Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 (US - BD)
Gabe takes his time time to study this fan favourite series from top to bottom...
I’d like to preface this by saying I’m probably the last person around here fans want to critically review Battlestar Galactica, but I’m the only person you got. Since most of my ‘out of necessity’ series reviews lead to a whole lot of complaining I’ll keep this one short and sweet. It’s pretty clear hard core television fans don’t have any interest in dissenting opinions from outsiders, so I’ll mark myself as one immediately. I didn’t watch Battlestar upon its initial releases, only catching odd episodes here and there in reruns. Despite all my friends telling, neigh, demanding I watch the show I never did. I’m far too busy watching children’s cartoons and schlocky horror movies (you see now how I’m setting my opinion up as ‘poisoned’ on my own, thus circumventing the inevitable backlash). I tried very hard to watch the entire series before watching this season 4.5 collection, but there’s just too much of it (see, there’s a good reason for this review to be so far behind the release date). I caught up thanks to the ‘What the Frak is Going On with Battlestar Galactica’ and wikipedia, but this only pertains to the plot, which leaves me a bit retarded concerning the building characters, along with the thrill of watching serialized television.
I like Battlestar, but I find it overwhelming in its melodrama. Humourless might be the wrong word, but I can’t think of a better one. Sure there are jokes, but the tone is deadly serious, and in my opinion the soap opera elements could do with a bit more subtlety. The characters are slaves to the plot, and though the plot is fascinatingly twisty, and unlike Lost or Heroes (for example only) it’s very clear that the writers had a plan from the beginning, the shocks occasionally stupefy with their seeming randomness (I say, as a guy learning them all in one sitting). I find that even after several hours of the show I don’t relate to any of the characters on a personal level, which makes it hard to care about them despite a whole lot of top notch acting. I also find the dialogue kind of exhausting, as everyone speaks in the most dramatic possible tones and words, as if their every sentence were a political speech before Congress (except for the fake cursing, which I hate). Now, I’ll agree that I probably shouldn’t complain about dialogue concerning my preoccupation with children’s animation, which is usually about as intellectually stimulating as baby babble, but I also appreciate overstated and stylized dialogue enough to at least have an opinion on the matter ( Deadwood is my favourite live action series of all time).
One thing that definitely doesn’t bother me about the series is its less than original premises. Besides getting away with reusing a whole lot of overused tropes and plot developments simply because it’s a remake (reboot, semi-sequel) of an older series, the writers actually play these elements better than almost every mainstream science fiction series or film in recent memory. For example, the basic premise of robots rising up against human masters is a very common one, most memorably in the cases of The Terminator and The Matrix. Despite what I consider ‘humourless melodrama’, the Battlestar plot carries the elements with dignity far beyond any of the multi-million dollar sequels created to augment either James Cameron’s or the Wachowski Brothers’ original films. The latest Terminator film, Salvation, even went as far as to take elements from the series, and by most accounts failed to live up to them. And let’s not forget how little closure those Matrix sequels had.
The show doesn’t excite me as much as I wish it did, but the fact that it excited others does, because it’s smart, it’s brimming with subtext, and it loves the fact that it’s science fiction. Some of the political subtext is hit with a little too much force (and too often, well after the point is made), but the constant ambiguity is probably what makes the show so ‘important’. It’s never entirely clear who the villain of the series is because point of view shifts constantly change the game, and by the time this last season collection occurs the entire protagonist and antagonist structure has been turned on its head several times. Both sides of the political aisle, and every aisle in-between, can see themselves in every hero and villain if they look closely enough, and any show that forces people to second guess their beliefs even a little is a-ok with me. I should also mention the richness of the series’ mythology, which like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings extends beyond the realms of the series, over thousands of years, and includes mythological elements within the mythology, including gods and the like. And like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, the mythology and subtext may be the point of the exercise.
