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The Spin Sheet

DVD review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits


Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.0

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Battlestar Galactica
Season 2.0 - 2005 (2005) - The SciFi Channel (Universal)

Program Rating: A

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


[Editor's Note: This review contains some spoilers for Season One and the first half of Season Two. If you don't want to read them, skip down until you get to the next bit of yellow text.]

When we last left the crew of the Battlestar Galactica and her ragtag fleet of Human refugees, Commander Adama had just been shot by Boomer (who was revealed to be a Cylon sleeper agent back in the pilot mini-series, but whose secret programming has only now kicked in). Adama's son Apollo has betrayed his father by siding with the dying President Roslin in a dispute over the fleet's next move, an act which has landed both of them in the brig. Meanwhile, Starbuck has retrieved the artifact Roslin tasked her to find back on Caprica, which may help them to find the lost thirteenth colony of Humanity... Earth. Starbuck's found the stranded Helo on Caprica as well, but now she too is stranded with no way to return to the Galactica. And down on Kobol, the mythical birthplace of the Human race, Tyrol, Baltar and the crew of their crashed Raptor are fighting to evade a Cylon search party. Things are looking desperate indeed.


Season 2.0 picks up literally moments after the end of the first season's cliff-hanger ending, and manages to keep you on the edge of your seat for most of its ten episodes, skillfully weaving the series' complex story threads and character developments into genuinely gripping drama, all while managing to introduce new story elements and conflicts along the way. In the ten episodes included on this DVD release (which represent the first half of the show's sophomore season), you'll learn whether Adama survived or not. You'll watch as Colonel Tigh, in Adama's absence, makes just about every bad decision he could possibly make, throwing the fleet into chaos. Apollo, Roslin and Starbuck will each face more difficult personal choices, further testing their loyalties and faith in the things they've come to believe in. Helo and Tyrol will have to deal with the fact that they each love Boomer, who they now know is an enemy agent. You'll learn more about the Cylons' nefarious plans for Humanity, and the identities of at least two more of their agents. Surprising truths will be revealed about Baltar and the nature of his visions of (and relationship with) Number Six as well. And the crew of the Galactica will be stunned by the arrival of unexpected reinforcements against the Cylons, which may herald the fleet's salvation... or its destruction.

One of the things I most love about this new Battlestar Galactica, is the way it's reinvented the genre of TV science fiction. You'll notice that nowhere in the previous two paragraphs have I mentioned time travel or dilithium crystals or warp drives. Not to knock on other sci-fi franchises, because I've thoroughly enjoyed them in the past, but this is not a show about futuristic technology and convoluted, high-concept plot twists. This Battlestar is, first and foremost, driven by its characters. They are all flawed people in their way, but they're very human and they're exceptionally well written and acted. Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell continue to set a high standard in terms of the acting quality, but virtually the entire supporting cast has raised their performances as well. What's interesting to me here is the way that the personal conflicts tend to fuel or play into the show's larger conflicts. For example, we often see the crew of the Galactica, and the rest of the citizens of its fleet, fighting with one another and doubting each other and back-biting and second-guessing and even killing one another... and it's exactly these things that the Cylons (including Six) use to justify trying to wipe Humans out. Later, when the actions of Adama and his people are questioned by a superior military officer, you realize that she's absolutely right in which she's saying. While the things that the Galactica's crew have done were necessary (and seemed right) at the time, were these people still members of a larger military service, a lot of them would probably face charges of dereliction of duty or even treason.

I also really like the way that series creator Ron Moore and his writers raise real and difficult issues - something great science fiction has always managed to do - usually without you realizing that they're even doing it. A given episode is never about a single issue, but in the course of 42 minutes, the characters have often had to struggle with problems that are greatly troubling and all too real. For example, as a military officer, how do you respond when you've been ordered to do something you know to be wrong or morally questionable? How far do you (or can you) go in the name of trying to save your people, before you become as bad as your enemy? As a member of a free society, where do your responsibilities lie? When is it okay to break the law or disobey authority? Is it ever okay to torture? It's interesting that of all the shows on television today, Battlestar is the one that's most unafraid to consider these issues, given the current and very real problems we face in the world today. This series dares to consider religious issues too. While the Humans on this series worship multiple gods, the Cylons feel justified in their actions because they believe they've been divinely ordained by the one TRUE god. We see the strength and resolve and solace people find in religious faith, but also see how they can be manipulated with their faith, and see the kinds of terrible deeds some with extreme beliefs are able to justify in the name of that faith. Thankfully, Battlestar is never preachy. It rightly treats these issues as complex, and seldom shows bias or takes a stand on any of these issues. It simply raises interesting questions and dilemmas, and makes you think about them as the characters themselves struggle with them.

