Friday 31 May 2013

Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, reviewed by Jacob Edwards

Another streaming pile of BS. Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, directed by Jonas Pate, released 9 November 2012 (online); 10 February 2013 (television).

War with the Cylons has been raging for ten years when gung-ho new pilot William Adama (Luke Pasqualino) is posted to the Battlestar Galactica. His first mission, alongside jaded co-pilot Coker Fasjovik (Ben Cotton), turns from placidity to peril when their “cargo”, Doctor Beka Kelly (Lili Bordán), redirects them to a top secret rendezvous and subsequent infiltration deep within Cylon territory. As sacrifices are made and motivations uncovered, the idealistic young Adama must come to terms with war’s gritty reality…

—or some such. Consider it an exercise in loose terminology.

The original series of Battlestar Galactica (1978) become a cult hit, its premise – that of mankind’s seemingly futile, Frankensteinian fight for survival against its own ruthless progeny – proving sufficiently compelling to outlast memories of the lacklustre sequel series Galactica 1980 and eventually give rise to a successful relaunch with the born-again Battlestar Galactica of 2003–2009. Fronted by Edward James Olmos as the esteemed Commander Adama, this new take on the franchise started strongly before dwindling away into the ever-increasing spiral of absurdity that seems de rigueur of series that seek eternal renewal without ever a hint of resolution. This downward spin culminated in the abysmal Caprica (2010), at which point many a delirious viewer was left glassy-eyed and pining for the appearance (unforthcoming, except perhaps allegorically) of the scything seppuku Battleship ChickenTikkaMasala. Or Flight of the Conchords qua highly strung robots, singing, “The humans are dead, the humans are de-ead…” Or perhaps even Metal Mickey. Anything, really. Whatever was necessary just to make it stop.

And yet, streaming online and then direct to TV, the saga now continues.

Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome may satisfy some dark, destructive craving on the part of BSG’s most diehard fans – of which there are some 4,500, judging by the farcical 7.4 rating on IMDB – but in essence what it amounts to is a step-by-step progression by which stock characters go through standard arcs amidst whirling, computer game graphics so as to provide a backstory so intrinsically bland that it will have papier mâché artisans the world over packing up their wares and heading for the nearest SF convention. Pasqualino is a slightly odd choice as the young Adama (his Italian retrofitting somehow more reminiscent of Keanu Reeves than of Edward James Olmos), and while Ben Cotton does his best, he’s very much fighting an uphill battle against cliché and pique. Blood & Chrome’s music, at least, is well done – kudos here to Bear McCreary, who also scored the 2004–2009 series and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – but, truth be told, this still seems precious little upon which to hang even one’s small screen expectations.

The most obvious shortcoming of BSG:BC is, unsurprisingly, its script, which was set down like a bucket of soapy water by messieurs Taylor, Eick, Thompson and Weddle (all of whom were on deck when the revamped series started to sink). So as to avoid spoilers, let us imagine their plot in terms of another epic BC production – Homer’s Iliad:

