Editor’s Note: The original Battlestar Galactica series that debuted on ABC-TV on September 17, 1978, was cancelled on April 29, 1979. As part of our “Space Week” tribute this week — which was inspired by our most recent “TV Week” tribute in April — we’re reflecting back on the 42nd anniversary of the show’s cancellation with a look at the two overseas theatrical films culled from the series: Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack and Conquest of the Earth. We’ll also take a look at the additional twelve telefilms culled from the series’ episodes in this review.
Even at its cheesiest and lowest of budgets, the production values of ’70s and ’80s American telefilms and TV series rivaled most Asian and European productions. Thus, many of the TV movies and series-pilot films reviewed at B&S About Movies — such as The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)* — became theatrical features in the overseas markets.
In Britain, the series UFO and Space: 1999 became Invasion: UFO and Destination Moonbase Alpha, while the 1973 Canadian TV production The Starlost was rebooted with a series of films beginning with The Starlost: The Beginning. In addition, two-part episodes of popular U.S. series — such as the Season 5 episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man (1976), “The Secret of Bigfoot” and “The Return of Bigfoot” — were cut into foreign theatricals. And those U.S. TV productions became significant box office hits that turned their actors — however brief — into “movie stars.” Just ask American TV actors Nicholas Hammond and Reb Brown, both who became overseas stars as result of their respective, short-lived Marvel/CBS-TV series, The Amazing Spiderman (1977; Columbia Pictures) and Captain America (1979; Universal Pictures), being cut into blockbuster theatrical films (each reached #1 in Japan). And Lou Ferrigno, thanks to those The Incredible Hulk series-to-films reduxes, he did alright and carved out a decent overseas theatrical career with Hercules, The Adventures of Hercules, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, and Desert Warrior.
While us post-Star Wars lads n’ lassies were mesmerized by the initial Battlestar Galactica TV movie/theatrical in 1978 (recut into the syndicated three-episode arc, “Saga of a Star World”), we quickly grew weary of the subsequent ABC-TV series, as its blatant stock footage recycling from the initial film — with very little, new SFX shots produced — bored us pretty quickly. And, as the ratings dipped each week as result, the stories and the effects only got cheesier and cheaper, and repeated and recycled, which only led to more boredom.
When the series was cancelled after one season, the reason given was that the ratings didn’t justify the reported production cost of one million dollars per episode. One million? Seriously? And how many times did we see those same SFX shots of the barrel-rolling vipers to screen left and a Cylon Raider flying into screen right before it was blasted into space dust? And did you, Mr. Producer, not think we wouldn’t notice the Terran shuttle in “Greetings From Earth” was a stock shot from (the even more god awful) Buck Rogers in the 25th Century? And the ol’ “space Nazis” trope from Star Trek from over decade ago, really? So, uh, if the series wasn’t cancelled, would Adama and friends encounter a “gangster world” and a “gladiator world” in quick succession? And why not, you’d already stuck us with “western world” (“The Lost Warrior”) and “knight world” (“The Young Lords”) episodes. Did you learn nothing from the stock prop room and wardrobe adventures of the Starship Enterprise, Mr. Producer? What was next, retreading the Star Trek episodes with Starbuck forced into an arena battle by aliens with a Gorn? How about Starbuck and Apollo flying through a space anomaly that spits out their evil doubles — and giving Apollo a beard and Starbuck a Sulu face scar? And why not? BSG’s sister series, Buck Rogers, became a Star Trek pastiche with Hawk as Spock, Buck as Kirk, and Wilma as Uhura in its second — and final — season. And what was the friggin’ deal with Boxey and the Daggit skirting the Battlestar’s security protocols every week?
Ugh. So, yeah, of course many of us wee lads abandoned the show halfway through its 24-episode run (17 original episodes of the series were made, five were two-part shows). Sure, the first two episodes (4 and 5) that ran as “The Lost Planet of the Gods” were certainly up to the standards of the initial movie, but things got a bit dopey by the time of “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero” (8 and 9) with its clone buffoonery. And again, the single-night episodes in between the two-parters, with their even dopier western and knights of the round table tropes, were worse (by the Lords of Kobol . . . Fred Astaire, are you frackin’ kidding?).
Ultimately, the series failure — a series that we all wanted to succeed — was the result of corporate greed; a greed that also resulted in the creation and failure of Buck Rogers, natch, for rival network NBC. (Today, the once ABC-aired series is now the property of NBC-Universal. You can watch BSG: TOS online at NBC.com.)
