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BattleStar Galactica (1978-81)
Created by Glen A.Larson
review by Donald Morefield
This collectors' box-set of six videos assembles the main force saga of Glen Larson's lively space opera into a dozen TV movies. In the wake of Star Wars, this show (the pilot episodes were condensed into a feature and granted theatrical release outside USA) was seen as a lavishly produced and wholly original small screen adventure. Sadly, that time has long since passed.
Today, BattleStar Galactica survives only on nostalgic values of its era's SF boom. Over 20 years later, the show pales to insignificance when compared to the delights of Babylon 5 or Star Trek Voyager. However, let's not focus on its defects because, unsophisticated though it undoubtedly is, 'Galactica maintains a certain appeal to those children of all ages that returned for multiple screenings of Star Wars. It has a simplistic charm that harks back to the giddy days of genre pulp entertainments such as This Island Earth, Invaders From Mars, and Flash Gordon. Much was written, back when this show first launched, about the significant debt it owed to technologies developed for Star Wars. Space dogfights between courageous rocket pilots and robotic Cylon raiders (in craft resembling flying saucers) were created by John Dykstra, who established his reputation working for George Lucas. In addition, the studios' legal dispute between 20th Century Fox and Larson, over alleged similarities between Galactica and Star Wars, garnered almost as much public attention as the series itself. Larson's defence claimed that his show could be interpreted as a retelling of the biblical tale of Moses leading refugees to the Promised Land - and never mind that it borrowed freely from any number of other sci-fi adventures, or populist genres.
Problems with Galactica included weak characters and unimaginative plots, and yet something about its larger themes - searching for the lost planet Earth, a wandering journey to a new home, did spark the interest of TV viewers previously uninterested in SF. The obvious sincerity of Lorne Greene's performance as the leader, Adama, was another factor in the show's early popularity as good family entertainment, as parents and older viewers may have remembered Greene as patriarchal rancher, Ben Cartwright, from famed western series Bonanza. Observers also noted that the usual 'wagon train to the stars' description of Galactica was, in fact, a cross-genre scenario that Gene Roddenberry had toyed with for the original Star Trek. All this helped to cement the programme's high frontier set-up (taken to logical extremes in certain episodes) and fulfilled the potential of such a concept for an SF serial at the same time.
Here's a run down of the 90-minute movies in this box set. The 'Pilot' film comprises the Saga Of A Star World opening episodes, establishing Adama's family conflicts with son Apollo (Richard Hatch) and daughter Athena (Maren Jensen), and political strife against decadent officials and oily senators (played by Ray Milland and Wilfred Hyde White). In particular, there's evil Baltar (John Colicos) a recurring villain in the series who betrays the 12 human colony planets to the Cylons during negotiations for peace. When the war is over, Adama musters his "rag-tag fleet" and leads the survivors into unknown space. Along the way, they discover a casino planet were visitors are being abducted and fed to the larvae of giant bug-like aliens in Galactica's only memorable use of genuine SF tropes. The kiddie factor intrudes when ship engineers build a robot dog to replace a sad little boy's lost pet. Both boy (Noah Hathaway) and dog became regulars in the series ensuring its appeal to a young audience.
Lost Planet Of The Gods was the first of several two-part adventures, and to its credit, did try to continue the story-arc begun by the Pilot film introducing female fighter pilots, much to the chagrin and grief of Apollo when his new bride Serena (Jane Seymour) is killed, leaving redhead Athena (Jensen) to carry the show's glamour girl quotient.
The Gun On Ice Planet Zero is bravura space opera, mixing The Guns Of Navarone with The Dirty Dozen, as a hastily assembled strike team are sent from Galactica to sabotage a mighty Cylon space cannon. The guest stars included Roy (The Invaders) Thinnes, James (The Andromeda Strain) Olsen, Christine (The Groundstar Conspiracy) Belford and, as if one wasn't enough, multiple clones of Britt Ekland. Adult themes of militarism and slavery were more or less sacrificed on the altar of lightweight action entertainment but this was, arguably, the show's best outing.
In The Living Legend (aka: Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack, when released in the cinemas), aged star Lloyd Bridges plays swaggering warmonger Cain, commander of a lost battlestar, the Pegasus, who attempts to use the Galactica in his reckless attacks upon Cylon outposts. This two-parter features a daring commando raid and introduces series' regular, Sheba, Cain's pilot daughter, played by Anne Lockhart. Due to its cinema release as a sequel feature, MG: TCA was broadcast at the end of the series' first run.
After these early double-episode cliffhangers, Galactica quickly lost its way. War Of The Gods has our intrepid heroes finding a mysterious psychic (Patrick Macnee) who demonstrates powers that could defeat the Cylons. Predictably, he's not who or what he seems. A crystalline city-ship in space is just one inexplicably transcendental element in this weird yet unsatisfactory adventure, which features outtakes from Silent Running of the geodesic domed forestry, supposedly part of Adama's fleet. Greetings From Earth is a standard tale of the cryo-ship with a lost-in-space family onboard variety. It has nowhere to go, story-wise, and takes a long time getting there. Experiment In Terra is an offbeat episode descending from the lofty pun of its title to deliver Apollo into the afterlife where those angel beings from the crystal future heaven of WOTG, send him on a ludicrous political mission. Melody (Flash Gordon) Anderson guests, but you may hardly notice.
All the remaining single episodes have been edited into disappointing feature-length yarns. Curse Of The Cylons comprises Fire In Space (stealing from such disaster movies as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure), with a space walk sequence and factory interiors lending credibility to Galactica as a labyrinthine mothership, and The Magnificent Warriors (embarrassingly awful wild west township besieged by pig-men). Murder In Space offers a double-dose of Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) in episodes Murder On The Rising Star and The Young Lords, as our hot-dog hero faces criminal charges, before he's castaway on a planet to meet Audrey Landers. Roguish Starbuck is also central to Space Casanova, pairing Take The Celestra (he tries to keep three ladies happy) with The Long Patrol (oddball prison break tale where the inmates serve time for crimes of their forefathers). Phantom In Space spotlights Apollo in The Lost Warrior (he tries on the mantle of Shane in a western homage) and The Hand Of God (Apollo and Starbuck pilot a captured enemy spacecraft into an attack on a Cylon base ship - the same trick was pivotal to Earth's victory against aliens in the later Independence Day). Finally, The Man With Nine Lives (Fred Astaire slums as a conman sought by ugly alien thugs) and cheesy hostage drama, Baltar's Escape, are combined in Space Prisoner.
A sequel series, Galactica 1980, set 30 years after - when Adama's fleet have located Earth, was produced, but this did not appear on UK screens until 1984. It was mercilessly rubbished by TV critics and ignored by fans, and lasted for a mere 10 episodes.
previously published online, VideoVista #22
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