The night that Sci Fi executives screened the “Battlestar Galactica” finale for critics and VIPs, we were told two things: 1)The channel’s name was changing to Syfy, which was pronounced the same, spelled in a more goofy manner, but which, we all assumed, would be trademarkable in a way that “Sci Fi” was not; and 2)With the end of “BSG,” The Channel About To Be Formerly Known As Sci Fi was also shifting away from the spaceships and other hard science fiction trappings in favor of more earthbound shows like “Warehouse 13” that would be the slightly weird second cousin to what was airing on USA.
Part of that “science fiction doesn’t have to have spaceships” philosophy led to the “BSG” prequel series “Caprica,” which attempted to fuse sci-fi and soap opera and unfortunately wound up alienating fans of both genres. By and large, the soap fans didn’t want killer robots, the sci-fi fans didn’t want their killer robot to have the soul of a teenage girl, and everyone wanted the show to be better and more cohesive than it was.
So when Syfy and a group of “BSG” producers – including David Eick, Michael Taylor, David Weddle and Bradley Thompson – took a second crack at a prequel series, they wound up embracing far more of the traditional space opera trappings with “Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome,” starring Luke Pasqualino from the UK’s “Skins” as a young William Adama, a rookie pilot in the Colonial military in the middle of the first Cylon war.
The two-hour “Blood & Chrome” pilot was shot back in early 2011, using sets that were mostly created in the digital effects house, in the same fashion Starz builds the world of “Spartacus.” (In an early scene, for instance, Adama reports for duty on a much younger, more pristine version of the Galactica, and the computer effects were modeled on the sets from the previous series.) But then Syfy began to hem and haw about what to do with it, frequently suggesting that its inevitable home might be in the digital world, and then after a while, everyone stopped discussing “Blood & Chrome” altogether. Only a few weeks ago, I spoke with someone who had worked on the pilot to see what, if anything, the status was, and they said they hadn’t heard anything new in a long time.
And then all of a sudden on Monday, it was announced that “Blood & Chrome” would be seeing the light of day – and very rapidly, at that. The pilot will be streamed, a couple of pieces at a time, on the YouTube channel Machinima Prime – the first two segments debuted this morning, and are embedded below, and the remaining installments will roll out over the next several Fridays – and will then air on Syfy sometime next year before eventually being released as an unrated DVD.
I don’t know whether this is a sign of new life for the series, or just a company trying to make back some money on an expensive project with a familiar brand name. But I’m glad that we’ll at least get to see it, even if I’ve been lukewarm on most of the “BSG” prequels (not only “Caprica,” but the TV-movies “Razor” and “The Plan”), and even if the 20 minutes I’ve seen of “Blood & Chrome” (I was only allowed to watch the two segments that are now on YouTube) makes it hard to assess the creative viability of the project.
You can tell a few things from what’s premiered. First, the CGI-generated sets look impressive, and mostly convincing. (The effects house relies a lot on lens flares to hide some of the digital seams, at times making it look like the best cable pilot J.J. Abrams never made.) Second, there are some allusions to the events of “Caprica,” but none that would require first-hand knowledge of the series to understand.(*)
(*) Like “Caprica” recycled a few “BSG” actors in new roles, “Blood & Chrome” does the same with a few members of the larger “Caprica” ensemble.
Third, this is leaning very much into the military history aspects of the Moore/Eick “Battlestar.” There may be references to religion, politics, dreams and some of the other aspects that made “BSG” so dense, but right now it’s a pretty familiar – at times bordering on too familiar – story of a cocky young hotshot whose ego is writing checks his body may not be able to cash, the weary veteran co-pilot (played by Ben Cotton) who can’t believe he has to deal with this kid, and the mission they go on together.
At the very least, I’m glad to be back in this world, in a version produced by some of the key people who made “BSG” so great. Whether the whole pilot works – and whether this is the end of “Blood & Chrome,” or just the beginning – remains to be seen.