Battlestar Galactica

Like a present-day aircraft carrier, "Battlestar Galactica" takes a while to find its directional heading and build up steam, but once it does, this proves to be a surprisingly engrossing odyssey. In this new version, the martial themes resonate with a certain timeliness, making it easy to see how this pilot could make the hyperleap to a series.

Like a present-day aircraft carrier, “Battlestar Galactica” takes a while to find its directional heading and build up steam, but once it does, this proves to be a surprisingly engrossing odyssey. Surprising because it’s based on a 25-year-old concept that was jettisoned out of orbit, mostly remembered as a “Star Wars” knockoff (there was even a lawsuit contending as much) with pricey special effects by John Dykstra. In this new version, however, the martial themes resonate with a certain timeliness, making it easy to see how this backdoor pilot could make the hyperleap to a series revival.

Those with a hazy recollection of the original, starring Lorne Greene, probably don’t recall “Galactica” as a seething cauldron of sexuality. Still, that was a long time ago, and the target audience of young males (many born since the show signed off in 1980) has doubtless come to expect a bit more sizzle from their sci-fi.

Exec producer Ronald D. Moore, who shares script credit with Christopher Eric James, and director Michael Rymer have concocted a knowing update of the earlier concept that also draws liberally from other science fiction sources. The mix includes paranoia over sex-crazed robots that resemble humans (assuming said humans are Victoria’s Secret models) and a “Starship Troopers”-like combination of youthful lust and massive loss under fire from a formidable enemy.

As the story opens, the floating fortress Galactica is preparing to be decommissioned and turned into a museum piece, its starboard launch already transformed into a gift shop. No one has seen the dreaded Cylons — a race of rogue robots once bent on destroying humankind — in 40 years, so the biggest headache facing Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) is his estrangement from his son, Apollo (Jamie Bamber).

All at once, however, the Cylons strike, obliterating the core of the 12 colonies’ fleet and inflicting millions of casualties. The troops are exhorted to “kick some Cylon ass” (do they have asses?), but the overmatched Galactica is soon in full retreat, struggling to save refugees, while the 43rd cabinet member in line of presidential succession (Mary McDonnell) is thrust into command.

Beyond the soap opera elements, with characters hopping in and out of bed, the series plays as a rumination on military preparedness and vigilance. Young soldiers drilled in peacetime suddenly find themselves in combat, overmatched by a foe that, in an early encounter, exerts control over their computer systems — their Cyclops eyes flashing like the robot Gort in “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Olmos and McDonnell provide the stabilizing core of what’s otherwise a cast of mostly unknowns; he’s all grit and clenched teeth as he watches his troops routed and the death toll mount.

Among the various twists, the hot-shot pilot Starbuck (originally played by that dreamy Dirk Benedict) is now a woman (Katee Sackhoff), who chomps cigars and punches out a superior officer.

Meanwhile, a brilliant scientist unwittingly seduced by a beautiful Cylon mole (Tricia Helfer, who is, in fact, a former Victoria’s Secret model) is plagued by her taunting image — part of the mini’s they-look-like-us Cold War paranoia, reminiscent of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

Despite some languid moments along the way, there’s a strong sense of tension in the concluding hour, which cleverly establishes where a potential series might go without leaving so many strands dangling as to be unsatisfying if the voyage ends here.

Oddly enough, then, as the “Star Trek” franchise runs low on fuel, the semi-obscure “Galactica” could be ripe for a relaunch. After all, TV and science fiction have long had one thing in common: Each has a penchant for looking to the past in order to chart the future.

Battlestar Galactica

Sci Fi, Mon. Dec. 8, Tue. Dec. 9, 9 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Vancouver by Michael R. Joyce Prods. and distributed by USA Cable Entertainment. Executive producers, David Eick, Ronald D. Moore; producers, Harvey Frand; consulting producer, Glen A. Larson; director, Michael Rymer; writers, Moore, Christopher Eric James, based on a teleplay by Larson;
  • Crew: camera, Joel Ransom; editor, Dany Cooper; music, Richard Gibbs; production design, Richard Hudolin; visual effects supervisor, Gary Hutzel; casting, Eric Dawson, Robert Ulrich, Coreen Mayrs, Heike Brandstatter. 240 MIN.
  • Cast: Commander Adama - Edward James Olmos Laura Roslin - Mary McDonnell Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo) - Jamie Bamber Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck) - Katee Sackhoff Gaius Baltar - James Callis Number Six - Tricia Helfer Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer) - Grace Park