• Television,  Watching

    BSG: The Lost Warrior

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    Intro

    Again, a bit of a gap between last episode and this one. Part of that is life and part of it is a vague recollection of the western episode and not really wanting to watch it. But, for completeness’ sake, I did. It’s part of the show, after all. So, let’s dive into the

    Overly Long Synopsis

    Which might be a little shorter than the last few. This is, to be honest, a light-weight episode and there’s not a lot to chew on.

    We open, once we get through an opening credits sequence that’s starting to feel really long to me, with Apollo under attack, outnumbered a mere four to one. On the Galactica’s bridge, Adama insists that he’s actually leading the Cylons away, or trying, and this is born out by his reaction a few centons later.

    But he’s still in trouble after blowing one up and getting away from the rest, because he’s out of fuel and doesn’t have a lot of landing options. Still, there’s one good one, at least, and he coasts in, crash-landing a la Skywalker on a planet named Equellus. He’s found by a boy and his widowed mother along with a horse that growls.

    They cover the viper with branches to hide it and go back to the homestead to have dinner. There’s a visit from Red-Eye, a brain-injured Cylon who thinks he’s the enforcer for a local tough guy.

    Teaching Boxey to drink and gamble.

    Back on the Galactica, Boxey has a sleepover with the pilots to avoid anyone telling him his father is missing. They eventually wind up drinking fruit juice and playing Pyramid (Poker) for jelly beans. Cassiopeia is not impressed and takes Boxey off to get ready for bed. Boomer and Starbuck try to figure out what they’re going to do about their friend’s disappearance.

    The air rifles people carry on Equellus can apparently kill a wolf lupus at 10 metrons if you hit it right. We should probably remember that.

    Apollo learns more from Vela and her brother Bootes about the local situation. There’s a sort of local warlord who collects tribute from everyone and has an enforcer named Red-Eye who happens to be a Cylon covered in dents from shootouts with people using those air rifles. Puppis (the kid) is the son of a colonial warrior named Martin, whose ship crash landed out in the desert years ago. And mom is super anti-gun.

    Now, Apollo has a mystery to solve so goes into town, alone, and unarmed. There’s only one place to go, apparently, a pretty horrible-looking “old west” saloon with a few electronics hanging around to give it that 1970s SF feel.

    Apollo orders a beer or a mug of wine or something, has an almost run in with Lacerta’s lead human goon and then goes to have a drink with the Cylon where no one will bother him. Apparently, this is all to impress Boss Hogg Lacerta, who at least is amused, controlling his robot with finger snaps. And apparently, Lacerta controls everything, at least this town.

    Returning to the farm, Apollo finds Puppis is out hunting the lupus and he gets there just as Puppis gets it. With his second shot. Apollo gets to give some fatherly advice, which pays off when they get back to mom.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, uh, Galactica, Tigh talks Adama into sending out a patrol and slowing the fleet down to give them a little more time. Amazingly, Boomer and Starbuck are sitting in their fighters ready to launch.

    In the bar, Bootes is busy getting drunk and being an idiot. There’s an almost duel and he gets shot in front of a crowd. Red-Eye looks to be going on a rampage, but Apollo saves them all at the price of being marked a coward by destroying a couple of guns and talking them down.

    In the alley, one of Lacerta’s serving girls lets him in on some secrets and we find out Apollo brought his gun with him this time. Fingers twitching, they stare each other down for a few tense seconds. Red Eye is fast, but Apollo is faster, and better. Red-Eye goes down with a nice explosion and Lacerta sneaks away with his toady.

    Celebration time.

    Later, on the farm, Apollo gives a quick lecture on killing and seems to feel genuinely bad about offing Red-Eye. As a result, Vela admits she knows where her husband’s dead ship is, maybe has fuel.

    Starbuck and Boomer, somewhere in space, finally have to admit that they’ve failed and turn around, but then Apollo comes sailing in. I guess the crashed ship was pretty close and the fuel wasn’t too heavy. To celebrate, Boomer gets into the cowboy spirit, Yee Ha! In the closing micro-scene, Vela and Puppis both seem to think Apollo promised he’d come back someday.

    Fleeing from the Cylon Tyranny…

     

    Story

    This episode Seems like it was based on Shane, which has a very similar overall plot: mysterious warrior befriends a widow and her son and has to stand up to the bad guy. It doesn’t work as well, possibly because it’s too compressed, possibly because the merger with SF tropes makes it come across a little on the silly side. However I might want to look at it, the overall episode is the weakest one yet.

    I have to wonder how many little western towns there are on this world and why everyone crash lands near this one. Vela’s husband, a Cylon raider, and now Apollo. It’s the improbably string that holds the story together, but it’s not a very good one.

    Starbuck’s line, “Boxey’s already lost one parent. He’s not going to lose two,” rings a little false. Apollo is Boxey’s step dad. The kid has already lost two parents, and he’s bearing up surprisingly well considering it was just last episode he lost his mom. Apollo would be three. He’s also the hero, so we know that’s not going to happen.

    I will say that the shoot out works rather well, likely due to the acting ability of Richard Hatch and the implacability of the Cylon waiting to draw. Music from a spaghetti western with just a touch of SF works well to heighten the tension, but it would have worked nearly as well with the sound of wind in our ears.

     

    Acting

    I already noted Mr. Hatch as doing well, at least in the shootout. The young fellow playing Puppis is inconsistent, coming across wooden and flat in his first couple of scenes, and running the gamut from okay delivering lines to pretty good when he needs to convey some significant emotion. This seems more likely attributable to direction.

    No one else really stands out to me, but then most of the characters appearing here weren’t given a lot to do. Cardboard cutouts to round out the scenery for Apollo.

     

    Continuity

    Questions I want to ask:

    If Equellus has humans on it, how did the Cylons miss that in their extermination campaign?

    Wait, aren’t we on the far side of known space? How can Puppis’ dad have been a colonial warrior?

    They still have daggits here? Good thing Apollo didn’t hear that comment or he’d have to get one for Boxey (a promise he made to get him to eat his “primaries” way back in the pilot).

     

    Language

    Nothing really new in the colonial side of things, but almost every extra name used in this episode is the name of a constellation: Lupus, Bootes, Puppis, Vela, Lacerta, Equellus.

     

    Ships and Technology

    We’re the victim of recycled footage again, not that we shouldn’t have expect that, but while Apollo is supposed to be flying a solo patrol, there are flashes of the wing and tailfin of another Viper on the left edge of the screen where it wasn’t quite edited out.

    The air rifles the western folks use are called numos. Pneumatic maybe?

    While not strictly a ship or technology, aside from growling like a cougar, the horse Apollo rides has stripes painted on it.

     

    Wrap Up

    It had a couple of moments, but the things that make the episode memorable are mostly the things you wish you could forget about it. To much cheese, not enough actual story. 5 dented Cylons out of 10.

    Red Eye and Apollo have a drink.

    Next up, Starbuck in prison. “The Long Patrol”.

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  • Television,  Watching

    BSG: Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2

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    Sorry to whoever might have happened by in the time between the last BSG post and this one. I didn’t mean to cliffhanger things even remotely this much, although I’m not sure you can say that about a show that’s almost 39 years old. Either way, let’s dive into the

    Overly long Synopsis

    The episode recap is really long this time, covering the last episode in detail before getting to the new stuff. Including the credits, it actually takes 4 minutes to get to the true opening scene of the episode where we find that there’s intense magnetic interference from the void and lots of panic in the fleet, so we gather them in close.

    Apollo and Starbuck go visit Boomer in his cryotube. Whatever the medical team found on that asteroid, they’ve got the virus on the run. Everyone is happy Boomer isn’t going to die, especially Boomer.

    Tigh and Adama in the office, talking about where they’re going and Adama trots out the Colonial Bible “The Book of the Word” and points out his medallion as a symbol of faith, handed down through millennia to the members of the council. Cobol is a real place, dude.

