Q: Is this the review of the current episode?

A: No, this is our weekend review, and we’re going back to the original 1978 movie.

Q: Movie? Wasn’t Battlestar Galactica a 70s tv show?

A: Yes, but it was also a theatrically-released movie.

Q: I wasn’t around in the 70s. Your comments intrigue me. But will fans of the original show be offended by your review?

A: Possibly, but read on, and perhaps we can discuss the matter over a drink at the space-disco.

Q: So, how was this a movie?

A: The original Galactica was a particularly expensive TV show. According to some sources, it was, at the time, the most expensive TV show ever made. In order to recoup some of the costs, its creators tried to generate a theatrical revenue, too, in at least three ways:

  • The summer before it premiered, the TV-movie pilot episode made the rounds of certain select Canadian theatres. Unlucky Canucks were suckered into paying movie prices to see this space-turkey on the big screen, just weeks before they could watch it on television. It also played Japanese and European theatres.
  • After the show went down in flames (which, according to one episode, can burn wildly in the vacuum of space), they reedited and trundled the pilot out again to American theatres. Apparently, the show’s creators had even less respect for their fellow citizens than they did for mine.
  • Long before the Galactica Revival, the pilot was a mainstay in SF sections of video stores.

Q: Speaking of rip-offs, aren’t you just riffing on a review you wrote years ago?

A: I call it, freely adapting from my own writing, but yeah.

Cast

Lorne Greene as Adama
Richard Hatch as Apollo
Dirk Benedict as Starbuck
Jane Seymour as Serina
Herb Jefferson, Jr. as Boomer
John Colicos as Baltar
Terry Carter as Colonel Tigh
Laurette Spang as Cassiopeia
Maren Jensen as Athena
Noah Hathaway as Boxey

The original series of Battlestar Galactica is available at Amazon.com

Premise

In the “seventh millennium of time,” an era which resembles a Hollywood Bible Epic, if the Bible had happened in the 1970s, the evil Cylons wipe out the twelve known human colonies. The survivors gather around the last surviving Battlestar, Galactica, and head for the legendary thirteenth colony, “a shining planet known as earth.”

High Point

Galactica had the potential for an exciting space opera, and the pilot/movie does better than the series that followed. The space exodus has some dramatic moments. The Ovian/casino subplot proves much better than any of the episodes I’ve watched, reliant though it is on old horror-movie conventions. Galactica promised that, in the wake of Star Wars and Close Encounters, we might see a fair bit of expensively-produced SF that would reach a mainstream audience. For a kid in the 70s with an interest in the genre, that promise made this worth seeing.

Of course, without this Galactica, we wouldn’t have the compelling, thought-provoking drama of the recent show, which mined the original’s potential but produced something entirely different.

Finally, the pilot/movie is a whole lot better than Galactica 1980.

Of course, The Star Wars Holiday Special is a whole lot better than Galactica 1980. If offered a choice between watching a Sex and the City marathon while an insane clown screams every third word of Heroes of Destiny in my ear or watching the entire run of Galactica 1980, I would have to weigh the options carefully. A debate between Jar Jar Binks and Twiki the Robot might be a tempting alternative to Galactica 1980. I’d rather be rickrolled yet again than…. You get the idea.

Low Point

They really, really didn’t think this through. The success of a certain film set in a galaxy, far far away led Glen Larson to dust off an old premise and retool it as a clone of Star Wars. Well, fine. The show’s twenty-first century re-envisioning is, necessarily, derivative, and it’s a frakin’ impressive program. However, this Galactica’s script fails tests of basic plot logic and continuity at every turn.

Some of the discontinuities are incidental. An officer who knew he would be dealing with humans from other colonies struggles because he doesn’t know their language. Awhile later, another officer is shown using a “Languatron” to instantly translate an entirely new alien tongue. Did they just invent this gizmo between scenes?

