Battlestar Galactica: The Plan
Battlestar Galactica: Razor
Feature-length tie-ins to television series can be tricky. Along with becoming a part of a larger story, they have to tell a unitary story on their own. Battlestar Galactica: The Plan attempts to satisfy both of those requisites, but it ends up not achieving either purpose. Its story is that of a robot race’s attempt to wipe out humanity, but the story suffers from having little substance and too often returning to the same concept: that the robots experience difficulties and qualms in completing their task. Its issues are irrelevant to anyone on a literal basis, and it adds almost nothing to the series.
The Plan spans exactly the first two seasons of the Battlestar Galactica series, which tells the story of a distant race of humans who have created a race of highly sophisticated robots, called Cylons. The robots rebelled, were exiled, and years later returned to destroy us with a nuclear assault. They did not anticipate any survivors, so when a fleet of roughly forty thousand escapes the attacks and goes searching for a fabled place called Earth, the robots, fully sentient and now looking and acting like humans, have to improvise. Posing as survivors, a small group of them boards the Battlestar Galactica, the fleet’s only military vessel, and spends the following weeks and months attempting to complete their mission by sabotaging the ship and crew in various ways. The movie takes a viewpoint opposite that of the TV series and tells the events from the Cylons’ perspective. It presents them as beings struggling with empathy for their enemies as they attempt to finish cleansing the universe of the flawed human race.
Repetition is the film’s biggest problem. It is essentially a string of failed and semi-failed Cylon mission attempts, obstructed by both the humans' ingenuity and the Cylons' own misgivings about killing them. Sometimes the machines decide they don’t want to die. Other times they have become so close to the humans whose society they have infiltrated that they don’t want to harm them. This is an interesting concept and one that is important to the overarching story and themes of Battlestar Galactica, but it is not enough to keep a full movie engaging.
Furthermore, the concept of Cylons’ empathy for humans has already been addressed in the show. Little is added by showing viewers how the Cylons on the ship plan and conduct business behind the scenes. Sure, we get to see the previously unknown details of some of the plans, and we get to see this particular Cylon authority structure in action, but these things hardly contribute to the larger story of sentient robots trying to eradicate the human race. The movie becomes a collection of trivial information. It illuminates dark corners of the TV show, but these corners hide nothing that affects the series' relevance.
The presentation of the show’s events through the Cylon perspective, though interesting in theory, turns out to be pointless. Aside from seeing how the Cylons plan and do things, this technique provided the opportunity to show an opposing philosophical and moral point of view compared to that of the humans. However, one of the conclusions the film comes to (moderate spoilers for the rest of this paragraph) is that the Cylons never had a particularly good reason for trying to wipe out their creators – they were, as one Cylon puts it, having “a temper tantrum in the form of a cataclysm.” They have no real justification for what they are trying to do. That’s fine and all, and it would work well as part of a TV episode, but it makes no sense to use an entire movie to tell us that.
This movie proves that the key to Battlestar Galactica’s success was its human element (though, to most, that was already apparent). The Plan is every bit as well-produced and -acted as the show, and it even features an abundance of recycled footage from the series; however, it does not achieve the same emotional impact because the main characters are now robots which, though sentient, are either killed off before they can be sufficiently developed or are so evil that we cannot relate to them. If you look at this as a standalone movie (which it is not1), you will find little reason to care about what is happening because you do not get to know any of the characters and because its thematic concerns are sparse and repetitive. If you take it for what it is – a feature-length expansion of the Battlestar Galactica franchise – your understanding of the Battlestar world, characters, and events will not be changed. It’s the same story, just highly abridged and presented from a viewpoint that, though enigmatic, is uninteresting. You do learn things in The Plan that you didn’t know about the Cylons, but most of it is inconsequential. If it was necessary, it would have been included in the series' television run.
1 Incidentally, I should mention that if you are considering using this movie as an introduction to Battlestar Galactica, you shouldn’t. Aside from not working well as a standalone movie, The Plan has a LOT of huge spoilers.