Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series
2004-2009 (2009) - SyFy (Universal)
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits
Released on Blu-ray Disc on July 28th, 2009
Also available on DVD
Program Rating: A
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 18.5
All right... anyone who's read The Bits for any length of time probably already knows that I'm a massive fan of the recent Battlestar Galactica. Like many others my age, I saw the original 1970s TV series as a kid and enjoyed it at the time, but it was essentially a campy attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars - one that collapsed under its own weight after a single season. It quickly faded into broadcast obscurity (and fond childhood memory), seeming unlikely to return.
|So imagine my surprise when the Sci-Fi Channel rebooted the show with a new cast, under the guidance of producers Ron Moore and David Eick, and it actually turned out to be good. Hell, it was better than good. For all of its four seasons, the new Battlestar Galactica was one of the best dramatic series on TV period, widely hailed as such by Time, Rolling Stone and many other critics, and even garnering a Peabody Award for its storytelling excellence. (That it's failed to win even an Emmy NOMINATION for Best Dramatic Series tells you more about the biases of the TV Academy against genre programming than the quality of this show.)
The key to the series' success lay in a few things, the first of which was timing. The original series' premise featured a far-flung civilization of technologically advanced humans somewhere out in space, that's all but obliterated in a sneak attack by a race of robots (known as Cylons) those same humans had developed for use as slaves. The survivors - 50,000 or so - gather in a ragtag fleet of spaceships, under the protection of a sole remaining warship (the Battlestar Galactica), and head out across the stars in a desperate bid for survival, with the Cylons in relentless pursuit. Debuting as it did to a changed world just three years after the events of 9/11, the reboot dared to actually take this dark premise seriously. These characters were fighting for their very lives, and so would stop at nothing to save themselves. What's more, some of the Cylons appeared to be human and were hidden among the fleet, so ANYONE could suddenly be revealed as the enemy. That allowed the show to play with all kinds of social issues that were newly relevant in the real world - torture, insurgency, trust, betrayal, ethical compromise - and rarely in ways you expected. The show's production values were first rate, with a gritty, cinema vérité style and cutting-edge special effects that heightened the sense of realism. The writing was uncompromising and ballsy, filled with unexpected twists and turns. And the series' cast, led by veterans Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, delivered extraordinary performances week in and week out. Battlestar Galactica was (and IS) not a show about robots and spaceships - it's about imperfect people, struggling to survive in an impossible situation. It's just a brilliant TV drama.
I've reviewed all of Universal's individual season DVD releases previously here at The Bits (including the Miniseries, Season One, Season 2.0, Season 2.5, Razor, Season Three and Season 4.0), so I won't do it again here. What you all REALLY want to know is, what's included in this new Complete Series box set... and do the Blu-rays deliver the goods?
In terms of A/V quality, the answer is an unqualified YES! All of these episodes are presented in full 1080p high-definition video, with English DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless audio. (Note that subtitles are available in Spanish, French and English SDH.) I've spent the afternoon sampling about 20 different episodes from throughout the series' run. Simply put, this series has never looked and sounded better than this - not on SciFi or DVD, not on SciFi-HD or Universal HD - not even on HD-DVD. The video quality is just stunning. As you may know (if you're a fan), the show was shot on digital HD video right from the start, and there's visible grain added deliberately to create a gritty, documentary-style look. The overall texture and image detail is excellent. Colors are a bit subdued by design, but they're always accurate, and contrast is solid with good subtle shadow detailing. The added bandwidth and disc space of Blu-ray really allows the compression to breathe, and the result is a visual experience that's exactly as the producers intended, and better than you (and even THEY, as Moore himself says at one point in the bonus features) have ever seen it. [Editor's Note: I would add one comment on the Miniseries specifically - contrast on the miniseries isn't quite as good as it is on the actual season episodes, and I'm told that it's because the miniseries was actually shot on photochemical film, whereas the series was shot on HD video from the first episode on. However I do believe the miniseries looks better here than it did on HD-DVD - certainly it doesn't suffer from some of the sync issues that plagued the HD-DVD. The episodes themselves are all fantastic looking.] The DTS lossless audio matches the visuals well. This isn't a highly directional 5.1 mix, but the surrounds are still quite lively. Generally, the overall effect is one of immersion and creation of atmospheric space, rather than trying to get you to turn your head. Clarity is lovely, dialogue is clean and audible, and the music and effects are well layered in the mix. Add in satisfying LFE and there's plenty to be pleased with sonically.
