Sunday, January 10, 2010

Better SF: Battlestar Galactica - The Plan

If there was ever a film made 'strictly for the fans', Battlestar Galactica: The Plan is it, because if you have never watched the show, this otherwise fine direct-to-DVD film will make almost no sense.

With the wrap-up this past spring of the revered 2003-2009 series, many of us who became addicted to this thoughtful show were seemingly out of frakking luck. This was compounded by the horrible news that the hack, Glen Larson -- the man who created the 1970s cheeseball version -- was being permitted to do a feature film for Universal that had nothing to do with the new series (with supposedly Bryan Singer directing!). It was a downer on top of the news the show was finished.

The only saving grace is that, if the film actually ever gets made, it can be safely ignored without damaging our memories of the series. We now have one more piece to add to our treasure chest of 'good' Battlestar Galactica. Directed by the show's lead actor, Edward James Olmos, BSG: The Plan rewinds the story to the period just prior to the Cylon's annihilation of humanity (and ending about 290 days later) to tell us the story from the Cylon's point of view.

It's a thrilling 112 minutes (released on DVD on October 27) that examines the reasons for the attack and why, ultimately, it failed. Brother Cavil (an inspiringly bitter Dean Stockwell), the head humanoid Cylon, hates humanity (or his 'parents', as he frequently reminds everybody, since humans created the Cylons) with such pathological intensity that he is disappointed that, out of billions of humans killed, 47,000 managed to survive. The plan is to wipe out the rest so only Cylons will remain. This really is Stockwell's show, and he takes full advantage. Since all human-appearing Cylons have numerous copies, Stockwell plays two versions of Brother Cavill -- the monstrously homicidal one and a more conciliatory interpretation -- one of the show's always-interesting conceits was that the various versions of each Cylon were not uniform in their thinking, a plot point that resulted in frequent conflicts between the Cylons.

Stockwell has always been good at playing cynical, debauched and frequently funny curmudgeons. With the possible exception of his character, Ben, in David Lynch's 1986 Blue Velvet, Stockwell has never been more loathsome. But he's loathsome in a way that, while you are repelled by his actions, you understand why he thinks it is a good idea to wipeout the entire human race. Late in the film, he commits one unspeakably barbarous act that, in the context of his character, makes complete sense. We the viewer can see it coming, but that still does not reduce the horror of what he does. It is a perfect embodiment of the notion that the murder of one can be more devastating to us than the killing of billions.

As a director, Almos has managed to meld the new footage with excerpts clearly lifted from the series to create something that is simultaneously familiar and brand new. It is an elegant end for a series that, thanks to the wonders of DVD, is still being discovered by new fans today. If you are just coming onboard Galactica, save this one for the end, because it’s a wonderful coda for a truly original show.

-- David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his first novel, The Empire of Death.

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