Battlestar Galactica #1: Saga of a Star World

"You're nursing wounds while we're still in the fire."
SO SAY WE ALL: The start of the franchise as the Cylons destroy the Twelve Colonies. The survivors join Battlestar Galactica's fleet and head for Earth, but almost get side-tracked at a casino resort run by man-eaters.

REVIEW: I've long wanted to do regular reviews of Battlestar Galactica, from the original "disco" series to the terrible 1980 sequel to the better, darker BSG, and beyond to Caprica. I won't hide the fact that the modern-day BSG is to me a high-water mark for television, and yet, I'm a fan of the original too. Watched it when I was a kid, and caught it now and again in syndication. What's amazing watching it with a review in mind is that it's not that far FROM the bleak, modern version. It's not just that it starts with a near genocide, but also that it spends its second act showing real consequences to having the Tribes of Kobol be refugees. Some live on cargo freighters with no living conditions, ships are in danger of falling apart and leaking radiation, there's a food and water shortage, inequity as rich folks on a cruise liner hoard and waste resources, cultural clashes between tribes, and political maneuvering at the highest levels. The first act kills a dog, and the third involves cannibalism. Though more light-hearted in tone than the reboot, it's still very dark.

Isaac Asimov is famously known to have uncharitably compared BSG to Star Wars, and yes, of course, producer Glen A. Larson was tapping into Star Wars mania when he decided to do a space opera for television (originally, a trilogy of TV movies, see Versions), and the essential look of the show is SW - the color scheme, the basic shapes of the ships, armored villains - but truthfully, the similarities are mostly cosmetic. BSG is closer to Space 1999 (or from before that, Lost in Space), by way of Chariot of the Gods. And it manages iconic elements all its own. The robotic Cylons with their roving red eye and processed voices ("BY YOUR COMMAND").  Starbuck chomping on his cigar and playing Pyramid. Lorne Greene in a cape. Baltar the born traitor. The Viper launch. The theme music! And for a 1978 television production, it really does look good. The way the lights and shining Cylon armors flare is very distinctive, and while most of the effects with both hero and kitbashed ships will see a lot of reuse - you don't waste John Dykstra work! - showing us Caprica getting attacked has to be a one-off effect, and it looks really cool. The fashions may feel a bit like SW, but they also evoke the Earth civilizations that are supposed to be cousins to the tribes', principally Egyptian and Mayan, though I look at Capricans, and I see everything from the Renaissance to Biblical Hebrews. Some interesting aliens too (the double-faced singers).

A big reason you readily accept the series is Lorne Green as its patriarch. He brings a lot of gravitas to a show that has a lot of new faces and uneven acting. I was surprised at how haunted his Adama was, especially in the longer cut featured in the DVD boxed set (I will always endeavor to watch the longest possible cuts). He returns to Caprica to get pictures of his family, tells his daughter he's ready to let someone else carry the burden of command, and is so cautious for fear of losing more people that he gets called out by his Apollo and politically outmaneuvered by a wrong-headed opportunist played by Ray Milland. It's shocking because he innately projects strength. Terry Carter plays his strong second, Colonel Tigh. His villainous opposite is no slouch either. John Colicos is a great presence, and I can hardly believe that the original cut had him die. If anything, there's not enough of him. Other veteran actors include Wilfrid Hyde-White as an affable councilor, and Patrick MacNee as both the narrator and the Imperious Leader's voice. Our action heroes are Apollo (Richard Hatch is solid), the venal Starbuck (Dirk Benedict is a pretty wet Han Solo wannabe at this point) and support player Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.). As the show's playboy, Starbuck gets caught between two women, Adama's wholesome daughter (and Apollo's sister) Athena (Maren Jensen), and Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang), a "socialator" with a heart of gold. Hopefully, they get more to do than fawn after him. Apollo's own love interest is Serina, a journalist played by Jane Seymour, who falls for him for his fatherly qualities...

...and that's where we have to address Boxey. While the show manages to break SOME new ground, having a kid and his robot dog (Muffit, a chimp in a costume, if you can believe it) in the cast is a formula that dates it more than the haircuts. Serina's son is just a danger magnet who runs into danger at every possible opportunity, usually after his dog (surely a bad use of resources!). Apollo even brings the family down on a mission for no reason, except to get the seven-year-old into danger. The "cute" robot trope that started with Silent Running, was perfected in R2-D2, and would soon find its way on the television of this era in Twiki, fails when it comes to Muffit, as the show insists on showing us this orange funfur monstrosity jump with glee and biting at Cylon heels, which is somehow enough to destroy the murderbots. He might have inspired Furbies though. Still, the less of this duo, the better.

