Friday, December 9, 2011

Battlestar Galactica--"Fire in Space"

“Fire in Space” brings the ‘70’s fad of disaster movies to Battlestar Galactica. It does so with surprisingly good effect. Secondary characters like Tigh, Athena, and Boomer get to play prominent roles for the first and only time. That cursed daggit ever gets to play hero, assuming you were clamoring to see such a thing.

A large squadron of Cylon Raiders conduct a kamikaze attack on the Galactica. Only two of them are successful, but those two take out the command center, critically injuring Adama, and one of the hanger bays, resulting in a huge fire. The fire blazes out of control because the science fiction-y equivalent of the sprinkler system has no power. The medical ward loses power just before Adama’s lifesaving surgery and the door to the game room where Boomer, Athena, and Boxey are hanging out will not open, either. To make matters worse for them, the fire is spreading nearby.

While there is some very clear lifting of stock footage from disaster movies added in, there are many original special effects shots which are quite impressive for the time. Call me old school, but the model and pyrotechnics of the Cylon Raider crashing into the hanger bay and exploding looks neater than any of today’s CGI. Battlestar Galactica is notorious for repeated use of footage from both past episodes and other Universal properties, but when the show goes all out with a scene, it pulls out all the stops. Of course, those stops are expensive, which is the main reason the show was cancelled. Cannot win for losing, no?

You can figure out the rest of the episode from what I have said already. There is a ticking clock to save Adama. There are a couple attempts to put the fire out which fail. The desperate, last resort solution requires getting a message to the people trapped in the game room to stand back or they will all be killed. Admittedly, the situations are resolved with varying degrees of creativity. It is simply declared at the end of the episode Adama is all right. One of the plans to stop the fire is to shoot water out the Viper’s weapons sytem from space, which would not work anyway, since water freezes in space. The solution to blow the hull and let the vacuum of space put the fire out is a decent idea, but putting Apollo and Starbuck on the hull with untethered spacesuits and no magnetized boots is doing nothing but setting up the added disaster of the two coming dislodged and adrift in space. Our trapped heroes are required to stand away from the far wall to avoid the explosion, but somehow the vacuum of space, which blows objects around the room after the hull explodes, has no effect on them. Perhaps it is the power of the daggit following the smell of snacks which kept them breathing and not sucked out into space.

I have a little snark there, but I am impressed with “Fire in Space” overall. I have a goofy affection for disaster films like Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, and my personal favorite, The Poseidon Adventure. Certainly, the plots are far from engrossing, but that is not the point of them. The point is to create a huge disaster impressively onscreen, then ratchet up the tension. “Fire in space” does that well. For a filler episode sandwiched in between two major two part episodes, it does well in holding its own. The minor characters get a shine to shine. It is something that should have happened more often. Considering that Athena and Boxey are not in the latter episodes, this is their big send off.

One note of interest. “Fire in Space” was edited together with “The Living Legend, Pat I/II” for a video release in the ’80’s. It was explained the cylon Raiders made kamikaze attacks on the Ggalactica because they were from the basestars destroyed by the Pegasus and had nowhere to land now. As a single episode, “Fire in Space” does not offer any explanation why a huge group of Cylon suddenly decide to make a suicide run. The movie of the three episode together makes more sense.

On a personal note, I saw the filmed version during my family’s July 4th, 1985 vacation at a campground in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Instead of a drive in, there were picnic tables and places to lay out beach towels and lawn chairs for the audience to watch. The campground’s hot dog/hamburger stand and ice cream shop was nearby. One could hope for a better movie to see, but that evening sticks out in my mind as a fun part of summer in my misspent youth. Nostalgia might have made me go easy on “Fire in Space.”

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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