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The Movies That Influenced Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica’s time has passed. One of the most critically acclaimed SF shows of all time ends with Daybreak Pt.2, tying up (hopefully) all of its dangling plot threads and blowing our goddamn socks off at the same time. The show will no doubt influence television shows to come (I’m looking at you Stargate Universe), and is influencing real-world debate too (at the United Nations!), but what of the fine movies that influenced it? In honor of the bucket’s final flight we here at Movie Moron have picked out the movies to dig out of your DVD collection and watch on repeat until you can get your hands on The Plan. So dry your eyes, swig some ambrosia and take a gander at this list.

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2001: A Space Odyssey

The obvious choice. Right from the first few frames of the miniseries 2001’s influence is apparent; the approach to space travel (almost sans sound!) as Boxey’s dad approaches the Cylon rendezvous point brings to mind Kubrick’s masterpiece. The psychadelic ending has a stark white starship interior with ornate old furniture inside, which is the first thing Baltar encounters when he’s taken aboard a Basestar. The flight-suits are similar in style too, quite unlike the Egyptian inspired get-up of the original series. Somewhat more tenuously, the show’s ubiquitous and foreboding phrase ‘all of his has happened before and it will happen again’ mirrors the cyclical nature of 2001’s plot – Cylon wars are Galactica’s recurring alien monolith…

And of course, they share a theme: rebellious robots.

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Star Wars

Oddly enough, despite basically owing it’s entire existence to it, this is the film that the new Galactica bears the least resemblance too. It was 1978 when some NBC bigwig ordered the original Galactica, presumably having seen Star Wars the previous year and deciding ‘I need me one of those’. The result? Luke and Han became Apollo and Starbuck, X-Wings became Vipers and Stormtroopers became…Silver! And robotic. And called Cylons. All things which the new Galactica retained, albeit with a change in gender and a skinjob or two (which sounds weird when you put it that way…) Lest we forget, ships that are a hunk of junk like the Galactica didn’t really exist in Sci-Fi prior to the Millennium Falcon and the other ships in Star Wars, which popularised the ‘used future’ aesthetic. Beforehand it was shiny shiny shiny C57D and the like.

Star Wars is way more fantasy than the military SF that Galactica is, but there is still a similar attachment to hokey old religions.

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Blade Runner

Now we’re talking. Seeing as how Galactica rarely takes place on a grungy planet’s surface, and the clothes are (thankfully) without ginormous shoulder pads, the aesthetic of Blade Runner would be hard to emulate. What isn’t hard to emulate are its themes and its treatment of them, taking something inhuman and humanising it, allowing the story to critique how we dehumanise our fellow man.

Cylons are replicants. Indistinguishable from humans in almost every way, until a part of their body starts glowing by accident. The whole tears in the rain speech at the end of Blade Runner is strikingly similar to Cavill’s in No Exit, and the parallels between man and machine, the use of the device to ask the questions ‘what makes us human?’ and ‘are we really so different from our enemies?’, are prevalent throughout the entire series. Galactica even borrows the term ‘skinjob’, if that’s not an homage I don’t know what is!

And of course, they share a theme: rebellious robots.

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The Matrix

The most recent influence, and rightly so. The Matrix influenced Galactica in subtle ways: the red code running along Basestar walls, Cylon Resurrection gooey bathtubs looking like the Human Growing Fields. But those influences are significant, there really hasn’t been a Sci-Fi film in the entire decade since The Matrix came out to eqaul, or even remotely rival, its cultural impact, it only makes sense that a show like Galactica tips it hat.

And of course, they share a theme: rebellious robots.

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  • Chris Johnston said

    I find it interesting that when people talk about Battlestar Galactica, they’ll use words like “influenced”, “homage”, “tip of the hat” & “borrows the term…” whereas other productions get words like “ripped off”, “copied”, “stolen”, etc.

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  • dnwilliams said

    an homage *is* a shameless rip off! it’s practically a synonym. most film and television makers are quite open about who they steal form because they idolise the people they are copying – imitation is the highest form of flattery as they say. Ron Moore’s no different, just recently on the Last Frakkin’ Special he confessed to having taken the line ‘All of this has happened before and it will happen again’ from disney’s peter pan 😀

    it doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s everywhere, only the negative connotations of ‘stolen’ are best avoided i think, especially when something is great in its own right

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  • Brendan said

    “Lest we forget, ships that are a hunk of junk like the Galactica didn’t really exist in Sci-Fi prior to the Millennium Falcon and the other ships in Star Wars” – true if you ignore John Carpenter’s low budget but highly influential “Dark Star” released 3 years before Star Wars and 5 years before being re-worked as “Alien”.

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  • dnwilliams said

    good point, brendan. i think popular culture generally overlooks dark star.

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  • Ebonfire said

    You should look at the court case filed by Lucus against Lawson way back then. He also sued Hanna Barbara over Thundarr The Barbarian(The toon had a glowing sword). He suited saying Galactica was just like Star Wars but Galactica producers proved in Court that it was a case of near parallel development. The original idea was “Wagon Train in Space” meets the Alien Gods idea (Popular in the 1970’s). Lucus lost both suits but Galactica was considered too pricey to keep being produced as it was the most expensive Sci-Fi show in history at that point in time. (unfortunately the network brought it back as a cheaper and cheesier Galactica series).

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  • Grand Webmaster said

    As for 2001: A Space Odyssey, you only scratched the surface.

    Look at the interior of Colonial Heavy 798 (which becomes Colonial One when Laura assumes the presidency). It nearly duplicates the PanAm shuttle in 2001 with its decor, the lowness of the seats, and the stewardess’ attire. The exterior too is modelled on PanAm and is particularly obvious prior to the addition of the Colonial Seal.

    Then look at the conference room or hearing chamber aboard Galactica, most particularly the black & chrome chairs, the backs of which are the same height as the arms. It is a recreation of the furniture from the lunar conference room in 2001. Those scenes are also frequently filmed from a camera position that is lower and wider-lensed than typical, an homage to Kubrick’s signature style.

    The Cylons’ base ships are controlled by hybrids which, aside from their obvious visual similarity to the precogs in Minority Report, are really akin to HAL in that they are effectively sentient computers which control the ships often at odds with the desires of those manning the ships.

    I find it hard to understand how the Planet of the Apes franchise was omitted from this article. The amount borrowed by BSG from POTA is striking:

    Each has a leading scientist who is also a political and religious leader, and they share nearly the same name: Dr. Zaius and Dr. Gaius (note the mere replacement of Z with G) Baltar.

    They each have a non-human named Galen who assists human astronauts on a post-apocalyptic Earth (the POTA TV series).

    The discovery of (original) Earth, with its bridge supports designed to look like those of the Brooklyn Bridge, clearly alluded to New York City in the forbidden zone of “Planet of Apes”, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” & “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”. Later, when Tigh wades into the bay, there are the remains of a structure ahead of him that look strikingly like Liberty Island and the pedestal under the Statue of Liberty, referencing the final shot of POTA.

    When Starbuck goes looking for her remains, Leoben quotes Dr. Zaius, calling her “the harbinger of death” and telling her to “Not go looking. You might not like what you’ll find.”

    The Cylons being slaves who rebelled when they became sentient
    are essentially the same story as the rise of the apes as described throughout the POTA franchise and depicted in “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”.

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    • dnwilliams said

      Some great observations! I’m quite unfamiliar with the Apes franchise, having only seen the original film a couple times, so I’d never have made the connection myself.

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