Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Star Wars Copied? Battlestar Galatica (1978)

KATE SAYS this television movie was far, far, far less hooky than I'd anticipated. In many ways, it reminded me more of Forbidden Planet's story and look than either Star Trek or Star Wars, especially the pristine special effects (more on both Star Trek and Star Wars later).

Mostly, I was impressed by how much 2003 Battlestar Galatica relied on the original to create its remake. There's the ship's design; the carrier-landing approach to incoming spacecraft; the complex political situation; the mix of sci-fi and mysticism. Characters even use made-up swear words (Starbucks says, "Frack!" once).

I have to give kudos to Battlestar Galatica's 2003 producers for truly respecting the original (at least in the first season, which is all I've seen; the show got too soap-opery for me in the following seasons; however, I plan to give the original series a try!).

Two major differences between 2003 and 1978: human Cylons in 2003, which I greatly prefer. Give me elegant androids any day over clunky robots. 

And a male Starbuck in 1978 (though the female and male Starbucks have similar personalities). The switch in gender says something about changing times; on the other hand, women are impressively omnipresent on the 1978 battleship as are blacks: it isn't just a white male person's future.

And what a cast! Wilfrid Hyde-White shows up. Wilfrid Hyde-White is one of my favorite British actors of the mid-twentieth century. I know him best from Columbo and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. His voice is instantly recognizable.

The 1978 cast includes another Columbo graduate, Ray Milland (yes, okay, he is better known for Dial M for Murder). Milland was an expert at playing snarky characters who are more slimy than totally evil.

So I really enjoyed the movie.

As for the Star Wars copyright infringements, the only similarities I saw were visual as in the weapons and the ships. I suppose if I had designed stuff for Star Wars and it then showed up on Battlestar, I might get a little peeved (although the Battlestar folks argued that the Star Wars folks stole everything from them in the first place). But my personal reaction was that Battlestar Galatica was likely influenced as much by NASA and Star Trek as anything else (in fact, the movie kind of turns into a Star Trek episode at the mid-way point). And they all owe something to 1956 Forbidden Planet.

Did Lucas et al. really think they'd invented sci-fi?

Okay, bad question. Lucas might actually think that.

But I agree with the final ruling.

MIKE SAYS first off, I should apologize.  If any of you out there in Internet land are still reading, we've been on a month or more of Unannounced Hiatus, mostly due to my summer suddenly becoming AWESOME.  In the last few weeks, I've been camping twice, once at a water park; I've been to Maine and back (where I grabbed a quick lunch with Kate!), and just this last weekend, I went to the inaugural Salt Lake Comic-con where I got to meet Stan Lee.  School has also started, along with my annual Bump up to a 60 hours/week.  To say the last month has been busy would be, well, fairly accurate.

Fitting a viewing of the very long BattleStar pilot into these events, especially with 4 other people sharing my television, made it even harder.  What I discovered, to my delight, is that Battlestar was actually very well made and written.  And, as Kate mentions above, the extent to which the new series honors the original is truly astounding.

The pilot starts off fairly mellow, but events escalate quickly, and it's not long before Humanity is on the run from the Cylons. What I really enjoyed about the show is the grand sense of mythology behind the Battlestar world.  There's a complicated past that may or may not be connected to our own. The story plugs so many different little tastes of cultures and histories that it carries alot of depth.  With names taken from Greek mythology, Christianity, and even hints at African and Egyptian heritage (check out the fighter pilot helmets again to see what I mean!), the world of Galactica is certainly rich with potential.

The opening movie certainly does its best to tap into this potential, and it gets mixed results.  The story certainly has punch in certain moments; the fall of the colonies, and the death of Adama's family certainly help with this.  The action comes in fits and starts, but is mostly satisfying.  Perhaps the biggest detraction to the opening film is the pacing, which certainly plays more like several episodes instead of a movie proper.

The smaller arcs are a bit distracting, especially with the overarching linking story.  While the killer casino world makes for a great Trek episode, it felt awkward here, as if Battlestar was trying to establish itself as several different types of series in order to have options later.

In many ways, the modern show really is an improvement, as the plot is much tighter, the motivation of the enemies much clearer, and the plight of the humans is so much more believable.  Other modern non-Trek sci-fi shows, such as Babylon 5 and even Stargate Universe seem to take more pages from Battlestar than Trek, and do a better job capitalizing on the idea and themes.

As for the Star Wars connection, well aside from a couple aesthetic choices, I really don't see much of a connection.  While there are similarities, such as smaller fighter ships that break of the big ship, robotic helmets, and a human race of non-earth origins, this may be more due to the times than any creative theft.  Chariot of the Gods, Star Trek, A Space Odyssey, and many other landmark sci-fi franchises had all surfaced in the previous decade, and the country was still high off several Moon missions, and was preparing, very soon, to begin the Space Shuttle program.

This time period was rife with symbolic sci-fi, and the use of space to explain the purpose of life was more the norm than the exception.  If anything, I think the lawsuite was the product of financial greed and worry; the folks behind Star Wars were concerned about their bet paying off, and they were afraid audiences would get confused.  As even Asimov himself claimed that Battlestar was nothing but a blatant rip-off, it becomes easier to see their concern, as unwarranted as it was.

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