Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Remembering the Original Battlestar Galactica

(L-R) Richard Hatch, Lorne Greene, Dirk Benedict
With Glen Larson's passing yesterday, it seemed an appropriate enough time to fire up the Nostalgia Theater time machine and look back at one of his most cherished (especially to himself) creations, the original Battlestar Galactica. Launching on ABC in fall of 1978, the much-ballyhooed series from Universal was one of the most expensive ever made until that time, and it was also the earliest and most prominent of a whole host of attempts by rival studios to capitalize on the out-of-nowhere success of the original Star Wars (eventually Uni was sued by 20th Century Fox for its troubles).

Here, watch the intro theme, with "saga sell" narration by Patrick Macnee:


(I think that theme music by Stu Phillips did about 60% of the lifting, lending an epic sweep and scope to the proceedings that was completely disproportionate to the actual content.)

Now, despite the obvious Star Wars influence all over the thing, and the reality that it wouldn't even have aired were it not for the power of the Force, Galactica actually originated in Larson's brainpan a decade prior under the title Adam's Ark. Drawing heavily on Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods stuff en vogue at the time, as well as Larson's own Mormon beliefs, the version that made it to air told the tale of a besieged colony of humans in space, desperate to find a mythical promised land called Earth.

With stars Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict (later of The A-Team fame, and even later of crazy old man fame) as leading men Apollo and Starbuck respectively, the show filled its "gravitas" quotient by recruiting Lorne Greene as Adama, commander of the last Battlestar, Galactica, charged with leading the colonial fleet away from the evil robot Cylons. Not a bad cast. And with its pilot film budgeted in the neighborhood of $9 million (Universal released it theatrically as well, to defray the costs), Galactica was greeted with a lot of ballyhoo when it premiered in September of '78.

However like so many other Larson offerings, Battlestar Galactica worked far better in concept than execution. The show just wasn't particularly good. The premise was sound, the effects (by John Dykstra, who'd done a fair bit of work on what became Star Wars before parting ways with George Lucas) were pretty revolutionary for their time, but they could could never quite escape the made-for-TV confines, especially as the season wore on and the use and overuse of stock spaceship footage starting to become increasingly, painfully glaring.

While the initial tune-in was substantial, it was the expense of the series, coupled with steadily dropping ratings, that led ABC to cut the Galactica's quest short after a single season. But that wouldn't prove to be the end for this particular "wagon train to the stars," as fan outcry and a letter-writing campaign prompted the alphabet net to revive it the following year, modified for a lower budget, with a new cast and refocused premise. The resultant mess, Galactica 1980, premiered in January '80, and managed the stick a fork in the whole thing for good. Here's the intro, with some helpful exposition from the returning Lorne Greene:


Battlestar Galactica 1980 Intro by robbo666

Galactica 1980 went away after ten low-rated, poorly-received eps. That didn't stop die-hard fans from keeping the candle lit for some kind of a revival though, even after star Lorne Green passed away in 1987. And there were a few times when things got pretty close. In the late '90s, leading man Richard Hatch attempted to get a new take off the ground by self-financing a trailer for a project he dubbed Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming. In those days before web virality, it got a pretty rapturous reception at various conventions, but viewed today, it's comes off like any number of fan-produced vids we see littering YouTube. Check it out:


That was '99, and while nothing came of that, Universal was looking to bring Battlestar back, and in 2000 they signed Bryan Singer, hot off the first X-Men flick that summer, to develop a continuation that would pick up from the original (ignoring the 1980 interruption). This version, conceived by Singer along with X-Men partner Tom DeSanto, was intended to air as a Fox miniseries, and it got far enough along in the development pipeline to have both Hatch & Benedict attached to reprise their roles before production delays prompted Singer to bolt for X2, effectively ending the original, Glen A. Larson iteration of Battlestar Galactica.

In 2003, an entirely new take premiered as a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries (and eventual series), under the auspices of Ronald D. Moore, which took the barest of inspirations from Larson's take, and binned everything else (though they did bring back Hatch in a recurring role as a separate character). The '03 Galactica is rightly revered as one of the most revolutionary sci-fi projects of the last fifteen years, but that's a Nostalgia Theater for another time. As of now, Universal is hard at work on yet another reboot. Whether this one actually finds the promised land -- and when -- is anyone's guess.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Magnum, P.I. -- The Secret of the 'Stache

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The Day Superman Died

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Automan Edition

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