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STARBURST Vol.1 No.7 March 1979

Review by Graham Murdoch

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Fifteen years ago MGM approached producer Gene Roddenberry to create a new tv series. He outlined an idea he had been nursing for almost five yeats, 'a sort of wagon train to the stars'. He gave it the working title Star Trek. Roddenberry's descriptinn of his show was meant to convey the concept of stories of ordinary people-ordinary bot for the fact the tales would be set in space. Unfortunately the series never turned out that way. Star Trek never materialised as the struggle.of Man to survive in a hostile environment.

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Now, however, while Star Trek has long faded from the tv screens and has yet to resurface as the long-promised feature film, the original 'wagon train to the stars' concept has been revived.

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Television producer Glen Larson has created a concept that mingles the pioneering spirit of the wild west wagon trains with the spectacle of Star Wars. The result is an action-packed though edited down, 100 minute tv pilot-turned-movie followed by a weekly series on the small screen.

In an age of such polished tv movies-or telemovies-that they often outshine theatrically intended feature films, Battlestar Galactica has created a confusing first in it's unique release pattern.

Made for MCA/Universal, it first popped up late last year as a feature film in Canadian cinemas. Science fiction fans in America crossed the border in droves to see the movie that threatened to usurp Star Trek and Star Wars' top popularity spots. Next, it was the turn of Canadian science fiction fans to zoom over to America to see the (longer) tv released version of the same. But still the public wasn't satisfied. Even though Battlestar Galactica had, by then, settled into a regular US tv slot. And so the tv pilot/ movie was released theatrically in the USA with the added bonus of the Universal Sensurround technique.

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All this across the Atlantic, while in Europe we wait. Battlestar was originally to move straight into a tv slot over here, testing the market with two pilot shows before running into a complete series. But, critics will no longer be able to dismiss it (or praise it?) as the 'tv Star Wars'. For here, too, the initial pair of pilot episodes have been spliced together (and no, you can't see the join) for theatrical release through CIC this Easter. Beyond that? My calculated guess would be the independent network will pick the on-going series for their Autumn schedule.

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But enough theory, on to the plot . . Battlestar Galactica is set in the 75th Century. It is a time of conflict and turmoil. Man has been at war with an alien race for a thousand years. Yet even now, this millenium of continuous battle is drawing to a close. A special convoy, representing the twelve planetary colonies of man, is cruising towards a rendezvous point for peace talks with leaders of the Cylon Empire. Aboard the tiagship of this Convoy are Adar, President of the Tweive Colonies (played by Lew Ayers), Commander Adama (Lorne Greene), his daughter Athena (Maren Jensen) and the Council of the Twelve Colonies.

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As the occupants of the flagship discuss the prospect of peace, a routine patrol of two Colonial Viper fighters cruise the area surrounding the convoy, the pilots being the two sons of Commander Adama, Apollo and Zac. The brothers chat idly over their short-range radios but their conversation is interrupted when they spot a Cylon tankec apparently drifting in the depths of space. They investigate. As Apollo approaches the tanker he begins to pick up a strange static on his scanners. Apollo's Viper fighter swoops around the drifting tanker and comes face to face with . . . a veritable armada of Cylon ships. Thousands of enemy fighters lie in wait for the approach of the Colonial peace convoy. The proposed peace talks are no more than a ruse to lure the leaders of the twelve colonies of man into the open.

Apollo and Zac turn tail and race back towards the main body of the convoy. They know it is imperative that they warn their superiors of the Cylon fleet. But the aliens jam their radio frequencies. Their only chance is to outron their pursuers and hope that the convoy pick up the marauders on their scanners before it is too late. But, eager for war co end and fooled by the traitor in Iheir midst, the council refuse to believe anything could go wrong. Surrounded as they are by the might of the twelve intergalactic battlestar space cruisers, they consider themselves invulnerable on this, a mission of peace. Lorne Greene as Adama (well used to his sons getting into tricky spots, on horseback or now in spacecraft) pleads with the council but to no avail.

