Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome

Non Spoiler Review:
Ten years into the war with the Cylons, eager graduate Ensign William Adama is assigned to the Battlestar Galactica, and his first mission—as raptor pilot ferrying a mysterious civilian. It's quickly apparent that their mundane assignment is more than it seems, and Adama finds himself involved in a mission critical to winning the war.

Blood and Chrome has had an extremely difficult time getting to air. First promoted as webisodes acting as a back door pilot for a series on SyFy, then implied it would go straight to air, and back again to YouTube, it now looks like this is as good as it's going to get for the Battlestar Galactica franchise. SyFy doesn't know what to do with it, and all indications are it will not be going further than airing on the network early in 2013 as a movie. But one can hope.

The pilot is written and produced by David Eick (also executive producer) and David Weddle, among others, so its Galactica lineage is pretty much intact. William Adama this time around is played by Luke Pasqualino. Rounding out the Galactica crew is Ben Cotton as Coker, with Lili Bordán as Graystone Industries' Dr. Becca Kelly.

Pasqualino does a good job pulling off a cocky young Adama that grows better as the series progresses. He's not the first—we got a glimpse of a slightly older version at the close of the war in Razor. While he certainly doesn't act like the admiral we're used to, there's nothing in this character that contrasts wildly with his future version. He comes across with similarities to Starbuck at this point (though with a respect for command).

The story gets into the fray pretty quickly, so it doesn't lack for action. And early on there's a stunning space battle with the Cylons to rival anything on Battlestar Galactica. The opening montage bringing the viewer up to date with the Cylon rebellion was effective, and calls back to Caprica's conclusion quite well. What we get is a war-weary crew in which an eager-to-fight Adama is introduced, forced to come to terms with the reality of wartime versus his idealized fantasy.

Blood and Chrome is a nostalgic return to the Battlestar Galactica we're used to, from the viper dog fights (complete with Bear McCreary drum beats) to the interiors of the ship. Aside from the sometimes distracting use of lens flares to help cover up the effects, it's all very familiar and a great start to what I hope will be a successful addition to the Galactica franchise. The movie succeeds in reintroducing a cast of characters in an era ripe for exploration. Hopefully further missions are on the way.

Spoilers Now!
In a letter home to his father, Ensign William Adama justifies his decision to join the fight against the Cylons. While in combat training, he takes some unorthodox measures in taking out his Cylon raiders. It's all a holoband simulation, which he passes easily. 

En route to his first assignment he flirts with new crew mate Jenna, but it's the sight of the Battlestar Galactica that really gets his attention. On the flight deck he sees war hero Deke Tornvald. As he reports for duty, his eagerness to get into the Cylon War (now in its tenth year) is off putting to some of his comrades. Instead he's assigned to pilot a raptor mission rather than fly a viper.

Disappointed, he meets his co-pilot, Coker, who is less than impressed with him. Coker is busy cleaning out the blood of his previous pilot and thinks Adama is wet behind the ears, calling him Husker (even though Adama is from Caprica City and not a farmer). Coker, with 47 days left in his tour, also appears to enjoy a drink or two on the job.

In the CIC the two of them are briefed by Commander Nash. Nash notes Adama has some interesting Tauron family connections—the Ha'la'tha mob. Though his grades weren't stellar he's a natural pilot. To cool off his cockiness he's assigning him a raptor milk run—they're to take cargo to Scorpion shipyards and return with spare parts—a four-day round trip, given he can't spare a jump ready ship.

Adama and Coker clean up in the showers prior to their mission. Adama wonders what Coker is planning on doing when his tour is done, as he can't see anyone not wanting to fight for their survival. Seeing Tornvald, Adama goes over to meet him and speak of his admiration for the pilot, but the tired war veteran, echoing the same weariness as Coker, says it's all meaningless. Another attractive woman also catches Adama's eye.

Afterwards, Coker wonders why Adama's father didn't use his mob influence to keep his son out of the war. Adama's not about to use his family's influence. At least he had a choice, Coker says. They get a pittance of ordinances due to low supplies, but then they find that their cargo is the same woman Adama met, software engineer Becca Kelly.

When they're in space and out of range of Galactica, Becca gives Coker a new set of orders directly from the admiralty—a rendezvous with the Battlestar Archeron two days in the opposite direction near Cylon controlled space, as well as wireless silence and strict adherence to her orders. Adama seems pleased at the change in plans.

Later on, Adama is reviewing Cylon battle footage, but his holoband malfunctions, and he's surprised when Becca says she can likely fix it. She reveals she was an employee of Graystone Industries (the makers of holoband technology). She worked on Cylons, she clarifies, designing the upgrade on their brain technology. Adama seems shocked at that, and points out she helped improve the machines that are killing them. Kelly is already very aware of that fact and she sits in silence as he goes to the cockpit.

