OPINION PIECE: Ambitions and Ambiguity of Battlestar Galactica 8


To say that Battlestar Galactica is the only show of its kind is not an exaggeration. As a sci-fi drama, it was an ambitious project by an ambitious team of people. When Glen A. Larson created the Battlestar Galactica Universe in 1978, it is quite possible that even he could have never imagined the influence his teeny-tiny one season science fiction show (at that time still with aliens and extra terrestrial life forms) would have, generation upon generation upon generation.

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Then, something remarkable happened. Into the mind of another television creator (Ronald D. Moore), Battlestar Galactica took on a life of its own. Cylons were no longer the only enemies human beings – for all intents and purposes perfectly flawed creatures that dwell within BSG’s Cylon-infested universe – had to face. Since 1978, the human beings in Battlestar Galactica got injected with some much needed personalities, desperately missing in the 1978 version. They had evolved so to speak. They were no longer just following orders and hoping for the best, NO! No longer was angst just written as a means to an end, a way to cause friction among characters alike. Humans, in Ronald D. Moore’s sci-fi drama reinvention of the original sci-fi series of Battlestar Galactica, had become perfectly able of being their own worst enemies.

If not their own enemies, how about throwing in some humanoid-looking Cylons to boot? That’s right, human beings weren’t the only creatures to have evolved since the 1970’s. Since the original series, where the first thought-out Cylon models were golden, axe yielding evil space-knights, Cylons got themselves a sort of skinjob (pun intended-). Eight of them – well, seven because Ronald D. Moore originally forgot one so the eight’ model was considered boxed – have infiltrated humanity and are passing along the info to their Cylon-copy brethren. Five other’s don’t even remember ever being a Cylon. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a tactic that has been used over and over again, throughout the centuries of warfare. dradis

Let exactly that point be one of the focal points of the entire series. A strangely, indiscriminate line that comes by every once in a while.

“All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”

One eerie doom-and-gloom sentence to describe an entire series. Over 100 episodes.

Every week, for almost five years, millions of cross-genre loving television watchers all over the world delved into a world of mythology, humanoid red-spine orgasmic Cylons, divinities and returning-from-the-death-until-now-no-one-is-sure-what-she-was-Starbuck, but they didn’t care about all that. They wanted it, and they wanted more of it. Every week – excluding breaks, hiatuses and writer strikes – Ronald D. Moore and his brilliant team of writers brought their fans into the darkest, the deepest complexity of human emotions and capabilities, where people could be shot out of an airlock for being forty seconds late, and he made them think about what it was they were actually watching. It made them think about the way they would react, faced with crises like having their (our-) entire planet and everything they ever knew and loved being wiped away.

Battlestar-Galactica-003At some points along the story, Battlestar Galactica took a lot of creative liberties in getting their points across. It’s highly unlikely that a set of music notes will end up being the salvation to all that is Human and Cylon, but that doesn’t matter.

“All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” Made people think about the world around them, about their own mortality and per extension their own responsibilities to the people and planet around them.

People were swept away from the very beginning, and it didn’t even start with the brilliant series first episode “33”. It started with the Battlestar Galactica miniseries, later also dubbed the series prolonged pilot episode. Fans wanted more, so Sci-Fi (later SyFy) gave them more Moore. When the pilot was aired, it became quickly apparent that Battlestar Galactica wasn’t your ordinary Science Fiction show. It was a show with the ambition to give viewers an experience no other show had ever given them. Battlestar Galactica was a show with the ambition of giving people a start-to-finish feeling of going to the movies, because that’s what it is. 100+ hours of cinematic quality on a small screen. Whether you are for or against the Battlestar Galactica Universe, it’s undeniable that the quality of visual effects is unlike anything ever seen on a 40-60 minute weekly show. The show runners gave their fans movie quality on a TV budget, which is remarkable. Were there things that could have been better, sure. But when is this not the case? Hollywood movies with over 40 times Battlestar Galactica’s editing time- and budget have those same flaws and even more so, have been known to “borrow” BSG-effects for their own movies.

battlestar_galactica_wallpaper_3-HDMaking movies on a TV budget isn’t something that just happens overnight. It requires brainstorming and an absolute insight of: “this is the budget we can’t cross, let’s make the most of it.” Without having inside information, it is very likely that some things just weren’t workable on the budget they were on. Almost undoubtedly, cuts had to be made to benefit other scenes which were deemed more important in post-production. The important thing to keep in mind is that the fans (or – we won’t speak for everyone – the fans whose opinions we’ve read) didn’t feel that, and it’s not like Science-Fiction lovers are the easiest crowd to satisfy.

