Thursday, June 16, 2005

Making Lemonade: Or I Feel the Need, the Need for Speed...on the new Battlestar Galactica

God I really, really want to like this new show, the "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica, developed by Ron Moore and currently airing in reruns on The Sci Fi Channel (before a second season starts soon).


I keep telling myself I shouldn't be an Old Fogey (even though I'm only 35) about this. I should not keep stating that the old show was better, more fun, more successful in terms of its characterizations, effects and production design. After all, the new show is winning critical accolades right and left. It's not just the second coming of Battlestar Galactica. It's the Second Coming for Science Fiction on TV, we're supposed to believe.


Well. Okay. I guess. I can almost swallow that Kool Aid. But then again, I am old enough to remember when people said that about...er... Manimal...


I wrote a book all about the underpinnings of the original Battlestar Galactica in 1997, which was published by McFarland in 1998, entitled An Analytical Guide to TV's Battlestar Galactica. You can buy it at Amazon.com. I argued there -- hopefully persuasively -- that the original Battlestar Galactica had its flaws, but that despite them, it was a unique and interesting series. And for a number of reasons, I claimed this was indeed so. The great expense of the original 1978 series (more than a million dollars per episode...) assured imaginative costumes, impressive sets, and the best and most convincing special effects yet developed for American television (Space:1999 was British...). On top of production values, enormously appealing actors like Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch made the show more than the Star Wars rip-off the MSM wanted to make it out to be, and as the show developed over the weeks, it actually boasted something akin to a story arc. Finally, I also felt the original Battlestar Galactica had an interesting hawkish philosophy that differentiated it from Star Trek, and an interesting use of Christian and Greek/Roman mythology.


On the latter front, for instance, Battlestar Galactica made more than a token attempt to remind us that the lead characters were all from another planet, another solar system. The characters had names like Athena, Apollo, Lucifer, and Adama, and in the first episode, the survivors of the Twelve Colonies crossed a red-hued mine field that was the equivalent to the Red Sea. The characters said "yahren" instead of year. When they cursed, it was "frak" or "felgercarb." When they smoked a cigar it was a "fumarello." When they counted down time units, it was "centons" and "microns." Dogs were "daggits," and dollars were "cubits." It might have been ham-handed or silly at times, but this attempt at a legitimate Colonial language/lexicon granted the Battlestar Galactica world a veneer at least of otherworldly reality. We actually believed that these were "brothers of man," out in space; people like us, but not actually from Earth. We could suspend disbelief.


And for me, that's the thing that's almost wholly absent in the ripped-from-the-headlines, September 11th-style re-imagination. I was shocked to hear Starbuck quote the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun (1986) in one episode, noting a pilot cadet's "need for speed." I was disappointed to hear thoroughly earthbound references to "stogies" (instead of fumarellos) and "lemonade." I was disappointed that all the characters wear contemporary-style ties, business suits, and glasses, and that on occasion, are wont to exclaim "Jesus" rather than say "Oh Gods" (as they often do in later episodes). Whoa!


The feeling that these people are from another world (another friggin' galaxy maybe!) - and not models starring in Pier One commercials - is totally lost in this new Galactica. And for that reason, I keep wanting to scream at the screen --- you ain't from Earth! You haven't seen Top Gun! Come on, Ron Moore, you can do better than that! I saw Carnivale - it rocked!! And the work you did on DS9 and Next Gen -- friggin' brilliant stuff, dude!


And then I start get bitter, you see. And here's why: This new and (improved?) Battlestar Galactica was never designed to be faithful to the original. Never. Oh, the execs and the story editors say so, but they just aren't being honest, perhaps even with themselves. What is quite obvious from the TV episodes is that the writers want this show to be about us. Here. On Earth. In 2005. Dealing with Abu Ghraib. Dealing with Faith-Based Politics. Okay, that's cool - actually daring even - but it's not, repeat NOT true to the history and character of Battlestar Galactica. If truth be told, it's a helluva lot closer to Space: Above and Beyond(1995) than it is Battlestar Galactica. These new creators are simply using the title Battlestar Galactica as quick franchise identification. The name is a marketing tool, nothing more.


Consider all the changes to the franchise core. The Cylons are no longer robotic machines (okay, occasionally they are...) but rather Terminator-like human "sleepers" (like Al Qaeda! Get it?) "Apollo" is no longer a character's name, but a call-sign like Tom Cruise's "Maverick" (shit, what's this unhealthy obsession with Top Gun anyway?) Starbuck is no longer a man, but a woman. Boomer is no longer a black man, but an Asian woman, and Colonel Tigh is no longer a loyal, upstanding lieutenant to Adama, but a Dick Cheney-lookalike with a drinking problem and a whore for a wife. The Colonies look like Earth, down to hairstyles and costumes, not alien worlds. And that's just for starters! Considering these changes, I think Moore would have been better off to remake Space:Above and Beyond.


But here's the thing: besides you and me (and the other anorak sci-fi TV fans out there) how many people actually remember Space: Above and Beyond? It isn't really a usable title, you see? But Battlestar Galactica?! Gosh, it aired almost thirty years ago, and people still remember it today, even though it was on ABC for just one season (24 episodes; 17 stories). Sixty-five million people tuned into the original's premiere back in 1978. So, Battlestar Galactica has a magic ingredient: an exploitable name.


And that's just what the makers of this new show needed. They've exploited the name, a few of the key concepts, and then gone and done something completely about face. Is it good? Hell yeah, I do think the new show is good. But again...


It...is...not...Battlestar Galactica...

But frankly, I'm in a minority of one making this argument. Many original Battlestar Galactica fans thoroughly despise me because I dared (in my book) to speak my mind about the flakiness and bad storytelling of the original (and those dreadful space westerns with saloons, swinging doors, cowboy boots and horses...) So, given that my thoughts aren't always welcome in the Original Show camp, by all means, I should be comfortable with the new show, with its FTL jumps and deep story complexities, but I'm not. I'm on my own. I'm a man alone. The old fans don't like me, and I don't really think the new show comes from a place of honesty or faithfulness to the original.


