Monday, February 25, 2013

"Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome": review

"Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome" (hereinafter BSG:BC) is an hour-and-a-half-long 2012 TV movie that is part of the Battlestar Galactica franchise and takes place within the universe of Ronald D. Moore's rebooted version of Glenn A. Larson's original 1978 TV series. BSG:BC stands alongside other independent episodes like "BSG: Razor" and "BSG: The Plan." The newest addition to the franchise was initially broadcast as a ten-part series of short "webisodes," but the DVD/Blu-ray packet that I purchased from Amazon stitches the whole thing together into a single, coherent movie. The filmmakers' hope is that BSG:BC might serve—as did the 2003 miniseries that started the frenzy—as the pilot for a new series.

I have to say, I was wowed. The story is tightly written, with snappy dialogue and plenty of action. The special effects are movie-quality, as is normally par for the course with any Galactica-related project, although the overuse of the lens-flare effect put me in mind of JJ Abrams's "Star Trek," in which lens flares became something of a running joke. The music is once again by Bear McCreary, which gives the movie a familiar ambiance.

BSG:BC takes place during the tenth year of the first Cylon war. Front and center is a young Bill Adama, the show's fresh-faced protag, played by twentysomething Englishman (and Keanu lookalike/Matthew Broderick soundalike) Luke Pasqualino. Adama has just graduated from the military academy and is the top pilot in his class. He's cocky and ambitious, and knows only too well how good he is. To his great disappointment, he's assigned to pilot a large, unwieldy Raptor on the Galactica instead of the sleek Vipers he so yearns to fly. Even worse, he's assigned a drunken short-timer as a copilot, and given a mission he derisively describes as a "milk run": an errand to fetch spare parts from a shipyard. Things change, however, once the Raptor flies beyond DRADIS (i.e., radar) contact with the Galactica: his passenger, the beautiful Dr. Kelly, suddenly reveals she has new, secret orders for her pilots: they are to fly into Cylon space to rendezvous with a team there. They eventually reach an asteroid field where they make an impressive discovery: an entire fleet of colonial ships has been hiding out in Cylon space for months, waiting to strike deep into Cylon territory. All of the ships in this "ghost fleet" have been reported destroyed, and the real mission—the insertion of Dr. Kelly into a Cylon outpost to upload a virus—has yet to begin.

I won't reveal any more of the plot here; the story might interest some readers who are fellow BSG fans. Suffice it to say that BSG:BC contains plenty of action, amazing CGI set pieces (almost the entire film was CG, according to the DVD extras), and even one weird creature: the Cython, which is never actually named in the movie. At first, I was disappointed when this vicious, snakelike beast appeared; I felt it was a concession to the SyFy Channel's lust for tacky monstrosities (read: Sharktopus), and BSG is known for not showing alien life. But the Cython's existence comes with a mollifying explanation: it's a cybernetic creature invented by the Cylons as part of their ongoing attempts to fuse biological and mechanical parts into a single, smoothly functioning organism. It's also a clever bit of foreshadowing: later in the movie, we catch a brief glimpse of a new type of Cylon, one that is beginning to approximate human form, movement, flesh, and voice.

The CGI set pieces deserve special mention. The effects crew obviously worked very hard to show us a Battlestar Galactica in its prime, with a bustling hangar bay full of ships and people. Even the look of space is different: instead of the vast, empty blackness that characterized most of the BSG TV series, the skies of BSG:BC are full of asteroids (some of which even glow with laval fury), nebulae, and blasted ship debris. The exterior shots of the colonial fleet are formidable; the gun-studded Galactica is still spanking new and is the pride of the armada.

Amusingly, the show reuses cast members from the 2003-2009 series: I saw at least three returnees, playing very different roles from the ones they had played some years before. The level of acting by all the principals was quite good; there were no Shatnerian theatrics. Some actors, in fact, deserve congratulations for their comic timing, especially Canuck actor Ben Cotton as Coker, Adama's burnout of a copilot who is only looking to survive until the end of his mandatory second tour.

While BSG:BC has its flaws, it's an engaging story overall, and a proud addition to the BSG universe. I'd rate it somewhere between "BSG: Razor," which stands above it, and "BSG: The Plan" (ably directed by Edward James Olmos), a story that had its heart in the right place, but which didn't add much new information to the overall plot. However, when I turn to the question of whether BSG:BC should be the pilot of a new BSG series, part of me hesitates. Adama is something of a legendary figure; by giving his character a series that shows us his youthful exploits, we're demythologizing him, removing some of his luster and mystery. I'm not sure an Adama-centric series is warranted. BSG:BC works best, I think, as a one-off tale. It's better just to imagine Adama's further adventures.


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