Battlestar Galactica is a landmark series for many reasons and this Blu-ray release of Season 4.5 is also very important. Not only is this the final season and the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica, Season 4.5 is the first to appear on it’s own on Blu-ray. Does the format match the high quality of the show itself? Read on to find out.
It is impossible to review this half season without recapping Battlestar Galactica in general. So here is a very quick summation (warning this summation and review is full of spoilers):
Man made the Cylons, a robotic race that was supposed to serve the humans. The Cylons rebelled and a war erupted between man and robot. The Cylons were defeated and an uneasy cease-fire was agreed to. The Cylons then evolved, formed a plan, created human versions, attacked and destroyed the twelve human colonies and only 56,000 humans survived.
The human survivors, protected by the sole warship, the Battlestar Galactica, set forth to find a new home while constantly being harassed by the Cylons. The humans eventually found a refuge; the Cylons then tracked them there and then enslaved them. The humans freed themselves and the search for Earth was begun again.
There are twelve versions of the human Cylons, seven were known and some accepted as crew or taken as prisoners, the other five were hidden. Over time they were revealed and the humans despite overwhelming odds and an uneasy truce with some of the Cylon models found Earth. Once there they discovered that Earth was formerly a Cylon colony and it too was destroyed in the ever repeating conflicts.
With nowhere to go, little hope and all odds still against them Galactica and the remaining survivors try to survive and find a place to call home.
Battlestar Galactica is a one of a kind science fiction show. With a strong cast, interesting premise, quality set pieces and a story we can relate to it pushed all the right buttons when it premiered. Season 4.5 begins with the crew completely demoralized after finding that the Earth they searched for so long is desolate and uninhabitable.
Over the course of this season much happens that is pivotal to the further development and cohesion of the characters and how they relate to each other. In particular during the mutiny on Galactica (spearheaded by one of my favorite characters, such a shame) Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) and Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) demonstrate that their friendship is stronger and deeper then the fact that Tigh is a Cylon. This is pivotal to the remainder of the season as Tigh is the only hidden Cylon that doesn’t let that fact change his position on Galactica.
Other characters have significant roles and revelations. Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama (Jamie Bambar) decides to become a delegate on the Quorum and then acting president as President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) succumbs to sorrow and her cancer. Apollo’s decision to shift from the military to lead his people politically is significant as he decides to step out from his father’s shadow and shape his life and future more directly.
Others like Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) struggle to discover who they are and why they continue to have strange insights and experiences. Starbuck again is pivotal in helping protect the future of humanity and is plagued by doubts in the process. Starbucks eventual fate and what she does for Galactica and the fleet leans far too heavily on the spiritual for my liking, but that is what we have in the end and I can accept and even enjoy that.
This season was also very action heavy, with large close quarters battles during the mutiny as well as an extremely well done battle against the Cylon colony. Over the course of the four seasons of Battlestar Galactica we have had some great watershed moments, but that final battle when Galactica and its crew literally fought to their last breath if necessary was stunning to watch.
After defying many overwhelming odds in the end the Fleet led by Galactica finally finds a refuge and freedom from the Cylons. How it was accomplished was brilliant in many ways and flawed in others. The series over its course pulled spirituality into the story heavily, first with the twelve colonies' Gods and then with the Cylons’ One God. There is nothing wrong with blending spirituality into story; it is when that spirituality becomes the easy answer. I honestly don’t know how else they could have ended things, at least it fit with the overarching theme, and we were given a definitive ending, which is satisfying.
Battlestar Galactica has always been well acted and deep set of stories, this half season is no exception, and in fact I would say it is the strongest of the run. With all hope and literally their world (Galactica) falling down around them all the cast had to show large ranges of emotion in very trying circumstances and they pulled it off brilliantly. Many shows have that one character you love to hate, Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis), is that character and it is a testament to the writing and acting that Baltar remained an engaging foil for many of the characters to the very end.
It is bittersweet to see this outstanding series end, on one hand it will leave a void for strong well produced science fiction on television, on the other we can be grateful it ended without being bled dry for many years. The final half season is a must watch for the fans of the series and ends the run as strongly as it began with a satisfying conclusion and footnotes for all of the beloved characters.
Battlestar Galactica appears on Blu-ray for the first time in this release and the episodes are prefaced with a video from creator Ronald Moore who explains this is how Battlestar Galactica was meant to be seen. This 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is gritty, grainy, dark and imperfect and I think that is exactly what they wanted to convey. You can see the heavy grain and soft filters in many of the scenes, at times the grain is distracting and makes the action look very harsh.
I don’t really have a problem with the grain and muddy look, but I do have an issue with the imperfect blacks at times. This is an epic space opera and when you have dark grey instead of black it takes away from the scene somewhat. Aside from that the colors are great, the blues of the uniforms look outstanding and flesh tones are spot one. When aboard Cylon ships the metallic edges and reds/blues look vibrant and appropriate.
The image is striking at times though and small details stand out clearly in every scene. The lighting is very dynamic in this series and the tone of scenes changes with the lighting, sometimes with outstanding results, other times they become muddier. Regardless Battlestar Galactica looks amazing on Blu-ray, the grain, noise and soft lighting just works for the series even though it means this will never be a reference quality series.
