This review contains spoilers.
With twelve “fraks”, one new Adama, and a hell of a lot of post-production, Battlestar Galactica is back. Courtesy of Machinima, the first two instalments of the two hour pilot for prequel Blood and Chrome are now available to view online, and due to be joined by another eight over the next four weeks. (If the fragmented approach doesn’t appeal, BSG fans can always wait until February to see the full pilot air uninterrupted on Syfy.)
Blood & Chrome’s winding path from conception to chopped-up online premiere is well-documented. After the CGI-heavy pilot was delivered post-deadline and didn’t make it to series, it sat quietly in the in the Syfy vaults for over a year, emitting the odd fizz of rumour whenever convention time came around. Now airing online before its 2013 TV and DVD release, the Battlestar prequel is – chunk by glorious chunk – ours to enjoy.
And enjoyable it is too, so far at least. Set a decade into the first Cylon war, the TV movie follows young Ensign William Adama’s first post aboard the box-fresh Galactica.
Within minutes, Blood & Chrome addresses a chief criticism of Caprica – that it didn’t feature enough Viper/Raider dogfights – by opening on Adama having an exhilarating shoot-out with a couple of Cylon ships. Think Skywalker in the cockpit: fun, energetic, and reckless.
Ensign Adama’s battle is revealed to be a training sim, which he nails by ejecting his windshield, flying upside down, and picking off the Raiders with a handgun. You can see why the older Adama was so drawn to Katee Sackoff’s ballsy daredevil Starbuck…
Skins’ Luke Pasqualino has taken over Adama duties from Razor Flashbacks’ Nico Cortez, and does a fine job as the cocksure pilot in the episode’s first twenty minutes. Like him, most young actors would face a losing battle tasked with living up to the on-screen presence of Edward James Olmos, but handsome Pasqualino acquits himself well enough so far.
The episode opens on an expository letter from Adama to father Joseph, explaining his reason for joining up to fight the Cylons. An ambitious – and mostly very impressive-looking – CGI montage shows the Cylons’ progress from worker droids to enemies, neatly establishing the premise for the uninitiated.
After some banter straight out of ‘The Big Book of Headstrong But Talented Young Movie Pilot Dialogue’ comes a moment that for BSG fans, is genuinely thrilling: Adama’s first look at the Galactica. And what a look it is. Open-mouthed and wide-eyed, Adama lets out a single “Gods damn”. It’s not the introduction of a battleship, more that of a leading lady, and a right sexy one at that. The camera pervily strokes its way up the ship’s flank, panning across her brand new, gorgeous hull like a stocking being rolled slowly down a lithe thigh. Phwoar says Adama, inwardly. So say we all.
Inducted onto the Galactica, Adama rapidly acquires more nicknames than a playground fatty (Rook, Ace, and the one that eventually becomes his callsign – Husker, not for his gravelly voice this time, but as a farmyard hick moniker to denote his noob status). The man who christens Adama ‘Husker’ is one Lt. Coker Fasjovik (Ben Cotton), a battle-weary cynic with a hip flask and one of many military movie caricatures we’re to meet. There’s also the feisty black chick, the no-nonsense Commander, the ice-queen scientist, and our hero, the let-me-at-’em optimistic new recruit.
The character and dialogue clichés are entirely forgivable, mostly because we’re only twenty minutes in, but especially because Blood and Chrome looks fantastic. Yes, there might be more lens flare than JJ Abrams could shake a stick at. And yes, combine that with the blurry distortion director Jonas Pate used to disguise the joins between the CGI backdrops and the actors, and it might create the sense that Blood And Chrome is taking place in one long dream sequence, but for the most part the patchwork of special effects is a joy.
What contributes massively to that joy is BSG-composer Bear McCreary’s score, which provides both rousing battle drums and atmospheric accompaniment to an eerie scene in which a Raptor floats through the space graveyard of an ambushed ship.
The Pavlovian pleasure I’m filled with on hearing McCreary’s music prompts me to interrogate how much my enjoyment of Blood and Chrome has so far has been down to the excitement of revisiting the world of a beloved series.
Being honest, non-BSG fans wouldn’t be charmed by the mere sight of a Viper, DRADIS console, the flight deck, CIC, or sheets of A4 paper with their corners cut off, so would Blood and Chrome have been able to attract a new audience to the world of Battlestar? I’m not entirely sure, and neither, judging by its lack of series commission, was Syfy.
Back to the story. Assigned to clunky Raptor the ‘Wild Weasel’ (introduced using that old-as-the-hills mistaken identity gag of a sleek vehicle pulling away to reveal the hero’s much less swish mode of transport) Adama and Coker’s two-day pleasure jaunt job is redirected into enemy territory, where a non-simulated battle ensues.
Along with former Graystone AI engineer Dr Kelly (essentially the Cylons’ brain surgeon, played by Lili Bordán), with whom Adama shared a bit of communal shower flirting earlier on, part two’s cliffhanger leaves the pilots facing multiple Raiders with depleted ammo. I don’t know why, but something tells me Adama’s going to make it out of there alive…
Watch parts one and two of the Battlestar: Blood and Chrome pilot below:
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