On the new show, I do like the new Baltar. I like the civilian president too. Ive enjoyed Richard Hatch's two guest appearances. I appreciate how the program visually apes 24-style techniques with hand-held camerawork and shaky cams and the like. I think the stories are decent, and even at times quite compelling, especially as a reflection of the times we live in.


Yet the cynicism of this enterprise (or this battlestar...) depresses me through and through. Why so much sex and nudity every week? I like sex in drama, but it's so overused here as to be a joke. The skin-flashing and face-chewing in each installment is entertaining, but all too calculated. Star Trek did this with Seven of Nine, and now Battlestar Galactica is doing it with Number Six. Isn't it about time we outgrew this cliched presentation of women in science fiction television? Does Starbuck have to bed every guy (including Baltar and Zac) she meets? And do we have to see it? Is this really good storytelling, or has Battlestar Galactica merely succumbed to the trend in a lot of sci-fi TV and adopted soap opera-style storytelling? I wonder...


And lastly, to get one last thing off my chest. The hype. The bloody, frakking hype.


There's so much hype about how "popular" this new Battlestar Galactica supposedly is. Don't you believe it, buddy. The original drew 65 million viewers during its premiere. The ratings slipped, but the series was still drawing 20 and 30 million viewers regularly , even in repeats. A new episode of Sci-Fi's Battlestar Galactica if it's lucky, draws four or five million viewers, a fraction of the original series' pull.


So congratulations to the new team. They've taken a blockbuster property and successfully transformed it into a niche one. Is it successful on the Sci Fi Channel? Sure. Absolutely. But so was John Edwards show about Crossing Over for a while. So was Shanen Doherty's Scare Tactics. So were reruns of Strange World. But Galactica is not what it could have been, had it stayed true to its lineage and heritage.


Yet, I'm still watching. And I'm still hoping. There's a lot of good work in this new show, and interesting, developing storylines. But they better stop quoting Top Gun, these so-called aliens from the planet Caprica. Maybe they are receiving transmissions from the is-it-real-or-not planet Earth, but only ones somehow related to Scientologists...

29 comments:

  1. Okay, the ratings numbers don't compare to the original, but that was also back when it was a network show before the days of the digital cable explosion. The question isn't, How does it perform versus the original (which could, after all, be pulled for free out of the sky via an antenna), but how does it perform compared to other shows on the SciFi channel, which not everybody has access to and which costs actual money to get. And for SciFi, the new BSG is doing big, BIG numbers.

    It also happens to be as addictive as crack. I may be a bit too young for the loyalty to the original. Sure, I remember watching it and all, but the story details are lost in the mists of time as far as I'm concerned. Except for all those identical spaceship launch shots. And Starbuck's hair. And the Cylon bubble machine.

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  2. I know I'm in the minority on this new Battlestar Galactica. I know it. And it's not that I think the show is bad -- you can tell by my schizophrenic post that I'm deeply conflicted about it. There are some things that it does so beautifully. And then there are other things which are just nuts. Like why the quotation from Top Gun? Doesn't that just immediately take you out of the reality of BG? I think this would have been a much more interesting series if it had a new name, and not Battlestar Galactica. Then I could enjoy it 100%, and not have all these niggling doubts about it. Ever watch Space: Above and Beyond?

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  3. I saw one or two episodes of Above and Beyond and really liked it. Wish it had lasted longer. And yes, I see where it has a lot in common with the new BSG.

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  4. John,

    I liked your book on BSG, I've got the on Space 1999 too. I don't know where you've gotten the idea that fans of BSG don't like you.

    BSG is my favourite SF show of all time, but I'll be the first one to admit The Magnificent Warriors sucks a whole load of ass and that Hector and Vector are two of the greatest crimes committed in TV SF! ;)

    I don't like the new show at all, it's full of SF cliches that have been around for 50-odd years, it moves at a snail's pace, has a mysonagist undercurrent and hardly resembles the show it shares the same name with.

    Do yourself a favour and stop watching, and if you can get your hands on episodes of the new Dr Who, watch that instead, you'll find it more rewarding.

    Finally, you're way off with your viewing estimates for the new show. It's more like 2.5 million viewers (if they're lucky!).

    Best,

    Peter Noble, co-owner www.cylon.org

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  5. Ted Clone2:35 PM

    Should I even ask what the cylon bubble machine is?

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  6. Hey Peter -

    Thanks for stopping by the blog. I've been to cylon.org many times and enjoyed the articles tremendously. You cover not only Galactica but a lot of non-Galactica TV material there too, as I recall.

    Gee, you're making me feel really good. I had thought that a vocal group of Galactica fans hated me after I read what a few of 'em had to say about me and my work on bulletin boards and such (I won't name names...). I'm glad to know that maybe I'm not such a pariah after all. Maybe I don't need to be defensive about it.

    But it's always nice to meet a fan who does like my work! So welcome, and stop by often. Do want to check out Dr. Who ASAP.

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  7. John I am Battlestar Galactica fan from 1978 and have been called a Purist...I'll wear that proudly. The subject of your book and some fans came up.

    My comments:I bought Muir's Analytical Guide to Battlestar Galactica in what seems now forever ago. It is the best read on the show out side of production team interviews from the end of the 1970’s. Any one reading would know he admired Battlestar Galactica greatly. He articulated Galactica’s flaws accurately and better than I ever could. If MooreRon read the chapter about how Battlestar Galactica should return we would be enjoying a new television show. Perhaps TOS sycophants needed an enemy before Moore and Ick. I never understood the venom sent his way by fans…then again we never expected Aircraftcarrierstar Mooronica either.

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  8. Hey Sept17th! Thanks for writing about this subject. I must admit, it's really making me feel good that some TOS fans have written in and said nice things about my work. I've suffered from a bad case of low self-esteem about my book since I saw some of the responses on the Internet. One of the few things that kept me going was that Richard Hatch and I met at a convention in 2000, and he told me he thought my book was the best thing ever written about the series...because it was objective and fair. We started a friendship that continues to this day, and that's really been meaningful to me.

