As a 12-year-old boy back in 1979 (okay, so I gave my
age away there!) I lived in a place called Richards Bay. While Richards Bay
has the distinction of being the deepest harbour in the Southern hemisphere, it isnt
much known for anything else. For one thing, it was (and probably still is) lacking in the
entertainment department. The nearest cinema was a drive-in near a town called Empangeni -
it was 29 kilometres away! Needless to say, I didnt see too many movies back then.
Those I did see back then, I remember with great (perhaps undeserved fondness). There is
about a handful of them - of which I remember Mad Max, Star Trek - The Motion Picture and Battlestar
Galactica the best.
You see, a few years before that I saw Star Wars and like
many others of my generation I was instantly hooked on science fiction. So when I saw the
abovementioned movies I was instantly hooked. In the case of Battlestar Galactica,
which was several episodes from the television series spliced together and blown to 35mm
celluloid, I was instantly hooked on the television series that was finally shown on South
African national television the next year. Every Monday evening at seven oclock I
was simply glued to the television set and unless my memory serves me right I saw every
single episode of the entire series.
Sure, it was a Star Wars rip-off. After all,
even the special effects were done by John Dykstra - the (then) young special effects wiz
responsible for the magic of Star Wars! And it is doubtful whether it would ever
have been made if it wasnt for the then sci-fi craze kick started by the financial
success of Star Wars. But I simply didnt care because it had everything a
12-year-old would want from movies: lots of derring-do, spectacular pyrotechnics, robots,
huge space ships and dog fights in outer space. It was fantastic! It even had a very
whistle-along theme song composed by Stu Philips. What more could one want?
However, when I started the Sci-Fi Movie Page about a year and
a half ago I was lambasted by some Battlestar Galactica fans for giving the film a mere
two-star rating. Outrage, they said. Which was probably true - especially if one considers
how much I enjoyed the film as a child. One of the fans said that I should see the movie
again and that Ill probably change my mind then - but that was unfortunately the
problem. I had seen the movie only a short while before then. In fact, it was one
of the first movies I rented when I basically "inherited" a hand-me down TV and
VCR. Battlestar Galactica didnt change - but I did.
So what did the film look like almost 20 years later? A darker version of Star Wars
- and I dont mean just the lighting (which is pretty dark for starters). The story
is pretty dark for one: twelve colony planets of humans are wiped out by a race by
misanthropic robots called the Cylons at the beginning of the movie. During peace
negotiations they attack and destroy a fleet of battlestars, or rather huge
spaceships which were the colonies only line of defence. Needless to say the humans
were betrayed by an ambitious politician in their own midst. A handful of survivors, led
by a single battlestar (the one of the title) set off to the stars to find a
mythical planet of fellow humans called . . . Earth. Along the way they dont just
have to cope with the Cylons trying to wipe them out (they really dont like
people - although it is never explained why exactly), but with limited resources, hunger,
starvation, poverty and corrupt politicians amongst them . . .
But it isnt only the storyline that is dark.
Although there are lot of pyrotechnics with spaceships exploding spectacularly, the
films sets are very austere, sort of like a grungy version of Star Wars. While all
of this doesnt sound too bad, the fact remains that the film simply werent
that impressive all those years later.
The plot is as old as it gets and merely serves to
get a group of people aimlessly lost in space - much like Space 1999 back then and Star
Trek - Voyager today. (Incidentally, George Lucas took the producers of Battlestar
Galactica to court. He lost the case. Besides, Star Wars stole from anything
from Akira Kurosawas Hidden Fortress to Disneys Snow White,
countless Westerns, Marvel comics and The Dam Busters, so to sue a film for
stealing from it is a severe case of chutzpah.) Also, Battlestar Galactica has
dated badly. The effects arent too bad but they get repetitious after a while. The
dialogue gets hammy at times. The acting isnt too hot either and then therere
those terribly 1970s hairstyles. Some scenes (especially with the little boy and his robot
dog) are pure TV mush . . .
So whats the point of this article? Nostalgia is a thing of the past as they say.
But when youre broke its worthwhile tripping on. If youre 12 years old
and havent seen Battlestar Galactica then do so. If youre a parent
and your kids are in that age bracket, then rent them the movie. Just dont watch it
with them - itll probably just spoil your own good memories of the film . . .
James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page