Note: Some of the text below also appears in our review of Battlestar Galactica: The Remastered Collection.
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 Definitive Collection' launches onto Blu-ray in five separate standard Elite keepcases, all of which slide inside a study red cardboard slipcase. The widescreen and full frame versions of the original series each consist of six 50GB Blu-rays, four of which are held on a pair of pastic hubs inside their respective cases. The flip-side of the slick for both versions (which are identical, other than the fact that one says "Widescreen" and the other "Full Frame") – seen from inside the keepcase – contains a list of episodes (with a short synopsis) and bonus features for each of the six discs. The keepcases for the 'Galactica 1980' series are similar to the design for the original series, with the exception that the widescreen keepcase houses just two 50GB Blu-rays, while the full frame version spreads the 10 episodes across three discs, and the first two in that case are on their own plastic hub (the reason the full frame version has more Blu-rays is most likely due to the fact that there are more audio and subtitle options on the full frame discs, although this is true of the original series as well and those are on an equal number of discs). Also like the original series, the flip-side of the slicks for the 'Galactica 1980' keepcases contain a listing and synopsis for each episode and what disc they are on. Finally, the fifth keepcase in this set is the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray release of the theatrical version of the 'Battlestar Galactica' pilot episodes, which has been available on Blu-ray since 2013. It holds a single 50GB disc, and both the Blu-ray and the keepcase's slick are exactly the same as the stand-alone version already in release.
There are no front loaded trailers on any of the discs, with the exception of the 35th Anniversary theatrical version Blu-ray, which is front-loaded with a trailer for Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome. The 35th Anniversary disc is also the only one that doesn't really have a main menu, as the movie begins after the front-loaded trailer (however, a pop-up menu is available). All the other discs in this set go directly to their main menus after the Universal logo, although the full frame versions ask the viewer to select a language, while the widescreen versions don't give that option (again, this is due to the fact that only English audio is available on the widescreen versions). The menus on each respective series are identical (both series feature a single piece of artwork, with 'Battlestar Galactica' showing the characters of Starbuck and Apollo, while 'Galactica 1980's menu art is more focused on the Cylons), but slightly different in design. The menus for the widescreen version have text options listed down the left side of the screen. However, the menus for the full-frame versions have symbols running across the bottom of the screen, leaving the viewer to figure out which symbol stands for what. The widescreen versions also list the episodes by name in the chapter selection option, while the full frame discs only issue a number to each episode.
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, 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.
Viewers will immediately notice (if you haven't already from the screenshots here) that the full frame version is much more colorful than the widescreen version. What you can't tell from the screenshots here, however, is that the widescreen version is actually a more accurate depiction of how the series appeared on television – or, at the very least, - how it appeared in the 2003 DVD rendition, as well as VHS releases and syndication airings. In my opinion, the full frame versions are more oversaturated than they should be, particularly when it comes to reds and pinks, which don't quite bleed, but come close to it. The widescreen version is slightly more washed out, which means it has weaker black levels than the full frame episodes, but I still prefer the widescreen color palette we get here.
With the above in mind, the full frame versions are much better when it comes to clarity, detail, and overall sharpness. Chances are each individual is going to find a version that he/she prefers and stick with it throughout their viewings. While I would have liked to have seen a full frame version with the colors more along the lines of what is presented in the widescreen episodes, my opinion does not match the overall consensus so far among fans online, who seem to prefer the full frame transfers, and not just because of their original aspect ratio.
In terms of glitches, both the widescreen and full frame 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, not shockingly, much more evident in the widescreen versions. Noise is also somewhat of an issue here and there, as is aliasing. Again, these occurrences are more obvious when watching the widescreen versions.
However, there is a major problem with the widescreen versions of the three-part pilot that the full frame versions do not have. 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 that may make viewers want to jump over and watch the full frame version. 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.
Finally, there's the 35th Anniversary disc, which has been in release for a while and is the same version that's been on the market all along. The image here is the original theatrical 1.85:1 ratio, and is the only disc on this set to be mastered using the VC-1 codec instead of AVC MPEG-4. The color scheme here is very much like the widescreen episodes, and may have been used as a basis for them. While the image does suffer from softness and an overall lack of detail, it does not suffer the heavy aliasing, jagged edges and noise that the widescreen pilot episodes do. However, for those who may be considering just using the theatrical version as a substitution for the widescreen pilot, keep in mind that many scenes have been cut from this version to give it a more reasonable running time, and features a much different fate for the character of Baltar.
All the episodes from the original series on both the widescreen and full frame versions feature English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, with the exception being that the full frame versions also include DTS Digital Surround 2.0 tracks in French, Italian, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin), Brazilian, and Portuguese, while the widescreen discs only contain the English lossless track. There's also a wider range of subtitle options on the full frame versions, as they contain English SDH, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin), Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Japanese, Brazilian, and Portuguese subtitles, while the widescreen discs only offer English SDH, Spanish, and French.
As far as the audio quality of the English tracks on the 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.
More interesting is the audio decision that was made for the follow-up series, 'Galactica 1980'. Instead of offering identical English audio options for both the widescreen and full frame versions, Universal has given the widescreen episodes lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks, but only given the full frame episodes lossy DTS Digital Surround 2.0 tracks. One reason for this may be because while the widescreen versions don't have any additional audio options, the full frame episodes also include DTS Digital Surround 2.0 tracks in French, Italian, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin), Brazilian, and Portuguese. However, Universal has also spread the series across three discs instead of the widescreen version's two, so one would think there would be room for lossless English audio, given the fact that none of the discs contain any bonus materials.
The good news is unless you're a serious audiophile with a sharp ear, you'll be hard-pressed to notice much difference between the 2.0 lossless English track and the lossy one. Both come across as relatively crisp and clear, and while there's nothing outstanding about either version of the tracks, there are no obvious glitches or dropouts, either.
The 35th Anniversary disc features an English 2.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track "with Sensurround," which is an attempt to remind of some of the films Universal released in the 1970s that featured enhanced bass on the movies' soundtracks (the most notable of these releases was 1974's Earthquake). The track here actually reads as 5.1 (or at least it did on my system), although the two rears are completely silent. The rest of the track is primarily mono (with the same sounds coming from the left, right, and center speakers), with occasional LFE rumblings to try and imitate that original "Sensurround" theatrical experience. While this track is far from cutting edge when it comes to what home theaters can do these days, it's still kind of fun to listen to, and dialogue is still clear with no noticeable glitches or dropouts. In addition to the lossless English track, the 35th Anniversary disc also includes a French 2.0 DTS Mono track, plus subtitle options in English SDH and Spanish.
Note: With the exception of 'Battlestar Galactica: Remastered', all the bonus featured listed below are duplicated on both the widescreen and full frame versions of the original series discs. There are no bonus materials on either the 'Galactica 1980' discs or the 35th Anniversary theatrical version disc.
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 the option of watching two very different looking presentations of each of the series' episodes. If you're a fan of 'Galactica', you'll want to add this to your collection. Recommended.