The initial plan was to rollout BSG (as with Buck Rogers) across 1978 as four annual, miniseries sequels to the three-hour (3-part) pilot film. The other planned films were “Lost Planet of the Gods (4-5),” “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero (8-9),” and “War of the Gods (15-16)” — the aforementioned space Nazis mess that was “Greetings from Earth (19-20)” was developed later, when ABC-TV decided it wanted to go to a weekly series. That decision, in turn, not only strained the show’s budget (and resulted in raiding the prop and costume departments and the stock shot boondoggling), but left the writers scrambling for quickie episodes to fill out the series (thus the western, knight, and Nazi tropes). It also resulted in the three mini-series suffering cuts to fit into a two-part, hour-long format.
And that brings us to the source material behind the series’ finest hour courtesy of a story arc and characters (Lloyd Bridges on his A-Game as Commander Cain) that rivaled the initial TV movie pilot — an arc that, like the two-part “Greetings from Earth,” was developed as result of going-to-series. (An honorable mention goes to Patrick MacNee as Count Iblis in “War of the Gods.”) For the overseas folks in the U.K., continental Europe, and Japan, what we enjoyed as “The Living Legend,” they enjoyed as Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack. And while our overseas sci-fi brethren didn’t know any better at the time — to get the BSG: TOS DVD set and watch TV the version of “The Living Legend” instead — we sure did.
Why? Because this overseas theatrical cut is a load of feldercarb; the broadcast version is better (even more so with the DVD series pack, instead of its syndicated commercial run).
It’s one thing to add footage to the two 40-minute episodes to create a theatrical-length piece, but the editors on this daggit-dung decided to take out the Cylon attack footage from “Living Legend” and replace it with attack footage from “Fire In Space (14).” Why not use both scenes? Why take out the romantic triangle subplot between Starbuck, Cassiopeia, and Cain? And really, you went all the way back to the clearing of the space mines scene from “Saga of a Star World” to beef up the film? And yes, that’s footage from The Towering Inferno in there. (And footage from Earthquake shows up in Galactica: 1980, natch.) And, in addition to the plot holes, character’s hairstyles change without reason. And character voices change. And Sheba — remember, the whole purpose of the “Living Legend” arc was to add her character to the cast — is mostly left on the cutting room floor. It’s a frackin’ editorial and continuity mess.
While you may be able to find used copies of the VHS (which were eventually made available in the U.S.) in the online marketplace, beware of the DVD reissues — even the region-free presses — which do not play on U.S. decks (or computers). Another problem: the DVD runs five-minutes shorter than the VHS (at 103 min. vs. 108 min.). Why cut those five minutes? Why are scenes — such as the Cylon fuel depot attack — truncated, missing dialog and plot explanations? And why the different sound effects for the Vipers and Raiders?
And speaking of the series-cancelled-and-returned second season Galactica: 1980: Our overseas brethren known the three-part “Galactica Discovers Earth” pilot as the third, official Battlestar Galactica film, Conquest of the Earth (1980), aka Galactica III, in some Euro-countries, Japan, and Australia.
Ah, but did you know there were 12 more BSG films issued after the three theatrical features? And no . . . Space Mutiny isn’t one of them!
In 1988, this frackin’ South-African pile of daggit dung was added to the BSG-verse, an abomination that makes the Universal telefilm hodgepodges look like Oscar winners. Oh, feldercarb, it makes Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam, aka Turkish Star Wars, look like a statuette recipient. So, frack you, Action International Pictures*˟, for manipulating those foreign copyright loopholes and giving us an Ed Woodian Star Wars that you should have titled Battlestar 9 from Outer Space.
But I digress, again.
As with the aforementioned UFO, Space: 1999, and The Starlost finding a new, overseas life as theatrical, television, and home video features: After Conquest of the Earth, the third and final BSG foreign theatrical film, and prior to the syndication of the series’ 24 episode-installments, Universal Pictures edited the BSG series episodes to create 14 telefilms (two went theatrical, natch) for foreign distribution in 1981. (It’s said that some local U.S. UHF stations aired the TV movie versions of the series. I never saw them myself during their original 1981 run and only on VHS after the fact.) As you can see from the pairings of the vastly different episodes, these movies — as with Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack — also suffer continuity and editorial faux pas. The highlights — well, the worst of the films (depending on personal opinions) — are:
- Experiment in Terra: An edit of “Experiment in Terra” (22) cut with content from Galactica: 1980‘s best episode, “The Return of Starbuck” (2.10), along with a chunk of “Saga of a Star World (1.1). But we do get a pretty cool, never-before-seen prologue explanation from Commander Adama about the Cylons — learned from Adama’s Galactica logbook discovered floating in space by an Earth astronaut.
