A battle for 'Galactica's' soul

Miniseries updates '70s sci-fi show, and that has some folks fuming

Television

December 07, 2003|By John Coffren | John Coffren,Sun Staff

You'd swear the collective groan from diehard fans of the original Battlestar Galactica could be heard in the next galaxy.

But Ronald D. Moore, writer / producer of a new Battlestar Galactica miniseries for the Sci Fi Channel (9 p.m. tomorrow and Tuesday), isn't listening.

"There are certainly hardcore fans of Galactica [1978-79] that are just never going to give it a chance," said Moore of his sequel, which keeps the basic plot but turns the cast of characters on its head. "I have sympathy for the fact that they're upset, but I also know they're a very, very small audience."

The new miniseries goes for more adult fare, including sex, most notably between human and robot, and violence.

Moore knew certain aspects of his script, assailed on the Internet, would "raise hackles." Chief among them was switching the gender of cigar-smoking, womanizing, ace fighter pilot Starbuck (now played by Katee Sackhoff) and making the Cylons human constructs.

Bad-guy Baltar (James Callis), who sold humanity out in the original, becomes a misunderstood genius duped by a dish who's really a dishwasher -- Number Six, a Cylon robot spy played by Victoria's Secret model Tricia Helfer. Adama (Edward James Olmos) is a commander in name only, taking orders from Colonial President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell).

"[Fans of the original] only sort of got wind of something, got upset about it, when it was already done and delivered," Moore said. "I don't think anybody can do a continuation and pick up right where they left off 25 years later and get the ratings."

Glen A. Larson, creator of the original Galactica, who has his own big-screen update in the works, agrees -- to a point.

'The core story'

"I feel vindicated that they went to the core story and that is what we started with. It's great to see something have legs after all this time," said Larson, credited in the remake (pseudonymously as Christopher Eric James) as a consulting producer and writer even though he wasn't consulted and didn't write a word. An arbitrator saw enough similarities between Moore's work and Larson's Saga of a Star World -- the original pilot -- to merit the credit.

Larson's strongest criticism is that the miniseries is so contemporary: "It sort of drove me crazy to have so much dialogue that is earthbound and colloquialisms."

Fans on one Web site (www.cprompt.ca / Boycott) were so upset they were driven to call for a boycott -- of advertisers of Sci-Fi Channel, Vivendi Universal, USA Networks -- and posted 1,683 signatures, as of last Wednesday night, from supportive fans.

Still, there is common ground between Moore's update and the beloved original.

"I think the best part [of the original] was a very dark premise: the destruction of an entire civilization, and the heroes of the story are the survivors who escape in a ragtag fleet with the Galactica to protect them from the wolves in pursuit into the night," Moore said. "Then they kind of quickly put that behind them and it's off to the casino planet."

As for the original series' demise, Moore noted that it operated in a television era that hadn't seen a prime-time science-fiction program since Star Trek (1966-1969), and added that the motion picture Star Wars (1977) was the only other genre example.

"They felt they had to deliver Star Wars-type fighters fighting Cylons and they had to do sort of Planet of Star Trek shows," Moore said. "They just sort of ran astray and never quite figured out what the show was suppose to be."

Larson also pointed to the $1 million-plus budget of each original Galactica episode. ABC had two science-fiction properties at the time. The other, Mork and Mindy (1978-1982), was cheaper to produce, so Galactica was jettisoned.

For the new miniseries, Moore wanted his version to move away from that larger-than-life hyper-reality and instead have very identifiable characters and settings more truthful to the spirit of our times.

"Science fiction, at its best, is a way of examining and dealing with contemporary social issues," Moore said. "It isn't just about escapism and fantasy."

Terrorism addressed

Take 9 / 11. Here, the issue of terrorism is addressed through the robotic Cylons, who no longer lumber around in gleaming armor with "Speak-and-Spell" voices, but can appear as humanoid agents that live among us to better commit sneak attacks.

The new Cylons have found religion and believe they are the chosen ones who, in order to do God's work, must kill us.

And the aftermath of the big Cylon attack, glossed over in the original, Moore said, will be dealt with in a very realistic way. "If you think about the reality of what would happen in this situation -- 50,000 people are going to survive out of a population of tens of billions of people -- there's going to be some really ugly decisions that have to be made."

The Sci Fi Channel will decide, based on ratings, if the miniseries becomes the pilot of a new series that could be launched next summer.

Larson said he hopes the miniseries brings new fans up to speed in time for his movie, which he hopes to have in theaters in the next two years. Despite passing the miniseries script off as "dealer's choice," Larson found it difficult to watch his television show done by others.

"I said to someone, it'd be like going and finding your daughter lap-dancing someplace," he said. "She can look beautiful, but you might wish that the circumstances were slightly different."

They will be in the new film, he said. "You can well count on our efforts being a lot more [true] to that which has generated all this interest and kept it alive all these many years. My interest is in a little more science, and I don't mean science-fiction."

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