If you’ve been reading here a while, you already know that I’m pretty skeptical of remakes and re-imaginings. Especially when it involves something near and dear to my heart. Whether it’s music (The Foo Fighter’s cover of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street) or movies (The Karate Kid), some things can never live up to the original.
And it’s a tricky path to find footing on when adapting, remaking, or covering another artist’s work. You get the marketing benefit of a built in fan base with a recognized brand name, but that can be a double edged sword if you alienate them by trying (and failing) to improve on the source material. Fans will turn on a franchise in a heartbeat. That’s evident over at the Conan the Movie Blog and other Conan related discussion boards right now in reference to the Marcus Nispel directed Conan the Barbarian movie that’s slated for release later this year. Let’s just say that, in general, I’m not a fan of remakes and song covers. Too often remakes and covers are convoluted and ruined by the egos of those involved or they are corrupted by visions only of dollar signs.
When I began seeing promos for the Sci-Fi Channel’s overhauled and updated Battlestar Galactica I wasn’t impressed. The first thing I noticed was that the clunky chrome plated Cylons from the 1978 original series had been transformed into human-like creatures, ala The Terminator. This sexed up version of the short lived TV series I loved so much as a child seemed to be trying to appeal to the lowest common dominator. I mean, come on, sexy Cylons? The list of grievances began to add up, and there was no choice left but to ignore the show. My pristine memory of the Battlestar Galactica of my childhood would remain forever intact.
Well, maybe not.
After finding the new Battlestar Galactica in Netflix’s Watch Instantly section a few nights ago, I decided to give it a try. That’s what I love about the Watch Instantly feature. No risk. If I hate it, I just turn it off. The thing is, though, I didn’t hate it. In fact, I was completely engrossed in the story almost from the start.
I was reluctant. I still didn’t like that Cylons looked like humans and that the remaining Cylon robots and their Raiders had been rather lamely redesigned. Very lamely redesigned, I should say. Forgiving those two minor complaints, though, the series is quite astonishingly, amazingly amazing. Say that three times backwards.
First things first. Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama is outstanding. He broods. He simmers. And he emotes brilliantly with the slightest twitch of a cheek muscle or brow raise. The show is worth watching just to see him bring this character to life. One of the character changes I initially didn’t like has turned into a welcome surprise in actress Katie Sackoff’s turn as the sarcastic Viper pilot, Starbuck (no relation to the coffee shops). Sackoff is easy to like. She’s got a charming smile and is convincing as a rebellious, stubborn, antagonistic, and cocky young pilot. She’s no Dirk Benedict, but she chews the cigar almost as well. Mary McDonnell is good in every role I’ve seen her attempt. She brings a contemplative, reluctant, yet firmly resolved, manner to the role of President of the Twelve Colonies. The casting decisions for McDonnell and Olmos alone are strokes of brilliance, but they point to a broader purpose for this series. Which brings me to my next point.
The writing is superb. Uniquely well drawn characters are what drive the show, but the issues that the writers attempt to dissect and tackle in the format of a science fiction television show are brave, and probably the greatest thing to differentiate this show from other hollow, meaningless crap that Sci-Fi Channel tends to put out. Broad concepts like love, God, and community, which are difficult to address in an episodic format, are deftly threaded and woven into a coherent theme. The writers do not shy away from the delicate issues of the day, either. Battlestar Galactica is very much a running social commentary for the first decade of the new millennium, covering a difficult spectrum of micro-topics like terrorism, religion, science and humanity’s responsibility to and for its creations, war, human nature, and the implications of a global community.
The SFX and science for the show, to my layman’s eyes, seem a helluvalot more well thought out and better reasoned than the sci-fi space operas of my childhood. The ships, especially the Colonial Vipers, seem to operate in a more rationalized, realistic fashion within the context of a space battle, but don’t lose the cool factor while they’re at it. The space exteriors are all well conceived and used just enough to keep things interesting, while allowing the character interactions to drive the story from beginning to end. The show’s creators must have had military advisors from the Navy, because this is dead on too. Applying the age old template of a sea to space naval apparatus, Battlestar Galactica gets it right. Some of the actors really needed to learn how to salute, but in just about every way these characters conduct themselves as if they’d spent time on a modern naval vessel.
I’m only on the fourth episode of Season 1, so rest assured I’m not done talking about this. So far, though, I’m having to choke on the disparaging remarks I made about the series before I gave it a chance. And, hey, I’m only seven years late.
To be continued.