[Editor's Note: We've confirmed with studio sources and independenly with BD playback software that Universal's U.S. domestic release of Battelstar Galactica: The Complete Series is ALL REGION.]
Now let's run down this set's content and extras, season by season. All the series' episodes, the Miniseries and the Razor 2-hour film are included on 20 BD-50 discs, along with over 70 hours with of bonus content. Note that virtually all of the extras from the previous DVDs are in standard 480p here, as they were before (generally presented in 16x9 widescreen). A few of the new featurettes (mostly on Season Four) are in full 1080p. It appears that the first disc of each season starts with the same, newly-shot HD video introduction by Ron Moore himself. He welcomes you to the set, and tells you why he thinks high-def is the way to really fully experience the series. In terms of the special features, most (but not quite all) of the previous DVD extras have carried over here, and there's new material as well. I'll note what's missing and what's new for Blu-ray as we go...
SEASON ONE (4 DISCS)
S1 - Disc One features the original Miniseries: Parts 1 & 2 [2-part version] with the original audio commentary by director Michael Rymer and executive producers David Eick and Ron D. Moore, 21 minutes worth of deleted scenes from the Miniseries, a 4-minute Sketches and Art featurette and 8 behind-the-scenes featurettes (from SciFi.com - about 63 minutes worth), including From Miniseries to Series, Change Is Good, Now They're Babes, The Cylon Centurion, Future/Past Technology, The Doctor Is Out (of His Mind), Production, Visual Effects and Epilogue. The Miniseries also features The Oracle interactive guide to ships and characters as well as a PIP behind-the-scenes viewing option (the same one that was included on the previous HD-DVD release of Season One). The disc features BD-Live connectivity as well.
S1 - Disc Two includes the episodes 33 (with commentary by Moore, Eick and Rymer), Water, Bastille Day, Act of Contrition and You Can't Go Home Again (the latter three with commentary by Moore and Eick). Deleted scenes are included for 33, Water, Act of Contrition and You Can't Go Home Again (nearly 18 minutes in all). The episodes all have The Oracle interactive guide.
S1 - Disc Three includes the episodes Litmus, Six Degrees of Separation, Flesh and Bone, Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down (with Moore commentary) and The Hand of God (with Moore commentary). Deleted scenes from all five episodes are included (about 12 minutes in all). All episodes have The Oracle interactive guide.
And S1 - Disc Four includes Colonial Day, Kobol's Last Gleaming: Part 1 and Kobol's Last Gleaming: Part 2 (all with Moore commentary). Nearly 18 minutes worth of deleted scenes from all three episodes are available, as is The Oracle interactive guide. Also newly included for Blu-ray is the interactive Are You a Cylon? BD-Java personality quiz.
What's missing from the original Miniseries DVD is the 40-minute Battlestar Galactica: The Lowdown special from SciFi. However, having watched about an hour of the Miniseries' PIP viewing option, it does seem that at least some of this material has been included there. Also missing from the Season One DVD set is the 20-minute Battlestar Galactica: The Series - The Lowdown featurette also seen on SciFi. (So if you want to retain everything, you'll have to keep those specific DVD discs.) A few additional featurettes that appeared on SciFi.com are also not here, though they weren't on the DVDs either.
