With the release of a new remastered version of 'Battlestar Galactica' on Blu-ray, it may be time for science-fiction fans to finally admit that this series – often maligned as a rather campy Star Wars rip-off – was actually quite a fun and occasionally exciting piece of entertainment. It's been somewhat forgotten due to the darker (and by all accounts superior) reboot series that aired on the SyFy Channel, but going back and viewing these shows again after all this time, I was amazed at how well many of them hold up.
I think one of the reasons the original 'Battlestar Galactica' resonates just as much today as it did back in 1978 is because of the way the premise is set up. A promising civilization of humans on the other side of our galaxy are forced to form a wagon train across the stars after the majority of them are annihilated by a mechanical race of robots called Cylons. Back in 1978, this was just a big action sequence, but in a post-9/11 world, the scenes actually work better today than they ever could back then.
Another reason I believe the original series has aged well is due to the fact that most of the main characters are very open about their religious beliefs, something that probably wouldn't fly on network television today, even though the religion on Battlestar Galactica is more Egyptian in nature than it is Christian. 'Battlestar Galactica' was also very much a family show…often to its detriment (a number of episodes are a little too geared toward younger viewers)…which resulted in characters who actually cared about one another, not the least of whom was Commander Adama (played by the late, great Lorne Greene), a leader not all that different than the father figure he played on the legendary 'Bonanza' TV series.
But the real reason the show holds up as well as it does is the chemistry between the actors – particularly the two primary characters: Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Lt. Starbuck (Dirk Benedict). The two men are so good in their roles, it's really remarkable that neither of them had huge success after the series ended (although Benedict did go on to star in the popular 'The A-Team'). Benedict, in particular, is almost instantly likable in his role – which is obviously patterned after Han Solo, although Benedict makes the character his own – and it's easy to see why he became many fans' favorite character on the show.
This release contains both the original 'Battlestar Galactica' series, and its awful (yes, awful!) follow-up, the 10-episode 'Galactica: 1980'. As you probably already know, most of the entertainment value – with one notable exception – comes from the original series. Although the first season contains its share of misfires (few may want to sit through 'The Lost Warrior' or 'The Young Lords' again), there are some really entertaining stories along the way, including the two-part 'The Living Legend' (during which the Galactica teams up with another Battlestar and its captain (played by Lloyd Bridges)) and 'War of the Gods' (featuring a charismatic religious leader (played by Patrick Macnee) who just might be the Devil incarnate). One of my personal favorite episodes is 'The Man with Nine Lives' – not only because it presents the idea that Starbuck may have a long-lost father, but the fact that that potential father is played by the great Fred Astaire, who turns in a charming performance.
On the other hand, 'Galactica 1980' was a bad idea from the get-go. In an effort to bring the series back for a second season but cut down on the budget, the decision was made to allow Galactica to discover Earth, which would mean far fewer episodes requiring extensive special effects. However, the decision was also made to dispose of actors Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict, who were really the whole reason any of us were watching 'Battlestar Galactica' to begin with. The series is barely watchable, with one nice exception. Perhaps knowing that the final episode would be 'Battlestar Galactica's swan song, the showrunners decided to bring Dirk Benedict back for one final portrayal of his character. 'The Return of Starbuck' tells what happened to everyone's favorite Viper pilot, and it actually turns out to be one of the strongest episodes on this release. It doesn't redeem the disaster that is 'Galactica 1980', but it's a quality wrap-up for the character of Starbuck.
While there's still plenty of 'cheese' to be found in the episodes on this release, I was amazed at how well some of them hold up, and how good some of the acting was – particularly on the original first season. Despite its age and flaws, I can't imagine any fan of the show who wouldn't want to have this set in their collection.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Battlestar Galactica: The Remastered Collection' launches onto Blu-ray in a pair standard Elite keepcases, both of which slide inside a study black and silver cardboard slipcase. The widescreen version of the original series consists of six 50GB Blu-rays, four of which are held on a pair of pastic hubs inside its case. The flip-side of the slick for the original series – seen from inside the keepcase – contains a list of episodes (with a short synopsis) and bonus features for each of the six discs. The keepcase for the 'Galactica 1980' series is similar to the design for the original series, with the exception that the keepcase houses just two 50GB Blu-rays. Also like the original series, the flip-side of the slick for the 'Galactica 1980' keepcase contains a listing and synopsis for each episode and what disc they are on.
