Editor’s Note: To commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the cancellation of the original Battlestar Galactica TV series in April 1978, we’re taking a look back at the two telefilms culled from the series — Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack and Conquest of the Earth — for our “Space Week” tribute this week.
As I revisited my used VHS tape of this third Battlestar Galactica feature film cobbling from the TV series — after Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack — my analog-kid memories time tripped to spending summers with my crazy Uncle Al (Bradley), the king of Italian schlock cinema; he who ripped the space opera torch from the hand of George Lucas and stumbled across the finish line to give us not one — but five (Yes, Sam, five. Not four. End of story!) — Star Wars ripoffs, faux flicks that we love so much amid the B&S worker bee cubicles, we dedicated one of our “Drive-In Friday” featurettes to Alfonso Brescia’s Pasta Wars oeuvre.
For if David Winter’s Space Mutiny is the South African equivalent of Turkey’s Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam, then Conquest of the Earth is Star Odyssey, Uncle Al’s response to George Lucas’s The Empire Strikes Back. For Glen Larson, with his Roger Cormanesque cheap ‘n shamless footage, prop, and costume recycling from his own BSG television franchise — as well as his Buck Rogers in the 25th Century axis (and Universal’s Earthquake and The Six Million Dollar Man*˟, and Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno, to boot!) — is a graduate of the Pasta Wars School of Science Fiction Film. (Hey, that prop from Quantum Leap looks like . . . oh, never mind.) Do you remember the time when Adalberto “Bitto” Albertini, he of the 1975 Italian soft-core sexploitation “classic” Black Emanuelle, pilfered Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash to create Escape from Galaxy 3? Remember how Roger Corman endlessly recycled Battle Beyond the Stars to make the Star Wars droppings* that are Galaxy of Terror, Space Raiders, and Forbidden World (which also pillaged Galaxy)?
Yeah, it’s like that — and more. So much for TV network executives giving credence to viewer write-in campaigns.
Set 30 years after the initial series’ final, 24th episode, “The Hand of God,” in the spinoff series, Galactica: 1980, the famed Battlestar finally reaches Earth — only to discover the planet’s technology is unable to defend itself against the Cylons. Centered around the characters of Commander Adama, the now “Colonel” Boomer (replacing Tigh), Apollo, Starbuck and Baltar, the new series would be concerned with Baltar (atoned and now serving as the President of the Council of the Twelve) stealing a time travel ship to altar Earth’s history, so its technology would advance in the present day to the Colonial-Cylon level. At that point, the series would have a weekly “Time Mission,” with Apollo and Starbuck sent into the past to bring back Baltar — who would always, somehow, slip their grasp — and undo his changes to history.
Now, if you know your Glen A. Larson productions, you’ll recognize this time travel concept — slightly tweaked — also served as plot fodder for his more successful, later series Quantum Leap, which ran for five seasons from 1989 to 1993.
But I digress.
So, as the new spinoff series developed during pre-production, Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict were soon out — and replaced by TV actors Kent McCord (TV’s Adam-12; you youngins may have seen it on Cozi-TV) and Barry Van Dyke (Diagnosis: Murder on the old n’ stuffy Hallmark Channel alongside those The Golden Girls reruns). They would star as Galactician descendants Troy (Boxey all grown up!) and Dillon: the new (and not improved) Apollo and Starbuck (or Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, if you will). Ann Lockhart’s character of Sheba was also out (who, in turn, was the replacement for Jane Seymour who departed her role as Apollo’s love interest and fellow warrior, Serena); she was replaced by Robyn Douglass (the 10-speed racing romance Breaking Away) as earthling Jamie Hamilton, a network news reporter, who assists the Colonials. Also out was the great John Colicos as Baltar; now the “evil” of the show would be portrayed by the equally awesome Richard Lynch (Ground Rules) as Xavier, a high-ranking Colonial officer who defies Adama’s orders to send the fleet into deep space, away from Earth, and steals the time ship.
Of course, Xavier chose to time trip to 1940’s Nazi Germany, since the German wehrmacht was the “most technologically advanced society” in the world at the time. (Ugh, more costume department pillaging-on-the-cheap with the space Nazis from BSG: TOS‘s “Experiment in Terra”). However, after the airing of the three-part pilot “Galactica Discovers Earth,” the network deemed the time travel aspect too expensive to maintain on a weekly basis; it was nixed to concentrate on a more cost-effective “present-day Earth” setting — complete with Troy and Dillon on new mission: integrating a gaggle of (annoying) Colonial children who, courtesy of their being born in space, have developed superpowers in Earth’s gravity. (By the Lords of Kobol, noooo!) And . . . did you know that, when you time travel, your clothing turns snow white? Well, it does when you need to reuse those all-white Colonial Warrior suits from “War of the Gods,” themselves reused in “Experiment in Terra,” collecting dust in the bowels of Universal’s wardrobe department**.
