Nothing gives Chief Justice Michael Stailey a closer shave than the new Helena Cain razor. Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.
Our review of Battlestar Galactica: Razor (Blu-Ray), published December 29th, 2010, is also available.
"You're born, you live, and you die. There are no do-overs. No second chances to make things right, if you frak 'em up the first time. Not in this life anyway."—Lt. Kendra Shaw
I'll be the first to admit I was late to the whole BSG phenomenon. It wasn't until I was asked to cover a Sci-Fi Channel press tour that I delved into this rich universe. What sets BSG apart from other mega-franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars is its humanity. All the sci-fi trappings come second to the gritty realism of these characters, their relationships, and the difficult choices they're forced to make in the face of unparalleled zealotry. This concept becomes even more robust in Razor, the non-linear adventure that feeds fan hunger amid a drought between Seasons Three and Four.
Facts of the Case
What happened to the Battlestar Pegasus between the Cylon attack that broke the armistice and their reappearance in Season Two? What drove Admiral Cain to be so cold and calculating? What is Admiral Adama's long hidden experience with the Cylons? What secret will be revealed that rocks the foundation of Season Four? These questions and more are answered in the made-for-TV movie Battlestar Galactica: Razor, now available in an unrated extended edition with 14 minutes of footage not seen in the original broadcast.
Hollywood loves to re-imagine and relaunch old franchises. Why? The sentimental identification with these characters offers a built-in audience and the return on their investment is almost guaranteed. The problem is, most of these feature film adaptations and television series are ill-conceived, poorly executed disasters—Jessica Simpson in The Dukes of Hazzard, Will Ferrell in Bewitched, Malcolm McDowell in Fantasy Island, and most recently Michelle Ryan in Bionic Woman. But as long as the money's there, the studios will continue to give ambitious producers the green light.
Yet, for every 10 disasters, there tends to be one hidden gem, and there's no denying Ron Moore, David Eick, and their creative team have captured something special. They've taken what was a fun but hokey, short-lived '70s series (which doesn't hold up well at all), thrown out everything but the base elements, and built a universe that shocks, disturbs, entrances, and delights almost everyone who comes in contact with it. As we head into the final season of the series, you get the distinct feeling they've only begun to scratch the surface of the stories waiting to be told…and Razor is but one of them.
There was a great deal of grumbling upfront that Razor was little more than filler, helping Sci-Fi Channel bridge the content gap between the end of Season Three (March 2007) and the planned start of Season Four (April 2008), while making a few million bucks off the DVD sale to boot. But even with that thought in mind, within 10 minutes you've already abandoned any pre-conceived notions. The brain literally has to because the story jumps back and forth between time and space in the blink of an eye and you need that concentration to keep track of where you're at. Now, for people who don't like this Tarantino-esque storytelling, you might find yourself struggling to keep up. But for everyone else, the ride is well worth the trip. Even those who have not yet experienced the new BSG but have a fond recollection of the original series will be pleasantly surprised. Consider Razor a taste portion that will coerce you into coming back for more.
The main plot explores the backstory of Admiral Helena Cain, played with fierce intensity by the ever-sharp Michelle Forbes (Star Trek: The Next Generation). She is the antithesis of Adama, never hesitating to make the difficult choices for the success of the mission. This time, we get to see more of her inner thought processes as they are played off the privileged and unsuspecting newcomer, Lt. Kendra Shaw, played to perfection by the emotion bearing Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen (Farscape). While the whole switchblade metaphor was a tad forced and over-emphasized, the intent is crystal clear: In times of crisis, someone has to rise to make the difficult choices, regardless of the sacrifices that may result. Shaw is the steel being forged and tempered by Cain's command. This is her story and despite how little faith everyone seems to have in her abilities, it is she who becomes the true warrior, the student surpassing the teacher.