    Somewhere below, the female pilots are celebrating their victory and talking viper combat. Apollo and Starbuck are busy being jerks and making supposedly “female” small talk and Serina breaks in to make sure they feel included, something they probably wouldn’t have done. But the whole thing gets interrupted because Starbuck and Apollo are going on patrol to find out what the blip is at the edge of sensor range in quadrant Delta 9. No, wait. Starbuck isn’t going because Serina is Apollo’s wingman. It’s posted. (Wait, seriously?) But Starbuck hijacks Apollo’s Viper, Apollo hijacks Serina’s, and Serina finds one lying around, so they all end up going.

    Apollo actually acknowledges that Serina is a good pilot even as he’s trying to send her home, but it works out that the three of them can stretch their range pretty far to take readings. Starbuck is the farthest out and suddenly surrounded by Cylons, giving us the first “Frack!” of the series. He’s escorted back to the base star to meet Baltar who claims a mission of peace. Starbuck, lighting a match on a centurion’s chest plate, talks to Baltar like they know each other. A few threats and a little posturing and Starbuck is taken away and will be treated well. Lucifer is not impressed and doesn’t trust Baltar’s logic.

    Back on the ranch, everyone is upset that Starbuck is dead. With open displays of affection on the bridge, Apollo and Serina decide not just to go ahead with the wedding but to move it up because they need hope. Everyone does. That marriage ceremony is actually pretty Christian (it’s the late 70s, so don’t be surprised), just with lots of candles and a few alternate terms while lots of people look on in the background. Note the presence of capes as part of formal wear, blessing from “the Lord of Cobol”, and being sealed instead of married. Just as they kiss, a star appears, bright and shining and leading them out of the void.

    In a lovely demonstration of “who cares about actual science”, the star has a planet in an orbit 1-3 parsecs out. Surprise, it’s Cobol. In a scene obviously filmed later, we see doubles of Adama, Apollo, and Serina walking towards the great pyramids and later through some other Egyptian places, with some voice over. When we see the actual actors, they’re just as obviously on a sound stage. They’ll make camp, with guards, all of whom seem to be the new female recruits to save on acting budgets.

    The star surprises Baltar until he remembers his own mythology, but the plan is still good with a tiny bit of modification, and he’s going in alone while Lucifer looks after Starbuck.

    <sigh> The biggest city on Cobol was called Eden.

    <sigh> Adama’s medallion opens up a secret tomb complete with mystical chanting, creepy music, dark passages, skeletons of tomb robbers, and a trap that Adama’s amulet opens again. More darkness until they reach the tomb and they’re looking around as Baltar strolls in, smiling until Adama almost strangles him.

    Baltar plays innocent, claiming he was captured and then spared to lead them into a trap. He tries to convince them that they can launch a counter attack and take over the Cylon Empire. He’ll even release Starbuck as a gesture of good faith. The lunatic smile he wears is half way between believable and psychotic. Adama, unfortunately, comes across as just as crazy, looking for evidence of the 13th tribe.

    The newlyweds share a tender moment on the surface; Apollo is the practical skeptic, more worried about their people than mythology, and definitely worried about his dad. Starbuck comes strolling out of the desert, bringing intel and actually buying into Baltar’s crap. In the tomb, Baltar tries to con Adama again and the star conveniently comes back and sends light into the chamber, reflecting from Adama’s medallion to set up a triangle of light and open a super-secret inner chamber.  Baltar dives in, the other three follow quickly just as the Cylons finally get tired of waiting. Dust and rock falls from the ceiling, trapping the intrepid tomb raiders and letting Baltar show his true colours, using fear to try manipulating his enemies.

    While Starbuck leads the female pilots into battle as the camp is destroyed (pew pew), Adama keeps reading the wall, and the still-sick male warriors report for duty, giving the opportunity for Boomer to deliver what might be the greatest line in the series so far: “A viper is flown from the seated position, sir.”

    In between recycled battle footage and effects (pew pew), Adama finds a record of the Exodus, the final departure of the 12 tribes, the last days of Cobol, and mention of the thirteenth tribe. Another direct hit on the pyramid traps Baltar under a stone block. The others make a half-hearted attempt to rescue him but are “forced” to leave him behind. Baltar is angry and Adama almost seems sad. Almost.

    While the shiny cylon butts in orbit have been thoroughly kicked, there are Cylons on the planet, too, and some Centurions sneak up behind them, one shooting Serina in the back. Cut to sick bay, where we discover it’s a fatal wound and now Apollo will have to take care of Boxey and we’re supposed to be surprised that it’s Serina taken from Apollo and not the other way around. She’s already calling Apollo Boxey’s father, and we’ve never really learned anything more about the previous life and relationship she had.

    Lots of tears to go with the sad music, and it’s time to kiss her goodbye. Adama takes Boxey out of the room so Apollo can be with her for her last breaths and a slightly drawn out death. He apparently has a conversion on her death bed and tells her that he’s bought into the idea of the afterlife, though Richard Hatch is a good enough actor that you can read it as being meant to make her feel better as she drifts away. He exits into a corridor filled with sad people, gathers up Boxey, and they share a moment reminding us that her love for them is eternal.

    “Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny…”

     

    Story

    I dropped enough hints in the synopsis, but let’s state it outright: the writing remains weaker in this second half of the two-parter. Plus, the editing seems a bit sloppy, like it was meant to be a longer story and they were working too hard to get everything in, shaved down to bare minimums because they didn’t want to do a second three-part story. Doing some reading, I guess the original plan was for three major feature-length films to be shown on TV a few months apart. That makes this episode make a little more sense in this regard, but doesn’t help the story.

    I’m also not thrilled with all of the overt religion here. After the first episode of tiny mentions and actual SF, this is almost browbeating us with the idea that the Colonials are thinly veiled Christians (Mormons, actually). I’m not going to go into all of the issues here, just that there are a lot of them. I don’t remember being sensitive to that as a kid, and the adults I watched it with (my parents) never said anything either.

    Other major weaknesses:

    The secret tomb bothers me. It’s neat how they picked exactly the right place on the planet to land, and weird how there’s no sign of any high technology until the magic flashlights they find underground, and then that’s all. Not sure how the thirteen tribes left Cobol in their stone pyramids.

    I want to attribute this to editing instead of writing, but Starbuck got to the planet how, exactly? And is that where the Cylons on the surface came from? Why did those Cylons wait so long to attack? Why is only one of them a good enough shot to actually hit someone?

    Worth noting that I loved Adama’s beer stein on the bridge. Wonder what was actually in it.

     

    Acting

    Everyone involved in Serina’s death scene shed real tears, which was good even while Apollo’s sudden mystical conversion was ridiculous. Jane Seymour and Lorne Greene carried the day here, though, and she left the series too soon. Richard Hatch and Noah Hathaway managed a conversation with some pretty serious waterworks in progress, but it was fairly standard suddenly single dad fare for the time.

     

    Continuity

    In a time not known for caring about continuity, even in its soap operas, BSG hits something here and there. At least, it does here. Boxey is still wearing the pin Apollo gave him a couple of episodes back. I’m going to try to remember to watch and see if it stays part of his outfit in the future.

     

    Language

    Not a lot of new words this time, but we learn about velcron while Apollo and Starbuck are being passive-aggressively sexist in the pilots’ lounge, and I’d really like to know exactly how much of what a “50 megon load” is.

     

    Ships and Technology

    Yeah, I got nothing this time. Nothing new presented in this episode.

     

    Wrap Up

    “Lost Planet of the Gods”, either part, is a bit of a disappointment after the stretched-out pilot. It plays hard to the idea presented in the show’s opening monologue, that, “There are those who believe…that life here began out there”. We’re supposed to take the Egyptian motif of these two episodes with the knowledge of the other twelve tribes being roughly named after the constellations of the zodiac, and draw our own causal link. It’s a little bonk-bonk-on-the-head.

