Richard Hatch    Capt. Apollo
Dirk Benedict    Lt. Starbuck
Lorne Greene    Cmdr. Adama
Ray Milland    Uri
Lew Ayres    Adar
Jane Seymour    Serina
Wilfrid Hyde-White    Anton
John Colicos    Count Baltar
Laurette Spang    Cassiopea
John Fink    Dr. Page
Terry Carter    Col. Tighe
Herbert Jefferson Jr.    Lt. Boomer
Maren Jensen    Athena
Tony Swartz    Lt. Jolly
Noah Hathaway    Boxey

Directed by Richard A. Colla. Screenplay by Glen A. Larson. 1979. Running time: 125 Minutes.

march_a.jpg (16333 bytes)As a 12-year-old boy back in 1979 (okay, so I gave my age away there!) I lived in a place called Richard’s Bay. While Richard’s Bay has the distinction of being the deepest harbour in the Southern hemisphere, it isn’t much known for anything else. For one thing, it was (and probably still is) lacking in the entertainment department. The nearest cinema was a drive-in near a town called Empangeni - it was 29 kilometres away! Needless to say, I didn’t see too many movies back then. Those I did see back then, I remember with great (perhaps undeserved fondness). There is about a handful of them - of which I remember Mad Max, Star Trek - The Motion Picture and Battlestar Galactica the best.

You see, a few years before that I saw Star Wars and like many others of my generation I was instantly hooked on science fiction. So when I saw the abovementioned movies I was instantly hooked. In the case of Battlestar Galactica, which was several episodes from the television series spliced together and blown to 35mm celluloid, I was instantly hooked on the television series that was finally shown on South African national television the next year. Every Monday evening at seven o’clock I was simply glued to the television set and unless my memory serves me right I saw every single episode of the entire series.

Sure, it was a Star Wars rip-off. After all, even the special effects were done by John Dykstra - the (then) young special effects wiz responsible for the magic of Star Wars! And it is doubtful whether it would ever have been made if it wasn’t for the then sci-fi craze kick started by the financial success of Star Wars. But I simply didn’t care because it had everything a 12-year-old would want from movies: lots of derring-do, spectacular pyrotechnics, robots, huge space ships and dog fights in outer space. It was fantastic! It even had a very whistle-along theme song composed by Stu Philips. What more could one want?

However, when I started the Sci-Fi Movie Page about a year and a half ago I was lambasted by some Battlestar Galactica fans for giving the film a mere two-star rating. Outrage, they said. Which was probably true - especially if one considers how much I enjoyed the film as a child. One of the fans said that I should see the movie again and that I’ll probably change my mind then - but that was unfortunately the problem. I had seen the movie only a short while before then. In fact, it was one of the first movies I rented when I basically "inherited" a hand-me down TV and VCR. Battlestar Galactica didn’t change - but I did.

So what did the film look like almost 20 years later? A darker version of Star Wars - and I don’t mean just the lighting (which is pretty dark for starters). The story is pretty dark for one: twelve colony planets of humans are wiped out by a race by misanthropic robots called the Cylons at the beginning of the movie. During peace negotiations they attack and destroy a fleet of battlestars, or rather huge spaceships which were the colonies’ only line of defence. Needless to say the humans were betrayed by an ambitious politician in their own midst. A handful of survivors, led by a single battlestar (the one of the title) set off to the stars to find a mythical planet of fellow humans called . . . Earth. Along the way they don’t just have to cope with the Cylons trying to wipe them out (they really don’t like people - although it is never explained why exactly), but with limited resources, hunger, starvation, poverty and corrupt politicians amongst them . . .

march_b.jpg (6433 bytes)But it isn’t only the storyline that is dark. Although there are lot of pyrotechnics with spaceships exploding spectacularly, the film’s sets are very austere, sort of like a grungy version of Star Wars. While all of this doesn’t sound too bad, the fact remains that the film simply weren’t that impressive all those years later.

The plot is as old as it gets and merely serves to get a group of people aimlessly lost in space - much like Space 1999 back then and Star Trek - Voyager today. (Incidentally, George Lucas took the producers of Battlestar Galactica to court. He lost the case. Besides, Star Wars stole from anything from Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress to Disney’s Snow White, countless Westerns, Marvel comics and The Dam Busters, so to sue a film for stealing from it is a severe case of chutzpah.) Also, Battlestar Galactica has dated badly. The effects aren’t too bad but they get repetitious after a while. The dialogue gets hammy at times. The acting isn’t too hot either and then there’re those terribly 1970s hairstyles. Some scenes (especially with the little boy and his robot dog) are pure TV mush . . .

So what’s the point of this article? Nostalgia is a thing of the past as they say. But when you’re broke it’s worthwhile tripping on. If you’re 12 years old and haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica then do so. If you’re a parent and your kids are in that age bracket, then rent them the movie. Just don’t watch it with them - it’ll probably just spoil your own good memories of the film . . .


Copyright © March 1998  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page




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