Upon the 10-episode failure of the rebooted series, Universal, to maximize the profits on their investment (the initial Battlestar Galactica pilot cost $20 million to produce; another $20-plus million was spent on the series episodes at one million each), requested Glen Larson recut the series as 14 feature films that would play as theatrical features, TV movies, and home video rentals in the overseas marketplace. The first was Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack, which was cobbled, in part, from the original series’ “The Living Legend” story arc starring Lloyd Bridges as Commander Cain. The second film (know as Galactica III in some quarters) is the subject of this review: Conquest of the Earth, which was cobbled together from the three-part pilot “Galactica Discovers Earth,” along with footage from the season’s two-parter “The Night the Cylons Landed,” and (to work Baltar and Lucifer into the plot) the old BSG: TOS episode, “The Young Lords.”
Needless to say, there’s a lot of dialog looping afoot, with Lorne Greene, John Colicos, and Jonathan Harris helping stitch together the new, alternate timeline of this theatrical release. And the Dr. Zee character is dubbed as well, so as to explain away why two actors — Robbie Rist (yes, little Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch) and James Patrick Stuart (a pisser as failed rocker Perry on CBS-TVs Still Standing; yes he was on Supernatural) — portrayed Doctor Zee; turns out, they’re genetic brothers: Dr. Zee and Dr. Zen! And, thanks to creative editing and (bad) dubbing . . . we have a budding romance between earthling Jamie Hamilton and her space prince, Dillon — a romance absent from the U.S. series.
Just wow. The U.S. series installments were bad enough. But this? Cousin Oliver, flying bikes, humanoid Cylons! Oh, my!
At least the faux sequel Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack has Lloyd Bridges to distract us from the mismatched scenes and dubbing (most noticeably by on-the-cheap union-rate voice actors and not the original stars). But this overcooked Pasta pot mess . . . not even the presence of requisite baddy Richard Lynch (but a good guy in Steel*˟ ) — against the dry-as-toast thespin’ from our heroes Troy and Dillon — can save it. No, not even those flying Colonial motorbikes! Frack, forget the bikes. For when you have Cousin Oliver bossing Commander Adama, you’re waist-deep in gooey feldercarb.
Oh, yeah. The humanoid Cylons.
So, the Cylons were busy on the Base Stars those past 30-years. Not only have they developed a new and improved Raider — with glowing red wings and an expanded, five-manned cockpit — they’ve developed human-looking counterparts! And Andromus, the main Cylon-human hybrid baddie that Troy and Dillion must contend with on Earth, is portrayed by Roger Davis, who you know for his two year, 120-plus episode run as Charles Delaware Tate on TV’s Dark Shadows, as Jeff Clark in the House of Dark Shadows theatrical film, the scuzzy redneck romp, Nashville Girl, and pre-Smokey and the Bandit romp, Flash and the Firecat. It’s bad enough John Colicos was stuck wearing a Cylon Warrior headpiece, like an errant Darth Vader, in “Fire In Space” (” . . . burn, Galactica, burn. You’re finished Adama!”), but wow, sticking Roger in that ridiculous Ed Woodian pointed-silver headgear. There’s got to be a better way to make buck as an actor.
But, hey, at least it gave Ronald D. Moore plenty of fodder to reboot BSG 2004, with his human-Cyclons and glowing-eye Raiders, so ABC-TV greenlighting Galactica: 1980 wasn’t a total loss. And for ditching the space scouts, we thank you, Ron.
But I digress.
In today’s digital realms, when you access Galactica: 1980 (which was a spinoff series) episodes at NBC.com, it’s cobbled under the Battlestar Galactica banner as “Season 2,” which is now 8 episodes, instead of its original 10 installments. And what we knew as the three-part Galactica Discovers Earth” story arc is now the extended (53 minutes vs. the usual 45 to 47 minutes) single-episode “Conquest of the Earth,” with all of the time travel plotting, the Nazis, the all-white time travel suits, and earthling Jamie Hamilton’s integration into the Colonial society, excised. But, what the frack . . . the bikes . . . and those damn kids . . . are still with us. And the now, second online episode is actually the old, first installment the abysmal two-parter, “The Super Scouts,” which was actually the fourth and fifth episodes . . . oh, never mind, it’s all just feldercarb at this point.
May the Lords of Kobol be with you.
What the frack? Cancel this crap.
** There’s more recycling from the Universal-Glen A. Larson universe to be had in the frames of Harry “Tampa” Hurwitz’s The Rosebud Beach Hotel. The Currie sisters, Cherie and Marie (know your Joan Jett and the Runaways history), rock out wearing the same jumpsuits Markie Post (NBC-TV’s Night Court) wore during her season one guest stint as Joella Cameron on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (the 1979 two-parter “The Plot to Kill a City” if you’re interested). As it turns out, the Universal Studios’ wardrobe department made two suits for the episode — and were shocked to re-discover the matching wares, when fitting the Currie sisters for the film. For nothing goes to waste in the Larson-verse. In fact . . . I recall seeing the all-white Colonial, angel-cum-time travels uniforms in another, non-Larson movie. Or was it a TV series? Ugh. By the Lords! What was it?