Battlestar Galactica
Original 1976 Pilot Movie

Starring: Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict
Universal Playback
RRP: 15.99
Certificate: PG
Available 28 August 2006

A human civilisation, light years away from our own planet, is on the verge of brokering a peace with the deadly Cylon Empire. It is a critical time for humanity, but one which is doomed to catastrophe.

After the triumph of Star Wars: A New Hope, big-budget sci-fi became a bandwagon that everyone climbed onto and hitched a ride. Plenty of what followed in the trail of Lucas' success was risible pap, but Battlestar Galactica stands as a little piece of history in the annals of TV.

This DVD release is the TV pilot, and what a tremendous, if flawed, pilot it is. However, the flaws are not so much in the script, or the acting, or the direction, but in the production values. This may seem odd considering how lavish Battlestar Galactica is visually. Indeed, John Dykstra, who revolutionised the special effects industry with his work on Star Wars, also handled the miniature work for Battlestar Galactica. There are also some mightily impressive sets, of which the piece de resistance is the bridge of the Galactica. No, the flaws are in the details.

Obviously, at the time, Battlestar Galactica was an expensive production, with many dollars spent on the special effects. Those effects needed to provide good value for money, so to achieve that what better than to recycle shots, varying them with a little bit of editing or by flipping them left to right, or vice versa. Fans of the show will be all too familiar with the shot of three Cylon fighters flying away from camera as laser bolts reach out for them. The middle ship is destroyed and its wingmen peal away. This shot appears repeatedly in the pilot, and would make regular "guest" appearances in the show proper.

There are similar instances of reused footage, which undermine what is otherwise a rich experience. Even footage of live shots is occasionally reused, which really is penny-pinching!

Quibbles aside, Battlestar Galactica is a robust foray into action sci-fi, and presses all the right buttons. The script seems clumsy and basic when compared to many of today's sophisticated character-focused screenplays, but it does what it says on the tin, and does it well. There is a wonderful operatic feel to proceedings, and the Cylon warriors are powerful pieces of design - truly fantastic, if a little slow in combat (think Cybermen in the original edit of The Five Doctors and you will understand what I mean).

Sadly, this DVD release is not the original edit, being instead the abridged theatrical version. While this is tolerable, the soundtrack is not. Through my Dolby-Digital decoder I heard only the centre speaker and the subwoofer. I had to change to stereo in order to activate the speakers left and right. Without them, the sound was, of course, less than stellar!

Not only is the sound a disappointment, but the picture ratio, while of a widescreen format, is not anamorphic. Owners of widescreen TVs will have to use their zoom option.

A re-mastered, full-length release of the pilot would have been better, but for now this will have to do.

Jeff Watson

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