STARRING: Edward Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Jamie Bamber, James Callis 

2003, 180 Minutes, Directed by Michael Rymer

Description: The new Battlestar Galactica blasts into a new century, re-inventing the epic space opera and breathing new life into the sci-fi genre. The story remains similar: When the humans of the planet Kobol are virtually annihilated in a sneak attack by the Cylons (intelligent robots built by humans, a small group of human survivors aboard the last remaining Battlestar, the Galactica, opt to make an escape, led by Commander Adama and President Laura Roslin. Hoping to reach their legendary homeworld of Earth, the humans must fight for their survival against the fanatical -- and now humanoid -- Cylons.

Recently aired on the U.S. Sci-Fi Channel and scheduled for theatrical release (in edited form) in Europe in 2004, Battlestar Galactica is a remake of the 1978 movie that launched a short-lived TV series.

Envious of Fox’s 1977 success with Star Wars, Universal Studios fast tracked Battlestar Galactica to take advantage of the renewed interest in the science fiction genre. Even the name seemed derivative of Star Wars – Battle Star? But the Universal project had a different twist. What if the ancient civilizations on Earth were actually from another planet? Anyone remember the hit book and Nimoy-narrated documentary, Chariot of the Gods? Same premise – Earth was visited by aliens in the distant past who influenced the Greeks and built the pyramids. So the crew of the giant space carrier, Galactica, had names that were intriguingly rooted in mythology. Apollo, Athena, Commander Adama (Adam?) and so on.

"It’s a real pleasure to see an old concept dusted off and re-imagined to such brilliance. . . ."

The 1978 Battlestar Galactica had a couple of interesting ideas. The 12 colonies of mankind (named after the signs of the Zodiac), anxious for peace, end up getting annihilated by their enemies, the Cylons. So the last remaining carrier – the Galactica – leads a fleet of refugees as they head across space in search of the mythical 13th colony – Earth.

The 2003 remake has a number of key elements intact but the approach is rugged and raw compared to the original. Most of the Greek mythology has gone out the window. We have 12 colonies of humankind anxious to make peace with the Cylons – but this time, the Cylons were actually human creations – a race of machines that were designed to serve humankind. This is an interesting twist a la Planet of the Apes, Terminator or The Matrix where the revenge factor comes back in spades whenever mankind tries to play God.

In fact, the Cylons have advanced to the point where they’ve made a couple models that look exactly like humans. This new Galactica has cleverly merged some of the best elements of classic science fiction with this homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing.

What makes Battlestar Galactica extremely entertaining for both new and old fans is the re-engineering of the story. We’re dealing with familiar characters but in a brand new post 9-11 world. While the 1978 Galactica made parallels with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, the new Galactica is very much aware of 9-11 terrorism and the absolute battle between ideologies. Should the embattled humans become a military dictatorship or should a civilian government prevail? It makes for good human drama and great science fiction.

Battlestar Galactica is set in a very cruel reality. Lorne Greene, as Adama in the 1978 movie, used to bellow that the Galactica would travel no faster than the slowest ship in the refugee fleet. But Galactica 2003 is a very different Darwinian world where leaders make tough decisions that cost lives. The Galactica itself is still a space carrier but it's a 50 year old leviathan about to be decommissioned.

The new Galactica also pays tribute to the original movie with some visual and sonic references. Also, because the new Cylons have a weapon that acts like a computer virus, the movie often points out how some 20-year old hardware is superior to highly vulnerable new equipment.

Is Battlestar perfect then? The pacing is almost real-time/documentary slow. And the casting at times seems arbitrary. Edward Olmos plays Commander Adama, the solemn technophobe and last commander of the Galactica. But ghostly pale British actor Jamie Bamber – looking like a very young Adam Baldwin – plays Adama’s son, Apollo. They look nothing alike. And the evil Cylon infiltrator is played by Courtney Love lookalike Tricia Helfer. But Mary McDonnell is perfect as the Secretary of Education who suddenly has to assume the Presidency when the rest of the cabinet is killed. It’s clear that writer Ron Moore was impressed by the dignified McDonnell when she played the First Lady in Independence Day.

Director Michael Rymer, perhaps best known for directing the awful Queen of the Damned, does a great job with Battlestar Galactica. He has said that his main influence was Black Hawk Down and it shows in this movie's grittiness and gravity.

The new Galactica also benefits from superb special effects, enhanced by the filmmaker’s choice of an edgy, handheld feel that makes the space battles look and feel very realistic. The attention to detail such as military protocol is reminiscent of another cult TV series about Marines in space, Space Above and Beyond.

Will this new Galactica lead to a new TV series? Perhaps. But on its own, it’s a real pleasure to see an old concept dusted off and re-imagined to such brilliance. Think of the over-produced 1998 remake of Lost in Space and you’ll appreciate Rymer's accomplishment with the leaner, meaner Galactica all the more.

- Harrison Cheung


I'm usually the first thirtysomethinger geekboy to rail against dumb remakes of 'Seventies movies, but not in this case. Actually this "re-imagining" of the old Star Wars rip-off TV show is an improvement and has more pure sci-fi touches than the original show ever had. Ditch your fanboy preconceptions and check it out. After all, it has no cutesy robot dog sidekicks or moppet-haired 1970s child actors! James O'Ehley

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