Battlestar Galactica: The TV Space Saga Turns 40

BSG poster

“There are those who believe that life here began out there. Far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans, that they may have been the architects of the Great Pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria, or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man, who even now fight to survive…somewhere beyond the heavens.Opening narration of Battlestar Galactica

Nowadays, it is easy to find original sci-fi shows on TV or streaming and it is hard for younger fans to imagine a TV landscape where sci-fi was virtually non-existent. So, when a sci-fi show like Battlestar Galactica premiered back in the 1970s to big fanfare, it truly was a big deal for fans back then.

When Battlestar Galactica debuted forty years ago in Sept. 1978, it generated tremendous buzz for many reasons. The most important being its cost (about $1 million per episode) and for its superficial similarity to Star Wars. In fact, 20th Century Fox sued Universal Studios (the studio behind the show) for plagiarism, though that case was dismissed. We have to remember that when a movie is a huge hit it is never long before TV shows with similar premises popped up. It’s just the way the things go. This does not mean that Battlestar Galactica was a rip-off of Star Wars. Of course, both properties featured expensive space battles, rich, bombastic scores, and took place far from Earth, but it ends there. Battlestar Galactica was a space saga about the remnants of an advanced human civilization trying to find a safe haven from their robotic enemies, the Cylons, in a convoy of spaceships led by Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) from his flagship the Galactica. The twist was that the humans sought safety in a long-lost colony world called Earth.

This was a clever twist, which spun around the sci-fi concept of survivors fleeing a doomed Earth. Actually, according to series creator, Glen A. Larson, the original concept for the show used the premise of humanity fleeing Earth in a quest to find a new world. It was called Adam’s Ark and like the show it morphed into, incorporated many aspects of Mormon theology. It is important to remember that Larson conceived of Adam’s Ark back in 1968, nearly a decade before Star Wars came along.

Battlestar Galactica captured the imaginations of many sci-fi fans who were hungering for something similar to Star Wars to at least tie them over until the inevitable Star Wars sequel came out. Others, however, were more critical over the show’s scientific inaccuracies, limited production values and scripts. Keep in mind, that though the show was expensive, it was easy to see that it tried to keep its budget in line. Hence, the overuse of stock footage, especially when it came to space battles. These same critics also decried its so-called juvenile nature and lack of vision.

BSG cast

These critics could not have been more wrong. Of course, Battlestar Galactica had its faults, but given its limitation, it was unusually imaginative and did a credible amount of world building. Most episodes added interesting lore and mystery to the world of Battlestar Galactica. This was best seen in its mid-season episodes, “War of the Gods” where the Galactica crew encountered an enigmatic being called Count Iblis (Patrick Macnee) who promises salvation. The episodes explored concepts of good vs. evil, faith, and temptation. What helped was that by this time, we had grown to care for the show’s leads. Although Adama was the leader, the show focused on his son, the heroic fighter pilot, Apollo (Richard Hatch) and his best friend, the roguish fighter pilot Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), along with many supporting characters.

Sadly, as things goes, Battlestar Galactica was canceled after one season. It garnered moderate ratings, but not enough to justify its hefty price tag. What made things worse was that the show was terminated before it could resolve its central storyline. The Galactica and its convoy never found Earth, though they had clues. A mixed blessing came about a year later when a sequel show was commissioned. In the show, Adama and the Galactica convoy finally found Earth, but Galactica 1980 was truly juvenile and lacked any of the charm of the original.

Books, comics, fan fics, etc. followed, which helped keep interest alive in the show. It never reached the heights of popularity like Star Trek or Star Wars, but the devotion was solid. There have been many attempts to bring the original show to a proper conclusion, including some by Bryan Singer and Richard Hatch. Of course, we all know of the popular reboot that came out in 2003, which is considered to be one of the finest sci-fi shows ever made. While the reboot has its justified accolades it is important to remember the original TV show that spawned it and to imagine that there is much more to that space saga that is yet untold, even now, forty years later.

“Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last battlestar, Galactica, leads a ragtag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest: a shining planet known as Earth.”Commander Adama, closing narration of Battlestar Galactica

José Soto

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The Dark Knight: Setting The Standard For Superhero Films

The-Dark-Knight-Standing-Before-a-Burning-Gotham
This year will mark the 10th anniversary of The Dark Knight hitting theaters and setting a new standard. It became the highest grossing superhero movie of all time and while this record has since been surpassed, the film is still widely regarded as arguably the best comic book film ever made. The Dark Knight was highly anticipated before it came out, as director Christopher Nolan’s well received Batman Begins showed a new interpretation of Batman on the big screen. It was an origin film that had a Batman universe in a very realistic setting as if taking place in the real world. This first movie ended with a tantalizing hint of the Caped Crusader’s arch nemesis the Joker. Seeing the clown prince of crime in this realistic setting was something fans were very eager to see. When actor Heath Ledger was cast in the role, there was some blowback, but stories of his intense preparation for the role, and his unfortunate death before the premiere of the film changed this perception and led many fans to look forward to what his take on the character would be like. The results of his performance and of the film itself blew audiences away.
The movie portrays a tense showdown between Batman and the Joker, who sets in motion a plan to take over Gotham City by uniting all of the criminal gangs in Gotham under his leadership. Heath Ledger’s Joker was both psychotic and brilliant, with a scarred smile carved into his face and war paint-like makeup that gave him a nightmarish look. How he manipulates both the Gotham City public, police and criminals while setting up the downfall of Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne was something to behold. Christian Bale played both Batman and Wayne very well and showed true conflict while he attempted to protect the love of his life Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and try to take down the crazed anarchist who seemingly wants to destroy everything he holds dear. This conflict included supporting a potential rival for Rachel’s affections, in Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent played by Aaron Eckhart. Dent’s crusade against crime was something Batman supported but this also put the DA in the crosshairs of the Joker, who is eventually able to push Dent over the edge and force him to become his evil and twisted alter ego Two-Face.
Nolan’s ability to balance out the idea of a comic book hero like Batman with a gritty crime drama is something that makes The Dark Knight a great experience. The movie begins with an intense and foreboding atmosphere as a bank is robbed by a gang of crooks and one of them ruthlessly guns down his compatriots. It is revealed to be the Joker, and this intensity stays with you for the rest of the film as the Joker starts his rampage against the underworld and broadcasts executions on TV and has judges blown up in their own cars. Batman comes to see what he is dealing with and realizes he will have to go to great lengths to stop this madness. This would come to include having to spy on all of Gotham and violating everyone’s privacy; losing Rachel in tragic circumstances due to a fiendish bait and switch by the Joker; and eventually taking the fall for the death of Harvey Dent and going on the run as a hunted fugitive.
batman and joker the dark knight
Even a decade later, The Dark Knight is seen as the standard by which superhero films are held to. Whenever there is a great genre film, it is said to be the “Dark knight” of its kind. While the follow-up film The Dark Knight Rises didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, the trilogy as a whole is still seen as one of the best to have come out in recent times. The film increased Batman’s already very high popularity and reestablished the character in cinematic terms after the less-than-enthusiastic reception to Batman & Robin from 1997. It took eight years for DC and Warner Bros. to bring Batman back to the big screen with Batman Begins in 2005, and the huge success of The Dark Knight put Batman back on top and brought success unseen since the first Batman film in 1989 that was also a huge hit for its time.
the dark knight classic
It seems very appropriate that Batman would work well in this realistic setting since his character is somewhat more grounded than other superheroes. He has no super powers and neither do most of his villains. His main concern is stopping violence in Gotham City and bringing down crime bosses. This fits in well with a less fantastical type of superhero film. That’s not to say that other kinds of comic book films with Batman don’t work, since there have been other movies with him that are more like traditional superhero movies and are really good. It’s just that The Dark knight is an excellent blend of both worlds. Because of this, the film will be remembered well beyond these first ten years.
C.S. Link