When they approach the rendezvous coordinates they find multiple DRADIS contacts—the Archeron has been destroyed. As they fly through the debris field to investigate, Kelly is disheartened to see the destruction, but they're quickly alerted to three enemy contacts, and one raider bears down on them.

As all three raiders close in, Adama kills one, but runs out of missiles, so he takes drastic action to outmaneuver them, leading them through the debris of the landing bay, and then deciding to fly through the Archeron's jump drive, which is still active. As the raptor slips through the small opening, the remaining raiders are destroyed inside.

Coker begrudgingly compliments him for his flying skills. Becca instructs them to send out a hail on a particular frequency and it's immediately answered with new coordinates within Cylon space. Coker balks at that, but she reminds him they answer to her on this mission, and Adama agrees. Coker doesn't need to be court-martialed with just two months of service left.

As the raptor approaches their destination, Adama wakes up Becca, who talks in her sleep and calls him Ezra. She explains it's Ezra Barzam, a famous colonial marine Adama's heard of who killed a platoon of Cylons. He was an inspiring man—and her husband.

They arrive at a dense asteroid field and Coker picks up colonial transponders, and two vipers emerge demanding a password with weapons locked. At the last second Becca supplies it, and they're escorted into the system which hides a fleet of colonial cruisers, including the Battlestar Valkyrie, reported lost. In fact, all of the vessels present have been thought destroyed.

Docking with the cruiser Osiris, Becca reports to its commander Ozar. She's preparing to get Becca further on to her mission objective. Adama wants to go, but she quickly tells him he's too green and can sit this one out, despite dispatching with three bandits earlier. Becca pipes up that Adama and Coker have taken her this far and she'd like them along.

The mission is to the former resort ice moon of Djerba, which was taken over as a staging ground for the Cylons early in the war, and is so deep in their space it's now relatively unguarded. Colonial marines have already been inserted, and the mission is to get Becca to her operators and let them take her the rest of the way to her objective. Ozar stresses this mission is vital to the success of the war and wants volunteers only. Coker realizes that means a one-way trip.

While prepping, Coker encounters a friend reported dead—viper pilot Jim Kirby. He brings him up to speed on his wife, who apparently had his son while he was gone.

The Osiris makes the combat jump to Djerba and prepares to launch the raptor and its fighter escort. However a Cylon basestar jumps in, and while it hasn't seen the Osiris yet, Ozar realizes they'll pick them up soon enough. Rather than abort she advises the crew they're about to engage the Cylons and orders the vipers and raptor launched. The basestar is alerted to their position while the Osiris brings its guns and nukes to bear on them.

The raptor and its two viper escort make an intense drop into Djerba's atmosphere while in pursuit by raiders. The Osiris takes a beating from the basestar and is too damaged to fire off its nukes. Ozar decides on a suicide run and detonates them manually, setting them off while the ship crashes onto the surface of the basestar. Both ships are destroyed

Coker picks up the nuclear explosion and loses DRADIS contacts with both the colonials and the Cylons. Adama does some fancy piloting while Coker and the two vipers manage to destroy some of their bandits. Both vipers, including Kirby's, go down, but Adama jettisons and ignites the raptor fuel to take out their last pursuer.

That leads to a crash landing which puts their raptor out of commission. Coker decides he's had enough and wants to repair the ship and leave. Becca insists they complete their rendezvous with the marines, and Adama agrees, telling him to stop his bitching and behave like a soldier. Besides, the marine extraction team remains their only way off planet.

The three make their way to the transponder signal in an ice cave, only to find dead bodies that haven't been killed by gunfire. Coker and Becca fall into a hole, leading Adama to jump down after. But they realize they're not alone. Something is alive in the walls and bites Coker. A serpent emerges and the three try to fight it off, but with little success until someone else arrives and kills it.

Their savior is Xander Toth, one of the marine sergeants (and the lone survivor). He explains their group had camped out in the cave while he went out on patrol, only to return to find them all dead from the serpents. The Cylons have been experimenting with new lifeforms, combining mechanical and organic parts.

It's evident Toth isn't mentally stable, and he won't say how long he's been surviving on his own, but he's clear that a storm is coming and Becca will have to wait until morning to get to her mission objective, despite her protests. He's also noted a Cylon patrol in his travels. At the first sign of Coker's defiance he forces him unconscious and threatens to kill him when they protest. Clear that they're at his mercy for the moment, they agree to his plan to take refuge in a safe place he knows of. The four of them make their way to a ridge which reveals an abandoned ski resort below.

