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DVD Review: Battlestar Galactica — Razor
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Battlestar Galactica-Razor DVDBattlestar Galactica: Razor
Unrated Extended Edition
Starring Michelle Forbes, Jamie Bamber, Stephanie Jacobsen
Universal Studios
On sale Dec. 4, 2007

Not all ideas born of marketing departments are necessarily bad. This week’s release of Battlestar Galactica: Razor is a case in point. According to series creator and executive producer, Ronald D. Moore, the Universal marketing department approached him earlier this year with the idea of filming two standalone episodes that would be televised before the beginning of the final season, then immediately released on DVD, and simultaneously marketed overseas. Moore and his co-executive producer, David Eick, thought this was an intriguing idea, and asked the show’s writers to take a whack at it. Writer Michael Taylor came up with the idea of a flashback episode based on the other battlestar, Pegasus, and thus was Razor born.

Battlestar Pegasus was introduced in the second season of the Sci-Fi Channel’s reimagining of the classic Battlestar Galactica series. Pegasus appeared in the original series under the command of Commander Cain, played by Lloyd Bridges. Cain was presented as a thinly-veiled General Patton — including Patton’s trademark walking stick, which writer Michael Taylor refers to as a phallic “swagger stick.” He was presented as a bloodthirsty soldier more interested in military glory than protecting Galactica’s civilian fleet. In the new series, Cain becomes Rear Admiral Helena Cain, played by Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Michelle Forbes (Moore was a writer/producer on ST:TNG). Aside from the gender change, the new Cain is very similar to the original. As in the original series, the Pegasus was able to escape the surprise Cylon attack that destroyed the Earth colonies and their fleet. Unlike the Galactica, however, Pegasus is not saddled with a civilian fleet, which gives it the flexibility to engage the Cylons in a guerrilla war.

When Pegasus first encounters the Galactica, tales of Cain’s bloodlust shock Galactica’s officers. There are rumors that Cain executed her original Executive Officer (XO) for refusing to follow her orders to engage the Cylons in what most of the crew saw as a pointless suicide mission, and that she commandeered vital equipment and supplies from the civilian ships the Pegasus encountered and forcefully conscripted the able-bodied crew members of these ships. She then abandoned the civilian ships with no weapons or faster-than-light (FTL) drives, leaving them utterly helpless to Cylon attack. This stands in stark contrast to Galactica commander Admiral Adama’s (Edward James Olmos) protection of his own civilian fleet, governed by President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell).

Clearly the BSG writers saw Razor as an opportunity to tell the story of Pegasus that had until now only been hinted at. Through a complex flashback structure, Razor tells the story of how Pegasus escaped the Cylon attack and what really happened to her first XO and her civilian fleet. It also humanizes Cain by telling some of her childhood story and showing the challenges she faced during her months hiding from and attacking the Cylons before finding Galactica. She doesn’t exactly come off as a sympathetic character, but she isn’t nearly the draconian maniac she appeared to be in season two of the series.

Razor is told through the eyes of Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), a new Viper pilot assigned to Pegasus. Her first day on Pegasus happens to be the day of the Cylon attack, so she is immediately thrown into the proverbial frying pan. Cain takes Kendra under her wing, and after Cain’s death Kendra greatly resents her new commander, Captain Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber), Admiral Adama’s son. But Apollo is aware of his new crew’s distrust of him, and makes Kendra his XO in part to appease their fears. Apollo doesn’t approve of Cain’s methods, which creates much tension between him and his new XO. But they come to trust each other, and quickly whip Pegasus and her crew back into shape.

The DVD release includes both the original cut of the film as recently broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel, and an extended cut. The extended cut is greatly superior, showing flashbacks to both Cain’s and Admiral Adama’s youths. These flashback sequences flesh out aspects of the story and relationships that are glossed over in the broadcast version. Most of these scenes were included in the “minisodes” originally posted to the Battlestar Galactica website, all of which are also included in the DVD’s bonus materials. Other bonus materials include a featurette on the look of BSG, with interviews with Moore and the production designer; a featurette called “My Favorite Episode So Far,” with cast and crew discussing their favorite episodes; and a couple of deleted scenes.

The best bonus is the commentary track with Ronald Moore and writer Michael Taylor. Moore is an old hand at commentaries, having done them for many of the episodes on previous season DVDs as well as podcast commentaries posted to the BSG website after each new episode is first aired. Although commentary tracks have become commonplace since the advent of DVDs, most are fairly dry, boring affairs. Moore is one of the rare filmmakers who not only remembers everything, but can tell interesting stories about why certain storytelling decisions and casting choices were made. He also talks about the writing process and the political issues raised. He can even make the nuts-and-bolts of how a script is structured interesting. Taylor has plenty to add, and the two of them seem to genuinely enjoy chatting about their creation. In one particularly interesting segment they discuss how Razor includes BSG‘s first gay relationship, and how the writers struggled with the social politics of having their first gay character turn out to be a villain. In another illuminating segment, they talk about the Freudian implications of the new BSG‘s tendency to change the gender of characters from the original series. As Taylor puts it, “We keep taking these male characters from the original series — with their phallic symbols, their swagger sticks, and their cigars — and making them into women with real balls.” It’s a very good commentary track that no fan of the show should miss.

Battlestar Galactica: Razor is well worth watching, but probably only for fans of the series. Although the flashbacks help to tell some of the backstory, only someone who has followed the series will understand the deeper meanings of certain events and relationships. The production values are very high for a TV movie, in particular the work of BSG‘s Emmy Award-winning special effects department. Their depiction of the Cylon attack on the space port where Pegasus is berthed is an exciting and vivid reimagining of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The acting is, as usual, exceptional, with Australian actor Stephanie Jacobsen knocking it out of the park in her first at bat as the main character, Kendra Shaw. With the final season of BSG not set to begin until March, Razor is a tasty morsel to help sate the Galactica faithful over the long months of waiting to come.

1 Comment »

  1. One of the better things I have seen on TV this year.

    Comment by Jerry — December 4, 2007 @ 3:44 pm

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