Executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick had their work cut out for them when they decided to take on the daunting task of giving 'Battlestar Galactica' an update for the 21st century. It was a huge gamble, as remakes rarely overshadow their original counterparts, and tinkering with any franchise that has such a devoted following is bound to be an uphill battle right from the start. So it wasn't surprising that the whole idea of this "reimagining" was initially met with much apprehension, especially from the original's loyal fanbase.
When 'Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries' finally aired, though, it became clear that Moore and Eick knew exactly what they were doing. In fact, it was plain to see their pet project was a labor of love. The new update maintained the same core concept of Glen A. Larson's retro classic (a nearly extinct human civilization is at war with their rebellious cybernetic creations, the Cylons), except this version completely leaves the camp factor behind, and boldly infuses themes of spirituality and morality that really make you think. Not only was the writing compelling and the tension thick, the new 'Galactica' was populated with a stellar cast of complex and incredibly engaging heroes and villains, steering the reboot onto its destined path of becoming the Sci-Fi Channel's flagship series and one of television's most critically-acclaimed character-driven dramas ever.
Season 2 immediately picks up after Season 1's two-part cliffhanger "Kobol's Last Gleaming," with the appropriately named premiere, "Scattered." (Reviewer's Note: Before we go any further, if you haven't already plowed through 'Battlestar Galactica: Season 1' in its entirety, it is strongly recommended that you skip the next paragraph as it does contain spoilers from that finale).
While on Cylon-occupied Caprica by secret orders of President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), Lt. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) has found the artifact foretold to be the key to finding the fabled planet called Earth, and has run into a few unexpected surprises during her quest. Meanwhile, on the planet Kobol, Chief Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), the shifty Vice-President Gaius Baltar (James Callis), and the rest of the scout crew seem to have ended up stranded, with the enemy quickly closing in on their location. Worst of all, as the Cylons poise for another attack, the rippling effects of the assassination attempt on Bill Adama (Edward James Olmos); the military coup d'etat resulting in the arrest of the President and her co-conspirator Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber); and the unstable leadership of Acting-Commander Tigh (Michael Hogan) have left the entire fleet vulnerable and in utter turmoil.
Similar to the way the final season of the series was split in half due to the infamous writers' strike, this season was also divided by a three-month scheduling hiatus when initially broadcast. Because of this, 'Battlestar Galactica: Season 2' essentially has not one, but two-finales: the two-part "Lay Down Your Burdens" that leads into the third season, and the mid-season episode "Pegasus." It is this episode where things get frosty, as it introduces us to the icy Admiral Helena Cain (played by the rock-solid Michelle Forbes) that later had her own spinoff TV movie 'Battlestar Galactica: Razor.' Without going into too many details, Cain and her tricked-out warship reunite with the fleet, and at first there is much rejoicing, especially since a few hundred more souls and a ton of extra firepower is a definite boon to the remaining human survivors. Cain, however, rules her ship with an iron fist and holds a relentless personal grudge towards the Cylons. She wants them all wiped out, and won't let anything stand in her way. As you might guess, her hardnosed stance only opens up a whole can of worms, forcing some to draw lines in the sand and venture deep into the darkest corners of humanity.
We also learn a little bit more about the Cylons, that, up until now, have practically been completely shrouded in mystery. All we really knew about them was that they are hellbent on annihilating those who had enslaved their kind, and have upgraded themselves with a dozen "skin job" human models (and only about ¼ of them have been exposed so far). As expected, 'Battlestar Galactica: Season Two' will expose more of these impostors, and in between the lulls there's a constant guessing game that magnifies the suspense and intrigue. What's more, we gather a couple puzzle pieces to their nefarious plan in "The Farm," but my favorite episode, "Downloaded," is the first time we ever get to see things entirely from their perspective. This machine's eye view, on top of the gripping performances of Tricia Helfer and Grace Park, is the turning point that really allows us to start to empathize with their characters in spite of all the terrible things they've done.
If Season 2 hits any speed bumps, I will say that a couple of episodes, particularly 'Epiphanies' and 'Black Market,' aren't quite on the same page as the rest of the series. Even Moore acknowledges that expanding the season meant an increase in workload, and this in turn placed a little too much strain on the writers. I actually thought 'Black Market' was interesting since it delved into the murky territory of illegal smuggling, but in the grand scheme of things, these episodes did seem slightly disconnected from the rest of the pack. With that said, though, it still isn't enough to affect my overall opinion of this wild adventure, and 'Battlestar Galactica: Season 2' is one hell of a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Battlestar Galactica: Season 2' contains the full run of twenty episodes on five BD-50 Blu-ray Discs that come housed inside a plastic/cardboard digipack. After selecting any of the episodes on the first disc, a forced minute and a half introduction featuring Ronald D. Moore will be activated, although it can be skipped by using the remote. The discs are also reported to be region free and therefore should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
(The episodes included on the five discs are: "Scattered," "Valley of Darkness," " Fragged," "Resistance," "The Farm," " Home: Part 1," " Home: Part 2," "Final Cut," "Flight of the Phoenix," " Pegasus," "Resurrection Ship: Part 1," and "Resurrection Ship: Part 2," "Epiphanies," "Black Market," "Scar," "Sacrifice," "The Captain's Hand," "Downloaded," "Lay Down Your Burdens: Part 1," and "Lay Down Your Burdens: Part 2.")