Toth explains the Cylons took it in the initial attack and used it as a supply depot for spare parts. The crew retires for some rest, with Toth standing guard. Adama stays in the same room as Becca, who notes he reminds him of her husband, then goes on to reveal that the military built him into a larger than life war hero for recruitment purposes. He never died taking out a Cylon platoon, but in a friendly fire incident, and they ensured he lived on in V-world to encourage enlistment.

Adama makes his moves on her, but she tells him he'll regret it. Afterwards Adama is woken up to Coker's piano playing in the main foyer, and they enjoy a drink together. Coker can tell Adama hooked up with Becca and thinks it's all dubious, but that topic is interrupted by one of Toth's tripwires going off in the distance. Cylons approach.

Toth gets killed, while Adama and Coker split up to deal with two Cylon soldiers, one of whom corners Becca in the cooler (which itself appears to store dismembered body parts). It scans her dog tags and pauses, allowing Coker time to come in and shoot it. The Cylon gives off a wounded scream as they finish it off. Becca explains that it can feel pain.

Coker decides he's had enough of the mission and demands that Becca tell them where they're going, pulling a gun on both. She confesses it's to a Cylon transmission array. Their surprise attack is one of the last offensives that the colonial fleet can muster against a superior enemy. She's carrying a virus in the dog tag around her neck that she'll upload to the Cylon network. It's designed to lie dormant until they trigger it to shut down their defenses.

Coker appears content to have the details of the missions at last. They make their way to the automated array which is supposedly unguarded if they don't trip the internal defence systems. They meet no resistance, and Becca begins to upload her virus. Coker watches, then notices a schematic of a battlestar appear onscreen. He abruptly shoots her in the shoulder, to Adama's horror. Coker tells him she's a traitor giving up military secrets.

Adama refuses to believe it, but Coker saw the Cylon scan her dog tag and let her live. They realize the location of the ghost fleet is being uploaded and that's why the Cylons destroyed the Archeron, so she would be taken to where they were. Becca shoots Coker and trains her gun on Adama, explaining they can't win the war and must negotiate. She believes the Cylons value life more than they do and are just defending themselves. Adama tries to reason with her but she shoots him in the shoulder as he approaches.

Becca is about to finish him off but finds she's out of bullets. Wounded but mobile, he takes the gun and proceeds to smash the control panels to stop the upload. He then takes the seriously wounded Coker and leaves Becca behind. Once free of the array they rest in the snow, and while Adama activates the transponder for their rescue it's looking like Coker won't make it. He asks him to take care of a photo of his wife. Come nightfall a raptor appears for them.

Back at the array, Becca hears "Are you alive", and turns to face a somewhat humanoid-looking Cylon (with a familiar female voice). It informs her that though she might be more enlightened than others of her species, they don't hate her any less, and breaks her neck.

On Galactica, Commander Nash visits a recuperating Adama, asking him to sign off on his report. Adama realizes it says their mission was a complete success, but knows it's a lie. He realizes Nash new the truth all along, and the admiralty wanted her to upload the data. Nash reveals when the Cylons attacked the ghost fleet it was long gone, and they inflicted major damage on the Cylons in five sectors. Adama doesn't see the big picture, wondering about the sacrifice of the Osiris and the Archeron. Nash explains the public won't support the war if they don't give them hope. They can have their heroes while he and Adama fight the real war.

Adama signs off on it, and Nash informs him he has a shiny new viper waiting for him for a special ops task force. All it needs is a call sign. Coker arrives, a little worse for the wear, but has survived. While he doesn't know what his long term plans are, he says he'll stick around for the remaining weeks of his tour.

Adama writes home to his father, admitting the nature of the war is different than he expected. He finds himself welcome among Deke and Jenna and he muses that when the war is over he'll remember the men and women who fought with him most. With his viper christened as Husker, he launches out into space with the rest of the squadron.

The Verdict:
Blood and Chrome managed to live up to the long wait to see it brought to screen. It successfully delivered a first mission storyline with what could be a great supporting cast should we get more movies in the future. While Caprica explored themes of life after death and virtual reality, this series looks to delve into the morally ambiguous nature of war.

It was evident right away that the series has managed an effective bridge between the world we see in Battlestar Galactica and the more pristine, pre-fall days of Caprica. The majestic fly by of the Battlestar Galactica at the start, complete with original music (the Colonial Anthem) sealed the deal that the creative minds behind this had gotten it right.

A little bit of the Battlestar mythology got filled in, from an unexpected (sort of) Tricia Helfer cameo, to the Galactica in its prime. Character introductions were delivered well, which is always difficult in a pilot. Pasqualino comes off as a good choice as Adama, and the others are all pretty likable, including Coker and Jenna. Though Coker was starting to grate on me after awhile with his constant bitching about the mission. It just didn't ring true given the circumstances—abandoning the mission certainly doesn't honor the lost men and women on Osiris that he claims to respect.

