Battlestar Galactica: Razor Review

Pegasus and Commander Cain return, as do the original Centurions from the first Cylon war…

I thought that I had dreamt it. I’m almost certain that it was shown on television at Christmas – the box of Tunnock’s Teacakes, which was a tradition in our house as children, give it away – but the Mission Galatica: The Cylon Attack movie (The Living Legend two-part episode), from never being repeated after this one and only showing, passed out of first-hand memory into the more distant kind where dreams merge with actual events and one is never sure which is which any more. Indeed, it wasn’t until the DVD release of the complete 1978 series that confirmed the existence of The Living Legend, a two-part story that saw Lorne Greene’s Galactica meet with the Pegasus of Lloyd Bridges, the safe passage of one conflicting with the military tendencies of the other. Unlike the episodes that formed the Saga Of A Star World film, Mission Galatica: The Cylon Attack wasn’t seen again.
Amongst many reasons, part of why Ronald D Moore’s reimagining of Battlestar Galactica has been so appreciated by fans of the original is in his bringing back the Battlestar Pegasus in Season 2, still with Commander Cain (Michelle Forbes) in command and showing rather too much liking for direct military action. Where Adama treated his Cylon prisoners with some respect, Cain ordered her officers to be inventive in their torturing of their Six (Tricia Helfer). There could be no place for both Adama (Edward James Olmos) and Cain in the fleet, leaving one of the high points of Battlestar Galactica‘s second season being the resolution of the conflict between the two, as much of a threat to the fleet as the Cylons, who retreated somewhat to give Forbes and Olmos space to confront one another. Never really a show of obvious highs, this was still a clear highlight from Battlestar Galactica, much as The Living Legend was from the 1978 original.

As those two episodes formed a feature that could stand alone from the episodes either side of them, so it is that the Battlestar Pegasus forms a feature-length film, one that serves to bridge the gap between Seasons 3 and 4, albeit with a story that sits somewhere in the second series. Although there is a story that extends throughout the film, Battlestar Galactica: Razor does, in the manner of the main show, tend to jump forwards and backwards in time, not only to the Cylon attack on Caprica and Cain’s command to make a blind jump from the Scorpion Fleet Shipyards but even to the dying minutes of the first Cylon war when a young Helena Cain finds her courage tested and Viper pilot Bill Adama (Nico Cortez) discovers something terrible on a Cylon baseship. Many years later, with his son installed as commander of the Pegasus, Adama joins the Battlestar as it discovers that same baseship in a remote part of the galaxy, one that is guarded by original centurions and in what begins as a search and rescue mission, jumps in to find the missing scientists and to learn what part the baseship plays in the Cylon mythology of a hybrid. Meanwhile, Battlestar Galactica: Razor fills in the gap between the start of Cylon hostilities and Cain’s first attack on a Cylon baseship, one in which her ruthlessness is made apparent to the crew, after which she instructs Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen) to be like a razor, one who, in times of crisis, must make the difficult choices. Shaw proves to be a willing pupil.
If this sounds as though Battlestar Galactica: Razor has a somewhat rambling plot, that’s a fair assessment of the story. It has the feel of a set of quarter-hour episodes compiled into a feature, all of which have a rather tenuous connection. The purpose of this film isn’t so much to answer questions from an audience curious to learn some of the background to the main show but to hold on to that audience in the gap between seasons. Although none of this is dull – it is made to the same very high standard of the show – one imagines that the viewers were perfectly content with how Battlestar Galactica presented its characters. By her actions in Season 2 and in the rumours that surrounded her, Cain’s command of Pegasus was known to be less than open to question. Her abandoning of Lucy, her shooting of the ship’s XO in the moments before leading Pegasus on an attack and her ordering the torturing of Six only serve to confirm this even more but it never feels necessary. The decision to make Cain a lesbian and romantically involved with Six, thereby confusing her espionage with sexual deception, actually weakens the story with it suggesting that her actions as an admiral were, in part, due to her being let down in the affair she was having with Six.

