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The Obligatory Battlestar Galactica Post

December 30, 2011

Woke up, made myself an Espresso, helped my son acquire his membership to an age-appropriate MMORPG, and had to decide which subject to blog about first.  The choices in front of me… another Christianity post, or complaining about the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.  I think I can let the Christianity post sit on the back burner for a while.

Now, I almost put up my “ranty” icon for this post, because my intitial reactions to the Battlestar reboot were… less than well-reasoned, shall we say.  However, a good friend of mine has listened to me rant (almost continuously), and helped me to build a more reasoned opinion.  (Many thanks, Joe!)  Not a more positive one, mind you, but a more reasoned one.

Also, please realize, I’m not going to try to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t like.  If you enjoyed the Battlestar reboot, then you had more fun than I did.  That’s perfectly fine, different people enjoy different things.  This isn’t a blog post about why other people shouldn’t like something.  It’s about why I, personally, didn’t like something.  This is entirely my opinion.

Before anyone thinks that they need to set me straight on what a great television show the Battlestar reboot was, let me make a couple of things perfectly clear.  The recent reboot of Battlestar Galactica was, without a doubt, some truly excellent television.  It was a great military science fiction show.  The production values, acting, and writing were superb.  I have nothing bad to say about the special effects whatsoever.  It arguably had some of the best moments of space combat yet committed to media.  It was not a bad show, and I’m not trying to say it was a bad show.  Aside from the heavy-handedness of the last episode (forgivable), it was, in fact, an excellent television show.

It just wasn’t Battlestar Galactica.

If they had changed only the title, I’d have been fine.  If the new title had included the words “Battlestar” and/or “Galactica” in any other configuration than calling it, simply, “Battlestar Galactica,” that would have been acceptable.  I’d have watched religiously.

No, my problems with the Galactica reboot have nothing, whatsoever, to do with its content or quality.  It had to do with hijacking a familiar and beloved brand.

I was one of the millions of Americans tuned into the pilot movie of the original Battlestar Galactica in 1978… I was ten at the time.  I was not, at the time, a happy child.  I was still not adjusting to the fact that my family had moved from southern California to Missouri in ’76, I had very few friends, the majority of my learning disabilities were undiagnosed and I was constantly chastised for academic under-performance.

The only common ground I had with my over-worked father and my few friends was Star Wars; its premier in ’77 had actually improved my life.

I watched the original Battlestar Galactica movie like I was reaching for a life-preserver.  It did something that was hard to do at that point in my life.  It made me happy.  At the time, I didn’t really see the flaws; there were space fights and blasters and a monkey in a robot dog suit, and it was a whole new world that I could visit in my imagination.  Even better, it was a series – the world would grow and live, and I wouldn’t be the only person in it.  I could talk about it with my dad, and with the kids at school.  I had the toys… I owned the same model of Colonial Viper toy that made the news when a boy choked to death on one of the missiles.

In my unhappiest times, I could live there, in my mind, for a little while.  I honed my imagination on missions with Apollo and Starbuck, listened to the wise counsel of Commander Adama, and I knew that Colonel Tigh had my back when push came to shove.  It wasn’t science fiction, really… it was science fantasy, the special brand of space opera that only the ’70’s could produce.

Just as I understand how excellent the reboot really was, I can now see the flaws in the original.  I don’t really care, when it comes right down to it. Sure, there were teams of writers trying to crank out material fast enough to keep a weekly series going, with a barely-adequate series bible.  Yes, they “borrowed” their storylines from sources as wide and varied as “Shane” and “The Guns of Navarone.”  I’m fully aware that they only had a very limited number of special effects shots that they shoehorned into every episode.  The acting was often stilted.  The dialogue was often forced.  The Cylons had a dedicated gunner in each and every cockpit, and they still had lower accuracy than the single-pilot Colonials.  Lorne Greene’s line delivery almost put me to sleep more than once.  It was a product of ’70’s television, with all of the flaws and foibles that such products were oft cursed with, and I loved it.

I had a few hopes for the reboot, but not a lot.  From the previews, I could tell that they were going for a darker, grittier, more hard-edge Sci Fi approach.  That’s all well and good… dark and gritty Sci Fi can be pretty awesome. I like a lot of dark and gritty Sci Fi.  A dark and gritty show called “Lone Battlestar” or “Galactica Renegade” or simply “Galactica” would have been GREAT.  But, they called it one thing, when it was, quite clearly, not that thing.

You know who else did this to me?  Coca Cola did this to me.

In 1985, the Coca Cola company decided that they were going to change Coca Cola, introducing a new formula which was, simply, “New Coke.”  “Hey,” Bill Cosby said, “It’s what Coca Cola is now!  It’s good, and you’re going to love it.”