The Greeks and the Trojans are ten years into a great war, which the Greeks are losing quite desperately (even though the incumbent deprivations are yet to filter down through their affluent economy). Drawn by the propaganda posters advocating duty, survival and wanton, communal bathing, Young Achilles aces his sword-fighting exams and – dreaming that the gods have farted poisonously on him, but that he has blithely outwitted them – signs up for the army. Although he is immediately consigned to rowing a cargo ship alongside world-weary Odysseus, the delightful Helen (who accidentally started the whole war, and whom Achilles has just encountered in the shower block) redirects his boat to a hush-hush assignation somewhere out near Trojan territory. They arrive, but the Greek trireme they were expecting to meet has been obliterated, and now is of little use other than to provide a floating obstacle course of debris and dead bodies. Wait! There are Trojans lurking. They attack, but Achilles is a fine rower. He whisks his boat to safety, destroying his three pursuers even as Odysseus blubbers in the gunwale and shrieks at him to stop being so bloody stupid. Phew. Now that the threat has passed, Helen tells Achilles and Odysseus to shout out their location as loud as they can. Sceptical, they do, and are immediately told where to sail next by a helpful Greek lookout who’s been skulking around close by. Off they go, Odysseus protesting and Achilles getting a kick out of this whole military duty thing. They arrive at Agamemnon’s secret depot of Greek warships and immediately are threatened with annihilation… unless they have the password! Achilles doesn’t have it. Odysseus doesn’t have it. Helen does, but she’s not paying attention, and in any case doesn’t know it. She has to read it in the orders she’s carrying. Where is it? Where is it? Oh, phew. That was close. Ah-ha! The secret mission is unveiled. Achilles and Odysseus must escort Helen to Troy – a near-deserted city deep within Trojan territory, from which incursion point Helen will do something vital to the war effort. Possibly a striptease. The city is most likely unguarded, but just in case some Trojans do appear, Achilles & Co. are concealed within a giant wooden horse. Good plan. They arrive, and– darn it, just at that moment, an army of Trojans appears on the horizon. They haven’t seen the Greeks yet. Good. Agamemnon has a plan. Achilles, Odysseus and Helen can dress up in a horse suit and try to sneak into the city, while the rest of the Greeks use the giant horse as a decoy. Risky. Couldn’t we come back later…? No! This is war, damn it. (And besides, Helen’s pole-dance can’t wait a moment longer.) Point of no return. Achilles & Co. set off, as do various other Greeks in horse suits. The Trojans attack. The Greeks are outnumbered. The giant horse is taking heavy fire from flaming arrows and well-aimed ballistae. The Greeks in horse suits are being shot down. There are Trojans on Achilles’ tail (again)! But all is not lost. While Achilles, Odysseus and Helen galumph towards the city, Agamemnon decides to ram the Trojans with the great wooden horse. The Trojans obviously respect this decision, for once the horse starts towards them, they immediately stop attacking it. The horse grows nearer. The Trojans wait. The horse collides with the Trojan’s horse (which is bigger and has a fancy plume). The Greek horse is destroyed. All on board perish. Bummer. But at least there’s only three Trojans chasing after Achilles & Co., who by this stage have reached the city gates. Achilles steers the horse suit brilliantly, destroying two of the pursuers. The third is taken care of by releasing a stream of horse poo and setting it on fire. Achilles, Odysseus and Helen enter the city, whereupon the Trojans forget all about them, perhaps thinking that they perished during the galloping crash with which they crossed the line. Ah, but they didn’t! So far, so good. Except… the Greek insurgents they were supposed to meet have all been killed. Odysseus and Helen fall down a hole. Thinking of nothing better to do, Achilles jumps after them. They are attacked by one of Cassandra’s serpents, and rescued by the sole survivor of the Greek commandos. (He’s a bit of a psycho and has set booby traps everywhere. Because– well, you never know, do you?) They head for Priam’s chambers to take shelter for the night. Nobody’s looking for them, but– Okay, well they are now that some Trojans have wandered into the booby traps. The psycho gets drunk. Odysseus plays the harp. Achilles and Helen have sex. The Trojans attack! The psycho calls out “cooee” to a Trojan, and is spitted with arrows. Achilles is cornered, but beats a Trojan (call him Hector) to death using an old piece of seaweed. Helen is cornered as well, but the Trojan seems quite fond of her necklace… Poignant moment, but then Odysseus and Achilles come to the rescue. Trojan dead. Helen sad. Mission continues. They must go to the temple and send a message to the gods. The gods will broadcast it to the Trojans, and the Trojans, being highly susceptible to such things, will give up. The war will be over. But Helen has other ideas. (Just look at what they did to Paris, she sobs.) The war – oh, this terrible war! – will only end when the Greeks surrender. Hence, the Trojans must be helped. The message to the gods is a trick to reveal the location of Agamemnon’s secret fleet. Odysseus spots it, and shoots Helen, but is himself shot. Achilles is shot. Helen goes to shoot him again, but thankfully runs out of arrows. Achilles shoots up the temple, then takes Odysseus and leaves. The two of them sit around in the moonlight and shout out “Help!” until those of the Greeks that weren’t slaughtered in the burning horse suicide run come along and whisk them off to safety, not a Trojan in sight.

There is, needless to say, a further twist, but by this stage the embers have burnt down and Homer has shuffled off to empty his bladder and gnaw on some old goat pieces. And the saddest part is, that capriciously transposing Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome onto an ancient setting in no way makes it less plausible. (Indeed, the conscious disparity might well be said, through tacitly acknowledging the film’s Achilles’ heel, to have lessened the negative impact of its prickle-embedded and limping plot.) Because, in essence, BSG:BC is a free-floating morality-of-war film that pays scant attention to either the specific conflict or the details of the human/Cylon universe. It tries instead to force tension and adrenaline into scenarios that lack sufficient build-up, and to superimpose drama onto characters that have been dolloped up from the stockpot of eternal blandness. Worst of all, the filmmakers’ grasp of military tactics, strategy and grand strategy is… tenuous (mild censure of the day); or perhaps just simplistic (with all the tell-tale incision marks of a four-pronged lobotomy). Actually, the one term that springs most readily to mind is “General Melchett-like”, only without the requisite comic intent or a sardonic Blackadder character to play up the absurdity.

In some respects, watching Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome is reminiscent of being shepherded across the road by a lollipop lady at a school crossing where there are no kids and no cars – an uneasy mixture of embarrassment and empathic condolences for all concerned. Yes, the name “Nate Underkuffler” does appear in the closing credits (for those who threw themselves grasping at straws, but missed), but surely, even in the most arid and undiscerning of parallel universes, that cannot by itself provide sufficient impetus for a movie to take flight…? And yet, BSG fans might smugly riposte, seven-point-four on IMDB, when even The Frighteners only managed seven-point-one

Yes, well put it this way: if Mr T hadn’t taken a vow of silence, there’s every chance he’d even now be stomping around his mansion, tearing his mohawk out and proclaiming, “I pity the fool!”

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