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Back in 1978, The ABC Television Network commissioned producer Glen A. Larson to deliver a series that would capitalise on the Star Wars craze sweeping the nation and create television’s answer to that galaxy far, far away. On September 17th 1978, Battlestar Galactica premiered with a three hour movie in primetime that told the story of a rag tag fleet carrying the last remnants of the human race searching for the mythical thirteenth colony of Earth following their near genocidal destruction at the hands of the Cylons.

Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries
At that time the show was the most expensive ever produced for television, costing roughly $1,000,000 an episode, and although it received good ratings, was cancelled after one season (although it would return a year later for ten episodes as the abysmal Galactica 1980) for being cost prohibitive. I fondly remember the series as a child and watched it during both its initial broadcast run and subsequent syndication over the years alongside the likes of Star Wars and  Star Trek growing up. While watching the series now on television and DVD is a great trip of nostalgia, it hasn’t grown up with my tastes and is fairly dated by today’s standards. The show did have a lot of good ideas though and interesting premise behind it; a race of beings much like ourselves out there somewhere in the far reaches of space, but instead of us looking for them, they are looking for us, searching us out as their last, desperate hope for survival. Former Star Trek writer and producer Ronald D. Moore must have felt the same way about the series and last year Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries premiered on The Sc-Fi Channel here in the United States with him at the helm of this ‘re-imagining’.

Following the same basic premise as the original series but with an overhaul to many of the characters and certain aspects of the story, Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries finds the human race and the twelve colonies of man after forty years of peace with the Cylons, the machines they created. As the old machines of war are decommissioned, including the Battlestar Galactica and her Commander Will Adama (Edward James Olmos), the Cylons return home to launch a sudden and devastating attack to wipe man from existence. After surviving the initial attack, the Galactica and its crew face the realization that they must leave the star system with as many survivors as they can find and as quickly as possible if the human race is to continue.

After the framework of the original series however, there are several differences that some will find hard to get past. For those who are unfamiliar with the new series, the largest change to be found is that many of the characters have been drastically altered in both persona and appearance and some have even switched genders. Starbuck, once played by Dirk Benedict, is now a feisty, sparkplug of a woman going by the name Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace played by Katee Sackhoff. The gender switching isn’t just limited to Starbuck however, as Boomer has also been transformed into the beautiful Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii played by Grace Park. Capt. Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama (Jamie Bamber) has been estranged from his father Commander Will Adama for a couple of years following the death of a family member and the characters and their relationship are a far cry from the original series’ closely knit father and son. But the changes don’t only extend to the Galactica and her crew; even the Cylons have been rebooted to look human this time around and are most embodied in this series by former supermodel Tricia Helfer as Number Six, who seduces the now less maniacal but still narcissistic Baltar (James Callis) into unwillingly aiding the Cylon attack.

Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries
I found that the alterations worked for the most part in offering a fresh approach to characters that so many have watched over the years. It shouldn’t really matter what the characters look like as long as they are well written and developed and offer some basic resemblance to the spirit of their counterparts. Starbuck, for example, is still quite the rebel rouser, chomps an oversized cigar, gambles and carries the notoriety of being the best pilot in the fleet; the fact that he is now a she is secondary to the character. All of the characters are better written than before and it will be very interesting to see in what directions that Moore and his writers take them during the course of the upcoming series.

Getting back to the miniseries at hand though, I did mention that the changes mostly worked for me, and the piece that doesn’t quite fit is the Cylons. Making the Cylons appear human and thus more adept at infiltrating the ranks of the colonials offers some intriguing ideas, but the concept has been done to death in numerous other science fiction works, most notably those by author Philip K. Dick. That and, although they do appear briefly in different forms, I’ll admit to missing the walking toasters and not finding gorgeous, scantily clad supermodels all that threatening. Hopefully the new, CGI centurions of old will make more than a cameo appearance in the upcoming series and Moore will craft a different angle on the Cylons-as-human aspect than those seen elsewhere before.

The new series also takes a much more realistic and sombre approach to the whole affair of genocide in contrast to the casino hopping characters in the 1978 version. I know it’s a clichéd comparison by now, but I couldn’t help but think that at least part of the reasoning for this approach stems from the events of 9/11. This is a much deeper and personal character piece than the original with many of the characters sacrificing greatly to do their part to ensure the survival of the human race. There are many examples throughout the series, but played by Mary McDonnell, Laura Roslin especially goes through a trial by fire in her first moments after succeeding to the presidency of the twelve colonies. The result is more heartfelt than anything in the original, though at times the movie does fall into melodramatic territory.

