by your command

Short, shameful confession: this weekend, I watched the Sci Fi Channel’s remake of Battlestar Galactica.

I went in with expectations that could charitiably be described as low. I came prepared to mock, and mock mercilessly. I had little hope that I would not have changed the channel after the first half an hour. The only reason that I was bothering at all was that it was written and produced by Ronald Moore, who was responsible for HBO’s “Carnivale”, and many of the better episodes of “Star Trek Deep Space Nine.”

So it’s to my considerable chagrin that I report that, in large part, it… didn’t suck. In fact, in parts, it was pretty damn good. It wasn’t anywhere near perfect or even great, but I sat through the whole two hours and then tuned in to watch the conclusion the following night. There were parts I liked a lot. I might even watch it again.

Okay, that bad stuff first: Tricia Helfer as “Number Six” is channelling Natasha Henstridge in “Species” in a very, very bad way. Additionally, Six’s first two scenes are completely gratuitous, not to mention nonsensical. The guy playing Apollo is bland, blonde, boring and whiny. God help us, the brought the Cute Kid back. (Boxie? Boxy? I don’t care, just shove him out an airlock ASAP.) Putting the Cylon “eye” onto the front of the fighters was cheese-o-riffic. Grace Park looks a little lost as Boomer. The editing is a little choppy in places. And the dialogue gets a little hammy whenever someone has to give a speech or invoke religion in any way.

But the good stuff, weirdly, is almost everything else. The script is…mostly…good. Occasionally really good. The pacing was slow, careful and deliberate. The plot, with only a few exceptions, makes consistent sense. Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell were terrific. The secondary characters come off as more than a collection of standard archetypes. There’s actual drama. War in space is presented mostly not as an antiseptic videogame, but as…war, with consequences, casualties, and an impossible moral calculus to navigate.

The special effects were excellent. (Although putting maneuvering jets on the Vipers only points up how bad a design they are in the first place. But I digress. Geekily.) The operational chatter in the background actually sounds related to what’s going on rather than just arbitrary technobabble. There is no deus ex machina ending, and the status quo is most certainly not returned to at the end. The woman cast to play a kinda butch character (Katie Sackhoff as Starbuck) actually has broad shoulders and visible muscles. And, miracle of miracles, the direction is actually good: there’s even, in the beginning, a long tracking shot that might have taken some actual rehearsal time to put together.

There are plenty of nits to pick if you’re in a mood to pick nits, and a couple of outright groaners, but overall, color me happily surprised. I’m a little dubious about its prospects as a continuing series, but I’d probably at least give it a chance.

An aside: the weirdest aspect of this has been reading through the reactions on the usual fora (IMDB, Ain’t It Cool News, etc) and finding out that there are apparently still dozens, maybe even hundreds of fans of the original Battlestar Galactica series out there, who care deeply and passionately about it. Reading their reactions to the new show has been like watching the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy character emerge out of the TV screen. These people are really, really scary.

Is the new Galactica better than the original series? That’s easy: anything is better than the original Battlestar Galactica. Seriously. Grass growing, paint peeling: these and every other stereotypically boring and/or excruciating activity are better than watching Lorne Green and Richard Hatch shed termites as they try to act, interspersed with the same 15-second FX shot repeated over and over again. I, like many people who grew up in the 70s, had somewhat fond memories of the show, but trust me: that fondness does not survive exposure as an adult. I actually own a laserdisc copy of the original Galactica pilot movie, and it’s useful for torturing people who have unwisely admitted to liking it: they generally last up until the Space Disco Scene (yes, there really is a Space Disco Scene) before they crack completely and start begging for the pain to stop…

Somehow, Ronald Moore took whatever nugget of a compelling idea was buried beneath all of those layers of cheese and crap, and brought it out to stand on its own. Br-fucking-vo.

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For a good time, try watcing galactica episodes
with the sound off and closed-captions turned
on, while doing something else (making out,
drinking, web surfing). Glance over occasionally. It's sort of like Roy Lichtenstein art.
Oooh, I love a good mystery. Can you give me a hint? Or at least tell me which CHS you went to? I went to two of them...
Well, that narrows it down a little bit at least. Okay, Commie high, my era, actually remembers me, enough of a geek to engage me in a discussion of the relative merits of Battlestar Galactica... First guess: Justin Kim. Second guess: John Gibney. Third guess: Eleanor Chin. Do I win a birdie? Are you bigger than a breadbox?
Dammit :). I was hoping to string this along for at least a couple of days longer.
Hmmnnn.. Assumed that my name would replace "comment_author_email"

Justin