The Webseries/TV Movie:
Disappointingly, the reception for Caprica, the back-story spinoff to Battlestar Galactica, was not overly favorable; praise for the lower-key dramatic thrust was muted, often cited with lack of space warfare and methodical (read: slow) pacing as the reasons for the disinterest that led to its cancellation. Whether someone agrees with that or not is, of course, subjective -- some, like myself, enjoyed what Caprica set out to do -- but executive producers David Eick and Michael Taylor took this criticism to heart when conceptualizing yet another return to the universe. Thus was born Blood & Chrome, essentially the antithesis of Caprica: soaring Vipers and Raptors, spry gunfights, clenched-fist stratagems and military gravitas recount the story of Admiral William Adama's first days out of cadet academy, in a series of webisodes conceived as a potential new-series pilot. The result lands on enough in-universe exhilaration to make it an embraceable, well-crafted stretch of back-history, yet it's neither sharp nor magnetic enough to yearn for a continuation.
We've already seen a few flashbacks of Adama's early military career in the gap-bridging movie BSG: Razor, featuring his location and situation as a young soldier at the tail-end of the first war between humans and their "creations", the Cylons. Blood & Chrome rewinds back a bit further, to a point roughly ten years into the conflict's duration as Bill Adama, played here with off-and-on credibility by Skins actor Luke Pasqualino, arrives on the deck of the newly-built Battlestar Galactica for his first assignment out of flight school. His reputation precedes him; arrogance and entitlement fuel his attitude, but it's only because Adama really is that good in the pilot's seat. It comes as a bit of a shock once he hears his first appointment -- not to one of the fighter-class Vipers, but to a transport shuttle manned by a cynical, checked-out copilot, Coker (Ben Cotton, Stargate Atlantis -- and his first assignment: to transport a software engineer, Dr. Beka Kelly, to a safe destination without incident. This wouldn't be BSG without a few twists though, right?
Once Adama steps into Galactica's bay, Blood & Chrome enters familiar territory -- with a twist. The original show's identifiably gritty look wrestles with egregious lens flares in an almost completely digitally-rendered environment, touted as a means of storytelling and atmospheric freedom; the visual effects team render stacks of Vipers, vehicles, and bustling bodies to create a Galactica that moves like a well-oiled machine in her prime. Don't worry, though: adoration for the ship's luster doesn't become a focal element, like the drawn-out stretch from Robert Wise's first Star Trek film, but it does offer a sensory experience for both the audience and for the green, taken-aback future Admiral. These effects create a fluid environment as Adama navigates through the hangar bay, among the CIC and, later, out into the expanses of space, presenting a compelling visual tempo that blurs practical and technological means into a rejuvenated environment for Battlestar fans. Despite a change in mediums, this feels right.
This invigorated indulgence of the senses continues throughout Blood & Chrome, as the action delivered by Shrink director Jonas Pate harnesses an aggressive current of military space-opera right out of the starting gate. The production's overarching idea originated in the video game spectrum, conceived to be a narrative delivered in an episodic per-download fashion (seemingly similar to The Walking Dead) which organically escalated into the web-series format, a backdoor pilot. That influence can be felt through the scene-by-scene dynamic and how the plot quickly charges into big, digitally-rendered space battles and fraught scrambles on an ice planet. In fact, it's not unreasonable to conclude that the gravitas dominates too much focus, and grows contrived and overzealous as it progresses; momentous kamikaze maneuvers, ferocious organic-synthetic hybrid serpents, and landscapes crackling underneath feet emphasize eye-candy over practicality, perhaps more than they should in the space of a two-hour miniseries.
Eick and Taylor didn't really build this to be a subtle or deep exploration of the universe, though (making Ron Moore's absence all-the-more noticeable), instead depicting the bracing early adventure of Bill Adama with joie de vivre in mind as he cuts his teeth in his first mission(s). Considering that, and considering Blood & Chrome leans on the ideas of the core series, a bulk of the production's success rests on the shoulders of the young actor embodying the early years of the weatherworn admiral, and it's a bit much to handle for Luke Pasqualino's limited range once the tempo intensifies. Early on, he supports whatever dramatic demands crop up with passable poise, deflecting or deflating Coker's cynicism and obeying the orders of Dr. Kelly with idealized exuberance, shaping into most of the miniseries' interesting dramatic moments. The sweaty, burdened instances where death looms as a risk are where Pasqualino falters on the storied admiral; in scenes where he's intended to appear emotionally disarmed, he awkwardly strips away that persona. Despite the intended age difference, he lacks the gusto that Nico Cortez brought to Adama.