    So now it is really great to know that my book was worthwhile for some TOS Fans. Even though sales of my book have really, really good (and it's being re-released in soft-cover...), I have to admit that I was shocked by some of the venom spewed on the Net about it, and how some of my words were really, really taken out of context.

    But having you and Bishop37 write in about my book has really cheered me up. Thank you!

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  9. John,

    I've never read your book, but if no one can admit that the original series had its flaws, then they need to take (to paraphrase Joss Whedon) "time for quiet, silent contemplation." So if those fans who want to blast you for your honesty about certain episodes, well, they seriously need a life. Good Lord, just because a show may have serious flaws, it doesn't mean that the show isn't any fun. :)

    Even though I am a fan of both shows, I think your criticisms of the new show are fair. I agree with some of them. You will certainly find no hatred spewing from this hybrid fan.

    Hope to read your book soon.

    Respectfully,
    Martok2112 (Steve Dunlap)

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  10. Hey Martok!

    Thanks for the comment on the Galactica post. I guess I'm not such a "man alone" after all. I'm meeting kind, thoughtful and respectful fans on both sides of the Galactica vs. Galactica debate. That's really, really cool. I guess I can come out of hiding now...:)

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  11. RJ Andron12:52 PM

    John,

    I found this blog via a posting on one of the Galactica boards, and just wanted to add in my comments as well. I purchased your book Analyzing Battlestar Galactica earlier this year and I enjoyed it immensely. I thought that the comments that you had in there were bang-on in terms of what could have been done with the series, and I'm looking forward to your Space1999 book as well.

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  12. Hey RJ!

    Thank you for letting me know your feelings about my book. Man, it is just so nice to get this kind of feedback. Redemption! Seriously, I appreciate your comments so much. I don't want to get all squishy here, but I'm just blown away! It means a lot to me...

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  13. Hi John,

    Your article did a pretty good job of describing my own feelings towards the new show. There are so few decent sci-fi offerings out there that you root for anything that tries to raise the genre to succeed...and this new show does try. In addition, the FX sequences, particularly the capital ship battles are mesmerizing. Better than anything I have seen on the big screen by far. Still, the show is deeply flawed and the writing is pedestrian and the characterization has been agonizingly bad.

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  14. Sir, I read your book on Battlestar Galactica, and though I think your criticisms were sometimes unfairly harsh, overall you were on the ball. You are definitely not alone in your dislike of the new series -- in fact your review makes almost verbatim the same points I've made numerous times. It's a stupid show made by stupid people for stupid people. It is not Battlestar Galactica, nor is it remotely science fiction. The apalling attitude by both the creators and the fans is, "World-building is hard, so don't even bother!" So laziness is now a thing to be rewarded?

    And as a side note, I agree with your assessment of Lane Smith's contribution to V. His loss was second only to that of Michael Ironside as the death-knell of V, and his work in other projects was unfailingly wonderful. Unlike Nathan Bates, Lane Smith was a wonderful human being.

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  15. Collin,

    Thanks for writing! Thank you for your even-handed but nice response to my BG book. When I look back at it, I can see that some of the words I used to make my argument were strong...maybe too strong.

    But boy, words can't adequately describe how cynical the new BSG is. It's craven brand-name television...and I agree, not science fiction as I understand the term. (If it were, we would be asked to believe that the Colonials come from another planet...their wardrobe, demeanor and language makes that impossible).

    Thanks for writing.

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  16. Anonymous12:56 AM

    I don't Care for the New BSG at all there is none of the feeling of the old one at all. I attempted to like it watched two episodes, I really don't care for it at all even if it had a differnt name. IF you want to see a fast paced action film How about Recon 7 Down a WW2 action film about pilots and by the way it has Dirk in it. It is to be released in the spring in the UK and USA produced by Cheney Films Company.

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  17. Anonymous10:46 AM

    So many good points! Yes, I grow tired of the soap-style of the new "Battlestar." However, let's throw a few bones.

    First, the acting is high-quality (opinion). One cannot watch the original Baltar without thinking "Ham" and having visions of the original "Lost in Space"'s Dr. Smith. Of course, television acting styles have changed a lot over the years. Olmos doesn't have Green's voice...but I've loved his intensity
    since Bladerunner and Miami Vice. Mary McDonnell is very believable...showing strength without losing her femininity.

    The second bone...Star Trek, the original series, used Sci Fi in order to address current events; the cold war, interracial relations, and fears of technology. The new "Battlestar" does the same, although it is true that it does so rather heavy-handedly. Still, it is refreshing to see today-relevant issues. (Battlestar Iraq!)

    Last...the effects are amazing, as well as the cinematography. It's nice to see how tension and emotion are played with just using light filters.

    Yes, the soap feel is getting really old...and no, it isn't a continuation of the old Battlestar. No...it isn't doing a very good job of World Building. But it also isn't Battlestar 1980. And it isn't Stargate. And there are no cute daggits, thank God.

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  18. Anonymous9:23 AM

    I agree with you John Muir. When I saw Starbuck driving a Hummer, I wondered why GM was having so many financial problems, since they were selling cars off world.

    There was no attempt to make this show anything other than Americans flying in space. While the storylines are good and the acting for some of the characters are excellent (Six in season "2.5"), there is no real concept that is going on. Finding Earth by end of season 2 also seems be have been put to the wayside.

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  19. Hey John,

    I realize you made this post some time ago so I'll try to talk with the John of two years ago whose opinions may have changed in the meantime.

    In your book you bemoan the wasted storyline of the colonial connection to Earth and the Von Daeniken theory. You say an excellent resolution to the series that would have successfully utilized it would've been Apollo sent to ancient Greece, Starbuck to become the first mate of a whaling ship, and Adama traveling to the beginning of Earth with a council of 12 member named Eve.

    The problem with many criticisms on this board is that people have not read or heard any of Ron Moore's peripheral stuff like audio commentaries. He and David Eick have clearly stated that all the similarities of their culture come from somewhere or something beyond them--and this beyond, as well as the cycle of time known as "eternal recurrence", is going to be the big payoff. In all likelyhood they'll arrive on Earth and find they've already come from there or something. They'll make use of what you believed the original did not with Galactica 1980.