SEASON TWO (5 DISCS)
S2 - Disc One contains the episodes Scattered, Valley of Darkness, Fragged, Resistance and The Farm. All but Fragged have commentary with Moore. Nearly 42 minutes worth of deleted scenes from all five episodes are included, as is The Oracle. There is also BD-Live access on this disc. [Editor's Note: The audio-only Easter egg that was on the DVD (an Adama quote) is not included.]
S2 - Disc Two includes the episodes Home: Part 1, Home: Part 2, Final Cut, Flight of the Phoenix and the broadcast version of Pegasus. The two Home episodes and Final Cut have Moore commentary.
There's also a 3-minute Sizzle Reel and The Oracle guide.
S2 - Disc Three includes the Pegasus: Extended Version, along with Resurrection Ship: Part 1, Resurrection Ship: Part 2 and Epiphanies. Pegasus has commentary with Moore and Eick, while the other three have Moore only. Deleted scenes are available for Resurrection Ship: Part 1 (about 9 minutes) and The Oracle access is included.
S2 - Disc Four includes the episodes Black Market, Scar, Sacrifice and The Captain's Hand, and all four have Moore podcast commentary. Deleted scenes are available for all four episodes (about 30 minutes worth) and The Oracle guide is again included.
And S2 - Disc Five includes Downloaded, Lay Down Your Burdens: Part 1 and Lay Down Your Burdens: Part 2, all with Moore commentary. Deleted scenes for all three episodes are available (about 30 minutes), as well as The Oracle guide, an audio-only Easter egg [Editor's Note: The same Sharon audio quote that was on the DVD - in the Setup menu, click RIGHT from the Français selection.], a short featurette of RDN logos and 7 David Eick Video Blogs (22 minutes total) including Episode 205, Day Two, Episode 207, Day Four, On the Set of the "New" Pegasus, The "Magic" of Battlestar Galactica, Never Let the Inmates Run the Asylum, Scenes from the Video Blog Floor and Sex, Lies, and a Video Blog. New for Blu-ray here is the BD-Java interactive Battlestar Galactica Career Assignment Quiz.
The only thing missing from the previous Season Two DVD is tha audio-only Easter egg featuring an Adama quote that was on Disc One of the DVD - it's nothing major, and the set's other audio-only Easter egg DID carry over to Blu.
SEASON THREE (5 DISCS)
S3 - Disc One includes Occupation, Precipice, Exodus: Part 1, Exodus: Part 2 and Collaborators, all with Moore podcast commentary. Deleted scenes are available for all episodes except Exodus: Part 1 (12 minutes in all). The Oracle guide and BD-Live access are also included. New for the Blu-ray is a Battlestar Blips viewing mode that offers onscreen trivia and facts.
S3 - Disc Two includes Torn, A Measure of Salvation, Hero and the broadcast version of Unfinished Business. Torn, A Measure of Salvation and Hero feature Moore commentary. Unfinished Business features commentary with series stars Grace Park and Tahmoh Penikett. Hero also features a second commentary with Eick. Deleted scenes are available for Torn, A Measure of Salvation and Hero (8 minutes). You also get The Oracle guide, all ten Battlestar Galactica: The Resistance webisodes (in SD) and 5 more David Eick Video Blogs (15 minutes worth) including Testimonials, Who Dies?, Prosthetics, Lucy and David and Introducing Bulldog. New for Blu-ray is the Battlestar Blips viewing mode.
S3 - Disc Three includes the Unfinished Business: Extended Version, The Passage, The Eye of Jupiter and Rapture, all with Moore commentary. Deleted scenes are available for The Passage, The Eye of Jupiter and Rapture (12 minutes). The Oracle guide is included as is the new-for-Blu-ray Battlestar Blips. Finally, you get 6 more David Eick Video Blogs (21 minutes) including Characters, Adama on Adama, Episode 6 Read Through, On the Road, Steve Mcnutt Gets a Video Blog and The Soldier's Code: Leave No Man Behind.
S3 - Disc Four includes the episodes Taking a Break from All Your Worries, The Woman King, A Day in the Life, Dirty Hands and Maelstrom, all with Moore commentary and deleted scenes (19 minutes worth). You also get The Oracle and Battlestar Blips.
