Battlestar Galactica is already the most cinematic show on television, so it makes an awesome kind of sense for the Sci-Fi channel to port their most talked about series over to theaters. Unfortunately, they’re not doing it by having their parent company Universal turn BSG into a feature film, but rather by simply projecting an extended length episode of the television show in cinemas.
Tonight I was there for the theatrical debut of Battlestar Galactica: Razor; a summer, tide audiences over until the new season, made for TV movie set in the BSG universe. It debuts on television November 24th, but tonight on November 12th, for one night only, it played in movie theaters around the country for free. It was free because it was sponsored by Microsoft, as anyone who was there can attest, since the film was interrupted right in the middle for a series of rather annoying, Xbox advertisements. Though it was nice of Microsoft to make the event possible by sponsoring it, they probably weren’t doing themselves any favors by interrupting Razor, since no one could hear the mid-feature commercials over all the booing. Really MS, the ten minutes of Xbox commercials before and after the movie were more than enough. We put up with it on television, but sitting in a movie theater it felt all wrong.
Commercial interruptions aside, for all the time we BSG fans spend talking about how theatrical the show is at home on our plasma televisions, it lost a little something projected up on that big screen. All the fast zoom outs and handheld cameras, which do so much to make the show seem bigger on our TVs, don’t exactly work in a movie theater. Weirdly, BSG seemed more cinematic sitting at home in my living room.
That’s not to say watching it in a movie theater wasn’t a worthwhile experience. Razor is a solid entry into the BSG world (if not exactly an accessible one), and seeing it with a big, in to it group like that is the best way to watch just about anything. Sure, maybe Razor would never work as a stand alone movie. It’s designed primarily to cater to the already in Battlestar faithful, and that’s the way it should be. This isn’t really a film, more a long television episode masquerading as one to let us BSG nerds live out our fantasy that some day maybe we’ll get a proper BSG feature. And so we put on our “Frack Me” t-shirts, printed out our free online tickets, lined up, and filed in.
Though the show lost something visually in being thrown up on an oversized screen, it held on to all the usual dramatic tension any average Battlestar episode brings to bear. And that’s really what Razor is, a longer than normal BSG episode focused on ancillary characters. It’s a story told in two parts. Part one is set some time in Season 2 and follows Lee Adama as he takes command of the Pegasus and hires a new XO named Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen), a former favorite Lieutenant of the ship’s deceased commander, Admiral Helena Cain. Part two is a flashback to ten months earlier, and it lets us see a day we’ve always wondered about, by following around Kendra Shaw during Cylon’s first attack Earth, through the Pegasus’s escape, and on to their fight for survival as Admiral Cain must make hard decisions about who lives and who dies. If you’ve been following along with the show, then you already know she makes a lot of pretty bad calls.
In the thick of everything is Kendra Shaw, a new character to the BSG universe, created specifically for Razor. She’s a tortured hero in the mold of Kara Thrace, haunted by the memory of what she did under Admiral Cain while still utterly convinced that Cain’s barbaric choices were essential to their survival. In the past Kendra watches things fall apart on the Pegasus, in the present she works with Lee Adama to lead the crew of the Pegasus on a rescue mission. Surprisingly, newcomer Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen holds her own against the show’s seasoned cast members rather well, sliding right into their universe of tortured BSG characters as if she’s an old familiar. I’d rather be watching more of James Callis’s Baltar, but if we have to put up with a replacement character then they could have done a lot worse than Kendra.
Razor isn’t essential to the overall Battlestar Galactica storyline, but it does an admirable job of filling in minor gaps. It’s stocked with geeky little revelations of the kind any true BSG fan will appreciate. Unfortunately, true BSG fans have been spoiled by a show with pretty high standards, and will no doubt recognize that Razor is maybe a notch below some of Battlestar’s best regular season work. Perhaps it’s because it’s focused on an ancillary character instead of one of the show’s regulars, but I think it suffers simply because parts of it feel tacked on. Razor comes off like something that was written not because they had a great story to tell, but because they had a lot of those geeky little filler details they wanted to convey while using as few members of the regular BSG cast as possible.
Whatever minor flaws there may be in the feature or in its theatrical presentation, I don’t think Battlestar fans will be unhappy. Razor is worth watching simply because it has Battlestar Galactica stuck in front of it, and we’ve got a long wait until the show returns with new episodes. Razor is filler, but good filler. If you’re fan, you’ll leave full to the brim on situational tension and engrossing character drama. If you’re not, then there’s absolutely zero chance you’re reading this review. Go watch American Idol. Frack you.