    As for the more glaring connections like Kara's Hummer I'd like to point out that giving people retro or classic looking sets and props you almost place it out of time while keeping familiarity. The movie GATTACA for example is set in the future but everyone looks like they're stuck in the 1950s--it makes props cheaper, doesn't distract the audience with flashy gimmicks "Oh, so they've hover cars!", and doesn't date the show by giving them contemporary looks or dated interpretations of what the future (read futuristic technology) would look like. Remember Starbuck and Cassie's hair? He looks like the Old Spice man and she looks like Farrah Fawcett. With the exception of Baltar, Roslin, Tory, and Ellen, the men have short military haircuts and the women have pony tails.

    Most of your complaint seems to come from a possibly unintentional Top Gun reference.

    If anything I'd say the "Battlestar Galactica" brand is more of a deterent than a magnet. Were it not for my stumbling upon the miniseries halfway through, been blown away, and THEN told it had the same name as a show I'd caught horrible reruns of on Sci-fi, I might have never gotten into it. I've gotten so many people into this show but it always takes a bit longer because I have to explain how unlike the original it is.

    The new series has its flaws of course but they are far oustripped by the ones plaguing the OS--especially its first half. The biggest complaint I have is excessive family drama but I'd probably then complain about how often they run into the Cylons or have another resource crunch.

    Yes the characters can be annoying--Apollo is principled but feels entitlement, Starbuck is reckless and selfish, Adama is not the God-on-Earth that Lorne Greene was, Tigh is a drunk, and Gaeta lied under oath unlike Starbuck who refused to say he killed his Triad rival in self defense and risked imprisonment on sheer principle.(I've since watched the whole series). These are human and therefore flawed characters that generally make for a much more interesting watch than the "best of the best" feel I get from TOS where the only flawed person is Starbuck whose single problem is that he's a womanizer--at least until Athena is out of the picture and he's a good guy.

    And the original was also a product of its decade. The Cylons are easily analogous to the communistic Russians whose revolution got out of hand and twisted them, and whose talk of peace and detente was merely a trick to catch the Colonials (the west) by surprise. There's not as much of this in TOS but it's there, especially in the premeire.

    Keeping watching the show but saying to yourself--"GINO. Nearly identical premise. Same character names. Different show" Just appreciate it for what it is by itself.

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  20. NOTE: I've noticed original series fans refer to their show as “Galactica” whereas re-imagined fans refer to their own show as “Battlestar”. These, and abbreviating “the original series” (TOS) and the re-imagined as “Ronald D. Moore” (RDM), are how I will distinguish the two. This second post is an elaboration of subjects touched upon in my previous one.

    A majority of these complaints don't seem to regard Battlestar's quality but rather dissimilarities from the original that piss you all off the most. Battlestar seems to exist in your uncanny valley—it has just enough similarities with the original for you to recognize but all you can do it nit-pick just exactly how different it is and why it's so bad because of them. This show is not a butchering of your Galactica because it's not intended to continue or copy it. The premise and character names are there, with some modification of course, but it's most certainly a different show. It says right there on Sunday nights--”A Sci-Fi Channel Original Series”.

    About the technology. As I said in my previous post, using classic or retro looking props is a good decision. Remember the hover car on Paradeen? Or Hector and Vector? Though that was a good episode (albeit kind of padded) those stick out like sore thumbs. A Hummer on the other hand, whose utilitarian design has been around for many decades, and probably will stay like that for many more longer, goes unnoticed. I also already explained RDM and David Eick's vision as to eternal recurrence and its role in Galactica similarities, but here's another point I'd like to make. Aside from technology, the Colonials differ from the other humans they encounter in no significant way that you'd expect since they're supposed to be thousands of years apart. Ignoring the ridiculousness that settlers would've regressed in technology, and that of all the languages (and countries) on Earth the Colonials most resemble the United States in both series, is the fact that Lee Adama wears a tie really that important? In the literal universe of possibility that civilizations, even within the fractured RDM Colonial society only recently unified in the series' timeline, the difference of 20 (frak, computron, mushies, centon, etc) terms and a few customs from our own is statistically about as significant as just a handful of terms (frak, Kryptor, Ambrosia) as in the original. Take two tribes of humans and separate them for thousands of years--if their language only differs by fewer than even 500 words it would be remarkable.

    As you say in your post, these people are not “aliens” from Caprica but Americans right down to the “haircuts.” Perhaps a greater error than giving the boys of Happy Days 70s style haircuts, Apollo and Starbuck have, well, hair of the 70s, while the men of RDM (save Baltar) have buzz cuts and the military women wear pony tails whereas TOS where only Adama's hair doesn't seem to come from the not too distant past. You also say RDM is ripped from the headlines in a post 9/11 world. What about the obvious détente mood of the original that preceded a conservative revival and, as you observe, catapulted Reagan into office? The Cylons are a freedom hating collectivist Empire spanning alien species and planets who became enemies when they extended their power into a planet that, as Adama puts it, did not wish to be enslaved. It's almost as if we're continuing World War II and finally going into Eastern Europe. The lesson? Whenever those Red bastards talk of peace, arms reduction, or anything to deescalate the war (hot or cold), it's just so they can catch us with our pants down or quietly build up and do it later. Adama is Reagan-- “Count Baltar, tear down this Basestar!” and Adar is the naïve and weak optimist Carter.

    Side note: People QUIT COMPLAINING ABOUT PHONE CORDS. I recently watched the entire series and I first noticed cords on those wall communicators in “Fire In Space” and from thereon after. Cords don't have to be necessary for communication but rather are the best way to make sure phones don't walk away with someone or need batteries. Besides, Doral explains all that in the beginning. Also—bullets and nukes are a helluva lot scarier and less distracting than blasters that only ever kill Centurions and any “super-destructive gamma ray cannon” or “cosmic disruptor bomb” that might be conjured.

    The colonial world of TOS is more rooted in civilization before the attack while RDM is about forging a new one. Tom Zarek, played by your revivalist leader Richard Hatch (which should take some wind from complainers' sails if he's no longer on-board), said that “people are just going through the motions of their old lives” and proposed a radical new approach—a collective one. The world of RDM is what they're making it, not what they're continuing.

