[19 February 2013]
Over the course of its four seasons (2004-2009), the Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica established itself, not only as a stunning science-fiction epic, but as one of the best all-round shows on television. And while Battlestar Galactica gave its viewers many of the things you would expect from a military-themed space opera, including tightly choreographed action sequences and a meticulously conceived intergalactic environment, it also gave you so much more than that.
The show’s dynamic characters, suspenseful plot lines, and exploration of moral and political themes, won it both critical acclaim and a fervent following, including many viewers who would not typically describe themselves as sci-fi fans. Battlestar Galactica’s writers used the war between the humans and Cylons to hold up a mirror to the US War on Terror, addressing timely and controversial issues that would have been difficult to approach in a more realist format. And actors like Edward James Olmos as William Adama and Katee Sackhoff as Karen “Starbuck” Thrace breathed humor, pathos and psychological complexity into their larger-than-life characters.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome marks the newly rechristened SyFy network’s second attempt to recapitalize on the massive success of Battlestar Galactica. The first spin-off series, Caprica, was cancelled before the completion of its first season. Whereas Caprica purposefully toned down many of Battlestar Galactica’s military-action elements in an attempt to connect with a larger viewership, Blood and Chrome errs in the other direction. Originally conceived as a pilot for a television series, Blood and Chrome centers on the experiences of the young William Adama in the first Cylon war. But SyFy passed on the full series, instead airing the pilot online as a series of short episodes, and as a two hour television-movie accompanied by an expanded DVD/Blu-Ray release.
Unfortunately, Blood and Chrome’s embrace of sci-fi spectacle and effects-laden action comes at the expense of the richly drawn characters and stories that made Battlestar Galactica such a memorable viewing experience. Battlestar Galactica writer Ronald D. Moore is conspicuously absent from Blood and Chrome’s credits, and one has to wonder whether the franchise could ever rise to the greatness of the 2004 series without his involvement.
In the first few scenes, we meet the young Adama (Luke Pasqualino), a talented pilot fresh out of the Academy, who’s chomping at the bit to get out there and “kill some toasters.” His co-pilot, Coker (Ben Cotton), is a cynical and combative officer who can’t wait to finish out the remaining days of his second tour of duty, and can’t stand Adama’s overeager cockiness.
When a curmudgeonly old general cuts Adama down to size by assigning him to an innocuous cargo run, Coker prepares to kick his feet back and enjoy the “bonafide pleasure cruise.” But the purported “milk-run” they’ve been assigned to might not be what it seems, as their cargo turns out to be a mysterious woman who Adama ogled the night before in their ship’s uni-sex shower.
The passenger reveals herself as Dr. Beka Kelley (Lili Bordan), a software engineer who designed the Cylon brain chip. And while the true nature of her mission cannot be shared with the pilots, it will take them into Cylon territory and give Adama a chance to show off those well-honed flight skills of which he is so proud.
Set to the backdrop of familiar Battlestar Galactica sets and costumes, with the same fracking space-slang and the same refreshingly diverse casting to reflect a post-racial, post-patriarchal society, these early moments of Blood and Chrome will be fun and nostalgic for fans of the series. Unfortunately, none of these characters go on to do anything remotely surprising throughout the remainder of the movie, and that was the best part of watching Battlestar Galactica: you never knew what was going to happen next.
Adama falls for Kelley despite growing evidence that her intentions may not be what they seem. And Coker turns out to have a heart of gold hiding under his thorny exterior, bonding with Adama after a series of harrowing battle sequences. The movie has a twist ending that I won’t reveal here, but I will say that it does nothing to redeem the rote and lackadaisical story telling that proceeds it.
Blood and Chrome makes a few not-so-subtle attempts at engaging in the kinds of political critique that Battlestar Galactica so often excelled at. Kelley’s late husband turns out to be a famous marine whose story of valor and sacrifice inspired many young men, including Adama, to enlist. But she later reveals to Adama that the military fabricated her husband’s story, and that he was really a victim of friendly fire. This is, of course, a direct evocation of Pat Tillman, and could have been used to heighten the movie’s theme of war’s moral ambiguity, if it weren’t tossed off in a purely expositional monologue that sets up a steamy sex scene between Adama and Kelley.
At the movie’s end, when Adama questions his general’s decision to sacrifice an entire fleet of soldiers for the sake of their mission, the general gives this explanation: “The truth is that the people support this war with their money and they will stop if we stop giving them hope. So let them have their heroes, let them have their unvarnished victories while you and I fight the real war.”
But this admission of the ugly truth of war comes too late in the story, and does nothing to call into question the previous 95 minutes of intergalactic war-porn. It also does nothing to deter Adama from climbing into his shiny new Viper and fighting more battles under the command of that same general.
Although it would be impossible to replicate the pleasures of a long-form narrative like Battlestar Galactica in the course of a 90 minute movie, Blood and Chrome falls short in exactly the same places where that series excelled. The complex and unpredictable characters, stories and themes that populated that Battlestar Galactica give way to Blood and Chrome’s cookie-cutter plot reversals and sci-fi/action stereotypes. And while the visuals are truly a spectacle to behold and the actors do the best that they can with their roles, there’s not much here for fans who were hoping to get another dose of all of things that made Battlestar Galactica so great. And that’s too fracking bad.
The DVD/Blu-Ray release is entirely superfluous considering that there were two previous opportunities to watch Blood and Chrome for free, and the special features consist of a few deleted scenes, and an interesting, but less than vital, discussion of the movie’s visual effects.