Reviews of Battlestar Galactica (2003) and related work

Battlestar Galactica (2003Moving picture, 3.0 hours)

Humans live on twelve worlds and created robots long ago. The robots rebelled and now return after a long period of peace. 50,000 humans, infiltrated by the enemy and having only one military ship, make their escape in a small fleet. To create a sense of hope after the near-total holocaust, the leaders state their purpose as being a journey to Earth, a world known only from myth.

3-hour miniseries, serving as the pilot in a larger remake of the 1970s franchise. There are plenty of early signs of trouble with this story, but enough nice surprises. Ruthlessness pays off regularly, there are no lasers (just bullets, missiles, nukes), the lack of modern communication technology is explained, and so on. Thus far, it’s science fiction.

References here: Westworld (2016), Blade Runner 2049 (2017).

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Battlestar Galactica (2004Moving picture, 10 hours)

Review applies to the first season.

The fleet has economic problems: a lack of water, fuel, manpower and stable currency. These are aggravated by sabotage and political divisions. However, the actual events surrounding these problems, such as drilling for water and mining for fuel, are ignored in favour of the dull negotiations that lead to them. The soldier left stranded on Caprica survived and spends a few minutes of each episode wandering around down there until he is recovered, so his impressive sacrifice is cancelled. It turns out that the myths about Kobol and Earth may be true, intertwined with a traditionally vague prophecy, but childbearing Cylons are apparently monotheists and produce Jesus.

TV series, with a total of four seasons. Its creators apparently contend that it is not science fiction. They say that because they don’t want to be associated with the kind of schlock they themselves put out, but even so, what they say is almost true. As usual in American TV SF, it’s a very closely cropped drama, low on the harsh causality of true SF. Battlestar represents the subgenre of Star Trek (1966): romantic drama in space.

A Cylon literally gets pregnant with a human, and announces it in such a way that I said it first, as a joke, naïvely thinking that something so stupid could not really be the next revelation. Similarly, it is impossible to imagine good reasons for the behaviour of the enemy, yet the drama often hinges intimately on that behaviour. Sadly, I am told the eventual resolution rests on divine intervention.

In general, the focus shifts from the epic mode (events, society) to the dramatic (the emotions of very few individuals), making classic mistakes with its central characters. For example, the same pilot who miraculously converts a biotechnological Cylon fighter to a very useful manned transatmospheric plane in a couple of hours, with no prior experience of the supposedly very alien technology and while hardly breathing, also has a very tragic past like Star Trek TNG’s Tasha Yar (oh noes!) and an unrequited love, and is trusted to torture, interrogate and serve as a security guard, while also being the one and only qualified military flight instructor. Taken together, this is worse than Yar, all so that the audience does not have to keep a credible number of realistic or actually threatened characters in mind. The final product does not make enough sense or deliver the broad view the miniseries promised.

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