There is still more on the relationship between Starbuck and Apollo and more on Bill Adama instructing his son in the art of command. For fans, Battlestar Galactica: Razor sneaks in a handful of original centurions, a 1978-styled Viper and a, “By your command!” But the search for a human/Cylon hybrid is only ever a plot device for this creature, who is a good deal more lucid that those we’ve seen before, and who makes reference to the final moments of Season 3. While this is presented as a revelation, it’s rather a minor one to those accompanied in the season finale by All Along The Watchtower. After that, anything was possible in Battlestar Galactica and while the ramblings of the Hybrid bring a surprise, it serves only to reinforce the notion that Battlestar Galactica: Razor is an extended trailer for the show’s fourth and final season.
This DVD release contains two versions of Battlestar Galactica: Razor, one being the 88-minute version as seen on television while the other is a DVD-only 101-minute edit. The main changes to the feature are twofold, one being a flashback to a teenage Helena Cain on the last day of the first Cylon war while the other sees the inclusion of minisodes three and four, which present Adama in a dogfight with a couple of Cylon raiders before fighting a Centurion hand-to-hand while freefalling. There are other, smaller changes, such as Six explaining why the Cylons first took on human form, more from the Hybrid and some conversations between Starbuck and Shaw that feel short in the television edit. However, these never feel essential and while this is a more-than-reasonable Christmas present from Ronald Moore and Universal, one could have gone from Season 3 to 4 without ever needing to turn to Battlestar Galactica: Razor. Like The Living Legend, little of Razor may ever be seen again but it closes the story of the legacy of Admiral Helena Cain better than one might have hoped for.

Battlestar Galactica: Razor is not so very different from the presentation of I>Battlestar Galactica on DVD. Shot on High Definition video, this looks great from the very beginning. An anamorphically-enhanced 1.78:1 picture is clean, sharp and offers plenty of detail in the image. Colours are muted, never offering much more than various shades of military grey, but the picture is bright, untroubled by any obvious faults in the source material and almost a seamless blending of live action and CG effects. The highlight of the presentation is just how sharp the picture is with the space battles being an obvious highlight with the only problem coming with the shaky shooting style that is one of the visual marks of Battlestar Galactica.

Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sounds as good as it has done before on previous releases, particularly Adama’s freefall after ejecting from his Viper and the battle in which the Pegasus leads a Cylon attack away from a baseship. However, although the quality of the track is consistently high, these are the two standout scenes and amongst a handful that make something of the rear channels. Otherwise, most of the track sits in the front three speakers with the rear channels offering ambience rather than obvious effects.

With this being a staging post between seasons, it comes as no surprise to see two short features devoted to Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica, one being a Trailer (49s) while the over comes as a brief Preview (2m33s). There are also two Deleted Scenes (3m38s), one of which features a whining Lee Adama while the other serves to draw more of a bond between Starbuck and Kendra Shaw. The Look Of Battlestar Galactica (7m59s) is a feature that seems to come rather late in the DVD releases, describing Ronald Moore and Richard Hudolin’s design of the show but looking back to the miniseries to best show off their ideas. My Favourite Episode (10m27s) interviews Ronald Moore, Executive Producer David Eick and the cast about the episodes they’ve liked most to date. Unsurprisingly, most of them choose episodes that have most tested them as actors while Eick and Moore pick the ones with the strongest stories from their earliest days of bringing back the series. Jamie Bamber chooses Crossroads Part 2 for the six-minute monologue he got to deliver while Tricia Helfer picks out her appearances in Pegasus Part 2 when she played two incarnations of Six, one imagined by Baltar and another lying bruised and beaten in a prison cell on Pegasus. I found myself agreeing most with Edward James Olmos who refuses to pick just one episode, saying instead that the entire series has been great.

The main bonus feature would appear to be the Commentary from Ronald D Moore and writer Michael Taylor, which plays out over the Extended Edition of Battlestar Galactica: Razor. They begin with the background to the production, going on to describe the lengthy process of coming up with ideas – setting Razor on Pegasus was only one of many that were proposed – before production began. Moore and Taylor talk throughout the episode, always willing to explain what happened behind the scenes, including the conflicts and disagreements, but avoid giving anything of Season 4 away, choosing to remain quiet during the confrontation between Kendra Shaw and the Hybrid. Finally, there are seven Minisodes (19m17s), five of which have been cut into the extended version of Battlestar Galactica: Razor. The first of these minisodes is set in the first Cylon war and deals with the relationship between Adama and Goldbrick, the middle five deal with the human/Cylon experiments that Bill Adama finds on the ice planet while the last is set two days before the second Cylon war. All of these bonus features, with the exception of the commentary, are subtitled in English and Spanish.

Eamonn McCusker

Updated: Jan 01, 2008

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