Wednesday, November 14

Review: Razor Slices Smartly Into Battlestar's Past



Source: Wired

Among fans of Sci Fi Channel's Battlestar Galactica, a question persists about the series' 49,000 Earth-seeking survivors of Cylon armageddon: Does their adventure ultimately provide some sort of back story to the present-day human race?

The show's fourth and final season, slated to begin in April, should settle this issue once and for all. But in the meantime, the Battlestar universe has its own back stories in need of revisiting.

Enter the 87-minute-long "extended episode" called Battlestar Galactica: Razor, to be screened like a regular feature film in select cities Monday and aired Nov. 24 on Sci Fi. A prequel to Sci Fi's Battlestar -- which remains an indisputable contender for best show on television despite a wobbly third season -- Razor delivers the sharp writing, sci-fi eye candy and solid acting that made the show a surprise hit for the cable channel.

Those not already familiar with the series may face a challenge with Razor as their introduction, jump-cutting as it does between three time periods in the series' rich history. On the other hand, Razor is also the quickest way a newbie can sample Battlestar's rich plot lines and cram for the show's highly anticipated final season. Like the series' best episodes, Razor delivers pulse-pounding battle scenes as well as the human drama of real characters struggling through trying and sometimes inhumane circumstances.

The movie picks up a story thread first introduced in the show's second season, when a second battlestar, Pegasus, emerged out of nowhere to join Galactica and its tag-along civilian fleet.

Razor fills as many holes in this midseason story arc as a two-episode-long movie can. It packs the kind of stunning visual effect sequences (including old-school Cylon Raiders) that Battlestar fans have come to expect, and the new battlestar's bullwhip commander, Adm. Helena Cain (played by Michelle Forbes), gets her moment in the spotlight. Ultimately, though, Cain's story is the least satisfying aspect of an otherwise stellar production.

As in season two's Pegasus episodes, Forbes steeps her portrayal of the stone-hearted Cain in militaristic clich├ęs.

One would hope that Razor's exploration of the second battlestar's origins might shed light on Cain's unflinching character. And Razor's script certainly provides further examples of Cain's jack-booted command -- the kind of military melodrama of torture and massacres that capably lends itself to comparisons to post-Sept. 11 America and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Forbes so relishes the role of a space-faring Patton that she misfires during Cain's moments of emotional truth. She understandably tears up over nameless fallen soldiers at the show's outset, then inexplicably shuts tighter than an airlock at a key sequence of scenes, when betrayal turns Cain ever more tyrannical, marching determinedly toward her own downfall.

The breakout performance in Razor is turned in by Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen, as officer Kendra Shaw, who gives this feature-length story its grounding despite her character's innate rootlessness.

Shaw is the sharp instrument of the movie's title, and her haunted actions and harrowed eyes speak to a hellish life in a military machine that leads a civilization forever on the run from a deadly menace of its own creation. Through Shaw we witness what are undoubtedly crucial plot points for Battlestar's last season (which begins in April, if the Writers Guild of America strike doesn't interfere).

With a story expertly brought to life by Chaves-Jacobsen -- as well as series stalwarts such as Edward James Olmos (as Adm. William Adama) and Tricia Helfer (Number Six) -- blood drawn by this Razor is as real as sci-fi gets.

WIRED: Olmos commands the screen even when not commanding ship.

TIRED: Plot points zip by so fast you'll wish you'd read spoilers.

Air date/network: Nov. 24, Sci Fi Channel

Rating: 7/10

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