Battlestar Galactica: 2003 miniseries

Most British sci-fi fans reacted to the news that
Battlestar Galactica was to be revived with a slightly-puzzled 'Why?' (if they reacted at all). Paul Dempsey takes a look at the finished results of the Sci-Fi Channel's new miniseries...

The original 1978 TV series - foisted first on us Europeans as one of those Sensurround seat rumbling movies - was viewed on this side of the pond as just another bit of simple-minded, fantasy fluff that had tumbled off Obi-Wan's cloak.

It was a Star Wars me-too exercise that might have humbled the good Doctor with its special effects, but which also spewed forth characters, scripts and plots of profound awfulness. A strong central idea - mankind fleeing across the galaxy in search of its one remaining colony while pursued by an implacable enemy - was buried.

In the US, however, news of the remake has had all manner of fanboy manning the online barricades and bombarding its broadcaster, the Sci-Fi Channel, with complaints about the plans of project mastermind, producer-writer Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek: First Contact).

'I'll be adama'd, he's made Starbuck a girl! Some of the Cylons look like human clones! It's got sex! And there are no DAGGITS!!!!!!!!!!!!' OK, I made the last one up, but you get the drift.

Well, the naysayers can sling it, because the 2003 model is high class TV. Moore has made claims that it will reinvent small screen sci-fi. That much is pure hype. But this Galactica does comfortably inhabit the more sophisticated but well-established world of series such as Babylon 5 and the genuinely sadly short-lived Space: Above and Beyond.

This initial three-hour mini-series is at its strongest when playing off the differing political points-of-view of its updated Galactica Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) and the junior minister turned President (Mary McDonnell) on whether to make a last stand against the Cylon baddies or flee. It helps no end that two fine character actors fill those key roles - Olmos making his first sci-fi appearance since Blade Runner.

The Cylons get an upgrade. No longer the Vocodered tin cans of the original, they now come in all shapes and sizes, including those of a former lingerie model and of a Kevin Spacey lookalike. Post September 11, there are very conscious hints of 'the enemy within' and cyberterrorism as these baddies infiltrate the human world using every means at their disposal.

We do get a whole lotta shagging and also the revelation that the key weapon is a computer virus. And we learn something new about Cylon lore - they are mankind's own creation, the renegade slaves.

From where once polyester and Lorne Greene ruled, we have moved into a much darker imaginative landscape. The cardinal TV rule about no cruelty to young children or babies gets chucked out the window even before the Cylons begin their genocidal nuking of the human colonies. Thousands are abandoned to their fate because there is nothing else that can be done. And the man who probably holds the key to saving mankind from extinction is also the one who unwittingly paved the way for the Cylon attack in the first place. Those in search of cheesy fun are likely to be disappointed.

There are flaws. One gloriously misjudged scene involves a central character having a wet dream on the Galactica's command deck - and that is not an exaggeration. The younger characters are still somewhat wooden and one-note, even with Dirk Benedict's Starbuck 're-imagined' as a cigar chomping, smart-arsed tomboy. And, possibly most disappointing, the script never really makes it mind up whether to be something that can stand alone or the pilot for a new series.

In that last respect, Moore and his co-remakers can be seen as victims of their own success. By inserting a number of intriguing themes and character relationships, they do leave you wanting more, but also a bit irritated at what's left hanging after a 180-minute viewing stretch. A final twist makes this feeling much worse.

On balance, though, this is far better than most sci-fi fans could ever have expected. There are even some amused nods to the original's aficionados - as we start, the Galactica is about to be decommissioned and turned into a museum, allowing glimpses of props from 1978, not to mention the ongoing use of those actually quite cool Viper fighters.

The effects are excellent - but then again they were the one thing the original did get spot on. And that thing with the red light 'humming' across a Cylon face - oh yeah, that's still there too, in its own way.

Make no mistake, this is one hell of a refit.

The UK version of the Sci-Fi Channel will screen Battlestar Galactica in early 2004 and the series will also be released on Region 1 DVD in the first half of the year. The 1978 series is available now in a DVD box set, if you really must waste your hard-earned dosh.

Buy the original series on DVD for £43.99 (RRP £49.99) by clicking here
Buy the original series special edition on DVD for £48.73 (RRP £64.99) by clicking here

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