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Josh Returns to Battlestar Galactica with the Unrated Blu-Ray: Blood & Chrome

February 21st, 2013
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I thought I was long-since finished with the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica but now, three years after the end of the series, comes one final Battlestar Galactica adventure: the direct-to-disc blu-ray of Blood & Chrome.  

A quick history:  I fell head over heels in love with Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica when I first saw the miniseries back in 2003.  I had no interest in the original 1970’s Galactica, but I watched the mini-series because Mr. Moore was a writer whose work I had loved on Star Trek: The Next Generation and especially on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the greatest of the Trek series (and, in many ways, a precursor to many of the ideas, themes, and storytelling devices Mr. Moore would use to such great effect on Galactica).  For a few years there, I felt that Battlestar Galactica was the greatest show on television, and even though I didn’t totally love the show’s final season in 2008-09, I still feel that the show is certainly one of the greatest sci-fi shows ever made, and also one of the best TV shows, of ANY genre, of recent memory.  Despite my love for Galactica, I actually didn’t watch the prequel spin-off, Caprica.  (I saw the show’s pilot and it didn’t grab me, and while the DVDs have been sitting on my shelf for two years now, I have not yet watched them.)  I did very much enjoy the post-series direct-to-DVD movie, The Plan (released in 2010) that went back through the series, showing things from the Cylons’ point of view.

Not long after the release of The Plan came the announcement of Blood & Chrome, another prequel series but, unlike Caprica which was set before the creation of the Cylons, this would be set right smack dab in the middle of the first Cylon War and center on a young William Adama (who, played by Edward James Olmos, was of course the centerpiece of the main Galactica series).  Blood & Chrome has had a crazily complicated history.  First it was going to be a video game, then it was announced it would be a web-series, then it was going to be a TV movie and a pilot for a potential new TV series and then… nothing!  It vanished for two years until the Sy-Fy channel quietly dumped it on the web a few months ago, and scheduled a quick release on DVD and blu-ray.  (You can read more about Blood & Chrome’s tortured path to release here.)

All of this would lead one to suspect that this spin-off is an embarrassment, a failure.  Well, I have no idea what the heck the folks at Sy-Fy were thinking because Blood & Chrome is pretty great!  It’s a thrilling dive back into this series and this universe that I loved so much.

Now, look, I am fully cognizant of the law of diminishing returns when it comes to spin-offs and prequels (and most especially spin-off prequels!).  It would be extraordinarily unlikely for any of these attempts to explore the Battlestar Galactica universe to come anywhere close to matching everything that made the original 2004 series so special.  And, no, Blood & Chrome is not as great as Battlestar Galactica.  There’s a certain predictability to the plot, and a shortness of characterization, that inescapably marks this as something less than the main series.

But!  That doesn’t mean it’s not still a hell of an enjoyable ride!  Yes, Blood & Chrome is a bit simplistic, but there’s something enjoyably pure about its simplicity.  Blood and Chrome loses all of the crazy complexity of BSG’s later seasons — with all of the confusing stuff with the Final Five Cylons and a maybe resurrected Kara Thrace and all the rest of those mysteries — and gets us back to pilots in Raptors and Vipers fighting Cylons.

Blood & Chrome is an action-adventure.  It doesn’t aspire to the complex character drama that BSG did.  (Though maybe it would have, had this become a series.)  This is more of a serialized adventure, which befits the webisode form in which it was ultimately released.  (On the blu-ray, the webisodes are cleanly edited together, but it’s clear where each webisode originally ended.)  Every few minutes our characters find themselves in peril, as they move from obstacle to obstacle and through various energetically-staged action sequences to get to the end.  And what action sequences!  Blood & Chrome is jam-packed with action, most notably some pulse-pounding space-combat sequences.  Those Raptor and Viper dog-fight scenes really brought me back to my love of BSG.  

