Reviews

Intergalactic War-Porn: 'Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome'

Set to the backdrop of familiar sets and costumes, with the same fracking space-slang and the same refreshingly diverse casting to reflect a post-racial, post-patriarchal society, the early moments of Blood and Chrome will be fun and nostalgic for fans.


Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome

Distributor: Universal
Cast: Luke Pasqualino, Ben Cotton, Lila Bordan
Network: SyFy
Release date: 2013-02-19
Trailer
Amazon

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.

5

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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