Reviews

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA REWATCH: Miniseries (2003) – #SciFiMonth

ARTWORK by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com

When this re-imagining of an older SF tv series from the late ‘70s aired, it set an interesting model for serialized shows in the genre and it brought a definite change from its unapologetically cheesy predecessor’s standards: from the very miniseries that introduced setting and characters, it asserted its dramatic tone and the overall darkness that would become its trademark.

I remember that at the time of my first viewing I was enthralled by this grimdark vision of the future and I followed the evolution of the story with great interest, but as the seasons rolled on some of that “magic”  was lost and the last season left me thoroughly baffled, if not disappointed. Still, many times I encountered viewers’ comments that defined the new Battlestar Galactica series as one of the best contemporary genre products, so I often wondered if I had not missed something along the way…

When the entire series became available on Amazon Prime I decided to refresh my memory and – more important – to see if the possibility of watching more than one episode per week, as was the case when I first saw the series, would alter my perspective of the overall story, and on this subject I can confirm that even a limited binge-watching of two or three episodes per viewing does change substantially the perception of the story-arc and of the characters’ evolution.

The miniseries, with a runtime equal to that of four average TV episodes, introduces a human spacefaring civilization distributed over 12 planets, or colonies: in the past they had created laborer automatons – the Cylons – that had at some point rebelled and started a bloody war that ultimately ended in an uneasy truce. Long decades of peace brought humans to the decision of dismantling their military, not knowing that the Cylons were preparing a brutal, multi-point attack on the colony worlds with the intention of obliterating their creators.  On the day of the assault, a small number of ships, led by the only surviving Battlestar – the space equivalent of a contemporary aircraft carrier – flee from the Cylon attackers in search of shelter for what remains of the human race, less than 50 thousand individuals.

The drama of the hunted survivors, packed on ships that are often obsolete and where the more sophisticated tech must be kept inoperative to avoid hacking by the Cylons, is compounded by the discovery that there is a new breed of automatons besides the mechanical models they know of: these new Cylons look completely human and an unknown number of them has infiltrated the fleeing masses, adding suspicion and paranoia to the terror for the sudden attack and the constant threat of total obliteration.

The introductory miniseries does indeed start with a bang, and it takes the pressure to almost unbearable levels, the strain of the situation underscored by the amazing soundtrack from Richard Gibbs, where the main title “Are You Alive?” (linked below) is an obsessive presence from beginning to end and never fails to signal that something momentous is going to happen. At the same time the story lays down some of the topics that will become its leading themes: humanity became complacent in its conviction of having mastered the universe, unable to learn the lesson that the hubris of becoming creators themselves would turn against them, just as their “children” had done in the past, and now they are facing total annihilation while still seeming unable to lay down their pettiness and spoiled-child attitude, even when facing the end of the world as they knew it.  On the other hand, we see the humanlike Cylons willing to turn against their former “parents” but at the same time trying to understand what it means to be human, organic, vulnerable, and building their own religious credo as a form of rationale for their actions.  It becomes practically impossible for the viewer to side with either contender, because they are both flawed and both deserving of survival, right and wrong at the same time and at some point one could say they are two sides of the same coin – but in perpetual conflict with each other. 

Where the core concept of the series is very intriguing, the main characters peopling it are quite fascinating – more for their flaws than for their qualities – but I will leave their detailed examination for my review of the following seasons: here I prefer to focus on the background of the story that’s so very different from what other space opera shows have accustomed us to.  Forget the high-tech sets of Star Trek’s starship Enterprise and its brethren, Galactica and the other ships in the refugee fleet all share the look of well-used vessels past their prime while, for example, the need to keep even existing technology safe from the Cylons’ cyber attacks forces officers to renounce more modern systems in favor of the outdated, safer ones: for example people communicate through what look like old telephone handsets, which adds an interesting old-fashioned note to the overall appearance. The darkened, seedy corridors, the metal bulkhead doors reminiscent of submarine design, the constantly patched fighters, all contribute to the appearance of an utilitarian vessel rather than that of a glamorous spaceship, and reinforce the sensation of precariousness that is the leitmotif of this story of constant strife for survival.

And it’s clear that the authors wanted viewers to concentrate on this rather than on visual eye-candy: well, they have my attention, indeed…

My Rating:

33 thoughts on “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA REWATCH: Miniseries (2003) – #SciFiMonth

  1. This was such a compelling review! I am not a fan of sci-fi shows and usually I keep my distance from them (sure, sometimes there are exceptions, like Altered Carbon, but what drow me in was the eye-candy factor, even if I stayed for the plot, but I am shallow this way) so I don’t think I would ever watch this, but your review was interesting and reading it was a pleasure. And I am glad you enjoyed it more binge watching it. It seems like this time around was great for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I certainly did enjoy the series much more than on my first viewing, and the possibility of watching more episodes per session helped me better focus on the story and on the characters’ journey. And who knows, one of these days you might change your mind… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I binge watched the whole thing back when it came out on DVD and I remember getting them in the mail through some rental service. Ugh that was a long time ago! I’m not familiar with the mini series idea, but i think the show was brilliant😁