    There are moments and there is good acting and there are great lines, but it doesn’t come together nearly as well as the pilot did. I’m at a loss to explain the 7.5 average rating on IMDB. I don’t think I can give the pair of episodes more than a 6 overall.

    Next stop, “The Lost Warrior”, where we learn that the Cylons missed a planet with humans on it in their extermination campaign. But these humans are somehow unaffiliated with the 12 Colonies, so it’s probably okay.

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  • Television

    BSG: Lost Planet of the Gods. Part 1

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    Delayed, but finally, here, my re-watch of Battlestar Galactica, after many years of it living fondly only in memory, continues with Lost Planet of the Gods. Part 1.

    Overly Long Synopsis

    I’m trying to remember how common it was for shows to have what amounted to a brief clip scene instead of a teaser. This tells me that they had to save on the budget somewhere, so why not make each show a minute or so shorter and just flash a couple hints of the best bits at the audience and go straight into the opening credits? And those credits are still on the long side for a TV show.

    We open, for real, for another episode of “Dinner with the Adamas”. Well, for the first time, really. Learning Serina an awesome cook, we kick off a round of everyone making fun of Apollo (including Boxey) with Adama wishing he were far, far younger so he might pursue Serina himself. Finally, Apollo bows to pressure and announces that he and Serina are getting married. Congratulations are in order, and when Athena looks pointedly at Starbuck, he leaves quickly, letting us know there will be a bachelor party. Adama provides Blessings of the Lords of Cobol, leaving us to wonder where Cobol is and who its Lords are. Maybe we’re going to get hints about the Colonial religion.

    But first, two patrols leave, Boomer and Jolly on one, Apollo and Starbuck on another, and Starbuck is sad that Apollo getting married. It won’t be the same anymore.

    Transition to a shot of Cylon base stars and a recap of Baltar getting his command. No mention of a truce this time. I wonder if we’re supposed to forget that part?

    Starbuck and Apollo find a void, a “magnetic sea”. Apollo goes a little too far in and Starbuck rescues him with some great flying – we see the limitations of Colonial radio and instrument technology here, but our heroes are safe and well as Flight Sergeant Greenbean and other pilots hide some booze (ale and ambrosia) from security (in black uniforms). Greenbean and crew are rescued by Colonel Tigh, who’s going to keep a tight grip on the party, but there will be a party. They deserve it after all. At the same time, Boomer and Jolly find a Cylon listening post, land and scan before leaving to warn the Galactica

    Baltar spends time getting used to his new chair high above the floor, though I have to think it must be pretty dull when he’s not hatching an evil plot. What is there to do up there except stare at the walls? Without chewing the scenery too much, Baltar schools Lucifer in the art of sneakiness and lets us know that they’ll follow the Galactica from a safe distance and watch for the opportunity he’s looking for.

    Boomer and Jolly return, but Jolly is really not feeling well, dizzy and sweating, and almost crashes his Viper. By videocall, Boomer reports the Cylon outpost then heads for the party. But now he’s not feeling well, drops to his knees, then collapses before getting a chance to enjoy his drink. Jolly is already in sick bay, or whatever it’s called on the Galactica, where Cassiopeia now works. Apparently, Jolly and Boomer skipped decontamination because they were eager to get to the party. Jolly is deteriorating quickly and they stick his hairy carcass in an iron lung.

    Apollo and Starbuck, on the other hand, follow the rules and don’t go into the deep dark forest, er, don’t skip decontam and get to the party just in time to be refused entry because of the quarantine.

    Later, more and more pilots get moved into iron lungs (actually called cryotubes or support chambers) while Apollo reports the magnetic sea and Adama gets mystical (so does the music), ordering them to head straight for the void.

    To distract him from all of his sick squadron mates, Apollo and Serina have a quick fight. She’s just finished shuttle pilot training and he’s not thrilled. Sexism rears its ugly head and for a minute or so, he’s kind of a jerk, but he’s just worried about her and the danger cuts both ways. She’s worried about him every time he leaves the ship.

    “Are you any good?”

    “Top of the class.”

    He comes around fast and they kiss and make up.

    But it’s time to ratchet up the tension again so we return to the medical bay to find Jolly and Boomer both in cryogenic suspension and all but two of the viper pilots, plus half the bridge officers are sick.

    What? We’re going to train girls as pilots?

    Apollo comes to see his father, finding him doing research. When Adama passes him a list of cadets to train as viper pilots, Apollo puts up a bit of a fight, but bows to necessity, leaving as he tells dad to read the whole list. By Adama’s reaction, he didn’t know Serina was on it. In fact, there were twelve female pilots selected and Apollo and Starbuck get to train them all.

    While Doctor Salik keeps pestering Adama to go back to where Jolly and Boomer caught the virus or they’ll all die, Adama keeps saying hell no, but gets slowly warn down because finding something out about the virus is really their only hope. In an accelerated training program, the new pilots of Blue Squadron are still in simulators and Athena shoots down both a cylon and Starbuck.

    When Adama finally gives in, he calls Apollo to the bridge for a status update, oh and can you escort Dr. Selik to the asteroid? We could lose the whole squadron. None of them are qualified. Adama understands, but they’re going.

    The launch is a bit nervous and rough looking, but more or less successful and the bridge crew, what’s left of it, cheers.

    Baltar’s ship has overtaken the Galactica, but they don’t understand why the fleet is heading into the magnetic abyss. He reiterates previous orders to capture a patrol pilot. What’s taking you so long?

    Finding the asteroid, Apolloa goes in on his own, but there are Cylons about and a battle ensues. Pew, pew. The squadron disobeys orders to blow up more cylons and save Apollo’s butt. Pew, pew. Blow up the base. Apollo over his sexism issues, and congratulates the pilots

    The mission a success, Adama orders the fleet into the void, keeps rubbing his amulet, confusing the crap out of Baltar while Lucifer notes that the viper pilots were erratic, so we’re not quite done with the sexism yet.

    To Be Continued.

    Story

    I’ve got some issues with both the story and the storytelling in this episode.

    First, the truce disappeared. The first time we saw Baltar get his command, at the end of Saga of a Star World, it was a new imperious leader giving it, and Baltar was going to give the Galactica a truce offering when he finally tracked it down. Noting that BSG was originally supposed to be a series of three TV movies, all on the scale of the giant pilot, I’ll forgive a little extra retconning (like when Baltar didn’t die last time), but it’s hard. When ABC changed its mind and ordered a series instead of the extra two movies, there had to be some story adjustments to make it fit the series mold. Rumour has it the writing suffered for a few episodes to get things moving fast enough through the Hollywood pipeline. That fits my viewing of this episode, but I’ll reserve judgement on the series as a whole for now.

    There are other issues here, too.

    • Cassiopeia suddenly working in the medical centre instead of in her previously noted (but not defined) career as a Socialator, whatever that is.
    • The sudden notification that everyone has been picking up other duties and training so the fleet can survive, which makes sense but is out of the blue, er, black.
    • Why the pressure suits worn by the female pilots (which we’ve never seen or been told that the male pilots wear) are tailored to look like there are bikinis on the outside (knowing that Glen Larson was a Mormon and claimed inspiration from Mormon theology, I wonder if this was an allusion to the Mormon temple garments).
    • Women can be warriors. Why, the very idea. Even the Cylons notice something odd and ridiculous.
    • What the heck is a magnetic sea, or magnetic abyss, or whatever else they want to call it? It’s not enough that it’s a big void with nothing in it?

    From a storytelling perspective, there are way too many short, choppy scenes in this episode, cutting back and forth almost every few seconds and packing way too much stuff into the dialogue. I don’t know if it’s a symptom of cutting things out of a planned movie script, but this storyline should have been pulled out to three episodes like the first was, giving it room to breathe and grow instead of crushing it all together like this. The pilots getting sick and the women training to be warriors happens way too quickly. It almost seems like it’s happening in a few minutes instead of days or weeks like it should be.

