Sunday, February 19, 2006

TV on DVD: Battlestar Galactica Season One

Genre: Sci-fi, drama
Director: Michael Rymer
DVD released: Sept. 20, 2005
Verdict: &&&&& (instant classic)

Like my old Battlestar Galactica lunchbox forgotten somewhere in my parents' attic, memories of the 1978 show were lost in the fog of time when a new version of the show emerged on Sci-Fi. The new Battlestar Galactica throws the tricorders, lizard-like aliens and hokey space drama out the window as it reinvents the sci-fi genre, raising the bar in the way that Star Trek: The Next Generation did in the 1980s.

Character-driven and complex, this show has rattled my chain unlike anything since the prime years of The X-Files and is so far superior to any drama on the major broadcast networks that they should be shamed out of business. With a ragtag fleet of human survivors on the run from their own creations run amok, the basic premise mirrors that of the 1978 series. Now, however, the Cylons have evolved to mimic human form, and there are many copies of certain individuals who are carrying out a grand plan. While the human imitators initially riled fans of the old show, it is one of the driving creative elements of the new series and has fueled an atmosphere of paranoia onboard Galactica as everyone becomes suspect. I was hooked from the opening scenes in which the ambassador for the 12 colonies of man journeys to the annual truce meeting with the Cylons, who haven't bothered to send a representative in years. This time, in strolls Number Six (played with smoldering sultriness by Tricia Helfer), who sidles over to the emissary and says, "Are you alive?" "Prove it," she says when he answers in the affirmative. Her idea of proof? Making out.

Make no mistake, this is not just about lasers and shiny toasters (as our heroes often call the robotic Cylons): Galactica is as much about human drama as it is about space duels. The cast is impeccable in nailing the character's foibles, from Edward James Olmos' steely Commander Adama to Mary McDonnell's vulnerable but determined President Roslyn, whose role as secretary of education is elevated to head of government when everyone else is wiped out in the Cylon attack. Then there's James Callis' brilliant take on Gaius Baltar, the "mad" doctor who appears to be a pawn of the Cylons and literally can't get Number Six out of his head or his pants. Does she appear only to him or is she on a chip inside his head? Or is he just nuts? With Number Six we also see another of the show's fascinating themes, religion. "God has a plan for you," she tells Baltar. Why would machines profess to believe in god? This theme expands and teases as the series progresses. The humans are clinging to belief in gods, as well, and the prophecy of a mythical planet called … Earth.

Space battles are beautifully executed, and the look of the show is more organic and believable than, say, any of the modern Star Trek series. The only thing I don't find true to the spirit of the show is use of the euphemism "frack" for cursing, but that's a small price to pay to have such a wonderful show on television. Late in the season is a killer episode, "Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down," that hints at a whole new level of fun that can be had here, as the writers give us humorous scenes somewhat reminiscent of The X-Files' self-mocking episodes. The Golden Globes and Emmys should laud this series with dozens of trophies. By the time I reached the final episode, whose opening juggles pivotal moments for several ongoing threads in a symphony of drama, I felt a level of faith for this show bordering on the religious – enough to make Number Six proud.

// DVD notes // The picture quality and sound are impeccable, as you would expect from this first-class DVD set. It includes the miniseries, so there's no need to buy it separately. The 45 minutes of deleted scenes are often interesting, and the behind-the-scenes material is entertaining and enlightening. I would ask that the deleted scenes be made available with the appropriate episode rather than only on the bonus disc.


Cara said...

Hey there,
I'm really enjoying your well thought out reviews. I didn't get the chance to see the new Battlestar on TV so now I think I'll try the series from the store. Thanks. I must admit, when I heard they were bring a new version out I kept shaking my head, "Are they going to have Christmas lights?" "What about the robot dog? They've got to have that!And the kid with the bowl cut." "Camp, a la Doctor Who, or way,way out there?" So, I'm glad to know it will be worth a few evenings watch! I'll put a mention on my site for you.

Jebb said...

Thanks, Cara. I can't say enough nice things about Battlestar Galactica. Everyone, even non sci-fi fans, should give it a shot. I'm getting ready to start on season 2. Comcast doesn't give us the Sci-Fi channel here (yet we have crap like Outdoor Health 2).

I enjoyed your blog, as well -- especially the series of posts on '80s music.