Friday, October 3, 2008

Review - Battlestar Galactica: "33"

Battlestar Galactica: "33"
2005 Hugo Winner for Best Short Form Dramatic Presentation

After Battlestar Galactica the only television series left that has won the Hugo award is Doctor Who. Between the two of them they represent the two different directions that high concept television shows go these days. Doctor Who is the whimsical one (usually) but I'll cover that in a few weeks and represents shows like Pushing Daisies. Battlestar Galactica is the brooding side of things representing shows like Lost.

I have a confession to make here: I no longer watch Galactica. There was a period of about six months where I was unable to watch the show and the continuity is so tight between episodes that I decided it would be better to just wait it out and get the DVD sets when the series was over. I am the media creator's worst nightmare: a patient man.

Battlestar Galactica is about the last human survivors of a devastating attack by their sentient robotic creations. The few space craft that were away from the planetary colonies have managed to come together for defense with the only remaining warship, the Galactica. It only survived because it was to be decommissioned the day the attack occurred. Together they are journeying toward humanity's lost home world, the Earth.

The show debuted with a miniseries that established the situation. "33" was the first episode of the regular series and it debuted with a bang. Every thirty-three minutes the robotic enemies manage to locate the fleet and attack causing the refugees to flee by a hyperspace jump again. This situation has been going on for five days straight and everyone is strained to the breaking point. A possible cause of these constantly reoccurring attacks comes to light and the characters have deal with sacrificing a significant portion of the few remaining free humans to keep the rest safe.

I couldn't imagine a more perfect pilot. First, it clearly establishes the themes of the series. Our heroes are terminally outgunned and the only option for them is running as fast as they can. The military is segregated from the civilians in a way that will naturally cause conflict. And it also clearly establishes that multiple major characters are sleeper agents for the enemy. If you aren't interested in seeing what happens next after watching this episode then I have to say that you probably aren't interested in science fiction on television in general.

The usual flaw for any high concept television (not just SF) was that the show's creators usually have to settle for less than stellar actors. That has changed as serial drama has become a popular entertainment choice and Battlestar Galactica has a superb cast. None of them grate on me and several, such as the bridge crew of Galactica, stand out.

The visual style of the show needs to be mentioned. The technique of shooting everything, including most of the special effects shots, as though they were being done by a hand held camcorder can be distracting initially. I got past it quickly but I personally found it to be more gimmicky than dramatic. People with large televisions and a tendency for motion sickness might have a rough time.

SF has finally come into its own on television in these past five or six years and Battlestar Galactica is at the heart of that. The original television series is a good example of what was wrong with SF shows before; the new is a good example of everything that is right. While I can't say much about what follows the first half of season two I can say that the first season is well worth watching.