    The same thing I've observed for Firefly fans seems to have happened to Galactica fans. Because it was canceled before it should have, and left many questions unanswered (esp. true for BSG), you can create an unchallengable imagination for it that's solely potential. TOS is can be what you want it to be and the RDM is not—therefore you're mad. But Mr. Muir, I offer you your own words to convince you why you shouldn't hate this show as a butchering of your beloved Galactica but rather a wonderful, pretty similar, show. You yourself acknowledge “It...is...not...Battlestar Galactica...” yet you can't stop picking at how much it isn't and oddly enough believe the Galactica name, one which breeds more skepticism than interest in my circles, is a marketing ploy. Using your own words I hope to convince you that this is a continuation of Galactica in line with what you say in your book. I realize you're not the champion of all things Battlestar Galactica but I'll use your words to combat some common criticisms of the new show that you may or may not have made.

    On page 173 you write “If or when Battlestar Galactica is revived, it must not forsake its mythical heritage. The Biblical and mythical angles should be played up in a consistent, thought provoking fashion...mythology and science fiction, hand in hand, could continue to make Battlestar Galactica into a unique addition to the Valhalla of Science Fiction.” This new BSG is bereft of Biblical references save for Admiral Adama and the various Judeo-Christian names common to Earth, favoring instead a Greek one. Egyptian stuff seems to exist since Hera's second name was Isis. Also—rather than exploring this mythology in science fiction with planets or new people, the main characters themselves are playing a part. Starbuck is Aurora, Roslin the dying leader/Moses, and who knows wtf is up with Head Six and Baltar, Caprica Six, and the little baby toasters hopping around. Mythology in the making, not mythology explored.

    Anticipating criticism of a revival, you write on page 205 that “fans must be prepared for the acerbic commentary of critics who will undoubtedly see a revival as a hopelessly bad idea.” Critics are the ones who love this show, not the diehards. Fanboys can be the ficklest of supporters. On page 206 you write the revival could “concentrate instead on exploring the hearts and minds of its travelers.” For all the complaints I hear about the occasional soap opera episodes (read “drama”, and some were damn good) these most certainly are explorations of their hearts and minds. Many of them deal with Starbuck, perhaps the most emotionally complex character in the show precisely because she's just so fucked up in the head. “What if the new Battlestar Galactica”, you begin on page 181, “does not improve on the original? Even worse, what if it is as bad as Galactica 1980? If the latter becomes reality, Galactica fandom will face a grave crisis.” No one, anyway, ever, as far as I've seen, would dare compare Battlestar to Galactica: 1980. Since it is beloved by critics and has a fairly large audience despite being on an extended Cable channel, it may actually be demonstrably better than Galactica. Fandom is facing a crisis—those who automatically hate the re-imagined series and take a powerful magnifying glass to pick out its flaws and leave their precious Galactica (except you in your book) alone despite its greater ones versus those who appreciate it on the merits of simply being an excellent show, old and new fans alike.

    On page 215 of your analytical guide you list ten recommendations the revival must follow in order to succeed where the other, though popular, failed.

    ONE: Strong female characters: The RDM has Kara Thrace, President Roslin, Admiral Cain, D, Racetrack, Tory, and many other secondary characters. Gender concerns never come up—ever. Their best pilot is Starbuck and, much to my chagrin, the awful character of Kat.

    TWO:Make all ships have light speed: As portrayed in the miniseries, only those ships capable of FTL, that is “jump” technology, survived the Cylon raider assault before they came to Ragnar.

    THREE: Don't adopt Maximum Press ship designs. Check.

    FOUR: Realistic fighter tactics: Not only does the new series have strategy (when they can) but also realistic physics that technology of the '70s did not allow.

    SIX: More story about politics in the fleet: One of the principle characters is president of the civilian fleet and Colonel Tigh's imposition of martial law did not meet with much success. Admiral Cain's handling of colonial law is more in tune with Greene's Adama. The entire New Caprica arc deals with civilian unrest for having been crammed in ships for nine months who'd listen to anyone saying what they wanted to hear.

    EIGHT: Cylons and Baltar must be menacing: The Baltar of RDM's version is more ambiguous and selfish than evil but, as you admit, a much more interesting character for it. But the Cylons are a much more credible threat. Though they prefer swarm tactics, this is a cultural and technological difference compared to the Colonials. The former have resurrection technology and incredible resources from a military build up and thus have little concern for casualties while the colonials must worry about losing valuable pilots and scarce resources. One Battlestar can survive a nuke and weapons fire because it has more investment in its soldiers and has planned accordingly. The Cylons remain a credible threat however, especially because in the first two seasons there are sleeper agents. One benefit to the humanoid Cylons is that the Centurions are more menacing whenever they appear.

    NINE: No westerns: Check. They've encountered three inhabitable planets, none of which contain intelligent life, two of which hold artifacts for their journey to Earth. The cold harsh reality of space as Colonel Tigh puts it “Most planets are hunks of rock or balls of dust; the universe is a barren place once you get down to it.”

    TEN: Ignore Galactica 1980: Check. Different timeline.

    I've left two of your requirements for last. Number 5: Have CORA for automatic pilot. This is a non-issue because the archaic technology of the Galactica is because they were afraid of technology and the AI that turned on them. As Doral put it, “from a period where people literally looked backward [in technology] for protection.” Also—there are no long or deep patrols save for the occasional Raptors which are equipped with an FTL system. Number 7: You seem to be in love with the von Daeniken theory of Earth colonization and it is here you differ significantly from the re-imagined series. Instead of von Daeniken, you have eternal recurrence and the vastness of uncharted space. Starbuck says in “Saga...” that once the war is over they can get back to exploring the galaxy again, yet they have names for every frakking planet they encounter. With the exception of Kara Thrace (Starbuck) fulfilling the role of the Goddess Aurora, mythology's relation to the characters directly is few and far between. They make up for it with a long term mythology however, one which TOS did not get a chance to build. It even appears unwieldy at times; here in between season three and four, they've yet to explain WHY the final five Cylons split from the fold. Baltar asked about it once, Caprica Six shut him up, but now everyone seems to know that they exist while having never once explained where the frak they came from. I look forward to learn what their purpose is, but I'd've appreciated at least a cursory explanation for the schism—even a lie—in season three.

