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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Battlestar Galactica (review)

Paging Dr. Asimov

I can’t say that I actually have fond memories of Battlestar Galactica. I have only vague memories of the show itself, of shag hairdos, and Starbuck getting caught with some chick or other in a Viper launch tube, and the cool robot dog, and a kid named Boxey which I thought was kind of a neat name for some inexplicable reason, and bits from after the show jumped the shark, when they found Earth, and all the colonials could jump really high because of some ridiculous thing to do with gravity. Or was that in V? It’s all kind of a blur.

Mostly I just have a nebulous leftover feeling of: How cool is this that we can watch something every week that’s not as good as Star Wars but still has spaceships and space battles and evil robots and neat stuff like that? I have this feeling that I owe stuff like Galactica (and V) a huge debt of gratitude for contributing to my eventual geekiness by pandering to my Lucas-fueled little-kid desire to see space battles with evil robots.

So I’m really not very happy with Sci-Fi Channel’s “reimagining” of Galactica.

It didn’t need to be reimagined, for one thing. I think we were all perfectly content with our vague memories of shag hairdos and “god I love Star Wars so much I’ll watch anything even remotely trying to cash in on it,” and if we weren’t, there will always be DVD to remind us how bad the original series was. We certainly didn’t need a bad new series to drive the point home.

The entire concept makes no sense, for starters. I remember thinking this even as a little kid. How could Earth be a lost 13th colony of humans who came from elsewhere in the galaxy if we know for a fact that humans evolved on Earth?* When it comes right down to basic scenarios, Galactica is SF for fundamentalist Christians who just don’t buy into that fossil crap or geology or radiocarbon dating or other such nonsense.

But okay, as premises go, I’ve seen worse. But there are other issues that must be confronted. Like, if these people in this new Galactica really are our long-lost cousins, lost so long ago that we’ve so totally forgotten about them that no snippet of legend or myth remains, and yet they still have all this stuff that are recent inventions of Earth’s — such as given names like Laura and William, and neckties, and chat shows and pianos and gift shops and, dear god, PR people — how can they not have heard about Asimov’s Laws of Robotics?

I mean, hello! These stupid colonials created the Cylons, and then what happened is that “the day came when the Cylons decided to kill their masters.” This is a bad way to build robots, and also: Don’t give them the secrets of thermonuclear weapons, cuz then when they decide to wipe you out, it’ll be easy. But then, if my advice had been followed, this “reimagining” couldn’t have been the mushroom-cloud porn that it is, in some spots at least.

These people are really, really dumb, so dumb that you’re almost rooting for the Cylons. They had this big war with the Cylons — who are, mind you, really, really evil robots with no compunctions about killing humans; they’re like silicon-based Urak-Hai with a space program — and then there was an armistice and the Cylons disappeared to no one knows where, and since the Cylons thoroughly failed to show up at the annual Let’s Be Friends meeting for four decades, the humans figured: Hey, everything must be cool, so let’s totally dismantle all our defenses against, oh, a secret surprise and likely ironically imminent attack.

*sigh*

Oh, and another law, besides the don’t-kill-humans one, that Asimov neglected: If you make robots look like superhot blondes, embed an instruction for them not to em-bed the people who can give the robots access to the entire human defense system. “What have I done?” moans dufus genius Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis: Helen of Troy, Bridget Jones’s Diary), after he gives hot robot chick Number 6** (Tricia Helfer) access to, like, all military computers everywhere in the 12 colonies in exchange for a few rolls in the sack. Granted, the hot-blonde-chick robot is an idea the Cylons hit upon themselves, but still, this is an object lesson for us real humans who may so be tempted. Since she is Cylon-made, she also is lacking the don’t-be-a-bitchy-girlfriend law, and so she has no constraints in her programming to prevent her from nagging him for being sarcastic and complaining about his cheating on her with organic people.

If this new Battlestar Galactica sounds like a soap opera, just wait: It gets worse. Secretary of Education Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell: Donnie Darko, Mumford) ends up being the highest-ranking official left alive in the 12 colonies after the Cylons make the planets extra crispy, but as if leading the ragtag survivors to freedom weren’t enough, she’s also just learned she has — *gasp* — breast cancer. Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos: The Road to El Dorado) was just about to decommission his antiquated battlestar when the attack came, but as if shouldering the responsibility of wielding humanity’s last best hope, an old rustbucket, weren’t enough, he also has to contend with — *sob* — his bitter and estranged son, who’s now under his command.

It’s a bit of a stretch how writer Ronald D. Moore, a seasoned veteran of some of the more worthy Star Treks, manages to make Adama’s son also Apollo, by putting some quotes around Captain Lee “Apollo” Adama’s nickname and shoehorning it into the middle there. Starbuck and Boomer not only are merely quotes in the middle of someone else’s names, they’ve also had sex changes and morphed into women (Katee Sackhoff and Grace Park), I guess because, you know, gotta get some tough ass-kicking girls in there to deflect femi-complaints about the sexy robot broad. The girl Starbuck and Boomer are just as boring and cardboard as all the male characters, so score one for equality.

Still, it’s kinda cool to see Horatio Hornblower‘s friend Mr. Kennedy aka Jamie Bamber get some work (he’s the fake Apollo), and his American accent is truly amazing– Hey, wait: American accent? Aren’t these people supposed to be on the other side of the galaxy or whatever, separated from the humans of Earth long before there was an America? What gives?

This may be the worst thing about this new Galactica: It looks like the society of the part of Earth we call the industrialized West, maybe a few years into the future, and where everyone dresses really sharp, like Armani did all the costumes. The captain of a civilian spaceplane, for instance, gives welcome-aboard and if-you-look-out-the-left-window speeches that are a stunning instance of pangalactic synchronicity. I mean, c’mon: The French think we’re insane because we refrigerate our cheese, and let’s not even get into how alien the Japanese are, and yet these people on the other side of the Crab Nebula would fit in right next door?

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of opportunity to explain this. They left it all open for a sequel or, Asimov protect us, a series. I’m not saying I wouldn’t watching it or anything, but I no longer think Boxey is a cool name.

*Of course it may truly all be a ruse put about by the transdimensional mice and we Earthers really are descendants of the B Ark, but if we get into that kind of metaphysics, we’ll be here all day.

**She is not a number! She is a free Cylon!

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MPAA: rated TV14-LSV (Part 1), TVPG-LV (Part 2)

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