Wednesday 6 February 2013

Battlestar Galactica Part One: My Favourite Sci Fi TV Show


When it comes to Sci Fi, the only show that comes a close second is Doctor Who (Star Trek is my favourite franchise and first Sci Fi love) but Battlestar Galactica (the recent shows of course) is by far my all time favourite TV show. It was honest, lively, dark and gritty. It had tense moments, funny moments and sad moments, had you routing for the heroes but pining for the villains. All characters were complex, had some past issue entering into their circumstance (last of the human race on the run from a formidable enemy with superior numbers and firepower, the ability to resurrect after termination and hiding cloned versions of themselves within the human population (aware or sleepers) This show had it all. Sex, drugs and rock and roll from a unique standpoint. A mirror of our culture, our history (with a few missed turns) our personal and social ills, our hopes and dreams.

The Original Series History
Created by Glen A. Larson,  the franchise began with the original television series in 1978, and was followed by a brief sequel TV series in 1980 (anyone remember Galactica 1980?lol)  The premise...  a human civilization has extended (in a distant part of our galaxy) to a group of planets known as the Twelve Colonies, having migrated from their ancestral home world of Kobol.

The Twelve Colonies have warred for decades with a cybernetic race known as the Cylons, whose goal is the extermination of the human race. The Cylons offered peace to the humans, which proved to be a ruse. With the aid of a human named Baltar, the Cylons carry out a massive attack laying waste on the Twelve Colonies and on the Colonial Fleet of starships protecting them. Virtually all populations are destroyed and the scattered survivors flee into outer space aboard the surviving spaceships.

Of the entire Colonial battle fleet, only the Battlestar Galactica, a gigantic battleship and spacecraft carrier (analogous to an  appears to have survived the Cylon attack. Under the leadership of Commander Adama, the Galactica and the pilots of "Viper" fighters lead a fleet of survivors in search of the fabled thirteenth colony known as Earth.

As a child, I loved Sci Fi. Star Trek, Godzilla, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who and a host of others, and those 60s & 70s shows will always have a special place in my childhood heart. As an adult, for some not so much. It's amazing how a decade or two of life experience changes one's perspective.


I may have been what's referred to as an original series loyalist when it came to the Sci Fi shows I grew up loving, as an adult I didn't want to hear about a new Star Trek series (TNG) while still enjoying the original cast making (mostly) great films, and just like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica got no special dispensation.

As with many young men, Star Buck was my hero. He was the dashingly handsome ladies man, whose lighthearted approach to life made him well loved amongst the characters and viewers alike, and he was an ace pilot.

So imagine my reaction when finding out they turned not just Star Buck into a woman, but Boomer too? Sorry Battlestar, back then (2004) you had no chance.

I liked Edward James Olmos (Miami Vice) but not as Adama (before watching the show) In truth... I think there may have been something wrong with me back then. Although much more close to reality, I didn't care for the muffled sounds of space war (no sound in the vacuum of space) I missed the shrill sound of the Viper's laser blasters, I didn't like the design of the CGI Cylons (nor the fact they used CGI for the Cylons) as I said, it was an uphill battle to win my Sci Fi heart... but they did.

Oh You Clever Little Minxes
What makes a good story of any kind? Conflict and character. These two elements in story writing are crucial to building and maintaining interest. Conflict...? Oh there's conflict. Characters...? Almost all are flawed in some way. Haunted by the past. Worried about the future. Terrified the present moment could always be their last, every show had the close cylons on the tails of the survivors of the holocost. 
If the threat of total annihilation wasn't enough, they had to worry about genetically engineered clones able to pass for human wrecking havoc, food and water shortages, a ship filled with violent prisoners as part of the survivor fleet, ships without FTL (faster than light) Drives creating moral dilemmas, suicide bombers, relationship issues, personal demons, strained relationships, political upheaval, leadership struggles, drug use, a mafia controlled black market and oh yes, Cylon resurrection. This show had it all plus infused many of the social political issues our civilisation struggles with today.

