Judge Eric Profancik dedicates this review to the loyal denizens of the Jury Room.
Our reviews of Battlestar Galactica: Season One (published November 7th, 2005), Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.0 (published January 9th, 2006), Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.5 (published October 2nd, 2006), Battlestar Galactica: Season One (HD DVD) (published January 28th, 2008), Battlestar Galactica: Season Two (Blu-Ray) (published April 12th, 2010), Battlestar Galactica: Season Three (published March 24th, 2008), Battlestar Galactica: Season Three (Blu-Ray) (published July 22nd, 2010), Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.0 (published January 16th, 2009), Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 (published July 28th, 2009), Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 (Blu-Ray) (published July 28th, 2009), Battlestar Galactica: Season Four (Blu-Ray) (published January 21st, 2011), and Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series (published July 28th, 2009) are also available.
"Humanity's children are returning home."
If there was one thing that I really loved about that cheesy original incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, it was the Cylons. They have always been one of my favorite bad guys. From the chrome suits, to their ships, to that moving red eye, to their voices, the Cylons were just so darn cool. Somewhere back home in my parents' attic is an original Cylon fighter, with a mini-Cylon in the cockpit and two red "torpedoes" that you can shoot by depressing a button on the wing. I even remember that those "torpedoes" were recalled because they were a choking hazard, but I wouldn't send them back. No. That would have taken away part of the fun of my Cylon spaceship. Boy those guys were and are just so darn…cool. Maybe they weren't the best ground fighters, but just listening to them saying "by your command" was enough to send a shiver down my spine.
But here we are, twenty plus years later with a re-imagining of that 1970s sci-fi show. The one thing above all else I wanted to see in this series was a chrome-plated Cylon, lumbering around, and eventually saying my three favorite words: "by your command." Did I get that? Nope. Is that why, upon first viewing the miniseries when it aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2003, I didn't like it? Was I holding a grudge for denying me my classic Cylons and their slick voices? Maybe. I can tell you I wasn't impressed with the miniseries right off the bat, and I wasn't initially impressed by the weekly series either. But after watching this disc, I realized I was holding on to the past a bit too tightly and this show is quite good with fantastic potential.
Facts of the Case
"It has begun."
Forty years ago, the colonies of Kobol fought a war with the Cylons, robots created by man to be their servants. A truce was called, and no one has seen a Cylon since then. But they've been biding their time, planning and evolving, and now they've set their hideous plan in motion: the annihilation of man.
A few hours outside the Caprica system, the battlestar Galactica is about to be decommissioned with a huge ceremony. Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver) and his executive officer Colonel Tigh are preparing the ship for its conversion into a museum. En route is Secretary of Education Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell, Dances with Wolves), who is representing the president of the twelve colonies. Also newly arrived is Captain "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber, Band of Brothers), Commander Adama's son; the two haven't spoken since their brother/son was killed a few years ago.
In Caprica City, Dr. Gaius Baltar has been working with an extremely lovely woman on numerous defense projects involving artificial intelligence, which has been extremely limited since the Cylon war. She soon reveals herself to be a Cylon designated as number six. But Baltar is shocked because Cylons are robotic creatures and have an unmistakable chrome appearance. Yet she proves she is a Cylon, the sixth of twelve models. Moments after she reveals her truth, Baltar realizes he's been used to compromise the security of the worlds of Kobol. Then the Cylons attack, nearly wiping out humanity.
A few ships escape the onslaught and only one battlestar remains, Galactica. As Commander Adama finds a way to replenish supplies on his ship, it'll be up to his valiant crew of Apollo, Starbuck, Boomer, and many others to defend the 50,000 survivors from continued Cylon attacks. Secretary Roslin soon learns that she, by succession, is the next president of the colonies, and she and Adama must work together to outwit the Cylon menace.
"Are you alive?"