"The difference is my flaws are personal. Yours are professional."
If you've seen the first season of 'Battlestar Galactica' or read my comprehensive complete series review, then you're probably already aware that the show doesn't exactly sparkle on Blu-ray and really was never meant to. Even so, Universal must have had some concerns that some viewers might still be put off by the picture as Moore's introduction addresses that the presentation is as he intended, and further reinforcing this is another notice similar to the common firmware messages. It says:
"The Blu-ray release of Battlestar Galactica accurately preserves the artistic intentions of the creators. The stylized visual elements within certain scenes are intentional and faithful to the broadcast presentation of the television show."
While there's a significant bump in clarity from the miniseries that was shot on film compared to the rest of the series that was all recorded in high-definition, aside from a change in codecs (the 1080p 1.78:1 framed transfer switches from VC-1 to an AVC MPEG-4 encode for Season 2), the differences between the first two seasons are negligible.
First and foremost, the image has been treated with extensive amounts artificial grain to bring a certain level of grittiness to the picture, and it is pretty inconsistent throughout. Some scenes have a very light application and others have a much heavier sheath of noise. The noisier sections tend to be a little flatter, but other instances such as Baltar's dream interludes with Number Six are absolutely pristine with tremendous "pop."
Color saturation and contrast also fluctuate depending on the locales. The palette for most of the interiors aboard both Battlestars are mainly cold and dark comprised of steely blues, grays, and blacks; the stretches taking place on Cylon-occupied Caprica are much brighter due to the jacked up contrast--glowing with intense yellows, oranges, and whites on top of the splashes of vibrant greenery found in the forests; and finally near the end of the season the arrangement changes yet again to a much bleaker, heavily washed-out appearance. Black levels are nicely deep most of the time, although the grain/noise can occasionally hinder large patches like the vast expanses in space. Delineation and sharpness are impressive, bringing out all the intricate lines and textures of facial features as well as the hulls of the ships. Many details that were completely obscured by murkiness on the DVDs are now visible here, too. Like I've said before, these Blu-rays are like a whole new adventure.
As for technical nitpicks, I did notice a bit of color banding and halos, as well as some minor artifacting and edge enhancement. However, many these cases are often masked by the stylized visuals and are hardly an issue.
In the end, those who despise grain may have some complaints with the way 'Battlestar Galactica' looks, but otherwise the majority of viewers should be pleased with this incredibly accurate presentation.
"This is Pegasus Actual..."
As with the entire series, 'Battlestar Galactica: Season 2' features a very robust and dynamic lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that will surely have most viewers grinning from ear to ear.
The soundfield fully encompasses the listening area with strong and convincing effects as well as pinpoint directionality. The stirring resistance engagements on Caprica and the raging starship battles in space are obviously the main highlights here, delivering distinct gunfire and riveting explosions from all angles. Even subtler noises like the background ambience within the planetary forest or the creaking hulls of Battlestars are just as authentic and impressive. Bass certainly is highly active during the chaotic action and also has a strong presence within Bear McCreary's incredible score. The thunderous percussions add a lively jolt of intensity all by themselves. Dialog remains clear and well-prioritized, though as I mentioned in my other reviews every once in awhile it can sound slightly distant depending on the scene, but that still is a minor nitpick at best. The fact is, there aren't all that many shows (or movies for that matter) on Blu-ray that can top the thrilling audio presentation of 'Battlestar Galactica' -- it's that amazing.
The Blu-rays in this set also include optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Ronald D. Moore certainly doesn't skimp on the supplements, either, providing a total of eighteen audio commentaries (every episode except 'Fragged' and 'Flight of the Phoenix'), nearly two hours of deleted scenes, and more. Here's the complete breakdown:
I never grow tired of revisiting Ronald D. Moore's reimagining of the 1970s sci-fi classic, and 'Battlestar Galactica: Season 2' contains many of my personal favorite episodes from this stellar award-winning series. The Blu-rays in this set are identical to the ones already on the market from the box set, having faithful video, bombastic audio, and a heaping supplemental package that will easily keep hardcore fans busy for days. Obviously Universal's Complete Series release is the best bang for the buck, but for those who may already own the first season on Blu-ray/HD-DVD or just prefer buying individual seasons then this release still comes highly recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.