Not wanting to give too much away, as there are many great little moments to be relished, there are two other subplots that Razor traverses. The first is the ongoing Apollo/Starbuck dance. Lee continues to be plagues by a hesitancy to command in the shadow of his father, as well as being haunted by his ill-fated order to destroy the civilian populated transport ship, while Cara's frustration with the incompetence of her colleagues and reckless abandon may ultimately prove more of a liability than an asset to the Galactica and its fleet. Of course, the sexual tension continues to rise, teasing us with what ultimately comes to pass between them in Season Three. The second is the pervasiveness of the Cylon infiltration and young Adama's (nicknamed "Husker") connection to the evolutionary link between the classic models and their pseudo-human descendants. Both storylines (as well as most of Galactica's principal cast) ride shotgun to Shaw's story, but each are worthy explorations of the individual characters and far from being labeled as filler.
The one remaining element of Razor that seems to have some people irked is the alluded lesbian relationship between Cain and Gina. I'm not sure why on such a progressive series such as BSG people would be offended by the inference. Now, if it's a criticism of writers Michael Taylor and Ron French to say that the only way Cain, as a female, could have made the choices she made is because she's a lesbian, then I can see the argument. But I didn't get that feeling through either viewing of the film. The way I saw it was even further proof as to how far the Cylons are willing to go to embed themselves in the very fabric of a species they are trying to eradicate. Ron Moore and Michael Taylor put any controversy to rest with a thoughtful and detailed explanation of the plot point's origins in their audio commentary. And let's be honest, who—male or female—isn't attracted to Tricia Helfer?
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the production values and transfer are right on par with the series. There's nothing more or less epic about Razor than anything we've already seen. The simulated hand-held camera action and documentary style filmmaking continues to underscore the down and dirty nature of the story and the characters whose eyes we see it through. The muted color palate and seamless effects shots (they just keep getting better) further show just how on top of their game this entire crew is. The audio was a bit surprising though. For a 5.1 treatment, is was very front heavy, and when the directional effects did present themselves (most notably during the Adama flashback), it caught me off guard, as if something fell off the shelf in the back of my living room. If you're going to use the full breadth of the audio technology, please do it in a consistent, cohesive manner.
If you're looking to be wowed by bonus materials, you'll be disappointed. Yes, both the original broadcast version and the 14-minute extended edition are included here, but I challenge you to convince me that the extra footage makes a difference to the story. Most of it was revealed in the mini-sode teasers Sci-Fi Channel released to build buzz for the broadcast, focusing on Adama's flashback to his Husker days, as well as some extended time with several characters on Caprica. The two Deleted Scenes are Lee focused and again don't do anything to propel the story. Also included are an 8-minute documentary on The Look of Battlestar Galactica which features production designer Richard Hudolin (listen to our set visit podcast for more on the engaging Mr. Hudolin) and others discussing their original intentions for the series; a 10-minute featurette called My Favorite Episode So Far which polls the cast and crew on, surprise, their favorite experiences (Hint: most everyone chose "33"); a slick, quick cut trailer for Season Four; a 2-minute explanation of how Razor sets up events in Season Four; a collection of the aforementioned Adama mini-sodes; and an enlightening feature-length commentary by Ron Moore and Michael Taylor. For as much as I did not appreciate Ron's work on Star Trek: DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager, he's truly come into his own, since escaping the Roddenberry-verse. I look forward to seeing what follows post-BSG.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is an interesting backstory to the telefilm itself, told by Moore and Taylor in their commentary. As the story goes, BSG chief architect, director Michael Rhymer, suggested restructuring the tale by reshuffling many of its original non-linear story elements in the editing phase, which according to Moore dulls the story's organic build and ultimate emotional impact. In fact, they speak in such great detail about how different Razor would have been, it almost takes away from the enjoyment of this release, as if we've just come in second place in America's Next Top Model. So, keep your eyes on the convention circuit for a bootleg of the film's original rough cut. You know some rabid fan is going to get a hold of it eventually.
The other disappointment I experienced with Razor is the familiarity of the Cylon missing link. If you're a fan of Lost and know the whole omniscient Jacob buildup unveiled in Season Three, you'll likely experience a similar feeling. Again, it doesn't blow the story for me, but for a series built on presenting fresh and original ideas, this one feels somewhat cheapened as a result.
Minor complaints aside, if you're looking for hard-edged drama, rip roaring space battles, and emotional character development, you've come to the right place. Battlestar Galactica: Razor is a worthy addition to the BSG universe and only further whets fans' collective appetite for Season Four.
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