Battlestar Galactica 1980 Review
No matter that I was about nine or ten when I first saw him stomp down some back alleyway in Los Angeles, the sight of a quite pathetic Cylon Raider looking very lost when earthbound in Galactica 1980 has always remained with me. It wasn't so much that its costume was now a little on the ragged side having been through the colonial wars with Apollo, Starbuck and Boomer and its following the Galactica for more than thirty years. It wasn't even that it was reduced to hanging around parties looking like the one guest who mistakenly believed it to be fancy dress. It was more that this sorry-looking Cylons was given a swift kick in the rivets and welding that held their Cylon balls by a Universal keen on wringing something out of their investment in Battlestar Galactica.
Not having ever been particularly terrified of the Cylons - I really wasn't that sensitive a child - I still felt sad for our Cylon friend. Were it capable of it, I would imagine that a Castrol GTX-flavoured tear might have fallen from its one red eye. Unlike the two Cylons who made a brief cameo in the title sequence of The A-Team, this one has not a shred of dignity left in him. He would have had a touch more had the Super Scouts of earlier in the series taken to him with foam baseball bats and Super Soakers before stealing his tinfoil underpants. When he takes a tumble from the radiation off a microwave oven, one feels like giving it a hug, the wee pet. And all this in an episode with a dancing Scooby Doo. It genuinely couldn't get very much worse.
Ironically, the Centurion is driven to this party by William Daniels, who would later be the voice of KITT, itself particularly constructed out of old Cylon bits and pieces, notably the red scanning light on its bonnet. That's probably the second most interesting thing about Galactica 1980, coming in slightly behind the final episode out of the ten here, The Return of Starbuck, which sees the one-time Colonial Warrior crash-landing on a strange planet and finding himself befriending an injured Cylon Centurion. Even then, it's seemingly all in answer to a dream recounted by the odd little Doctor Zee, which doesn't make it quite as good as it should otherwise be.
Galactica 1980 was the follow-up to the already-a-bit-of-a-knock-off Battlestar Galactica of 1978. With Richard Hatch unwilling to come back to the show and Dirk Benedict unavailable, Glen A Larson, who'd proved a willing hand with the bits and bobs of footage he'd had from the very beginning of Battlestar Galactica, dusted them off once more to support the story of what might happen should the Galacticans ever found Earth. Unfortunately they did so in 1980 and while the sound of D.I.S.C.O., Xanadu or There's No One Quite Like Grandma didn't quite drive them back to the stars, Adama was still rather shocked to see us watching primitive horror films, driving primitive automobiles and living in primitive houses. He thought we were rather primitive, you see.
Still, the Galacticans had the wizard idea of investing some of their future technologies on us but rather than surprising us with news from beyond the stars, warriors Troy (Kent McCord, who's meant to be that awful kid Boxey from the first series now all grown up) and Dillon (Barry Van Dyke) arrive on Earth. Much misunderstandings ensue as the boys inadvertently rob banks, get arrested and foil the hijacking of a passenger jet. They even get to avert an environmental disaster (The Super Scouts), thus inspiring the story of Erin Brockovich, and even turn their hand to raising crops to feed the fleet (Space Croppers). Ironic, really given that it was the adventures of Tatooine farmboy Luke Skywalker who so inspired Battlestar Galactica in the first place.
There are two major themes to Galactica 1980. The first is that of time travel and what errors in time that may come from meddling in Earth's history. With Baltar having gone the way of Athena, Colonel Tigh, Cassiopea and the rest, it's left to Xavier to take his place as the villain. Against Adama's wishes, he travels back in time to bring Galactican technology to Earth's past but, unfortunately, he lands in Germany in 1944 and without a mention of Robert Oppenheimer, sets about inventing the V-2 rockets that rained down over London. Cue Troy, Dillon and a dozen or so extras running around in SS uniforms in a part of Germany that doesn't look very different to the countryside of 1980's Los Angeles while TV reporter Jamie Hamilton (Robyn Douglass), who's come along for the ride, offers the kids in the audience a history lesson in the second world war, in rocket technology, the D-Day landings and the Holocaust.
