BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: Season 4.5 (Blu-ray Edition)
Universal Studios | 2009 | Not rated | Jul 28, 2009
Written by David Hillyer
August 18, 2009
In 2003 Ronald Moore and David Eick set out to do the unthinkable. They decided to remake a classic science fiction TV series. The fans went crazy. It was sacrilege on the order of Madonna remaking Don McLean's “American Pie”. People were writing venomous letters to the network and studios saying they wanted their old cast members back. But SciFi Channel stuck to their guns and it paid off.
Battlestar Galactica opened to both critical and fan acclaim and they had a big hit on their hands. It had all the sex, violence, and plot twists that any network exec and growing boy without parental supervision would want, plus a lot more. But after four years, it was time to bring it to a close. Thus the Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 Blu-ray box set landed in my mailbox.
This is the last of the series. All the seasons and the mini-series that started it all are available in a massive (and expensive) box set. They are also (or soon will be) available in separate season sets on Blu-Ray.
Season 4.5 is a three-disc set of the final 9 episodes. (Note: Spoilers including major plot points follow)
Disc 1 Episodes:
“Sometimes A Great Notion” (HD 46:42 min.)
Disc 1 Extras:
The fleet and its Cylon allies unite in a search for Earth and discover a devastated world, which casts doubt on the Prophecies of Pythia. Includes audio podcast commentary with executive producer Ronald D. Moore. There are standard definition deleted scenes totaling 7:25 minutes, which are not included in the episode.
“A Disquiet Follows My Soul” (HD broadcast version 43:46, HD directors cut 53:05)
Despite the fact that Dualla's life ended, the Cylon race is on the brink of a new start with the birth of Caprica Six and Saul Tigh's baby. Includes two audio commentary tracks for the original broadcast version and an included extended edition. Commentary is provided by writer, director and executive producer Ron Moore. The extended version has a few added and extended scenes. The two commentaries were recorded several years apart with the broadcast version being the podcast commentary and the directors cut version including a lot more information about directing.
“The Oath” (HD 43:42 min)
Tom Zarek's followers and his conspirator Gaeta begin a rebellion against Adama. Includes audio podcast commentary with executive producer Ron Moore. There are 3:36 minutes of deleted scenes available to view separately in standard definition.
“Blood on the Scales” (HD 43:44 min)
Adama and Saul Tigh are captured again, and Adama is brought to trial for his alleged treason. Includes podcast commentary with executive producer Ron Moore. Standard definition deleted scenes totaling 4:46 minutes are included to view separately some of which are unfinished.
The Journey Ends: The Arrival (HD 12:47) is a recap of events after the writer's strike and the final wrap of the series. All of the major cast and crew are featured.
Disc 2 Episodes:
Evolution of a Cue (HD 23:14) is a step by step process of the music creation. This takes a unique approach of the making of a specific scene musically. This appears to be upconverted from a standard definition source.
What the Frak is going on with Battlestar Galactica? (SD 8:18) is a brilliant irreverent hyperspeed recap of the entire series. “There's a bun in the toaster” is a classic line.
“No Exit” (HD 43:46)
Disc 2 Extras:
Hoping to gain an understanding of the future, members of the Final Five and Kara Thrace listen to Sam Anders' revelations about Earth's past. Ron Moore's podcast commentary is included.
“Deadlock” (HD 43:40)
Humans and Cylons work together to repair the Galactica, but the unexpected return of Ellen Tigh causes a rift between the races. The podcast commentary with Ron Moore is included.
“Someone to Watch Over Me” (HD 43:55)
Galen Tyrol informs Admiral Adama, President Roslin and Lee Adama that Galactica's hull will not withstand many more FTL jumps. The podcast audio commentary with Ron Moore is included.
“Islanded in a Stream of Stars” (HD 43:51, HD directors cut 1:03:06)
As the Galactica continues to deteriorate, a search mission to find Hera, the key to both Human and Cylon survival, is debated. The broadcast version has audio podcast commentary from executive producer Ron Moore. Directors cut commentary is provided by series star and episode director Edward James Olmos. This episode has significant scenes added via seamless branching.
David Eick's Video Blogs (HD 44:47)
Disc 3 Episodes:
11 part video blogs as seen on the Battlestar Galactica website. The video quality looks to be HD but it was not shot with a high-end camera or lighting equipment so is not the same quality as the show. Podcasts cover behind the scenes story writing, Richard Hatch as classic Apollo and Tom Zarek, various Cylon character arcs, background actors, documenting the show and various other interesting pieces. Normally video blogs are pretty boring, but these show a lot of information about things going on behind the scenes that most people don't know. Everything from background actors to favorite moments is documented.
“Daybreak” part 1 (HD 43:44)
Disc 3 Extras:
A trip back in time shows the fleet members' lives before the Cylon attack, and – in the present – Doc Cottle attends to President Roslin, and Lee Adama gives the order for Galactica to be stripped for parts. The audio podcast with executive producer Ron Moore is also available.