    Given how the new series fulfills almost every single one of your requirements, save the ones that cannot apply with the new developments, I'd add an 11th recommendation to explain why you dislike it...

    ELEVEN: The revival must be a continuation of the existing story with as many of the original actors as possible otherwise it will suck because it isn't the same. You're still a young man, though older than myself, and you can't stomach that these characters are going in new and better directions that one of your favorite shows never achieved. According to your Wikipedia page you'd have been just nine when the show premiered so you'd likely have become familiar with it in re-runs—watched ad nauseum. This new show is a butchering of something you loved and therefore bad and you can't seem to appreciate it for its own merits.

    Having first been acquainted with the re-imagined and then TOS, I have no such hostility, but I think perhaps a more objective point of view. Had the former been allowed to continue I don't believe the RDM would have been made. Although Galactica was watched by more people than Battlestar, it was also on network TV before Cable and whose remaining adherents are, let's be honest here, geeks. I'm also a geek—a black dreadlocked geek at that—and will defend Battlestar against the likes of die hard Galactica fans who find only fault.

    Watch the show or let it alone—there's something brilliant happening here but you're just too entrenched to appreciate it.

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  21. Alex,

    I appreciate your comments and your wholehearted and sincere attempt to get me to re-evaluate the new BSG. God bless you!

    I do want to establish that I'm not - as you accuse - "entrenched" in the old Galactica. If you really read my book, you know that's true. It's hardly a one-sided, glowing evaluation of the original. I've taken my brickbats from fans of that series for being too hard on it. So I feel like my objectivity is established. I devoted a whole monograph to saying what was wrong (and what was right) with the original BSG. Today, I'm doing the same with GINO.

    The point of my book is that BSG was what I consider a "guilty pleasure," but one with a tremendous amount of potential, and a great cast filled with likeable characters. The show's potential was not always reached...but it was present.

    My objection to the new Galactica us that it is overrated. That it *thinks* it is brilliant, but is actually pretty obvious. The politics are so on the nose as to be laughable, and in this case, form echoes content: the production design, down to the hummers, the business suits and the spaghetti strap dresses just reinforce the notion that ZERO thought went into crafting the "alien" world of these colonists; just as zero thought is required to watch the show.

    I have a friend named Tony whom I deeply admire who says this in regards to the new Battlestar Galactica: It's obvious Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is the best of all Star Trek movies. Right? Isn't it? Don't we all agree?

    No?

    Well, if you listen to mainstream critics, this is the undeniable truth. They liked Star Trek IV because it was humorous and mainstream and you needed to know nothing about science fiction or Star Trek history to "get it" or like it as a film. Therefore it got a good review.

    The same is precisely true of the praise currently heaped on the new Battlestar Galactica. All the science-fiction has been drained out of the premise so that it's just...American politics in space. Of course mainstream critics like it. They don't have to think about it. It's...crushingly obvious that every episode is referring to some post 9/11 event or idea.

    I do say in my above-post that I can watch the show anytime and enjoy it the way that I do 24. That's true. I can see flashes of brilliance here and there, and the show is very entertaining when it isn't outright implausible. In regards to implausibility, how believable is that the hyperactive, twitchy Baltar, who is constantly seen talking to himself and gesticulating wildly in the presence of Number Six - would ascend to the Vice Presidency without anyone noticing his odd behavior?

    Whatever.

    Yet overall I still feel that the new show is a cynical attempt to "steal" a brand name rather than develop a fresh brand name. If this show wasn't called "Battlestar Galactica," as you note, many of my objections wouldn't be so strong. But taking the name "Battlestar Galactica" means the new show has the responsibility to adopt at least some of the ideas and philosophy of the original. But Ron Moore couldn't have gotten a show made without the name Battlestar Galactica. So he took the name, and then did what he wanted, co-opting the franchise for his own purposes. It's...cynical, and in some senses, it's a fraud.

    My central problem is that the new Battlestar Galactica could have built on the potential of the original series, but it eliminated most of the things that made the original show appealing in the first place.

    I'm delighted you find something you enjoy so much in the new BSG. Truly - I mean that without snark or disdain. But don't expect me to "let it alone" when I can see clearly what it's failures are...just as I see what the original's failures are.

    Finally, let me posit this idea. some day the shoe will be on the other foot and you may see my perspective. In 20 years, a cocky young producer may revive the Battlestar Galactica format yet again, in a brand new "timely" way...with Baltar as a Cylon woman, Boomer as a green-skinned alien, and Adama as the homosexual lover of Tigh. The new show will build on the context of whatever political event is happening two decades years from now and critics will hail it as "brilliant." Given that set of circumstances, honestly, how would you react?

    So, when talking about being "entrenched" in a series, make certain you ask yourself how you will feel, seeing a show that you enjoyed for twenty five years altered into something unrecognizable. Because that may happen. For your sake, I hope not.

    It's easy (too easy...) to simply defend the re-imagination because it is of your time. Let's see how it goes down when the next version is a bastardization of the version YOU love. At that point, you and I can really have a talk, because we'll be in the same headspace.

    And I mean all that with respect and admiration for your point of view. I love the debate, and I appreciate your comments. But you issue the directive that I should watch the show or let it alone. What makes you assume I don't watch it? You also assume that anyone who watches the show appreciates it. I watch the show, and that's not the case for me. I'm the real deal as far as criticizing Galactica: I watch it and I STILL think it has problems. And don't even get me started on Bob Dylan in space. I look forward to Starbuck hearing the siren call of Cindi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" in a future episode...

    Finally, none of what I say here should hinder you in the slightest from maintaining your point of view, loving the series, and arguing your point with passion. Who knows...maybe you have a book in you about the new show. If that's the case, I would love to read it, and consider your arguments. I think it's great that the new BSG has fired up your imagination and intensity so much, but understand that not everyone is going to agree with you.

    Just like not everyone agrees with me, either.

