Review - Battlestar Galactica 2003
That having been said, I would like to take a moment to discuss "Battlestar Galactica 2003" with you. In addition to theatre, I have several other passions: golf, science fiction and fantasy literature, and science fiction and fantasy movies and TV. I have fond memories of sitting down on a Sunday evening in my youth and watching reruns of "Star Trek," "Mission: Impossible" and "Space: 1999." Reading Robert Heinlein and Ursula K. LeGuin as a young boy set me along the path toward a lifetime love of this genre. In fact, life had no meaning for me until at the tender age of 12 I saw "Star Wars." Suddenly everything in the universe became crystal clear as if I were instantly struck by an enlightened epiphany.
So, I'm rather dismayed over the incredibly emotionally charged flamethrowing going on over at the Battlestar Galactica fansites. Apparently, nobody liked the new "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries. Common complaints are that they trashed the original storyline, they ruined the character of Starbuck by changing the character's gender, they ruined Col. Tigh by making him a dislikable drunk, they ruined the colonial government by putting a Hilary Clinton-like woman in charge, they ruined Lt. Boomer by not only changing the character's gender, but her race and even her species!
Personally, I liked the miniseries. Frankly, I liked it a lot. I also liked the original series. I liked it a lot, too. Does that mean there is something wrong with me? According to the flamethrowers, there is. But rather than addressing these flames emotionally, I'd like to address them civilly in a more intellectual manner.
There are several ways to go about discussing these apparent problems with the miniseries. So, I'll try to sort out my concerns one at a time. First, I have no concerns about the quality of the broadcast itself. In every way, this "Battlestar Galactica" is the equal of any updated version of the "Star Trek" franchise and any of the new(er) sci-fi series on TV today including "Stargate: SG1," "Babylon 5" or "Farscape." Production qualities are very high. The main crticism seems to be that the civilization depicted was not as advanced as we remember it being in the original series. It's not. The level of advancement of the civilization in the original series was not in keeping with a race of human beings who had been at war with a vicious mechanical enemy for 1000 years! The original series civilization was too far advanced. I think the miniseries was not only justified, but absolutely right in curbing the technological advancement of the society in this miniseries. Bullets, missiles, and thermonuclear devices are all in keeping with a society that has stagnated because of centuries of war. Indeed, if we continue to fight terrorists much longer, we might just find ourselves defending the homeland with catapults and bows and arrows if necessary. Consider the weapons that the Afghans were using compared to the weapons we were using in that conflict in 2001. Why should an advanced spacefaring civilization escape the truth of supply-side economics in their conflict?
The necessity of making the Galactica a retro ship was established very early on. The main subplot of the miniseries hinges on the apparent backward focus of the Galactica and the military. The Cylons are a "collective" machine intelligence. They are networked with each other. They operate from a hive mentality. It is easy for them to disrupt a hive mentality and crush autonomous units that do not know how to operate as autonomous units. The Colonials resisted networking for the sake of knowing how to operate autonomously and be able to disrupt the Cylon network in order to defeat it. I think the writers, directors and producers made an excellent choice. We know so much more about the dangers of a networked system today than we ever did 25 years ago when the original series aired.
Second, gender, race and species changing seems to have tainted the characters. I disagree with that charge on the basis of gender changing. While the roles of Athena and Lt. Sheba were groundbreaking women's roles in 1978, the role of Casseiopia was a major setback. I wholeheartedly applaud the producers for making Starbuck and Boomer women. However, I would have liked Starbuck to have been a little more sympathetic and Boomer to have been a little less weepy. In general, I thought that making them women added a new dimension to the whole series. How shocked are they going to be when they finally reach Earth and find that although women serve in our military, they are not valued combat personnel. If the Cylons follow the rag-tag fleet to Earth, they'll need to train every able-bodied person on Earth to defend the planet, including the women.
However, I must agree with the flamethrowers who panned the miniseries for changing Boomer's race. Why couldn't Boomer have been a strong black woman instead of a weepy Korean woman? Don't we have enough weepy Asian women on TV what with Lt. Sato on "Enterprise?" Why couldn't Boomer have at least been more like Lucy Liu? Indeed the miniseries gave African-American actors incredibly short shrift. The only black ship commander was the captain of the botanical cruise ship, and they left him and his ship behind when they jumped to Rangar because it didn't have FTL engines.
