The Dwight Schrutes of the world are in a state of simultaneous excitement and trepidation as Universal Studios have announced their intention to produce a movie version of the sci-fi franchise Battlestar Galactica. With four TV series within the universe, Battlestar is a mildly (read: IMMENSELY) under-appreciated drama about the battle between humans and their robotic slaves-turned-adversaries, Cylons.
Not quite as insularly sci-fi as its name implies, Battlestar Galactica (specifically the 2003 version) is, at its core, a tense drama that was perhaps ahead of its time. It shares commonalities with shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, tying together action and ethics in a way that simultaneously keeps you on the edge of your seat and forces you to delve into the philosophical questions that define humanity. “Why are we as a people worth saving?” Admiral Adama asks in the very first episode, and the queries only get tougher from there.
People are more than a little apprehensive about the movie (projected to be penned by Transcendence writer Jack Paglen and produced by original creator Glen Larson) as Universal have called this a complete reimagining of the sci-fi reboot. Slate’s recent open letter to Universal begs the studio to remember the strengths of the show: not its special effects, but its cultural commentary.
Slate makes good point here, as it’s a tendency for Hollywood to convert cerebral dramas into big action blow-ups. It’s especially bad with sci-fi. I was incredibly disenchanted with JJ Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek, which turned a franchise about space explorers into a military action film, even when THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE STARFLEET IS TO BE A HUMANITARIAN FORCE INSPIRED BY SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY IN SPACE. BUT ANYWAY.
While Abrams’ adaptations were entertaining enough as films, they felt hollow to me. It seemed the subtle deconstruction of racial, social and military politics that the Star Trek franchise is famous for was sacrificed in favor of snappy dialogue, loud explosions and so many almost-deaths that by the end, you just can’t care anymore.
Battlestar certainly has more potential than Star Trek to fit the action mold, but it was still a series that took its time. Character development was key and there was never a good versus evil element—just people (and Cylons) reacting to each other and doing what they thought was ultimately right, consequences be what they may. It’s a masterful exposition of the grayscale of human morality, a storytelling tool that has worked well for dramas on HBO and AMC—but I don’t know if I see a blockbuster movie achieving the same fine-tuned portrayal.
I desperately want for Universal and other big studios to recognize the merit in a more calculated approach—that films that fall into the action realm can also be measured. This is an opportunity for Universal and the film’s creative team to tap into that, and I hope they take it.