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Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5

Universal // Unrated // July 28, 2009
List Price: $69.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted July 23, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
Thomas Wolfe probably had nothing like Battlestar Galactica in mind when he wrote the novel whose title would enter the public lexicon, You Can't Go Home Again, and yet in so many ways, that trenchant little adage sums up not only this remarkable series' premise itself, but also, perhaps more subtly, neatly refers to its less than stellar (no pun intended) source material. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I was there for the original Battlestar Galactica, I watched the original Battlestar Galactica, and this recent iteration for the SciFi Channel is no first version of Battlestar Galactica. And that, ladies and germs, is a very good thing. The original ABC series from the late 1970s was made in the wake of Star Wars and while it sought to graft a pseudo-Biblical mythos onto the shoot-'em-up quasi-Western antics of the George Lucas film franchise, it fell pretty flat most of the time, despite an extremely interesting premise.

That basic premise is about all that made it unscathed through to this newer version. The remnants of the human race, fleeing from a devastating war with their own robotic creations, the Cylons, have attempted to escape into outer space, where they, in a caravan of sorts (or, to use the Star Trek pitch that sold that series, a "Wagon Train to the stars") search for their original home planet, a perhaps mythical place known as Earth. While the original version of Battlestar Galactica used that premise as a simple foundation for what was basically a routine action-adventure series, albeit one set amidst the stars, Ronald Moore and David Eick reimagined everything basically down to the nuts and bolts level and emerged with what really must be seen as one of the most thought provoking and simply provocative series, science fiction or otherwise, to come down the television pike in a long, long time.

Helmed by career topping performances by Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama and Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin, this version of Battlestar is an at times intensely introspective series despite it relying on age old science fiction tropes of visual grandeur and really nifty special effects. What really sets Battlestar Galactica apart though is its multilayered use of allegory to not only comment on age old religious questions (who are we?, where did we come from?, where are we going?), but, perhaps more relevantly to a modern audience less concerned with philosophical existential questions than with actual questions about their literal ability to continue to exist, a not so subtle nod toward the war on terror and the post 9-11 mentality in which we find ourselves soundly ensconced.

Battlestar Galactica makes no bones about this approach, and it is in fact one of the reasons the show has attracted such a devoted cult following. On the surface, yes, we get a good old fashioned sci-fi shoot-'em-up, one in fact obviously drawing from the original series' own emphasis on good versus evil and really, really big explosions. But dig a little deeper and you find virtually every character involved in an effort to ferret out their own identity and what that means for them both personally and in the context of their larger society as a whole. What Battlestar Galactica does brilliantly in this endgame is show various shades of psychological gray. Our heroes are flawed, that much has been evident from the get go with this series, but what becomes more and more obvious, especially in these final episodes, is that "evil" is, as beauty, in the eye of the beholder, and once various supposed bad guys' motives have been better understood, a completely new perspective is cast on events.

There's simply no way to properly summarize these final episodes, let alone the series as a whole. Like Lost, Battlestar Galactica can be a labyrinth to newbies and therefore Season 4.5 may seem like a jumble to them. For those in the know, as it were, rest assured that every character arc is brought to a close, though a few surprisingly so. We get unexpected deaths, expected deaths (that may be a bit of a spoiler for you longtime fans, if so, forgive me), and with the "missing" Cylons all revealed, a cat and mouse game plays out against the larger story arc as this quintet, as well some other renegade cyborgs, have to decide exactly whose side they're on, and for what reasons.

A lot of science fiction shows have come down the pike for literally decades claiming they're adult fare. While all of them have probably had good claim, at least partially, to that mantle, the fact is Battlestar Galactica stands head and shoulders above most of these previous efforts in crafting a splendid character driven drama that just happens to be taking place in outer space. While some longtime fans decried the spiral of storytelling culminating in the two part finale (an extended version of which is included on this BD), I doubt even those disappointed with this or that aspect of the endgame will doubt the care and thought that Moore and his cohorts put into finishing up this epic story in style. While some viewers were evidently not totally satisfied with individual answers the series proffered, at least there were answers and the series, as is discussed in one of the bountiful extras supplementing this set, had a beginning, a middle and an end. It's to this series' creative crew's credit that all three elements were woven together so brilliantly, providing one of the most unique television viewing experiences in recent viewing memory, whether in or out of the science fiction genre.

The Blu-ray

Wow! A new, never before seen Blu-ray "warning" label. You're probably already used the one telling you Blu-ray is a new format and all features may not be playable, and to check for a firmware upgrade. Well, due to Battlestar Galactica's often heavily processed image we're now subject to a second alert letting us know that yes, this is how the series is supposed to look, so do not adjust your set, so to speak. Galactica's 1.78:1 image, with an AVC encode, offers superbly sharp and incredibly well defined images a lot of the time, but there are other times when, just as purposefully, the image is incredibly grainy and squishy soft. Yes, it's supposed to look that way. This is one of the more varied sets of image quality (and by quality, I mean actual characteristics) contained in one series, so you have to be prepared for what are often unexpected "jumps" between razor sharpness and diffuse, grainy softness.

On the other hand (and/or ear), Battlestar Galactica's incredibly robust DTS HD-MA 5.1 soundtrack is reference quality, with absolutely gut wrenching (and wall shattering) LFE thundering through virtually every episode, and absolutely spot on directionality every step of the way. Dialogue is always clear, front-centric and easy to understand. The sound effects in this series are consistently excellent and fill the surround channels with an amazing variety of whooshes, crashes and other aural delights. This is one of the most immersive soundtracks I've experienced, all the more remarkable in that it was crafted for a weekly television series. English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.

There's no shortage of special features on this BD. Three episodes, "A Disquiet Follows My Soul," "Islanded in a Stream of Stars," and the two part finale "Daybreak," are offered in unaired extended versions (the finale is especially excellent in this longer version). Thirteen commentaries are offered, the best with Ronald Moore, who is amazingly self-deprecating (in his "director's cut" commentary of "A Disquiet Follows My Soul," he states flat out that the shorter, broadcast version was probably better). Deleted scenes for seven episodes (in SD) are offered, none of them that illuminating. One of the funniest recaps ever is presented with "What the Frak is Going On with Battlestar Galactica?, a short you should watch even if you're not a fan of the show (maybe especially if you're not a fan). Two featurettes offer composer Bear McCreary discussing both a specific piece of underscore ("Evolution of a Cue") and a more general look at the musicians and overall underscoring ("The Musicians of Daybreak"). A look backward is offered in both "The Journey Ends," as cast and crew ruminate on what the series has meant for them, as well as the appropriately titled "A Look Back," a summary of the production of the series, and a look forward is offered in "And They Have a Plan," a preview of sorts of the upcoming straight to video Galactica feature film. Home movies of a sort are offered in Executive Producer David Eick's Video Blogs. Finally (aside from the usual minimal BD Live content), is a pretty impressive dual U-Control feature, offering various factoids and branching content. The finale actually offers a fun third U-Control feature giving data on what becomes of each character.

Final Thoughts:
I'd easily give this the DVD Talk Collector's Series award if it were not for one thing: the Complete Series is about to debut on BD, and that really should be what you purchase, so that you can enjoy this monumental story from beginning to end. Incredibly smart and satisfying, with an impeccable cast and brilliant production design, this is that "adult science fiction series" so many others have claimed to be, but haven't lived up to actually being. Highly recommended.

"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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