Man of Steel & The Five-Year Anniversary Of The DCEU

Man of Steel
This month marks the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU( and the film that started it all, Man of Steel. This film brought the most iconic superhero, Superman, into the modern age with incredible visuals and a very interesting take on his origins. The film starts as expected on the doomed planet of Krypton and shows Superman’s father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the beginning of the feud between the House of El and General Zod (Michael Shannon). The planet shown is very unique and has a wonderful sci-fi aesthetic that is a radical departure from the cold, crystalline Krypton shown in older Superman films.
After Jor-El’s infant son, Kal-El, is sent to Earth, the story shifts suddenly to present day where Kal-El, now called Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), is now a grown man unsure of who he is and where he came from. His life as a child on Earth is told in flashbacks and shows how difficult it was for a boy with superhuman powers to try to lead a normal life. Lessons from his adopted father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) include trying not to draw attention to himself until he was ready, even if it meant not saving those who were in danger. This harsh lesson would haunt Clark later in the film when tragedy strikes the Kent family.
Man of Steel presents a startling depiction of the title hero as it focuses on Superman’s uncertainty about himself when he learns of his alien origin and during his battles with Zod after he arrives on Earth. This is sharp contrast to previous depictions of Supes, where he is more accepting and confident of who he was. However, in the end, Superman is able to defeat Zod and start his journey as Earth’s greatest hero. The battles between Superman and Zod and his henchmen are thrilling to watch and culminate in Superman having to kill Zod in order to save civilians from being killed. This was a divisive thing as many fans balked at seeing the Man of Steel killing someone. The large-scale collateral damage across the city Metropolis caused by the epic battle was also controversial among fans. This different take on things carries on throughout the rest of the DCEU, where Batman is shown as a bitter and cynical crime fighter of 20 years, at the end of his rope, and Wonder Woman is in hiding after dealing with a century of war and heartbreak in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Superman kills Zod
 The new depiction of these characters has been controversial and the mixed reception to some of the DCEU films has led some people to want Warner Brothers to reboot the whole thing but this would be unwise. To date there are already five DCEU films released with three more filmed and in post production (Aquaman, Shazam and Wonder Woman 2). You don’t cancel a franchise eight films into it. What WB seems to be doing now is focusing on standalone films as opposed to team up epics like Justice League. This in part due to the disappointing  box office for Justice League. Going back to basics gives DC an opportunity to recapture what Man of Steel did so well, which was to have a streamlined film with great action and a focus solely on the heroic character without having to establish a number of other characters that WB was quickly trying to introduce. Now that those introductions are out of the way, they can now take their time to fully explore these heroes. Hopefully this will begin with Aquaman, which is coming out this December. Hopes are high with a well-regarded director in James Wan and rumors of epic underwater visuals and battles that this film will kickstart the next phase of DCEU films. Although I do hope that we will eventually see another Justice League film; the post-credit scene of of the film suggests the formation of the supervillain group, the Legion of Doom. It would be great to see them battling DC’s heroes in a big mash up.
 Another positive of this shared universe is that we are finally seeing films that have DC characters which were previously ignored in films. Earlier decades were dominated by Batman and that’s about it. This can hurt a brand if it’s focused too much on one character only. In fact that is what happened with the DC films which for the most part were devoted to Batman for a couple of decades.  Broadening the scope of DC films has led to the breakthrough of Wonder Woman, probably the most popular film of the DCEU, so far. All of this will let other characters have their day in the cinematic sun like the aforementioned Aquaman, as well as other fan favorites like Nightwing, Batgirl and the Flash. 
 But the one that started it all is also the one that started DC Comics way back in 1938. Appropriately, Superman is the beginning of the DC’s shared cinematic universe and his film Man of Steel is I think, the blueprint that should be followed by the next group of DCEU films. And hopefully we will see another Man of Steel movie, as well.  It’s maddening that Warner Bros. keeps announcing new films featuring lesser-known characters while there has been no indication that Man of Steel will have a proper sequel. There are persistent rumors that Supes will be appearing not only in Shazam, but also show up in other DCEU films and be the link the link between the different movies. If this is the case, then the future of the DCEU should end up brighter after its somewhat shaky start.
C.S. Link

Looking Back At Planet of the Apes 50 Years Later

This year marks a very significant anniversary for sci-fi films. Of course, it is the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that is not the only sci-fi classic celebrating its 50th anniversary. That other film is Planet of the Apes, a sci-fi masterpiece which launched a successful film franchise that resonates to this day.

Planet of the Apes was a 1968 film adaptation of Pierre Boullle’s novel, which was published in 1963. The film, like the novel, was an allegorical examination of human society and how inhumane people can be. In the story’s case, the humans were represented by super intelligent apes that control the planet.

