ahead
Clearly fairly hopeful their little miniseries would be picked up for the longer term, writer/producer Ronald D. Moore and director Michael Rymer left fans with the human Colonies all but obliterated, and Cylon infiltrator Number Six (Tricia Helfer) warning Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callus) that other Cylon operatives were most certainly still at large throughout the fleet. And in the final scene, we saw a Cylon duplicate of Lieutenant Sharon Valerii enter the room, which was just a hint of possible things to come. Wow! Just imagine what had happened if all those ends had remained loose.
Fortunately, the series was picked up for a 13-episode premier season, continuing right from where the miniseries left off, following the last survivors of the Twelve Tribes of Kobol as they desperately flee from Cylon pursuers who are bent on wiping them out.
What a first season! Opening with an episode simply called "33," the tension was wound tightly from the start. Pursued by the Cylons, the "ragtag, fugitive fleet" (my homage to the original series' opening narration) was forced to make Faster Than Light speed or "FLT" jumps every 33 minutes, only to have the Cylons reappear right on their tails. The episode remains one of the series' best so far, winning the 2005 short-form Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
A water shortage, tragic accidents, suicide bombers, political intrigue, suspicion and a desperate search for sanctuary plagued the Colonial fleet throughout season one, with the Cylons around every corner and with potential enemies hidden behind every friendly face. And let's not forget that Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) was nearly assassinated by Boomer (revealed to be a Cylon) at the end of the season, wounding the fleet to its very core and leaving fans to wonder if Adama would even be back for season two.
End of Spoilers
What do fans of BSG, both new and old, seem to agree the new series delivers in spades? In my mind, similar to what Star Trek: Enterprise did for the Star Trek universe, the new series has done by taking the core concept of man versus machine and adding to it by delivering more conflict and tension. To quote a phrase I have heard recently, there's no denying that the new concept definitely provides "less cryin' and more dyin'," which was the same element Enterprise delivered to Trek. Yes, the sentimental elements that were so powerful in the original series are still there, but the creators of the new show have also recognized that sci-fi fans, and BSG fans in particular, want to see more space battles, more conflict, and also a real threat from the Cylons that was never truly felt in the previous incarnations.
But does the new show turn its back on its proud roots? Absolutely not! Throughout the series so far, fans have been treated to some nice nostalgic moments, with glimpses of, and even battles that included old Vipers and '80s-era Cylons; I think I actually cheered when I saw those nice touches, and I'm likely not the only fan who did. The show's new score also pays homage to iconic pieces of music from the original series, most notably the "Colonial Theme." Another neat feature of the new series is that the battlestars, which essentially amount to aircraft carriers in space, are portrayed as armed-to-the-teeth, providing a formidable opponent for the Cylons; the original series versions were just big and slow.
BSG has a unique and exciting visual style in the new millennium. My favorite shots in the show are those involving fast zooms and whip pans, and even though all these sequences are completely CG, the artificial camera moves give the effects a sense of urgency and immediacy you'd find in a documentary. Thankfully, the HD presentation faithfully reproduces the original intent of the show's production team in stunning clarity. Shot on 35mm film, the miniseries definitely suffers in comparison to the 13 episodes of season one, but it still looks pretty fracking good!
The icing on the BSG cake comes in the form of the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio presentations, with the TrueHD presentation winning out, but not by much. Adequate use of both the LFE and surround channels never fails to disappoint, adding ambience and impact when appropriate. Why do I only say "adequate"? I found myself somewhat disappointed that the audio presentation didn't really shake the walls or fill the room; it was good but not great. On the positive side, despite being a sci-fi show, BSG focuses a significant amount of its efforts on character development and the dialogue is never overpowered by the other elements of the audio presentation.
The crew and passengers of the Galactica and its fleet may have barely escaped their home worlds with the clothes on their backs, but this release is far from threadbare when it comes to the additional features. Commentary tracks with director Michael Rymer (on the miniseries only) and executive producers Michael Eick and Ronald D. Moore accompany the mini-series presentation, as well as 10 of the season's 13 episodes, sharing a wealth of information ranging from development and production information, to casting and personal anecdotes.
There are enough deleted scenes on this release, culled from the miniseries and 12 episodes, to carry BSG through the writer's strike if need be, and as I watched many of these scenes, I could certainly sympathize with the pain that production staff can often feel when solid scenes are cut to accommodate strict run times. "Sketches and Art" is exactly what it says, delivering production designs and other pretty pictures. This release also includes a series of eight featurettes that can be viewed either individually or with a handy "play all" option.
Exclusively on this HD release, viewers are treated to some really interesting features. While watching the episodes, you can engage a "U-Control" feature that acts as the gateway to two interesting functions. First, the "Encyclopedia Galactica" opens a pop up window that provides descriptions of planets and spacecraft, as well as character bios whenever they appear on screen. It's a fun feature at first, but it gets a bit distracting after a while. Second, a "Picture In Picture" feature operates in a similar way, with popup windows presenting content largely from the existing featurettes that most viewers will already have seen watching the other content. Again, this is an interesting feature that eventually wears out its welcome. A web-enabled feature is included that allows access to exclusive content that can be downloaded to your player through a direct network connection. Last but not least, the "MyPicture" feature allows viewers to bookmark their favorite scenes for later viewing.
Likely to reduce the budgetary costs created by the show's CG Cylon centurions, the new-millennium Cylons have developed the ability to mimic human form and blend in with human society. This is an okay approach, but it does create a Lost-esque feeling of "bad guy, bad guy, who's really the bad guy?" that I find tiring fairly quickly. Now that Battlestar Galactica: Razor has whetted everyone's appetite for a fourth season, let's hope the writers' strike is resolved in enough time for the show to maintain its momentum.
I can't deliver a proper rebuttal on this release without noting the packaging. Yes, I get that the corner cut look of the show's photos, books, and other printed materials has been reproduced in the packaging for this release, but what it delivers in design, it seriously lacks in durability. For some reason, silicon nubs have been used to hold the discs in place on a cardboard foldout insert, then a clear plastic sleeve houses the whole shebang. Without a solid structure to support it, my set arrived with score marks on the plastic sleeve and severe crease damage on the insert's cardboard spine. Had I received this set in the mail from an online retailer in this condition, I would not have been happy!
In just 13 episodes, Battlestar Galactica: Season One succeeded not only in winning over many folks like me who grew up with the original series, it also succeeded in securing a new audience and a new generation of fans. Now with 53 episodes to date that range from solid to outstanding, and the spectacular TV-movie Battlestar Galactica: Razor behind them, the creative team behind BSG continue to deliver a show that only seems to improve with age. If you're a fan of the series and happen to have the added benefit of an HD player, I'll bet you have this set already; if not, I'll bet there's a store open right now somewhere that has it, so what are you waiting for?
Let Commander Adama and his people go. Sure, they brutally interrogate their hostages, but they're just trying to get home!
Review content copyright © 2008 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 755 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Sketches and Art
* Behind-the-scenes Featurettes
* U-Control: Encyclopedia Galactica
* U-Control: Picture In Picture
* Web-enabled Content
* IMDb: Battlestar Galactica (miniseries)
* IMBb: Battlestar Galactica (new series)
* IMDb: Battlestar Galactica (original series)
* Wikipedia: Battlestar Galactica
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict Review - Miniseries
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 1.0
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 2.0
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 2.5
* DVD Verdict Review - Razor