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Battlestar Galactica: Who would have thought this show had legs?
Writer and Producer Ronald D Moore talks to the Fort Wayne Reader about re-creating cult favorite Battlestar Galactica for the Sci-Fi Channel
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Early in 2003, the Sci-Fi Channel announced that its re-make of the late 70s cult TV show Battlestar Galactica would be a little different from the show fans of a certain age might remember. The heart of the show would be there, but the interstellar shoot ‘em ups would be toned down in favor of a more realistic approach to space travel, more 2001 than Star Wars. The re-make would focus on the survival aspects of the story, with more of an emphasis of what it means to be the last members of an entire race. And Starbuck would be a woman. For a show that wasn’t around very long, Battlestar Galactica garnered a surprising number of fans, and their protest came fast and furious. Writer/producer Ronald Moore took all the flak – or feldergarb, but it takes stronger stuff than that to faze the man who killed Captain Kirk.
Ronald Moore’s list of TV credits is a sci-fi fan’s dream resume, and includes lengthy stints as producer and writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. He also had a hand in Captain Kirk’s death scene in the feature movie Star Trek: Generations. “I had death threats, letters. . . I had to change my phone number a few times, I called the police. . .” Moore says. “I wish I was kidding.” The Battlestar Galactica re-make hasn’t brought him any death threats, but he says the Galactica fans can still be pretty rabid. “They haven’t had a meal in a long time.”
The good news is that reaction to the four-hour mini-series, which originally aired last year on the Sci-Fi channel (and just recently on NBC), was so strong that the Sci-Fi channel commissioned a new series. Beginning this month, the “new” Battlestar Galactica offers interesting, rich characters, believable human drama, and just enough interstellar dog fights and cool-looking cylons to make the space-opera lovers happy.
Fort Wayne Reader: From your work on different Star Trek projects, you must have had some idea of the fans’ reaction to your treatment of Battlestar Galactica. How did that influence how you approached the material?
Ronald Moore: I wanted to try a different approach. Most sci-fi is on this big, grand scale with these larger-than-life characters. I wanted to see what would happen if you tried to make the characters more human and more grounded, and went for a different sort of aesthetic in the way you shot it. Instead of trying to be exotic, we dressed many of the civilians in “Battlestar Galactica” in a very contemporary style. Instead of trying to say “hey, it’s space hair” and “that’s a space chair” lets get past all that and get to the drama. Let’s just accept that it’s a parallel society to ours and get on with it.
FWR: Was making the Starbuck character a woman a way to force you to think about the show differently?
RM: When I went in to give my pitch, I said I wanted to make Starbuck a woman, even though I knew that that would be anathema to the fan base. I don’t regret that. I wanted to try a different riff on what could become very familiar territory, with the straight-arrow Apollo and his rougish, wacky friend Starbuck. Dirk Benedict (the original Starbuck) gives you an easy charm, a wink and a nod at the camera. If you cast another man in that role, he becomes a pale shadow of that. If you cast it as a woman, you’re forced to do something different. I wanted that character to be a true rogue, not just a TV rogue. This Starbuck is different – she mouths off, she’s truly a loose cannon. Making the character a woman, it adds a different dynamic. It just feels like richer territory to write for.
FWR: You used a lot of visual elements from the original, though.
RM: Some of earliest discussions had to do with style and look. We knew we wanted to maintain the basic outlines of the Galactica herself, we all loved the way the Vipers looked in the original, so we wanted to keep that. We used some other elements as a homage to the original show, but other stuff we discarded. There was a sort of Egyptian motif in the original which we had to discard, because that mythology wasn’t playing as strongly in this story.
FWR: The show has a different visual style than most sci-fi shows…
RM: I wanted to try it in a more hand-held documentary style, and do the visual effects documentary style, which no one ever has tried to do before. Instead of doing these big, glorious computer-generated effect shots, let’s pretend you’ve got a camera out there in space. It gives you a deeper sense that you are there.
FWR: What is one thing you’ve found that you can’t get away with when doing science-fiction on television?
RM: You can’t get away with doing features on television. You can’t recreate the Star Wars experience on the TV screen. You have to craft sci-fi to fit in a much smaller box. It has to be more character –driven. Viewers aren’t tuning in every week to be wowed by your special effects and your wacky sci-fi idea of the week. They’re really tuning in to see that character again. People loved Star Trek: Next Generation because they fell in love with Picard and Data and Warf. The same goes for the original Star Trek. That’s what you have to focus on in TV. You don’t have the luxury of relying on spectacle.