Maybe it weren’t just the visual effects or the writing that allowed people to empathize with this rag-tag fleet in a 95% CGI-modified universe. The super visual filmic feel was even more enhanced because of Bear McCreary’s music. That moment the music crescendoed as Laura Roslin’s elation grew, running from bulkhead to bulkhead in her cancer-ridden body, we, the audience, felt that. We first felt with her as she took her careful first steps, then we felt happy when we saw she could do it. Then, for those that watched the extended version of the episode, we saw a combination or fatherly proud and loving care when Bill Adama notices her up on the hangar deck. But more importantly, we felt it. That gravitating scene where Lee Adama watches Starbuck plummet to her death left fans clustered (or maybe hugging-) the screen because they wanted to find out more. Would this have been the case if the music were different? Different music sets different moods and Bear McCreary understood the world of Battlestar Galactica so well, that he opened up a universe with his music. His music allows dreams to take place with eyes closed. In your dreams, you might not see the Galactica swooping by the screen, but you might be walking betwixt the cities of ancient Rome.  65088

Taiko Drums, visual effects and writing staff aside, when Battlestar Galactica first aired again in 2004, there were critics, there were doubts, there were idolizations and people who thought the creators might have been too brave in trying to reinvent something so steadfast. 2004 got Battlestar Galactica out of its 1978 niche market. Maybe Ronald D. Moore really did think: “What can happen before, can happen again.” What’s certain is that the ambition and drive of creators, writers, CGI- artists, composers and the acting team alike, is what made Battlestar Galactica into an entirely new and exciting universe. If not to be part of, then for sure to explore. People got to watch a show that wasn’t only cutting edge and – to this day – alone in its kind, but also a genre barrier-breaker. Watching Battlestar Galactica, however, did not come free of charge. It opened viewers up to a whole new universe, but it made them think about their own and the finality of everything around them. Where others shied away from religion, Battlestar Galactica embraced even that aspect in an open-minded, non-judgmental way. But most of all, and maybe this is the most important thing, this show taught us that there is no greater enemy to humanity, than human beings themselves, and that’s a dark and gritty thought to go to sleep with. Think about it. In the show, the final survival of humanity relies on human beings drastically changing their lifelong beliefs and ways, joining together with their secondary enemy, the Cylons in finding Earth. (It really is Earth because According to Bill Adama, they have struggled long and hard enough to deserve the right to call it that). So maybe that’s the ambitious but ambiguous message here? Think about it, talk about it. Open your mind to it.

Or maybe, we’re just wrong about all of this?

So say we all!

ps: Is it a coincidence that a one-letter middle name seems to be a requirement before creating parts of this show? We think not Glen A. Larson & Ronald D. Moore!

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Written by the BSGmuseum-staff [E&DV], for www.battlestargalacticamuseum.com 


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8 thoughts on “OPINION PIECE: Ambitions and Ambiguity of Battlestar Galactica

  • Tom Tagliente

    I love to write. I do it all the time. Many tell me I am very good at it. However, I could never have summed up how important BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is to me so eloquently as this Opinion Piece has done so beautifully. I even enjoyed the subtleties of the humor throughout the article. And citing Bear McCreary’s magnificent music made me hear it again as I was reading the story you were telling. I agree that this series opened doors and ways of thinking among the people that had never been done or seen before. The feelings and thoughts it provoked in me were astounding.

    In 2007, I lost my dad to liver cancer. He never smoked a day in his life, and only drank the occasional beer. Yet my family was stunned by his diagnosis and eventual death on Valentine’s Day of that year. Having been following the show since the 2003 pilot miniseries, and being so immersed in the characterizations every week, I began to adapt to the story and connect it into my own life as organically as the actors became one with their own characters. I began to identify more and more with Laura Roslin as my dad continued to get worse and when he died, it was Mary McDonnell’s work that allowed me to remove myself from my grief for an hour each week until I was no longer grieving my dad’s death, more so than I was beginning to celebrate who he was and how my life was better for having known him.

