Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Battlestar Galactica: "33"

"God is punishing you Gaius"

Ten months ago a relative sleeper 3 hour miniseries hit the SciFi Channel in the US. It was a re-imaging (to borrow a Tim Burton quote) of the original 1978 film BattleStar Galactica. Amidst the cries of "Heathen!" and "WHAT?! Starbuck's a girl!", Ron Moore brought us a polished epic that dared to challenge established canon while remaining true to the spirit of the original.

It was little wonder that the stunning success of the remake led to a full series being given the greenlight.

Last night, with the airing of "33" the show started in earnest.

For Ron Moore and Galactica, this is their big chance. The original was never meant to be a series. The decision to turn a 2 hour movie into a fully fledged series was perhaps it's biggest downfall. The series became a repetitive series of events, often capped off by a lucky escape from the cylons.

The early signs show that this time, things will be different.

In "33" we rejoin the rag-tag fleet pretty much where we left off. Just over 50,000 humans remain; an exact tally scribbled on a white board on the Presidents makeshift flagship. The cylons have been relentlessly pursuing the fleet, and each attack has left the refugees increasingly more exhausted and desperate.

It's this image of a desolate race that makes the show instantly compelling. Here the full magnitude of what has happened is beginning to sink in. But there is no time to grieve, for the survivors new lives are constantly in the balance. It's dark, gritty and realistic. With the original the sheer scale of the event failed to sink in to the writers. They seemed to forget that all of these characters would have lost most of their family and friends and, as such, suspended any notion of realism.

Another refreshing point is that this first episode did not veer off to tell us the background of characters. Rather, it is slowly being built up over time. Indeed, the screentime for such heavyweights like Starbuck and Boomer is relatively limited. There is much more of an ensemble feel to the show, as there should be.

While most of the characters are busy trying to deal with both the cylon attacks and their personal grief, we are treated to some time inside the mind of Baltar. His recurring visions of the cylon infiltrator 'Number Six' offer some fantastic monologues on religion and serve to push Baltar closer to brink. The fascination that the cylons have for their 'fallen gods' makes for good television and I hope to see more of it.

Again, the docu-style direction works well, with the camera moving in and out of focus to give you the feeling that you are caught up in the event, as it happens.

Plot-wise the script is solid and feels more like a continuation rather than an episode that stands alone. There are some interesting twists... particularly concerning the now cylon occupied planet of Caprica. Again, areas that were not addressed in the original show.

It's early days, but the signs are good. Maybe SciFi isn't dead afterall. 8/10.

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