Now that I have watched the miniseries twice, I can see what is going on. The show has the potential to create an interesting universe filled with deep characters and exciting stories. It's very early in the potential life of this series, but so far it's good. Ronald D. Moore (former writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager) has laid the foundation for a series that can be witty, intelligent, and entertaining. We'll have to see how this progresses over time. The most striking feature of Battlestar Galactica is that it takes place in a very dark universe. It's a place filled with despair and fear. Hope is a commodity now as rare and precious as water. Look at how America was stunned after the loss of nearly 3,000 lives on 9/11. Can you even begin to imagine your race practically wiped out in a matter of minutes, and that you are part of a ragtag fleet of ships trying to survive? Out of billions of people, a mere 50,000 remain. The grief and psychological stresses that would result from this are unimaginable. Yet I think those will be examined in time with this series. Since the writers are taking a more realistic approach to science and the stories, this topic will have to be broached eventually. But it is already obviously there in the bleakness of the survivors. Frightened beyond imagination, they wonder how long before a mistake is made and they die at the hands of the Cylons.
The main characters of our morbid tale have classic heroic elements, but they all have significant flaws and not many of them are instantly likeable from the start.
• Commander William Adama: The leader of the military and commanding officer of the Galactica, it is up to Adama to protect the survivors from the Cylons. He is a powerful and highly respected man who knows far more than the somewhat unflattering "old man" moniker would suggest. His flaw is the turmoil between himself and his son, Lee. Luckily for us, Commander Adama is one of the few instantly appealing characters.
• President Laura Roslin: Who would have thought the Secretary of Education would be prepared to become President? Roslin is a superb character with great instincts, interpersonal skills, and warmth. She understands the plight of humanity and will make sure Adama doesn't forget the new goal. Like Adama, you instantly connect with Roslin and root for her to prevail in these dark times. Her flaw is her cancer and the inevitable problems it will create down the road just before they stumble across a miracle cure.
• Captain Lee "Apollo" Adama: Apollo is, thus far, nothing but a pretty-boy pilot who has problems with his father. While displaying great skills in the viper and excellent tactical thinking, there's not much for the audience to like about him. His flaw is his relationship with his father and that his character is not yet developed much beyond being a pretty face.
• Lt. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace: Perhaps the most controversial character because she's a she, Starbuck is far from an easily likeable character. She's rough, brash, and arrogant; has a certain disregard for authority; and is not afraid to speak her mind loud and clear. Her flaw is everything I just said, yet it's also a potential strength. For what it is worth, she is the one character that I distinctly do not like. It's not that it's now a woman in the role, it's just that there's nothing to really like about her. Her portrayal is weak, one-dimensional, and hard. You want to root for the best pilot, but you also wouldn't mind a Cylon taking her out.
• Dr. Gaius Baltar: Baltar is probably destined to become the cult favorite of the series due to his amazing complexity. He's not a typical villain and he's not evil. He's but a man who was seduced by the oldest trick in the book: sex. All at once, he's weak yet powerful, brilliant yet stupid, sad yet funny, and sane yet delusional. Though he gave the Cylons easy access to the colonies of Kobol, you don't hate him. His fatal flaw is his complicity with the Cylons.
• Lt. Sharon "Boomer" Valerii: Pilot of the raptor transport vessel, Boomer is a thinly fleshed-out character. She is passionate, loyal, and not afraid to break a few rules about socialization. There wouldn't be much to say about her except it appears she's one of the twelve models of Cylons. Because of this, we're not sure if we can like her or not, and we don't know how much trouble she'll be causing on board Galactica. Being a potential Cylon sleeper agent is a great flaw. Then again, this is Boomer so odds are slim she's actually a Cylon.
• Colonel Saul Tigh: The most blatantly flawed character, Colonel Tigh has a drinking problem. He appears to be an active alcoholic and drinks on and off duty. Many people know about his weakness, including Commander Adama and Starbuck—causing a lot of heat between the two. When not succumbing to the pressures of drinking, he appears to be a very capable veteran officer and vital to Adama's command structure. His weakness to the bottle will likely cause problems for Galactica in the near future.
• CPO Galen Tyrol: Not necessarily a front row character, Tyrol is in charge of the smaller crafts aboard Galactica. He's an extremely capable member of the crew, and he is also fond of sneaking off with his superior officer for a bit of active socializing. His flaw is his breach of protocol by cavorting with a superior officer.
• And worth a quick note are the budding couple of Petty Officer Dualla and Billy Keikeya. Will D and the president's baby-faced assistant get together and start making babies? Inquiring minds want to know.
With every character having a significant flaw, this would appear to be the modus operandi of the series.
