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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 10/29/03



Battlestar Galactica:
The Complete Epic Series

1978 (2003) - Universal

review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Epic Series (outer box)

Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Epic Series (inner box)

Program Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C/B+

Specs and Features

Approx. 1167 mins (24 episodes at 45-50 mins each, some in multi-hour telefilm format), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 4 DVD-14 discs (dual-sided - 1 side dual-layered, 1 side single-layered) and 2 DVD-9 discs (single-sided, dual-layered), Digipak packaging in custom "Cylon Helmet" outer box (with lenticular eye), audio commentary on Saga of a Star World (with actors Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict and Herbert Jefferson Jr.), deleted scenes and alternate takes for each episode except The Magnificent Warriors and Take the Celestra (more than 3 hours in all), 5 documentaries (Remembering Battlestar Galactica - 45 mins, The Creation of Battlestar Galactica - 7 mins, Composing the Score - 6 mins, The Cylons - 5 mins, and Working with the Daggit - 5 mins), photo gallery, Sci-Fi miniseries preview trailer, videogame preview trailer, insert booklet with episode guide and photos, animated program-themed menu screens with music, scene access (6 chapters per episode - see episode guide below), languages: English DD 5.1, subtitles: English (captions), French and Spanish


For more than five years prior to the release of Star Wars, producer Glen Larson had been pitching his version of "Exodus in Space". The idea was to follow a band of Humans elsewhere in the Universe, as they fled through space in a ragtag fleet of ships from the persecution of the vile, mechanical Cylons. Unfortunately, the pitch held little appeal to TV networks executives at the time. However, all that quickly changed. Following the success of Star Wars in 1977, ABC jumped on the chance to cash in on the Sci-Fi craze.

Debuting in the fall of 1978, Battlestar Galactica became the highest rated and biggest-hyped TV premiere in history. Originally conceived as a series of telefilms, ABC changed their minds, deciding instead to turn the property into a full-fledged series literally at the last minute. The result was a few decidedly sub-par episodes right off the bat. As with many TV series, interest began to wane over the course of the first season and, coupled with the long production schedule and falling ratings, ABC cancelled the series after only 24 episodes. That left Galactica as yet another Sci-Fi series that ended with a fan-frustrating cliff-hanger. Thousands of letters and phone calls poured in to ABC, but by the time the network realized their mistake, it was already too late - the sets had been struck and the cast had moved on. Desperation to keep the franchise alive (and perhaps the desire to cash in on the popularity of CHiPS) lead to a short-lived follow-up series, a monstrosity known as Galactica 1980 (which most fans would like to forget).

Like Star Trek before it, Battlestar Galactica enjoyed a healthy run in syndication, garnering a strong and loyal fan base. Over time, a dozen or so videotapes of episodes were released. For some reason however, Universal never released the best and most popular episodes, choosing instead to show them only as badly cobbled together telefilms designed for syndication. Until now, the only way to see many of these episodes was in this format on TV, or in the extraordinarily limited edition Japanese laserdisc set issued in the 80s. Thankfully, the DVD format has changed all that. Packed with a surprising amount of extras, and featuring appearances by some of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver or small screen (including Lorne Green, John Colicos, and Fred Astaire), all 24 episodes of Battlestar Galactica can finally be enjoyed in their original, uncut format.

Battlestar Galactica was one of the last TV shows to be finished entirely on film, which is fortunate for fans. What this means is that instead of having to work with blurry analog videotapes, Universal was able to pull the original film negatives from their vault, and do brand-new, high definition transfers of each episode. That also means that these episodes contain scenes that haven't been seen since their original airing on television. Shot on a television budget (albeit expensive for the time), these episodes do exhibit quite a bit of grain and occasional print damage, but the trade-off is that you gain tremendous detail and texture - detail that wasn't seen even in the original broadcasts. You can see scratches and imperfections in the chrome of the Cylon armor, and actually make out the Vipers flying escort, which were previously just white dots on screen. Of course, some of the cheaper matte paintings and projected backdrops are a little more obvious, but the benefits of these new transfers far outweigh such issues. Fans that have been watching these episodes on years-old VHS tapes and on the SciFi Channel will be shocked at how much better they look on DVD.

Also benefiting greatly from today's state-of-the-art production technology is the audio on these episodes. The producers of this set have re-mixed every episode of this show in Dolby Digital 5.1, working from the original audio stems. Dialogue is locked in the center channel, but is crisp and clear despite the limited dynamic range of the source tracks. Given that the original stems are two decades old, you're not going to find split surrounds or panning effects here, but you do get a ton of LFE thanks to the show having been originally designed for Sensurround (a mono theatrical format with an isolated LFE, faithfully reproduced on the theatrical cut DVD).

