Battlestar Galactica Blu-ray offers solid video and audio in this enjoyable Blu-ray release
After the destruction of the human colonies, the last major fighter carrier leads a makeshift refugee fleet in a search for Earth.
For more about Battlestar Galactica and the Battlestar Galactica Blu-ray release, see Battlestar Galactica Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on June 6, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
I still recall the excitement of seeing the original Battlestar Galactica pilot, which was first
broadcast on September 17, 1978. Glen Larson's outer space adventure offered effects,
production values and a level of imaginative detail never before seen on television. (Twentieth
Century Fox must have thought so too, because they sued, claiming that Larson had borrowed too
liberally from Star Wars.) The series quickly garnered a devoted fan base, but as with Star Trek
before it and Firefly after it, the fans
weren't numerous enough to convince ABC to keep the
show on the air. The original Galactica lasted only one season, with a short-lived continuation in
1980. It wasn't until 2003, after TV and its audience had been finely sliced into narrow
demographics by cable and satellite, and ancillary revenues from home video and overseas sales
allowed cult shows to flourish, that a rebooted Galactica became a long-running phenomenon on
what was then known as the SciFi Channel.
The 1978 pilot ran 148 minutes and was designed for a three-hour timeslot. (On the east coast,
the broadcast was interrupted for the signing of the Camp David Accords between Israel and
Egypt.) But several months before the U.S. broadcast, a shorter, 125-minute version of the pilot
was released as a standalone film in countries outside the U.S., including Canada and Japan. As
would later be attempted more extensively with David Lynch's Twin Peaks pilot, the edited
version tied up loose ends that had been left dangling for further development in the continuing
series. In May 1979, after the now-canceled TV series finished airing, U.S. fans finally got their
chance to see Battlestar Galactica on the big screen.
Fans of the rebooted series developed by producer Ronald D. Moore in 2003 will be in for a
shock, and not just because the Seventies costumes are dated and effects technology has
progressed by leaps and bounds. Science fiction cannot help but reflect the era in which it was
created, and the 21st Century Galactica was a study in shades of gray, where almost everyone's
motives were questionable and every major character, at some point, had to do something at odds
with his or her better nature. No such dilemmas beset the characters in Larson's original creation.
Its moral universe is drawn in black and white, and the lines between right and wrong are clearly
In a distant galaxy, humans live in twelve colonies, all descended from a single source, the planet
Kobol. The thirteenth colony, which is the stuff of legend, inhabits a distant planet known as
"Earth". A race of machines known as the Cylons are humanity's sworn enemy. Unlike the
Cylons of the rebooted series, these are all genuine machines. There are no android-like creations
that can pass as human. Only rarely does the original Galactica delve into such challenging
existential questions as what it truly means to be human and whether we are our own worst
As the film opens, the Cylons have petitioned for peace after a thousand years of war. Their chief
contact is a human named Baltar (John Colicos), who has convinced the council of the colonies
that the offer is genuine. Only Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) of the Battlestar Galactica
remains skeptical. (Although it is never spelled out, each colony is guarded by a "battlestar", the
space-based equivalent of an aircraft carrier.)
Overruling Adama, President Adar (Lew Ayres) leads the entire fleet of battlestars to what is
supposed to be a ceremonial signing of a peace treaty. Instead, it is a trap arranged by Baltar and
the Cylons. The fleet is caught unawares by a wave of Cylon fighters, and every ship is destroyed
except for the Galactica, which has received an early warning from a reconnaissance mission
flown in combat Vipers by Adama's two sons, Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Lieutenant
Zac (Rick Springfield—yes, that Rick Springfield). Realizing that the removal of the battlestars
has left their home worlds defenseless, Adama immediately sets course for the planet Caprica,
but he is too late. The planet lies in ashes, along with every other planet in the twelve colonies.
Pockets of survivors exist on each planet, and Adama sends out word for anyone who can find a
functioning ship to rendezvous with the Galactica, which will lead them to safety—if there is any
to be found.
The second half of the film deals with getting the "ragtag fugitive fleet" organized. The first
order of business is provisions, as famine rapidly spreads throughout the population. In a daring
move devised by Apollo, he and Viper pilots Lieutenants Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and Boomer
(Herbert Jefferson Jr.)—in this version, both were men—lead the fleet through a mined and
superheated region called the Nova of Madagon, which brings them directly to the planet
Carillon. There they hope to find both provisions and fuel. What they find seems even better: a
warm welcome by the native insect-like race, plenty of food and drink, a luxurious resort with
casinos where no one seems to lose, and the promise of however much "tylium" (their basic fuel)
the fleet might need.
An influential citizen named Sire Uri (Ray Milland) proposes that the fleet settle permanently on
Carillon, rather than adopt Adama's proposal of embarking on a long and perilous journey to find
Earth. Once again, Adama is the skeptic who believes refused to believe in something that looks
too good to be true. He's right, of course. Carillon is another Cylon trap, but this time Adama is
not caught unprepared.