Blood & Chrome runs the risk of bequeathing Bill Adama with "too big" of a back history at this point, even just within the space of this self-contained prequel. However, the writing eventually pulls the events off in a series of intriguing twists and vigorous set-pieces that, for moments, hearken to the moral ambiguity and shades of gray that hallmark Syfy's popular series, from the Cylon's nature and motives to the measures taken by the military in wartime. Perhaps it's a good thing that the idea hasn't been picked up for an extended network run: this isn't an overly compelling catalyst for a new series, even if it's attention-grabbing and executed well enough to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Razor and, more assuredly, The Plan as cinematic extensions of the lore. The creators likely wanted more from this energetic sci-fi bluster, to be able to grasp the longevity that Caprica wasn't able to achieve as an offshoot that'd fill the void left by Battlestar Galactica, but Blood & Chrome works fairly well with recalibrated expectations.
Video and Audio:
Veterans to the show are familiar with the thick, gritty HD-shot aesthetic that cinematographer Steve McNutt captured for Battlestar Galactica, something that Blood & Chrome dutifully replicates in its 1.77:1-framed, 1080p rendering of the digital environments concocted by the crew. That steely aesthetic enhances the mood of the Galactica's hanger, on-ground shots, and space warfare, but it doesn't translate to a visual style that's meant for "beauty" in the high-definition arena; certain details will arouse interest, like the fierce glow of lights in cockpits and subtle textures in close-ups, but this visual style emphasizes aggressive contrast, hefty grain, and out-of-control lens flares. With that said, Universal's rendering of the source respects those intentions with a capable eye where it's needed, allowing the digital environment to move along at 24fps in a robust, engaging rush of cold blues and metallic silvers. To say that it looks and feels right is a compliment.
The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio evokes a sense of déjà vu as well, where the pulsating music, brisk ship-to-ship combat, and ground tactics create a fairly fierce aural onslaught that's only held back by a few limitations. Galactica's bustling hangar allows certain effects to sprawl into an engaging surround environment, while the motion of Adama's "Raptor" spacecraft during a vigorous chase sequence tests the integrity of lower-channel robustness, and it sounds strong barring a few air-to-air bursts that felt a bit flat. But, more importantly, several aggressive effects uphold the intensity of the sound design, from sparks showering off electronics to artillery fire and the scan of the Cylon's optical lasers, and you'll hear the dialogue crystal clear as it cohabitates with the signature pulse of Battlestar musical accompaniment and those special effects exertions.
The most overt success of Blood & Chrome certainly deserves its own special feature, to which Universal have included a fairly in-depth exploration of the Visual Effects (22:08, HD) that illustrates exactly how much work went into crafting the show's environment. It's pretty obvious that a lot of the shots were achieved with digital manipulation, but you don't realize exactly how much was rendered until watching this: green-screen shots of men wrestling with barrels; a pre-texture rendering of Galactica's hangar made up of tons and tons of multihued polygons; and an employee diligently erasing bits-'n-pieces from a frame, revealing the paltry amount of footage she's worked on over half a week. Since this is the only supplement, David Eick, Michael Taylor, director Jonas Pate and others allow peripheral, general discussion of Blood & Chrome's creation to slip into the picture, such as the project's evolution from its video-game roots to Pate's insecurity over what they're working on.
A slate of six Deleted Scenes (15:45, HD) round out the extras. Disc Two is a DVD presentation of the film that also contains these special features.
If the objective of Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome was to get me fired up about yet another offshoot series from Syfy's successful military space-opera, then it didn't really do the trick. However, this depiction of Admiral Adama's early years as a newly-graduated pilot entering into the First Cylon War did grasp enough of the polished, invigorating suspense that I admire in BSG's livelier moments, and it did spark some interest in me soon revisiting the core show itself -- just not in exploring more of Luke Pasqualino's Adama. This "two-hour miniseries" relies on disposable action and gravitas instead of calculated intellect, and it's not without a few numb-skull moments because of it, but there's plenty of enjoyment to be found in this fast-moving chunk of content that it'll be worth a look. Mildly Recommended, despite needing a bit more brains and a more gruff future admiral.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site