Battlestar/Star Wars Controversy

Glen A. Larson, the creator and executive producer of Battlestar Galactica, claimed he had conceived of the Battlestar Galactica premise, (which he originally called Adam's Ark) during the late 1960s, but was unable to find financial backing for his TV series for a number of years.
Battlestar Galactica was finally produced in the wake of the success of Star Wars in 1977 ( In fact, the movie studio sued the studio behind Battlestar Galactica for copyright infringement, claiming that Universal Studios had copied 34 distinct ideas from Star Wars. The studio for Balltlestar promptly counter sued, claiming Star Wars had stolen ideas from their 1972 film Silent Running (notably the robot "drones") and the Buck Rogers serials of the 1930s. The copyright claims were initially dismissed by the trial court, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remanded the case for trial in 1983.

Battlestar Then vs.Now
1978- the Twelve Colonies Of Mankind were reaching the end of a thousand-year war with the Cylons, robot warriors created by a reptilian race which were presumably destroyed by their own creations long ago. Humanity was ultimately defeated in a sneak attack on their homeworlds carried out with the help of a human traitor, Count Baltar.
Protected by the last surviving capital warship, the Battlestar Galactica lead the survivors in any ships that were available to them. The Commander of the Galactica, Adama led the "rag-tag fugitive fleet" of 220 ships in search of the long-lost thirteenth tribe of humanity that had settled on a legendary planet called Earth. However, the Cylons continued to relentlessly pursue them across the galaxy.

2003- a civilization of humans live on a group of planets known as the Twelve Colonies which had been at war with the Cylons, a cybernetic race of their own creation. With the unwitting help of a human named Gaius Baltar, the Cylons launch a sudden sneak attack on the Colonies, laying waste to the planets and devastating their populations.

Out of a population numbering in the billions, only approximately 50,000 humans survive, most of whom were aboard civilian ships that avoided destruction. Of all the Colonial Fleet, the nearly decommissioned Battlestar Galactica appeared to be the only military capital ship that survived the attack. Under the leadership of Colonial Fleet officer Commander William "Bill" Adama and President Laura Roslin, the Galactica and its crew take up the task of leading the small fugitive fleet of survivors into space in search of a fabled refuge known as Earth.

The differences? Chiefly, science and the zeitgeist (the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time) Namely, thanks to the PC and Internet, we live today in a web connected world of genre film, TV, comic books, video games which coupled with rapidly emerging technology, the human race is far more worldly then it was 30 years ago. The writers (those crafty devils) took the zeitgeist and made the situations and thus the world of Battlestar more relevant to 21st century Sci Fi fans. 

Firstly, instead of the blandly hokey narration summing up the premise of the story at the start of every show, we have text explaining how the Cylons had not sent a representative to the agreed upon space station for peace negotiations nor had they been hear from for nearly 50 years. Suddenly, two Cylon Centurions enter the meeting room and take up posts guarding the door. Then, in walks number Six (following the curious but somehow menacing clacking sound of her high heels taking what seemed like forever to get to the room) She seduces the human representative with a deep and passionate kiss the camera captures pictures of his family in the background, then a single "nuke" destroys the station without regard for the Cylon reps.

Secondly - the darkness of the show is quite perfectly demonstrated when we see another Six already on the Capitol world Caprica, taking the sights and sounds of the marketplace. She comes upon a mother tending her baby in a stroller and strikes up an unusual conversation (by unusual, I mean the type of conversation that would make a real person/mother think twice about turning her back on this creepy, sexy fem fatal) with a strange woman remarking how tiny and fragile the baby's neck is for the size of it's head, the mother turns her back, Six leans in close to the stroller, and following the crack sound and the baby's sounds of life coming to an abrupt halt makes you cringe in a way few other non horror Sci Fi shows could (we were speechless)

Note*  Speaking of character building, the disturbed look on Six's face after realising her almost childlike impulsive curiosity caused her to murder a helpless baby. Although she's obviously a villain on the side of the Cylons who intend to destroy all humanity (our suspicions she's an engineered Cylon clone is not confirmed till later) is to me by far the best and most disturbing example of character development in Sci Fi history.

Unlike the original show the destruction of the colonies doesn't impact viewers the same way the contemporary show did. Most Sci Fi of that era were propaganda-like   warnings of the Soviet threat (playing on the fears of the time) but somehow the fact that Cylon ships firing the laser blasters gave viewers that comfortable wall of disbelief, where as the use of nuclear weapons and showing the resulting destruction made it less propaganda, and more real. Suspension of disbelief was not required (if at all possible)

In part Two I will cover more differences between the shows, more characters and the overall theme of the show.

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