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November 9, 2013

TV Review – Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome (2012)

by Master Pillow

While there is no doubt that Ron Moore’s rebooted Battlestar Galactica was a massive hit with both fans and critics the same can’t be said about its subsequent incarnations as Caprica tanked in the ratings while the prequel Blood and Chrome never even received a season order as its pilot was unceremoniously dumped onto the Internet to premiere as a series of webisodes.  It is actually a somewhat startling series of events since, at one point, it seemed as if the reboot would be able to spawn myriad spin-offs much like Star Trek did not so long ago but as it stands today, this incarnation of Galactica is officially dead and buried.

Now there is very little reason to believe that Battlestar Galactica will ever get back to the small screen anytime soon or at least in the same vein as Moore’s reboot.  There is still talk of transferring the show to the Silver Screen but even here talk is cheap as there’s very little to report, almost as if everyone now understands that the concept is stuck in development Hell.

That brings us back to Blood and Chrome and the dubious studio decision to essentially cancel the series even though the pilot was in the bag and ready to go.  Usually, when a show is not green-lit the chances are high that it was because the pilot basically underwhelmed and made execs nervous to commit extra funding to a project that seemed unsalvageable.  Is Blood and Chrome really that bad or did studio executives just not “get it?”

For the uninitiated, Blood and Chrome is the pilot episode for an intended new prequel series that follows a young William Adama (Luke Pasqualino) during the First Cylon War.  Green, naive and totally pumped full of arrogance, this Adama is nothing like the one fans have grown to love in the reboot Galactica played famously by Edward James Olmos.  This Adama seems very much like Tom Cruises’ Maverick character from Top Gun who knows he’s the best pilot ever and never misses an opportunity to stick out his chest and beat his own drum.

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The young Adama lucks out and is posted to the then newest and most powerful Battlestar Galactica where he expects to become a crack fighter pilot but is instantly put in his place by the ship’s brass who see him as yet another over-eager greenhorn more likely to end up in a body bag rather than succeed.  Therefore, in order to prove his worth, the Galactica’s Captain (Brian Markinson) assigns him to pilot a lowly raptor scout and sends him and his reluctant co-pilot, Coker Fasjovik (Ben Cotton), out on a simple milk run to deliver a beautiful scientist (Lili Bordán) to a secret rendezvous.  Obviously, things do not go as planned and the trio soon find themselves embroiled in a secret spec-ops type mission which might actually be the key to winning the Cylon War.

Blood and Chrome is almost exactly like every science fiction pilot ever conceived meaning that though it has it fair share of bumps that there are actually many hooks and possible storylines that portend to greater things one would naturally assume would be built upon as the season progressed.  However, in this case, we’ll never really know for sure just exactly what the creators intended or how they planned on building upon these plot points presented in the pilot as everything was cancelled leaving fans to ponder what might have been.

Every prequel series has an innate problem right from the start and that is that the fans already know how events eventually play out.  Blood and Chrome is no exception to this rule as most viewers already understand that the war ends with a kind of uneasy truce as the Cylons retreat to their space not to be seen for years while Adama goes on to have an illustrious career.  While this is certainly true, the concept of setting a show in the midst of the First Cylon War is sound as there’s very little revealed in Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica that details exactly what Adama did to win respect and succeed.  Concurrently, although fans have an understanding as to why the war started and how the Cylons eventually evolved, it is still a compelling topic in which to mine.

That said Blood and Chrome doesn’t really linger too often on the actual nuts and bolts philosophical discussions seen in the reboot and instead decides to take a very different tact for most of its running time by essentially being a standard war/adventure movie showcasing fist-pumping action over deeper meaning.  That is not necessarily a bad thing to do yet the pilot feels too familiar with a cast of characters all ripped from hoary old genre tropes.  Adama is the Jock while his co-pilot is essentially the Dr. McCoy wise-cracking curmudgeon who utilizes sarcastical quips like punctuation.  The mysterious scientist, Beka Kelly (Lili Bordán), is the requisite buxom babe that makes Adama’s loins hot with fire while everyone else in the cast leaves no lasting impression whatsoever.

Making matters worse, the pilot constantly veers into hokey territory especially during scenes which are sure to cause viewers to roll their eyes in frustration such as one showing an unknown fighter pilot suddenly break out into tears of joy upon hearing the news that he has a son.  When moments later the same pilot draws escort duty during an unwinnable scenario every viewer around the world need not blink an eye as they instinctively understand that he’s going to die horribly.

Other ill-advised moments include an incredibly facile sex sequence that neither titillates nor serves to move the story forward in any believable fashion as well as a totally unintentionally hilarious segment featuring, of all things, cyborg eel-like creatures that might have worked if this were a monster horror flick in the vein of Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus but simply feels out of place in the Galactica universe.  While there is some precedent in the rebooted series which shows Cylons attempting to fuse organic and mechanical life together in vile experiments it still is a somewhat dubious explanation as to what they intended to achieve by creating cyborg eels.

