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Battlestar Galactica (1978)
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by Jay Seaver

"Hard work strives to overcome a bad script."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 36TH ANNUAL BOSTON SCI-FI MARATHON: I struggle with what to call the original 1978 version of "Battlestar Galactica", as it's one of the few cases where the studio's later attempt to profit off the brand name is almost unquestionably better, and most ways of differentiating between versions imply a stigma on the newer edition. No matter what that guy I too often used to let get on my nerves on that message board may say, the twenty-first century iteration is much better, although this feature ("beta test"? "premake"?) does at least give an idea why "Galactica" might have claimed enough of a spot in collective memory for people to even consider it as a well worth returning to.

The conflict between the twelve colonies of humanity and the ruthless Cylons is just reaching its end, with both parties about to sign a peace treaty - or at least, that's what humanity thinks. Two scout ships launched from Battlestar Galactica - Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch) and his brother Zac (Rick Springfield) - discover a mass of hidden Cylon warships, and when Galactica's former commander Adama (Lorne Greene) attempts to warn the rest of the ruling council, he is dismissed as paranoid and a danger to a fragile peace. Of course, Adama turns out to be right, and not just the fleet but the entire set of twelve colonies is decimated by the ensuing sneak attack. So the Galactica and other surviving ships must make their way toward a mythical thirteenth colony named "Earth", perilously low on supplies. An inhabited planet soon appears on their sensors, but is it as perfect as pilots Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) seem to think?

Though Battlestar Galactica played theaters - it was such an expensive production for its day that doing so was probably the best way to defray its costs, and something so similar to Star Wars would be enticing to a world hungry for more big-screen space opera - it is undeniably something made for the small screen. Not just for its somewhat less-impressive special effects, but for how it is structured: It breaks fairly cleanly in half to form two hour-long episodes with their own beginning, middles, and ends, and a break in between would feel natural, too, making it easier to accept the change in tone from the horrific, apocalyptic first half to the lighter action-adventure of the second. The characters are also TV characters at heart, relatively static personalities to be plugged into different situations, rather than individuals meant to grow because of one story's events.

There's certainly plenty to date the movie visually; it's filled with gaudy colors and designs, and the visual effects are primitive by modern standards, with elements and shots reused quite a bit. The effects are pretty good for their time, actually, and the effects team makes the most of it: The space battles are well-choreographed, and the ship designs are good-looking, chunky enough to be believably space-borne but aerodynamic enough to give the impression of speed. The action is well-done, and for the most part, the story moves at a pretty good clip.

Of course, a good chunk of that story is very, very stupid. An extraterrestrial origin for humanity sounded dumb when Larry Niven posited it, and Glen A. Larson is no Larry Niven. The entire second half on the casino planet is entirely too light considering what has come before, and paints the entire human race (aside from Adama) as just absurdly stupid. The cast of characters contains both an overly-cute kid and his annoying robot dog as well as a character who is more or less a prostitute. A genial cast and a fast pace can only cover up so much of that.

There's clearly potential here, although it many feel that it ultimately took twenty-five years and a willingness to start from scratch to see it realized. The 1978 series may build on this to create something that works better, but the film version winds up being a showcase for both that potential and how far short of it the execution falls.

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originally posted: 03/09/11 14:04:50
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User Comments

3/26/11 M. Rogers If I remember right, it actually was a couple T.V. episodes strung together. 1 stars
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