To be fair, there are a couple of weaker episodes in this set - episodes that just don't stand up to the quality and dramatic tension of the rest of the season thus far. Many of the series' various on-going story elements come to a boil in the season's seventh episode, Home (Part 2), and so the two episodes that follow it (Final Cut and Flight of the Phoenix) feel somewhat narratively disconnected from the rest of the season (although both episodes still contain a number of great character moments). But this batch of episodes ends very well indeed, with a surprisingly strong mid-season cliff-hanger (Pegasus), than manages to both serve as an homage to the original Battlestar TV series, and also to super-charge the show's dramatic energy and direction for the upcoming remainder of the season (which is set to begin airing on The SciFi Channel in January). For those of you interested in what's going to happen in the final ten episodes of the season, and who just can't wait until January to find out, you can read summaries of all ten remaining episodes here (although we warn you, these are MAJOR spoilers). You'll be happy to learn that SciFi has recently picked up Battlestar Galactica for a third season as well, so the adventure continues.

[Those wishing to remain spoiler free can resume reading here.]

As with the first season, the video quality of these episodes on DVD set is quite good. They're all presented in anamorphic widescreen, which is appropriate given that the series itself is shot on HD video. Colors are accurate and contrast is good overall. As with Season One, you'll notice light to moderate film grain in the video, which was obviously added electronically in-camera or in post to give the footage the look of having been shot on film. In any case, artifacting is rarely noticeable. It's a very good picture and the bigger your screen, the more cinematic the experience becomes. The sound is again available in Dolby Digital 5.1, with a solid mix that's admittedly more atmospheric than actively dynamic. You'll hear the rear channels used for ambient effects and music, but there's not a great deal of front-to-back panning. However, the front soundstage is again big and wide, and there's good bass in the mix. There's really nothing to complain about here.

Unfortunately, this 3-disc set is a little light on extras. I would have liked more behind-the-scenes material - maybe producer David Eick's video blog entries (from SciFi.com), etc. None of that is here, so hopefully we'll see it on Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.5 early next year. What you DO get includes some 43 deleted and extended scenes from the season's first 9 episodes, all in letterboxed widescreen (non-anamorphic). There's substantial material here - I'd guess over an hour of it - including a number of great scenes, interesting character moments and a whole flashback subplot that reveals how Adama and Tigh first met. Most of it was likely deleted simply because the episodes were running long (although there are a couple of scenes with Six and Baltar in the forest on Kobol that I'm guessing were cut because it was cold and actress Tricia Helfer's dress was a bit... well, you'll see). You also get all of Ron Moore's 'podcast' audio commentaries (also from SciFi.com), with a couple of exceptions. There's no podcast for the episode Fragged, but one was never recorded for download anyway. However, the podcast that WAS recorded for Flight of the Phoenix strangely hasn't been included. I've no idea why that is. Also, Moore's podcast for Pegasus hasn't been included either. There is, however, a reason for that. In the podcast for Pegasus, Moore alluded to the fact that the eventual DVD release would include an extended version of the episode with some 15 minutes of additional footage. We've learned that this extended version could not be completed in time for the release of Season 2.0 on disc, so it will be the first episode included on the Season 2.5 release early next year (presumably with commentary). That's understandable, and I'm okay with it. The missing Flight of the Phoenix commentary, however, is inexcusable (thankfully, you can still download it online here). I should note that this set also offers a brief "sneak peek" at what's ahead in the second half of the season.

Given that there are only 10 episodes here, and fewer extras included on this DVD release, the fact that Universal is still charging $50 for it is a bit much. Season 2.0 is, after all, only half a season. Still, Battlestar Galactica is well worth your time, and DVD is definitely the best way to experience it. The American Film Institute recently listed Battlestar among the best TV series of 2005 (click here), and all of that quality is in evidence on these three discs. This is easily the best science fiction series in years... and one of the best hours of drama on television today. No kidding, if you're missing Battlestar, you're missing out on something special indeed.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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