Despite orders against even preparing for an attack, he decides to stage a special 'drill' and make his weapons ready. And so, when Apollo returns from patrol alone --except For the huge alien fleet in pursuit, only Adama's battlestar The Galactica is ready to defend herself against the vast onslaught.

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So, in a rour de force of special effects genius, we witness the entire fleet, battlestars, council and all. destroyed by the metal-clad Cylon warrior force. All except The Galactica. It is then the final crushing blow comes. The human survivors learn that while their battlestars had been kept busy in space by the Cylon fighters, an auxiliary force of Cylons had devastated their home planets. And so the remnants of the human race, under the leadership of Commander Adama and the protection of The Galactica take to space in search of ihe legendary lost colony of man. A planet in a galaxy hundreds of light years from their homes. The show Battlestar Galactica can hardly deny having it's roots implanted in the trend created by Star Wars. It too is high on thrills and action and unhindered by scene after scene of heavy dialogue. The visual concepts have been designed to outstrip every sf movie to date as far as impact is concerned.

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Not surprisingly the man behind the special effects, John Dykstra, lists Star Wars among his previous credits.

'I think,' says Dykstra, 'In terms of shooting spaceships in space, the effects in Galactica are easily as good as the effects in Star Wars if not better.

In fact, the effects for Galactica were photographed using a modified version of thc system used for Star Wars. The Dykstrat3ex camera had its beginnings in the workshop of Douglas Trumbull (special effects on 2001 and Close Encounters) and was modified extensively by Dykstra for Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.

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Heading the cast of relative unkoowns on Battlestar Galactica is tv veteran Lorne Greene. Now aged 63 and many times a millionaire from his Bonanza days Greene toyed with the idea of bowing out of the series. But producer Glen Larson managed to persuade the actor that the show could not cope without him. Larson saw Greene as 'the guy who pulls it all together. He has family appeal. His warmth will make people feel comfortable in a cold place like space.'

Greene has high hopes for the human element in Battlestar though he is worried that the spectacular special effects may begin to wear thin after a white. 'Special effects are good for three or four weeks,' he says. 'After that you have to have situations and characters that grab the mind.' A fact that has been proved by all the great sf movies since Metropolis.

Gaiactic Surprise

When is a tv series not a tv series? When it's a film. Or to put it another way, when it's as expensive as Battlestar Galactica . . .

The fact is that Galactica has been seen in cinemas in Canada, certain parts of Europe, with a promised British release to come, is no vast surprise. Numerous are the American tv series and tv-movies which finished up as theatrical 'films'. Galactica remains an exception to every rule, however. For it has now heen seen on American cinema screens as well. Indeed, after a successful test run in Memphis, Phoenix and San Antonio, the 'film' is expected to win a national release throughout America in May. Just why, though. Americans want to pay for something they've already seen for free on home sets, is one for the psychologists.

Of course it could be argued that they're not not seeing exactly the same thing in cinemas. The 'film' is the pilot. or first episode of the series, Saga of a Star Wodd they called it. On tv it lasted 148 minutes. In Canada, it ran 120 minutes in cinemas. In America, it's lasting . 125 minutes an the bigger screen. The paying customers get Sensurround for their ticket-money. (Big deal!) They also get 23 minutes Iess than the original (13 minutes, say US reports; presumably their calculators were on the blink. Then again, they don't even get the same 125 minutes culled from bihe original 148 minutes . . . if you see what I mean. The big switch between the tv episode and the Canadian 'film' and that released theatrically in the United States concerns the John Colicos character. His meanie is seen to he killed off in the newest movie version, while he lasted a full three episodes on the box.

Which version will Britain get? Presumably the latest American cinema version, since producer Glen Larson says the Canadien 'film' version has now been junked. But didn't Europe have the Canadian version? Ah yes, well . . . And Universal have replaced all those Euro-prints with the up-dated version? We doubt it. It's wait and see time. The Galactica film opens in Landon's West End on April 12-to be followed by a second movie. pencilled in for July 29. Full national releases for both, of course, neatly setting us up for the start of the tv series on the ITV network in Septem6er-tor seventeen weeks...