Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The mess that is "Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome"

Spoilers for the pilot of "Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome". 

After the cancellation of "Caprica", which surely was flawed but still a decently entertaining series, fans didn't really get their hopes high in seeing a return to the colonies anytime soon. It came as a bit of a surprise that yet another new pilot for a series was to be shot: "Blood and Chrome", set in the time of the Cylon War and featuring young Bill Adama as the main character, serving aboard the Galactica as a viper jock. The cast looked decent enough, and there were many people working at it who had worked on the re-imagined series beforehand. However, bad news came coming in. Apparently, SciFy had decided not to make a series out of it after an initial two-hour pilot was shot. Talk was to do a movie, and that idea got scrambled, too, the final product being released as webisodes on Youtube. Now, all ten parts are available, and so we can look at the final product and decide on its merits. Let's just start with one assessment: it`s no wonder they pulled the plug. 

They got the look right, though.
First, let's get one obvious merit of the new series out of the way, because it really jumps at you from the beginning: the CGI is spectacular. Since the re-imagined series, they made some serious steps forward. The ships look great, the space sequences look great, and even the planetary CGI is halfway watchable, no comparison to BSG Season One`s fake-looking "The Hand of God", where an asteroid base was raided that looked just like from a 90s video game. It is truly discouraging, however, what's done with this amazing CGI. We start the series with a voice-over by young Adama, reading aloud a letter to his father in which he reflects on his desire to fight in the war in a way that's eerily reminiscent of old war movies. 

Because riding the elevator alone is showing off.
We then see Adama perform a maneuver with his viper that would put Maverick to shame, only to realize it was some kind of simulator. So, Adama is the best young talent around. He gets his transfer to Galactica, where we get to know his future co-pilot Coker, a veteran of many battles, cynical and only serving out his term. Other characters include the Galactica version of Iceman, the best pilot around waiting to be dethroned by Adama, a tough female intelligence officer and the commanding officer. All of them are performing their stereotypical roles ok enough, but it's painful just how stereotypical they are. Coker performs as the sidekick, the officer grunts and snarls about how Adama is green and not tested yet and yadda yadda, while the elite pilot is so cool and elite he ignores everyone. At times, the dialogue feels like it's taken line by line from "Starship Troopers". 

"The only good Cylon is a dead Cylon!" Not an actual line.
Adama and Coker then get their first mission assigned: a boring supply run to Picon in a Raptor. Adama is furious (he wants to fly Vipers, after all), but Coker is happy since they're not likely to encounter resistance. We get some more tought talk, they take the female intelligence officer as a passenger and fly off. Of course, it's no simple run, and soon the officer takes charge: they have to fly to specific coordinates. No, you don't need to know anything about the mission, shitheads, or else she would miss the opportunity for some tough-talk. The Raptor then encounters a fleet of colonial ghost ships - all of them reported destroyed in the past months, gathering for a secret mission. The series takes on some power here, with beautiful shots of a debris field and ship types we never saw before, but the tone of the series is clearly a light one: Adama manages to defeat enemy Raiders with some stuntass flighting, there's some laughing and yelling and shoulder tapping. Then we get the briefing. 

Because that`s what intelligence officers look like usually.
The intelligence officer is to perform some intelligence stuff on a distant Cylon base, and Coker and Adama have to fly her in. There is to be no Basestar, so it should be a cakewalk. A middle-sized ship named "Osiris" is to go with them. Of course, there is a Basestar, and the Osiris has to pull a heroic maneauver and ram itself into the Basestar to show the stakes are high. This gives Adama's Raptor enough time to land on the surface, where we get a nice scene in which the accompanying Vipers leave them to flee as fast as they can. At least not everyone's dead stupid and out for the glory. On the surface, they come into a cave, where the woman and Coker break in and Adama thinks it a clever move to jumpf behind them. Luckily, a surviving Marine turns up and rescues them. He's clearly nuts, but he brings them to his hideout, an abandoned hotel. 

Including some snake-cyborgs.
The hotel scene is visually interesting, since it takes up a stilistic decision we often saw in the re-imagined series, too, where the hotel-ship "Cloud 9" provided a jarring effect with its noble atmosphere, totally opposite to the normal gritty tone of the series. On Cloud 9, everyone was in smoking or dresses (wherever they got them), and expensive liquor and menus were to be had. This hotel, of course, is a ruin, but when Coker sits down at a piano, drinking expensive liquor while snowflakes swirl airily around him, it seems equally disjointed. I'm still not sure whether to like these elements, stylistically, but they're done very well at least. Of course, the quiet is soon disturbed, and we see our first Centurions. The look more aggressive than the models we know from the re-imagined series and the original one both, and obviously they forgot how to use firearms in between models because they're going at the colonials with their bare hands. One of them scans the intelligence officer's dogtag, which seems important, before they Centurions finally are defeated. The surviving Marine is surviving no longer, so the count is back to our three characters running to the finale in a Cylon outpost.

"Images...from a half-remembered dream..." Not an actual line.
Coker, however, is suspicious and nearly snapping, demanding to know the "real mission" and pointing a gun at his fellow comrades. He is persuaded to stand down, and we learn that their real mission is to upload a virus, but when the virus suspiciously looks like an upload of data about "Galactica", Coker confronts her again, and we get a final shootout in which she admits to working with the Cylons. Her motivation? To end the war by negotiation, and that's obviously achieved by giving them information. There is also some uttering about "they only defend themselves", and the massacre of the rest of the Marines they find in the hotel serves as a quick reminder for Adama/Coker and the audience both that this is utter bullshit. In the end, Adama and Coker are rescued, although heavily wounded, and the officer is killed by a prototype of a humanoid Cylon, asking her whether she's alive and telling her that "only because you're enlightened doesn't mean we hate you any less" before killing her by snapping her neck in a clear reminescence of the re-imagined series' pilot. On Galactica, Adama learns that the Commander knew of the traitor all along, using her as bait and hitting the Cylons in the meantime. Adama is first enraged - "What about the Osiris?" - before getting some tough-talk about sacrificing yourself for the greater good, which he swallows whole. As a reward, he gets his viper, is accepted by his fellow pilots wholeheartidly and flies out in battle, grinning like an idiot. The end.

War! What is it good for?
So, why is this thing bad? Instead of exploring any greater questions like they did in the re-imagines series and even, to a lesser extent, in "Caprica", "Blood and Chrome" goes for "Top Gun in space". If the movie hadn't been so bad, one could almost evoke the comparison with "Wing Commander". It's precisely the style they're going for. Don't get me wrong - you can do that. But the question is why you should. The concept was already tried out in the original series, and it didn't work in 1979 because it was regarded too campy. After the re-imagines series, after "The Wire", after "Breaking Bad", after "Mad Men" - why would you make something like this, setting the bar so artificially low? The dialogue in the pilot is really bad, turning between ridiculous and just campy. The performances figure, but it's hard to blame the actors. The stuff they're given is just so clicheed, so blatantly over the top that their performances have to match it somehow. If the likes of "Transformers" seem to have good dialogue, you're asking yourself what the hell you are watching. I guess the executives at SciFy asked themselves the same question and decided it wasn't worth a whole season to find out.

Coker, seconds before he shoots the screenwriter.

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