Thread: Saga Views
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Old September 17th, 2005, 02:28 PM   #1
peter noble
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Saga of a Star World, isn’t my favourite episode of Battlestar Galactica, that honour goes to War of the Gods, but I do think it’s the best directed, which is kind of weird when you think three people had a hand in that part of the show.

As we are all aware, Alan Levi replaced Richard Colla, as director, and I think series creator Glen Larson himself directed the epilogue with Baltar being spared by the Imperious Leader.

It is possible to tell the difference in styles between who directed what. Colla had done features and his use of the camera is more adventurous than Levi’s – which is the more pedestrian style of the weekly TV series grind, but more classy (thankfully) than a lot of his contemporaries.

Colla seems to be the only director in the whole of the series to use the Galactica sets as a character in itself. Certainly his shots show the mammoth scale of the bridge ¬– very often shots are framed by the various buttresses that are part of the set design – the shot where Athena is held back as Starbuck’s Viper crashlands and Tigh’s meeting with Adama on the flight deck being two examples that come to mind. There’s also a quite clever shot where Apollo walks off camera and the camera focuses on Adama’s face while the command podium rotates to reveal Tigh in he background.

The camera itself does a lot of moving, some of which can’t be dolly shots as it has to move up and down the steps leading to the command positions when Apollo has to go and make his report on the Cylon freighters, and this is before Steadicams so director of photography Ben Colman must have done his back in carrying the camera around!

Speaking of Ben Colman, he does a magnificent job with the lighting, the shadows are deep and the sets have a dimensionality to them, and he does wonders hiding the camera reflection in the chrome of the Cylon suits! One does wonder though that the reason why everything is so dark is to hide the imperfections in the sets. In the epilogue, the Leader’s chamber is lit with more light than in earlier scenes, revealing walls that have a rippling defect in them!

One can’t comment on Saga without analysing Glen Larson’s script. Larson would have bigger hits than Galactica, but I do feel his writing prowess was probably at its peak while working on the show.

Saga is really a game of two halves, the first part, which is basically the set up for the main thrust of the series, the journey to Earth, is more compelling than the journey to Carillon and the escape from the Cylon trap laid there.

It has been said, that Larson gets to page 50 of a script and then just writes “To be continued”, in the case of Saga, maybe he should have ended it with Adama proclaiming his intention to journey to Earth and the Carillon part of the episode been an entirely separate story.

Still, Larson keeps things going at a brisk pace considering the length of the episode and while some times the dialogue is risible, Larson has a good eye when it comes to action and comedy, the comedy here shining some light into the darkness of the premise. It also helps having Dirk Benedict being the deliverer of most of the one liners – an actor who has great comic timing. Terry Carter’s scene with the misappropriated uniforms is also very funny.

Everything you need to know about the universe Galactica exists in is to be found in the script, the Cylon’s raison d’etre, Uri’s rise to power etc. In fact the political machinations are mostly kept off screen and are just a couple of lines here and there, mainly because Larson doesn’t want to bore his audience silly with political shenanigans and also because they really aren’t the focus of the show.

It more than helps proceedings when you’ve got great actors to bring to life what’s on the written page, and the cast and guest cast do some sterling work in Saga.

It’s easy to write off Lorne Greene’s performance with some lazy Bonanza put down if you want to criticise, but he’s really the star of the whole damn show!

Sometimes, Greene just doesn’t have to say a damn word. Look at his face when the camera comes off that marvellous roam around the bridge as they witness the destruction of Caprica from millions of miles away, he looks utterly crushed. Again, there’s a bit near the end where Maren Jensen reports that the incoming craft don’t bear any resemblance to Cylons, and Greene just gives her a look that says “I know exactly what they are”.

Speaking of Maren Jensen, before this her only acting job had been an episode of the Hardy Boys but she’s as capable as anyone else acting in American TV of that time, the moment when she breaks down after the initial attack is absolutely heartbreaking.

All these moments are punctuated by some great music cues from Stu Phillips. Today, much of the scoring you hear on film and TV is pretty bland (when it doesn’t consist of pop music from any given era), it’s almost as if scoring has become a lost art.

Phillips gives nearly everyone and everything it’s own theme in Saga, whether it be the thumping drum beats of a Cylon basestar or the subtle cue during the pause between Zac’s death and Adar asking: “What was that?” and Adama replying: “That was my son Mr President!” then the music kicks up a gear again as the oncoming Raiders rush towards the fleet.

All of this rushing about, whether through space or on some dark, foreboding planet, is greatly enhanced by Peter Berkos’s sound effects, whether it be the voluminous rumble of an approaching battlestar, or the metallic swish that accompanies the opening of the doors to the Imperious Leader’s chamber.

Lastly, one can’t help but mention the special visual effects. Some of the shots in Saga might now be showing their age, but at the time they were state of the art and of an intricacy never seen before on the small screen.

John Dykstra and his crew had come off of Star Wars, remember, for which he had won an Oscar and he would go on to win and Emmy for Galactica. Sure you can see the odd matte line or motion control stand, and you can see right through one of the battlestars right at the start, but hey, they got to redo some of the similar faulty shots in all three of the initial Star Wars movies!

There are more VFX shots in Saga than Star Wars, more miniatures, more dogfights, the shots are a lot better composed and even amongst all that hi-tech a couple of shots are achieved with the ships just being cut-outs stuck on a pane of glass!

Battlestar Galactica had its strengths and more than its fair share of weaknesses, but Saga of a Star World was one hell of a way to get the party started!
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