For a Sci-Fi pilot, Blood and Chrome has some decent production values and although the special effects run the range from good to achingly pedestrian, for the most part the show impresses.  Nearly all the interior Galactica sets are painstakingly created in CG as the original physical sets were summarily dismantled after the reboot ended.  Various space shots such as a thrilling one-on-one fight between an outgunned Colonial ship and a Cylon Basestar make for great eye-candy, yet these are matched against some truly heinous green-screen work featuring the actors that sticks out like sore thumbs.  The Cylons themselves, when seen in close-up, are acceptable but are incredibly less convincing in full-length shots when their herky-jerky movement is all the more apparent.

Of the three main characters it is Luke Pasqualino as the young Adama who has the toughest assignment attempting to be both the hot-shot gung-ho pilot, yet somehow lacing his performance with a few hints towards the older Adama played by Edward James Olmos.  Unfortunately, Pasqualino really seems raw and at times infinitely wooden though much of the blame can be attributed to the confused script that constantly attempts to force him to make suspect decisions even though any viewer would easily have not done so in his stead.  As the scientist, Lili Bordán is criminally underused and although she has much screen time never really makes much of an impression other than constantly being morose and tortured by her past.  It also doesn’t help that the aforementioned sex scene comes out of left field and also far too late in the narrative to really leave any lasting impression on the various characters.

Of all the characters it is Ben Cotton as the cantankerous Coker Fasjovik that really steals the show here with his on-point portrayal of a battle-hardened veteran who is weeks away from retirement.  That plot point alone might be cause for some concern as it has been done ad infinitum before but Cotton really is the heart and soul of this trio much like the good Doctor McCoy was in Star Trek.  Although Pasqualino  is a bit stiff he and Cotton do manage to build a decent rapport and as the pilot progresses their relationship organically blossoms into something resembling true friendship.

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As a pilot Blood and Chrome is filled with a number of callbacks and fanboy moments that will certainly appeal to fans of the reboot.  In fact one might argue that the pilot has too many, as if the creators purposely rammed as many of these sequences in as possible to placate the fanbase.  Thus audiences are treated to scenes such as the Galactica’s reveal where the music score soars with lyrical drumbeats or the exact same emotion seen when Adama finally gets his Husker call sign painted on his personal Viper.

Long-time fans will probably be pleased but it does bring up one salient point: Blood and Chrome is nigh impenetrable for non-fans.  The pilot does a poor job of providing the needed backstory detailing the First Cylon War nor does it really deliver any hints as to why the Cylons rebelled against humanity.  At the same time basic tech is presented “as is” so that non-fans will have no idea what the difference is between a Viper fighter or a Raptor Scout nor will they have any clue as to the relative strengths and weaknesses between the Cylon or Colonial forces.  Obviously, the big reveal right at the end of the pilot will have zero impact as well, as those who have never seen the reboot series will probably be left adrift by the introduction of this new character.

As a one-off TV movie Blood and Chrome is not a bad experience per se but it certainly is pitched towards a very narrow audience of fans that desire to see a young William Adama.  We’ll never know where the show might have gone but the plot threads, while not exactly original, do hint at potential storylines most presciently, a kind of morally ambiguous political angle that feels very much like Starship Troopers-lite where the Colonial government purposely churns out strict propaganda to control the public.

This angle even pertains to military personnel as Adama quickly is thrown into the fire and eventually realizes that he has been used and manipulated as well.  However, guessing is about all we can do as to where Blood and Chrome might have ended up but as a standalone movie it is just merely passable fluff entertainment yet never comes close to what the reboot mini-series accomplished before it.  While that might sound a bit unfair a comparison, one need only re-watch the introductory episodes to the reboot to see how it managed to present both compelling characters as well as providing persuasive exposition and moral dilemmas that would become the show’s hallmark.  Blood and Chrome got the setting and visuals right but it’s sorely lacking in characterization and it doesn’t help that the pilot is rife with flat segments that neither excite the mind or the heart.  In the end Blood and Chrome will go down as a minor footnote in TV history and should really only be watched by ardent fans of Ron Moore’s reboot.

** out of ****

2012, USA, 91 Minutes, R, Universal
Directed by Jonas Pate
Created by Michael Taylor and David Eick
Story by David Eick, Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Based on Battlestar Galactica created by Glen A.Larson
Produced by Clara George
Executive Producer David Eick, Michael Taylor
Original Music by Bear McCreary
Cinematography by Lukas Ettlin

Luke Pasqualino: William Adama
Ben Cotton: Coker Fasjovik
Lili Bordán: Dr. Becca Kelly
Jill Teed: Commander Ozar
John Pyper-Ferguson: Xander Toth
Brian Markinson: Silas Nash
Karen LeBlanc: Jenna
Sebastian Spence: Lt. Jim Kirby
Ty Olsson: Osiris Helmsman
Zak Santiago: Captain Diaz
Mike Dopud: Deke Tornvald

© 2013 The Galactic Pillow

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