Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Galactica 1980

Whatever you think of the original Battlestar Galactica, whether you loved it or hated it, there's few that would disagree with the statement that its spin-off, Galactica 1980, was a misbegotten mess that should never have been made.
If nothing else, it should stand as a cautionary tale concerning excessive network interference in the production of a series. It was born out of the network's desire to continue the Battlestar Galactica franchise but at a lower cost. Although the original series was cancelled after only one season, it was drawing a fairly large audience and was the highest-rated show cancelled in the 1978-70 season. The problem was that it was also the most expensive show to air on television up until that time (they did second unit work in Egypt, Alaska and Montréal, an unheard of thing on television back then) and the audience numbers weren't large enough to justify the show's huge budget. If Galactica could be retooled and made on a lower budget but still keep decent audience numbers, then it might still have a life on network television.
Enter Galactica 1980. In the the pilot (a three-part episode), the rag-tag fleet fleeing from the Cylon tyranny and still led by the redoubtable Commander Adama (played by Canadian actor Lorne Greene), has finally found Earth, but the Earth of 1980 is not the technologically advanced world Adama hoped it would be, and would not withstand a Cylon attack. Instead of having an ally to ehlp him win the war with the Cylons, Adama discovers that the Galctica must defend not only the rag-tag fleet of human refugees, but an entire and helpless planet. He decides to secretly help Earth make rapid technological advances, while holding off the always lurking Cylon attack force. Adama sends his two best officers, Troy (Kent McCord) and Dillon (Barry van Dyke), to Earth to investigate this strange new world, but another of his officers, Colonel Xavier (Richard Lynch), wants to take Adama's idea one step further. He wants to go back in time and introduce technological change in Earth's past, so that the present culture on Earth would be able to assist the Galatica and the fleet in its fight with the Cylons. (Time-travel is one of the new technologies the Galactica crew have discovered since we last saw them. Why they didn't use it to go back in time and warn the Colonies of the original Cylon attack remains a mystery. The Galacticans have also perfected a technique to make themselves invisable. Why they never use it when it might actually help them also remains a mystery. But I digress.) Xavier goes back to Penumunde in July of 1944 to help the Nazis develop the V-2 rocket, so that by 1980 Earth's rocket science will be far in advance and where it would have been without any interference. Troy and Dillon must also go back in time to find the renegade.
The network liked the pilot enough to want more shows, but not enough to keep the premise. They didn't want the time-travelling renegade storyline, and since the show was going to air during the so-called "family hour," episodes had to become more kid-friendly and less violent. The focus of the episodes moved to a group of the Galactica's children that are sent to Earth to assimilate under the protection of Dillon and Troy, and so an already dumbed down show (it used the terms galaxy, solar system and universe interchangeably) was dumbed down even more. Instead of saving the last remnants of humanity, the warriors were reduced to helping a bunch of kids win a baseball tournament. Dillon and Troy could only fight in non-violent ways, and had to explain every time they shot someone with they're blasters that they were only stunning them, not hurting them.
The network wanted a show made on the cheap, and this was certainly a cheap one. It was shot mostly on location, so few new sets were built. Almost all of the Galactica's sets were just pieces of furniture and set dressing in front of a black backdrop. There were no alien make-up or costumes to pay for and very few new special effects. Almost all the special effects were recycled from the original series. Stock footage from various Universal movies of the period like Earthquake and Airport 1975 was also used. (The best use of this was the superimposing of Cylon fighters attacking over Earthquake footage of Los Angeles being destroyed, but even this was a cheat as the Cylons never attacked Earth -- the footage represented a Galactica-created simulation of what a Cylon attack on Earth might look like.) The original Galactica show had a battery of impressive guests stars like Lloyd Bridges, Patrick Macnee and Fred Astaire, while the best that this new Galactica could hire was Wolfman Jack. (Interestingly, the Wolfman Jack episode introduced the idea of Cylons that were human, or humanoid at least, a concept that forms the core of the recent and vastly superior re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series.)
Although the cast tried gamely, they did not have a lot to work with. The scripts were juvenile, the production values limited, and the two leads, McCord and van Dyke, simply had no charisma or chemistry. Its only saving grace would be its final episode, which was a flashback episode where we discover the fate of Starbuck from the original series. Otherwise, this is a series that is best left forgotten.

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