Story: With complete access to the cast and behind-the-scenes crew of Sci-Fi Channel’s new version of Battlestar Galactica, author David Bassom traces the story of the making of the series, from the first murmurs of a revival series under the auspices of Bryan Singer (ultimately abandoned) through the fan reaction to the first season.
Review: It’s hammered home numerous times that Ronald D. Moore wanted nothing less than to reinvent the science fiction genre on TV with this show, and while it can be argued rather easily that he has succeeded in doing just that, “Battlestar Galactica: The Official Companion” spells out his plans for doing so and how he put hose plans into action with this show. From the pitch to sell the re-imagined show through the series bible through material distributed to the cast, a Moore-written document about a less stylized, more naturalistic approach to SF is mentioned. If anything, it’s actually one of this book’s biggest omissions that, as many times as that document is mentioned, it isn’t reprinted anywhere. That aside, it’s at the heart of Galactica’s reinvention.
The book is divided into several sections, including a history of the new show’s genesis, a guide to the first season and the miniseries with copious behind-the-scenes notes on each installment, and a profile of the show’s characters – both regular and recurring – and the actors who portray them. For what seems to be a thinnish small trade paperback, there’s a lot of information between the covers. There are plenty of tantalizing pieces of trivia – where on the new Galactica sets one can find a permanently-mounted picture involving classic series Cylons, or the time Michael (Colonel Tigh) Hogan worked with Lorne Greene, or where in the miniseries one can see Serenity fly by (the same special effects house handled both Firefly and Galactica), which recurring role the producers originally had Lucy Lawless pegged for, or which lead role Ben Browder tried out for after the fall of Farscape. Some of these things I’m actually happy didn’t pan out, such as the split screen approach that was considered (which everyone these days, including the book’s author, attributes to Fox’s 24 series; for some reason I keep thinking back to Woodstock: The Movie.)
The changes between classic Galactica and the current series are discussed and justified extensively by Moore and other creative personnel, as is some of the early fan reaction to those changes (up to and including Edward James Olmos’ infamous plea to ardent classic series fans to avoid the new show), but I was far more interested in reading the episode-by-episode notes. Writers, directors and actors who didn’t get to chime in on the DVD box set material get a chance to have their say here, and one quickly gets the picture that everyone has sincere enthusiasm for the project, and everyone has input – director Michael Rymer’s story structure concerns played a big part in shaping the miniseries and Kobol’s Last Gleaming, for example, and the stirring refrain of “So say we all” after Adama’s speech in the miniseries was an off-the-cuff, improvised addition by Olmos that became one of the show’s early defining moments.
Every cast member you can think of gets profiled, down to the guy who plays Dr. Cottle. (And yes, all you guys who have made her name one of the top twenty search engine queries that brings people to this site, there is a brief profile of Nicki Clyne.) It’s a little funny, in hindsight, to read Sam Witwer’s assessment of Crashdown as a character mainly set aside for comic relief; needless to say, hopefully after another couple of seasons we’ll get another volume and see what Sam thought of his role in the second season! Again, from the stars down to minor recurring characters, everyone displays nothing but excitement about the new Galactica. Another section focuses on the design of the show’s sets, costumes and effects, with principal designer Richard Hudolin (Stargate SG-1, Doctor Who) talking extensively about the producers’ desire, stated clearly early in pre-production, to steer away from as many visual clichÃ¨s as possible, including the classic “bridge” styles of either Star Trek or the original Galactica.
What will this book not tell you? It won’t tell you anything that’s yet to be resolved in future stories. For all the behind-the-scenes dirt that is spilled on what drives certain characters and storylines, things are left deliberately vague about certain aspects of, say, Baltar, Number Six, Sharon, and Ellen Tigh. (And it’s no use asking the actors – in many cases, they state up front that they simply don’t know what’s in store for their characters.) Keeping in mind that the book was researched and written during season one, any attempts at prognostication would be dated in terms of having already happened, or dated in terms of having been proven wrong by the time the reader cracked the cover open.
Still, it’s a good read, and a perfect companion for the DVDs. David Bassom did a decent job chronicling the last major science fiction paradigm shift in his book “Creating Babylon 5”, and for my money, does an even better job here simply because storylines and performances are covered episode-by-episode. Even the photo insert shows a lot of stuff you haven’t probably seen up close before (and when it’s not showing you that, it’s showing you a lot of Tricia Helfer – hey, give these guys credit for knowing how to sell a book). For such a compact package, “Battlestar Galactica: The Official Companion” is surprisingly substantial.