    In May of 2003, Mary was a guest at GALACTICON 3 in Houston, Texas. It was there at her and Edward James Olmos’s panel that I had the opportunity to tell her; “Thank you.” Thank you for being so strong in your character that it helped a fan she never met, see himself through one of the darkest periods of his young life; I was 36 at the time. Then the next day I gave her a picture of my father and I that she accepted with a smile and told me that she was very humbled by my story. She thanked me and as I was walking away, she said; “Tom.” I turned back to face her. “Stay healthy. I want to see you again.” That was THE defining moment for me and was the last chapter in the grieving process of the loss of my father.

    In the Sci-Fi Channel’s LAST FRAKKING SPECIAL which aired before the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series finale in March of 2009, the cast shared their thoughts on what BATTLESTAR GALACTICA meant to them. For me, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is not just another science fiction series. In my opinion, it is a connection to a past I remember fondly and a thread to the future as I carry on the legacy of my father and relive fond memories of our times together. And it is the series that, with the help of Mary McDonnell’s President Laura Roslin, helped me gather the shattered pieces of my life after the death of my father and gave me a purpose and a new direction in life to keep going.

    And for me, a lifelong science fiction fan, and one that enjoys both series equally, it is this purpose that will always be the legacy of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

    So say we all!!!

    • BSGmuseum Post author

      Tom,

      Thank you so much for your kind words regarding this opinion piece! Our hearts go out to you and your family for your loss and we’re happy to hear you were able to find solace in BSG & Mary McDonnell’s portrayal!

      Much regards
      Bsg-M- team

  • MD Schloer

    Battlestar Galactica Aired at a time when the world was in a state of flux. We here in the USA had 2 wars in progress and men and women in harm’s way. The themes, mood and message of Battlestar Galactica rang true and struck a chord within me. I remember the fall of the towers, where I was and what I felt at that moment in time. There were scenes in this show that produced that kind of hard reaction, heartfelt response from within. The mood was dark, it felt real, the music set the tone and brought it all together. The cast and crew of the show did an amazing job of selling the messages that they wanted to convey. It was the most hardcore show on television at the time. It is in my opinion the best written, best produced and best executed Sci-Fi show to date. The story had power, the actors made their parts believable and in that moment the players became real in the minds of the fans. I felt real heartache when Cali died, I was angry when Madam President declared war in Tom Zarek during the uprising. I was beside myself when Dee committed suicide.
    The show was one of the best graphical television shows I have ever seen. I loved the 1978 Glenn Larson Show, and without that base the Re-Imaged show would have never been.
    The story has been told before, History has a way of repeating itself, the strife of the humans to survive is something we as a people are living each and every day here on this planet today. The writers of Battlestar Galactica did a superb job of selling it. It has had an impact that will be felt for centons to come. Every large scale Sci-Fi show to come will have to use the measuring stick that Battlestar Galactica developed and set. It is now the GOLD standard on how to do a great show.

    Sci-Fi or not, when Battlestar Galactica was on television it was the best show on TV. I have not seen a show with the same caliber of story, theme or execution.

    I have had a chance to meet a few of the actors from the show and ALL of them were more human than I had imagined. I was able to thank them for the journey that they took me on and to see their true reaction and heartfelt responses was awesome. In the eyes of the cast I saw that they believed the message of the show too, and that in my opinion is what made it what it was a huge success in television.

    Thank you for the memories

    So say we all!

  • Tino

    Dear Bsg-M team!

    Thanx for the lovely article – a joy to read and a remembrance to hours of solid SciFi experience.

    But can you please correct the name of the composer – it is McCreary, not Mcreary.

    Kind regards,

    Tino

  • Linda Collins

    Wonderful piece. I believe the final lesson is not that humanity admitted it’s weaknesses, but that we have the ability to overcome weakness in ourselves and together.
    Take the hand of an enemy and say ” Let’s stop this fighting” ,Figuratively speaking!