This review contains minor spoilers.
Although I am a fan of 1970s & 1980s action-adventure and sci-fi series, I actually hadn't seen very much of the original 'Battlestar Galactica', not that I could remember anyway. It didn't reach most ITV regions until 1979 – when I was one year old. It was repeated a couple of times by various channels in the mid-1980s, very much due to cash in on the success of Dirk Benedict in 'The A-Team'. However, I never really got into it even then. It was shown by BBC Two in the mid-1990s, and I did watch some episodes, but my work pattern at the time (first ever job!) meant that I didn't get to properly follow it even then.
In recent years there, of course, has been the successful "reimaging" of the series. However, I have never seen it – it has only been shown on $ky here in the U.K. (which I don't have nor want); sadly it never reached BBC Two, or even Channel 4 or 5, as I had hoped it might. After hearing many recommendations from friends about it, I plan to buy the series on DVD, but felt I wanted to watch this original incarnation first.
Much of my interest in this original BSG, even beyond being a fan of such vintage shows anyway, is Dirk Benedict. I am a HUGE fan of 'The A-Team' (I even run my own detailed fan website – shameless plug!), and have a passing interest in anything else Benedict has done. Here, as Starbuck, he very much plays a very similar character to his role as The Faceman, to the extent that myself and some fans sometimes dub Starbuck "Face in Space" (in fact, it was Benedict's role here that largely contributed to 'A-Team' creators Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo requesting him for the role of Face, which he finally won after the role was recast after the Pilot).
I don't know much about the new 'Galactica', other than Starbuck is a woman (something which Dirk Benedict has been openly critical of), and that the role of Adama was taken by Edward James Olmos from 1980s favourite 'Miami Vice'. So on that basis alone, I will take this original incarnation "for what it is" and draw no direct comparisons with the newer take on the series.
So anyway, here we are, the first instalment of the three-part 'Saga of a Star World' (originally a theatrical movie, re-edited into three parts for TV, you know the story). I have to be honest, for some reason I had expectations for the series to be hard to get into and rather heavy going. On the basis of this first half, it is actually much better than I feared, with some good concepts and ideas, and quickly drew me in far more than I had previously expected it to.
Of course, this was the late 1970s, so there was no real digital effects as we know today, so things were done in a more "manual" manner (which, when done well, I'm actually more of a fan of, as digital effects just don't work for me on a number of levels, but that's for another debate). I have to say, the model work for the ships, particularly the rag-tag fleet of the survivors of the Cylon ambush. And whether digital effects can indeed capture more scope than their old model counterparts, I really do feel that this old model-work method captured a larger degree of detail to the designs than today's equivalent.
The whole space designs, from the ships, to the nebula, actually aren't bad at all. It is some of the more immediate "prop" designs that I had a problem with. Many of them looked clunky and ill thought out, and eve for the era, rather "clunky" in places. Also, while the actual space scape is fairly well realised, I found the battles to be rather drawn out, with many suspiciously similar looking shots playing over and over again.
Of the stars, well, naturally I like Dirk Benedict. Sure, his brash, almost cartoony persona might have lost favour by the bland, dull decade that was the 1990s, but I love it, as Starbuck is such a character to watch. As with The Faceman, it's just so much fun to watch Starbuck up to his various antics – and, like Face, on one side of things he's selfish and a coward, but on the other, brave and noble.
I seemed to recall Apollo as much more staid. Certainly, he's the more serious of the pair, but Richard Hatch actually plays the part a lot cooler than I had previously given him credit for.
For the most part, this first part of this three-parter really hooked me. The final sequences of the episode, of the starving and distressed people on board one of the freighters following the Galactica, opens up another side of the series, a political vein that I understand is played up more in the newer version of BSG. Although limited by the TV budget, I found these scenes again very well done.
Then there is that famous theme tune, in all its majestic glory that fits the series perfectly. They just don't make theme tunes like that any more. Heck, they don't even *attempt* them!
To sum up, to repeat myself again, this first instalment is far better than I had feared. The clunky prop designs hold it back a bit, and some of the scenes are slightly drawn out; maybe the one big problem that – obviously hurried to the screen to cash in on the immense success of 'Star Wars' the previous year, maybe the development of production was too rushed, and had more time been spent, some of these niggles could have been worked out. But for the most part, this opening instalment does very well, and I can immediately see why the vintage BSG has such a cult following. Yes there is a 1970s "kitsch" aspect to things, but what do you expect for something over 30 years old?!
It does have some faults, but I enjoyed this opening segment enough to rate it a very decent 9/10.
Review continued in Part 2...