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Blu-ray Review: Battlestar Galactica – Season Three

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Although the complete series has been out on Blu-ray for quite a while, the individual seasons from Ron Moore and David Eick’s reboot of the Battlestar Galactica franchise have been casually trickling out. Season three has now sauntered on to shelves, delivering some of the most pivotal episodes of the series. Let’s take a look at this latest hi-def installment. (I’ve tried to keep things generalized below, for the benefit of those who may still be working their way through the series, but there are still mild spoilers ahead.)

The Season

Watching a season of Battlestar Galactica can feel like you’ve just had a crash course in mechanics, sociology, political science, and The Art of War all rolled into one. In space. It’s incredibly dense material, both in the amount of story and character development that it packs into each episode, but also in just the sheer mass of topics and current events that it alludes to. Tensions during a time of war, treatment of prisoners, struggles between classes, clashes between races and cultures… yeah, not too much we can relate to there.

And although all of that is par for the course with this show, season three seems to ratchet it up just a few more notches, until the already strained tensions between the characters and sub-plots feel like they will all collectively snap at once. It is a hairy, soul-examining group of episodes that deals with tough issues, tougher circumstances, and has a nasty habit of not sparing its characters with tidy resolutions to situations, and sometimes even with their lives. But if you’ve slogged through the first and second seasons, then you should know by now that we’ve always been in for a perilous journey.

There are two main thematic threads that run through this season. The first is the more obvious, and that is the continued struggle that the humans have against the Cylons. It comes in various forms though, as things open with the settlement on New Caprica and the police state that the Cylons usher in; yet we see it later as the battle is again brought back into space and ultimate and decisive no-holds-barred war is waged. But even within these different settings, the other theme continues to rear its messy head, and that is the not-so-simple question of ‘in whom or what can I trust?’ The two themes intertwine continually, and on both sides of the conflict, especially as we see Cylon members suddenly having to deal with their own mortality. Loyalties and rationale for actions become less concrete than they have been in the past. David Eick comments in one of his video blogs that one of the hallmarks of the series as a whole, but also primarily this season, is the two races noticing commonality between them. And instead of bringing them together, it often just illuminates some dark hearts and motives.

The acting and character development remains impeccable. President Roslin’s character stays a frail pillar of strength, Commander Adama, while not without his demons, becomes even more the – at times perilously unflinching – backbone of the fleet, and Kara/Starbuck’s complicated persona becomes greatly moreso as the season develops. This is also the season where Gaius Baltar becomes much more pivotal than his previously spineless actions might indicate.

The weight of the previous seasons certainly doesn’t let up, and in fact it seems to magnify with these episodes. There are some very unpleasant realities shown and decisions made. But the sheer broken humanity of these realities and decisions is also what elevates the show to something more than a mindless escape. It brings to the surface a lot of uncomfortable topics and forces its characters to act. It’s a lot like life, actually. In space.

Video/Audio

BSG again leaps to Blu-ray with a very solid transfer, or what we might call “appropriate.” Yes, there are copious amounts of grain on the image, and yes, there are scenes that can go from noisy to soft-focus in the same shot. But this is the look of the show, and its been faithfully transferred over, grit and all. Although the picture itself would probably receive a very good rating, the transfer is, all things considered, exactly what it should be.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless audio track is certainly the best I’ve heard for a television show, and gives the majority of movies a frakkin’ run for their money. The sound designers went all out in exploring the entire sound field. Your rear channel speakers will awake from their usual slumber with very active involvement. This is most notable in battle sequences, but Bear McCreary’s excellent score for the series simply shines here. The Blu-ray set features crisp dialogue, sound effects reined in to appropriate proportion and an expertly spaced soundtrack. There are no complaints with the audio, except for Edward James Olmos’ sometimes barely audible mumbles.

Bonus Materials

One of the primary supplemental items for season three is the webisode series “The Resistance” (SD, 26:24). It involves the back-story for one of the very early and shockingly dramatic moments on New Caprica. Although a bit rough in the storyline department, it does help to flesh out some of the minor characters that play important roles during a couple of key episodes.

There are Deleted Scenes (SD, 69:16) spread out over all five discs and for practically every episode. The effectiveness of the scenes vary, and many seemed to be trimmed out for good reason. However, there are some very interesting scenes concerning Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, and her building states of internal conflict throughout the season.

“Unfinished Business” (HD, 70:11) receives the extended episode treatment, with a full 25 extra minutes of footage. Unfortunately, this cut simply does not work. Not only is much of the extra footage extraneous dialogue that was wisely trimmed down or edited out, but the pacing and revelation of events is completely changed, and not for the better. All hail the editors because the final cut was far more effective and dramatic.

Although there are “proper” commentary tracks for a few of the episodes within the set, the Podcast Commentaries from Ron Moore – included for all episodes – are the unsung hero of the bonus section. The most interesting aspect of them is to hear Ron talking about each episode, not months or years afterwards for a video release, but back when they first aired and the creation of them was still very fresh in mind. They contain unedited musings and trivia, as well as the requisite “here’s what was going on at the time” background, but they excel in being very candid and honest with viewers as intelligent peers.

“David Eick’s Video Blogs” (SD, 76:11) is a series of installments put together by David Eick, where he hosts some behind-the-scenes looks into the making of the show, and then turns the cameras back on those involved with making the series. The tone is kept very light and fun, while still also providing some backstage information. When taken as a whole, it serves as a more proper and interesting behind-the-scenes featurette, involving lots of crew and candid actor moments.

There are two Interactive modes that can be accessed, offering extended information during episodes. “The Oracle” is a feature that provides a pop-up widget throughout episodes that lets you explore a particular character or ships in the series. “Battlestar Blips” are pop-up items of trivia and interest scattered throughout the episodes. Both modes quickly lose their novelty factor and become more distracting than helpful.

A few games are also included. The “Colonial Military Assessment Quiz” is a surprisingly challenging trivia quiz, while the “Battlestar Galactica Trivia Challenge” and “Battlestar Galactica: Ultimate Battle Card Game” are additional activities that can be accessed via BD-Live (as well as a login to Universal’s BD-Live network).

Conclusion

Season three is simultaneously one of the most satisfying and tense of the series. There are some of the best episodes on offer matched up against a genuinely surprising WTFrak season finale. It’s enjoyably draining, as situations grow ever more dire for our human remnant. The technical presentation is once again impressive, making for another great installment in some of the best television in recent memory.

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About David R Perry