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TV Review: New 'Battlestar' proves ponderous

Sunday, December 07, 2003

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Fans on the Internet have been carping about Sci Fi Channel's "reimagining" of the '70s cult classic "Battlestar Galactica" for almost a year. Though I shared some of their concerns -- changing the genders of lead characters? -- I was willing to give this revamp the benefit of the doubt.

 
 


"Battlestar Galactica"

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow and Tuesday on Sci Fi Channel.
Edward James Olmos.


Related article

Original 'Battlestar' now available on DVD

   
 
 

I was overly generous.

The new "Battlestar Galactica" is joyless, somber and a little boring. Rewatching the pilot of the original series, I was struck by how slow it was. The new version may be even slower. But the biggest mistake writer Ron Moore makes is telling about things that should be shown.

The attacks on the 12 Colonies? They're seen mostly from space. The destruction of the Battlestar Atlantia? Galactica receives word of it in a subspace communication. Show, don't tell, is a rule of thumb for good writing that too often is ignored in "Battlestar Galactica."

Additionally, viewers get little in the way of connection with the re-imagined characters. As Commander Adama, Edward James Olmos commands a depressive kind of authority, but exudes little wisdom or leadership. His speeches are far more stirring in the miniseries' well-orchestrated promos than in the show itself.

Yes, there's a little boy named Boxey (Connor Widdows), but he's not accompanied by an electronic dog this time. Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) is now a woman and so is Boomer (Grace Park). Apollo (Jamie Bamber) is estranged from his father, Adama, stemming from the death of his brother, Zack (another echo of the original "Battlestar" pilot). Baltar (James Callis) remains a traitor to the human race, only this time he's been unwittingly sleeping with a humanoid Cylon (Tricia Helfer) for two years.

As in the original, the Cylons were created by humans and then got out of control. The first series didn't dwell on that idea; it's pounded home more forcefully here, no doubt because of media coverage of cloning.

At the start of the new miniseries, humans and Cylons have enjoyed a 40-year truce and the Galactica is about to be made into a museum. That notion evaporates when the Cylons attack. The Galactica crew and Colonies President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) ultimately discover Cylons have evolved to the point that they're indistinguishable from humans.

"The last time anyone saw the Cylons, they looked like walking chrome toasters," Baltar says, taking a dig at the old show's costumes.

The special effects are more sophisticated now, but it's difficult to get an idea of what the ships look like because of herky-jerky camera movements.

The old "Galactica" had a sense of epic scope; you believed that these 12 colonies had existed for thousands of years, and the characters felt like they were part of one big space-faring family.

The new "Galactica" is antiseptic, the characters have no spark and there's no sense of grandeur, essential for a tale of humankind trying to escape a tyrannical force.


TV Editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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