Did you think I'd forget to talk about Number Six (Tricia Helfer)? That's not possible. This sexy Cylon will long be remembered for her devious manipulations of the poor Dr. Baltar. Six (not to be confused with Seven) is a fascinating character, for she not only wants to destroy humanity but she also wants to learn about it, understand it better, and get closer to it. These are not complementary goals, and she will wonder what she doesn't know. This duality makes her (or is "she" really an "it"?) fun to watch because you never know if she will help or hinder Baltar in his next step. And, needless to say, she is certainly a pleasure to watch, both physically and in her acting abilities.
The story itself is a logical progression from the original series, wisely disposing of all the cheese. This new Battlestar Galactica is smart, well written, nicely acted, and grounded in reality…but we'll get back to that in a moment. Everything has matured and developed in this re-imagining from the central thesis to the characters to the technology. This time around, the show doesn't insult the intelligence of the viewer. It stays on target and focuses on the Cylon danger. It also treats the viewer as more than a mere couch potato. Plots are not clearly spelled out and the viewer has to pay attention to see how events may or may not be fitting together. Little clues pop up, and it's up to the viewer to assemble the bigger picture.
I mentioned that the new series is "grounded in reality." If you've seen the show, then this statement is obvious, but allow me to paraphrase the commentary track: Battlestar Galactica is realistic science-fiction. They've taken the opera out of the space opera. More actual science has been blended into the series—as noted by the weapons and the dynamics of the vipers—and the behavior of our characters. Additionally, the entire style of the show has a documentary feel to it, so the audience has the impression they are watching actual events. This is brilliantly clear from the first minutes of the series when the Cylons have destroyed the armistice station and a piece of debris hits the camera, sending it tumbling away from the pyre. My only quibble with this type of cinema is that I quickly grew tired of the constant "quick zooms" during any flight scene. You know the one, where you're viewing the scene from afar and in 0.2 seconds the camera has zoomed in on one ship in the melee. Every once in a while is acceptable, but since this technique so blatantly stands out, it should be kept to a minimum.
Related to this are the special effects in the show. I'm not certain of the budget, but I don't imagine it being too high for a Sci-Fi Channel show. Still, the effects are well done (belying what I believe to be a limited budget), excellently blending science-fiction and reality. Some of the Caprica City scenes are obviously CGI, but they pass quickly and don't distract too greatly. But I was disappointed with one category: the sound effects. If the original series did one thing right, it was the sound effects. The effects for all the ships, the gunfire, and miscellaneous sounds were perfect—if not based in reality. And since we have that "total reality" experience here, I miss some of the classic sounds: the Cylon ship flyby, the Viper launch sequence (it's there but too subdued), and the gunfire on the Vipers. I guess you just can't have it all, but I hope when the metallic Cylons speak that they'll have the cool voice from the past.
The miniseries is contained on one disc, but it is a flipper. Side A contains the three-hour show, various audio options, and the bonus commentary track; side B offers the remaining special features. Up front, let me say that viewing the miniseries on DVD was a tremendous improvement over watching it on Sci-Fi, but I was disappointed with the transfer. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer lacks the clarity and dimensionality of the best discs. It is missing the depth, sharpness, and details we come to expect with today's releases. Additionally, I thought the overall appearance was soft with some light grain throughout. On the audio side, we English speaking types will go for the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This too is a bit unsatisfactory, for the dialogue was out of balance with the sound effect and music, forcing me to adjust the volume throughout the show. However, the surrounds and subwoofer are used effectively for the majority of the scenes.
Fans will be happy to know there are some nice bonus features on the disc. For those of you who enjoy previews, the disc starts up with the Battlestar Galactica series on Sci-Fi, Quantum Leap season two on DVD, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Sci-Fi Pictures, and classic Battlestar Galactica on DVD. The real special features are:
• Audio Commentary by Ronald D. Moore, Michael Rymer, and David Eick: The three gentlemen cover a wide variety of screen-specific material during the commentary. You get the little details and more info on the big picture. Fans of the miniseries will enjoy listening to this track.