Disc one begins with an introduction letting viewers know that this Blu-ray release looks better than any other version of Battlestar because they film the whole thing in HD video. Apparently it doesn’t even look as good during hi-def broadcasts. I’ll just take his word for it. Anyway, he isn’t lying about the quality – the show looks fantastic. Life-like isn’t the right word, because there is a lot of textural grain, and over modulated colours. The series is never a pure and clean HD presentation, like Lost, but the distortions are placed with purpose. The grit and grain really just adds to the experience, and outdoor shots of the dead Earth make me weep with anticipation for the grainy, high contrast, low saturation photography of Saving Private Ryan on the format. The lighting schemes are often quite intense which creates super deep blacks, super sharp details, and despite all the grain, surprisingly clean whites. All these are achieved without any noticeable edge-enhancement.
The whole thing is so overtly stylized it’s very hard to judge some of the transfer’s possible shortcomings. When inside the ship the cinema verite camera movement and lighting sometimes leads to a loss of detail in darkness, and some less smooth colour transitions. Some of the heavy grain can be mistaken for less forgivable digital noise, but the noise remains consistent despite hue change, and there’s little digital blocking or low level noise, outside of some of the most unforgiving reds. There are bright lights all over the ship that all create their own artefacts. Some reflect in the lens, some create blooming, and others ensure the grain is even thicker than usual. These colours are always bright, though. Proving that the grain is indeed an intended look the digital effects mix impeccably into the live action aspects of the transfer, and are more believable than much more expensive effects found in much more expensive movies because of it.
The final episodes of Battlestar come fitted with a loud, brash, elegant, and super-clean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Despite the Space Opera credentials the most outstanding audio elements are really found in the interstellar dogfights. The sound design of the spaceship scenes is impressive in its relative originality, standing somewhere between the utter silence of Firefly’s scientifically accurate space, and Star Wars’ zippy, shooty, boomy space. The vacuum of space creates a sort of white noise of bass and air that keeps the channels busy, while the movement of the ships makes for subtle directional movement. The more aggressive elements of the track concern in-ship effects. As the Galactica begins to fall apart towards the end of the second disc the creaks and moans of the metal are realistic enough to make one question the structural integrity of their own house or apartment. The shoot-outs during the mutiny feature plenty of whizzing bullets, screaming ricochets and bruising impacts, and the bizarre computer buzzes of the Cylon ship give the rear channels some solid vibrations. Dialogue is almost exclusively centered, and clear, but sometimes the gate cut off is odd and unnatural, and there are a few buzzes of distortion (also, I’m really sick of hearing characters burping out fake curse words). The series score, which I find exhaustively schmaltzy at most point (though that final theme of Starbuck’s is a great chunk of music), is the track’s biggest element, and sounds perfectly overwhelming, bassy, and nerve jangling thanks to some rollicking tribal drums.
Every episode features a copy of the podcast commentaries executive producer Ronald D. Moore. These are fun, and informative, but not as good as the more technical minded extended episode commentaries, of which there are three. On disc one producer/director Moore goes solo on ‘A Disquiet Follows My Soul’, one disc two features episode director and series star Edward James Olmos on ‘Islanded in a Stream of Stars’, and on disc three director Michael Rymer is joined by creators Eick and Moore talk over the finale, ‘Daybreak’. These commentaries are more or less nonstop, except Olmos’, which is relatively silent. Eddy apparently doesn’t quite have it in him to talk this much. The two producer controlled tracks feature a lot of talk concerning the technical processes of writing the epic tomes, and specific attention is paid to the scenes that were deleted for the air versions. In the case of ‘Daybreak’ the structurally challenging, Citizen Kane styled storytelling is a strong point of focus, and there are many comparisons made between this and the original pilot miniseries (actor growth, stylistic choices, etc.).
Every disc features a ‘Battlestar Actual’ U-Control option, which pops episode pertinent facts onto the screen. The on-screen factoids are sometimes gobsmackingly pointless, such as explaining military time, or defining ‘holocaust’. If you’re smart enough to follow the show, you’re smart enough to know these very rudimentary things. Disc one and two’s interactive U-Control guide, titled ‘The Oracle’, didn’t work on my Profile 1.0 player. Disc three features a ‘What the Frak Happened to You?’ U-Control branching option. When the icon appears the disc flips over to a sort of character bio, which runs through the important events for each marked character in text as the story continues.