It wasn’t, and I didn’t.  The first time I ever had it, I was at a restaurant called Casa Gallardo with my mother, and I’d ordered a coke with my lunch.  I took one sip, and nearly spit it out.  Flagging a waitress, I told her that there was something wrong with their soda fountain, because this coke was off.  She rolled her eyes, sighed, then looked at me apologetically and said “no… it’s the New Coke.”

Now, if they’d marketed the new formula alongside the existing, familiar one, it might have worked.  Some people might have liked the sweeter, less fizzy, vaguely more “Pepsi”-like coke.  It wasn’t so much that it was a bad soda, really.  It’s that it wasn’t Coke.  They had their spokesperson, one of the more trusted at the time (mind you, this was before “Leonard Part 6”), tell me that “it’s just like Coke, but better!'”  I was 17 at the time… I’d been drinking coke for over a decade.  Coke was familiar to me, I preferred it to most other beverages.  They took what was familiar and enjoyable, gave its name to something qualitatively different, and handed it to me expecting me to buy it.

I’ve been told that the Battlestar reboot was never meant to be a replacement for the original… that it was a “re-imagining” of the original Battlestar Galactica.  That’s well and good… “West Side Story” is a re-imagining of “Romeo  and Juliet.”  You know what they didn’t do?  They didn’t bleeding well call it “Romeo and Juliet.”

I’m an RPG player… have been for a very long time.  When I spend time in a universe, whether it’s one of my own creation or one based on a shared concept, such at the original Battlestar, I get a certain sense of ownership.   I’ve flown those fighters, I’ve kicked those chrome robots.  If you’re going to try to sell me a television show that’s named after something that was that much a part of my life… something that made me happy and helped to save me from depression and solitude… you’re going to have to try to make that television show in such a way that it invokes not only the names and plotlines of the original, but the spirit and “feeling” of it.  If you want to give it a different spirit and “feeling” (such as turning a space opera into a “dark and gritty” hard-edged military sci fi show), that’s perfectly fine.  Just give it a different name… even a slightly different name.

Names are important.

All right… got a LITTLE ranty there…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    December 30, 2011 11:37 am

    Amen, Brother Scott, Amen!

  2. Twisted Joe permalink
    December 30, 2011 1:09 pm

    I’m definitely not about to try to sell you on the qualities of BSG, especially now that after our previous conversations, I have a better sense of the source of the animosity, but I did want to bring up a few minor points.

    In particular, the use of the title in a remake, reboot or reimagining isn’t new or confined to BSG. It’s been used in a number of instances, and this has been especially done with a number of late 70s and early 80s TV titles, some of which have been fairly good (Starsky & Hutch) and some not. I’d also argue that it’s less of a crime in using a series title, similar to Sherlock Holmes, as that has less to do with a particular segment of story and more with the overall story arc itself.

    But this is still done with movies, as well, even with the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet. In Baz Luhrman’s version, they radically change the presentation, but ultimately retain the script itself. In that same way, no one really took any issue with Burton’s Batman simply being “Batman”, because while it was different in many ways, it still retained enough to feel and recognizably be Batman.

    I know that you disagree with BSG retaining the spirit and feel of the original, but I’d suggest that that is really a matter of difference in what you see as the vital elements of the show and what those who like BSG see as the vital elements. I can’t speak for everyone that’s ever enjoyed it, but for my part I saw the original as a morality tale of humanity being destroyed by its own pride via its unchecked creation (similar to Frankenstein), a desperate tale of survival against all odds for the individuals and the species and lastly a quest story, as the supposed remainders of humanity search for a mythical land to be their home.

    As for the characters, I saw Adama as a tired, careworn military leader who near the end of his career is suddenly forced to cope with the greatest responsibility any such leader can be faced with, Starbuck as a reckless but talented, charismatic rulebreaker who would never be in the military if not allowed to pilot a fighter, and Apollo as the dutiful son often forced to choose between his own devil and angel, in this case presented as Starbuck and Adama. (Not that I was consciously aware of these distinctions as a child, but I can see that that’s what drew me in now in hindsight.)

    And the thing is that the new BSG does carry all these elements on, which is why so many do not have the issue that you and some others do. I’m not saying this to suggest you have no right to feel the way you do, because you did eloquently state a number of elements that you felt were essential to the show, notably the space opera presentation, that were clearly absent in the remake. But I would say that while you felt those elements were key, a number of people held no love for those elements and were happy to remove them and a number of others didn’t really care one way or the other about them (I’d probably put myself in that latter category) but do care very deeply about the elements I mentioned. And that is why I suspect that so many felt it was apt to call it simply Battlestar Galactica. It wasn’t, at least to me, simply a superficial similarity, but something that felt very substantially the same with the same essential story elements and the same characters–all simply updated.

    I’m not saying this to reargue the matter, but I don’t know that I was ever specific on what I (and what I suspect others) saw that made it worthy to be called by its title. So I thought for the sake of clarity, I should put to paper (so to speak). If nothing else, it at least brings to a focus how readily different people can love the same thing and yet do so for very different reasons.

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