On the technical side of the miniseries, the special effects, production design and costuming all are excellent, especially for a made-for-television, cable movie. The space battles between the Colonial Vipers and Cylon Raiders were according to Moore heavily inspired by Blackhawk Down and have a documentary like quality that makes them unique—gone are the laser blasts from the original, replaced by automatic weapons and homing missiles tracked by the camera that place the viewer in the middle of the action. As for the iconic ships themselves, they haven’t deviated too drastically from their predecessors, but thanks to twenty-five years of advancement in the arena of visual effects are more believable and threatening.

Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries
As a fan of the original series, I really enjoyed this new take on Battlestar Galactica. It may take some people a little while to get past the changes and some may never stop comparing the series to its older brother, but taken for what it is this is an entertaining ride that I have a feeling many will be boarding week in and week out in the near future.

Video
Universal Home Video has presented Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries with an anamorphic widescreen transfer at its televised aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this DVD, and the result is a bit mixed of sorts. The transfer offers a clean, sharp image with vibrant colour and nicely handled contrasts during the series’ many darker shots, but grain is a real problem in a number of scenes, varying from shot to shot and occurring when you would least expect it. Overall this is a fairly average video transfer even for a made-for-television movie.

Audio
The disc offers audio tracks in Dolby Digital 5.1 English and French and Spanish 2.0 with optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The resulting 5.1 audio tracks are where the DVD really shines and are on par with or surpass many theatrically released motion pictures. Dialogue is clear from the centre channel and the track creates a nice, immersive sound field from the rest of the channels, especially during the destruction of Caprica and ensuing space battles between the Galactica, Colonial Vipers and Cylon Raiders. The minimalist score by Richard Gibbs fits the sombre and militaristic tone of the series well and sounds great with the surround sound, but I missed the more rousing Stu Phillips music from the original series and was hoping it would show up more than just as an early cameo appearance in the score.

Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries
Extras
Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries has been supplied with extras such as an audio commentary track, a behind-the-scenes feature and deleted scenes. The copy of the DVD I received contains the miniseries and special features on opposite sides of a double-sided, DVD-14 disc. According to our friends at TvShowsOnDVD.com however, some of the physical disc specifications may vary. They have reported and confirmed that in some cases the miniseries and special features have been spread across two discs, a single-sided DVD-9 disc and a DVD-5 disc, instead of the aforementioned DVD-14 disc. It should be noted though that the quality of the material is identical in either case.

The audio commentary with director Michael Rymer, executive producer and writer Ronald D. Moore and executive producer David Eick is one of the better commentary tracks that I have heard in a long time. As entertaining as they are informative, the three breeze through the miniseries’ three hour running time while discussing production aspects that range from the actual filming to their reactions to the Nielsen Ratings the day after the original airings. They also talk about the fan reaction and the controversy that surrounded many of Moore’s divergences from the original series and offer clues as to what to expect from the upcoming show. Also included on side one of the disc are pre-menu trailers for the upcoming Battlestar Galactica series, Quantum Leap on DVD, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Sci-Fi Channel original programming and Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Epic Series on DVD.

On the second side of the disc is the forty-five minute Sci-Fi Channel program ‘Battlestar Galactica: The Lowdown’ that originally aired before the miniseries’ U.S. premiere on the network. The piece contains a behind-the-scenes look at the production and features interviews with the actors and Ronald D. Moore as well as Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict from the original series. The feature is basically a promotional piece and contains a lot of fluff material, but some aspects such as the meeting of the two Starbucks and footage from conventions are entertaining.

Also included are twenty minutes of deleted or extended scenes from the miniseries. Most of these scenes were cut to trim the supposed four hour running time of the series down to three for broadcast and many contain unfinished visual and sound effects. The vast majority of the scenes were wisely removed regardless of the targeted running time of the series, but offer a few nice character moments.  

Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries
Overall
I was a fan of the original show growing up and to this day it still holds a special place in my heart, but I really liked this new miniseries. For other fans of the original, I urge you not to take Edward James Olmos’ advice when he told fans of the original, “Don’t watch it.”, and just enjoy the show with an open mind. This miniseries shows a lot of promise and makes me really look forward to what Ronald D. Moore has in store when the new show premieres here on The Sci-Fi Channel (Our friends across the pond have already been treated to several episodes courtesy of Sky One). As for Universal’s DVD presentation, it contains decent enough extras including a great audio commentary track, excellent sound and an average video transfer. I would definitely recommend at least renting the disc to either give yourself a refresher or get acquainted with the new series before its premiere.


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