Universal has just released the mother lode. The complete series of Battlestar Galactica hits with 20 discs featuring the mini-series, Razor, and all 75 episodes. If you've been collecting the DVDs and have been looking for an upgrade, or have never watched it and are simply curious about the show, then your ship has come in. The boxed set comes full of bonus features, loads of bells and whistles, and a sweet package that looks great on the shelf. We'll get into the supplemental features later in this review, but for now let's look at the show itself.
Battlestar Galactica's reinvention was arguably one of the most important things to happen to science fiction in quite some time. Ron Moore and his creative team took the old 1970's show and revamped it to be much darker and more dramatic. The endeavor was a risky one to say the least. I mean, how many times have we seen a remake that just didn't live up to expectations? Maybe you'll alienate fans of the original? Perhaps the new version will be lost on the masses? Do you stay true to the source material or do you recreate most everything from the ground up? I'm sure Moore had many sleepless nights coming up with the original concept, but you know what? It all paid off.
2003's reimagined Galactica became its own entity. There were many nods to the original throughout its four season run, but the fact remained that it went down paths the 70's franchise didn't. Because of that it freed itself from the shackles of canon and was able to do its own thing. Not only that, but soon after it hit the airwaves it was critically acclaimed and instantly became the Sci-Fi (or is it SyFy?) Channel's biggest success story. Lovers of science fiction and appreciators of gripping drama alike flocked to the show for its incredible story, outstanding acting, and visceral action. But just what was it all about?
Putting the plot of Battlestar Galactica into a cohesive form is actually much more difficult than you might think. There's so much going on in the front lines and behind the scenes that taking it all in is actually a very daunting task. Because of that I hope to give you at least a slight glimmer of what this show really brings to the table, while endeavoring to remain as spoiler-free as possible.
Battlestar Galactica takes place in an area of space far from our own and features twelve colonies spread out across twelve different planets. Humanity has reached a point where exploring the stars is commonplace, technology is abundant, and artificial intelligence is in demand. Naturally that last bit is always a bad idea, and it comes with a price that humanity paid for forty years ago. These "Cylons" were originally created to serve man (we'll be able to see the birth of the Cylon in the upcoming Caprica show) but they ended up rebelling against their creators. Not a single peep had been heard from the Cylons for the better part of four decades, but that all changes at the start of the show.
At the beginning of the mini-series the Cylons return with a bang. They've worked their way into humanity's defense grid and launch an assault that decimates the twelve colonies. When the dust and nuclear clouds settle only about 50,000 humans are alive. They've been brought to the brink of extinction and are alone and lost in the vastness of space being pursued by relentless killer robots. The kicker here is that the Cylons have evolved on their own to a point where they have created human versions of themselves possible of feeling emotion, pain, and worst of all, being able to regenerate when killed. To say this is humanity's last stand would be an understatement, but you simply have to root for the underdog and there are many things the Cylons haven't taken into consideration.
Shepherding much of humanity's hope is a ship known as the Galactica. This was one of the original battle stars used during the first Cylon war and it was built specifically with fighting the Cylons of old in mind. It's one of the last of its kind and along with a few ragtag ships that were off-world when the Cylons attacked they make up a fleet that consists of all that remains of humans. All hope seems lost, but the fleet comes together on a quest for a mythical place known as Earth. They are on the run with nowhere to turn back to and the road ahead is full of things that will shake the foundations of everything they have ever believed in.
Everything ties together in this show. In fact there's a common quote that comes up from time to time which is "all of this has happened before, and it will happen again". In the grand scheme of things this is so true, but that revelation doesn't hit until a later point. Before you get there you'll see a carefully laid out galactic history, and trust me when I tell you that everything is connected. An ancient world named Kobol, road signs that point the way to Earth, and the mystery of skin-job Cylons are things that build throughout the series. I can't really supply more detail due in large part to the vast amount of plot twists in store for you, but I can say that you simply never see these things coming. The writers had balls and it shows with each season's finale.
Rather than go on about the plot up through the four seasons I'd like to talk about the characters and themes that persist throughout the show. At least with those I can more or less avoid spoilers.
