This is the poster I remember so well because it was also the cover of the novelization.

This is the poster I remember so well because it was also the cover of the novelization.

Revisiting Childhood Movies Part VII

Battlestar Galactica

  • Director:  Richard Colla
  • Writer:  Glen A. Larson
  • Producer:  John Dykstra  /  Glen A. Larson
  • Stars:  Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, Lorne Greene, Maren Jensen, Herbert Jefferson Jr, John Colicos
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Award Nominations:  none from groups I track
  • Length:  125 min
  • Genre:  Sci-Fi
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Release Date:  18 May 1979
  • Box Office Gross:  unknown
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #47  (year)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Original Score
  • Nighthawk Notable:  Best Guilty Pleasure
  • First Watched:  on television
  • Number of Times Watched as a Kid:  20+

As a Kid:  Oh good lord, I devoured this as a kid.  So, since this is nothing better than a warmed up version of Star Wars, then what was the appeal?  And why would I be going back to it?  And by going back to it, I don’t mean that I rewatched the film.  I mean I took Veronica through all 24 episodes of the series.  Because, even as a kid, I recognized two advantages that this had over Star Wars.  Well, three, really, but by the time I was really gorging on it the third was partially irrelevant.

The first was that there was a whole lot more of Battlestar Galactica than of Star Wars.  Even taking out the commercials, there was over 19 hours of Battlestar to the seven of Star Wars that was around back then.  I could watch the whole Star Wars trilogy in a single day.  But Battlestar took a while to get through.  The third one, the partially irrelevant one, was that Star Wars was in theaters while Battlestar was on television.  Of course, by the time I was really immersing myself and taping every episode off the reruns on KCOP, channel 13 in LA, I already had the Star Wars trilogy on video, so that wasn’t as relevant, obviously.  But Battlestar was on every afternoon and I could fall into a new episode for several weeks.  (This brings up something odd – everyone always talks about that magic number of 100 episodes necessary for syndication.  Well, Battlestar was definitely syndicated in spite of only having 24 episodes (or 17, if you count the multi-part episodes as one each).)

Then there is the other advantage.  Star Wars has Carrie Fisher, deliberately de-sexified.  Empire had a lovely Carrie Fisher who was the first serious crush for an entire generation (including me).  Jedi had Carrie Fisher in the ridiculous slave outfit that has become a fetishized concept for a whole generation (but not for me).  Yet, it’s all Carrie Fisher.  Not so for Battlestar.  Like blondes?  There was Laurette Spang.  Prefer brunettes?  There was Jane Seymour in the first five episodes, with Anne Lockhart showing up halfway through the series.  Prefer someone with a darker shade of brown, bordering on raven?  Then Maren Jensen is maybe to your taste.  And those were just the primary female roles – the ones that actually got their names in the opening credits.  There were plenty of guest stars as well.  Carrie Fisher was my first celebrity crush.  But my most serious childhood crushes (aside from Debra Winger and Shirley Jones) were, in order, Anne Lockhart, Maren Jensen, Jane Seymour, and to a lesser extent, Laurette Spang.  There was a lot more sex appeal in Galactica, and that was a big part of the show’s appeal, and let’s face it, is still part of the appeal.  In one of the scenes from the pilot (which was cut from the theatrical version), Jensen is in a sheer body stocking while talking to Starbuck.  And she was a bridge officer.  Spang played Cassiopeia, who was a “solicitor” in the pilot (essentially a prostitute).  And they weren’t just in the show to be eye candy –  Lockhart was a Viper pilot who might easily blow you out of the sky (long before you saw any female pilots in Star Wars).

gallactica4

Clockwise, from the top, Anne Lockhart (who wasn’t in the film, only the second half of the season), Laurette Spang, Maren Jensen and Jane Seymour.

Watching Galactica, even as a kid, I probably knew I wasn’t watching anything great.  Many of the special effects seemed awfully similar to Star Wars (because they were similar to Star Wars – John Dykstra, the producer of the show, had been a primary visual effects designer on Star Wars).  The Cylons were neat and the creatures were interesting, but didn’t seem all that new after Star Wars.  The story was interesting and kept moving (Roddenberry may have thought of Star Trek as Wagon Train to the stars, but this was a much more literal rendition of that concept).  But the key appeal to the show was that it was on television, so you could watch it at home, there was a lot more of it to watch than Star Wars, and there were a whole lot girls for a young boy to fall head over heels for (like Alvy Singer, who appeared in theaters the same year as Star Wars, I had no latency period – thus my crush on Elaine Ermides in kindergarten and my enduring crush on the women of Galactica, which had a strange irony, for even as I was watching Anne Lockhart in syndication, she was appearing in commercials for a local Southern California grocery chain, a decade older).

As an Adult:  Oh, look there’s the same shot again.  There’s the bridge officer saying the same line again.  There’s the same explosion.  It’s not so bad if you’re just watching the film (or pilot) and not the whole series, but there’s a whole lot of repetition.  That’s because, of course, if you’re an adult, it’s easy to see all the flaws in Battlestar Gallactica, and there are a whole lot of flaws in Battlestar Galactica.  There are gaping plot holes in almost every episode (Who are this new group of people?  Why are they being left behind because won’t the Cylons just destroy them?).  It has a lot of what I call lazy writing – writing that ignores specific character traits in order to just push the plot forward.  And it can just drop subplots at the drop of that hat.

Then there are the blatant similarities to Star Wars.  I’m not just talking about the very concept of a space fantasy adventure film.  I’m not just talking about the visual effects (though, they are pretty solid for a television show at this time – you should see what Doctor Who was still doing at this time).  I’m not even talking about the finale, where Apollo and Starbuck pilot their two vipers against a base star, which looks, in its overall shape, like the Death Star.  How about the very casting concept?  Star Wars threw three mostly unknown actors on screen with two established British actors.  For the two male roles, Galactica went with mostly unknown Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict, but supported them with an older established actor to guide them and another character actor to play the villain role (who may have seemed British, but was actually Canadian).  But, let’s face it.  Richard Hatch is not Harrison Ford, Lorne Greene is not Alec Guinness and John Colicos is not Peter Cushing.  If you’re going to do the same casting concept, it’s going to be a problem when you pale in comparison on every level.

But, all of that being said, it is by no means a bad film.  None of those are bad actors – they are quite serviceable in their roles.  The visual effects, as I said, are fairly good, not just for television at the time, but even for a motion picture at the time.  The film was released in the same year as the first Star Trek film and this film doesn’t take forever to get anywhere and get bogged down in its plot.  And there is one thing that I have not yet mentioned at all – the magnificent score.  One of the great things that you could look forward to each week on Battlestar was the magnificent opening, complete with clips from the movie / pilot, all of it set that stirring score.  The story would eventually live on in a reincarnation.  The effects had been ripped off from Star Wars.  The cast was a mix of old television stalwarts (Greene) and ones who would go on to more success in the medium (Benedict, Seymour).  But that magnificent score, well that was the real enduring triumph of Battlestar Galactica.

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