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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Battlestar Galactica (***) by Ronald D. Moore and Christopher Eric James (a pseudonym of Glen A. Larson), based on a teleplay by Glen A. Larson
Battlestar Galactica Ronald D. Moore took the assignment of writing a new Battlestar Galactica seriously, maybe too seriously. What he produced is in the subgenre of military science fiction, which means we get a lot of "Captain on the bridge!" and "Permission to speak freely, sir!" Someone in the military please tell me, does anyone ever really say, "Permission to speak freely, sir!"

The good points are excellent acting, movie quality directing (long tracking shots, a few too many 360 degree rotations to show us that the sets aren't just backdrops), first rate special effects. The down side is too much seriousness and not enough high adventure.

The people who hate the new Battlestar Galactica are the people who loved the old, not wisely but too well. There is nothing to hate here, and the old Battlestar Galactica was crap. Handsomely mounted crap, but still crap. I can say that because I have watched every episode of the original series with a fanaticism bordering on devotion and the pain of unrequited love. The music was wonderful, the special effects state-of-the-art, and the scripts smugly ignorant of both human nature and science.

The music in the new Battlestar Galactica is a good example of where it goes wrong. We get just a few strains of that lush, romantic theme, and then snare drums all day long. Music evokes strong emotions. The subtle use of the original Star Trek music in one episode of Voyager helped that episode to stand out in my memory. The few bars of the Superman theme helped make last season's Smallville episode "Calling" great. But Battlestar Galactica cries out for more than a mere hint of the Battlestar Galactica theme music. Granted that this is a grim, downbeat story, we at least need the uplifting music over the closing credits, if only to give us hope for the future.

In addition to the very brief use of the original music, there are several other references to the original. We catch a glimpse of some of the original spaceship models in a space museum. In addition to the humanoid Cylons, there are also red-eyed robots as in the original. And the last line of the script is a three-word quote from the original series.

Several people on-line have said that they can't tell if this is a sequel or a remake. It is a revision -- a reasonably intelligent and serious reuse of what was good in the original, replacing the cardboard characters with realistic characters and the deeply dumb science with a better understanding of the nature of physical law. Ron Moore is not afraid to use words like "algorithm" and "inertia." In my day job, I teach college, so I know that many college students don't have either of those words in their vocabulary. It takes a certain amount of courage to use a good vocabulary these days.

Big dumb moment: when they can't tell who aboard the Galactica is a Cylon spy. It is already established that Psysohex gas (whatever) kills Cylons and is harmless to humans. All they need to do is flood the Galactica with gas to never be bothered by Cylon spies again. This is a plot hole that needs to be addressed if the TV movie turns into a series.

The special effects are more interesting than exciting. The space battles in the original Star Trek were based on Gene Roddenberry's experience in World War II. The space battles in Star Wars (which the original Battlestar copied slavishly) were based on jet combat in the Korean War. The space battles in the new Battlestar are based on Gulf War I. Things happen very fast, on a big canvas. Missiles leave tracer trails. Spaceships are pinpoints flaring into nothingness. Nukes replace lasers. War we can watch from our living rooms turns out to be less exciting than war in our imagination. Battlestar reflects this, and it follows the current trend toward anti-war war movies. I respect what Ron Moore has done, but I would have liked a little more fun.

Copyright © 2003 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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