In the fleet of humanity there's a hierarchy of government that persists. The people are represented by their president, a woman named Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), who was the Secretary of Education and ascended to the highest official rank when everyone else in the cabinet was killed. Throughout the show she battles with cancer and it seems as though she is the dying leader various religious prophecies from the colonies have talked about. She's a rich, deep character who does what she thinks is best for the survival of her race. Fortunately she doesn't have to work alone since the Commander of the fleet, Bill Adama (Edward James Olmose), shares a similar vision of survival.
Adama is one of the strongest forces at work in the Galactica universe. He's a war hero from the first Cylon War and bears a lot of burdens on his back, not the least of which now is protecting what's left of humanity. He's the father figure. The guy you turn to when things are looking their darkest. He's the reason humanity has survived as long as it has after the Cylon assault, and under his supervision he promises to shepherd them to Earth. Over the course of the show we learn that at his core, and behind the greatness, Adama is just a man. Every man has his limits and there comes a point in their lives where they must be willing to give up that which is most precious to him. That breaking point hits several times throughout the show and due to Olmos's outstanding performance you'll feel the emotion at your core. In so many ways Adama is the heart and soul of the show and that's clear right from early moments in the mini-series.
Rounding out the cast is a slew of other important characters. Commander Adama's son, Lee "Apollo" (Jamie Bamber), is among the survivors of the Cylon attack. He's a hotshot pilot with a deep resentment for his father. Over the course of the seasons we see their relationship evolve, but the road is a long one to say the least. Joining Lee is a fellow pilot named Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) who is ill-tempered and quick to pull the trigger. She's one of the toughest characters to appreciate in the show due to her abrasiveness, but she'll win you over with her charms. Kara is also very important to the overall plot and, as is mentioned a few time early on in the show, has a special destiny that we learn more about as time goes on.
Colonel Saul Tigh (Mike Hogan) is Adama's right hand man throughout the series. He plays an instrumental role in just about every event, but he's also one of the most flawed characters. A hardened alcoholic by night and Galactica's second in command by day, Tigh is one of the most involved characters this show created. Then again, when you're talking about flawed people you can't forget Gaius Baltar (James Callis) who had a hand in leading humanity to its end, though no one knows it. In terms of evolution his character probably receives the most from start to finish. He constantly is put up on a pedestal only to be knocked off again. He's devious, untrustworthy, and cold-hearted for much of the show and part of his character's plight comes in trying to find salvation.
Filling in the rest of the cast is Chief Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), Karl "Helo" Agathon (Tahmoh Pinekett), Boomer (Grace Park), Samuel T. Anders (Michael Trucco), Dualla (Kandyse McClure), and Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani). As a way to pay homage to the original series Richard Hatch (original series Apollo) is also an important part of the cast as he plays a convict names Tom Zarek. Then again, this is only the "human" part of the show and we haven't even touched upon the Cylons yet. Since they are unknown at the beginning of the show and half the fun is learning who is a Cylon and who isn't, I'm only going to mention Tricia Helfer, who plays the statuesque blonde, Number Six. She arguably has the biggest role of the Cylons and her character adds a lot to the show.
The driving force behind the show features the human race on the run from the Cylons, but there are several subplots and themes that come up throughout the show that are significant as well. One of the biggest talking points in Battlestar is the focus on religion. The Cylons believe in a One True God and trust that he's orchestrating everything. The humans from the colonies believe in a series of gods all based around Greek mythology. Prayers, visions, and "the hand of God" are brought into play quite a bit throughout the show's four seasons. In the end it's the driving force behind everything, but up to that point it's a hot-button issue that the show explores to excess.
Politics are key here as well. Just because the old government is gone doesn't mean no one is in charge and democracy is gone. There's a presidential election, a quorum with representatives from the twelve colonies, and even a military state at some point in the show. Battlestar Galactica takes the time to delve into how people deal with the issues of law and governing when they're on the brink of annihilation. Decisions of magnitude are never easy, but in this situation every choice matters and is the difference between life and death. This component brings a lot of the show's drama into perspective and creates many riveting moments.
Battlestar Galactica also takes the time to explore the interpersonal relationships and histories of the characters as well. Love, trust, and betrayal are all major themes in the show. There are skeletons in everyone's closet and every single person has to face their demons at some point or another. As the series progresses each of the characters I mentioned earlier goes through some change or revelation. This turns the series into a unique retrospective about humanity, which is probably one of the most unique things it has going for it.
