Release Date(s)1978, 1980 (May 12, 2015)
Studio(s)Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
We’ve reviewed this series on Blu-ray previously, when it was released last year by Koch Media GmbH in Germany, which was a Region B release (see link here). Universal’s new Region A release comes in two versions: The Definitive Collection, which includes the film in anamorphic widescreen (reviewed by itself here), plus the original Battlestar Galactica TV series and its follow-up, Galactica 1980, in both the original full frame TV aspect ratio (like the German set) and also adds a remastered widescreen version too. It’s also available in The Remastered Collection set that includes the new widescreen presentation only. For purposes of this review, we’ll focus on The Definitive Collection.
A widescreen remaster of Battlestar Galactica is something that some fans have wanted for a while now. Like their Star Trek brethren, people are absolutely positive that it can, and should be done, and that the purists are just holding out on them. But unlike Star Trek: TNG, with its plethora of light stands, crew members and other flotsam floating just out of frame, there are at least parts of Battlestar that were always intended to be widescreen. In the 1970s and 80s, it was fairly common for broadcast pilots, miniseries, and 2-part episodes to be repurposed for theatrical release overseas. Until very late in the game, the original plan for Galactica was for it to be a series of 4 TV movies, which later became the pilot, Lost Planet of the Gods, Gun on Ice Planet Zero, and War of the Gods. All of which were planned and shot (or at least protected for) 1.85:1. But this unfortunately is part of what makes this widescreen version such a mixed bag when compared to its 4:3 counterparts – the rest of the episodes weren’t planned for widescreen in this way.
Comparing the 4x3 HD presentation in Universal’s new box set to the German release, I would say that it’s almost certainly the same master and that no new remastering was done for 4x3. Not that it was really necessary. As the Koch release proved, those masters look and sound great already. While it looks like a little bit of dirt and damage removal may have been done, the full frame set is a superior version of Galactica that carries my top recommendation.
Before I go into the overall remastering on the widescreen version here, it should be noted that there’s approximately 2:15 of footage missing from the episode The Magnificent Warriors (on the HD version only), starting right after Siress Belloby’s abduction at 0:36:37. While it’s been many, many years since I’ve watched the syndicated versions, this appears to possibly be one of those edits. It’s strange that no one in QC caught this, as it’s pretty standard practice to have an A/B running to check them. The good news is that Universal has already caught the problem and has launched a disc replacement program (you can find the details and instructions at the end of this review).
Now then, in the Remastering Battlestar Galactica documentary includes in this set, the colorist talks about how he’s made the widescreen presentation “look like a real TV show,” which seems to mean the blue push and heavy blacks favored by today’s television dramas and movies. While this can, and does, often deliver extra oomph in well-lit scenes, where the subjects are reasonably close to the camera, the fact that this show was designed with the flatter, brighter lighting of the time in mind results in detail and characters sometimes being lost in pools of black. A great example of this is the walk to the celestial dome in the opening of The Hand of God. Apollo, being in the foreground looks just fine, but Starbuck is often swallowed by shadow. The 4x3 version, when compared to the German release, has been tweaked in the same direction, but with a light touch as opposed to the heavy handedness seen in its widescreen counterpart. I am, however, happy to report that seeing less of Galactica 1980 is in many ways beneficial, and thanks to its large amount of location shooting it fares far better in a “real” color palette. And this brings me to a second issue, which is aliasing and pixelization.
In multiple instances, including the one below, I’ve found occasional bouts of mid and background characters suffering from either botched processing, or compression. The shot below is from the opening of the pilot, and is the first (and in my opinion best) example of the problem. The top left is the Koch (German) 4x3 version, the top right is the new Universal 4x3 version, and the last is obviously the new Universal widescreen. Note that these are not complete frame grabs, just comparisons of the same area of the frame to show detail...
Apollo’s face, when you look closely, is full of macroblocks and pixels on the last image (the Universal widescreen), while its counterparts retain their structure, and the darkening of the image certainly made that job harder for a compressionist. Of course, the widescreen version really isn’t meant for people who care about such things. It looks pretty great 95% of the time, and gets progressively better as we move through the series. What this could have used, like so many other projects where the people were likely rushed through it a bit, was more time for tweaking, and an expert - preferably a director or DP who knows the intended look of the show - looking over their shoulder (unfortunately most of them are gone). It’s really too bad that, given the limited number of shots, they couldn’t have pulled the pieces and re-composited them to achieve a cleaner, more modern look as the recent Star Trek: TOS Remastered project did. Truthfully, though, if you really care about these issues, you’re probably going to want to drop the extra dough on The Definitive Collection set to enjoy the excellent, enthusiast-friendly 4x3 presentation.
VIDEO GRADE: (Full Frame) A/(Widescreen) B-
In terms of Blu-ray extras, most (but not all) of disc-based from Universal’s previous DVD release has carried over here. Missing from the original DVD is the magazine size booklet, the VFX overview with John Dykstra, and the Sci-Fi channel special. Also absent (unsurprisingly) from the German Blu-ray release are the German language Super-8 cuts and trailers, and the lawyer-killing Battlestar discussion panel footage from the 2003 25th anniversary convention. Had Universal wanted to make this set truly definitive, they would have included at least the new scenes shot with body doubles and awkward voiceovers done for the telemovie version of the standalone episodes meant for UHF syndication. The most notable of which, Experiment in Terra, had an entirely new intro shot as detailed here.
Still, Universal’s new Blu-ray release can be looked upon as a victory – one of choice. The ability to finally watch this series in HD in dual versions meant to please both enthusiasts and newcomers is something for which the studio should be commended.
I’d love to think that sales of this box set will be strong enough to encourage future work, maybe even something along the lines of Adam “Mojo” Liebowitz’s re-FX’d Galactica that recently garnered enthusiastic reactions from Glen Larson and other veterans of the show. It would also be great to see Universal’s 1970s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series get similar treatment. So pick your poison (aspect ratio wise), set shields to positive, and launch when ready!
- Jeff Kleist