'Battlestar' movie stays sharp with its older references

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November 24, 2007|By John Coffren | John Coffren,Sun Reporter

Rarely would one describe an acclaimed, innovative yet bleak sci-fi series as "kicking it old school."

But the appearance of robot villains with sparkling armor, Speak-&-Spell voices and zooming bat-winged spaceships in Razor, a new Battlestar Galactica film, may just warm the cockles of nostalgic sci-fi hearts. The movie premiering tonight on the SciFi channel bridges Seasons 3 and 4 of the current Battlestar Galactica series while flashing back to the original Cylons and other signature elements of the 1978-1979 space opera of the same name.

Both series operate on the same premise: A sneak attack by a race of robots nearly wipes out humanity, and the survivors search for Earth. But fans of the campy first-generation show were so furious about changes in the grittier "reimagining" that they tried to foment an advertiser boycott before its 2003 debut. Despite the outrage, writer-producer Ronald D. Moore's new show has earned a Peabody Award and the Sci-Fi network's best ratings.

With Razor, Moore goes further than he's ever gone in resurrecting beloved, if rickety, elements of the original series. But he stays in keeping with the dark spirit of his post-Sept. 11 creation, in which lifelike Cylons are zealots who believe killing humans is God's work. As with the series (which returns in April for its final season), Razor explores the impact that war, fear and brutality have upon even the most heroic people.

The new two-hour teleplay tells the story of Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen), who served on the crew of the Battlestar Pegasus under the formidable Adm. Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes of Homicide fame). Shaw, we learn, joined the crew of the Pegasus mere moments before the Cylon attack that destroyed the 12 colonies. Razor goes back in time to explain what happened aboard the Pegasus before it met up with the Galactica in Season 2. (And if none of this means anything to you, then that might serve as a clue that Razor is not for the uninitiated viewer: Prior knowledge of Battlestar Galactica is required here.)

Forbes' Cain, who was featured in that memorable Season 2 story arc, is tough enough before the Cylon attack; when she realizes her ship may be all that remains of the human race, she becomes utterly ruthless in her desire for revenge. Though some of the crew rebel against Cain's extreme measures, Shaw admires her steely resolve, and makes choices in Cain's shadow that did not seem possible before the Cylon attack.

These haunt Shaw years later when she is excavated from lowly kitchen duty by the newly appointed Pegasus leader Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber), who needs a strong executive officer to shore up a mission to destroy a mysterious weapon the Cylons have guarded for years. Now a "razor," a slang term for a human weapon, herself, Shaw struggles to find redemption, or obliteration, in her task.

Razor is unstinting in examining the "burden of command" and the dire consequences that follow officers' bad decisions. In a series that places survival above moral values, nuanced performances help maintain the suspense of who is human and who is a Cylon in disguise.

Actor Aaron Douglas, who plays Chief Tyrol in the series, spoke about walking that line during an appearance last summer at the annual Shore Leave science-fiction convention in Hunt Valley. In the third-season cliffhanger, his character was outed as a Cylon spy.

"I had heard rumors [that the chief was a Cylon]," said Douglas. "I found out when the script was released. I didn't like it. They took a character that ... fans loved and made him one they would hate."

With one more Cylon spy remaining to be revealed in the series, Razor seems to contain few clues. But for fans of the original series, it does offer a tantalizing treat -- the rare warning, "Cylons approaching."

john.coffren@baltsun.com

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.

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