The audio in this Blu-ray release is a real treat, presented as a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track the sound in this release will impress anyone with a system to enjoy it. The mix is truly amazing especially when there is an action heavy episode. Guns have a truly loud and dangerous sound, panicking people run all around you, and Centurions walk with loud ominous clanks.
The surround effects are very well implemented with rear channels getting a lot of love. Bullets whiz by, people yell from appropriate directions and ships fly by with deep rumbles from their engines. This mix was obviously arranged with care and it shows. Further enhancing the feel is the outstanding score provided by Bear McCreary. His consistent musical themes echo through your living room and the persistent use of "All Along the Watchtower" (in many different forms) is beautiful and haunting.
Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand but seems to be tacked on at times. Not sure if this is overdubbing or just the way it is layered but at times the dialogue seems separate from the environmental noises and that is the only thing pulling this mix from a perfect score.
"Wow" is all I can say when discussing the supplements spread across the three discs for Season 4.5 of Battlestar Galactica. Each and every disc is packed with commentaries, podcasts and featurettes that flesh out the series even more. Most of the content involves commentaries by creator Ronald Moore and that is a good thing. He is passionate, dynamic, involved and interesting to listen to. All of the content (more then 10 hours worth)is worthwhile and a must watch/listen for Battlestar Galactica fans.
- Podcasts by Ronald Moore – Every episode has a podcast that Ronald Moore recorded. Some are more casual, some seem recorded in his kitchen, but all are very good and give great insight into the narrative, his techniques and motivation for the series.
- U-Control – The Universal branded option that allows pop-ups during episodes is presented with two options. "The Oracle" provides an interactive guide to the characters, ships and details about the series as you are watching the episodes. " Battlestar Actual" pops up occasional definitions and information about the fictional BSG universe. Disc three has a unique U-Control option called What the Frak happened to you, this one presents images and details concerning all the main characters so you can get a refresher on their roles.
- BD-Live – Not a great implementation so far (hopefully more content is added) but this online feature called "Battlestar Galactica: Ultimate Battle" is a strategic card game. While playing the game you can, collect, trade and battle using virtual collector cards. It is a bit clunky but a bold attempt at original content.
- Extended Episode of "Disquiet Follows My Soul” (HD) – This extended episode has fully fleshed out deleted scenes adding to the depth of the episode. It also features a full length and great commentary by Ronald Moore. As stated about his podcasts he is a great person to listen to, he is honest, self critical and direct about the show and the episodes he is discussing.
- The Journey Ends: The Arrival (HD) – A very nice reflection on the series coming to an end. The main cast and crew discuss how the show affected them professionally and personally and how they see the series as it ends.
- Deleted Scenes ("No Exit," "Deadlock," and "Someone to Watch Over Me") (SD) – Presented in a windowed SD format these unfinished scenes sometimes flesh out characters, other times extend a transition, but they are well worth watching.
- The Evolution of a Cue (SD) – Series composer Bear McCreary discusses how a musical cue is created, from the first thoughts right to post production. An incredibly in-depth look at making music for the show and it is a great feature.
- What the Frak is Going On with Battlestar Galactica? – An extremely funny recap of the entire run of the show, the narrator is hilarious and pokes fun at the show with little remorse. This is possibly the best feature in the entire collection.
- Extended Episode of "Islanded in a Stream of Stars” (HD) –Edward James Olmos, series star and sometimes director, adds a commentary to this extended episode. The commentary is not as full as Ronald Moore’s tend to be, but it is a nice track and fits the episode well.
- David Eicks Video Blogs – A nice set of eleven video blogs captured by Executive Producer David Eicks. It is nice to see the running themes as he blogs and the sense of family and pride for the series.
- Deleted Scenes ("Sometimes a Great Notion," "The Oath," and "Blood on the Scales") (SD) – Again presented with little visual effects and windowed these scenes still bear watching.
- Extended Episode of " Daybreak” (HD) – My favorite extended episode as it is all three parts linked in one episode with commentary from Ronald Moore, David Eicks and director Michael Rymer. The additional scenes are minimal, but effective in this nearly 3 hour episode. The commentary as usual is stellar and makes watching the episodes a second time very enjoyable.
- A Look Back (HD) – A fun look back at the show from planning and casting to plot twists and cliffhangers. Any fan of the series will love this feature as much as I did.
- …And They Have a Plan (HD) – A short promo for the next BSG direct to video movie – The Plan.
- Deleted scenes – Again presented in SD without effects these scenes are not tagged to an episode (but astute viewers can figure it out), still well worth watching.
- The Musicians Behind 'Daybreak’ – Who thought music documentaries could be so great? This second feature on music looks at the musicians, instruments and themes that made Battlestar Galactica resonate with so many people. Watching this made me realize how much the great music enhanced many of the scenes.
The Final Word
There is not much I can say here; Battlestar Galactica was a phenomenal show and a defining one for the genre and decade. This first presentation on Blu-ray is top notch with great visuals, amazing audio and a huge amount of extras that are all worthwhile. Add to the fact that it is the series finale package and it progresses and ends with class, finesse and style and you have one of the best television Blu-ray releases in a long time.