NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica: Razor Flashbacks

They were building something down here…

Air Date: 5/10/2007-16/11/2007

Director: Wayne Rose & Felix Enriquez Alcala

Writer: Michael Taylor

Synopsis: Forty years before the destruction of the Colonies a young William Adama fights in his first engagement, before discovering a Cylon legend and an horrific experiment.

Review

Like “The Resistance” with Season Three, the Razor Flashbacks were webisodes released weekly during the lead-up to the debut of Razor, of just a few minutes each toting up to little more than 25. They constitute another interesting experiment in viral marketing before that was even a term, and in their amalgamation with Razor itself, both in what was released on TV and what came after. But are they actually any good?

We open with “Day 4’571”, and we waste little time in getting situated with a much younger Adama. Casting a new actor – Nico Cortez, who does a decent job with very limited material it has to be said – is one thing, but Flashbacks does well in making the point in other ways, namely in seeing Adama doing the same thing we’ve seen Starbuck doing with Sam, Apollo with Dee and Sam with Tory in the pilot’s quarters. The ahem, naked sexuality of it seems strange given the picture we have in our heads of Adama, but it does its job: this is not Admiral Adama, this is a young kid having sex on the verge of a military moment where he might perish.

We move onto “The Hanger”, a short intermission between the initial set-up and the major action. One has to wonder how close Adama was to Jaycie McGavin, whether it was love or just lust, but from the way that Adama reacts here you have to assume that it was more than just a fling. This is the best webisode in terms of acting: I love Cortez’ reaction to seeing the state that Jaycie is in, and the look in the eyes as Adama is in the tunnel awaiting release into the fighting.

That sets up “Operation Raptor Talon”, which is undoubtedly the best part of the project. I’m surprised that an action sequence of this apparent scope – fighter battles, battlestars and basestars exchanging fire and then a battlestar actually going up – are all used as plot points in what amount to just a three minute short. The destruction of Columbia, a really spectacular effect, is worth the price of admission alone really. Seeing Adama prove himself as a fighter pilot, and then gain additional motivation for going after the Cylon enemy, is just a secondary part of the experience.

That leads into the slightly ridiculous “Freefall”, when the Razor Flashbacks just give in to the chance to do things slightly crazy. Hence, Adama fighting a Centurion hand-to-hand while the two of them fall through the atmosphere of this planet. It’s actually surprisingly brutal combat by the end, with Adama beating the Centurion’s head in with a metal bar, but it’s really hard to get beyond what came before that. It seems like something out of a completely different show really.

From there we’re into the stuff that appeared in Razor proper, starting with “The Lab”. I’m again struck by the turn to body horror that this few minutes represents, which the Flashbacks seem to only emphasise more, with a few more grisly shots for Adama to torture himself over. In that respect the Flashbacks as a whole are a bit tonally all over the place: we’ve gone from Adama the young man with his lover, to war drama, to CGI spectacle and now to the truly macabre and unsettling, and all in just a few minutes.

The last “new” stuff comes in “Survivors”. It’s here that we reach the crux of what character-driven storytelling the Flashbacks want to make, with Adama forced to choose between staying behind to help the people imprisoned on this basestar or to flee to save his own life. In the end, the choice doesn’t really mean as much as it might otherwise have – see below – and perhaps lacks the kind of impact that the writers would have wanted it to have. Its absence from the rest of Razor I think is also a weakpoint, as it would have established a firmer connection between Adama and the Guardians, with the Admiral presumably wanting to find some closure for the people he left behind.

Our final segment is “Escape” where we return to that material which was included in Razor, but with a new epilogue. Adama escapes the Hybrid’s dungeon and sees it blast off to parts unknown, only to be told that the war is over. As a conclusion to the adventure it works fine, tying in nicely to the events of Razor, or as much as it can do. It’s that epilogue that grabs your attention, with a brief glimpse at the older Adama staring at the model of a Centurion in the museum that Galactica was meant to house. We’re given to understand this moment occurs just before we actually meet Adama for the first time in the Miniseries. As a quiet instance of remembrance I suppose it does work, but in the context of Razor it makes little sense: Adama is supposed to be remembering the events depicted as part of that story, not from before the Miniseries. Taking it all at face value, this adds yet another timeline layer to the Razor story, which it hardly needs: the present as we understand it is just after “Crossroads (Part Two)”, the plot involving Kendra Shaw as Pegasus’ XO is a flashback back to the time between “The Captain’s Hand” and “Downloaded”, the plot involving her time on Pegasus otherwise is the third layer, then we have this framing scene set just before the Miniseries as a fourth, and we have the Razor Flashbacks themselves as a fifth.

It’s just too much, and that’s a comment that we could apply to much of the larger Razor project, and to much of the Flashbacks more specifically. The first half is good, a firm basis for more exploration, but the rest is less good, and borderline forgettable. This is real footnotes territory, and while an interesting glimpse at the past of a critical character, it could be skipped without a viewer missing too much.

This frakker’s mine…

Notes

-Like that “Day 4’571” title. This indicates the First Cylon War lasted roughly twelve-and-a-half years.

