One of the best sci-fi series I’ve seen. One of the best series of any sort, for that matter. I’ve only seen the miniseries on DVD thus far, but Battlestar Galactica promises to be as good as Firefly.* Maybe even better (yes, this is my opinion in reference to me).
Spoiler Warning: Mild spoilers ahead
BSG‘s greatest attribute, for me, is its “naturalistic style” (as the commentary puts it). Unlike many sci-fi series, it cut to the core of my emotions and tapped directly into my humanity, while still providing solid, fascinating sci-fi. I’ve rarely had such a hard time enduring the emotional distress evoked by a sci-fi flick, particularly on TV. The show opens with the long-stagnant conflict between the humans and the Cylons, a machine race created by the humans, erupting after 40 years’ of Cylon absence. By the end of the first act, the Cyclons, in a completely new form, strike at the humans and virtually wipe them out. Before the battle starts, it’s been lost.
The execution of this very done-before plot element was truly gripping. But what really threw me was the weaving of so much humanity, drama, and genuine intrigue through the course of the destruction. Instead of throwing a 10-minute explosions and dramatic montages sequence at us, BSG stretches the destruction and it immediate aftermath over the bulk of the miniseries, and weaves every other element into this event. Which, if you think about it, is how things would play out. The destruction of their world and society isn’t a big explosion followed by lots of oaths and firefights, it’s the fracturing and spinning of many narratives, which begin to thread back together as the series’ thrust is made evident.
The characters begin to flesh out and deepen very quickly. The now-female, raucous, ace pilot Lt. Kara ’Starbuck’ Thrace, the hesitant but capable politician Laura Roslin, the quiet but bedrock-solid Cmdr. William Adama, the iffy Col. Saul Tigh, Cmdr. Adama’s estranged son Capt. Lee ’Apollo’ Adama, they all have depth that gives them an immediate hook and also a great deal of potential for development and further exploration. These actors just attacked their roles, immediately giving them a degree of texture that often doesn’t appear until after the first season of some shows.
The realism and grit in the skillful handling of so many simultaneous events and character developments is a great achievement and is a true thrill to watch. I’d argue that this is the closest to hard sci-fi that TV has ever come (or at least that I’ve seen). In spite of this, BSG doesn’t bog down in Tom Clancy-esque techno-fetishism or emotional emptiness in favor of scientific fastidiousness. BSG really represents the lessons learned from all of the sci-fi series preceding it, used to create something singular. It deftly avoids almost every cliché in a way that has you wondering “Why doesn’t everyone do it that way?”
One major component of the series that’s handled very well is the space combat. In a slight variation on Firefly, which uses a realistic total silence when showing space-based action (which I prefer), BSG uses quiet sound. The emptiness of space is communicated effectively while still allowing some sound effects during battle. I guess you could argue that the sound is audible from inside of the ships, or something. It’s very, very well done and the music reflects this sense of silence. The sounds of the ships and battle are allowed to take the forefront, with the music acting as a subtle foil. The ship combat has a hard realism to it, in that the ships use a number of steering thrusters embedded in their chassis to spin, flip, rotate, and stabilize in a manner that seems completely realistic. It makes other treatments seem simplistic or overly sleek. When a detonation occurs in space, the ships don’t just rattle, they buck and veer, which makes sense, seeing as there’s no gravity to speak of. The dogfights and space battles are more realistic (potentially boring) but this realism is embraced, adding a whole new tactical layer to the battles. It’s a great technique and I hope we see more of this in subsequent sci-fi productions.
I recommend Battlestar Galactica to everyone, sci-fi fan or not. It’s well-executed and entertaining in every way, and it’s on DVD. Also, Starbuck is hot.
*Holy crap, Serenity on the 30th!