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BattleStar Galactica (2003)
Director: Michael Rymer

review by Steven Hampton

In the distant future, after 40 years of peace, open warfare between mankind and former robotic servants the Cylons breaks out again. Humanity's 12 colonies of Kobol are all destroyed in a surprise attack by upgraded Cylons, leaving only the BattleStar Galactica (a sort of aircraft carrier in space) to lead the survivors' ragtag fleet of FTL starships to safety...
   Ever since the fearsome Borg appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, hostile robot aliens in screen drama took on a new aspect, and the threat of artificial intelligence could no longer be presented as a monolithic computer, as in The Forbin Project (1970). The Borg took their cue from the likes of Demon Seed (1977), and literally got under the skin of their human victims (injecting nanotech designed to assimilate them in the Borg's hive mind). This TV miniseries remake of BattleStar Galactica continues with the Borg-inspired schema, adding sexual elements borrowed from the female allure of Star Trek Voyager's adopted and re-humanised Borg character Seven-of-Nine (winningly played by Jeri Ryan). Now, in addition to seemingly pilot-less spacecraft, the Cylons are perfect androids such as the delectable Number Six (Tricia Helfer, scoring max 10 points with that red dress).
Tricia Helfer as Number 6 Galactica main cast
Ronald D. Moore and Christopher Eric James successfully adapt Glen A. Larson's original teleplay for today's demanding audiences, while Universal's 21st century technical crews update the look and feel of the show considerably. The action is gritty and much darker, space battles between colonial Viper fighters and the redesigned Cylon flying-wing ships have the hectic edginess of documentary footage. Major changes to the casting have enhanced the show's appeal. Galactica's ace pilot is now a woman - Lieutenant Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace (butch blonde Katee Sackhoff), but still gambles and smokes cigars like Dirk Benedict's playboy hero in the original series. The traitorous Baltar (James Callis) is less a figure of simple evil than he was in the previous incarnation and, in an obvious effort to make the character sympathetic, he's now a misguided scientist rather than a sinister aristocrat.
   However, despite this version's predominantly young cast, including Jamie Bamber as Captain Lee 'Apollo' Adama (a leading role played by Richard Hatch in the original), the performance honours go to genre stalwart Edward James Olmos (replacing Lorne Greene) as old warhorse Commander Adama, and Mary McDonnell as the new default president, Laura Roslin, who's sworn into colonial office during the conflict. Both these mature yet popular movie stars have the acting chops to grant their characters tremendous emotive impact when combat tensions run high.
   If the spectre of Philip K. Dick's short story Second Variety (filmed as Screamers, 1996) hangs over this three-hour TV drama, well then, we can at least appreciate that there's a legitimate science fiction influence on the production. Although, basically, it's nothing more than revamped space opera nonsense, entirely lacking originality, there is a definite sense that this remake has managed to improve on the 1978 show. If Larson's BattleStar Galactica was inspired by Star Wars, this new version ought to be required viewing for the self-indulgent George Lucas. I think he could probably learn a thing or two from it. Hardly riveting stuff, then, but it is quite good fun overall, which is more than can be said for the recent Star Wars blockbusters.
   The Region 2 + 4 DVD reviewed here is widescreen anamorphic format (ratio 1.77:1) with Dolby digital 5.1 sound, and optional English subtitles. Disc extras: a 20-minute making-of featurette, BattleStar Galactica: The Lowdown, with interview clips (including Richard Hatch - who's generous with his praise, despite the failure of his own TV remake attempt, so no-one can say this man is a sore loser!) and snippets of behind-the-scenes footage.
Battlestar Galactica on DVD

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