- Murder in Space: An edit of “Murder on the Rising Star” (18) with scenes from “The Young Lords” (11).
- Space Prison: An edit of “The Man with Nine Lives” (17) and “Baltar’s Escape” (21).
- Phantom in Space: An edit of “The Lost Warrior” (6) and “The Hand of God” (24).
- Space Casanova: A combination of “Take the Celestra” (23) and “The Long Patrol” (7).
- Curse of the Cylons: A hodgepodge of “Fire in Space” (14) with scenes from “The Magnificent Warriors” (10).
The rest are based on their multi-episode series counterparts:
- Saga of a Star World: An all-new, third edit of the series that differs from the three-part syndicated series installments and the overseas/U.S. theatrical release.
- Lost Planet of the Gods: Features restored scenes cut from the series version.
- The Gun on Ice Planet Zero: Features restored scene cut from the series version.
- The Living Legend: This is the third version of the Commander Cain tale, after the initial series episodes and the Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack theatrical repack.
- War of the Gods: After “The Living Legend,” the second best episodes of the series, again, thanks to Patrick MacNee’s turn as Count Iblis.
- Greetings from Earth: The absolute worst episodes of the series. And even the makers knew: they (thankfully) deleted the abysmal vaudeville soft-shoe routine by the plastic-headed/white-faced robots Hector and Vector.
- Conquest of the Earth: An all-new, third edit of the Galactica: 1980, aka BSG Season 2, three-part pilot arc “Galactica Discovers Earth,” which also includes footage from the season’s two-parter “The Night the Cylons Landed.” And look out for Baltar and Lucifer in this version — bought in from the old BSG: TOS episode, “The Young Lords.”
Each of these telefilms are given their own, unique open and closing credits, along with new scenes (both newly shot and leftovers not used) and alternate, unused SFX shots. Outside of watching these movies, U.S. audiences seen most of these scenes as deleted outtakes included as “bonus features” on the BSG DVD/Blu-ray box sets of the series. But be on the lookout for plenty of Universal stock footage pillaging throughout, such as the Fembot footage from The Six Million Dollar Man timeline being incorporated.
While the always-the-pro Lorne Greene performed a number of voice-overs for these movies by providing narration to help link the unrelated episodes flow, Dirk Benedict, Herbert Jefferson, Jr., John Colicos, Patrick MacNee, and Jonathan Harris also pitched in with voice-overs and dialog loops. Richard Hatch opted out of the project (it seems he was pissed over the Galactica: 1980 mess) and another actor — that sounds nothing like him — looped his lines (and it’s as a bad as it sounds). (Don’t forget: Later on, Hatch was pissed that Universal passed on his Galactica novels and film reboot*).
But truth be told: Even with their faux pas, these hodgepodge films are a fun watch for two reason: First, for the inventiveness of the screenwriters in somehow creating continuity between such varied episodes. They were certainly up against it, kudos to them! Second, these series-to-film repacks exist in a universe unto themselves — outside of the original series’ plotting — with their “alternate” timeline. Again, it’s fun to compare the series to the films and (as a screenwriter myself) be fascinated by the creative process to maximum Universal’s bottom line.
Sadly, unless you’re able to track down any VHS taped-from-TV or VHS home video repacks (foreign or domestic), these telefilms are lost to the cathode ray snows of yore. Fans of the original series have been clamoring for DVD and Blu-ray box sets of these movies for years, myself as well, as I’ve only seen half of them as result of discovering their used VHS-versions years after the fact. As for Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack: we found four extended scenes (one in German) on You Tube (posted below) from the film for you to enjoy that gives the story arc from beginning to end.
The blogspot site, The 100the Planet (which helped in our research and memory jogging; so grazie, fellow warrior), did an absolutely magnificent job watching all 14 films and breaking down their respective plots. So, if you’re a die-hard fan of the original BSG series, it’s a great read. And we also thank BattlestarWiki.org for their assistance in preparing this review. And don’t forget, we went Star Wars crazy with our month-long review of the films (over 50!) that inspired — and were inspired by — Star Wars with our Exploring: Before Star Wars and Exploring: After Star Wars featurettes.
* Be sure to check out week-long tribute to the film career of Lee Majors! All the review links — and more — can be found with our “Lee Major Week Wrap Up” featurette.
** Did you know Richard Hatch made his Galactica: The Second Coming pitch film with low-budget, direct-to-video auteur Dennis Devine sidekick Jay Woelfel? True story. Check out our “Drive-In Friday: Dennis Devine Night” to learn more.