After languishing for years in development hell and with even with the possibility of not being released at all, Blood & Chrome has finally been delivered to the masses in the form of 10-minute webisodes on Machinima Prime, of all places. Can the second prequel to one of television’s most ground-breaking science fiction dramas live up to its legacy?
I’m calling this article “thoughts” because that’s really all it its. It’s not a review, and I don’t think it would be fair to review something that was produced as a two-hour piece that is now being distributed in 10 different chunks without having seen all of it. Still, I have a fair bit to say, having seen the first two episodes, though my views may change as the series goes on.
We follow a younger William Adama arriving as a newly minted pilot on Galactica. His cockiness is certainly a parallel to Starbuck’s attitude later on, and despite his enthusiasm he’s assigned to piloting a Raptor, the BSG helicopter equivalent. He and his copilot are given a mission to escort a young woman to rendezvous with another ship.
Once they leave Galactica, it’s revealed the woman is actually carrying secret orders from Colonial command, and directs Adama to take her in a completely different direction. The Raptor crew discovers the wreck of the Battlestar Archeron, torn to shreds, bodies and wreckage floating free in the vaccum of space. They are then attacked by three Cylon ships and attempt to flee.
First of all, the visual presentation here is stunning. The CGI space battles on BSG proper were always something to behold, having been brought to us by Zoic, the effects studio also responsible for Firefly. Blood & Chrome is a step above that, and in addition to CG spaceflight, the series makes use of digital sets. While they take a lot longer to complete, B&C is still, minute-for-minute 1/20 the cost of Battlestar Galactica.
The problem is it’s almost too slick for its own good. The digital sets and copious amount of lens flare makes it difficult for me to reconcile the ship we seen in B&C with the Galactica we all know and love. It ends up looking more like JJ Abrams’ vision of Star Trek than the stripped-down grit of BSG.
When Battlestar Galactica made its debut in 2003 with the airing of its pilot miniseries, Galactica herself was about to be decomissioned and made into a museum. She was a 40 year old bucket of bolts, with much of her equipment stripped out and only a skeleton crew making sure she didn’t fall apart at the seams. The only reason she survived the Cylon attack was because she was so old; the Cylon virus used to shut down the Colonial defenses and ships didn’t work on Galactica‘s older, un-networked computers, and any other surviving ships had to follow suit.
That retro-futuristic feel was pervasive throughout the entire series. It made BSG stand out from the crowd. Gone were phasers and comm badges. There were phones. With cords. Guns fired bullets. The uniforms were realistic military garb, and the ship itself look real. It looked solid. It looked like a utilitarian military vessel.
BSG‘s first prequel series, Caprica gave us a glimpse of Colonial society before the fall, and naturally it was slightly more futuristic. Even so, beyond space travel and the newly-created Cylons, Colonial society was much like 21st century Earth. People wore normal clothes, went to work, hung out at clubs and so on.
That’s why the sleekness of Blood & Chrome feels so jarring. Some of this can be forgiven by the fact that here, Galactica is a new vessel at the height of the first Cylon war. Things like a busier flight deck with far more Vipers and foot traffic than we ever saw in the miniseries is completely understandable, but other things are a little tougher to swallow. The CIC, for example, doesn’t even look like it could be the same room as the one we’d later spend so much time in. It’s much more expansive and even has an added upper area accessible via a small staircase. There’s nothing like this in BSG and the CIC doesn’t even have a high ceiling to suggest it was there and later removed.
There’s the super-fast platform the young Adama and co-pilot Coker use to get from the flight deck to CIC as well, which is much more sci-fi than anything in BSG. Adama also uses VR entertainment where BSG had normal radio/television broadcasts. Most egregious is the holodeck-like flight simulator we find Adama in at the beginning of episode 1. Starbuck would later train all the aspiring Viper jocks in real planes, and although the battlestar Pegasus was mentioned as having a flight simulator I can’t imagine it would have been portrayed like this one was.
It’s not like this is a completely unknown time period, either. We’ve had a look at the first Cylon war and a younger William Adama before, in the previous Razor Flashbacks webisodes, most of which ended up being used in the extended version of the Razor film. We got a good look at Galactica back then, and though it took place years after B&C does, it still looks a heck of a lot closer to the BSG Galactica.
In addition to the grit, I’m also missing the scope Battlestar Galactica had. It boasted an ensemble show, and we followed Viper pilots, the repair crews, CIC and the command staff, civilian government and so forth. It’s not that I’m complaining, exactly, but it’s different. B&C has so far focused solely on Adama, Coker, and Becca. One could argue that this is because it’s just one two hour film, but BSG‘s miniseries ran for only one hour more and still had a wide range of characters.
That said, these two episodes are crammed with continuity nods in both directions of the timeline. We get references to Caprica with the Graystones and Adama’s lawyer father’s mob ties, and set up for things we know from BSG, like the origin of Adama’s callsign (Husker), and whole lot more, right down to the co-ed showers. Hell, they even take the Razor Flashbacks into account, as Adama’s flight suit is consistent with the one seen in those webisodes. With all that effort, I just wish they’d have paid more attention to making Galactica feel like the same ship.
My one last complaint is the use of clanging tools and equipment to cover up curse words. It’s ridiculous. There’s no Standards & Practices to answer to on an online series. I recall Razor Flashbacks happily using “cocksucker” freely, and even the show itself got away with the occasional “bullshit”. Why, then, do we need such obtrusive censorship of “shit” and “asshole”? To sell more unrated edition DVDs, I would expect.
The story itself is quite intriguing so far, and the actors have all done great jobs with the material. I’ve seen some complaints that Luke Pasqualino’s Adama is too different from Edward James Olmos’ portrayal, but really, the dude’s 40 years younger and is just getting his first taste of war. Give him time.
I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking, and I am, because this franchise is very near and dear to my heart. Pick nits as I might, I won’t deny I was grinning from ear to ear as soon as I heard the familiar DRADIS sound effect and saw the flyby of Galactica in all her brand new shiny glory. I’m very much enjoying it so far, and I can’t wait for more. Good to be back.