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Battlestar Galactica: Razor

Universal // Unrated // December 28, 2010
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted February 3, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Note: Razor takes place within the space of Season Two and Season Three of Battlestar Galactica, so spoilers may be scattered within this review. Naturally, it's recommended that folks watch those two seasons before venturing further.

When Battlestar Galactica: Razor crosses my mind, it's hard not to think of nail-hole filler. You know the stuff; it's specifically constructed to look and feel almost exactly like the wall it's used on, leaving little trace of gaps left from items hung on its frame. Producers Ron Moore and David Eick cooked up this double-episode movie to quench fans' thirst during the celebrated series' downtime, utilizing two of its fourth-season ordered episodes to slipstream through the pre-established story and inject bursts of narrative within the sturdy foundation. In that, Razor's a decently-written, up-to-snuff production that relishes in retroactive continuity, answering -- and, at times, mildly changing the answers to -- ponderings left scattered about the Pegasus ship and, in tandem, its leader Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes). But instead of hanging a fresh, attention-grabbing picture on the Battlestar Galactica wall, it merely smothers material in the gaps in a way that has little bearing on structural integrity.

Razor starts in the aftermath of the chaos surrounding the Pegasus' reunion with the Colonial fleet, which left the ship without a captain. Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber), son to Galactica's Admiral Bill Adama (Edward James Olmos), has been "tossed the keys" to the ship in order to get things going again, which includes selecting a new XO (secondhand/executive officer) and weeding through the events that occurred on-board. In steps Lieutenant Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), a roguish and fairly-green recruit who arrived on the Pegasus shortly before the Cylon attacks commenced. She built something of a shaky rapport with Admiral Cain, reflected in positive reports from the Pegasus' captain that contrast with heavy complaints and grievances with the rest of the crew. To instill some continuity of leadership between the ship's two regimes, Lee cooks up the idea to appoint Lt. Shaw - a renegade with a few dark demons in her closet -- to the second-highest position of power.

Linearly, Razor follows Kendra's assimilation into the position as Pegasus' executive officer, which leads to power-dominance posturing (including a cliché but effective gun-assembly scene) and foreseeable head-butting with the equally-roguish Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff). But the story's meat comes in flashback sequences; through Kendra's paused reflections, Moore and Eick focus on when she's brought on-board the ship, using this newly-imagined - and somewhat throwaway -- character as a pair of eyes and ears that witnessed the harrowing events on the Pegasus. This offers a distinctive insight into the escalation of Cain's maddened militaristic persona, and what circumstances led to the events previously told to us as storied lore from the ship's crew. This includes the darker fables surrounding Cain's leadership, such as a point-blank shooting of a disobedient executive officer, the pillaging of a civilian fleet's ships and crew, and how she obtained a Cylon prisoner.

Here's the problem: these stories are just as effective undrawn, as nebulous recesses of the universe. While Kendra's flashbacks sketch out the scaffolding around Cain's heavy-handed decisions, painting a semi-clear picture of her psychosis, it also rattles off character-affirming justification to her actions. The Moore-Eick team knows how to service the characters, and the series' fans, but they try to force both a blunter edge and a merciful light on the intriguingly dark Cain, and it's only sporadically successful. Moral ambiguity is the backbone to Battlestar Galactica; the rationale offered behind Cain's viciousness amid the Pegasus' post-attack disorder can be intriguing, but ultimately feels superfluous, as does addressing her family history and her unsurprising sexuality. Razor does strike a chord, though, with Cain's version of the "empowerment" speech upon the initial Cylon attack, one hinged more on vengeance than Bill Adama's endurance-based call to action.

Speaking of Bill Adama, there's a point in Razor where he revisits his time as a young pilot during the initial Cylon war, which reveals details about Cylon experimentation on humans through a triggered memory (I know, shocker). It takes ole' "Husker" soaring through the skies and on the ground in a Cylon-occupied lab in the pre-annihilation universe, all tying back to the central plot in a loose but workable fashion. Adama's brought to youthful life by Nico Cortez, whose chiseled jaw, gruff voice, and charismatic oomph hit the nail on a younger version of the grizzled Admiral we've grown to know. This memory, however, lingers much longer than necessary and weighs down Razor's pacing, crawling around a pink-and-orange-drenched lab for a prolonged period. At first, it satisfies a few twinges of curiosity over seeing Adama in his youth, but that sensation fades while the scene blandly lingers until an eventual conclusion.

Even if it's needless and a bit forced with cramming in the series' machinations, Razor still finds a vigorous rhythm propelled by sharp dialogue, classy production design, and sturdy performances -- and it'll assuredly give any withdrawal-laden Battlestar fan their much-needed fix. It's unavoidable to look at Lt. Kendra Shaw as anything but an after-the-fact creation, little more than a device used to glimpse at the gears churning under the Pegasus' hood, but Stephanie Jacobsen--and, in turn, the writing behind her -- does a impressive job at making the character more captivating than expected. Kendra's place as an entitled military brat with friends in high places becomes more compelling as she ventures to the ship's depths for regular doses of her poison of choice, while her hard-edged respect for Admiral Cain latches onto genuineness. Along with that, Michelle Forbes returns mightily as Admiral Cain, delivering her conventional military exertions with the sane layer of insidious vigor we've come to expect.