And S3 - Disc Five includes The Son Also Rises, Crossroads: Part 1 and Crossroads: Part 2, each with Moore commentary. Bonus commentaries are also available by actor Mark Sheppard and writer Michael Angeli on The Son Also Rises and Sheppard alone on the other two. Deleted scenes for all three episodes are available (8 minutes), and you get The Oracle and Battlestar Blips. Also included are 11 more David Eick Video Blogs (40 minutes) including Takin' a Break from All Your Worries, On the Road: Part 2, Some Guy Named Colin, Building a Better Show, Katee's Scrapbook, Shooting, Mr. Eddie If You Please..., Oceans in the Desert, David Who?, Out of Control and Last Episode Blues. Also, new for Blu-ray is the BD-Java interactive Colonial Military Assignment Quiz, which allows you to unlock additional, BD-exclusive deleted scenes. [Editor's Note: There are SEVEN exclusive deleted scenes scenes in all - you get a new one each time you play through the quiz, up to 7 total.]
Nothing is missing from the Season Three DVD.
SEASON FOUR (6 DISCS)
The Razor disc obviously contains both the broadcast and extended versions of Battlestar Galactica: Razor (with commentary on the extended version by Moore and writer Michael Taylor). Additional extras here include deleted scenes (3 minutes), all 7 Razor Minisodes (in SD), 2 featurettes (The Look of Battlestar Galactica and My Favorite Episode So Far), a Season Four Sneak Peek and a Season Four Trailer. Interactive extras new for Blu-ray include The Oracle, the Battlestar Actual viewing mode (a glossary of terminology), BD-Live access and the Battlestar Galactica: Ultimate Battle BD-Live Card Game.
S4.0 - Disc One includes the episodes He That Believeth in Me, Six of One, The Ties That Bind, Escape Velocity and The Road Less Traveled, all with Moore podcast commentary. Deleted scenes for all five episodes are available (12 minutes), including a Blu-ray exclusive deleted scene from the episode Six of One. Ten more of David Eick Video Blogs are available (40 minutes) including Love in Space, Why Hath David Forsaken Us?, So, This Is It, What Next? What Now?, Digital Pressure, Space Cowboys, Lucy's Breakdown, Are You Frakkin' Kidding Me?, I'm A Frakkin' Cylon and Last Call. You also get The Oracle and Battlestar Actual viewing modes.
S4.0 - Disc Two includes Faith, Guess What's Coming to Dinner, Sine Qua Non, The Hub and Revelations. Faith includes commentary with Moore and producers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle. Guess What's Coming to Dinner includes commentary with Moore and writer Michael Angeli. Sine Qua Non includes commentary with Moore and writer Michael Taylor. The Hub includes commentary with Moore, co-executive producer Jane Espenson, editor Michael O'Halloran and supervising editor Andrew Seklir. Revelations includes commentary with Moore, Weddle, Thompson and editor Julius Ramsay. Also included are some 10 minutes with of deleted scenes from all the episodes (including three Blu-ray exclusive deleted scenes), 4 featurettes (The Journey, Cylons: The Twelve, Season 4.5: The Untold Story - Untold and The Music of Battlestar Galactica) and a Caprica Sneak Peek. You also get The Oracle and Battlestar Actual viewing modes.
S4.5 - Disc One includes Sometimes a Great Notion, the broadcast version of A Disquiet Follows My Soul, the A Disquiet Follows My Soul: Extended Version (10 minutes longer), The Oath and Blood on the Scales, all with Moore podcast commentary. Deleted scenes are available for Sometimes a Great Notion, The Oath and Blood on the Scales (16 minutes). There a featurette in full HD (The Journey Ends: The Arrival), one in SD but full 5.1 audio (Evolution of a Cue) and the What the Frak is Going On with Battlestar Galactica? "superfast" recap video some of you might remember from SciFi.com. There's also a hidden Easter egg [Editor's Note: It's a 2-minute video on music editing - click RIGHT from the Evolution of a Clue selection to find it.], The Oracle and Battlestar Actual viewing modes, BD-Live access and the Battlestar Galactica: Ultimate Battle BD-Live Card Game.