• "Battlestar Galactica—The Lowdown" (41 minutes): This appears to have been a promotional special for the Sci-Fi Channel. I think I caught about two minutes of it when it aired (the Starbuck portion), so it was new and enjoyable for me. If you haven't seen it, it offers a nice, insightful overview of the miniseries. It also includes a dissenting opinion from Richard Hatch, the original Apollo, which is refreshing. "The Lowdown" is well done and far better than the average fluffy promo stuff we normally get.
• Deleted Scenes (20 minutes): There's some very interesting material in this section, and there's also some marginal scene extension material. My two favorite parts are an expansion of the Roslin/Billy relationship (making it more adversarial) and an alternate sequence for Apollo saving Colonial One.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"He doesn't look the type, and I don't recall seeing him at the Cylon parties."
Instead of going purely contrarian and stating that this miniseries is too dark a vision of the future—a future that revels in the despair of humanity—and that we should embrace a more optimistic future where humanity has evolved and lives in relative peace, I'm going to revert to my backup plan of discussing the random odds and ends.
• What the frack? We aren't stupid and we know exactly what this word is supposed to mean. For some reason, it really annoyed me to hear it uttered so often throughout the miniseries. I found it completely inappropriate for one of the crewmen to say "frack" directly to Commander Adama. Do you think this would be possible in today's military?
• The classic series is well known for its religious overtones, and I can sense that same symbolism sneaking into this new series. However, I am not going to delve into it as that is not my forte and, if I were to dare attempt a discussion of it, this review would go on for another thousand words. Hence, I'll leave that deep discussion to other schooled individuals or to whomever gets to review season one of the series.
• Many, many people expressed strong dismay over the baby-killing scene. It's easy to see why that would happen, but I think many saw the scene wrong. After watching it closely, I see this wasn't meant as a show of force or evil. Number Six did not kill the baby in cold blood; it was not an act of murder but an accident. Six was surprised by how "light" and "fragile" the child was, and when she went to touch it, she misjudged her strength and killed it. You can see the surprise on her face when she did it, and you can see the pain/concern/shock in her face as she walks away. It is a vicious scene, but it should be seen as an insight into the burgeoning humanity of the Cylons and not a vision of their evil nature.
• By not spelling everything out for the viewer, the writers leave many questions unanswered; one completely befuddles me: Why is Six helping Baltar? Why did she point out the Cylon technology on the bridge? Was it simply to get Baltar into better favor with Adama? That makes sense. Still, that technology probably could have been used to destroy CIC or to let the Cylons track Galactica. Wiping out the last battlestar would be a better prize than letting Baltar gain favor on that battlestar.
He likes me; he likes me not. He likes me; he likes me not. Battlestar Galactica, I liked you not, but now I like you. I have realized that it would not have worked to make a simple port of the original show to today. It had to be remolded and recrafted to appeal to a new generation. If we want some of that classic cheese, we'll just have to get those DVDs and experience the past. And, maybe, if we're lucky we'll get a slice of that cheese somewhere in the series. If we don't, that's not a problem because the Battlestar Galactica miniseries is great science fiction. It treats the audience with respect by giving it a complex, challenging storyline. We have been given a solid place from which to springboard to a potentially riveting series. I know that it may take some time for all of us to shed those final vestiges of Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch, but we'll see that this show can be enjoyable too. When we're in the mood for a foreboding future, we know exactly where we can go.
By my count, we have met seven of the twelve types of Cylons. We've met (1) Boomer, (2) PR guy, (3) gun runner guy, (4) classic Cylon, (5) new Cylon, (6) Number Six, and (7) the Cylon spaceship. That only gives us five models that we don't know about. Hopefully Moore and company didn't let too many Cylon surprises out too quickly. They'll have to stretch out the final five or find a reason for the Cylons to produce additional models. All I can say is that Lucifer had better make an appearance at some point in the series.
Battlestar Galactica may not be the most sophisticated series nor, in actuality, is it even an original piece of fiction; nonetheless, the aggregation of elements make it an enjoyable foray into science fiction. While the transfers are a bit disappointing, the gripping story combined with the bonus features make this an appealing offering. I thus give it my recommendation to add to your collection.
Battlestar Galactica—The Miniseries is found guilty of saving Boxey. They are ordered to take him back to Caprica City before someone builds a daggit.
By your command.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Ronald D. Moore, Michael Rymer, and David Eick
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