    If we call the first two episodes of the pilot good, and I’d argue really good in places, then the wind-up chunk of the pilot might have staggered a little but is still watchable. Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 1 is a tougher watch and probably not worth half a secton’s pay.

    Acting

    There is some good acting in this episode. Terry Carter and Lorne Greene are worth watching in every scene they’re in, while Jane Seymour comes across a little too helpless and girly at times when she’s otherwise a very strong actress as Serina. Richard Hatch is a bit melodramatic standing up to Lorne Greene about the female pilots not being ready for combat.

    But I think the scene stealer is Lucifer, voiced by Jonathan Harris, whom some may know better as Dr. Smith from the original Lost in Space. “Isn’t he wonderfully devious? We can learn much from him.”

    Dirk Benedict has a knack for delivering bizarre or off the wall lines and making them seem natural. We have him to thank for Frack and Felgarcarb rolling off the tongue, but also for the big takeaway line in this episode. “For Sagan’s sake, don’t shoot me.” I wonder if Dr. Sagan was flattered or amused. But there’s a bit of sexism built into Starbuck’s dialogue here, too. Even when they’re about to go into combat, he’s still calling them girls.

    The female pilots are mostly background, with two exceptions other than Athena, a previously speaking role. Brie, played by Janet Julian, seemed mostly designed as comedic relief, a female Jolly, though designed to catch the attention of the younger male section of the audience. Deitra, on the other hand, was written as a strong, competent woman, which was refreshing, and played well by Sheila Wills, who sadly appears to have left the acting business sometime in the late 1990s.

    Brie in the cockpit.
    Deitra defines competence in this episode.

    Language

    We further develop Colonial terminology, discovering such terms as yahrens (years), millicentons (a seemingly variable unit of time), fumerillos, crawlons, and hectars (probably distance). All of these are basically undefined, but the viewer can take a basic meaning from context of use.

    In between making fun of women pilots, we do get one step for equality, even though it was clearly meant as humour. Girls are allowed to say felgercarb too, and it seems reasonably natural from Brie, even if we aren’t supposed to take her seriously.

    An interesting note on one difference between the Cylons and the Colonials, and one that shows a fundamental difference in mindset. The phrase, “By your command” is well associated with the series, a Cylon (usually a centurion) acknowledging an order or dismissal. Not so recognizable, a Colonial warrior might say, “By your leave” to a superior officer when looking for permission to go about her or his duties. Not a big thing, but politeness counts in Colonial society, what’s left of it.

    Technology

    There’s not a lot of new tech in this episode or much in the way of new FX, but we do get to see some great detail on the full size Viper parked on the hangar deck for the first time.

    There is the hand-held telescope used by Jolly and Boomer on the asteroid (that has real gravity and a breathable atmosphere), which were really tough to get a good capture of, sorry.

    Let’s not forget Cassiopeia’s hand terminal in the medical bay, a big clunky TV remote control that probably didn’t look all that high tech even to a 1978 viewer.

    And are the cryotubes worth mentioning?

    Wrap Up

    Tune in next week to the not very well cliffhangered or creatively named sequel episode, Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2. Will we find out if there is a lost planet? Or who the gods were? Is there a cure for the disease striking down most of the warriors in the fleet? With many of their friends dying, will Apollo and Serina continue planning their wedding? Why isn’t Baltar chewing the scenery more?

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Television

    Episode 1: Saga of a Star World, Part 3 (of 3)

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    Finally, the last piece of the introductory puzzle. Watching the non-theatrical release, you get extra scenes here and there, and it definitely rounds things out a little for character development. The theatrical version is about 23 minutes shorter. You don’t lose any action, but you don’t get as much background or insight into some of the characters. Going for part three of the television version, let’s jump into the

     

    Overly Long Synopsis

    Open the third storyline with reconnaissance missions on Carelon. We’re riding around in some funky armoured vehicles called Land Rams. It’s a crummy planet that no one really likes and is more or less dark even in the day time. Our primary objective is a substance called Tylium that can be refined into fuel. And, apparently, we’re hard up for trained staff because both Boxey and Serina are in the land ram with Apollo.

    Starbuck and Boomer have their own vehicle and their recon route, after some exclamations of disbelief and some creepy music, puts them at the entrance of a casino. And not just a casino, but a serious pleasure resort where everyone has a great time and the casino always pays out. There’s lots of flashing lights and people yelling and disco music. Don’t look for the casino or the games we’re seeing to make sense; they’re not supposed to, it’s just a backdrop.

    They enjoy a show with alien singers who have two mouths and two sets of vocal chords, and who can harmonize with themselves. Talking about what’s not right at the resort, how everyone wins, which is unusual except for Starbuck. Starbuck wants to hire the girls.

    Meanwhile, looking for tylium, Apollo tries to explain the Cylons (who are or were reptiles) to Boxey. The Cylons made the robots to conquer for them and the Colonials don’t believe there are any true Cylons left. With the looks Serina is giving him during the ride, it’s obvious she’s totally in love with Apollo. Still, it’s exciting when the reading gets to ten and they find Tylium. Muffit gets away and Boxey goes after him, and we freeze frame with Boxey getting grabbed.  This is likely where episode 2 is actually supposed to end, but instead we move to no one being able to find Boxey, and Apollo and Jolly have totally looked all over the place just before they’re captured by insectoid aliens who take them to see the queen after wandering through the tylium mine (the largest in the star system). Apollo pulls out is pocket Languatron (seriously) to translate her squeaks and scratches and they learn Boxey is safe and sound and playing with other kids. A door opens into the casino, finding Starbuck and Boomer with Boxey.

    Enter Sire Uri again, thrilled that the Ovions have everything the Colonials need and they’re happy to share. He’s so thrilled, in fact, that he issues landing permits to pretty much anyone who wants one and it’s party time. But the Ovions are slow to ship things up and the humans are having a good time and there are only maintenance crews left to keep the ships running. Everyone wants to forget the Cylons and just party it up in the disco casino where no one can lose.

    Starbuck’s immaturity bites him in the butt as he gets hit on by both Cassiopeia and Athena. After a little conflict and a bit of foot-in-mouth disease, Starbuck winds up alone for the night.

    Interlude: an elevator full of guests, some of whom aren’t sure how long they’ve been there, gets dropped off at the bottom level. The doors open. A guest screams. Cut.

    We find out that Baltar’s people arranged the intelligence on Carelon. The Ovions are very secretive and separate from the resort operations. Adama and Tigh are suspicious, worried about the Cylons but their people are having the time of their lives.

    Sire Uri strikes again, convincing the Council that it’s a good place to settle and put down their weapons. They’re isolated and no threat to the Cylons, so life should be good. Adama doesn’t like it, but he’s outvoted by the Council, even letting the council know that the Cylons are their enemies because the humans helped their neighbours (and saved them from being enslaved. He walks away very unhappy and outright contemptuous as the rest of the council hatches a scheme to have a celebration and present our three young heroes some medals.

    After being hit on by a pushy warrior, Cassiopeia gets kidnapped by the Ovions with the same elevator trick and screams even louder than the first woman we saw. Even as that happens, Starbuck is over his rejection and trying to hire the singers, but they don’t see a future in it and walk away as Boomer comes to take him back up to the Galactica to put on dress uniforms so they can receive medals from the Council.

    And on the Galactica, Tigh and Adama sit in fighters to talk quietly, hatching a cunning plan to fool Uri and have all of the warriors prepared for a sneak attack. Tigh hadn’t realized Adama was so paranoid, but gets into the swing of things quickly. Following the plan, he sneaks into the pilots’ quarters and steals a whole bunch of uniforms so they can send random folks to the celebration in them. The pilots will be in their fighters waiting on the ground. To fully invest the plan, Adama misleads his son about what’s going on, but Apollo makes it hard.