Razor was once touted as a feature-length television movie that takes place in the Battlestar Galactica universe, but that doesn't really fit; instead, it's 100 minutes of well-constructed flashbacks that erratically touch on the series' most compelling subplot, with a new character in Kendra Shaw that's able to be written with a devil-may-care edge. Since she's a fresh face, they're able to drop her into the plot - and take her out, all done cleverly - at their behest. It makes her place feel transitory though, which ultimately empties the poignancy around her and Admiral Cain's places as "razors", or sharpened tools forged out of necessity. The collage of events and memories tries to emphasize the need for an altered perception in survivalist situations, which might've carried a valuable edge had Razor established firmer footing. Instead, it's only substantial enough as adequate gap-filler insight into the characters, patching up holes in preparation of Battlestar Galactica's fourth and final wall to be erected.

The Blu-ray:

Note: This Blu-ray disc is beat-for-beat the same disc as the one that appears in the Battlestar Galactica: Complete Series boxset, including the introduction with Ron Moore about the package he's working diligently on. It includes both the Broadcast Version and the Unrated/Extended version. No need to read further if you already own it.

Video and Audio:

Battlestar Galactica: Razor arrives in a standalone release from Universal Home Entertainment framed at 1.78:1, capped off in a 1080p AVC encode that fits the aesthetic of the show's HD-tape shooting style. As with the rest of the series, a mix of stylized grain and robust detail mix together into a gritty, rough-'n-tumble look here, which looks just as it should. But unlike other episodes from the Battlestar universe, Razor doesn't have any instances where it's traipsing around on the acidic Cylon-occupied Caprica or the stony low-color dourness of New Caprica. Instead, it mostly takes place in the cool-but-natural Pegasus' CIC, on a civilian ship that leans more towards tan colors, and other points on normal-hued ships. Therefore, there's a lot more opportunity here to showcase rich detail, accurate skin tones, and contrast balance, which this Blu-ray disc handles exceptionally well. A few moments hit the stylized button, such as desaturated moments during flashbacks and Bill Adama's time in a Cylon lab, but they all look appropriately crisp and detailed to the scene's needs.

The DTS HD Master Audio track sports an equally impressive punch, with nary an instance of strained vocal delivery or an out-of-place sound effect. The Pegasus' CIC gets rattled and roughed up thoroughly in Razor, complete with a pistol shot here and a spike in voltage there. The Blu-ray disc deftly cradles the pitch-lifts and sharp sound effects, along with the "gentle" sound of gunfire and zero-gravity movement that the vipers exude. Surround effects convey the rush of activity during the dogfights with graceful awareness of space and slight sound design, while the rhythmic percussion in the series' signature music keeps the momentum exquisitely active. Really, there's not a whole lot else to talk about, as the audio's pretty much a perfect representation of the material -- aggressive, pulled-back when needed, supportive of the dialogue's needs, and extremely well-balanced.

Special Features:

An Audio Commentary with Ron Moore and Writer Micheal Taylor adorns the Unrated/Extended Cut of Razor, where they discuss its inception as a two-episode project with a near-immediate home video release (on DVD), the technical juggling of composition and editing, whether using the mystery behind Kendra Shaw's character was the "correct choice" for the narrative, and how the cast couldn't really get locked into the production until they returned to a familiar studio shooting location. They cover overlapping existing footage, referencing Das Boot, using JAcobsen's actual accent, production curiosities involving green-screens and tangible elements, and a quick blurb that reveals the series' tough time with endings.

The Blu-ray disc also includes The Look of Battlestar Galactica (7:58) featurette, Deleted Scenes (3:37), some discussion with with the cast and crew entitled My Favorite Episodes So Far (10:26), a fine collection of Minisodes (19:27) that reflect the series' top-notch production and suspense merits, and a Season Four Sneak Peek (2:34) and a Season Four Trailer (:48). This disc has also been activated with the Oracle and Battlestar Actual U-Control functions, s well as being BD-Live enabled.

Final Thoughts:

Battlestar Galactica: Razor utilizes one of the highly-rated series' most unique and pivotal subplots, the Battlestar Pegasus, and fills in some gaps for what's essentially a two-episode burst of revelatory flashbacks. It introduces a new character in Kendra Shaw that navigates through the historical accounts, which take fans into the psychology of Admiral Cain, a complex battle-minded entity that obviously can be elaborated on. Whether that peek into her character's motives is necessary or not, however, will largely depend on the viewer; more ardent fans will relish in the glimpses at events only described through secondhand accounts, while others might find the lack of direct positing to the series' canon a bit disappointing, though the alternative look into the Pegasus' mechanics still offers something intriguing. Necessary or not, Razor continues the same high level of production and robust performances from all the primary and secondary cast members, which still makes it feel right at home in the swirl of Battlestar's storytelling. Those without the Complete Series set who have been following along on a by-season basis on Blu-ray will want to have a look. Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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