REVIEW: GALACTICA 1980

Starring

Lorne Greene (Bananza)
Herbert Jefferson Jr. (The Bastard)
Kent McCord (Predator 2)
Barry Van Dyke (Diagnosis Murder)
Robyn Douglass (Freeze Frame)
Jeremy Brett (Moll FLanders)
Allan Miller (Star Trek III)
Robbie Rist (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
James Patrick Stuart (General Hospital)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Richard Lynch (Puppet Master 3)
Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch)
Pamela Susan Shoop (Halloween II)
Sharon Acker (Lucky Jim)
Richard Eastham (Wonder Woman)
Brion James (Blade Runner)
Mickey Jones (Total Recall)
Paul Koslo (The Omega Man)
William Daniels (The Blue Lagoon)
Lara Parker (Dark Shadows)
Peter Mark Richman (Friday The 13th – Part 8)
Wolfman Jack (Motel Hell)
Dennis Haysbert (24)
Ana Alicia (Halloween II)
Dirk Benedict (The A-Team)
Judith Chapman (Days of Our Lives)

ABC’s decision to cancel Battlestar Galactica after one season didn’t sit well with viewers, and the show’s strong ratings (it out-rated almost every ABC series renewed for 1979-80) easily justified continuation. But with costs rising faster than expected ABC and Universal Studios wanted the show for substantially less than the per-episode costs of the original show, and at a time when SFX technology was not as advanced as today, there was no practical argument against the economics angle that hurt the show. Nonetheless, ABC tried to continue the Galactica mythos on a budget, and regardless of whether series creator Glen Larson was involved. Larson signed on to try and make it work, but the result, Galactica 1980, was a bitter disappointment to all.
The show’s weaknesses were extensive, but by far the greatest weakness lay in the deception used in promotion before the first episode aired. Promotions used the footage of Cylon raiders blasting Los Angeles extensively and gave the impression that the Cylon empire had found Earth and was in process of slaughtering the last planet of humanity, a premise that would have given the show a much stronger punch. But this footage was merely part of a “what if?” computer simulation to illustrate why the survivors of the Twelve Colonies cannot colonize Earth – “If we land, we will bring destruction upon Earth as surely as if we’d inflicted it ourselves,” as Commander Adama succinctly puts it in one of the show’s best lines.

With this premise of real life Cylon predation against Earth thus vetoed, the show begins to suffer, hurt even more by the excessive juvenile angle in the platoon of children rescued from the freighter Delphi after it is ambushed by Cylon raiders and forced to land on Earth, and also in the use of the mysterious Seraph youth Doctor Zee – had Doctor Zee been a Cylon creation (like the humanoid Cylon featured in “The Night The Cylons Landed” or better yet the Cylon IL Lucifer from the original series) that had turned against its masters, this angle would have made more sense – as it was, Zee’s genesis did make for the show’s best episode and surprisingly one of the best sci-fi episodes of any series, “The Return Of Starbuck.”

The show also suffered from several embarrassing incidents, notably the Halloween angle of “The Night The Cylons Landed” and the general incompatibility of the Kobollian survivors with the culture of Earth, leading to numerous bits of forced comedy that really aren’t funny.

But despite these weaknesses, the show did have some superb moments – the Cylon attack on Los Angeles, deception or not, is compelling footage, lasting roughly ninty seconds on-screen and superbly mixing stock matte-FX footage of Cylon raiders over outtake footage from Universal’s 1974 disaster film “Earthquake.” The sequence thus becomes one the best SFX sequences ever done for television – I especially liked the shots of Cylon raiders blasting the Capitol Records building, Cylon raiders diving into strafing runs then cutting to the Cylon POV shot of a street being attacked, the street being strafed as seen from above then from low angle as a raider flies toward and then past the screen, and the triumphant flyover of Cylon raiders over the now-ravaged city.
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The introduction of new Cylons in the human-form combat ILs in “The Night The Cylons Landed” as well as the new command-class AB raider (first seen mixed with the stock FX shot of Cylons strafing the Delphi in “The Super Scouts” but not fully explored until “Night”) is also an intriguing look into the evolution of the Cylon empire; not surprisingly this idea was developed to great fruition by Ronald Moore for the 2003 version of Battlestar Galactica.
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The arguments between Commander Adama and Commander Xavier (Richard Lynch) in the three-part pilot episode are well done – Lynch’s Xavier gives the show as compelling a villain in his own way as John Colicos’ Baltar, whose non-presence is particularly missed here. Also well done is the interaction between Troy (Kent McCord) and Dillon (Barry Van Dyke), especially early in the opening episode when we learn something of Troy’s background. The presence of Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) is welcome with no other original cast members available except for Dirk Benedict’s appearance in “Return Of Starbuck,” and the series does tackle some moral dilemmas (notably the Nazi-Jewish angle in the three-part opening episode) generally avoided in the original series.
Related imageBy no means is Galactica 1980 great television, but it does have some excellent moments, and the cast deserves credit for trying to make it work.