In the TV series, the traitor Baltar was given his own ship (a Cylon "basestar") and commanded
by the Imperious Leader (voiced by Patrick Macnee) to hunt down and destroy the fleeing human
survivors. For the two-hour movie, Baltar's fate is less open-ended. Numerous other characters
are introduced without having major parts to play, because they were originally written for future
development in the series. Adama's second-in-command, Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter), doesn't
get to do much other than consult with Adama. Adama's daughter, a bridge officer named
Athena (Maren Jensen), doesn't get to do more than weep over the destruction of Caprica, when
she's not busy mooning over Starbuck. Boxey (Noah Hathaway), a kid who attaches himself to
Apollo, is clearly there to broaden the demographic, especially when Apollo prevails on a ship's
scientist to replace the boy's lost "daggit" with a mechanical dog. (Boxey's mother is played by
Jane Seymour, who left the series after a few episodes.) The blonde "socialator", Cassiopeia
(Laurette Spang), provides a love interest for Starbuck and screams admirably when sinister
forces capture her on Carillon. After the pilot, however, she was quickly converted to a medical
technician, and her past "profession"—regulated and legitimate in this world—was rarely
mentioned. (I have always wondered whether Joss Whedon based Firefly's licensed courtesan,
Inara, on the Cassiopeia character.)
Universal's 1080p, VC-1/encoded Blu-ray of Battlestar Galactica is an interesting effort. The
source material is in excellent shape, and the image is clean, detailed and as sharp as the many
optical effects will allow. It also looks very much like TV, which might seem the appropriate
appearance for a project originated for broadcast, except that this version was shot on film
and created for theatrical exhibition. Was it always this flat and two-dimensional?
I never saw Galactica theatrically and only know it from broadcast. It's possible that this is the
look the series creators intended, but it's more likely that Universal, which handles its own
transfers in-house, has once again opted for the conspicuously video-like appearance that has
become its hallmark. At the very least, the work has been expertly done, so that there is no
apparent loss of detail, no motion artifacts and none of the ghosting or waxiness that betrays the
heavy use of artificial sharpening or noise reduction software. Black levels appear to be accurate,
and the colors reflect the subdued hues that were common for Seventies filmed TV. Galactica
did push the limits of NTSC video in one respect, which was the wash of red light over the entire
frame whenever the giant ship went to battle stations. On broadcast, these scenes often crackled
with noise, but on Blu-ray they are rock steady.
Galactica was filmed for broadcast at 1.33:1, and every so often the cropping required to achieve
a 1.85:1 projected image becomes obvious (usually when a terminal readout is shown in
closeup). In general, though, the framing is acceptable, and the altered aspect ratio should not
distract the viewer.
Battlestar Galactica was one of four films released theatrically in "Sensurround", a short-lived
venture between Universal and speaker manufacturer Cerwin-Vega that attempted to enhance the
theatrical experience by adding low frequency effects that were intended to be felt more than
heard. The process premiered with Earthquake
in 1974 and was used on only three more films,
of which Galactica was the last. The format was abandoned for a variety of reasons, including
the cost to theater owners and the tendency for the Sensurround vibrations to damage ceilings,
especially in older structures, and cause fragments of plaster to fall on patrons' heads.
According to the Blu-ray cover, the main audio track is "2.1 with Sensurround" in lossless DTS-HD MA. In fact, the track is formatted as regular 5.1,
but three of the channels are not used. The
original mono track is routed equally to the front left and right mains, with additional support at
key moments from the LFE channel.
I never experienced Sensurround in a properly equipped theater, but those who did have been
disappointed with the home theater equivalent, which uses the system's low-frequency "control
tones" to indicate a deep bass presence but doesn't vibrate the environment as the original system
was intended to do. (For that, one would have to install a tactile transducer such as the d-Box
system.) In any case, the additional bass extension certainly does add impact to key scenes,
especially battles and moments of planetary destruction. But today's audiences, especially those
with even medium-quality home theater systems, are less easily wowed by LFE than were
audiences of the Seventies. It's a pleasant change to have a soundtrack from that era with deep
bass extension, but it's nothing we haven't heard before in a contemporary track.
Otherwise, the dialogue is clear, and the sound effects are sufficient for their purpose. Like the
visual effects, their dated quality is part of their charm. The series' signature theme and
incidental music by Stu Phillips, who would go on to compose for Buck Rogers in the 25th
Century, sounds just fine, although a stereo presentation would have been better.
No extras are included. At startup the disc plays a trailer for Battlestar Galactica: Blood &
Chrome, which can be skipped with the chapter forward button and is not otherwise available
once the disc loads.
For those who recall the original Battlestar Galactica fondly, this Blu-ray will be like a visit with
old friends. For those experiencing it for the first time, the reaction will depend on one's ability
to set aside expectations and enter into the spirit of a different era, both in mindset and in cinema
technology. For its time, it was groundbreaking television. Despite a few qualms about the video
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Currently available as a Best Buy exclusive, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced the wide release of Battlestar Galactica (1978), the re-cut 124-minute version of "Saga Of A Star World," released in theaters (in Sensurround) several months after ...