    On the way down and in the casino, Apollo, Boomer and Starbuck separately notice people who are in dress uniform (which include a very snazzy knee-length cape) who shouldn’t be.

    With a blaster assist, Apollo and Starbuck convince the elevator to take them to the lowest level, discovering that the Ovions and the Cylons are in league. The Cylons don’t need a translator, by the way; it’s probably a built-in feature. They try not to shoot the Cylons, though. Because tylium is so flammable that if we set enough fires we could blow up the whole planet. That plan goes out the window as Boxey appears chasing Muffit, having run off as Uri started his speech. It’s not long before they find a horror show with people being used as food for Ovion offspring, rescuing Cassiopeia just in the nick of time.

    Lots of shooting, lots of fires, and Starbuck offers to stay behind and blow things up, but Apollo couldn’t stand to lose him too. He’s already lost his brother and this time has some control over things. They run into Boomer and continue the firefight.

    The Cylons roll out the garrison and a base star launches an attack on a supposedly defenseless fleet. They interrupt Uri’s speech and we finally get to see him as a public coward. Lots of panic and confusion and we see that Cylons are better shots than storm troopers, but then they have lots of densely-packed targets. Outise, the land rams show up, courtesy of Commander Adama to help with evacuations and shooting Cylons. Warriors get into the fighters with both Apollo and Starbuck getting tearful goodbyes just before the fighters launch from the surface and into battle, surprising the Cylons and exterminating the robots’ attack craft.

    Starbuck and Apollo track down the base star, hidden behind the planet, and, against orders, skim just above the planet’s surface to go after it. They lie to each other across an open frequency to convince the Cylons the each represent two squadrons. The Cylons are confused, but Tigh and Adama figure it out and the look they exchange in reaction is priceless. The Cylons move closer and closer to the planet, but when they realize they’ve been fooled, it’s too late. Some glowing scenery and lightning effects and the planet goes up, taking the Base Star with it.

    Starbuck and Apollo head for home. Not the best home there is, but the only one they’ve got. Triumphant music as they land.

    One more short scene before the credits roll. Baltar, not so publicly executed as we thought, is given a chance to suck up to the new Imperious Leader, who gives him a base star to command and a first officer named Lucifer, claiming there will be a truce and Baltar will offer it.

     

    Story

    This piece completes the first big epic storyline that has the last bits of Colonial humanity escaping the Cylons. We have the impression that there’s still a lot of hostile space to go through, but that they’re away from the main lines and can just slowly (because a lot of the ships are pretty old and rickety) slip away with no one noticing. At least, that’s the hope.

    We’ve established the main characters, the heroes and villains, the overarching story that’s going to guide the series, and the basic setting. This last arc of the pilot has more writing issues for me, some of which shows up in the language section below, but is also worth mentioning from a story perspective.

    I’m a life-long geek and I don’t have a hard time with suspension of disbelief as long as the story stays internally consistent and doesn’t get ridiculous with things it wants me to believe. The really superhot starfield and melting cockpits were a problem for me in the last story arc, but there are a couple of big issues that threw me out of the story this time.

    First, the existence of some kind of ore, that is so flammable that it can set an entire planet on fire and later blow it up, but that the native species actually builds their homes out of it.

    And second, bringing civilians everywhere on military missions, most notably the hero’s love interest and her child. This was just a lazy way to get Apollo to meet up with Starbuck and Boomer at the casino while conveniently meeting the Ovions on the way.

    The idea that biologies are compatible enough for the Ovions to use humans as hatching hosts (sort of like parasitic wasps) didn’t bother me too much. There’s been a lot of use of this in television and movie SF, and we’ve established that there are a lot of species around, even if we’ve only seen the mostly robot Cylons and the alien singers at this point.

    I do think we had just the right amount of comedy from the too-literal centurions in this story. My favourite bit, when the Imperious leader is upset that the fighters are all fully engaged and can’t be recalled because the surprise attack wasn’t an instant victory, the Centurion delivery the news quips, “Apparently, it was not as big a surprise as we had hoped for.” I’ll admit to actually laughing at this the first time through. It’s obvious and it’s silly, but the delivery was great.

    And then, at the end of the episode, we get the Adama quote over a shot of the fleet, the quote I remember closing every show as a kid. “Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a ragtag, fugitive fleet on a lonely quest: a shining planet known as Earth.” Not chills, exactly, but certainly a warm feeling of nostalgia.

     

    Langauge

    The language starts to get amusing here, and I’m not sure if it’s due to designed cheesiness or television writers who’ve never written science fiction before and think that mashing together two words or adding -on, -ium, or -ator to the end of a word makes it sound science fiction-y. So we get sentences like, “I took a skybus from a tour company arranged by my travellator.” And, previously, we know that Cassiopeia is a “socialator” still undefined, but probably something in a legalized sex trade.

    Anyone else enjoy the idea of hypercombustion? Because, you know, the whole planet could blow up because of it.

    The made up fuel mineral of tylium is just a macguffin, something to advance the story, so that one doesn’t bother me much as even non-genre entertainment has a long history of using those.

    We’re introduced to the idea of cubits as units of money, but without any clear idea of what one is worth, or why a fleet of humanity’s last members is still using money at all.

    And are microns as a unit of time or distance?

    “Ah, Felgarcarb.”

     

    The Ships

    Not so much a ship, but the last addition we have to active vehicles are the Land Rams, which Adama slurs together into one word that sounds more like landrum. These are funky armoured vehicles with a laser turret on top that remind me somewhat of light armoured vehicles in use today, tracked instead of wheeled.

     

    Effects

    New things during this period, aside from the preponderance of capes and robes, come down to three things Ovion costumes, Lucifer, and the moments preceding the planetary explosion.

    The Ovion costumes are pretty detailed, giving the best insectoid appearance the shops were probably able to manage at the time. I’m fairly certain there were only two or three actual costumes and it was the same people in them every time. 1978 television budget.

    Lucifer is clearly a guy with a curtain over his head and a jar glued on top. The jar does have a whole bunch of lights inside and a pair of the cylon roving eyes where actual humanoid eyes would be. The effect is a little awkward to look at now, but I think was kind of creepy when I was a kid. And calling the Cylon in question Lucifer would have been a nice touch in the late 70s. Ah, Lucifer. He must be evil since he’s named after the devil.

    And speaking of awkward effects, the glowing, pulsing scenery with the lightning overlay just before Carelon blows up doesn’t hold very well if you look at it on its own. But if you’re good with the suspension of disbelief in the story as a whole, it’s not enough to through you out. Taken with the rest of the show’s aesthetic, it actually fits in quite nicely.

    On the subject of budget savings, we’re already seeing a fair bit of re-used battle footage, both in terms of piloting and hand controls. In fact, I feel like no matter who the pilot is, Boomer is the one pressing the firing stud.

     

     

    The Tech

    The computer on Adama’s desk can face in different directions. Okay, so that doesn’t make it a lap top or even all that exciting as a desk top. But its built into the desk, and at the very least it can face the wall beside the door and it can face away from that wall. That’s kind of cool, at least for the time period. Sure, it’s not the data pads from Star Trek TNG that would eventually inspire tablets, but it was a glimpse of things that might be coming down the technology pipeline.

    The Languatron. Seriously.

    Convenient that Apollo was carrying one on a planet with abandoned mines, or maybe it’s standard equipment stored in a land ram, but the ridiculousness of the device on the surface goes away when you look just a little ahead of where we are now. I can already install translation apps on my phone, and these are only going to get better from here. That BSG had one in 1978 is a neat predictor. I’m not suggesting that it’s anything other than a gimmick that was supposed to look cool, but SF often gets things at least a little right when it looks ahead.