REVIEW: BATTLESTAR GALACITCA (1978)

Starring

Richard Hatch (InAlienable)
Dirk Benedict (The A-Team)
Lorne Greene (The Bastard)
John Colicos (Star Trek)
Maren Jensen (Deadly Blessing)
Noah Hathaway (Troll)
Herbert Jefferson Jr. (Black Gunn)
Tony Swartz (Schizoid)
Laurette Spang-McCook (The Secrets of Isis)
Terry Carter (McCloud)
Anne Lockhart (Convoy)
Jonathan Harris (Lost In Space)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Lew Ayres (Holiday)
Jane Seymour (Wedding Crashers)
Ed Begley Jr. (Veronica Mars)
Sarah Rush (Catch Me If You Can)
Carol Baxter (The Incredible Hulk)
Dick Durock (Swamp Thing)
Patrick Macnee (The Howling)
Felix Silla (Spaceballs)
Janet Julian (King of New York)
George Murdock (Star Trek V)
Larry Manetti (Hawaii Five-0)
Lance LeGault (Stripes)
Red West (Road House)
Ian Abercrombie (Army of Darkness)
Christine Belford (Christine)
Richard Lynch (Puppet MAster III)
Britt Ekland (The Wicker Man)
Alex Hyde-White (The Fantastic Four)
Olan Soule (The Towering Inferno)
Rance Howard (Small Soldiers)
Lloyd Bridges (Airplane)
Kirk Alyn (Superman 1948)
Anthony De Longis (Masters of The Universe)
Fred Astaire (Funny Face)
Brock Peters (Soylent Green)
Lloyd Bochner (The Naked Gun 2)
Melody Anderson (Flash Gordon)
John de Lancie (Star Trek: TNG)
Ana Alicia (Halloween II)

Since the the modern remake of this series rapidly become the next big thing in TV Sci-Fi, many people are going to be tempted to pick up this boxed set to find out how it all began. You can’t go wrong here – this represents astounding value for money, and a great opportunity to discover or rediscover a series that really does deserve its classic status. It even has some decent extras.

Battlestar Galactica was created in 1978 a year after the Star Wars, and was essentially a brazen attempt by ABC television to cash in on the mammoth unexpected success of that film. Under conditions that may never be repeated, it was suddenly considered viable to create a full-blown big-budget epic primetime family-oriented science fiction extravaganza with a budget of $1m per episode (big money in those days). The series ran for a total of 24 episodes before being canned due to its expense and sliding ratings, but it had a huge impact and is remembered with great fondness even by those who aren’t rabid fans.


The story draws inspiration from diverse mythical and religious sources, including Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology, the book of Exodus, and the Mormon upbringing of its creator Glen A. Larson. When the 12 colonies of man are annihilated by the robotic Cylons, the only surviving Battlestar, Galactica, assembles a small fleet of dilapidated civilian ships and makes a run for it with the survivors, hoping to find the legendary 13th tribe who may have settled on a distant, mythical planet called Earth.


The series is often criticised for endlessly recycling stock footage, especially during the space battles where this reaches almost unreasonable levels, and for its cheesiness (plenty of cute kids and robots in this one), but on the whole it’s much easier to forgive such faults in retrospect. It also benefits enormously from its arresting premise, strong plotting, and above all its nigh-on perfect casting. It’s worth watching the 24 episodes through as well, because it does improve as it goes along, and is serialised to a degree. Considering it ran for such a short time, it does a surprisingly thorough job of exploring its themes, so it’s debatable what its natural life would have been had it been allowed to continue. Towards the end it becomes more cerebral and interesting, as eventually Galactica moves beyond its own space and begins to encounter worlds and cultures that bear an eerie resemblance to modern Earth.

There are several documentaries on the seventh disc featuring interviews with almost all of the surviving cast and crew. These are fairly entertaining and informative, especially the production footage which reveals how hard the back-projection was to pull off (it’s a shame there isn’t more on the effects). It’s clear that Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict are still bitter that the plug was pulled so early, and they express this with some eloquence. Both campaigned vigorously, independently, to bring it back.