Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Picked up a copy of the new Battlestar Galactica mini-series on DVD. The series is premiering on Cinemax later this month and I was seriously considering adding this channel to my cable subscription just so I could relive my childhood Galactica-mania. Now I don't have to.

The series opens with humanity's total and complete defeat in a war we never had even a fighting chance in. The objective for the survivors is not to win this war, but how they, who are left with basically nothing but a small fleet of civilian ships, dwindling supplies, outdated ordnance and just a glimmer of hope, can avoid extinction at the hands of an enemy which wants nothing less.

The new Galactica upset a number of purist fans when it came out in the states last year. One of the most controversial decisions was to change the gender of fan favourite, Starbuck -- the dashing hero who attracts women everywhere he goes -- to that of a woman. So while she is still an ace pilot and total kick-ass fighter, her actions are less altruistic than the Starbuck of old. They are more like an outlet for her pent up frustrations and possibly a desire for vengeance.

Each character now has a solid backstory explaining their angst and their motivations for the choices they make. For example, the warm father-son relationship between Cmdr Adama and Apollo in the 1978 series gives way to that of a guilt-ridden father whose son bitterly blames for the death of his younger brother. The new Adama is more soldier than father, a military tactician rather than the shepherd of his flock. That task falls to a new mother-figure, that of President Roslin, who assumes political leadership being the highest-ranking civil servant amongst the 50+ thousand survivors of the Cylon genocide. She is the equivalent of our perm. sec. of Education becoming PM because the entire cabinet, MPs, and other senior civil servants have been wiped out. Moreover, she's dealing with her own case of terminal cancer on top of seeing to the welfare of what's left of the human species as far as she knows.

The women in this series are strong, decisive, independent and are very good at what they do, whether in leadership, combat/tactical skills, and they also figure very prominently in the enemy's camp as well. If not for the women, their rationality, compassion and survival instinct, humanity would have been extinct within the first few waves of the Cylon attack.

What works for this series is that decisions made by the characters come with consequences. People die, their bodies are collected and lie row upon row in a makeshift morgue. They don't get vaporized into space-dust where out of sight equals out of mind. Tough choices for the greater good mean that lives have to be lost, even those of innocents, and these sacrifices weigh heavily on the conscience of the decision-maker. How they respond to these consequences make them grow either stronger or weaker, so characters develop as the series progresses.

There are also some NE ideas that the series reinforces. Just because there has been 49 years of peace doesn't mean the enemy isn't planning something nasty to happen in the 50th year. After "home" has been destroyed, what does it take to make a new home elsewhere? What exactly constitutes "home," anyway? And, of course, the same concern regardless of where in the world we come from: if we want to survive as a species, we gotta have more babies. As it turns out, the very first victim of the Cylon attack on the colonies is a baby in its stroller in a cynical, non-military strike. It was infanticide, pure and simple though the perpetrator, a Cylon infiltrator, may have seen it as a mercy-killing.

What I have is a DVD of the pilot 3 episodes. 3 hours long, a bit slow-moving with lots of focus on character interactions and developing relationships and not a lot of fighting. The human fleet doesn't put up much of a fight, anyway. In fact, it's not so much defeated as it is humiliated by it's inability to respond to the threat. What's left is wit, desperation and the will to survive that makes the last remnants of humankind so interesting to watch.

Oh, if I could only boot up the "Wing Commander" series again. It's the closest thing to experiencing a fighter-pilot's life on the Galactica, much of my youth being misspent on this one fantasy.

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