Battle of the planets

Sci-fi update: it begins next week on the Sci-Fi channel in the UK, butI’ve seen a preview of the pilot of V – that is, the all-CGI, post-9/11 remake of the probably rose-tintedly revered 80s miniseries and series about a quasi-fascist alien invasion of Earth. This time around, with original creator Kenneth Johnson’s name all over the credits, they’ve added an FBI element, and toned down the Nazi allusions which probably felt fresh in 1983, although it looks like the Hitler Youth angle is going to be played out. I was quite taken aback in the pilot when the aliens promised universal healthcare for the human race: it’s post-Obama! Anyway, the formidable Elizabeth Mitchell off of Lost is the star, playing a Fed who finds her way into the resistance. The rest is very familiar – the big spaceships hovering over Earth’s major cities but mostly New York (look! it’s Big Ben! briefly!), the attractively humanoid Visitors etc. – but there’s added irony this time, as two geeks on some news footage make the comparison to Independence Day that we’re already thinking, with a dropped hint that they didn’t think of it. Other than that, it’s played reasonably straight, and quite gory, so hopes are high for the reveal with the guinea pig. Clearly, if you’re not old enough to remember the 80s, you can just start with a clean slate, but I like the way they’re rewarding older viewers with references back. I’m in.

Meanwhile, back at the motherlode of sci-fi War On Terror allegory and reminder just how smart it all was, one-off 2009 prequel Battlestar Galactica: The Plan has finally aired in the UK, on Sky1, and it was worth waiting for, if only for scraping some more crumbs from the table for aficionados of The Greatest Sci-Fi Series Ever Made. Using existing footage from the saga, and artfully dropping in and interweaving brand new stuff with the likes of Grace Park, Tricia Helfer, Michael Hogan, Kate Vernon, Edward James Olmos and others reviving their roles, under the steady aegis of Jane Espenson, it basically tells the tale of the destruction of the Twelve Colonies from the Cylons’ perspective – particularly poignant with Caprica ongoing – and fills in any narrative gaps that probably weren’t really bothering BSG fans that much, but which BSG fans will gladly gobble up anyway. I know we did. Like Olmos, who directed the fresh footage, said at the time, it’ll make us all want to go back and watch the whole shooting match again. Which it does. Great to see what amount to deleted scenes, with lots of Cavill, and Anders, and Five, and Six, and even the Chief, stringing it all together. As has been noted elsewhere, this is a REALLY BAD PLACE TO START, as it requires detailed, anal knowledge of the BSG saga to appreciate. They spoil us, Mr Ambassador, with their in-jokey, commitment-rewarding minutiae, especially the way Cavil effectively “loses” Leoben and Sharon to human empathy, the eavesdropped squeals of Starbuck and Anders having it off, and the insertion of a corner-cut note to the Old Man, hinted as Baltar’s, about the 12 Clyon models. Oh, it’s so indulgent. But who cares? It’s like finding outtakes from one of your favourite albums. And so say we all.

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4 thoughts on “Battle of the planets

  1. I’ve seen the first three Vs. I liked it. Some annoying American teens didn’t spoil it, but I think they’d better get a move on with the plot or they might lose this viewer.

  2. I have very fond memories of the original V, shown over five consecutive evenings in the summer of 1984. I have them on DVD, and you’re right – some elements have not aged well. The Holocaust allegory isn’t very subtle, for one thing, and the Dynasty style acting is painful at times. The second series was beyond dreadful. I’ve seen the first few episodes of the new series and I’m impressed, but I’m hoping for a Mike Donovan/Ham Tyler type to arrive. We need some macho heroics like the thrilling shuttle chase after they rescued the Mexican guy who had been smuggling scientists’ families to safety. And those laser guns they had with the really cool sound effect – we need those back pronto! Ah, I’ll never forget the bit where they stormed the medical centre and revealed the Visitors’ true form on live TV. Thrilling stuff.

    Sod it, the DVDs are coming out again!

  3. Wow, has this really not been on in the UK yet? Could have sworn I saw it advertised on Channel 5 before Christmas. It’s been on about three times here in Ireland already… I keep tuning in thinking it’s going to be the new episodes that started airing last month in the US, but no… just the same four pilot episodes every time.

    I’ve watched the original 80’s mini-series again since I saw this new version (not the subsequent full series, which I’ve never seen), and I have to say I still prefer the 80’s version. Better-paced storyline, more shock value (nobody gets their frozen arm shattered in the new version!), and even the special effects stand up reasonably well for an 80’s TV show.

  4. Calum, the subsequent full series was awful. It’s available on DVD, but be warned! The whole thing just didn’t work in the weekly self-contained episode format. The budget was slashed, for one thing, footage was continuously re-used, half the cast left before the series finished and the whole thing just petered out badly. It had the excellent Lane Smith though, as a Rupert Murdoch type businessman selling us out to the Visitors.

    I watched episodes 5 and 6 of the new series over the weekend and lo and behold, the Ham Tyler type character has appeared! I’m still holding out for the cool laser guns though.

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