Sunday, January 9, 2011

Battlestar Galactica (1978) & Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)


          Writer-producer Glen A. Larson started developing the TV series that became Battlestar Galactica in the late ’60s, but didn’t get a green light until the success of Star Wars (1977) made space opera fashionable. To help recoup expenses, Universal assembled early episodes into a theatrical feature, and the movie is more than enough vintage Galactica for anyone but a hardcore fan. (Devotees of the 2003-2009 Galactica reboot will find none of that series’ provocative psychodrama in the straightforward original.) A pleasant overdose of genre tropes, the 125-minute Galactica feature is filled with wooden actors playing stock characters amidst gaudy production design and Star Wars-lite battle scenes.
          The story follows military commander Adama (Lorne Greene) as he leads a group of spaceships in flight from their devastated home worlds after a sneak attack by the lizard-like Cylons. The various human characters struggle with food shortages, wartime trauma, and a host of other melodramatic crises, all while wearing action-figure-ready costumes. Enlivened by an imaginative plot and the presence of polished guest stars including Ray Milland and Jane Seymour, Galactica moves along briskly, and some of the outer-space imagery is quite memorable, like the energetic scenes of heroes launching their “Viper” spaceships out of tubes housed inside the titular warship. As for the stars, Greene and leading man Richard Hatch are painfully earnest, so Dirk Benedict fares much better as a swaggering pilot in the Han Solo mode, while John Colicos, who plays the main human baddie, chews scenery like a termite let loose in a lumberyard, making his performance a guilty pleasure.
          The costly Galactica series was canceled after one season, but Larson took another stab at televised sci-fi with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, a retread of the old pulp/serial character. Buck Rogers received the feature treatment as well, but the Buck Rogers movie is as tiresome as the Galactica movie is diverting. Gil Gerard plays the title character, a modern-day spaceman who falls into suspended animation until the 25th century, when he joins futuristic earth denizens in a galactic battle against a psychotic space princess and her various minions. As the princess, Pamela Hensley is all kinds of sexy, but the movie is sunk by stupid touches like a campy dance sequence, horrible jokes, pervy costumes (must everything be skin-tight?), and a cutesy robot voiced by Mel Blanc. Whereas Battlestar aimed for the all-ages appeal of Star Wars by mixing grown-up themes with aliens and laser fights, Buck Rogers targets infantile viewers with comic-book-style silliness.

Battlestar Galactica: FUNKY
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: LAME

3 comments:

david_b said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david_b said...

Just discovered your site, what a MARVELOUS idea here, will return often.

Galactica... Big fan, but I criticize most geeks about it's merits. Regarding the original 'movie' in and of itself, a fair share of it's effects look terrible on the big screen, primarily due to the original intent. It was never meant as a motion picture release; Universal just wanted to recoup production costs past what ABC originally paid them by showing it in Europe and Canada, also to increase excitement post-Star Wars. The way the camera shots were composed (up close on faces, the 'galactica' logo on the side of the battlestar..), the bleachy starry backgrounds, the melodramatic scenes, all were made solely with the small-screen television viewer in mind.

Also, as most know, it was only meant as a short mini-series, never intended for weekly episodes. This spelled immediate production trouble for the show mid-season, struggling to get more episodes in the can, but I digress..

So why do folks waste money on buying it on Blu-Ray..? You got me. If you watch it as you would a television series entry (rather than a cinema movie..), it comes off much better. I will agree that Greene and Hatch come off the best here, delivering stirring heartfelt scenes, playing to their strengths. And the ships, action sequences are outstanding.

So yes, it's a mixed bag. As a series, it got much better by mid-season by introducing more depth and characters, moving away from the expensive concept of 'weekly-star-wars' episodes.

andrew delouise said...

i remember seeing Galactica in the theaters w/my older brother. they had some gimmick i believe called sensurround that made the chairs vibrate when the ships passed. that's the only time i saw the movie,would love to see it again as i was 6 or 7 when it came out. i remember watching the t.v. show too