Battlestar Galactica: The Lowdown (Miniseries)

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Battlestar Galactica: The Lowdown was a special documentary/promotional program that discussed the origins of the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries that aired on the Sci Fi Channel on November 26, 2003.

The Opening

  • The show begins with a montage of scenes from the Miniseries as Commander William Adama gives his ship the initial announcement of the return of the Cylons and the start of a new war with their past creations.
  • Edward James Olmos, who portrays Commander Adama, talks over scenes of the Original Series: "The difference between this look and the look they did in 1978--there's no difference in the story. The story is the same."
  • Actor James Callis recalls the impact of the Original Series on everyone that saw it and the reactions of others when the series is brought up in conversation.
  • Ron D. Moore realizes that there was still a powerful story within the Original Series pilot.
  • Actor Richard Hatch says that the Original Series was a show about family, a show about people, with a chemistry between the characters that people enjoyed.
  • Actors Jamie Bamber, Aaron Douglas, and Katee Sackhoff also express their initial excitement of the old series and their involvement with the new miniseries. Douglas was "geeked up" with getting to work with the original Viper fighter styles used in the Original Series in his role as Galen Tyrol. Sackhoff was very excited to take on the role of Kara Thrace, despite the controversy of changing the gender of her character as opposed to her Original Series counterpart.
  • Ron Moore indicates how shooting would be done differently. Director Michael Rymer indicates the downplay of special effects in favor of storyline.

The High Points

Moore felt that the Original Series was one of the "campiest", "glossiest", "over-the-top" productions of the 1970s. Hatch recalls his amazement of the sets and the expense used to produce the Original Series. Co-producer David Eick notes that, while Battlestar was generally known by many due to the massive marketing of the show in toys and other merchandise, not many people had actually seen the show in its single-season run. Eick realized that, to make the new series work, they had to work with the existing Original Series fanbase to create a new audience.

The darkness of the destruction of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol as Eick and Moore proposed was intended spark viewer's emotions of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the malaise and sensations of doom those events wrought from people.

Many actors, including Jamie Bamber, had concerns in participating in a remake since trying to recreate an established series would be challenging, especially to "purist" Original Series supporters such as Aaron Douglas.

The formation of the Cylons as a creation of humanity, as well as their resemblance to humanity, not only helped in the storyline, but also in saving in production costs. Another change in changing the gender of changing "Starbuck" as a female pilot steeled actress Katee Sackhoff's resolve to make the character work. Hatch agreed that the gender change was appropriate to the times to illustrate women positively, even if the change dramatically changed the character. Hatch understood the changes for the Re-imagined Miniseries, but also indicated that there was a "fine line" in keeping its heritage true to the Original Series. Director Michael Rymer notes the many versions of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and how few people seem to have a problem with these variants.

Olmos discusses the complexities of William Adama, from his difficulty in retiring, to the strife between Lee Adama and the death of his younger son, Zak Adama. Bamber's "Apollo", as he described it, is not a quintessentially heroic character, but flawed with huge relationship and self-esteem issues. Lee Adama questions everything that his life has been since it's a mirror of what he despised at the start of the miniseries--his father, Commander Adama. In contrast, the original Apollo, as Hatch recollects, is a family man that cared about his job and the quality of life--a "true blue hero type."

Kara Thrace, as Katee Sackhoff sees her, is a very powerful, self-confident character. The fight scene between Colonel Tigh helped the actress resolve doubts of Starbuck's strength through the characterizations of her short-temper. Olmos describes the character of Starbuck as "tough as any John Wayne movie I've ever seen." Sackhoff wanted to have Starbuck approach many situations in her life with masculine energy, "but with the emotions of a woman behind it."

Mary McDonnell, in her new role of Laura Roslin, is an extremely powerful character that "carries herself very well", as Olmos notes. McDonnell says that Roslin felt very familar in the changes of her life in comparison to her own life as an actress. In particular, she wanted to explore the point of a woman dealing with power. Eick noted that the character of Roslin was specifically written with McDonnell and her authoritative personality in mind.

Starbuck and Starbuck at Starbucks.

