Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica was a hard act to follow. The sci-fi drama series was an Emmy Award-winning powerhouse that was deemed culturally significant enough to have a night devoted to it at the United Nations. It was that impressive. Due to it being a remake of a cult 70s show with a title that promises unadulterated geekiness, you practically have to beg people to give it a shot. Yet out of the seventeen people I’ve passed it on to, none of them could stop watching (and some of them were female). Galactica has always been critically acclaimed due to its diverse handling of socio-political issues with truly epic space battles. Its four seasons covered just about every societal ill whilst revelling in a budget and creative team so rarely afforded to a show on the SyFy network. It was one in a million.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome is the third feature-length spin-off following Razor and the tepidly received The Plan. Chrome was intended as a new show, but after some penny-pinching on SyFy’s part, it ended up as a web series on Machinima before being collected for television and Blu-ray as a “movie.” As a long-time fan of the franchise, it’s really disheartening, but with a universe this beloved, I’m happy to get another hour-and-a-half in it at all. Blood & Chrome also follows BSG‘s own short-lived spin-off series, Caprica, which I loved but many couldn’t appreciate. That was a prequel to the whole saga and Chrome picks up some time later, although no knowledge of Caprica or Battlestar Galactica is required to enjoy it.
As with the original, we find ourselves in a distant solar system. Long before the man-made Cylons launched a devastating attack on the human colonies, men fought “walking toasters” on the battlefield in what would become known as the First Cylon War. This is where we find rookie Raptor pilot William “Husker” Adama (Luke Pasqualino), an overly cocky recruit who is eager to frak up some machines. He is stationed aboard the Galactica, which instead of being the homely hunk of junk we remember, appears to have recently come off the production line. He is soon sent on a dangerous mission with Raptor co-pilot “Coker” Fasjovik (Ben Cotton), and the hard-to-read Dr. Becca Kelly (Lili Bordán), who may or may not be telling them everything…
For Battlestar fanboys, there was cause for concern with Blood & Chrome. It was mostly filmed against green-screens due to the original sets being dismantled, and it dared to star someone other than the mighty Edward James Olmos as Adama. That couldn’t be avoided, of course, but the Blade Runner co-star and Oscar-nominee casts a rather large shadow. First of all, the settings, while obviously artificial, are expertly done and rarely seem hokey. You can understand why SyFy didn’t take it to series – it would have simply cost too much money to produce (it’s just so much cheaper to broadcast wrestling on your so-called sci-fi network). Secondly, while not everyone puts in 110%, Pasqualino (best known to UK viewers as Freddie from Skins) is an adequate Adama. He’s not as bang-on as the slightly older Husker we witnessed in the Razor flashbacks, but it’s also kind of cool to see a version of the famous character that’s so full of life and passion before Admiralty took its toll.
It’s clear to me that long-time BSG writers Michael Taylor, Bradley Thompson and David Weddle were shooting for a different tone with Blood & Chrome. Its parent show is a dark and gritty military procedural befitting a series where most of humanity is wiped out in the opening episode. B&C is very much a war show reliant on action, and in that way it directly references the 70s Galactica and its debt to Star Wars. The stakes are still massive but the mood is one of high adventure. Such an approach is an exciting one, and it must be said that if you want operatic space carnage, B&C delivers it. What it lacks is the heart and integrity that Ron Moore was able to write into the 2003-2009 series. This isn’t a knock against it but a realisation that this pilot was trying to appeal to those turned off by Caprica‘s glacial pacing. There’s little substance, sure, but it’s never less than entertaining.
The action, which is evidently where much of the tight budget went, is very well executed by director Jonas Pate. The visual effects just about stand up to the sterling work Zoic Studios did throughout the series (the same company that worked on Firefly). An early set piece in which Adama evades a batch of Cylon Raiders within a wrecked vessel is a highlight, as is the in-orbit Viper battle that really gets the Star Wars vibe going (I half expected Coker, who mans the Raptor’s guns, to shout “Don’t get cocky, kid!”). Blood & Chrome gets a lot right on a visceral level, and even has some continuity for the devotees. It is fan-fiction writ large.
Plus, having been a follower of this mythology for almost a decade, it’s hard not to get goose-bumps seeing Adama step onto Galactica for the first time, or hearing a familiar voice towards the conclusion. There’s also the presence of Bear McCreary’s typically virtuoso music. This savant, who is currently scoring The Walking Dead, may never better his work on BSG, which is so esteemed that he tours it around the world with a full orchestra. To sample how great his music is, just get a load of this:
Despite all the good elements on display, however, there are a few nagging caveats. Fans will spot several BSG faces returning to play unrelated roles, which seems to be a regular pet-peeve with Canadian-produced television. It didn’t deter from my overall enjoyment but its still annoying. The acting also isn’t up to the perfection witnessed in BSG, yet Pasqualino and Cotton make for an amiable double-act that might have gone some interesting places (especially when Coker has a taste for booze like the sorely missed Colonel Tigh). There aren’t many traces of Olmos in Pasqualino’s turn, yet it’s hard to deny he has inherited the role by the time he gets a Viper with his name on it. The only person to really disappoint is Bordán. We never learn much about the mysterious Kelly, and her late twist is telegraphed early on. While the writers don’t give her much to work with, her delivery leaves a lot to be desired.
I also feel that the snow-bound conclusion, while getting in the requisite Cylon Centurians, could have been better conceived from a storyline standpoint. But such things become quibbles in the grand scheme of things.
Since it was envisioned as a pilot, Blood & Chrome has a lot of set-up rather than pay-off, but due to its prequel nature, you could just jump straight into Battlestar Galactica afterward and never mind. There is currently a BSG-shaped hole in sci-fi television, and while it would have been amazing for the network to give it a chance, to have another addendum to a great show is appreciated. Not just one for the hardcore fans, Blood & Chrome is a fun SF diversion that is the next best thing to Star Wars before Episode VII arrives.
Oh, and here’s a non-spoilery “series trailer” for the Battlestar Galactica we know and love. Watch it, get hooked, and thank me later.