S4.5 - Disc Two includes the episodes No Exit, Deadlock, Someone to Watch Over Me, the broadcast version of Islanded in a Stream of Stars and the Islanded in a Stream of Stars: Extended Version (20 minutes longer), all with Moore commentary. The Islanded in a Stream of Stars: Extended Version also has commentary with star (and episode director) Edward James Olmos. Deleted scenes are available for No Exit, Deadlock and Someone to Watch Over Me (21 minutes). You get 11 more David Eick Video Blogs (46 minutes) including No Retreat, No Surrender, The Hatch, The Fifth is Among Us, Action Please, Hanging in the Background, Some Guy Named Colin, Part II, A Cylon 'Til the End, Inserts, Action & FX, Documenting Battlestar Galactica, Life on a Cylon Battleship and Favorite Battlestar Galactica Moment. And there's also The Oracle and Battlestar Actual viewing modes.
Last but not least, S4.5 - Disc Three closes out the set (and the series) with the multi-part series finale, including the broadcast versions of Daybreak: Part 1 and Daybreak: Parts 2 & 3, as well as a combined Daybreak: Extended Version of all three episodes presented as one (via seamless branching - it's 30 minutes longer). All include Moore podcast commentary, and the Daybreak: Extended Version features a bonus commentary with Moore and Eick. There are 6 minutes of additional deleted scenes and a trio of HD featurettes (70 minutes in all, including the 5-part A Look Back, ...And They Have a Plan and the Blu-ray exclusive The Musicians Behind Daybreak). Finally, there's Battlestar Actual again and the Blu-ray exclusive What the Frak Happened to You? HD viewing mode on the Daybreak: Extended Version.
Whew! That's a LOT of content.
Unfortunately, the 10-part Face of the Enemy webisode series is missing here for some unknown reason (possibly disc space). We've checked with Universal and the studio IS aware that people want it, so we're told that it will be made available on disc at some point in the future. We'll keep you up to date on this. Sadly, also missing is The Making of Battlestar Galactica: Razor featurette that was available exclusively on a Best Buy DVD bonus disc - that's a real shame because it's pretty great. So if you have that bonus disc, don't get rid of it.
A few other items are missing from the box set as a whole, though they were never available on DVD, including additional Sci-Fi.com blogs and some of the exclusive writer's room and "frak party" podcast commentaries. Also not here are most of the "recap" TV specials (Battlestar Galactica: The Story So Far, Battlestar Galactica: Revisited and Battlestar Galactica: The Phenomenon) and the two finale specials (Battlestar Galactica: The Top 10 Things You Need to Know and Battlestar Galactica: The Last Frakkin' Special). That's a bummer - especially The Last Frakkin' Special, which included a lot of great behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew on the end of the series. It would be great if Universal gathered all those specials up (including the two Lowdown specials that launched the series) along with The Face of the Enemy webisodes and released them on bonus disc of some sort (mail-in perhaps, or a BD-Live online reward?) to accompany this box set. Yeah, I know... unlikely. But still a good idea. A featurette on the show's special effects work (and team) would have been cool too, but what are you going to do? I do have to give the studio a LOT of credit for the new bonus content included for Blu-ray - ESPECIALLY the new deleted scenes and extended episodes. Even if you've seen the entire series as broadcast, the three extended episodes from Season Four essentially include more than an hour of new Battlestar that you haven't seen yet. That's a real treat - like rollin' the hard six!
In terms of the new BD-Java and BD-Live interactive features, I've played around with the PIP viewing modes and the various on-screen text/graphics and trivia options (The Oracle, Battlestar Blips and Battlestar Actual). All work very smoothly, though I suspect you'll want to check them out once or twice at most, as most of this information is stuff that fans will already know. I haven't tried the trivia games or the BD-Live card game, but I have little doubt that they'll work as advertised, and I'm looking forward to giving them a shot.
