Channel: Sky One
Recurring Cast: Edward James Olmos, Jamie Bamber, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sachoff, James Callis, Grace Park, Michael Hogan, Tricia Helfer, Aaron Douglas, Tahmon Penikett
Battlestar Galactica, after Star Trek, is one of the most long-running Sci-Fi programs out there. With more reincarnations to its name than Doctor Who, the series about a military vessel defending humanity from the Cylons has become one of the most celebrated shows on American TV. This mini-series was the start of yet another resurrection from the show, missing from the television network for two decades, before Ronald D. Moore fought to get it back on the air. While the actual series didn’t take off until 2004, in 2003 there was a mini-series that acted as a pilot to get the show back into the public eye. Lasting three hours and being closer to a TV movie than any sort of show, it is an impressive display of film-making, made all the more brilliant due to the creator’s passion for getting this show back into the mainstream viewing schedule.
It spends no time building up to the action, deciding to dive right into it. The humans have brokered some kind of peace with the Cylons, the robotic villains from the original show. The Cylons have found their own space into the galaxy to exist away from humanity. The humans have grown complacent due to the lack of war. As the show starts, Commander Adama is decommissioning his vessel, the Battlestar Galactica and turning it into a museum. However, unknown to the humans, the Cylons have discovered a new ability, able to transform into human doppelgangers and interact as spies. Using this power, they seduce a brilliant but ignorant scientist into letting them hack into his military software. This gives the Cylons the power to turn off the power to any of humanity’s attack vessels. When they launch their attack, the humans are helpless, only a handful of ships that have refused the upgrade able to launch a counter-attack. Adama finds himself at the head of a dangerous counter-strike, without weapons, hopelessly outnumbered and with humanity crumbling to pieces around him. The series focuses on the tough decisions needed to be made in a time of war. The two lead characters are Adama, the grizzly military commander all too aware of the power of the Cylons, and the newly-appointed President, Laura Roslin, who is desperate to save as much of humanity as possible. The two of them are constantly butting heads, needing to make crucial decisions about putting resources into fighting back or saving refugees. With the Syria situation right now, this become as key a time as any to re-watch this two part mini-series. Is Adama fighting back out of necessity or a desire for vengeance? Or worse: pride? However, is the President’s insistence on taking power away from the military to seek out survivors who may or may not have survived the attack, simply leaving the remaining humans wide open to a final attack for a rescue that may or may not even be possible anymore? Some of the decisions made on the show are tough and you end up bonding with the two characters out of the fact that they are being put into a terrible position. The consequences of their actions are tastefully shot, but often quite horrendous. We are never in any doubt of how dire the situation is.
Sadly, this mini-series suffers the same fate of all TV movies. There simply isn’t a big enough budget to make all of the punches thrown by the writers land. At first, you don’t realise this as a flaw, a few cases of ropey 2003 CGI being the only times you are pulled out of the immersion. The sets are impressive, every detail is put into the costume and for a lot of the time, you truly believe you are in space. However, as the action heats up, you become painfully aware that this show is going to be a lot of people, nervously crowded around the Galactica’s bridge, talking about all of the terrible stuff going on without ever seeing any of it. Bombings are shown from Earth’s orbit, a few CGI mushroom clouds being the extent of the war on the ground we actually see. The Cylons shooting fighter pilots down in a gripping space battle is often shown through the radar in a control room. When the final twenty minutes kick in and we do see some space action, we begin to see why the battles were so limited before. It is a case of actors confined to cockpits, reacting to explosions in the air, tied together with a master shot that shows off the poor animation of 2003 television. It might have been quite shocking back then, but for a 2016 audience, the payoff at the end of this series will do little for you. Henceforth most of the running time of Battlestar Galactica will consist of grim faces around the Galactica and very little fighting. To even build up a rapport with the Cylons, the writers are forced to write in a plot point where James Callis’ scientist is haunting by the memory of the Cylon who duped him into destroying the military ships. These moments rarely satisfy as Callis plays his character shallow and self-serving, while Tricia Helfer’s Cylon villain is embarrassingly sexualised to grab some additional ratings. It seems petty to criticise this as these are understandable limitations of a television budget and, in a way, Galactica is clever about hiding this problems from the audience. If this was the actual series and brief 40 minute episodes, building towards an end finale, it would have been much easier to forgive. However, in making this a TV movie, it subconsciously demands greater set-pieces and our thirst for action is higher. It’s not all bad. Adama is forced to take on a Cylon warrior mano a mano in a crumbling armoury and there is a subplot involving a Cylon mole that is fun to work out, treating the audience to a last minute twist that is bound to get you ready for the actual series to start.
When it comes to the cast, they have a similar problem with the movie format thrust into a television setting, but for the most part, they overcome it spectacularly. The thing with this pilot is that its job is to set up the plot of the series, so it has to focus on telling a story, meaning that time isn’t necessarily there for the rest of the cast. There are a lot of supporting stars here and most of them have very little time to win over the audience. Most of the time is spent developing Edward James Olmos’ Adama and President Roslin. Olmos is the exact kind of actor you want for the part of Adama. He naturally delivers his dialogue with a low, grumbling tone that adds gravitas to the scientific mumbo jumbo these parts usually come with. He plays the character like a man being weighed down by the horrors of the past and the decisions of the present, an invisible weight resting on his shoulders. Another character that has an additional amount of time spent developing is Adama’s son, Lee Adama, played by Jamie Bamber. It is a well-worn plot, the military commander having relationship problems with his hot-headed son, but the two play it well. A scene where they pose for a photo shoot tells us all we need to know. Bamber, actually an English actor but his American accent is flawless, carries the emotional weight of the series, as Olmos plays it straight-faced, making him one of the better actors on show here. Of course, I cannot write a review of Battlestar Galactica without discussing Katee Sachoff. She is the face of the show, a cult symbol when it comes to the Sci-Fi universe. It is easy to see why, her character an alpha, stereotype-destroying badass. She purposefully ruffles the feathers of superior officers, is incapable of bonding with the rest of the cast and when it comes to the action side of things, she is the one that gets the gang out of a tight corner. Surprisingly, she isn’t as key to the plot as I thought she would be, Olmos and Bamber handling the main story and Sachoff waiting on the side-lines for a lot of the story. It works however, her character benefiting from that ‘less is more’ style. It feels like she is being pulled out for special occasions. It will be a treat to see what part she has to play in the upcoming show.
Final Verdict: It has budget and pacing issues, but on the whole, this is a marvellous return to glory for a beloved Sci-Fi show.