Directed by Richard A. Colla and Alan Levi (uncredited)
May 18, 1979 (United States) / July 8, 1978 (Canada)
After the destruction of the 12 Colonies by the machine empire of the Cylons the last remnants of humanity search out the fabled lost colony world known as Earth.
I just popped in the two-hour pilot film for the Battlestar Galactica series for the first time in a long time and I still like it better than anything from the reboot. I know that is heresy to some, but it is my honest feeling. It is a fun and hopeful science-fiction series despite the plot being about the genocide of the human race by an authoritarian machine empire. I side with series star Dirk Benedict in that respect at least.
This movie is an editing together of series episodes to form one film. That much is obvious. We had the distinct opening episode where the Cylons launched their sneak attack and devastate humanity followed by the next episode which occurs almost immediately after that attack where the survivors stumble across a mysterious alien world that is in league with their enemy. There is a distinct change in visual quality between the two.
So let’s start with the beginning. The 12 known colonies believe themselves to be on the verge of a lasting peace with a long time enemy the Cylons who are all that remains of an organic species that died out long ago. If that happened we would not have a movie or television series.
We are introduced to the core characters of the show/movie in short order. We have the fatherly Commander Adama (Lorne Greene). Greene had cemented his paternal image during Bonanza and casting him as the paternal savior of humanity was a stroke of genius. We have the dashing Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch), Adama’s son, and his best bud the roguish yet lovable Lieutenant Starbuck played by Dirk Benedict and their friend Lieutenant Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.). We also get Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter) who is Adama’s old friend and second in command.
The best performance in the film though goes to John Colicos as the villainous Baltar. The Great Betrayer as he would come to be called in the show. Colicos was a professional screen ham during his career. He gave great over the top performances in everything. You may remember him is one of the original Klingons (Commander Kor) from the original Star Trek. In this two-hour film that I watched it is clear Baltar is executed with his throat being cut but when that was came on television as part of the series that scene was edited out and Baltar returned as a recurring villain. And Colicos was just so good at it.
The human government does not see what is going on with Adama being the only one who while he does not believe there is a threat he does believe in the possibility. Shortsightedness and a desperate desire for peace blinded the leaders to what could be and even the reality of the threat when it is upon them.
Our villains, the Cylons, were like bikers from outer space. The designs were cool with that single sweeping eye and they just looked tough and threatening. They were all shiny chrome and black leather and looked like they would kick your behind. The ships they flew were like UFOs and their Basestar looked like a fortress.
For a late 70s production of a science-fiction idea the destruction on screen is presented quite well. It actually hits you hard though that guy in the plaza I do question. He showed up to save Boxey (Noah Hathaway) and his mom Serina (Jane Seymour) and then for some reason put himself directly in danger where he died. It was not as if he was trying to escort them to safety. He just abruptly panicked and just ran and died in an explosion.
The second story begins with the crew doing surveys of the ships to see how worthy they are of travel and what they need and do not need. Here we get introduced to Boxey’s robotic pet dog thing Muffit II (Evolution the chimpanzee) as well as space prostitute Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang) who would lose that title during the course of the series. That was a bit much for the time.
We also get a small subplot involving an elite member of the surviving humans, Sire Uri (Ray Milland), who is living the highlife while people in the very same ship are starving and living in squalid conditions. He is short sighted and sets up the problems for this portion because of that. He as a member of the new Council of Twelve and gets the fleet to go to a planet called Carillon for tylium, their fuel, where they not only find themselves at the mercy of the Cylons but of an insectoid race called Ovians that seeks to use humans as food. That was dark.
Battlestar Galactica is a great piece of action and was a great start for any series. The battles are exciting, and the sets look great. There are some good moments of drama and enough twists and surprising moments that will keep you wanting more. This was definitely influenced by Star Wars and I am not complaining. Adama fills the Obi-Wan role, Starbuck is clearly Han Solo, and Apollo is the movie’s Luke without the Force. And the Cylons look a little too much like stormtroopers. They copied the best here and came up with something just as fun. It is a bit swashbuckling and a great deal entertaining.
Overall the Battlestar Galactica pilot film is a fun story with some good action and interesting scenes. It nicely set up the series to follow. Watch it!