The Complete Series
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All photos © NBC Universal
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
umans create Cylons.
Cylons destroy most of humanity in a nuclear holocaust.
The survivors run from the Cylons in a creaky old spaceship, looking for the fabled planet Earth.
It’s funny, but for as complex a show as it often is, “Battlestar Galactica” can still be boiled down to the bare bones with those three sentences. Probably the greatest triumph of the series, though, is that it’s built around the two topics which are considered taboo for cocktail parties and dinner conversation: religion and politics. It’s entirely possible that such a series could only be successful under the banner of science fiction, and yet “Galactica” only uses the sci-fi label as a ruse to tell the kind of stories it wants to tell. Read between the lines: the show really isn’t like any other TV science fiction that’s come before it.
Of course, devotees of the original 1978 incarnation would be all too happy to explain how, without the groundwork Glen Larson laid, Ron Moore’s new version never could have existed. They may be right, but none of that would change the fact that, even as a “Star Wars” lovin’ kid, I always hated the ‘70s version. Even though it only lasted one season, it felt like it was on forever, a perception likely exacerbated by the God-awful “Galactica 1980” series which followed it for a half a season. Somewhere out there, no doubt, there’s a kid who had the exact same reaction to the new version of the series, but that’s not because it’s bad. It’s because this isn’t a show for kids. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone under the age of 12 finding much of anything to enjoy about it. The stench of the original series stuck with me so thoroughly in my adult life, however, that it wasn’t until the second season was well under way that I broke down and gave the remake/reimagining/rehash a chance on DVD – mostly because it had been recommended to me over and over, and I figured I ought to give it a chance. Obviously, this anecdote has a predictable outcome: the show was actually good. No, it was better than good: it felt transcendent. Much of my reaction was due to watching it on DVD, and now that the entire thing is available in one massive package, you too can experience it on DVD or Blu-ray, which is by far the best way to imbibe in this show’s wares.
This cannot be stressed enough, as I eventually – beginning with Season Three – found myself watching the show on Sci Fi (now, SyFy), and it’s a terrible program to view from season to half season, week to week, and cut up with commercials. The damn thing is so labyrinthine in its plotting and so cinematic in its presentation that, when it would take six months (or more) off, it was all too easy to forget all the details along the way, and coming back to it from an extended break was a huge chore.
To you who are reading and have never watched this show but now plan to through this DVD set, I envy you, because you’ll likely have a much richer experience than I did.
None of this is to say that “Battlestar Galactica” is a perfect series. It certainly feels perfect for the first couple seasons, though, and then, beginning with the third season, it breaks free of the construct of the original series, goes off on an epic sociopolitical commentary, and becomes a bummer of massive proportions. It more often than not continues to be so until the end of the fourth and final season. See, I can handle a depressing sci-fi movie, but a TV series that I’ve got to follow week in and out? It’s the duty of sci-fi to show us the better sides of ourselves, which “Galactica” does, but it just as often shows us the ugly sides, too. The Cylons are supposed to be the bad guys, but there are numerous times in this series that our human protagonists behave so deplorably that I found myself rooting for the Cylons. That’s the kind of show this is. Truth be told, there were times in the fourth season that I just wished everyone on this show – human and Cylon - would just fucking die already (and many of them did).
But then along came the series finale, “Daybreak,” which on DVD is presented in an extended cut that runs a whopping two and half hours. By this point in the series, it seemed impossible for it to deliver a hopeful ending, but that’s exactly what it did – and it didn’t seem forced or shoehorned in by any stretch. We live in the era of divisive TV finales for great TV shows, and “Galactica” was no different in that regard. The finale was loathed by just as many who praised it. This is brought up only to let you know that it’s anyone’s guess as to what your reaction might be, yet there is little that’s ambiguous about the finale, and most of the major questions you may have leading up to it are given reasonably satisfactory answers. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” does not play (instead, they gave us Jimi Hendrix), and the screen does not cut to black. In any case, it’s not really about the destination, it’s about the voyage, and “Galactica” is a seemingly never-ending puzzle of intrigue and suspense over the course of its four seasons.
You may be wondering at this point, “What about the spaceships and robots?” I hear you. The space battles are about as definitive as you can get for television, and they come along every few episodes to shake things up and briefly rescue viewers from the frequently dreary world of the Galactica. As far as the robots go, the Cylons were given a major overhaul for this series, and many of them appear human (although variations of the classic Cylon model from the ‘70s exist as well), which eventually leads us down all sorts of different roads and explorations of identity. The sort of stuff “Blade Runner” tackled over two hours is another running theme throughout the entirety of this show, and the question is often pondered by the human characters, “What if I’m actually a Cylon, and just don’t know it?” There are some surprising answers to that question as the series moves forward, and so, yes, “Battlestar Galactica” must ultimately be classified as science fiction, because only under that banner can you really explore these types of issues. The show is ultimately far more hit than miss, and it’s an easy recommendation for those who missed out on it the first time around. While it’s ratings on Sci Fi were pretty good, they by no means accounted for even close to the majority of TV viewers out there, and chances are you’re one of the uninitiated. If so, go forth and get frakked.
Be aware, however, that this set isn’t quite as complete as it claims: one more made-for-TV movie is coming out this fall called “The Plan.” Director Edward James Olmos claims that after seeing it, you’ll feel the need to go back and watch the entire saga over again, and that’s where this box set will come in mighty handy.
Special Features: The 20-disc Blu-ray edition is loaded with hours upon hours of bonus material, but those upgrading their DVDs to the HD version will notice that they’ve already seen most of the extras on the individual season sets. That will likely be a letdown for longtime fans of the series, but those just jumping in will find everything from deleted scenes and audio commentaries to production featurettes and video blogs. There are also a couple of “fun” extras like the “Are You a Cylon?” personality quiz and the “Battlestar Galactica” career assignment quiz, as well as a retrospective featurette (“The Journey Ends”) and a five-part documentary (“A Look Back”). Universal also makes full use of their U-Control feature by including a picture-in-picture video track for the opening miniseries, a series-spanning digital encyclopedia called “The Oracle,” a pop-up trivia track on Season Three (“Battlestar Blips”), and a glossary of terminology on Season Four (“Battlestar Actual”). The packaging itself is also worth noting, as it not only looks cool sitting on your shelf, but includes your very own frakkin’ toaster figurine. What more could you ask for?