R4 . COLOR . 175 mins .
M15+ . PAL
Sci-fi television series' are a mixed bunch, at least through the eyes of this reviewer. As a kid, the series' that I enjoyed the most were the ones that invariably ended up getting the chop after only a short run. Planet of the Apes lasted one season, V fared little better and even the original Star Trek lasted but a fraction of the time of its more recent spin-offs. And of course there was Battlestar Galactica that also ran for just one season. It was actually rather good (well, I was only a kid) with some nifty and shiny aliens (the Cylons), some rather brash but loveable heroes (Starbuck and Apollo), and some cool special effects such as the battle scenes. It was also rather camp, with some cheesy storylines and corny dialogue, but like Doctor Who, that was a large part of the appeal.
"Take you to Darth Vader? I think you have the wrong Battlestar, pal."
In 2003, Battlestar Galactica returned and, while purists are divided as to the success of this lead-in mini-series, those who are not familiar with the original, or can suspend their prejudices, will find it an enjoyable sci-fi soap with some interesting ideas, some corny and predictable romance, and a genuinely decent and respectfully done remake.
The Cylon War has been over for 40 years. Cylons, created by man to make life easier on the 12 colonies, rose up to attack their creators, seeking emancipation. A truce was declared and a purpose-built space station was created as a meeting place where diplomatic ties could be maintained. However, the Cylons have not once in that time fulfilled their obligations by way of an envoy - until now.
The Cylons are back, having evolved markedly, and have just one goal - the total annihilation of the colonies. Their surprise attack is extremely effective, and they manage to wipe out half of the colonies and their military protectors before the other half are even aware there is a problem. The Galactica, however, is more fortunate. Helmed by Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos), the Galactica is facing decommission, and is the focus of the pomp and ceremony that goes with it, including the visit by the 43rd ranked member of the Government.
Carl had yet to learn the benefits of SPF15+.
The crew are, at first, blissfully unaware that their very existence is under threat. Commander Adama's son, Lee 'Apollo' Adama (Jamie Bamber) has returned to 'celebrate' the decommissioning with a father he blames for the death of his older brother. A past flame (and older brother's old flame), Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) is a hot-shot pilot so sure of herself that she is more in trouble than out of it. The rest of the crew is made up of good-looking young go-getters who you just know are either going to be heroes, form relationships that will end tragically and/or dramatically, or die heroically, saving the life of the one they love.
When the Galactica intercepts reports that the 12 colonies are under attack, they quickly set about attempting to gather the remainder of the Battlestars to rendezvous for a counter attack. The newly sworn-in President, Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), who has moved from 43rd in line to Numero Uno in the blink of an eye, literally, has other ideas, and is convinced that fleeing and hiding is the only answer to surviving a war they have already lost. However, nothing is that easy. The Colonists learn that the Cylons have evolved to a point where it is almost impossible to differentiate the 12 new models from the colonists, and some have infiltrated the Galactica.
So how is this new version different? Well, for starters, the Cylons are credited as a creation of the humans, and not the creation of some far off reptilian race. The humans are this time forced to head to a place called 'Earth', where a rumoured, secret, thirteenth colony has established itself. 'Starbuck' and 'Boomer' are now female, which allows for more soap opera than before and, of course, the Cylons are no longer shiny mechanoids with metallic voices, but convincing human look-alikes.
Another Cylon bites the (space) dust.
There are many other subtle differences, and apart from a sort of mini space museum and the use of the original fighters, the Galactica itself is quite different, though maintaining the 'aged' look of a 50 year old Battlestar.
Technically this is good, with an emphasis on realistic looking sets, minimal CGI effects and a well-chosen and strong cast of mostly unknowns. There is the odd plot twist here and there to keep things interesting, a few guessing games that add some spice, and some generally interesting and evolving character relationships. The series ends nicely enough, with an interesting twist that will lead nicely into the television series now in production.
Let's start with the statistics of an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 that is 16:9 enhanced. Made for television, this mini-series is generally good. Colours are somewhat muted at times, with great use made of grey and other drab, militaristic colours. There is some evidence of grain but it's mostly minor, as is the very occasional evidence of noise. Black levels are mostly good and solid, though shadow detail tends to be a bit poor from time to time.
There are no real artefacts as such, but there is evidence of some mild edge enhancement and some shimmer, but a generally fair level of sharpness and clarity is maintained. The layer change is neatly placed during a fadeout. The old model Cylons look all shiny and metallic, but human skin tones do appear a little off-colour at times. Overall, this new mini-series manages to maintain a slight '70s look to it, but this is a nice touch and works well.
The audio is provided by way of just one track, and that is a Dolby Digital 5.1. It makes frequent use of full surround sound capabilities, but is quite subtle, used for such things as the constant humming of the Battlestar, stepping up to the plate during the fight scenes and explosions, and for various spaceship fly-bys.
Dialogue is mostly quite audible and placed in the centre speaker. Occasionally it sounds a little muffled, but there are English subtitles. There is definite panning and separation of various sound effects, but as a whole the audio fails to deliver the walloping that it might have due to the somewhat subdued low end sounds, and absence of really crystal clear highs. Don't let this deter you, however, as it is still a generally decent audio.
The only extra is a made-for-television promotional called Battlestar Galactica: The Lowdown. At 20 minutes it provides a sneak preview of the mini-series, examines the original series (with input from the original Apollo), and has a discussion of the all new look with various cast, crew and writers.
Purists will possibly have a hard time reconciling the changes that have been made, but I would urge them to be fair and ask what good would it have done just to rehash the original? The vibe is better for it, the show is slicker and more involved, and it's all quite enjoyable. Those who are new to Battlestar Galactica do not have to get past these changes and should enjoy this a great deal.