Among the new featurettes on Season Four, there are few standouts. The Journey Ends: The Arrival is a retrospective look back at the finale and the series as a whole, featuring the interview comments of many of the show's cast and crew. Evolution of a Cue and The Musicians Behind Daybreak cover the work of composer Bear McCreary - the latter is a very nice glimpse at the recording of the finale score with a full orchestra. The 5-part A Look Back covers a number of interesting aspects of the series, including Moore's original show "manifesto" (that convinced Olmos to join the cast), Richard Hatch's perspective on having been involved with BOTH Battlestar series, and the stylistic contributions of director Michael Rymer among other things. And for those of you eagerly awaiting the DVD and Blu-ray release of Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, which will complete the series later this year (and will be broadcast on the newly rebranded SyFy in November), the ...And They Have a Plan featurette gives you a nice little taste of it.
Universal's packaging for the set is at once very cool and sturdy... and also a bit unwieldy. The top half of the case lifts up on a central core, which allows you access all-cardboard "packs" (containing the Blu-rays or DVDs) around the outside - one pack per season. The packs look good at first glance. Each has a lid secured by Velcro that you lift open to reveal the discs. The inside of the packs is a little dicey though - at first I thought mine had been damaged, as the cardboard seems a little crunched up. Turns out, it's meant to be that way to hold the discs securely. Which is good. My concern is that the discs are a little hard to get out, and over time the packs could be damaged. That's a fairly minor complaint. A more important concern, however, is that there's no disc/episode guide or booklet anywhere on or in the packaging. That means it's difficult to know which particular disc any given episode is found on, making it tough to quickly find them - a major inconvenience. [Editor's Note: I addressed this by moving my discs to a binder with CD/DVD storage sleeves, and printing inserts for each disc that listed the episodes and extras - I've made a zip file of the inserts available here in Word 97-2003 .doc format (Arial Narrow font) for you to print for your own use.] That issue aside, however, this packaging is a helluva lot better than the HD-DVD version, and I (think I) like it better than the DVD cases too. I'll take it.
One other packaging note: Accessible via a clear plastic lid inset into the top of the case, is an empty space containing a toaster! Well... a replica Cylon Centurion figure at any rate - a nice touch. The figure itself is very nicely detailed and highly articulated too. Here's what the whole box looks like all opened up (see images below). As you can see, this is the DVD version pictured, but the Blu-ray is identical save for the amount of discs (and the printing on their labels). Personally, I'm thinking about taking the figure out and setting him on my office shelf, then using the empty space to store other discs - the series' soundtrack CDs (from La La Land Records ), those bonus DVDs I need to keep, and even DVD-R recordings of the missing content in paper sleeves. (What, like I wasn't going to record that stuff, knowing that it probably wouldn't be on the DVD/BD?! Yes... I am THAT much of a fan.)
Despite its (not insignificant) omissions, Universal's long-awaited Battlestar Galactica: The (Mostly) Complete Series box set is still LOADED with content, much of it new. There's so much content in this set, in fact, that when you crack it open for the first time, your brain locks up just trying to figure out what to look at first! The simple fact is, this series is absolutely PERFECT for the Blu-ray format - there's just no better way to experience it. Yeah, the set's not cheap. But if you're a diehard knuckle-dragger like me, and you can get it on sale, it's well worth it. You'll treasure every minute of this bad boy. I absolutely cannot WAIT to start re-watching this series from the beginning again. Hell, I'm probably in the middle of an episode even as you read this! If you've been waiting for this box to start watching the show for the first time, boy do I envy you! Forget the silly name and the sci-fi trappings - TV drama just doesn't get much better than this. Battlestar on Blu-ray is the frakkin' BOMB!
Bill "D-Bits" Hunt