Sunday, January 9, 2011

Battlestar Galactica (1979) & 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 costs (reportedly $1 million per episode), Universal assembled chunks of early episodes into a theatrical feature, which was exhibited internationally beginning a few months prior to the series’ small-screen debut, then released in the U.S. less than a month after the series was cancelled. The feature is more than enough vintage Galactica for anyone but a hardcore fan, and devotees of the 2003-2009 Galactica reboot will find none of that series’ provocative psychodrama or topicality in the straightforward original. A pleasant overdose of goofy 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 nasty aliens called Cylons. (The term “Cylon” refers to both robotic soldiers and their lizard-like overlords.) 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 a fairly 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, such as energetic scenes in which heroes launch 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. Although most of the scripting is clumsy and predictable, Battlestar Galactica never wants for spectacle.
          After Galactica was cancelled, Larson took another stab at televised sci-fi with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, a retread of the old pulp/serial character. This time, Universal released a feature version of the pilot episode in the U.S. several months before the series debuted, generating a minor box-office hit in the process. Alas, 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 gets derailed by dopey flourishes including 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 balancing cartoonish aliens and laser fights with grown-up sociopolitical themes (even if they were handled simplistically), Buck Rogers targets infantile viewers with incessant silliness. More than a few scenes make the viewer feel embarrassed for those responsible.

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


david_b said...
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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.

Unknown 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

Quasarmodo said...

I recently decided to watch old Buck Rogers shows on MeTV, so I decided to start with the source and rewatch the movie. Hadn't seen it since the theater, and didn't remember anything about it except when Twiki had a gun on Buck because he thought he was working for the enemy. First thing I noticed was that whacked out opening where Buck was making out with a ton of chicks on the title of the movie (assume it was going for a James Bond vibe). The story didn't make a whole lot of sense either. The Draconians were coming to help out earth with trade because earth was beset by pirates. But they weren't allowed to bring weapons, because it would violate the truce. So how exactly were they supposed to deal with the pirates without any weapons?

Of course the show is pretty terrible too.

Ystafell Gynghori said...

Loved both Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers. Made in the days before sci-fi become boring.