As World Space Week carries on, TVEnthusiast is exploring various important aspects of space bound storytelling in the medium of television. On Monday we explored the history of Star Trek, on Tuesday we counted down our top television series that take place in outer space, and today we are taking a look at an Iconic TV series that turned television science fiction into mainstream accessible character drama. Today we talk about Battlestar Frakin’ Galactica.
Battlestar Galactica first aired in 1978 when Mormon screenwriter Glen A. Larson envisioned a science fiction series that would explore the themes of his religion. With a massive (for its time) budget of 1 million per episode, studio executives were banking on the success of Star Wars to carry their own space franchise into popularity. The series was heavily criticized as a cheap imitation, it would take 25 years for a version of Battlestar Galactica to carve out its own niche in science fiction.
In 2002, Ronald D. Moore, who had previously worked on various Star Trek series, was approached by David Eick. The 2 had worked together on USA Network’s G vs E (Good vs Evil). Eick wanted Moore to work with him on a mini series remake of the 1978 science fiction series Battlestar Galactica. Moore helped develop and write the scripts, as well as flesh out the backstory for a potential series order. David Eick handled production of the mini series while Moore worked as showrunner on HBO’s Carnivàle. After the mini series and the first season of Carnivàle were completed, Moore left Carnivàle to work full time on the series he would become known for, Battlestar Galactica. The remake of Battlestar Galactica was Moore’s opportunity to use his experiences from Star Trek, while exhibiting more control over the property. Turning what was once a cheesy attempt to leach off the success of Star Wars into a deep, gritty, and philosophical series. With Battlestar Galactica, Moore and Eick redefined what space dramas should represent.
Grit and Realism
A careful balance was put in place in order to portray controversial concepts that are close to reality. The series had to be an obvious fiction, while also grounding its premises strongly enough to encourage thought and discussion. One of Battlestar Galactica’s greatest tools in grounding its outlandish premise came by the use of some clever special effects techniques. Rather than using fixed positions and endless depth of field to show the beauty of the special effects, Battlestar employed uneven camera movements, and noticeable focal adjustments in order to sell realism to an audience that associates such camera operation with journalism. Another tool in this direction was to focus on the military aspects of Galactica, which unlike Star Trek, was imperfect and passionate. The score by Bear McCreary mixed the spirituality of diverse ethnic sounds with a heavy percussion used to ground the militant order of the series. “In the very beginning all that the producers knew was that they wanted was the opposite of Star Trek,” said McCreary in an interview with Cinefantastique, “They didn’t want an orchestral sound. So when I started the series, I had an extremely limited palette – a lot of percussion. I only had a handful of instruments that could play anything melodic. As the show went on I started developing motific ideas that started coming into the texture that represented certain characters.”
Gender and Sexuality
Moore and Eick stirred up short-lived controversy by changing the genders of ace pilots Starbuck and Boomer. Starbuck in particular drew ire from fans of the original series, though upon its actual airing, most had accepted the new Starbuck as a significant improvement, and she quickly became a cultural icon. In Battlestar Galactica, men and woman share shower rooms, compete in sports against each other, and are, in general, seen as complete equals. Women hold high ranking political and military positions, and are at no time considered weaker or limited. In addition, Battlestar featured numerous homosexual relationships, which were never addressed as an object of controversy or scorn. Star Trek explored a Utopian level of civility, where reason won out over passion. Galactica took a more realistic approach with flawed humans full of passion, and yet still beyond the limitations of our own societies archaic views of gender and sexuality.
The Existentialism of Artificial Intelligence
The 2003 version of Battlestar Galactica took Cylons on a more meaningful journey, introducing existentialism and religious ideology to the creation of artificial intelligence. Through the course of the series, our perception of the Cylons develop from heartless villains into adolescent like figures reaching out to explore their own boundaries. By the end of the series the Cylons are as Human as the Humans. Most of the aggression stemmed from only 1 model, which was angered by the limitations of his pseudo human composition. In one of my favorite monologues in all of television, Ryan Mottesheard put this Cylon’s resentment to text which was then brilliantly delivered by Dean Stockwell as Cylon John Cavil. “I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to – I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am?” He asked, “I can’t even express these things properly because I have to – I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me! I’m a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I’m trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!”
Spirituality and Mythology
Battlestar Galactica created an interesting dynamic between polytheistic Humans, and monotheistic Cylons. The original series drew heavily from Mormon ideology and greek mythology, the new series kept these elements while also exploring the idea of religious terrorism. In an interview with Wired, Ron Moore talked about religion in science fiction. “You can deal with religion more aggressively in science fiction than you can in a contemporary show.” He said, “You get a pass because everyone agrees it’s not Christianity or Islam or any of those things we’re so freaked out about. Even though it is.” The series ends with Humans and Cylons starting a new path together on a new planet with primitive inhabitants. Perhaps a wish for resolution between the disputes of religious war. ”I grew up Roman Catholic, I’ve been interested in Hinduism, in Eastern religions, but I’m not dedicated to anything — I go through periods where I think maybe it’s all nonsense; maybe it’s the Matrix…I’m open to various ideas.” Moore said about his own spirituality in an interview with AMC blogger Clayton Neuman, “and I think the show has been a lot about exploration of ideas, and the basis of faith and how can you come at it: one God, many gods, no gods, who knows.”
Battlestar Galactica redefined the space bound television series; Removing the veneer of refined polish in favor of grit and realism, exploring religion, existentialism, gender roles, and sexuality through the freedom of fiction. What are your thoughts on Battlestar Galactica? Tell us in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.