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Revised 'Battlestar Galactica'
improves on the original

December 11, 2003
By Franklin Harris

I always say, it's better to remake something that was lousy to begin with than to tempt fate by revisiting a classic. A remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"? Blasphemy! But a remake of "Battlestar Galactica"? Hey, it couldn't be any worse than the original.

Tricia Helfer stars as a Cylon spy in ''Battlestar Galactica.''
Courtesy Photo
Tricia Helfer stars as a Cylon spy in ''Battlestar Galactica.''
Remember how things were in 1978? "Star Wars" fever was running high, but "The Empire Strikes Back" was nearly two years off. My friends and I would have watched anything as long as it involved space and cool special effects. Superficially, "Battlestar Galactica" fit the bill. It had epic battles, neat spaceships and a robot dog. It was only in retrospect that we came to see "Battlestar Galactica" for what it was — not the next "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" or even "Space: 1999." It was the schlocky, big-budget heir to "Lost in Space."

Then the second season, retitled "Galactica: 1980," came along and made the first look like "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Poor Richard Hatch. He was Apollo during the series' first season and hasn't had steady work since. He sits in his small apartment, surrounded by "Battlestar Galactica" memorabilia, dreaming that someone will come along and revive the show.

Of course, someone has — but without input from Hatch and only token involvement by the original's creator, Glen A. Larson.

Which brings me to the Sci-Fi Channel's heavily promoted, two-part "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries, produced by Ronald D. Moore ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") and updated for a more sophisticated audience.

Much to my surprise, this new "Galactica" succeeds. It may be the best TV sci-fi since "Babylon 5."

It has been 40 years since the end of the first Cylon War, and the Cylons haven't been seen since. But as the humans of the Twelve Colonies get ready to decommission their last war-era battleship, the Galactica, the Cylons are preparing to launch a surprise assault that will wipe out humanity once and for all.

The Sci-Fi Channel's "Galactica" ruthlessly eliminates the original's camp elements and substitutes for them a brutal war story where the villains are more than just mustache-twirling caricatures and the heroes aren't spared making hard decisions.

Edward James Olmos ("Miami Vice") stars as Cmdr. William Adama. While Lorne Greene's portrayal of the character was as a family patriarch, Olmos' Adama is a grizzled war veteran with a strained relationship with his son, Apollo (Jamie Bamber). The more humanitarian side of Greene's character is transferred to a new civilian leader, Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell). She takes responsibility for thousands of civilian refugees while Adama tries to mount a counterattack.

As widely reported in the fan press, Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) is now a female, but she still acts much like the character Dirk Benedict played in the original. Baltar (James Callis), the human turncoat, is now a younger man and is more amoral than evil.

I don't really approve of the new Cylon warriors, who have a vaguely insectoid appearance that doesn't improve on the original design. But, there is a sexy, humanoid Cylon spy (Tricia Helfer), and I do approve of her. For a former fashion model, she is a pretty good actress, and she comes across as both seductive and menacing with seemingly little effort.

An added plus is that while the original "Galactica" gleefully broke the laws of physics, the new one is content merely to bend them. Rather than banking like airplanes against non-existent atmosphere, ships rely on maneuvering thrusters.

It is the little things that indicate some thought went into this production.

The Sci-Fi Channel will replay all four hours of "Battlestar Galactica" Sunday beginning at 6 p.m. Central.

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