But if the video and audio quality of this 6-disc set is impressive, you'll be even more surprised at the supplemental gathered for this collection. For starters, you'll find a tremendous amount of deleted and alternate scenes for almost every single episode. The pilot alone contains over 34 minutes of never-before-seen footage! These are not wasted, throwaway scenes either - this DVD collection contains virtually every single deleted subplot fans have been talking about for 25 years. There's also alternate takes of scenes, extended scenes, B-roll footage and even gag reel material. In all, there's more than 3 full hours of such material to enjoy - an absolutely incredible surprise, and more than reason enough for fans to buy these DVDs without hesitation.

Amazingly, that's not all you get. You can also enjoy an audio commentary track on the 3-part pilot episode, with stars Dirk Benedict (Starbuck), Richard Hatch (Apollo) and Herb Jefferson, Jr. (Boomer). I've seen all three together at various conventions, and the best part of this commentary is that most of what they talk about is new. These are stories you haven't heard before... and they continue from the commentary into a series of documentary featurettes. There are 4 mini documentaries in all, each under 10 minutes in length. These cover such topics as the genesis of the show, the creation of the Daggit and the Cylons, and the composition of the show's score. Fans have heard all the "monkey in bondage" stories before (the Daggit was played by a chimpanzee) at conventions, so it's the Cylon material I found most amusing. Illustrated with plenty of B-roll of Cylons with their helmets off, and suits of Cylon armor blowing up, the experience of being a Cylon is well covered by the crew. The piece with Stu Philips talking about composing the music is fairly technical, in that it concentrates on the structure and techniques of recording for television. Fortunately, that doesn't keep it from being interesting.

The real documentary gem on these DVDs, however, is a 45-minute piece called Remembering Battlestar Galactica. It's a great retrospective look at the making of the show, with the cast and crew free to reminisce about their experiences. In addition to many of the featured players, this documentary has a good concentration of supporting cast members as well. Moments with bit players like the Borellian Nomen (and an all-to-short bit with Patrick MacNee) are a surprising addition here. I'll admit to a little disappointment at the absence of a few people (like Sarah Rush, Ron Kelley and few of the other bridge crew cast), but I'm sure the DVD producers did the best they could given actor availability and the production budget. Rounding out this nice batch of extras are a photo gallery, and trailer-style sneak peeks at the new videogame and the Sci-Fi Channel's upcoming mini-series remake.

If I had one small complaint with these DVDs, it would be the menus. All of the discs use a common main menu that appears when you first play them. You have to navigate into the individual episode menus to get to what you're looking for. This is made a little better by the welcome addition of a "play all" option that lets you view everything on that side of the disc. You're shown each episode in turn, and at the conclusion of it, the disc takes you directly to the deleted scenes page. It's a very nice touch that I wish more TV DVD sets would emulate.

Before I finish, I'd be remiss in not mentioning this set's spectacular, though somewhat bulky, packaging. The DVDs are enclosed in a Digipak, which fits into a large silver box featuring the face of a Cylon staring at you. While the attempt to make the eye "move" via a red lenticular lens didn't quite work, the effort is appreciated. The outer box also holds a beautiful, full-color booklet printed on semi-gloss cardstock. This booklet contains a complete episode guide, full color photos and a smattering of blueprints of the ships and sets from the show. Sadly, none of this will fit on your DVD shelf, but it's a nice package nonetheless.

Battlestar Galactica was one of my TV favorites as a child. Sure, it was derivative, and lifted plots from previous films and TV series like Bonanza and The Guns of Navarrone. But anyone who complains about that is missing the entire point of Galactica. It's got a unique spiritualism that no other program has ever duplicated - a spiritualism that adds a distinct a sense of purpose to the journey of these characters. The show had fantastic production design and special effects for its day. And if all that doesn't impress you, how can you balk at any series that features killer robots from outer space, complete with creepy-red, ominously-scanning eye slits? Cheesy or not, Battlestar Galactica holds a special place in the hearts of many Gen-Xers. I'm pleased to say that anyone who loves this show as much as I do is going to be absolutely thrilled with the care that Universal's taken with these DVDs.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com


EPISODE GUIDE

Disc One - Saga of a Star World (3-hour pilot) and Lost Planet of the Gods

Disc Two - The Lost Warrior, The Long Patrol, Gun on Ice Planet Zero and The Magnificent Warriors

Disc Three - The Young Lords, The Living Legend and Fire in Space

Disc Four - War of the Gods and The Man with Nine Lives

Disc Five - Murder on the Rising Star and Greetings from Earth (2-hour presentation)

Disc Six - Baltar's Escape, Experiment in Terra, Take the Celestra and The Hand of God




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