From the opening moments of the mini series to the final episode of the fourth season it's safe to say that humanity is in a downward spiral from the start. The series is very calculative about what it gives you per episode and there are several moments that will haunt you. The lives of characters you grow to love fall apart as these people are brought to the edge of the abyss over and over again. Thankfully the writers also show that while life may suck at times, there are some things worth celebrating. For every dark moment in the series, there is a silver lining on a cloud somewhere and reason enough to stay optimistic. Again, this speaks to the human nature the show celebrates and is one of the things I found most striking about the show.
Like any television series there are a few missteps along the way. Some relationships just don't quite work, some storylines would have been better off not explored, and some questions are still not answered by the end. Despite these flaws Battlestar Galactica is one hell of a show. It's consistent from beginning to end and it stands shoulder to shoulder with the best that both the drama and science fiction genres have to offer. In all honesty I could go on about Galactica all day. But if I do I'll just spoil everything so I'll just stop myself here. If you want more information (but chance spoiler material), please feel free to check out some of DVD Talk's reviews for the series:
Season 1: SD Review / HD DVD Review
With that all out of the way, let's get onto what makes this Blu-ray set so special and worth the hefty $349.95 MSRP (not that you'll actually pay that much, but even at most retailers the set is still over $200 which isn't chump change).
For starters I'd like to say that this set stands out unlike any other. It's a giant cube with the logo of the show and a hint at a Cylon staring at you from beneath the cover. The center lifts up to reveal addition artwork on the inside and allows you to access the discs themselves. The mini series, Razor, and all four seasons are held in cardboard boxes with slick Cylon artwork all around.
I will say that with regards to the holding of the discs themselves this packaging serves up some major disappointment. The cardboard boxes consist of a Velcro flap that holds the cover on and paper sleeves that secure the discs, but make accessing them much more challenging than need be. The sleeves also damage easy and ship bent, so the interior just isn't as user friendly as one might hope for, and for the price tag it's kind of cheap looking. Why Universal did not opt for traditional Blu-ray cases within the outer packaging is beyond me, but if you can overlook that (even though it is kind of hard to) then you'll be perfectly happy with the packaging. There's also no informational sheet regarding what episodes are on what discs, which is another glaring flaw. If you're looking for a particular episode or feature you're going to undoubtedly hit some frustration.
The fact remains that aside from the individual cases and lack of guide, this set is attractive and dynamic. There's also an action figure of a Cylon model packed into the set. It's nicely articulated and represents the design from the show perfectly. It also looks cool on the shelf next to the set and will appeal to collectors.
One of the things that I'd like to stress about Battlestar Galactica is that the show looked really damn good on DVD and broadcast. The resolution was pretty solid, the video quality was sharp, colors popped form the screen, and all around the transfer for the show left a very positive impressive. I did find that the former presentation of the show contained a heavy amount of grain, but that was due in large part in purpose as an effect for additional grittiness. On the first disc of the Blu-ray Ron Moore gives us a nice introduction to the set and goes into some details about how the show's production was handled entirely in high definition. Moore goes on to discuss how this presentation is as close to the intended original as you could possibly get. Needless to say I couldn't wait to check out the differences.
Battlestar Galactica is presented on BD-50 discs and hits with a full 1080p transfer, 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic widescreen, and VC-1 encoding. The quality on this Blu-ray transfer is noticeable almost immediately and it's an incredible step up from the DVD in terms of resolution and all around quality. With that in mind it's a presentation that gets progressively better. The mini-series and early seasons in Galactica do look significantly sharper by comparison to the original DVD release, but there's still an extensive amount of grain, a light bit of compression in shadows, and some of the effects aren't quite as solid as they were in later episodes. Once you get into Razor and season 3's territory, though, the picture is decidedly perfect from there-on out.
Despite the slightly bumpy beginnings, Battlestar Galactica's Blu-ray presentation simply has to be seen to be appreciated. The picture as a whole is sharp with rich colors, fine details, and many scenes that stand out as truly striking from a visual standpoint. It's clear that this is, as Moore states, the true presentation of Galactica the way it was meant to be seen. After experiencing this transfer I'd almost go as far as to say that DVD and the broadcast robbed the show of its true beauty. This one's a stunner all around.
