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Galactica Redux - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Galactica Redux
Get me started on movies that mangle books, and I'll go on a tirade. I don't accept the general wisdom that the translation from book to screen requires mutilating some characters and totally replacing others, or tossing in a romance just so a buxom actress with flowing hair can appear on a poster. I'm a book purist.

This doesn't, in my mind, translate to being a purist for every single thing that has ever been made. Multi-author series--for television, comic books, or even cheap paperbacks--are essentially high concept only material, the modern version of folktales, most of which can be broken down to a single sentence. Unlike a novel, a high concept is not a finished product. It's open for tinkering and even total reimagining from time to time. The question becomes whether or not it's done well.

In the case of the SciFi channel's re-imagining of the campy classic Battlestar Galactica (of which I have many fond youthful memories), I'm afraid the answer is at best a mixed bag.

The high concept of BG was always, "Human culture is destroyed at a single stroke, leaving a struggling remnant on a ragtag fleet headed for the lost colony of Earth." Check. High concept requirement is, in fact, met. The Cylons attack, wipe out the twelve colonies, and the Galactica begins to gather up its fleet.

But part of the charm of the old BG was that it was campy. People wandered around the galaxy in leisure suits and capes, with funny names like Apollo and Starbuck. It's hard to imagine that anyone was taking it with total seriousness. The new version, however, is Very Serious. It Has A Message (you are responsible for what you create). The goofy names have become squadron handles, while the characters are assigned more normal sounding names (Apollo and Starbuck become, respectively, Lee Adama and Cara Thrace). There are attempts to humanize the Cylons. Everything is grungy and dirty, as is the norm in SF these days, and Adama is more than a little bit cynical politically.

Oh, and Earth may or may not exist--Adama believes it doesn't. If the miniseries becomes a series, I can actually see this being an interesting subtheme. The one thing we can all be certain of is that Earth exists in the now... a BG series with this question could actually start raising questions about faith vs. cynicism by the fact that Adama is leading people toward something he doesn't believe in but which we know exists. It presents an interesting question, but one which is certainly not explored in the pilot. (Is there any point in pretending this was anything but a pilot?) But given the depressing and nihilistic approach we've seen so far, I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope.

There are things I liked, certainly. I actually liked Boomer, now a young Asian woman, quite a lot. There's a twist at the end involving her which could either become quite interesting or horrendously cliched, but for now, I'm sort of fond of her. She has a nice relationship with her boyfriend, and it seems she's taken over Apollo's foster-parenting of the boy Boxey (a dead ringer for Noah Hathaway in the 70s, btw; there was no mistaking who this character was).

I also liked the controversial character Cara Thrace--I just can't for the life of me imagine why they're pretending she's Starbuck. (It's really got to throw off Apollo/Starbuck slashers, though, who suddenly find themselves writing het. The horrors!) She's a spitfire, and yes, she smokes cigars and gambles, but so do a lot of people. Drop the Starbuck connection and she actually works rather well. Call the poor woman Cara.

I actually like the new Baltar--the traitor--more than I liked the old one. In this, his betrayal was inadvertant, caused by short-sightedness and arrogance, as well as a huge blind spot for a pretty blonde. Yet he doesn't end up being excused--he's still a selfish and weak man who may or may not end up betraying everyone in the end. With this one, it's actually up for grabs.

And then there are the things I don't like.

Lee Adama (Apollo) is strikingly changed. No longer the loyal son and good boy, he's in conflict with his father over his brother's death, and seems to spend a lot of time glowering at the camera and looking like he's about to explode.

Commander Adama is a grizzled old warhorse, and Olmos hasn't chosen to play him with a particularly commanding presence.

The Cylons who can look like humans? Bound to create re-hashed paranoia plots.

The Secretary of Education Who Becomes President When Everyone Else Dies. I can't remember her name. She has cancer. This is a character designed to help insomniacs sleep. Ditch her fast.

And honestly, I miss Cassiopeia, the tacky pleasure worker who joins the fray at the first stop. She was always one of my favorites. And I miss Athena. I guess they figured that since they were changing two men to women (Boomer and Starbuck), they could remove two women altogether. Sigh.

On the whole, I'm willing to give it a chance if (when) the SciFi Channel starts up the series. But it is on, shall we say, rough probation.

I feel a bit...: contemplative contemplative

3 comments or Leave a comment
ashtur From: ashtur Date: December 14th, 2003 06:43 am (UTC) (Link)
I actually had much the same mixed feelings you did. I hadn't thought about it, but you are right about "Starbuck". Put any other name on the character, and she works well. The grating thing is sticking the name on her. Besides, the series could use a charming rogue, and while she is certainly a rogue, "charming" seems to fall short of the mark. I also missed Cassiopea and Athena, though having Starbuck turn into a woman puts both of them out of "work" so to speak.

If they do continue it, I hope they do some version of the Cain storyline.

My biggest "gripe" with the show is the fact that they are drawing nearly all the angst in the show from the interpersonal relationships, rather than the situation. Lets see, Starbuck vs Tigh (Oh, I like the new Tigh btw). Apollo vs Adama. Adama vs the President.

The human race has just been absolutely gutted, that is where your high angst factor should be coming from. People coming to terms with that, but while the show addresses that as an "issue" (do we fight or run, rescue or not, things of that nature), they don't show the people trying to come to terms with the new reality.

I don't like the cylons. In many ways they are an improvement, but Cylon Sex Toys opens up entirely too many bad avenues for the producers (some of which they have already followed). As opposed to you, I prefer the old Baltar. I like my traitors to be knowing what they are doing, in "enlightened self interest", instead of sleeping their way into treachery.

Overall though, like you, it is on mixed probation. If they bring it back, I'll watch, but I have misgivings.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 14th, 2003 09:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
The human race has just been absolutely gutted, that is where your high angst factor should be coming from.

I forgot to mention that, but YES!!! For heaven's sake, why turn up the soap volume when there's actual dramatic protential in the situation?

Oh, well.
ivylore From: ivylore Date: December 16th, 2003 06:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Not here yet...

Despite the fact that it was filmed in Canada, the premier is slated for mid-January. Guess I'll have to wait.

I'm not sure I can imagine Starbuck played by a woman (in retrospect, Starbuck and Apollo were my TV Luke and Han), but I'll probably enjoy the grittier, more serious themes. Cassiopeia was another favourite of mine too, as was Boxey's robot-dog, Bandit.

Thanks for the review,

3 comments or Leave a comment