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In 1978 the world was riding on a sci-fi wave brought on by the release of Star Wars the year before. It was only a matter of time until imitators jumped on the bandwagon and came up with their similar yet legally distinguishable space epics. Now that the movie version of the original Battlestar Galactica is being re-released on the back of the success of the re-imagined series, I’m asking myself whether it was really any good or did I pick this review with rose-tinted specs on?

Battlestar Galactica

Feature


The Twelve Colonies of Man are on the verge of a truce with their mortal enemies, the Cylons, a race of machines who turned against their makers. Lorne Green plays Adama, commander of the Galactica, one of the five battlestars in the starship fleet. He suspects the Cylons are plotting against the humans, but his warnings are ignored by the elders in favour of a more diplomatic approach when two of the fleet’s fighters run into trouble. The humans are not prepared for the inevitable attack from the Cylons and Adama’s son Zac is killed.

After destroying most of the fleet, the Cylons launch an attack on the colonies, swearing to wipe out Man from the universe. The Galactica escapes from the attack, and together with the survivors from the colonies Commander Adama leads a convoy towards the home of the legendary thirteenth colony of Man—Earth.

This DVD contains the version that was given a theatrical release and is twenty-three minutes shorter than the original movie of the week. With a budget of $7 million, it was the most expensive TV production at the time and each subsequent episode had a budget of $1 million. Even though Battlestar Galactica was conceived as a group of movies rather than a series, we’re firmly in TV sci-fi territory here. The production design owes a lot to Star Wars but the concept of a group of people heading off into the unknown and exploring strange worlds has closer ties with Star Trek.

Battlestar Galactica
This theatrical version feels like three episodes glued together. Every forty minutes the story reaches a concluding point and Lorne Green provides a Captain Kirk-style voiceover. The script is also hampered by the need to introduce the characters and allow them to get in and out of scrapes while holding our attention but never settings its sights so high that the resulting series wouldn’t be able to match.

There are exciting battles at the beginning and end (along with a Death Star-style destruction of a planet) but the mid-section lacks urgency. The humans find themselves in a casino nightclub on a human outpost and the writers take the opportunity to develop the characters at the expense of plot development. Even when we find out that the alien hosts have some kind of nefarious plan, it takes a long time to move the story along and while we are supposed to realise that Starbuck is a cheeky Han Solo type, his plan to get out of the military by managing a group of singers makes absolutely no sense given the predicament the human race finds itself in.

Although the special effects are quite impressive for the time (utilising techniques developed by ILM), some shots are recycled fairly often, which would remain a common trait of the series. The need to re-use footage occasionally leads to obvious continuity problems and if I was watching this in the cinema now, I’d feel pretty ripped off.

Battlestar Galactica
There are some plus points though. Dirk Benedict as Starbuck will always remain a classic character, essentially the same charmer he played in The A-Team, and Lorne Greene is imposing as Adama in a role that was offered to Mark Hamill. The production design has its highlights as well. The spaceships look great and the playground arguments of which is best—X-Wing or Viper—have now moved to message boards as the fans have grown up. I still think the Cylons look cooler than Stormtroopers, until they start to move of course, where the weight of the suit obviously makes life difficult for the actor inside. A lot of work has gone into creating the world of Battlestar Galactica, implying that these humans are in some way related to our ancestors who built the pyramids, which is reflected in the costumes and naming conventions.

The excessive budget of the production would mean that Battlestar Galactica ended after one series, followed up by the bargain basement travesty of Galactica 1980, which has been disowned by creator Glen A Larson and fans alike. I have to say I was looking forward to watching this, with fond memories of the closest thing we could get to a Star Wars TV series, but after the first forty minutes I found myself watching the clock. It may be worth checking out once for nostalgia value, but true fans of the series have no doubt already picked up the series itself.

Battlestar Galactica

Video


Presented in non-anamorphic 16:9, I doubt this print has gone through any kind of re-mastering since it was first released on VHS. There are scratches and dirt on the picture and the model shots—the best bits of the feature—are especially grubby. During the Superman-inspired opening credits, it is difficult to make out the edges of some of the text and large areas of black are grainy and show obvious signs of compression.

Audio


One of my fondest memories of Battlestar Galactica that has not been ruined by growing up is the wonderful theme tune. When the orchestra kicks in, we could be forgiven for expecting an experience over and above a movie of the week. The problem is that on this DVD we only get a mono track which significantly reduces its impact. The audio is muffled and the quality can shift drastically from one second to another but never reaches above a level you expect from VHS.

Features


The features aren’t very special at all. Actually, all we get is a lot of text. The production notes are fairly interesting, detailing the concept, the production and the characters but they go on for many pages without an idea of how much is left to read. There are also notes on the creator and three main stars and some web links but there’s no added value on the disc that you can’t find after poking around on the internet for a few minutes.

Battlestar Galactica

Overall


I'm sorry to say that I was very disappointed, both by the way Battlestar Galactica has aged and the way this feature is presented. The comparisons with Star Wars are unavoidable (Lucas even threatened legal action) and while it may have stood up well in 1978, Battlestar Galactica is really showing its age. The feature has its moments but they are too few and far between and given the lack of extras, there’s not a lot for me to recommend here.


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