Battlestar Galactica (2003)

Rating: **
Cast: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park

Re-engineering the original "Battlestar Galactica" (1978) to be something completely different, yet oddly familiar, is a silly and egotistical idea. As such, the only way to watch this re-imagined version is to clear the original from your mind and view it on its own terms. Sure, the original series was very campy and silly, but I certainly have a nostalgic fondness for it, and it was my favorite show for many years. To my mind, the biggest fault in re-imagining the show was using the original character names for decidedly different characters. It forces a false and disconcerting familiarity onto the proceedings, which sets up a series of false expectations. Although honestly, I'm not sure how else you could do it. (which begs the question of why do it in the first place?)

In this new telling of the story, Man had created the Cylons as mechanical servants. They eventually got wise and rebelled against their creators, leading to the great Cylon War. Free from their human oppressors, the Cylons fled to a distant planet they could call their own and weren't heard from for forty years. Having evolved from clunky mechanical androids into highly spiritual synthetic humans, they've now decided to destroy the human race for its sins. The annihilation of Man is swift and all encompassing, and only the antiquated technology of the decommisioned warship, the Battlestar Galactica, can withstand the electronic attacks of the Cylons. The 50,000 human survivors of the holocaust band together in a convoy to seek out and settle the lost colony of Earth, which exists only in legend.

More than anything, this pilot movie reminded me of "Babylon 5" (1993) and "Wing Commander" (1999) in its tone and execution. It's long, tedious, slow, and boring, and takes over an hour to kick into gear. The acting is good, but the writing is heavy handed and uninteresting (and free of Glen Larson's Mormon subtext), and all of the characters, save for one, are overly flawed and unlikable. The one shining light out of the entire cast is the adorably charming Grace Park, who plays Lieutenant Sharon "Boomer" Valerii. That's right, she and Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) are now female characters, much to Richard Hatch's disgust. Unfortunately, she turns out to be perfect for a reason, and the shocking revelation at the end of the show is a major bummer. It seems to be a sci-fi staple that the prettiest woman is always a villain or has a secret agenda. Could this just be how geeky sci-fi writers project their adolescent angst and frustration? Another bad taste left in my mouth is the show's forced focus on sex, which is completely unnecessary, uninteresting, and detrimental to the script. This also reeks of adolescent angst and frustration.

The production values are also on par with "Babylon 5." The visual effects are all computer generated and fairly simplistic, with lighting and texturing that makes everything look overly plastic. The Colonial Viper fighter planes are a bit sleeker and more compact than the original model, but I prefer the bigger, chunkier design. It's sort of like comparing a 1968 Ford Mustang to a 2005 Ford Mustang. The shape is more or less the same, but the lines and angles create a completely different attitude and mood. The new ships also move much more like a spacecraft would, and not so much like an airplane. It creates some visual disorientation as well as a lessened sense of speed, but it's workable. The weapons are also curiously anachronistic, utilizing thermonuclear missiles and machine gun technology. No lasers or cool electronic sounds in this show. The explosions are far from spectacular, and destroyed ships simply break and fall apart. It's clear that the filmmakers were going for a contemporary war documentary look, and the shaky handheld camera work and snap zooming is horrible and visually disgusting. Sadly, the dogfights are frustrating and annoying to watch because they're not artistically driven. This same "real" approach to shooting is also at work on the set, with disastrous results. HOLD THE FREAKIN' CAMERA STILL BEFORE I PUKE! Sure, handheld shots are nice and appropriate for dynamic situations that require movement, but not when people are having long and drawn out conversations. Lock it down, or put it on a slow boom or dolly, but stop shaking it around! Good grief people, use some common sense. Overall, the new "Battlestar Galactica" will satisfy a cheezy science fiction craving, but nothing more.