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Battlestar Galactica: The Definitive Collection (Blu-ray Review)

10 Jun, 2015 By: John Latchem

Definitive Collection — $149.98 18-BD set
Remastered Collection — $119.98 8-BD set
Not rated.
Stars Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict, John Colicos, Herb Jefferson Jr., Laurette Spang, Terry Carter, Anne Lockhart, Kent McCord, Barry Van Dyke, Robyn Douglass, James Patrick Stuart.

That the original Star Wars had a long-lasting impact on cinema history is generally considered an uncontested fact. Even in the short period after its release in 1977, the film was such a phenomenon that it inspired a wave of sci-fi thrillers looking to cash in.

Sci-fi on television had been relatively well established by the mid 1970s, with shows such as “Star Trek,” “Lost in Space,” “Space: 1999” and others offering varying degrees of quality.

In 1978, “Battlestar Galactica” represented an attempt to bring a high-quality “Star Wars”-style space opera to the small screen, centering on a technologically advanced human civilization in another corner of the universe fighting a never-ending war with a robotic race called the Cylons. After the Cylons wipe out most of humanity in a devastating attack, the survivors set out in a small fleet of ships, led by the warship Galactica, in search of a long-lost human colony known as Earth.

The show featured a diverse cast of characters, with the primary focus on fighter pilots Starbuck and Apollo (Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch), and the fleet’s leader, the fatherly and wise Commander Adama (Lorne Greene). It was a fun show that reveled in its premise to deliver action and excitement while taking itself just seriously enough to keep audiences invested.

A young Jane Seymour even appears in the first few episodes — quite a casting coup to land a former Bond Girl as a love interest for one of the main characters. Then again, “Battlestar Galactica” didn’t have much trouble landing major guest stars. Other episodes showcased the likes of Fred Astaire, Patrick Macnee, Ray Milland and Ray Bolger (40 years after playing Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz).

The show became well known for its array of invented curse words and fictional terms for everyday items, and its religious overtones (creator Glen Larson was a devout Mormon). But it was also derided for an excessive use of stock footage and its inescapable similarity to the look and feel of Star Wars, which led to several copyright infringement lawsuits that were eventually settled.

The biggest drawback of the show was that, for all its high production values, it never shook the feeling that its writers didn’t have a solid grasp on the show’s mythology beyond a loosely sketched out backstory. The show was reportedly rushed into production after the success of the feature-length pilot episode, rather than sticking to the original plan of a series of TV movies spread out over a reasonable amount of time. Without time to properly develop the show, many of the early episodes resort to curbing plots of movies such as The Guns of Navarone, The Towering Inferno and The Magnificent Seven by giving them an outer space twist.

The most famous example of this involved scenery-chewing guest star Lloyd Bridges as a brash space commander in an intergalactic version of Patton, which turned into some of the show’s most popular episodes.

Eventually the show started to find its rhythm, but despite ratings success it was too expensive to produce and was subsequently canceled after one season — just 24 episodes.

Not blind to the popularity of the show, the network tried to retool the premise to make it cheaper to produce, resulting in the infamous “Galactica 1980,” which is one of the worst television series ever produced, rivaling the Star Wars Holiday Special in terms of notoriety for ill-advised TV projects (though equally worthy of a good hate-watch).

Still on the run from the Cylons, the Galactica finally finds Earth after 30 years of searching. Lorne Greene returned, but most of the cast was replaced by off-brand versions of the original. Their goal became trying to help advance Earth’s technology to be used to fight the Cylons, which in the first episode involved a misguided crew member stealing a time machine to give advanced technology to the Nazis.

This set up what would have been a weekly time travel show exploring different periods of human history, but the subsequent series abandoned this idea in favor of an ultra-cheesy (and much more cost-conscious) storyline involving the children of Galactica hiding out on Earth and discovering they have superpowers while encountering some sort of meaningful issue of the week (apparently to give the show some educational value).

Played as seriously as it was, the show pushed forward with an anything-goes wistfulness that would have made Ed Wood proud. The crown jewel of absurdity has to be the episode in which the Cylons crash on Earth, then invade a Halloween party to kidnap Wolfman Jack so they can use his radio station to contact their mothership (imagine sitting in the writers room that had to develop THAT storyline).

Fans of the original show rejected this update, which mercifully ended after just 10 episodes. About the only aspect of the show that could be considered “redeeming” was the finale, a flashback episode that focused on the fate of Starbuck.

Both shows are available on Blu-ray as part of the Battlestar Galactica: Remastered Collection in a cropped widescreen version optimized for 16:9 TVs. In addition, both are part of the bigger Definitive Collection boxed set that also includes both shows in their original 4:3 television ratio (which purists will insist on) and the slightly altered movie version of the original series pilot that was released to theaters to try to recoup some of the production costs.
The quality of the HD image is a mixed bag, owing more to the source material and how the visual effects were produced. For the scenes that actually involve people, most of the footage is as sharp as any film from the era would be. The process shots exhibit varying levels of grain depending on how complex they are, and some of the backgrounds that used rear-projection techniques are characteristically soft. For the most part, though, the show holds up very well visually. There are also reports of missing footage on at least one disc, prompting a disc replacement offer from Universal Studios.

The set doesn’t offer any new bonus materials, but carries over all the extras from the earlier DVDs.

Aficionados of TV history will recognize in both shows the DNA for later series from the same creative team, such as “Knight Rider” and “Quantum Leap.” Of course, the premise of the original series was remade with a darker tone in a heavily serialized Sci-Fi Channel drama that ran from 2003 to 2009.

About the Author: John Latchem

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