Thursday, August 26, 2010

Battlestar Galactica (2003 miniseries)

The reboot of Battlestar Galactica is perhaps one of the greatest examples of reinvention of a series in recent history. Interestingly enough, it didn't actually start with a pilot, but instead, a two-part, four hour long miniseries. And it was perhaps one of the most successful productions to air on the then called Sci-Fi Channel.

In this reinvention, the twelve human colonies created the Cylons, an artificial life form to serve them and the Cylons revolted, waging a brutal war with humanity until an armistice was eventually reached, leaving their galaxy in peace for decades. We join the crew of the Galactica, one of the oldest serving warships of the colonies as it prepares to be decommissioned. We meet the various people that serve as the crew of the Galactica, including the ship's Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) and his second in command Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan). We also meet many of the members that comprise the crew of the Galactica including their maverick pilot Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (now a woman, played by Katee Sackhoff) and the visiting Captain Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber), son of the Commander. Also serving as representative of the Colonial government is Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and finally, we meet Gaius Baltar (James Callis), a computer genius on Earth, and his consort (Tricia Helfer), who we know is a new kind of Cylon, one that passes as a human.

The Cylons launch a sudden massive genocidal attack on humanity, aided by Gaius' consort, who disables much of the human fleet's technology, resulting in the near extinction of humanity. We watch as the Galactica, whose outmoded manual systems are somewhat immune to the Cylon computer attack, defend what human beings are left and attempt to do what they can to arm themselves in this disaster as we also explore the personal and interpersonal problems among those who were aboard the Galactica when the attack occurred.

The miniseries is immediately ominous, with its voiceover narration describing events of the past and the portentous destruction of the base used for discussions between the Cylons and humanity. And that tension really works well to help elevate the intra-and-interpersonal drama we have within and between the various characters. Furthermore, interesting aspects of religion are skimmed on the surface of the story. However, the story is largely about a bunch of dysfunctional people learning to work together for the survival of the species and it all works very well. The miniseries ends leaving a whole lot of doors open for a series, almost begging for one to continue the story, since only a few of the hidden Cylons were exposed, but even without any more content, it works well as the story of the few that made it.

The look of the show is fantastic, although watching it in high def, some of the lower resolution computer work was obviously not quite up to the HD look of the rest of the show, but the production/art team put a lot of work in creating a coherent look of the universe and it shows up in the details, including the visual callbacks to the old series through the look of the antiques of the show. The music is epic, but never overpowers the show, keeping the drama and story at the forefront. And the performances by all the actors are solid, although I find Starbuck just a touch too nervy to believe, but that might just be how the character was written.

As such, Battlestar Galactica is really an example of how to do epic fantasy/sci-fi miniseries right on cable. It's really impressive how well the story and the production elements came together and avoided the usual arcanery of television science fiction to make a two-parter that is both accessible without sacrificing its space opera roots. I remember watching it the first time and being so wrapped up in it that I hoped that a series would be forthcoming. Watching it again so many years later, I find myself satisfied with what I just saw in itself, but look forward to revisiting and completing the series as well. As such, this relaunch of "Battlestar Galactica" is a success. 8/10.