I also felt cheated that Boomer turned out to be a Cylon sleeper agent. I was at least able to muster enough dislike for the other three models of humanoid Cylons. It will be difficult to see Boomer turn if the miniseries indeed spawns an actual Sci-Fi Channel series. So, I disagree with the gender change flames, but agree with the race and species change flames.
As for all the other criticisms, I think the flamethrowers are suffering from a case of fallen idol syndrome. The original series painted the human survivors as clear-cut good-guys. They were victims of the Cylons and of one rogue human seeking to exact his personal revenge on them. That played very well in 1978. But 2003 is a post-post-modernist world, post-cold war world, a post 9/11 world. There are not clear-cut good-guys and bad-guys. Our current international turmoil should be evidence of that fact. The current incarnation of Colonials are not victims, but are the very genesis of their own demise. One of the taglines for the miniseries is "Do not create anything you cannot control." Ultimately, the Biblical axiom "you reap what you sow" is the main underlying theme of this miniseries.
I enjoyed the miniseries. Probably because unlike a lot of the flamethrowers online I have not spent the last 25 years watching reruns of the episodes, seeing the cinematic releases and reading Richard Hatch's novels. In fact, I have not seen an original "Battlestar Galactica" episode since 1979. I found the miniseries refreshingly truthful. Unlike the original series which elevated the characters to mythical status, the miniseries treats them like truthful humans. Twenty-first century Earth humans are not worthy of being the brethren of 1978's "Battlestar Galactica" Colonials. They would be like gods to us. They are that perfect and honorable. However, the Colonials of 2003 are much more like us. We would trust them more and would find true brotherhood with them, despite the fact that every paradigm of our existence would be turned on its ear by their arrival.
I believe that science fiction and fantasy are at their best when they are about something other than the science that motivates the plot of the story. This is why the original "Star Trek" resonates. It is not about a future spacefaring race of humans. It is about the Cold War. This "Battlestar Galactica" is about us. Now. In this time. These Colonials won the war with the Cylons, but never improved their race as a result of it. We won World War II, but never improved our race. World War II veterans would be justified in saying, "We won the war for what? For Korea? For Vietnam? For 9/11? For Iraq? We won nothing." This "Battlestar Galactica" critiques our values, our society, our beliefs, our fears.
I believe that the flamethrowers on the boards suffer from "purism." They are "purists." They don't like seeing what they have come to know and love changed in any way. They are like the Shakespearean purists who believe that Shakespeare's plays should be performed just as they were in Queen Elizabeth's day. Hogwash! A "purist" performance of Shakespeare would be booed off the stage as hopelessly stiff and amateurish. Shakespeare performed in Shakespeare's day didn't even play in the Restoration when women were finally able to take their rightful place on the stage.
"Purism" will be the leading cause of the heat death of the artistic universe. "Purist" attitudes lead to artistic torpor. These "purists" are in the same class as lazy business executives who say "We've never done it that way," or "We've always done it this way." Both six word phrases are the bane of business. "Purism" is the bane of art. Art should be ever forward looking and ever present critiquing as well as aesthetically pleasing.
The ancient Greeks would attend weeklong festivals of plays. Every play was based on stories they already knew: the myths of their religion. The challenge to the playwrights to be the most inventive in their storytelling. The stories were always somewhat changed. This was encouraged and applauded. I think if we were to encourage and applaud this in our society, we would have a richer and more robust art. This "Battlestar Galactica" speaks to the time in which I live today, not the time in which I lived as a pre-pubescent teen 25 years ago.
In short, the flamethrowers on the message boards are upset because their idols have been knocked down. The characters are less noble and too human for them. The series also questions some of their very own pastimes, particularly the Internet. The Internet is subtly branded as a villainous entity through Adama's vehement resistance to networked computers on board his ship. Their resistance to women playing men's roles reveals their own latent sexist attitudes. In short, it hits too close to home.
By my estimation, the new "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries is well-written, well-acted and incredibly truthful on so many levels including the social, religious and political. As for the flamethrowers, come into the 21st century and watch it again from a more enlightened, less emotional and un-threatened perspective. I believe that you will come away from it with more insight and understanding if you put down your preconceived notions of how you think it should be and approach it as an autonomous work of art based on your beloved "Galactica" TV series.