Battlestar Galactica (2003) 4.5/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 89.3
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 183 mins
Director: Michael Rymer
Stars: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff

A miniseries it may be but due to the fact that it beats the crap out 90% of sci-movies ever made and in every department, this one gets upgraded to film status. Picking up 40 years after the Cylon war the original television series was set during (and taking some well considered liberties in how it chooses to recount that war), this revamped extended pilot begins with the decommissioning of the now aged Battlestar Galactica. Edward James Olmos stars as the seasoned CO of the ship, Commander William Adama (in one of many re-workings of the original mythology) who on hearing the Cylons have re-emerged after 40 years of silence to launch an all-out attack on the 12 colonies, takes command of the tattered fleet initially to mount a counter-attack but eventually to shepherd the survivors of humanity out of harm’s way. Mary McDonnell stars as the cabinet minister who assumes political command of the fleet only to butt heads with the impatient Adama. Baltar, Apollo, and Starbuck are present too but again in revised form (the latter being female) and there are a host of fantastic support players fleshing out the extended cast.

Creator Ronald Moore and Glen Larson’s writing is superb and in parts, just plain inspired. The dialogue is authentic and insightful in equal measure, the characters are richly drawn and all have edges to their personalities which are revealed in a variety of interesting ways once the conflict begins. The best of all, of course, is the contradictory Adama. At once both gnarly and erudite, he’s exactly what a veteran fleet commander/leader of a race should be and Olmos was born to play him. Within five minutes of his appearance on screen, it’s clear Adama is going to be one of the great sci-fi characters and Olmos spends the remainder of the feature living up to every word of that promise. McDonnell’s character is every bit the worthy counterpart as the iron willed humanitarian and the two play off each other spectacularly well thanks to the actors’ respective skill & Moore’s deeply intelligent script.

The technical qualities of the feature were for the time unparalleled for television and not far behind the best that Hollywood had to offer. Richard Hudolin’s production design is of the industrial sci-fi variety, with the clunky robustness of Galactica’s interiors complementing both its CGI exterior and the overarching mythology behind the ship. Danny Cooper’s editing during the more frenetic battle sequences allows for a seamless interlinking of the fully CGI sequences and live interior action. Richard Gibbs’ quietly riveting score helps admirably in this respect too despite the very different tones it takes during the two types of sequence. Of course, the special effects deserve particular mention as the space-based battle sequences are utterly incredible. From the sounds of the fighter’s engine and guns to the radio crosstalk of the pilots; from the acrobatic manoeuvres of the fighters to the use of the “zoom effect” in fully CGI spacescapes (a technique that tricks us into seeing the CGI as more real) to the dreamlike sequence of Galactica docking with the munitions station; from the fearsome poise of the Cylon fighters to the shot of the Galactica taking its first nuke hit….we’ve just never seen anything like it. This is as inspired as sci-fi battles have gotten. The realistic style of the battles is a carryover from the standard dramatic shooting where the use of handheld cameras is effectively employed. This puts us in the middle of the trials and tribulations of the crew during the main attack and especially its aftermath.

It’s not easy building a science fiction mythology and the sheer lack of memorable examples is a testament to such. Okay, Moore et al. didn’t exactly build from scratch here but everything that’s good in this miniseries was a new take on the old mythology and more often than not, something we hadn’t seen before in any form. There’s a maturity to the writing that presents us with complex personalities, politics, and philosophies and rather than shy away from the complexities and rush to the next big “effects” sequence, Battlestar Galactica embraces them and builds the drama almost entirely around them. The revised notion of the Cylons gives us one of the best alien enemies we’ve seen on any screen thanks to the disturbing manner in which their new found sentience is revealed. Their opaque motivations for the attack and the ambiguity of what they want to achieve sucks us right into this new mythology and gives us a craving for more. That’s what we ultimately got and while there were a couple of flat seasons, for the most part, BSG served up the best televisual sci-fi we have ever seen. With this phenomenal mini-series at its base, it’s not difficult to see how.

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3 thoughts on “Battlestar Galactica (2003)”

  1. It’s McDonnell, not O’Donnell. But otherwise a thoroughly excellent review! I recently re-binged the entire series and it felt as fresh and new as the first time.

    1. Kind of crazy… haven’t logged onto my site in months and just did so there to see your comment. And what am I watching in the background… BSG S1Ep7 – I also just started binge-watching the entire thing since the first time I saw it!
      Thanks for letting me know about the name mistake.

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