There are no front loaded trailers on any of the discs. All the discs in this set go directly to their main menus after the Universal logo, and the menus feature a single piece of artwork, with 'Battlestar Galactica's showing the characters of Starbuck and Apollo, while 'Galactica 1980's menu art is more focused on the Cylons and slightly different in design. Menu options are listed down the left side of the screen.
All the Blu-rays in this release are region-free.
In their infinite wisdom, the folks over at Universal believe that no one but loyal fans and purists would ever want to see 'Battlestar Galactica' is its original full frame format (which, by the way, are available in the larger, more expensive Definitive Collection should you wish to splurge for that version), so as part of this remastering of the series, they've created a brand-new 1.78:1 widescreen version of each episode. Despite losing information at the top and bottom of each scene, the widescreen episodes are actually pretty well framed and I was surprised at how good most (but not all) of the series works in the new format.
These new widescreen remasters have been getting a lot of heat from reviewers and fanboys alike since this set has been released. However, what you may not be able to tell from the screenshots posted here is that the widescreen version is actually a pretty good depiction of how the series looked on television – or, at the very least, - how it appeared in the 2003 DVD rendition, as well as VHS releases and syndication airings. These widescreen versions have a slightly washed out look to them, which means they don't have the best of black levels, but actually like the overall color palette we get here.
In terms of glitches, the widescreen versions still contain a lot of dirt and debris on the print, even though according to the bonus materials on this release damaged frames have been repaired (so why not repair all of the problems?). Film grain is present and perhaps a little more evident that it should be, given the zooming in on the original frame (or at least making an area of the image larger than intended) that is a necessity here. Noise is also somewhat of an issue here and there, as is aliasing.
There is also a major problem with the three-part pilot that isn't a factor on the remainder of the episodes. Mainly, there's a big issue with jagged edges/pixilation in the print, and it's hard to figure out why the people who remastered the episodes didn't see it and didn't correct it. It's so bad in some shots that people in the background (see the opening sequence aboard the Battlestar Atlantia) seem to have pixels for skin. Other shots are no so bad, but it's an annoying problem with the over two-hour pilot. The good news is that these problems really only exist in the opening three-parter. Once the series gets to the remainder of the episodes, the issues go away.
All the episodes from the original series feature English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, with no other audio options (other than the commentary track that appears on the three-part pilot). As far as the audio quality of the English tracks on these original episodes, despite being 5.1 lossless tracks, the rears aren't used a whole lot (at least not noticeably), resulting in most of the audio coming from up-front. There are some instances of LFE use along the way, but primarily this is simply audio that sounds crisp and clear but doesn't really provide that immersive feel that the best lossless tracks do.
For the follow-up series, 'Galactica 1980', Universal has given the widescreen episodes lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks, with no other audio options. While the audio here is lossless, it really isn't very dynamic, although it's primarily crisp, clear, and with no notable issues or glitches.
Subtitles are available for both series in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Note: All of the bonus materials listed below are contained on the Original Series discs. There are no bonus materials on the 'Galactica 1980' discs.
While this set has its problems and doesn't really impress with its bonus materials (the majority of which are just ported over from the earlier DVD release), the fact that Universal took the time to remaster 'Battlestar Galactica' at all is surprising, and this set gives viewers a fresh widescreen look to a beloved classic series (and its not-so-beloved 'sequel' series). If you're a fan of 'Galactica', you'll either want to add this to your collection or splurge on the slightly more-expensive Definitive Collection. Recommended.