    Godspeed,
    John

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  22. Brian Himes6:47 PM

    Hi John,

    Like you, I am a Battlestar fan from way back. I, too, watched each and every week that the original show was on. I never missed and episode. And yes, there were episodes that were lame. The show had a great potential that, in my belief, it never really got the chance to realize or make use of. Had it lasted another season, I think the show could have really been something more that what it started out to be. Then again, having read several statements from Glen Larson what he had in mind for the second season, maybe it's best that the shows was cancelled.

    Anyway, I watched the new Galactica mini series when it premiered and I hated it. It just didn't seem to live up to or respect the legacy of the original. Everything about it just struck me as wrong. I couldn't find anything about it that I could like. So when it went into a regular series, I avoided it 100%.

    Until now.

    With the series about to go into it's 4th and final season, I decided to revist it and give it a second chance. So, I bought the first two seasons on DVD and sat down to watch it. Both seasons. Then I would render my judgement.

    I'm still not wrong. The new show is, like I've heard around, Galactica in name only. While I can enjoy the new series on its own merits, it is not Battlestar Galactica. I share your opinion that this is blatant franchise name stealing. Can you just picture what would happen if some Hollywood executive decided to go back and 're-imagine' the original Star Trek series? The fan outrage would be heard on Pluto.

    In fact, while I was watching season 2 of the new series, I noticed the same old thing that Ronald Moore did with Star Trek. He sets up certain concepts and either ignores them or completely contradicts them in later episodes. For example, near the end of season 2 of Galactica, Baltar has been elected President and he orders Adama to jump to New Caprica and begin settlement. Ok, so Adama is answerable to the President of the Colonies and the President is the only one that can give Adama an order. Fine and good until you re-examine everything else that preceeded this scene. If the President is the Commander and Chief of the military, and the highest ranking leader of the military can only be given orders from the President, then knowing that Admiral Cain was dangerous, why didn't President Roslin just smiply releave Cain of her command and replace her with Adama? Problem solved. Right? But...no. Instead she and Adama hatch this plan to assassinate Cain instead. Dumb. Anyway, I've gotten off track. But this was just one instance where I completely lost my top with this show.

    I will continue to watch the new show, and enjoy it for what it is. I will still not be Galactica to me and it never will be. The new show has it good points and it has its bad points. It should never have been called Battlstar Galactica.

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  23. In reply to your reply, John, I'm gonna have to agree with you that I can disagree all I like. I've considered your points and I respectfully have to say you're just plain wrong. I'm sorry that you're wrong--you seem like a nice guy--but I can't change that. [insert emoticon to indicate a tongue-in-cheek]

    Some points.

    You've misrepresented my comment that you're entrenched to mean you're a die-hard "every episode is great" kinda guy and that is not what I meant. Your book was crystal clear on your feelings for the early episodes in particular.

    You say BSG is obvious and full of itself. So how then can your original series, something you admit to be a guilty pleasure, be any better? Guilty pleasures are the pork rinds of entertainment--you reach for them when you just want junk. (That last sentence quoted Veronica Mars by the way, possibly an accident, who knows?) How can TOS's potential, the ONLY thing it ever had going for it, fit within its guilty pleasure status YET surpass the "obvious" BSG? RDM routinely kills off characters and I can't remember any season finales that shocked me more than BSG's.

    Science Fiction at its best asks us "Where are we going?" or "What are we now?". BSG asks the latter while TOS did neither. Remember that oft mentioned Star Trek episode where they meet a species with white and black sides of the face.

    Given that, BSG is shaped by its world moreso than TOS with the exception of "Saga of a Star World" and its Cold War undertones. Trust me on that point; I'm a university student and I got an "A" on a geography paper regarding that topic.

    Creating the impression of people from an alien world is financially and creatively expensive. Ignoring that they may very well have come from Earth ANYWAY, this is a problem other series develop. Why does Sisko love baseball instead of Parisis Squares? Why does Data learn comedy from Joe Piscopo instead of some legendary 22nd century comedian? And why doesn't Picard consider the Beatles classical music? There are very real limitations and trying to break them is hit or miss and only caters to a niche.

    Richard Hatch published an unauthorized collection of articles on the new BSG. In there one author compared it to Harry Potter. She said both fit firmly in the Sci-fi and fantasy categories respectively but are broad enough to encompass people who don't usually enjoy either. By comparing the critically but not fan loved Star Trek IV to Battlestar you're essentially saying that while it's good television it's bad sci-fi. Those so-called flaws are offensive to your sci-fi-tennae.

    You ask how Baltar can ascend to the Vice Presidency. First off, no one but himself (and thus us) knows he's talking to and seeing an imaginary woman. He's a media celebrity who's personally eccentric--big surprise! He's also charismatic, brilliant, and credited with saving the fleet at least once. That's how he gets appointed.

    I still don't see how the Galactica name could be anything but a detriment aside from a sneaky ploy that instantly places the show in contrast to the original and thus receives the praise from critics who give it instant points for being so much better--and that's creatively too far fetched.

    Stealing the name is quite the complement, I think. This isn't like how Starship Troopers started as a similar but differently named screenplay and eventually adopted the character's names for a bastardized version. Eick and Moore set out from the very beginning to take the BSG premise and do with it what wasn't done. Come on, honestly, look my emoticon in the eye and tell me any originals came even close to the *developed* mythology of the new one. :/

    While I do feel passionately for the revival I don't think history will require me to publish my defense of it since it will only ever be attacked by classics fans who'll have long descended into the fringe. I'm more likely to publish something on Civil War history, my favored subject at UW-Madison.

    But should someone seek to revive perfection they'd have to choose my favoritest show--The Simpsons. I'd be quite pissed if Homer becomes a lesbian and their kids are fathered by booted former Roman Catholic priest Ned Flanders. Should my beloved comedy become a gritty drama I'd be peeved. "Why'd they even name it 'The Simpsons' anyway?" I'd ask myself. Then I'd remember our little exchange here and I'd feel better; TOS had such an original premise that any sampling that more fully explored the original would be decried as "knock-off!". Also, I'm sure Moore and Eick wanted to get away from the Terrestrial programming of Trek. Whereas one could make a family show, even one as unconventionally conventional as the Simpsons, without taking that name, you can't make a Battlestar-like show. Yet the way some of these posters characterize the name adoption it's like Moore and Eick personally snatched their daughters, gang raped them, and casually returned. Just a thought.

