Lots has been written about this series by others more eloquent than me, so it seems contrite to lavish yet more praise on what can only be described as a televisual zenith. But what amazes me is that a show of such high quality acting and writing could be spawned from an original 70s TV franchise that contained little remotely subtle over its entire running time. It’s like someone took Power Rangers and revamped it into a science fiction twist on The Iliad, the re-imagined Galactica is that far from the original work. Don’t get me wrong. The original series had its charms, but it didn’t try to deliver anything approaching the depth of each character’s personal struggle or tangential plot direction changes as portrayed here.
Yet it retains the basic premise: humanity undone by their own technological abilities and facing annihilation at the hands of their own creations. After a devastating attack on the original twelve colonies by the Cylons, the 50,000 or so humans who remain alive are pursued across the galaxy in search of a lost 13th colony mentioned only in ancient mythology, Earth. But it isn’t only the Cylons that shadow them across the universe but their own human weaknesses and failings, which ultimately stand between themselves and the salvation of the human race.
Show runner Ronald D. Moore (Deep Space Nine, among many things) decided when he brought Galactica back to make it as much about the politics of the 21st century as it is about intergalactic adventure. The dark story that unfolds here is one where paranoia prevails about the enemies within and the secrets that many characters keep from even the closest to them.
When the mini-series first screened, the biggest discussion point appeared to be the choice to change some characters’ gender, as both Starbuck and Boomer in the original show were men. Frankly, their characters were so different that their change in gender was pretty irrelevant in retrospect, but the most important diversion was undoubtedly the choice to make Cylons look human. I’m currently working my way through the original series and the metal Centurions in that seem about as threatening as malevolent toasters. They move painfully slowly and they’re easy to destroy for a quick witted human. This is underlined by the fact that their success in routing the humans to begin with is based on deception and numbers, because they’re not as quick or clever as their foes.
Clearly this didn’t ring true for the new narrative, so the Cylons here are much more formidable, and many look and act as humans. To twist that further, some of the Cylons onboard the Galactica aren’t even aware they’re not human, fifth-columnists who don’t even know they’re working for the other side. This entire dimension to Galatica was a masterstroke, because the revelations of who is and isn’t a Cylon as the show progresses entirely changes the viewers’ perceptions and the characters’ motivations.
Anyway, enough about this seminal show; what about the collection? If you thought you’d seen a complete series box set then think again, because this one is on a completely different level to any I’ve experience.
The collection spans twenty Blu-ray discs (BD-50s), which are all packed to the gunnels with all things Galactica including all the episodes in high definition. The only caveat to seeing the shows at 1080p I have is that many scenes inside the Galactica are intentionally grainy, presenting a world engulfed in dark shadows, which in another context I’d read as shoddy filmmaking. However, here it’s exactly like it was intended, but the HD transfer does tend to highlight this more than you might have noticed on the broadcast quality.
What’s actually impressive is how over the entire 4.5 seasons and 75 episodes (plus 27 webisodes) how uniform the overall look is.
Purists might comment that the original chapter looks a little flat compared with the more dynamic saturation of the subsequent seasons, but the difference is marginal to my mind and only obvious if you experience a sequence of them in short order.
What is exceptional is the 5.1 soundtrack they’ve provided, which delivers bold and crisp audio most noticeable in the space battle sequences. But it too has a subtle side with each distinct location having been given an audio identity, from the low guttural hum of the bridge to the echo-enhanced flight deck. Even the silence of space is perforated by the hiss of manoeuvring thrusters and chatter of viper cannons.
The sound production is exceptionally nice, but even it pales into insignificance when confronted by the avalanche of extras that pervade this collection.
I’d list it all but I’d like to take the time to review other things this year, so I’ll just give you a flavour. 27 of the episodes have full commentary tracks, while 57 have full-length podcast commentaries. There are six extended stories including Pegasus, Unfinished Business, A Disquiet Follows My Soul, Islanded In A Stream Of Stars, Daybreak and the excellent unrated long version of Razor.
There are also seven hours of deleted scenes, making the parts of Galactica they chose not to show run longer than some complete series they did show. There are also five hours of behind-the-scenes documentary footage and two hours of video blogs. Overall, there is some highly enjoyable material included. I especially enjoyed the documentary about the use of musical cues and another on the forthcoming direct-to-video Galactica mini-movie The Plan.
That production hints that, while this box set is called ‘The Complete Series’, it won’t actually be complete, and a few aficionados have also pointed out that a few of the existing extras from the various DVD releases have also gone missing in action.
These include a few minor documentaries from the Season 1 DVD release, another from a special release of Razor and a few Sci-Fi Channel commissioned specials. One that they might be able to restore using BD-J functionality is the online 10 episode The Face Of The Enemy, which fleshes out the complex personality of Felix Gaeta.
Even with these omissions I can’t see that any Galactica fan is going to feel short-changed by this collection, because there are many hours of enjoyment beyond the inherent content.
The set in a limited edition tin has an RRP of £159.99, which works out at about only £8 per disc, but I’ve seen it being offered on pre-order for closer to £6 per disc which is a much better offer.
For those who loved the show, and I think the majority of people who watched it fell into that category, then this is a must-have purchase. It just worries me that if Moore finds a taker for his new show, Virtuality, that I’ll be spending yet again in a few years on that collection.
Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series will be released on September 21.