The other big theme is that of kids and while Boxey was perfectly annoying on his own in Battlestar Galactica, we now have thirteen children. One of them is the intriguingly named Doctor Zee (Robbie Rist and Patrick Stuart), a child genius who advises Adama and the Council of the Twelve. He also invents some bits and bobs that might prove useful when the Galacticans arrive on Earth, including a wristwatch-cum-translator and a means to make themselves invisible. I grant you, though, that might have been a special effect left over from The Gemini Man rather than anything Zee came up with. Otherwise, though, Troy and Dillon, as a means to protect the children from the Cylons, herd twelve youngsters down to Earth to protect them from Cylon attack. They are disguised as scouts and shielded from whatever drove children off the rails in a time before alcopops, nudie movies off the Internet and paedophiles. Two whole episodes are given over to these Super Scouts while Troy and Dillon also find themselves helping out a baseball camp for underprivileged children (Spaceball). While the latter is quite bad enough, the two-part Super Scouts sees the kids take advantage of the lower gravity on Earth to bound up into the trees, of their invisibility to thwart some corrupt cops and of their superior intelligence to talk back to a tour guide at a planetarium.
Unfortunately, the Cylon fleet is never very far away. Luckily, though, Larson has the same old stock footage that he had in 1978 so the Colonial pilots, like the audience, know exactly how they're going to react to each shot. What they probably didn't expect was that a Centurion and an advanced humanoid Cylon, which pre-dates Ron Moore's re-imagined series, would eventually crash land on Earth and, with the assistance of an unwilling Wolfman Jack, set about trying to use a radio transmitter to inform the Cylon fleet about Earth's location. As the audience, we know what might happen should they succeed thanks to Doctor Zee's simulated Cylon attack using old footage from 1974's Earthquake but as a Centurion stumbles around and falls over thanks to some meatballs cooking in a microwave, we know that such an attack will not be.
Galactica 1980 was cancelled after just ten episodes and ended with Starbuck all alone. Adama might mourn the loss of a warrior who he'd looked upon as a son but he carries on to Earth regardless. "The great ship Galactica, our home for these many years...we've endured the wilderness of space, and now we near the end of our journey: we have at last found Earth!" Unfortunately, though, Earth wasn't really much interested when they did.
While this is a very low point in the history of Battlestar Galactica, not having it would make the series incomplete. The Return Of Starbuck is a good episode and there are moments in the three-part Galactica Discovers Earth that are fun but Galactica 1980 often aims at too young an audience and the children soon start to grate. It also doesn't help that Kent McCord and Barry Van Dyke are no Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict and while it wouldn't be Galactica without the same effects footage used over and over again, one soon tires of seeing Troy and Dillon riding their motorbikes on the freeway and taking off in exactly the same formation.
Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica is now approaching Earth, or so we're led to believe, and one can only hope that he avoids the mistakes made by Glen A Larson as his Galacticans made the same approach. Hopefully, he'll avoid children, farming, baseball, flying motorbikes, William Daniels dressed in a clown outfit and a Cylon being downed by a dish of meatballs being reheated in a microwave. If he does that then the fourth and final season of Battlestar Galactica could be one to remember...in a good way.
Universal could have done more for Galactica 1980 but one feels that the financial reward wouldn't have been there for them. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 4:3, the main problem with Galactica 1980 is the amount of grain and dirt on the picture. This isn't so much from the original material shot specifically for this series but on the footage from Battlestar Galactica that has been brought over, particularly those shots of Vipers and Cylon Raiders and of the Colonial fleet. Keeping costs down, there's also a fair amount of stock footage in the series and, again, the quality lurches between the fairly respectable new footage and the noticeable amount of grain and dirt on the odds and ends brought together by Larson to bulk up his stories.
However, if you have any knowledge of the show, this is a familiar complaint. The original Battlestar Galactica has always looked like this. Indeed, Larson even reuses the shot of, as it was then, Apollo and Starbuck flying over the desert in the original Battlestar Galactica pilot movie only now it's apparently Troy and Dillon. There's cheap and there's Battlestar Galactica and, as such, there's probably only so much that Universal could have done with this show and this is proof of their efforts. It may not look that good but it does its part and if watched on a smaller screen, the grain and dirt may not be that noticeable.
The stereo soundtrack is a little bit better. There's a small amount of background noise but, admittedly, not a great deal and while one notices the occasional bit of noise or lost line, for the most part it's fine. That said, it's not that exciting a listen either so you certainly won't be running away from Galactica 1980 saying how marvellous it sounds. Actually, you'll be even less inclined to do that having heard exactly the same Viper audio effects eight-hundred-and-fifty-times in these ten episodes. But it's alright to listen to. Finally, though, there are no subtitles.
The only bonus material is a Universal Playback trailer on the first disc of this two-disc set.