-The Galactica of 40 years ago actually does look cleaner, absent the dings and damage of the TV show’s run.

-That first shot is bound to stay with you anyway, and not just because of the partial nudity: it’s a bit of a shock to see Adama like this, even if it is a younger version and a different actor.

-It turns out the “What do you hear” thing doesn’t have its origin in Adama, it was actually something his old Commander said to him. Does that add anything worthwhile to the idea?

-I have to say, Cortez really does look like a younger version of Olmos, enough that it startled me the first time I saw this.

-Jaycie casually lets out the rumour that the Cylons are “building some kind of superweapon” on the planet they are engaged above, which as dialogue goes is a bit of a clunker.

-The whole set-up is presumably one big nod to “The Gun On Ice Planet Zero” two-parter from the original series.

-I’m surprised to learn that Adama only fought in the very last day of the Cylon War. Not that there has ever been a frank declaration otherwise, but you always got the impression he was more seasoned than that.

-Love people calling Adama “Billy” here, and rest assured it will be the only time.

-The flight uniforms here have a bit of a similarity to the “Warrior” uniforms of the original series.

-Jaycie’s wound looks brutal. You have to appreciate the make-up work, especially on the damaged eye.

-Man, Cortez has some very blue eyes. I mean, they are the definition of piercing.

-Despite the fact that there is apparently an enormous battle going on outside, the atmosphere among the deck crew seems surprisingly relaxed I have to say.

-Not a lot to say about the music of the Flashbacks, but what we get for this countdown ahead of the battle is decent enough.

-It is really good CGI work for the battle, which makes it all the stranger that it was for an online video very few people actually watched.

-There’s a nice look at dogfighting coordination here, as Adama operates as a support fighter until given permission to move off and engage his own targets. We get glimpses of that elsewhere in BSG, but nowhere near as polished as this.

-“Clear Columbia airspace!” The order comes a little out of nowhere, but the urgency of it is immediately catching.

-The destruction of Columbia is captured brilliantly, and is a real visual highlight of the entirety of BSG, I think the only time we see such destruction. Given the Colonies are supposed to only have twelve battlestars, it’s a very big deal too.

-I love that Adama can apparently hear the screams of the people left in the wreckage of Columbia as the ship disintegrates, it’s such a horrible sound to have to hear.

-I think this might be the only instance where we get to properly see a dogfight in BSG that takes place in actual air? We only saw snippets of such things in “Exodus (Part Two)”.

-Adama’s ejection from the Viper and cut-off as he falls obviously draws a line all the way back to the conclusion of “Act of Contrition”, where Starbuck experienced much the same thing.

-It really is a bizarre “Surprise!” moment, when Adama spots the falling Centurion just a few metres away.

-I love what I will dub “Centurion vision”. It’s so pointless but why not?

-Old style Centurions have a handy knife that pops out of their sleeves, which is a nice addition.

-Is there meant to be something wrong with Adama’s parachute? He seems to be descending way too fast.

-Adama beats the Centurion to death, not unlike how he does the same to Leoben in the Miniseries. In fact this whole experience might inform why Adama makes the leap that Leoben is a Cylon in that moment.

-The gun the Centurion uses, and which Adama later requisitions, might look weird but is based in reality: it’s a modified M91R, a machine pistol.

-I think the key element of body horror is the reduction of the human form to, essentially, hunks of meat, malleable and strange, and that’s what the Flashbacks do here.

-I’m not sure we really needed to see Centurions cutting into live people in this strange little vision that Adama has. Rather grisly.

-I wonder if the fact that we never see the person that Adama is talking to behind the door is meant to mean something, or if is just reflects a paucity of extras.

-The moment of choice is a good set-up here, with Adama willing to stay behind. But it’s not his time, yet.

-I do think the moral argument of this final choice gets undercut by the survivors basically insisting Adama leave. It might have meant more if Adama made that choice himself, justifying it on the grounds of going for help, but having to live with the distressed cries of those left behind. As it is, the script is only missing a “Don’t feel guilty!” line from the imprisoned.

-It’s only here at the end that I really noticed the voice Cortez puts on, which is probably a bit too gravelly given how young Adama is meant to be.

-Matthew Bennett has a brief cameo at the conclusion as Doral, which seems a little superfluous.

-This is also perhaps our most complete look at the museum Galactica was meant to be becoming in the Miniseries, and I’ll be honest, it doesn’t actually look all that great. Rather sparse.

-The final shot is just a reverse of the zoom in of the Miniseries when we first saw the Galactica, perhaps indicating this scene happens directly before we see Adama there.

Overall Verdict: If we are to view the Razor Flashbacks as an experiment in web-based narrative addendums, then we’d have to call them a success. There’s a lot of impressive work, not least the battle depicted in the third part. But as a part of the larger Razor project, I don’t think it succeeds as much. A lot of the material is superfluous on that score, making the Flashbacks more of a curio than anything. Still, credit must be given to Cortez for his performance, and if nothing else the Flashbacks make you wonder about a younger Adama: we’ll go back to this era before the end.

To read more entries in this series, click here to go the index.

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2 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica: Razor Flashbacks

  1. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica: Razor (Extended) | Never Felt Better

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