At its best, the show has some cool daring-do, and its heroes are clever. Adama confounding his political opponent by sending cooks and janitors in uniform in his warriors' stead so he can protect the fleet is a great one (even if Tigh skulking around crew quarters to steal clothes is a bit naff). Apollo and Starbuck faking transmissions from multiple squadrons and drawing a Base Ship too close to a planet set to explode is another. Sometimes, the plot fails. Apollo racing back to Galactica to warn the fleet of the Cylon surprise attack, but apparently not radioing it in when he gets close enough is suspect. And the whole back part on the mining/casino planet feels like it's a rejected Star Trek or Space 1999 plot, where what's left of humanity is slowly being processed into food for an insectoid species' grubs, drawn in by their own vices. While there's fun to be had - those alien Tucana singers (who get killed, presumably) - we're ahead of the heroes most of the time and it's not all that clear if something is clouding the humans' minds, or they're all too happy to succumb to their vices. At least the Cylons are involved and it isn't an unconnected "threat of the week", though we have reason to fear this will happen when BSG goes to series.

SPACE DISCO: Capes! The girls' dresses are definitely 70s flow. But it only really gets disco once they get to the casino. We even get a musical number from alien Supremes with giant afros. Rick Springfield plays Apollo's doomed kid brother Zac, does that count?

HUMAN DEATH TOLL: All Twelve Colonies minus 220 lucky ships are destroyed. President Adar and his council die in that first attack. Zac Adama upsettingly burns up before his Viper explodes. Casino patrons are taken underground, cocooned, and turned into baby food.

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: Obviously, the names of characters, colonies and ships are meant to evoke names we know on Earth. The Colonies themselves are based on the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Apollo and Athena bear the names of Greek gods. The Galactica's journey evokes the Bible's Exodus, with Adama as a space age Moses. The Cylons are a created race named after the original reptilian Cylons, and have outlived their originators. The Imperious Leader is destroyed in this episode, but immediately succeeded by another who sounds the same, but has different plans. A truce? And what's with the chameleon on the Leader's shoulder? These Cylons aren't doppelgangers, but it's like it's foreshadowing the modern-day series.

VERSIONS: Originally aired as one big TV movie, Saga of a Star World would have to be chopped into three episodes fo syndication. It was also recut as a feature film (in which Baltar is executed by the Cylons), and exists on the DVD as a longer edit (2h18). Important deleted/alternate scenes also included on the DVD: Serena being diagnosed with a terminal illness caused by Cylon weapons, Baltar getting his head chopped off by the Cylons (in those scenes, the Imperious Leader has a robotic voice), and Adama leading the crew into the colonial anthem.

REWATCHABILITY: High - It all starts here, you can't miss it. It's really two stories, the first a brilliant and dark tale of genocide and survival, the second a much weaker planet of the week story. So really, this is High, and then Medium.

8 comments:

Brendon Wright said...

Loved this series so much, but I've never felt right when kids stuff is taken from them and given to the grownups.. it feels pretty damn gross When Dredd uses the "F" word or Captain America develops a sex drive. (Dating was just suppin' at malt shops back in the 40's, right?)

The downside of liking to remember kids stuff as it was, without retconning sex, edgy attitudes, intrigue and general soap opera into 'em, is that I've missed the NEW BSG altogether. Hopefully your reviews will enlighten me enough to change all that!

(on kid's stuff...In case you haven't seen it the Justice League Action toon is A WHOLE LOT FUNNIER than the recent movie. Much more definitive in my view...)

Brian said...

Does this mean the DCAU recaps have been abandoned?

Siskoid said...

Brendon: The two BSGs aren't as different as I remembered, at least based on the first episode/movie. The modern BSG is darker, but more satisfying, more mysterious, more powerful.

Brian: Well, I have no real motivation with the shows leading up to Justice League, and my friends Chris and Cindy at the Fire and Water Podcast Network have since started a podcast about that series, which I don't want to infringe on with a blog series. Nothing is necessarily abandoned forever here, but no plans for the near future.

Brendon Wright said...

That's intriguing to hear.
There are a lot of programs I wrote off at the time which I've since enjoyed.

Siskoid said...

Obviously, if you're waiting for me to get to the new series, at this rate, it'll be half a year!

Brendon Wright said...

I can't miss what I ain't seen, so I'm in no hurry ol' boy!

Anonymous said...

Cool series, cool concept, very 70s (and I mean that in a good way). There is a mythic quality to most of the lead characters, as there should be. Love the costumes.

As far as I'm concerned, the "Chariots of the Gods?" interpretation is the best one for BSG: people from thousands of years ago passed along legends of Adama the first man, Apollo flying across the sky in his glowing chariot, Athena who knows things beyond the ken of mortal men, and so on. Students of antiquity could doubtless poke a brazilian holes in this interpretation (for example, Apollo wasn't the sun god until relatively recently), but it makes for a nice TV show all the same.

Timothy Brannan said...

I recently rewatched the pilot episodes/movie as well and was very pleasantly surprised on how well it stood up. Even the "Disco outfits" still seem to work for me.

Really looking forward to this series!

 

Blog Archive

Category

5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Class Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers FW Team-Up Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Shut Up Star Boy Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Streaky Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zero Hour Strikes Zine