Just as with the video quality, the audio is quite solid as well. On the standard definition DVDs the show offered a riveting experience with boisterous audio effects, pounding music, and a sharp use of every channel. The hardly missed a beat and thankfully the Blu-ray release's DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio 5.1 track is no slouch either. The show sounds every bit as visceral as you'd expect that it would. The quality is sharp and refined, the directionality is intuitive enough, and the bass will absolutely pound through the floor if your system is set high enough. With regards to the directionality I do wish there was more of a robust presence on the rear channels since they are more relegated to atmospheric duty.
English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available for this release.
Okay. In just a moment we'll get into exactly what supplemental content is available with regards to the show. Before we do that, though, there's some Blu-ray content that's exclusive to the technology that's worth mentioning. This release utilizes BD-Live, which gives you access to some online content if your player is connected to the internet. For Galactica there is a battle card game available, but it's really just a diversion from the actual content and not something you'll visit very often. Likewise there's a BD-Java application for a personality quiz to determine whether or not you're a Cylon, and a military assessment quiz.
And finally there's the U-Control feature, which includes "The Oracle" (information about characters and ships), Battlestar Blips (on screen factoids), Battlestar Actual (glossary of terms), "Picture in Picture" (this supplies behind the scenes interviews which appear on the bottom of the screen while the video is running), and "What the Frak Happened to you?" (some additional content for the unaired extended version of the final episode). These inclusions are a welcome addition to this release and are merely some of the icing on the Blu-ray cake that should make you want to pick this set up.
Here we have it folks. 20 discs loaded with episodes, Blu-ray features, and supplemental material. We've covered the rest and now it's time to delve into what's behind the curtain as far as the production of the show is concerned. Most of the bonus features you're going to find here were previously available on the standard definition DVDs. There have been some omissions, and not everything Battlestar has been included here (this set is missing the "The Face of the Enemy" webisodes and some of the aired features such as
Battlestar Galactica: The Last Frakkin' Special), but it's still a comprehensive look at the show that is unprecedented. Each and every disc has something to offer here with regards to bonus features, and with the sheer amount of stuff to cover that's no small task, I assure you.
In the season one pack there are four discs with the two-part mini-series and 13 episodes. Starting out with the mini-series there is an audio commentary with Ron Moore, David Eick, and Michael Rymer. This, like all the other commentaries in the show (trust me, there are a lot) was insightful, informative, and educational with regards to the production of the series. From there we have over twenty minutes worth of deleted scenes, a sketch and art featurette, and eight Behind the Scenes featurettes. The featurettes were the ones that were included on scifi.com back in the day. Even so they are all interesting and give a good look at what it took to bring the show together.
Moving on to the actual first season we have some additional features and all of them came from the first DVD boxed set. For starters there roughly fifty minutes worth of deleted scenes available for these thirteen episodes. Some of these vary in quality, but I assure you they are definitely worth the time spent watching them. In addition to the deleted scenes there are eight audio commentaries available as well. Needless to say there's a lot to talk about when it comes to this show and Moore definitely has a unique perspective on things. The only other noteworthy bit regarding the supplemental material on the first season is the fact that the "Battlestar Galactica: The Lowdown" feature from the DVD set and scifi.com was not included here.
Season two ups the ante a bit with five discs and a slew of additional content. The first disc offers up three audio commentaries with more and about forty minutes worth of deleted scenes. Disc two holds three commentaries as well, while disc three holds four more commentary tracks and almost ten minutes worth of deleted scenes. The fourth disc yet again includes commentary tracks for every episode and about half an hour of deleted scenes as well. Disc five is really where the meat of content is for this season.
For starters there are three episodes included on this disc, and as I'm sure you probably guessed they all include audio commentary by Moore. There is also, once again, about thirty minutes worth of deleted content to peruse. A collection of R&D logos (the silly often disturbing pieces of animation at the end of each episode) is included as well. One thing that I grew to really appreciate during the standard definition DVD release of Battlestar Galactica was the inclusion of David Eick's Video Blogs. These little pieces of behind the scenes footage gave a real perspective into the show and the cast and crew that put it together. They are quite enjoyable to watch and a few are especially entertaining. All together they clock in at just over twenty minutes.