Blood & Chrome looks gorgeous.  The show was a much-written-about experiment in visual effects.  Because all of the BSG sets were destroyed when the series ended, it was deemed too expensive to rebuild everything for this web-series/maybe-TV pilot.  So everything was shot on greenscreen, with all of the sets added in post-production via CGI effects.  I had seen this approach once before, on J. Michael Straczynski’s final attempt to relaunch Babylon 5 with 2007’s direct-to-DVD The Lost Tales, and frankly it looked terrible.  The technology just wasn’t ready then.  But Blood & Chrome is astonishingly gorgeous.  There are one or two slightly wonky moments in there, but considering that every single frame of its hour-and-a-half run-time is a visual effects shot, I can forgive one or two slightly imperfect moments.  For the most part, the CGI effects-work is astonishing.  Most of the time you’d never know the backgrounds and environments were all fake, and when the effects do draw attention to themselves it’s only because of how cool these CGI backgrounds are.  When young Adama first sets foot upon the Galactica’s flight-deck, we are greeted to the glorious sight of the flight-deck in full gear, filled with hundreds of Vipers, Raptors, and personnel.  We never saw anything like that in the original series.  That Galactica was old, with maybe 25-50 vipers.  This is the Galactica in her prime, with hundreds of birds in-service on the deck.  The shot is extraordinary, bringing to life the environment in a way that a practical set could never do.  And when it comes to the action, the CGI artists were able to really cut loose, and we are given a number of truly outstanding combat sequences.  It’s really great stuff.

Blood & Chrome has some nice touches of continuity, from several references to business from Caprica (which I could figure out, even without having seen that series) to a really fun surprise appearance of a familiar voice at the very end.  I was, though, a little confused as to how this adventure fits in with the flashbacks of young Adama that we saw in Razor.  I thought that mission, set at the very END of the first Cylon War, was young Bill Adama’s first taste of combat?  But maybe I am getting that wrong, as it’s been a while since I last saw Razor.

Over-all the cast is solid.  Luke Pasqualino is solid as the young, “nugget”-era Bill Adama.  I really liked his Raptor co-pilot, Coker, played by Ben Cotton.  My Cotton brought an endearing amount of world-weariness to Coker, and I thought he had a nice rapport with Mr. Pasqualino’s Adama.  I enjoyed seeing Ty Olsson (who played Capt. Kelley in the 2004 series) in a small role, though I think that did add a note of confusion that was unnecessary.  Mr. Olsson is great, but seeing that familiar face playing a different, unconnected character here in this prequel was a decision that surprised me.  I think they probably should have cast another actor, but this is a very minor point.

There are a lot of great moments in this film.  I loved the first reveal of the Galactica in her prime.  (It’s a very Star Trek moment, with our characters getting a glimpse of the grand ship out the viewport of a smaller craft on approach, but boy does it work.)  I love the way the designs of the Vipers and Cylon raiders pay homage to the look of 1970’s Galactica.  (Take a gander at the helmets that the Viper pilots wear!)  I love the look of the Cylon Centurians.  I love the brief glimpse of Galactica’s in-her-prime C-and-C.

I should also mention that one of the most important creative players from the reimagined series returns for Blood & Chrome: composer Bear McCreary.  Mr. McCreary has put together another wonderful score, one that references the original 1970’s Galactica (we get some hints of the 1970’s theme music when the Galactica is on-screen) while also feeling very much of a piece with his energetic music for the reimagined series.  It’s great.

The film really makes one small mis-step, in my mind.  It’s a minor one, but it bugs me.  I always thought that Adama’s call-sign was “Husker” because of his raspy voice. Blood & Chrome gives us another origin of that call-sign, and while I am not opposed to this different version, I thought they bungled its introduction.  There’s a whole big deal made of one character calling Adama “Husker,” and his not liking it, but I didn’t understand at all WHY he was being called “Husker” until I watched one of the deleted scenes where it was explained.  Guys, that should have been included in the main film, not left on the cutting room floor!  Sheesh!!

Speaking of the deleted scenes, the blu-ray has a whopping 30 minutes of deleted scenes, a shocking amount for just one small web-series/film.  I guess they really re-shuffled this in the editing.  It’s sort of too bad, too, because the deleted scenes are, for the most part, really terrific!  I would have loved to have seen them edited back into this “unrated” blu-ray.  (I am not sure what is in this “unrated” edition that wasn’t included in the web-isodes when they ran on-line a few months ago, other than one pair of bare breasts in a classic BSG co-ed shower scene.)

It’s a real disappointment that Sy-Fy sat on this for so long, and that they have decided not to extend Blood & Chrome into a series.  This would have been a great series, I think.  Not at the level of the original, but definitely a lot of fun.  As it is, after one failed spin-off (Caprica) and the abandonment of this second attempt, I suspect that this is the very last new adventure we will ever get in the world of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.  And that makes me very sad!  Watching Blood & Chrome makes we want to go dive back into Ron Moore’s incredible series from the beginning.  Maybe I will…!

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