Other problems relate to the backstory, but could be ignored if the ensuing story held. Take the Cylons, for example. Never mind that their genocidal hatred makes no sense. (Are they seeking new territory? Are they hunters by nature? Did they get annoyed with humans for all the times we taunted them for being really bad shots?) There’s a bigger problem in the film: no one at this point seemed to know what the Cylons were. Some of the pre-movie publicity in Canada suggested that they were lizards in armored suits, rather like the Imperial Stormtroopers. The movie itself suggests they are lizards who have been cyborgized, and they often behave like mechanically enhanced living organisms. Later, the series declared them purely robotic creations of the long-dead lizards.

Other problems are just bewildering and impossible to ignore.

Both sides possess some sort of precision ray-gun which causes its targets to explode. Such a weapon makes a kind of sense in a space war. But the Cylons also use it to wipe out the human populations. Why? Their aim is genocide. A great many easier ways exist for wiping out whole populations: even today. We see the Cylons, however, flying over human cities like WW I-era pilots, firing at small targets with precision lasars. This seems darned inefficient.

The humans, after a thousand-year war, are lured into fake peace talks– and they leave their planets totally undefended. After a thousand years of conflict, they leave twelve planets completely undefended. The entire fleet (there are no other defenses apparent) congregates at the peace talks– each battleship containing about two-hundred fighter pilots (Yep. That’s 2400 little ships to defend twelve planets). Meanwhile, the one colony shown has been conducting business as though the war– with an enemy who wants all humans destroyed– were some distant, foreign affair.

And then there’s the series premise, established here: After the Cylon sneak attack, surviving humans go searching for Earth, the mythic lost colony.

The “rag-tag” fleet of ships led by the Galactica is almost as much a target as any planet (it has the advantage of mobility). Earth, if they find it, will be exactly as much of a target as the old colonies. The Cylons, it is made clear, will follow them. So– when faced with an enemy who wants to destroy you, you band all known humans together into one target, and then lead your opponents, past inhabited worlds, to the one other place where humans might be found in vast numbers.

The Scores

Originality: 3/5. Larson may have been planning his space show since the original Trek aired, but he had also been reading Erich Von Däniken and, regarding a certain other influence,Twentieth-Century Fox’s lawsuit was not a stretch. Galactica is set a long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away. The introductory narration even uses the phrase, “far, far away.” The larger ships, built by a breakaway company from Industrial Light and Magic, copy exactly the “cannibalized model battleship” look. Little fighter ships, meanwhile, imitate the X-Wings, Y-Wings, and TIE fighters. TheCylons are a chrome weld of Darth Vader and the Imperial Stormtroopers, and they shoot with the latter’s famed accuracy. We get an alien casino scene instead of the Mos Eisley catina, with extra-terrestrial disco singers replacing the bar band. Star Wars gave us funny sidekicks, two robots and a furry alien. Galactica needed to save money, so it combines them, and presents us with a furry robot, Muffit.

An entire planet explodes. The Cylons’ Death Star, I mean, Base Star, also explodes in a spectacular finale.

Sound familiar?

Larson and company did develop original elements for the culture, though many of these remain unseen in the film itself.

Effects: 5/6. I grant that these haven’t entirely held up, years later, but they were pretty good effects for the time. The alien make-up is generally pretty fake-looking, however, and was in ’78.

Story 3/6. Interesting premise. Poor execution.

Acting: 4/6. The performances are uneven, and very much of the period; the movie betrays its television origins. It couldn’t have helped the actors much that the writers gave them so little character with which to work.

Production 5/6.

Emotional Response: 4/6. The battle sequences were exciting, and the original Galactica gives us a lot of battle sequences. The exodus provides some good moments. The script also–occasionally– evokes the wonder inherent in the premise.

Overall 4/6. If you enjoy 70s retro-cheese or really like the premise, you may enjoy this.

In total, Battlestar Galactica (1978) receives 28 out of 42.