     

    The Acting

    The shining moment for me in this arc is Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter) getting caught stealing pilot’s uniforms. Thinking very fast, he gives Starbuck and Boomer beautifully delivered tirade about a flash inspection and the state of the uniforms, giving us, and his targets, a harried, overworked, and slightly unbalanced senior officer in dire need of a weekend off.

    In the background, Jolly waking up from a nap to straighten his uniform is a nice touch.

     

    One More Note On The Writing

    And the Cylons missed the Casino planet how?

    Oh, right. It was a trap. Clearly set up a long time before just in case the humans escaped the main trap and somehow outran all of the Cylon base stars or successfully navigated the mine field. Because how long could a tour company run with its customers failing to return because they were being fed to alien insect hatchlings?

     

    Final Note

    So that’s it. Something close to two and a half hours of introduction to an epic science fiction series. We have heroes and villains, many of them larger than life, an established conflict and enemy, a basic view of the universe the story is happening in, and both tension and hope. We have great actors and not so great ones, a mixture of high technology and strange references to mystical woo, which I suppose we’re supposed to take as some almost-lost memories carried into our culture as the thirteenth tribe. We also have some classical mythology notes and some very clear heroic imagery.

    From here, it looks like we’re in for a wild ride.

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  • Television

    Episode 1: Saga of a Star World, Part 2 (of 3)

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    I’m choosing a slightly different break point than would have been broadcast, because I think it makes a clean transition between story lines, so that makes this middle piece a little shorter and the finale of the pilot a little longer. Digging in with what I expect will be the traditional

    Overly Long Synopsis

    Fade into a shuttle heading for freighter Gemini, we catch up with Starbuck and Boomer doing a damage survey, and run into their CO Apollo who’s looking for solium leaks. They get a quick dressing down by Apollo for not being terribly cooperative, and Starbuck observes that they “May as well live for today. We might not have many left.”

    The freighter is stuff with people, poorly fed, sick and injured. The desperation is palpable and people reach out to the warriors with every step, asking questions Apollo and crew have no direct answers for. Enter an old couple speaking in a foreign language no one seems to understand, but a convenient “Socialator” helps translate and all three are added to the wounded going to the Galactica. We hear about the Rising Star where there is apparently a surplus of everything. Calling in to find out what’s going on, the team receives only a vague acknowledgement and no real info.

    Well, the Rising Star has lots of stuff, let’s go there and see.

    During the trip, Starbuck and Cassiopia keep chatting, and we find out that the woman who didn’t like her belongs to a a weird sect that only allows physical contact between genders once every seven years and that’s why they don’t like Socialators, which we still don’t get an explanation of, but we’re meant to assume sex is involved.

    Initial inspection on the Rising Star shows some signs of pluton poisoning, which breaks down the structure of food. (Bwa-ha-ha!) And we start to move on to higher levels.

    A quick interlude on the Cylon base star where a centurion reports to the local Imperious Leader, telling of ships fleeing with the Battlestar Galactica. It’s told to deliver a message to Baltar: deliver the battlestar or deliver his head.

    Back on the Rising star, Serina grabs him to go visit Boxey and Apollo gets him to cheer up a bit. Poor kid is still broken up about his lost dog daggit, and Apollo convinces him he’s going to be a fighter pilot some day. Since there are no daggits right now, Boxey will get the first one that comes along, but only if he’s good, does as he’s told, and eats his vegetables primaries. Clearly, with the looks passing between Apollo and Serina, we’ve got the beginning of a love story here.

    But for now, we move on up to elite class in time to see Boomer draw his weapon on a security guard so the team can gain access to a private party and Apollo can and threaten to arrest Sire Uri. Instead they just confiscate most of the food from the greedy bastard’s party for redistribution. We also find out that Uri’s wife was “not in time to make the voyage”. Apollo makes an enemy here, but he’s done what he feels to be right, and doesn’t care that Uri is a newly elected member of the Council of 12.

    Back at the ranch, Cassiopeia’s arm is healed by some kind of technological magic and CGI and she’s deliriously happy, even more so to find Starbuck waiting outside for her. A little gentle flirting and he offers to find her a bunk on the Galactica. Of course, she more or less tells him she would have taken him to bed so she could stay on board.

    The Council of Twelve (a much pastier, whiter, older version than the original) likes the results of the long range patrols, that there’s no sign of pursuit, and Uri wants them to go to Boralis to resupply, which is surely a trap in Adama’s view. Apollo interrupts the council, suggests a new approach to Carelon – clearing a path for the fleet through the minefield with a couple of fighters, and he’ll do it practically blindfolded with laser torpedoes. The council loves the idea and outvotes Adama to make it happen. Without actually voting. Starbuck and Boomer don’t escape fast enough to avoid volunteering.

    A little later, Apollo and Adama fight a little. Uri used to be a good guy, but those days are gone and now he’s a self-serving jerk. Apollo shakes up his dad a bit, trying to get him to refocus on the present, but he’s tired and worn out.

    Another Boxey scene – let’s go visit Dr. Wilker and get a new mechanical daggit (I feel sorry for the guy in the daggit suit), Muffit 2, and the mechanical pet is an instant hit. And yes, romance is in the air, Apollo and Serina are very close already, nearly kissing in this scene.

    Adama’s other surviving child comes to visit him. While Athena is much gentler than Apollo was, Adama is also much more depressed talking to her. He tells her about basically handing out lottery tickets to get on the ship, upset at what he’s seen and had to do, and he actually admits he’s ready to give up responsibility for the fleet. Having given everyone hope in the previous episode, he’s lost his own.

    Meanwhile, Starbuck and Cassiopeia are hanging out, enjoying each other’s company, and shortly adjourn to a private launch tube to enjoy each other’s company. Of course, everywhere on Galactica has cameras and Athena almost accidentally tracks them down, providing them a steam bath for her amusement. It seems a bit vindictive considering she told him to go away at the end of part one.

    Mission time!

    The Nova Madigon, thoroughly mined by the Cylons, is a  super bright and hot star field. They’ll seal the cockpits and fly by instruments, clear with turbo lasers and some technological help from the Galactica! Must be a red alert, the lighting is all red.

    Pew! Pew! With a little CGI mixed in and repeated while the cockpits get hotter and hotter as the star field slowly melts through the canopy shields of their fighters and the clearing a path “a hundred maxims wide”. In the background on the bridge, we get temperature readings and occasional medical readouts on the pilots. Well, heart rates, anyway.

    And they make it through to Carelon! Everyone is happy, and maybe Adama isn’t so ready to give up and retire, sharing a firm Roman handshake with Tigh as they move into orbit.

    Captain’s log… or Commander Adama’s personal journal, or something like that. Having made it through the mine field, he’s feeling better about their overall situation and sending ships down to mine and gather supplies. He doesn’t quite smile, but seems like he might think maybe there might be hope after all. Maybe.

    Time for another Cylon interlude, with Baltar being brought before the Imperious Leader, Baltar is told he’s a screw up. No, you won’t get to be a despot over the remains of humanity and no we didn’t spare your colony. I now alter the bargain. (This is several years pre-Empire Strikes Back, so BSG did it first). So long as one human remains alive, the alliance remains threatened. (Wait. Alliance?) We thank you for your help, Baltar, but your  time is at an end.

    But, in a clear, and not very subtle, edit (because in the cinematic release, Baltar dies here and now), as the centurion draws its sword, the leader stops it from beheading the traitor, deciding there will be a public execution.

    Baltar before the almost execution.
    Baltar after the almost execution.

     

     

     

     

     

    Okay, I used the same image twice. But in fairness, so did they.

    And while it’s earlier than the TV experience would end part 2 at 1:15:26 into the story, this stopping point represents a much better break in the storyline.

    Story and Characters

    I feel like the writing is a little weaker in this second section of the super-long pilot episode. Not bad, exactly, though it has its moments. We’re ratcheting up the cute aspect with a little too much Boxey time and adding in the mechanical dog, but this is mostly an excuse to give the series’ main hero a love interest in Boxey’s mom, and Jayne Seymour is completely believable. Maybe they were trying to attract kids to the show, as if killer robots and space ships hadn’t been enough.

