'Battlestar Galactica' shook up audiences — literally — with its theatrical releases

Lorne Greene's voice made quite a rumble thanks to a gimmicky sound system.

Image: Kool TV

Battlestar Galatica came on the heels of the Star Wars phenomenon. Utilizing some of the George Lucas' creative team, the TV series had several uncanny parallels to the Skywalker Saga. In fact, these similarities led to a lawsuit. Overseas, Battlestar Galactica competed more directly with the Star Wars films. Episodes of the ABC series were cut into theatrical movies for release outside the United States.

It seemed like the perfect way for Universal to recoup it's vast production costs on this science fiction gamble. Even the movie poster boldly declared the exorbitant $14,000,000 budget for this small screen space adventure. The studio figured, hey, why not double down on the marketing of the franchise?

In 1974, Universal had released the film Earthquake with the gimmicky sound system called "Sensurround." Housed in large black cabinets, Sensurround employed low frequency speakers to cause quite a gut-shaking rumble in the cinema. Audiences didn't just see and hear that earthquake — they felt it.

So why not release Battlestar Galactica in this thundering system to jolt the patrons with its huge space battles and blaster shoot-outs? The opening three-part episode of the series, "Saga of a Star World," was cut together into a full-length theatrical release in Sensurround in 1978.

On paper, this perhaps sounded like a recipe for box-office gold. Except for one thing — the show was made for television, and was cut that way as a result.

Viewers at home had no problem watching the show, as it came back from a commercial break, straight into to a quick shot of the Galactica flying in space. However, theatergoers were treated to the deep rumble of the spaceship… immediately following the wall-shaking sound of Lorne Greene's stentorian voice. There was not enough nuance to adjust the audio quickly enough to prevent the dialogue from blasting the audience away.

It turned into an out-of-control roadshow stunt, as each edit, from space battle to character conversations, would blast viewers back into their seats.

Needless to say, the Sensurround was dropped rather quickly, as dizzy audience members stumbled out of theaters having been bombarded with the low-end roar of Lorne Greene. 

The following year, Universal slapped together the episodes "The Living Legend" and "Fire in Space" to make a sequel film called Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack, for release in Europe, Japan, the U.K. and Australia. In 1981, the "trilogy" of sorts was completed when a couple episodes of Galactica 1980, "Galactica Discovers Earth" and "The Night the Cylons Landed," were mashed together to make Conquest of the Earth. By then, the noise around Battlestar Galactica had completely quieted down.

You can see another two-part "feature length" Battlestar Galactica episode, "Lost Planet of the Gods," beginning this Saturday at 7PM | 6C on MeTV!

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