An amusing bit comes when Original Series actor Dirk Benedict meets with Katee Sackhoff over coffee--Starbuck and Starbuck at Starbucks Coffee. Benedict notes that he did try out for the new series, although he didn't specify the role. Benedict humorously hands over a cigar to Sackhoff in a gesture of passing the torch of the Starbuck character to his new successor. Both actors agree that working in the Viper during filming is the worst part of production. Both actors humorously showed the confrontational "one of a kind" nature that both Starbuck personas reflect in debating if Benedict could be called "Starbuck" anymore.[1]

Technologically speaking, the only technology they wanted to carry through from the Original Series was the Viper, now known as the Viper Mark II, leaving all else to be recreated to fit the miniseries. Eick noted that the movies 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blackhawk Down as inspirations in how the show's atmosphere should manifest. 2001 showed realistic space travel elements, and Blackhawk depicted a visceral reality to warfare that worked, even with a small plot.

James Callis reflects the cast's reaction to first viewing the CIC set. They were like kids in the "Willy Wonka" chocolate shop. Yet, Callis explained, everything looked as if it has always been there. The film style of cinéma vérité was also used to give the sensation of the viewer feeling as if they were filming the show from their own camcorder--as if they actually were there. Moore wanted to show that neither Galactica nor her crew was anywhere close to the best ship or crew in the Colonial Fleet in contrast to the starship Enterprise and her various crews in the various Star Trek television series. Galactica is portrayed as just another ship in the military.[2]

The actors in formation training at their boot camp.

Bamber and Sackoff recall their military training to boost their realism as soldiers by attending a boot camp led by the miniseries military advisor and veteran military cinematic trainer Ron Blecker. Sackhoff noted about 15 cast members participated, primarily the cast who would interact with Viper fighters had to go.

Computer Graphics Supervisor Lee Stringer had this "surreal" feeling of working on the computer graphics that formed the new battlestar's design, since as a kid he watched the show and played with Viper and Galactica toys. Gary Hutzel tells of the difficulties that actors had working with blue-screens as many effects would be added by computers after the shot was done. The Vipers were generally true to their Original Series counterparts, while Galactica was essentially an entirely new ship with only the lines that hinted of its Original Series counterpart. The Cylon Raiders were fully changed, including the addition of the familiar "red-eye" of the Cylon robots of the Original Series. Likewise, the Cylons themselves were split into the human-looking Cylon and a new robotic Cylon Centurion with human behavior but in a robotic body, as Hutzel described.

Moore realized that the original Cylon Centurions would be awkward to do in today's sophisticated world, and that the nature of the Cylons as an enemy and as a race was too vague from the Original Series, so a redress of the Cylons would allow better exploration and development. Actress Tricia Helfer explained how her role as Number Six would need to explore more of what it meant to be a human and less of her robotic origins--to show her vulnerability and make her sympathetic to viewers. The Lowdown treats its viewers to a generous glimpse of Helfer's photo shoot with Maxim magazine.

James Callis talks of John Colicos' "frightening" portrayal of Baltar and how he wanted his role as Gaius Baltar to be different. Callis describes Gaius Baltar as a cowardly computer genius whose penchant for beautiful women would be his (and the Colonies') undoing. Baltar is certainly not a fighter. Olmos recalls Callis' "uncanny" sense of humor that brightens the set, especially in light of the dark nature and background character and significance to the series. The re-imagined Baltar, as Callis describes, isn't necessarily evil, but a man who is used to control in his life and suddenly finds his control wrestled from him.

Aaron Douglas' feels that Battlestar is his favorite role in his career. Together with actress Grace Park, they discuss the change of making Boomer into the female role of Sharon Valerii.

The cast and crew's visit to ComicCon to speak with fans before the miniseries aired was helpful in that fans, contrary to the initial Internet reaction, appeared very supportive of the new miniseries.

The Lowdown ends with many cast and crew's feeling that the miniseries would be liked well by old and new fans alike, without taking anything away from the unique appeal of the Original Series.

Noteworthy Dialogue

  • Katee Sackhoff: "Hi. I'm Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica. I play Starbuck. Deal with it."

References

  1. Dirk Benedict would later post a strongly dissenting opinion of the new series and the changes in the Starbuck character in an opinion essay posted on his official web site. See the article on Dirk Benedict for details.
  2. The series reinforces Galactica's unimportance to the Colonial Fleet in the episode "Hero", which reveals that William Adama's reassignment from the battlestar Valkyrie to Galactica after a failed covert operation was considered a demotion.