    Once they knew it would go as a series and not just have to stand alone, the decision to not kill Baltar, a traitor brilliantly played by John Colicos, would give the series an ongoing big bad. I have the sneaking suspicion we’ll get to see him chew the scenery some more.

    Sire Uri is a well-acted (by Ray Milland) slimy politician and poor excuse for a human being and tries to steal the scenes from Richard Hatch with some success, and oozes the fake charm.

    I’m also not keen on the flying blind through the mine field and shooting only when the computer tells you to. Sure, it’s supposed to create a tension filled scene, but other than a few cuts back and forth from sweating pilots and tense faces on Galactica’s bridge, but it’s mostly just images of the same three CGI mines blowing up over and over. Perhaps I’m just spoiled.

     

     

    The potential food shortage and not seeing to the wounded fast enough are both nice touches. With the remnants of the human race just struggling to stay ahead of the Cylons, both of these are reasonable. I would like to have seen the food shortage played up a little more. The human factor here would have gotten a lot more dramatic tension than the mine field.

    Language

    Since it is 1970s television, we start to slip a little more into the cheesy version of science fiction language now, not just with the odd alien name for something or a made up planet to talk about, but dropping more “Colonial” terms into things. These folks are human, but they’re not from Earth, so they should have their own terms for things, right? In the past half hour, though, we’ve had some silly ones. For a couple of egregious examples, we have Solium (something dangerous but present on all space ships) that can leak from something else, Pluton (a kind of poison that destroys food), and Maxims, a unit of distance. Large, but unspecified distance.

    And it’s 1978, so we can’t swear at all on TV, so we have a substitute for all expressions of fecal disapproval: Felgarcarb! I loved this as a kid, along with Frack, which I don’t think we’ve heard yet, and it still amuses me once in a while. Use it in a sentence and there’s no question of what you mean.

    What a pile of felgarcarb.

    Who left this felgarcarb here?

    Cut through the felgarcarb and get to what’s important. Which is more or less how Starbuck used it for an introduction, naturally and believably.

    The Ships

    The big addition to the standard ships is the boxy, but somehow still cool-looking shuttlecraft. It’s a neat looking ship, and I’m sure we’ll see the same looped footage of it taking off or landing from the regular landing bay as well as coasting along through space on its way somewhere. Reminds me a little of a box fish.

     

     

     

    The Tech

    Some of the tech could maybe be filed under 1970s SF TV language as well, stuff to sound cool without actually meaning anything. The reference laser torpedoes, which become turbo lasers just a little later in the episode, by Apollo during his speech to the Council springs to mind.

    But there are a couple of other tidbits that spring to mind. While the displays and buttons we’ve seen so far are mostly to make things seem somewhat realistic or have the late 70s look of very basic pixelated graphics (which were rather expensive to produce at the time, and so were recycled many, many times), there are two things that are really interesting, technology-wise, in this part of the pilot, and both of them happen in the scene just before the story break point when Adama is doing his version of the Captain’s Log trope.

    First, the thing he’s speaking into during the “log entry”.

    The future is now

    Right now, the idea of a cordless microphone is old and unexciting, so old and unexciting, a microphone with a cable attached is going to raise eyebrows instead of the other way around. But in 1978, there had probably only been a few on high-end game shows or maybe as a novelty at a rock concert or two. Adama is casually talking into a recording device that isn’t attached to anything. The future is here, at least for the colonials.

     

     

    Even bigger, there seems to be a computer built into the top of his desk.

    It’s a nice tea set, too.

    It’s not a big computer and it’s not a busy computer, but the just the presence of it is impressive. The idea of a PC existed by then, but not as a consumer thing to be marketed for people’s homes, although that was only a couple of years away. In 1978, Adama having one in his personal quarters would have been huge for anyone who noticed it. A big signal of status and technology. Five years later, thousands of us would have computers in our homes and offices that would do a lot more, and ten years later, I’d be required to have one to go into undergraduate engineering, but that was still in the future, which meant BSG was giving us a glimpse of the shape of things to come in at least one way.

    There’s also a lovely portrait of the Galactica, lit as if in an art gallery, in the background of this scene, and others in his quarters/office, but that doesn’t qualify as technology so much as décor, and that décor fits right in with Adama’s personality and the overall aesthetic of the show.

    Final Notes

    So while this middle piece of the crazy long pilot episode doesn’t have nearly so much action and story building in it, there is a lot of character building, particularly for the first family of the fleet. Adama, Apollo, and Athena all have major moments and emotional scenes. Athena a little less this time out, but one hopes that will change. We’ve already seen she can be both mature and petty. Maybe she’s more complex and realistic still. I’m sure we’ll find out more about her. Right now, we know Adama is feeling the weight of being a survivor and being in charge of the remnants of humanity, we know Apollo’s every action is to live up to the incredibly high standards he sets for himself, and we know Athena is competent but young.

    We also know Starbuck is a live-in-the-moment kind of guy, Boomer is smart and capable, and they’re both at least as good at the piloting and warrior gig as their CO. Tigh is a Veteran with tremendous experience. Do we have other main characters yet? Not sure, but there’s still an hour of show left to finish with this episode.

    Be well, everyone.

    And try not to step in any felgarcarb.

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  • Television

    Episode 1: Saga of a Star World, Part 1 (of 3)

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    Since I’ve been threatening this for a little while, and since the original Battlestar Galactica is tremendously underappreciated, I’ve undertaken a re-watch and I’m going to write extensively about it. Whoever wants an opinion or wants to argue with that opinion, is more than welcome.

    Since the pilot, Saga of a Star World, is two hours and thirteen minutes long by itself, once you add in commercials, and the way the writing breaks up, it was probably actually designed as three episodes. I don’t remember watching it in three parts as a kid, but it fits together neatly that way to my viewing now. So, three distinct story lines, three posts to cover them.

    Let’s start with an

    Overly Long Synopsis

    After a title sequence worthy of a summer blockbuster (and there was a theatrical release), we find a fleet of spaceships and zoom in on one of them, the Atlantia where a surprisingly diverse (ethnically if not sexually) council is celebrating the eve of peace after a thousand years of war.

    Jump over to the Battlestar Galactica and young Rick Springfield Zack Adama weasels his way onto a patrol with his older brother Apollo because Apollo’s regular wingman, Starbuck, is “sick”. When Zach leaves, way too excited, Starbuck offers to come along anyway but Apollo tells him to enjoy the armistice. Zach and Apollo take off in a pair of pretty cool fighters.

    In a very brief scene, we’re introduced to the idea of the enemy, the Cylons, and to the smarmy diplomat who made peace possible, Baltar.

    Back on patrol, we check out a pair of empty Cylon tankers which are actually masking a fleet of attack craft. Apollo orders a retreat as we get our first view of the Cylon Centurions.

    Pew, pew!

    Zach takes a little damage in the ensuing dogfight but between the two of them they take out four Cylon fighters without much difficulty. Of course, there are still a thousand or so on he way. Since they’re being jammed and the fleet has to be warned, Zach convinces Apollo to go on ahead. He’ll catch up. It’s all good. Really.

    Meanwhile, Commander Adama returns to the Galactica to find his ship is on alert status because something is up with the patrol. They’re being jammed and can’t communicate. The President won’t let Galactica launch more fighters because Baltar thinks it’s a bad idea, but Adama thinks it’s a fine time to have a battle stations drill so the pilots can all be ready just in case they do need to launch.

    Zack doesn’t quite make it back, taking the fatal shot just within visual range of the Galactica. Tears on the bridge. Apollo is ordered to report in as soon as he’s on board and the Galactica launches all of her fighters now.

    Lots of fighting, lots of pew, pew. In addition to Starbuck, we have two other named pilots, Jolly and Boomer, as well as some who don’t last very long in the the constant laser violence.