The other disc one extras start with ‘The Journey Ends: The Arrival’ (12:50, HD), a look at the making of the final episodes that probably should’ve been put on the third disc in the set. This starts as the most satisfying featurette on the set, encompassing the process of bringing about such a large scale final act, but devolves into a ball of sappy sentiment, which doesn’t come off as disingenuine, is tonally very self congratulatory, as the cast and crew slathers the series with praise. ‘Evolution of a Cue’ (23:20, SD) is a pretty fascinating look at the process of writing, recording, and mixing a final musical cue for the series. I’m really not a fan of the series music, but I very much appreciate the effort put into it, and this featurette helps people like me to recognize the impressive creative process of scoring motion pictures (it helps that they picked one of the season’s better songs too, though I’d prefer hearing the story behind that indelible cue that Starbuck remembers from her childhood). The disc is finished with some deleted scenes (15:50, non-anamorphic SD), and the awesomely valuable ‘What the Frak is Going on with Battlestar Galactica’ series wrap-up (8:20, SD).
Disc two features some more deleted scenes (21:30, non-anamorphic SD), and 11 of David Eick’s video blogs (44:50, SD). Eick himself makes very few appearances, but crew members are given a chance to be stars for a few minutes at a time. For mere blogs these are pretty well-edited little featurettes, and they feature a lot of behind the scenes footage. The quality is a bit inconsistent, but there isn’t a lot of overlap, and there’s not enough time to grow bored of any of it.
Disc three featurettes start with ‘A Look Back’ (37:00, HD), a six part retrospective featurette. Things start with ‘So Say We All’, a group of interviews with cast and crew members, who proceed to pat the series creators on the back until they’re hands are bloody little stumps. For ‘Manifesto Destiny’ the interviewees discuss the show’s written manifesto to the Sci-Fi network, which found its way to the cast and crew, and allowed the show to proceed despite the cornball memories of its source series. ‘Battle-Style Galactica’ features a little set footage, but is mostly more interviews, this time concerning the aesthetic feel of the series. ‘Martyr to a Cause’ talks about bringing actor Richard Hatch onto the series, who was a part of the original series, along with some of the political ambiguities of the show. ‘The Sins are Forgiven’ looks at the show’s hard built religious cultures. ‘Battlestar Revelations’ finishes things out with some fun little anecdotes from the actors.
I have no idea why the last two featurettes weren’t included in the ‘A Look Back’ grouping, but they weren’t. ‘…And They Have a Plan’ (4:20, HD) is concerned with the upcoming STV feature film, which is apparently based entirely around the fact that someone decided to put ‘And They Had A Plan’ into the end of the open title of each episode. Sounds like a silly retcon to me, but it might be really fun for fans. ‘The Musicians of Daybreak’ (30:30, HD) finishes out all the featurettes with a look at the final episode’s scoring process. The disc also features more deleted scenes (5:20), also in non-anamorphic standard definition, and minus title cards or any kind of contextualization tools.
I’m not a fan of Battlestar Galactica on nearly the levels of most of the folks buying this collection, but I hope the fans appreciate my effort in understanding their obsessions. I feel I’m not really at liberty to judge this series finale on levels beyond those of basic, visceral aesthetics, but overall it seems about as satisfying an ending as such an epic exercise could ever render. It’s more satisfying than the similar ending of the Matrix series, and less predictable than the ending to my favoured recent geek property Avatar: The Last Airbender (though both show’s pulled rather sizable Deus Ex Machinas out of their magician’s hats). The dead serious streak that I found so off-putting for so much of the series is in the end responsible for a lot of emotionally satisfying closure, and I imagine if I’d been with the show from the beginning I may have shed a few tears. I’m not fun of the ‘real world’ coda, but the rest is pretty enjoyable stuff, even for a non-fan like myself. This Blu-ray collection of the last half of the films final season is very, very grainy, but the look is intended, and grows on the viewer like mold on cheese, while the expertly mixed DTS-HD audio is practically perfect. Extras are solid and plentiful.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 28th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Creator/Director/Producer Commentaries, The Journey Ends: The Arrival, A Look Back, ...And They Have a Plan, Deleted Scenes, Evolution of a Cue, What the Frak is Going On with Battlestar Galactica, Video Blogs
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 763 minutes
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