George Taylor (Charlton Heston in one of his greatest performances) is an astronaut on a deep-space mission to find a new habitable world. He and his fellow astronauts crash land on an Earth-like planet centuries from now. Before long, Taylor is the only survivor and is captured by upright, talking ape-like beings that rule a pre-industrial civilization. During his capture, Taylor is injured and unable to talk, much less communicate. Most of the apes that hold him captive for science experiments treat him inhumanely and lump him along with the other mute and animalistic humans that inhabit the world.

Taylor stands out because of his expressed intelligence and catches the attention of a simian scientist studying him, Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter). As Taylor regains his speech (done so dramatically when he shouts defiantly “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn, dirty ape!”), he befriends Zira and her husband, Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), an archaeologist.  These two champion his cause for equal rights against the ruling apes that refuse to recognize Taylor’s intelligence. One of these members is the fundamentalist Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), who won’t acknowledge Taylor’s sentience, and seems to be hiding secrets about his planet’s dark past.

taylor and dr zaius

Taylor’s struggle is the heart of Planet of the Apes and echoed the civil rights movement that engulfed American society in 1968. What is remarkable about Taylor’s plight is that at the start of the film he had a dim, pessimistic view of humanity. So it’s a great sense of irony when he alone is forced to champion humanity to the dogmatic apes that refuse to acknowledge his rights, let alone his intelligence. This was best seen in the pivotal tribunal scene where Taylor pleads his case to the obtuse Assembly led by Zaius. They try to deny his humanity and dignity, but he rose to the occasion and we cheered him on.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Boldly Went Where No Trek Had Gone Before

Twenty-five years ago, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) premiered on syndicated TV and right from the start this Star Trek spinoff charted its own unique direction. Unlike other Star Trek TV shows, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stood out beginning with its premise and later by taking advantage of it. The show did not take place onboard a starship that traveled to different planets each week. The main character was not even a captain and was deeply troubled. More than any other Star Trek show, this one truly focused on its ensemble cast to create a rich tapestry of characters who actually grew throughout the run of the series.

When executive producer Rick Berman and writer/producer Michael Piller set out to create a new spinoff after the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation they did not take the easy route. Instead of just recycling the elements of Star Trek that made it so phenomenal they tried something different. The result was a show based on a space station with fallible characters that did not always get along with each other. Instead of having the cast explore other planets, other races came to the station, some coming from a nearby wormhole, and often the consequences of meeting the aliens were explored.  Showrunners like Ira Steven Behr took over and ran with the premise. Simmering political, social and religious situations were explored. Tensions boiled over into a long-running arc where the Federation went to war with the formidable Dominion and the impact of the war was fully examined in the program. For the first time, Star Trek became more serialized as season-long arcs were introduced, a rarity in ’90s television.

Unlike the more safe Star Trek shows running at that time, DS9 was edgier, took more risks, and went where no Trek had gone before by exploring volatile issues like social injustice, ethnic and racial tensions, taboo relationships and more. In fact, for all the noise made about Star Trek: Discovery with its non-white lead, homosexual relationships and hot-button issues, it has to be mentioned that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine covered all of this twenty five years ago.

To say that DS9 was ahead of its time is an understatement, but it can help explain why it was not a huge hit back in its day. More attention was paid to Star Trek: The Next Generation and later to Star Trek: Voyager since the latter show featured Trek’s first female lead. Yet both shows played it safe with its storylines and characters. After a while fans noticed that their familiar premise of spaceships exploring the unknown was becoming too pedestrian and predictable. DS9 on the other hand, took chances and the result was some of the richest and most memorable Star Trek stories.

Unlike many programs, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has aged well and is as relevant today as ever. Many are discovering the show and appreciate what it set out to do, which is why its reputation has grown over the years. While most will claim that the original Star Trek is still the best, a valid argument can be made that DS9 is actually the best Star Trek ever. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend you sample it, even though the earlier episodes are the show’s weakest. However, DS9 comes into its own and before long, you will be binge watching it.

 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the most groundbreaking Star Trek show ever made because it boldly went where no Trek had gone before with its unique premise and rich characters and stories.

Lewis T. Grove