It’s becoming increasing popular to base new films and television shows on popular shows from twenty or thirty years ago.
Usually, the way to detect this is the words ‘re-imagine’ when a description is given. One of the latest entrants to this is the mini series Battlestar Galatactic. Now back in 1978 this was a series that came about hot on the heels of the wildly popular Star War, plugging in to the America audience’s craving for all things space related. A lot has changed in the United States over the last twenty six years and some of these changes are reflected in the new format in this new incarnation of a cult classic. The most fundamental theme has remained the same, mankind is targeted by the Cylons, a race of artificial intelligence driven robots bent of the destruction of mankind. What has changed is just how this war between the organic and inorganic is manifested. While many die hard fans consider these changes to be tantamount to blasphemy it may be better to consider this new release on its own terms, cognizant of the differences but appreciating the new version as just that, new.
In the 1978 version of Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons where some sort of alien mechanized race, now they where originally created by man as subservient technology which eventually decided to rebel against their organic masters. There is a bit of influence here from the Terminator series but the Battlestar Galactica theme of machines awaking, a robotic Spartacus if you will, has been around since the classic science fiction of Heinlein, Asimov and if you look closely the silent film Metropolis. This change leads to the new tagline, "never create what you can’t control". With the modern reliance on technology the message is stronger than ever. In Battlestar Galactica the Cylons ended their war against mankind forty years ago. A space station in the middle of nowhere was built where Cylon-human relations could be maintained, each year a human representative is sent, in all those years the Cylons never sent theirs, well until now. With their new advances in technology the Cylons are now ready to finish off the humans for once and for all.
To this end the Cylons now have a cyborg that looks human, very human; it is in the form of a beautiful woman (Tricia Helfer) that uses sex to gather information. She is so distracting in this function that none of her partners seem to notice that her spin glows red during sex. Number Six as she is called is the ultimate femme fatale, cold, calculating and lethal.
The human side has also undergone some major revisions. We now have a more realistic chain of command, the admiral in charge of the last Battlestar Galatica, Adama (Edward James Olmos) no answers to a woman, the President of the Council Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell). The theme of strong female characters is also reinforced with the alteration of Satrbuck from the ultimate lady’s man to a brash female pilot (Katee Sackhoff).
When considered on its own Battlestar Galactica works. Sure, as a fan of the original Battlestar Galactica I miss some of the Egyptian motifs that made the 1978 version so campy but this variation takes a more serious look at the plots and action. Lorne Greene’s Adama was paternal; the father of one of the best fighter pilots and always forced to make decisions that would directly affect his son. Now with Edward James Olmos in this role we get a more conflicted military leader, one that is more restricted by his superior being a civilian and forced to make decisions that will affect all that is left of the race. This Adama is a battle weary veteran who had hoped to retire but is forced to continue his service under the direst of circumstances. Olmos is always great in this tortured soul persona and brings years of talent and ability to the plate here. Mary McDonnell may be a female president but there is little that is maternal that comes across in Battlestar Galactica. She is a strong woman whose place in history is to make sure mankind is not crushed, a position no one would envy. McDonnell is also very talented and handles the role with greater depth than most television female characters could muster.
The biggest change in Battlestar Galactica is making the flamboyant Starbuck into a woman. After watching the new Battlestar Galactica I can understand this decision and even begrudgingly agree with it but it still fell short. This was not because Starbuck is played by Katee Sackhoff but because Ms Sackhoff seems to try too hard to channel the original actor instead of embracing the role and making it her own. She seems to be doing an imitation of Dirk Benedict with her attitude and mannerisms. This casting decision would have faired far better had Sackhoff been more of a woman instead of one of the boys, only shaped better.
Director Michael Rymer took on the Battlestar Galactica project knowing that the changes would be controversial and for that he should be applauded not vilified. As the director of Queen of the Damned he does tend towards a darker view and this is reflected in Battlestar Galactica. The times are different now, we live in a darker more foreboding era and it is only natural to incorporate this in Battlestar Galactica. Rymer gives us more of a cautionary tale here, one that can resonate with the current viewing pubic.
The Battlestar Galactica DVD released by Universal does have a couple of problems but nothing so major as to deter you from a purchase. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is a bit on the low definition side. Instead of providing a documentary feel the colors often wash into each other and some detail are lost in grain. The Dolby 5.1 audio works but is no match from other popular space operas. The rear speakers provide a few effects but are mostly used to provide some ambience to the sound field. There is a commentary track that features the director where he details the many decisions in bringing a new version of a cult classic back to the audience. There is also a twenty minute long making of featurette that to its credit does not duck the more controversial changes such as the recasting of certain roles as women.
This Battlestar Galactica stands on its own and will generate interest in the up coming series. Get all of your comparisons out of your mind during the first viewing and watch Battlestar Galactica on its own merits afterwards, it works a lot better this way.
by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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