Thursday, April 18, 2013

Blu-Ray Review: 'Battlestar Galactica: Blood And Chrome'

Because every beloved franchise, film, or television show apparently needs an update, a reboot, a reimagining, or another version of a fresh start, we give you Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. A prequel to Syfy’s BSG remake, Blood and Chrome began life as a concept for a videogame. The idea was deemed too good for a game, and a series was commissioned. Originally premiering as webisodes, the ten original episodes have now been strung together into a single feature on the unrated Blu-ray spectacular. While it doesn’t break any new ground, Blood and Chrome makes for a decently entertaining watch.

The action follows a young William Adama (Luke Pasqualino), fresh out of the academy and just itching to get into a Viper and take down some toasters. Here’s the rub. For his first mission he’s assigned to a Raptor—a transport not a fighter—known as the Wild Weasel, which comes complete with a crotchety co-pilot named Coker (Ben Cotton). Coker is short on time, and more than pleased when they’re assigned a “milk run” where the likelihood of encountering Cylons, or any action at all, is nil. All they have to do is get Dr. Beka Kelly (Lili Bordan) from point A to point B. As it turns out, however, the true nature of their mission is classified until they‘re underway, and much more important than they initially think.

In reality this is an origin story, and could be subtitled “how Adama got his call sign.” As such, Blood and Chrome does everything you expect, it introduces you to a character that you already know, and attempts to offer insight into how he becomes the man you met first. As such it works marginally well. You always knew that Adama was a great pilot, which you see. You don’t see him earn it; he simply emerges from the womb of the Academy fully badass at the stick. Cocky and brash, which you will be told time and again, you don’t see him become the calculating, measured leader he matures into. After all, there are four decades between two series for him to learn and grow. With the exception of a few names, places, and other elements thrown in for fan appreciation, there’s little sense of connection between the two properties.

Blood and Chrome follows that time tested path of putting your characters in a series of continually escalating situations, and increasingly tough spots. First their easy mission is diverted for a covert op into Cylon space. Then they’re forced to proceed further, deeper, into more and more hazardous realms, and this tension is what propels the narrative forward, as you’re never super invested in the characters.

As it was originally envisioned as a videogame, Blood and Chrome uses digitally generated environments almost exclusively. The result is that the show, especially the dogfight sequences, often resembles game play. With over 1800 special effects shots, the quality varies wildly. They can be jumbled and hazy, but also quite effective. Early on, some of the Cylon builds and cityscapes look pretty damn cool. On the other side of that coin, Adama’s Raptor skidding across the surface of a winter planet is atrocious and resembles something out of one of Syfy’s trashy Saturday night monster movies.

The overall feel of Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome is one of cheap, quick genre fare, and the kid that plays Adama reminds me a little too much of Justin Long (Dodgeball) to take entirely seriously. That isn’t to say it’s bad, but it won’t blow you away. This is best if you’re diehard BSG fan, or just in the mood for an entertaining, throwaway sci-fi romp.

The Blu-ray comes with a nice collection of bonus features. Interactive tools let you do things like bookmark and recall your favorite scenes, and there is an extensive collection of deleted scenes. 13 scenes add up to 29 total minutes, and though there are a few solid moments, like Adama’s first taste of action, and some getting to know you bits with he and Coker, you understand why most were left out. They reiterate points that are already harped on in the final cut. What, Adama is cocky? I had no idea. An awkward voice over introduction was abandoned for good reason, and there are a lot of unfinished green screen shots with slides that say things like “insert VFX shot here.” If you’re absolutely enamored with Blood and Chrome, these are worth your time, but if not, you won’t miss anything important.

The more interesting extra is a 22-minute glimpse at the way the series employs visual effects. Interviews with the extensive crew of digital artists trace the evolution of the concept from game to web-series, and give you an idea of the attention to detail that goes into each of the numerous shots. One interviewee has been working on the same short clip for four straight days, painting and layering and adding texture to the backgrounds. We’re talking in depth stuff here. By far the best part is when they talk about Coker wrestling with the Cython—a half-Cylon, half-snake, that may be the best piece of digital work in the show. Watching Cotton writhe around on the ground, frantically grappling with a green bucket, while an extra-large grip pulls him around the floor is hilarious.

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