    When Apollo reaches the bridge, he’s unhappy about leaving Zack behind and demands to go back and escort him in. No one actually tells him his brother is dead, but no one really needs to.

    Still more pew, pew.

    Commander Adama and Colonel Tigh (his second in command) start to wonder why they’re only being attacked by fighters, wondering where the base ships happen to be. They have the chilling thought that the whole fleet is more or less engaged here. What if the Cylons launched an attack on the colonies?

    And then the Atlantia goes boom and we’re clearly meant to think it’s a big deal by the length of time it spends taking damage before exploding. The blinding flash makes everyone on the Galactica’s bridge at least shield their eyes or look away, but that doesn’t change Adama’s plan. He’d been trying to get permission from the president to break away, and now just gets to go because the Cylon base ships are attacking the colonies (ewhich are all conveniently named after signs of the zodiac to help us understand there’s a connection to Earth).

    Pew, pew.

    On the way back, they watch satellite TV and get to watch the initial attack on the colonies first hand. The action focuses briefly on a female news lead who breaks off reporting to catch her son and get to shelter. The dog daggit doesn’t quite make it through the fire and explosions and death.

    We get a lot of emotion from the bridge crew, tears and sombre faces and the media keeps playing the background to keep a little tension going on for a while as other things happen. Apollo takes Adama to Caprica in his refueled fighter and sends the Galactica back to the battle.

    But the battle is over with only sixty-seven fighters returning and only twenty-five of those belonging to the Galactica. No other battlestars have survived; the Galactica and the fighters it gathers up are all that’s left of the fleet.

    The crying woman from the bridge is Athena, and she tries to help Starbuck fix some problems with his broken fighter but nothing works and he has to come in on full thrust anyway. He barrels in, almost crashing, and Athena runs from bridge to landing bay to meet him, then tries to explain exactly what happened to an angry pilot who only saw his base ship pull out in the middle of a battle that killed a bunch of his friends.

    Meanwhile on Caprica, Adama is mourning his wife in a torched house as the city below is in flames and a crowd of injured survivors struggles towards them. Apollo meets them first and tries to explain that most of them are dead that the fleet is destroyed. Adama steps out and is recognized by Serina. He recognizes her, as well, on the strength of her being a major media personality, probably, and gives a rousing speech about how they’re going to fight back, but the colonies are lost so they’ll have to run and recover. Let the word go forth to gather any ship that can fly to come join the Galactica and a whole 220 of them do, all that’s left from a dozen human worlds.

    A quick flash to Baltar, thrilled at the destruction, and not caring much about the rumours of survivors fleeing. He reminds a centurion that the standing order from the Imperious Leader is extermination of all humans, but apparently he doesn’t count as human.

    Adam gathers representatives in a meeting hall on Galactica, representing all of the peoples from the colonies. Another speech, and he reminds us all that there were other colonies and that at least one, or only one, survived, Earth, and that’s where they’re going. He offers hope.

    A little emotional closure between Athena and Starbuck. He came to apologize and gently hit on her; talks her into the idea of there being a future and she reminds him that he’s a thrill seeker as well as being a warrior, more than her brother Zack ever was.

    We close with a shot of the ragtag fleet fading into another shot of the ragtag fleet and because we’re about forty-three and a half minutes in and about to start a new storyline, we’ll call that an episode transition.

    Story

    So there’s a lot going on here. A lot of characters, a lot of background, and a lot of universe. Boiled down, and stripping out the kid and the dog and the feathered hair styles, we’ve actually got a really dark beginning to the show. Big bad enemy with legions of robot soldiers destroys twelve human worlds all at once, butchers most of the fleet, and leaves the human race with what can be crammed onto one battleship and 220 miscellaneous civilian ships, half of which are barely flightworthy. There was betrayal, death and destruction on a species-ending scale, and robots that are almost the definition of scary AI bent on human destruction. I have seen the future, and it is chrome and talks with a badass robotic voice.

    In short, humanity lost, and is probably screwed, but we’ve got this legend to give us hope (and the first long term story arc in TV SF that I can remember).

    Without giving anything away, I hope, there are other dark themes and subjects to come.

    Music

    The opening does go on for a really long time. Yes, I get that this was presented as a movie, and the soundtrack is both awesome and epic. It’s a pretty rare occurrence that a TV show theme song uses an entire symphony orchestra (in this case the LA Philharmonic). Maybe I’ve been spoiled by solid teasers and short credits in the years since, but it does seem to drag a bit when put on the front of the episode.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACsXSwZB7H8

    But there’s more here than just the opening and the music adds to the emotional tone of every scene. Brilliant work by Stu Phillips, a composer with a long career in film and television and who created some critical themes in TV SF in the 1970s and early 1980s (The Six Million Dollar Man, Buck Rogers, Knight Rider, and, of course, Battlestar Galactica). For Battlestar, I have to say I love the soundtrack throughout.

    The Ships

    Title ship first. Big-ass aircraft carrier in space. Lots of guns. Home to thousands. And, long before the end of this section of the pilot, last of its kind. Shots of the Galactica come in three types: showing off the immensity of the ship, some piece of the ship that displays its name, and a tight shot to show off model detail or lasers being fired.

    Do the Vipers look like they came out of Star Wars? Well, if you squint a little and remember that the primary special effects guy, John Dykstra, had just come off of working on A New Hope and was firmly rooted in the late 70s SF aesthetic, then sure. But these are definitely different ships. And as a kid in the late 70s, they were remarkably easy to build out of lego. X-Wings, not so much. And the pilot controls and cockpits, while betraying a limited budget, were built like they at least wanted a little bit of realism.

     

    The CGI and other Effects

    The CGI is period specific. Which means what’s there looked impressive at the time, but most of what’s done is with models and working directly with the film. We’re way above pong on what’s there, but check out the detail involved in the ship models and how well the sequences are put together.

    And you know when the ship is at Red Alert, because there are only red lights. No doubt, no alarm in the background after the first few seconds, no pretending. Red light = red alert and stuff is going down.

    The Background

    Worth noting that we also start to see some background characters who are more than just extras. At the time, I think this was a fairly new thing. Consistency in the background might have been seen as distracting from the stars of the show a lot of the time. Really, it adds a bit of verisimilitude, especially when you don’t really get to replace crewmembers on demand because you’re the last remnants of the human race. This is a point I might come back to later, but here are a few examples:

    Flight Corporal Rigel
    Flight Sergeant Greenbean
    Dr. Wilker

    {Dr. Salik, Dr. Wilker

    The Acting

    Any show lives and dies by two things: the acting and the writing.

    The acting here is a bit variable, but it’s a pilot. Some of the actors pass over into melodrama here and there, but mostly the emotional tone is good and we get great, believable performances from just about everyone, especially the secondary characters who, heroes aside, can make or break a large scene fairly easily. The height of this is probably watching the reactions of the bridge crew as they see the cylons destroying their homeworlds and can do absolutely nothing about it.

    And if you need more than that, I’ve got two words for you: Lorne Green. Mr. Green’s skill and voice brought gravitas and believability to any role he played. Green as Commander Adama, member of the Quorum of Twelve, commanding officer of the Battlestar Galactica, leader of the remnants of humanity, and not incidentally father and widower, brings everything you need in an on screen leader. Any scene he’s in has that much more reality in it, and Terry Carter as Colonel Tigh isn’t far behind.

    The Writing

    This first chunk of the pilot is actually pretty strong. It’s rough in patches and we still need to get used to the lingo (and there’s more of that to come, some fun, some eye rolling, even later in the pilot) but what we’ve got so far is a good start. Fun characters, a good setting, a devastating beginning, and a little hope. Lots to hook you here, and lots to look forward to on that quest for the shining planet known as Earth.

     

    Future posts in this series may or may not be shorter. Be well, everyone.

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