“Daybreak” parts 2 & 3 (HD broadcast version 1:36:23, HD unaired extended version 2:32:32)
Knowing that it will probably be the Galactica's final mission, Admiral Adama leads a group of volunteers into a dangerous mission. The attack force sustains heavy causalities, President Roslin succumbs to her illness, and Helo and Atehna prepare for their future. Executive producer Ron Moore again provides his podcast audio commentary for the broadcast version of the show including outing all the smokers in the cast. The extended version has commentary with director Michael Rymer and executive producers David Eick and Ron Moore. The unaired version bring all 3 parts together and adds over 20 minutes to the broadcast version but is a different cut with extended and additional scenes. There are 5:20 minutes of additional deleted scenes in standard definition which don't really add much to the story.
A Look Back (HD 37:05)
A 6 part series discussing the memories of cast and crew from working on the series. It includes clips discussing Ron Moore and David Eick (with various death scene clips), the original mini-series script, variations from script to screen, another Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) clip, religion in the show, and development of the characters.
...And They Have a Plan (HD 4:27)
Shows the origins of the “...and they have a plan” title sequence common throughout the series. It gives a slight sneak preview to the upcoming straight to video release (directed by Edward James Olmos). Many of the unanswered questions from the series will be answered in “The Plan” soon.
The Musicians Behind “Daybreak” (HD 30:29)
Interviews the composer behind the final episode (and series) Bear McCreary. He talks with many of the musicians about the series. He also goes into some of the thoughts behind the orchestration and the rock band sound in the final episode. It is amazing that they recorded over 100 hours of music for the finale. The level of detail and effort involved in creating multi-track battle sequences is amazing.
See episode breakdown above.
Throughout this set, the video quality is usually stunning, but at times simply annoying. There is a statement from Universal at the beginning of each disc, which states: "The Blu-ray release of Battlestar Galactica accurately preserves the artistic intentions of the creators. The stylized visual elements within certain scenes are intentional and faithful to the broadcast presentation of the television show." Unfortunately their “artistic intentions” included an attempt to make the show seem more like an independent documentary. So instead of a pristine HD image as it was shot, on occasion we get a digitally grainy mess that looks like it was shot on a retail store video camera.
I have a healthy respect for creative artistic freedom. But in this case I'd say they crossed a line. When artistic freedom distracts from the greater story, it ceases to have a point. Now, I don't think Ron Moore and David Eick went that far... but I'm at a loss trying to figure out when and why they decided to introduce the grain. Sometimes it’s only on camera #2 in a scene; sometimes it's not. It pains me to think that someone actually sat at a computer editing this series and was told to press the button to add grain to the video. Washed out color pallets on a radiation poisoned Earth is one thing, but deliberately introducing digital noise and grain on an otherwise beautiful scene is something else. Not all independent films and documentaries are grainy. It will be less so as the years go by and everyone has HD equipment. Future viewers will be asking “what the frak?” and it won't be about the story.
The bigger problem is for those of us with HDTV sets with 60Hz refresh rate. As if the digitally introduced grain wasn't bad enough, in many scenes where this digital mess has been thrust upon us we get an unintended even more distracting strobe effect. This tends to happen when there is a mesh background like a chain link fence or curtain. It is barely noticeable on a 120Hz or higher TV. But the majority of viewers have 60Hz and are thus saddled with this strobe effect.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix doesn't disappoint, especially in these final episodes that features some of the biggest and loudest space battles of the series. Every sound is perfectly created from the cannon fire on the Vipers to the FTL spin-up and flash to the Galactica ramming full force into a Cylon base ship. Any reasonable subwoofer will bring down the house on these final episodes. There is also impressive use of the rear channels, especally in the interior ship shot to create a sense of panic and anxiety. You'll feel you are inside the ship with all the conversations and electronics. The only caveat for this mix is that in some instances the dialogue is unable to compete with the rest of the mix and you will have to strain to hear some parts. Overall, the sound design is a triumph to Blu-ray television box sets.
In addition to all of the disc-specific extras discussed above, this box set includes some innovative U-Control features. They are basically popup menus and features showing trivia or background information about scenes, characters, or production. When turned on, a small “u” will be in the lower right corner of the screen. When a scene comes up with U-Control content available, the “u” will expand to include Oracle, Actual or other content. You press the corresponding button on your remote to activate the clip. In this series the clips are called Battlestar Actual. You can also create your own favorite clips as a bookmark.
There are also clips called The Oracle, which are pop-ups with character biographical, quotes, beliefs, and background information. The information changes as the series moves forward so you will only know as much as has been revealed up to that point in the show. The show and the discs are cutting edge and something any fan would gladly add to their collection.
So the story is complete. This is one of the few series that ended when it should. It ended on a high note, when the story was still fresh and exciting. Perhaps the writers of Heroes, Lost and any number of popular shows that ran out of gas should take note. These Blu-Ray Discs are a fitting tribute to everyone that took the risk and worked on the series.
The entire Battlestar Galactica series has stunning visual effects, sweeping musical scores and is everything we would expect from a big budget sci-fi series. But the visuals and sound will not be what the show is remembered for, it will be remembered for the story... and in that, it is epic both in story and achievement. The story is all that matters.