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Salient. Newspaper of the Victoria University Students' Association. Vol 42 No. 8. April 23 1979

Film — Muffy the Mechanical Daggit — Battlestar Galactica

page 14


Muffy the Mechanical Daggit

Battlestar Galactica

Film header

Ladies and gentlemen, the first of the big rip-offs.

Or should I say, the first of the not-quite originals. Or, where have I seen that before?

Up to now we've had three big multi-million dollar special effects movies: Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Superman.

I liked all three, and I have some measure respect for their creators, partly because these directors (Lucas, Spielberg, and Donner) have a spark of real imaginative originality in their souls (or whatever). Steven Spielberg, for instance, after making the two modestly budgeted [unclear: featires] largely ignored by the public (Duel and The Sugarland Express, in case anyone's interested), made Jaws. The rest, as they say, is history. The film was tremendously popular (it's actually very good), and a host of imitators sprang up, menacing small towns with grizzly bears, piranha fish, giant octopi, killer bees, Lindy Cassidy, you name it.

But instead of repeating his success formula (he had nothing to do with the inferior sequel), Speilberg went on to something new in CE3K. Needless to say, there's a welter of visitors-from-space movies soon to reach our already somewhat [unclear: enophobic] shores.

Richard Donner, like Spielberg, made a very successful thriller in The Omen. It's one of the very best of its kind, with fantastic special effects and lots of superb chills, so don't miss it when it screens at the Memorial Theatre later this year. Also like Spielberg, Donner didn't have anything to do with the inevitable sequel, instead taking over direction of Superman — a film that, despite its rather shoddy and hurried last half hour, has more moments of brilliant comedy, technical wizardry, thrills and visual beauty than any other work of 'entertainment' for a long while.

I think Donner may be directing the sequel (which is over halfway finished anyway) — in this case, I hope so.

In the Beginning

And so to George Lucas and Star Wars, from whence springs Battlestar Galactica. Lucas, you'll remember, really made his name with American Graffiti, probably the best film I've mentioned so far. And while everyone else milked the trend and started manufacturing 50's nostalgia. George kept his his mind busy with space fantasy.

The phenomenon of Star Wars really gave the industry a shakedown, and all the studios got imitation space epics under way.

Films so dependent os special effects, however, take time to make. Hence the delay between Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, the first of this 'second generation' to reach the public.

It was made by an American TV network, ABC, as a series of hour-long episodes with a first instalment of movie length, this 'introductory' episode being released throughout the rest of the world as a feature film.

Let it be said right now that Star Wars is a very good film, a paragon of its type. Sure, George Lucas wanted to turn a profit, but be also wanted to revive some of the legends of his childhood and give the kids of today a film they could enjoy, and a film free of the condescension that characterises so many. He has himself said that he hoped his film would stimulate lots of imitations so that there'd be lots more of this sort of entertainment around.

Call me naive, but I believe him.

The powers behind Battlestar, on the other hand, seem to have been only interested in winning the network ratings war, and making lots of lovely extra moola by international syndication.

And they really thought they had a winner. First and foremost they had John Dykstra, who did the effects for Star Wars (even unto developing the innovatory camera-computer link-up christened the Dykstraflex.) The effects he's done for Battlestar Galactica, the space battles, are good most of the time, but not all. Some (explosions particularly) are unsatisfactory, and there's an overall sense of a job done in a hurry — like to beat everyone else to the market.

The same shots are used repeatedly (something I'd hoped to have seen the last of in Thunderbirds), sometimes with the film reversed, sometimes with a different background matted in. There are two major space battles in Battlestar Galacitica, one at the beginning and one (of course) at the end. But because of the amount of repeated footage, and the use of the same setting and combatants, there is no build-up of excitement such as Lucas achieved in Star Wars.

Rather, the excitement diminishes. I got bored.

The other ploy used by Battlestar's producers to grab the Star Wars audience (hopefully hungry for more of the same) is the copying of most of the elements found in the earlier film: youthful protagonists, wise patriarchal figure, menacing figure of evil served by metallic stormtrooper guards and ensconced in a terrible space fortress capable of destroying whole [unclear: phiets], etc. etc. And most of all, the cute robot. As heir to R2D2, here we have Muffy the mechanical daggit. Say no more.

TV Bastard

But Battlestar Galactica's imitation of Star Wars is faulty. Lucas's film had a kind of purity in its fantasy — it was totally divorced from the 'real world' and was able to exist independently of any standards of 'realism' we might take a fancy to applying to it. Its dialogue was cliched, and genuinely funny as a fond send-up.

The dialogue in Battlestar is trite and cardboard, coming not from any sense of humour but merely the addled brains of writers saturated in the tradition of American prime-time television. Battlestar Galactica was made for American television, and it shows. Quite apart form the numerous cuts indicating intended commercial breaks, injected into the pure fantasy of Star Wars is an unappetizing vein of sexuality, political [unclear: morand] all the other network production values we've come to know so well.

And so we get Lorne Green repeat his Bonanza role and being as god-[unclear: awfl] ever; Jane Seymour doing her [unclear: smould] sexpot rountine and giving off as [unclear: muc] as ever; two tall and handsome young pilots doing a passable Starsky and [unclear: Wum] imitation; a cute-as-a-button child [unclear: tu] at the heartstrings of the adults; a [unclear: peal] for single-parent families; two (count [unclear: tl] two) token blacks; a smattering of [unclear: bus] blondes; a pro-American anti-Commie line that makes even Senator McCarthy vaguely socialist; and a few burning [unclear: bol] for comic relief. Try to imagine Star [unclear: teh] meets Chips meets Charlie's Angels [unclear: ma]Swat meets The Waltons'.

I'm getting carried away. Battlestar lactica does have its good bits - like the [unclear: lon] attack on the city, and the battle or bridge (stolen from Tolkien, but what [unclear: teh] and the singing trio on the Ovion [unclear: piand] even worth going just for the corny [unclear: waf] about sensurround that introduces the [unclear: i] itself.

Nevertheless, I have it on the very be authorities that it's not as good to see [unclear: st] as Star Wars was - though obviously the bidden weed would improve it no end.

On the whole, give me Luke and [unclear: Leia] day.

Paul Hagan