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Galactica offered a different point of view on the usual SF themes, particularly because it was so dark and at times very pessimistic: but I liked the characters’ flaws very much, so I can understand how many use this series as a comparison for well-crafted SF on TV 🙂

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  3. Stellar review as always, Maddalena! I’ve only heard of this franchise but always assumed that it was the lesser and weaker sibling of the Star Wars/Star Trek world hahah It’s really nice to hear that it has all the merits it needs to be respected for what it has to offer in terms of a dark space opera. Thanks for sharing this one with us! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Despite some “hiccups” (and they were very personal nitpicks) I can assure you that BSG is all but “lesser and weaker”, and may agree that it set a new standard for televised SF, both in terms of narrative and visuals. I hope you manage to give it a peek one of these days… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh man, this brings back memories. I watched each season on dvd as our library got them. So about a week a season once they came in? I enjoyed the franchise enough that I watched that Blood and Steel (I think it was called?) that was supposed to be a prequel series. I think it lasted only 1 short season?

    I do wonder if the end of the series killed any chance of spinoffs. A lot of people, myself included, weren’t happy with that copout.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ending indeed left something of a sour aftertaste, and it felt like the proverbial mountain giving birth to the equally proverbial mouse. Still, the journey was a good one, and I’m glad of that.
      I tried to watch another prequel, I think it was named “Caprica” but could not stomach more than a few episodes, and I believe things are better left as they are, although I recently heard rumors of a reboot for the main series, and my “worry alert” started sounding… 😉

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  5. I really enjoyed the first season of BG, it was mind-bending, action-packed, and had a great cast of characters; but I must say that the subsequent seasons were a mixed bag for me and I didn’t watch all the episodes 😉
    Loved the central idea, though, and many of the characters – but I didn’t much care about the religious awakening (season 3, I think?) or the prison stuff – and most of all, I wasn’t sold on the Daniken-like ending!

    Still, I think it might merit a rewatch one day soon – thanks for sharing, Maddalena!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re more than welcome!
      And yes, the first two seasons were quite good, but the third started to falter a little and the fourth one was narratively uneven – and I was not so happy with the ending. But I must also say that the rewatch went much better than the first viewing, so there’s that to look forward to for you… 🙂

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  6. I loved this show – it started so strong it kept me with it throughout its meanderings and variations. When we rewatched a couple of years ago, I actually found it better start to finish than I remembered – but I do think it’s one of those shows that suffers from the American obsession with half-year seasons. Some of it feels like padding rather than world-building; some of it feels like pointless complications to give characters something to do… buuuuut there’s enough core drama too carry it and it still gets me to love the characters so much I don’t really mind. I didn’t actually mind the ending either, which helps 😉

    …the biggest surprise of my rewatch was HOW MUCH Lee bloody Adama pissed me off. SO MUCH. YE GODS LEE.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL LOL
      I deeply disliked Lee/Apollo in my first viewing and still deeply disliked him during the rewatch, and the whole triangle/quandrangle with Starbuck and assorted spouses was intolerable and, as you so aptly labeled it, just padding and totally uninteresting. Still, minor annoyances aside, the rewatch went much better than the first passage, and I could appreciate the story and many of the characterizations – Adama senior and Roslin firmly set at the top of the chart… 🙂

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  7. I watched this as it aired on TV and absolutely loved it, at least at the beginning. At first I was sceptical because I grew up with the original movie (saw in the theater) and series’ and this version drastically changed some of the character roles. But I found my unease quickly faded as I got into the story. At some point, though, as the seasons rolled on, I lost track of it and stopped watching. Eventually I tried to start watching again but was thoroughly confused, things had changed drastically, especially with Starbuck. But I kept watching till the end. Can’t say I enjoyed the final season nearly as much as the earlier ones, but overall I did enjoy the series and think they did a great job reimagining the show. As much as I loved the originals as a kid, this remake was a much better series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The original – which I barely remember because I saw it maybe once and in fits and starts – was campy and sometimes childish, while this reboot started with a very serious, very dramatic tone and kept it for most of its run. I can sympathize with the feeling of confusion you expressed because I noticed, this time around, that the ability to watch more than one episode at a time allowed me to better grasp the various narrative arcs, and I agree on the disappointment with the last season that seemed to somehow lose its way, although I discovered now that at the time the season was cut in half because of the writers’ strike, which might account for that perceived meandering…

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  8. This is one of those series that I really missed the boat on. I never seen the original OR the remake! I’ve always meant to go and watch the remake because I’ve heard so many great things and it seemed to inspire QUITE the fandom….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved this when it came out. Me and some friends would get together every week and have pizza and beer and watch the show. I never fully decided if I liked the ending but it made me pause amd think.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great review! I watched the show when it first aired and I’ve rewatched some episodes on DVD. I still enjoy this miniseries and the first season the best. I didn’t care for the religious stuff or ending and I can’t stomach rewatching the fourth season because of Lee/Starbuck and their spouses quadrangle. I think I was also growing tired of the relentless darkness by third season.

    For me, this show was very uneven storywise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Uneven is indeed the right word: I’ve often maintained that while the Cylons were said to have plan 😉 the authors here did not seem to have a definite one… And don’t get me started on the quadrangle between Starbuck, Apollo and the rest: it was far too contrived to be believable for me!

      Liked by 1 person

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