    I look forward to continued exchanges and regret ending this post with the word "rape."

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  24. If I live to the end of the known universe's death, I will smile knowing that the fake EMO-BSG ended and hopefully was universally hated by all. You see, I figure, there's no way Ronald Moore-on can give the EMO-BSGers an ending they will like. So, I am looking forward to the finale, the bitterness and resentment and the crushing blow to this soap opera POS pretending to be great SF drama. BURN, FAKE GALACTICA, BURN!!!

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  25. Edison Carter7:20 PM

    Well, it's been some time since this started and hopefully you've warmed to the new show.

    The old show was awful. I mean c'mon. Models as pilots episode, your race has just gone through genocide and everyone is chasing 'tail',a gunslinging cylon, Oh puhlease. Do not even get me started about the original Baltar.

    Ron Moore's point was that this was a sister culture to our own and similarities would be normal as we are the same race. And, this allows the episodes to focus on story and not costume design. Also, 'feel the need for speed', was said a long time before Top Gun.

    And while they made an effort, things like Space 1999, Buck Rogers, Logan's Run, Tron, etc were cringingly awful storytelling.

    I do encourage you to go to iTunes and get some of Ron Moore's episode podcasts. They really are quite good.

    The bottom line, it's all just television

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  26. I love it when one of the EMO-BSG fans tells me how awful the one true Galactica was. The thing is, while, yeah, it wasn't so "dweadwy sewious!!!" as EMOBSG, it was fun to watch. EMOBSG is an exercise in illogic and soap opera emotions with barely any action half the time. None of the characters are likeable and I while I watched (up to the middle of season 2) I wondered why I cared and why I should root for these really awful characters whose emotional damage sometimes came before human survival. If these are our 'heroes', I'd rather be extinct...

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  27. I have to comment on the idea that things like Tron or Space:1999 were "cringingly awful" storytelling. That seems short-sighted

    I think that point of view can come from someone who hasn't really watched either production closely. I mean, Roger Ebert gave Tron 4 stars when he reviewed it, and the a sequel is being made twenty-five years later. If it was so awful, why has it stood the test of time?

    Space:1999 is still being watched and debated after thirty years, so we'll have to see if the new BSG lives up to that time line.

    1999 is one of the most richly-visualized series of all times, and those visuals help to express the mysterious, enigmatic stories (witness the stylistic Force of Life by the late Johnny Byrne, which depicts the story of the visiting alien in terms of visuals [camera angles, lighting, etc.]. The first season, anyway, was a tremendously consistent, brilliant vision of what Science Digest called "the downfall of 20th century technological man."

    Newsweek noted on October 20, 1975 that "not since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 have sci-fi freaks had the chance to trip out on so much surrealistic gimmickry." The Richmond Times commented that Space 1999 had "one foot in science and a range of special effects that would make even the emotionless Mr. Spock envious," and The Wall Street Journal enthused that the series was "the most flashy, gorgeous sci-fi trip ever to appear on TV. Watching it each week is very close to being under the influence of a consciousness altering drug."

    Even The New York Times (on October 19, 1975) reviewed Space:1999 positively, noting that it "has what no other TV science fiction program except Star Trek had - good stories and good special effects."

    So the cringingly-awful storytelling comment is a matter of (ill-founded) opinion, and I suspect, received wisdom.

    The new BSG has its merits no doubt, but the biggest deficits I seee (and still see) are

    1. lack of good production values and therefore imagination:
    a. how long are we supposed to accept hummers as space vehicles of an alien society?
    b. No aliens in outer space at all? Just man and his creation, the Cylons...which represents a total lack of curiosity about space.

    2. Blatant inconsistency from episode to episode.

    A.) For instance, in one episode Roslin removes Adama from command. Then when the clearly psychotic Admiral Cain arrives in the fleet...Roslin doesn't remove her from command. In fact, she plots to assassinate her. Why not - Commander in chief of the military -- merely promote Adama over Cain? Or have Cain submit to a psychological examination so she can be removed from command?

    B.) Cylons who the cast members "know" get to live, while those who aren't in the main cast get thrown out the airlock.

    3.)The series has turned the entire story of mankind's survival after a catastrophe into what I call a "cosmic game of CLUE." Who is the last Cylon? It's Starbuck on the Galactica in the viper. It's Lucy Lawless unboxed on the Resurrection Ship. No, it's...well, you get the idea. The entire thematic thrust of the series has been now reduced to a parlor game.

    -JKM

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  28. Brian Himes4:27 PM

    John,

    Once again great points all. I'm glad to see that I wasn't the only one to notice the whole Cain thing. I chalk that up to Ron Moore's typical writing. He sets up certain concepts in one episode and then abandons them later just to serve the plot or lack thereof.

    And yes, I totally agree that the entire show has become one long parlor game. I'll be forever greatful to see it come to an end. To quote an old Tiger Beat article from 1979...Bye, Bye Battlestar!

    Sadly the public is about to be subject to even more of Mr. Moore's insipid story telling and flawed logic with the launch of Caprica.

    My brain hurts just thinking about it.

    And anyone who thinks Space 1999 was an awful show really wasn't watching it. I have the entire series on DVD and have watched it several times. That doesn't even count the numerous times I saw it in reruns in the 70s.

    As for Tron..well to be honest, I've never seen it so I can speak for or against it. I've heard great things about it but it just never seemed to interst me. That's more a failing on my part and not the fault of the movie itself.

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  29. Brian Himes7:39 PM

    John,

    Just and FYI, it seems that Universal and Glenn Larson are now working to bring the original version of Battlestar Galactica to the big screen. Looks like we just might get a movie based on the original after all. Let's hope that they read your book and correct some of the mistakes that was present in the original.

    I'd love to see a movie based on the original series or even a continuation of the original series. Let's hope for the best with this.

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