For a moment I thought Caprica's Global Defense agent Jordan Durham had sought a career in the Colonial Fleet when war broke out, but here Brian Markinson is playing Silas Nash. Xander Toth is also played by John Pyper-Ferguson, who was Tomas Vergis on Caprica.

I realize many fans have a major hate for Caprica, but I loved the show and wished it had the chance to grow beyond its flaws. Here the references to the prequel series really rounded out the continuity and legacy of the franchise—the Ha'la'tha mob, Graystone Industries—all contribute to the detailed world building in the prequel series.

The movie did indulge in a bunch of typical military cliches. I admit it wasn't a big surprise that the Osiris would be making a suicide run. It's a wonder the colonials can endure this ten year war given what must be extraordinary losses in personnel and hardware (including the Archeron).

Toth  was also the standard crazy lone surviving soldier. And he served his purpose to get the group to their refuge and was quickly killed. Kirby came and went, too, and seems like a waste of screen time to introduce and eliminate so quickly (except to say that war is hell).

Adam behaved a bit ridiculously at times. While I can forgive his bedding Becca so easily, Adama's blind jump into the darkness of the cave was just pure stupidity. Instead of throwing down a rope to try to retrieve them, he opts to leap down into the unknown and risk (fatal) injury too, leaving them all stranded? While he might be a green recruit, his frustration with the truth about the mission seemed very naive. The colonials obviously won a great victory against the Cylons in manipulating Becca and sacrificing a few along the way.

As for Becca, she fulfilled the role of the sympathizer, though it wasn't entirely clear if her Cylon sympathies came from working on them at Graystone Industries, or for how the military treated her husband's death. On one hand it's not hard to think many colonials would want to negotiate for a peace given the damage they're suffering, but the relentlessness of the Cylons to eradicate them would seem to counter that attitude. It seems the admiralty must have been manipulating her for quite awhile in order to set up such a complex deception.

Aside from those questionable choices, the pace really made for enjoyable viewing. I was hooked within the first few minutes. The opening vistas of colonies under attack and old school battlestars, basestars, vipers and raiders were beautifully rendered (albeit with some reused stock footage from The Plan). There are plenty of effective action sequences, and insight into the various ships of the colonial fleet, like the Osiris, something we've not had the opportunity to see before.

The only other criticism I have is the lens flares, which are there to obscure all the green screen, though this was only in a few instances, and exteriors didn't seem to suffer from it as much. However, I'm impressed by how it all looks. The Galactica and Osiris interiors don't feel as CGI as I thought they might, and it's all quite an achievement. Here's hoping Blood and Chrome gets to see further missions.

Thoughts and Questions:
The Cylons love to tinker with mechanical/biological hybrids, this time coming up with a cybernetic python, and a precurser to the skinjobs. The dissected humans in the resort also don't bode well for what they might have going on behind the scenes. It's got me wondering if this ice planet might be the same one we saw in Razor?

Is Graystone Industries still around? Delivering a virtual apocalypse to the Twelve Colonies likely proved the death knell for the company considering the drop in shares Graystone suffered for his daughter being a terrorist. Is it a Graystone Industries development that the Cylons appear to feel pain, or did that come with their evolution? It was certainly not present in the early prototypes seen in Caprica. The proto-Six we see here was a nice little touch, and called back to the baby killing scene in the pilot miniseries.

The Cylon War has been raging for ten years. It looks like colonials are required to serve at least two tours of duty. Nash references Operation Clean Sweep—apparently a tactical failure that cost a lot of ships. Where is Cylon controlled space relative to the colonial systems? Where did the Cylons get their basestars?

The Tauron mob still wields significant influence if Joseph Adama could have spared his son a tour of duty in the fleet.

The holoband network still exists in some form, and is used in mission briefings, as well. But is it as expansive as it was in Caprica? Becca mentions her husband was brought back as a recruiting agent in V-world, but one would think the Cylons would have compromised that network pretty quickly (especially since we saw them present in Sister Clarice's V-world church at the end of Caprica).

The timeline is getting sketchy if one thinks too hard about it, but if it's taken for granted that the 40 years since the armistice reference is a bit of a rounded off number, then it could still conceivably work that Adama can have a couple of years in what will be a 12 year war (according to Razor). When looking at Adama's character throughout the franchise, it's interesting now to consider that his entire adolescence was spent during what must have been at times an intense war setting (if the vistas of Caprica being bombarded are any indication). That would frame his entire perspective, so it's no wonder that he had difficulty finding a footing in peacetime (as episodes of Battlestar Galactica alluded to).

1 comment:

  1. Lovely to see the Galactica with her armor back on!


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