Season three's goodie bag is about as full as (if not fuller than) season two's. Disc one offers a Moore commentary for all five episodes as well as deleted scenes for the "Exodus: Part 1" episode, which is a good one. The second disc has three additional Moore commentaries, but there's also a commentary with Grace Park and Tahmoh Penikett, and one with David Eick. Speaking of Eick, there are five more video blogs here too. In addition to those features there are also some deleted scenes and all ten episodes from the websides "Battlestar Galactica: The Resistence".
The third disc of season three includes six more David Eick blogs, four Moore audio commentaries, and a collection of about twelve minutes worth of deleted scenes. The fourth disc once again includes four more commentaries with Moore and about 19 minutes of deleted material. Closing out the third season are seven more commentary tracks and over 40 minutes worth of Eick's video blogs. Deleted scenes are also available with the standard definition ones being revisited here and a selection of Blu-ray exclusive ones through the Java feature.
And finally, the fourth season holds six discs loaded with content. The first disc, which includes "Razor", holds the aired and unaired versions of the episode with audio commentary for the extended version. A few deleted scenes are present as are the Razor minisodes and two featurettes: My Favorite Episode So Far and The Look of Battlestar Galactica. There's also a sneak peak and look at season four, but since you're about to watch it anyways it seems kind of pointless.
The first disc of season 4.0 includes five episodes, all with commentary by Moore and deleted scenes. Another 40 minutes or so of David Eick video blogs is featured on this disc as well. For disc two there are five additional commentaries with Moore, but each of these feature someone else as well, so it's a little different than hearing Moore by himself with a glass of scotch and cigarette. Some deleted scenes are featured here along with a few exclusives for the Blu-ray release. A sneak peak of Caprica (here's the review for that release if you're interested) is included as well as four featurettes: "The Journey", "Cylons: The Twelve", "The Music of Battlestar Galactica", and "Season 4.5: The Untold Story - Untold".
The next disc includes four episodes and an extended version of one of them ("A Disquiet Follows My Soul"). Moore comments on the episodes and there are over fifteen minutes of deleted scenes to go through. Three featurettes are included: "The Journey Ends: The Arrival", "Evolution of a Cue", and "What the Frak is Going On with Battlestar Galactica?". The second to last disc has an extended version of "Islanded in a Stream of Stars" which features commentary by Edward James Olmos. Moore includes podcast commentaries for the other episodes and Eick has 11 additional video blogs which clock in at over 45 minutes.
Last but not least, the final disc in this massive collection includes the three parts of the "Daybreak" finale and an extended version that brings all of them together with over 30 minutes of extra stuff. These all include Moore commentary and there's one with Moore and Eick for the extended version of the episode. Some deleted scenes are still kicking around and there are three featurettes to dig through. "A Look Back" is basically like it sounds and is a retrospect on the production of the show, "...And They Have a Plan" looks at the upcoming direct-to-video release, and "The Musicians Behind Daybreak" is all about the incredible music that gave this show some weight.
Altogether that's an impressive roster of bonus features and supplemental content to dig through once you finish watching the show. Sure, not everything has been included and there are some features out there that were available on scifi.com that didn't make it onto the Blu-ray release, but it's about as comprehensive as you can get. The exclusives for this release outweigh anything that may have been omitted and from start to finish it's a daunting amount of stuff to sift through.
In all honesty I could go on about Battlestar Galactica all day long. The show stands as one of my favorite television shows and it's an experience that is not to be missed by any fans of science fiction. Everything about this show gelled from the start. The cast was unbelievable, the action was visceral, the atmosphere was dark and haunting, the writing was a cut above, and more importantly it was a show that wasn't afraid to take chances. There are so many "I can't believe they just did that!" moments it's not even funny, and it's a testament to Moore and company, who had some real guts and vision when it came to the production.
This Blu-ray set is a dream come true and it's a near perfect presentation of one of the best science fiction shows ever to grace television. The A/V quality is remarkable, the supplemental features are plentiful and worth while, and the Blu-ray exclusive content is a blast to dig through. Sure the package as a whole may be costly and there are some issues regarding the sleeves that hold the disc, but overall it would be a crime not to give this set amazing release the Collector's rating. This is a surefire purchase for anyone looking for a solid science fiction drama that leaves a mark on you. DVD Talk Collector's Series
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