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HTF HD DVD Review: Battlestar Galactica Season One (Recommended)



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#1 of 7 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted December 21 2007 - 02:11 PM

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HD DVD Title: Battlestar Galactica Season 1
Rated: NR
Screen format: 1080P, 1.78:1, VC-1 Encoded HD
Studio: Universal
First theatrical release:
Other DVD or HD Releases:
Director: Michael Rymer
Starring: Mary McDonnell, Edward James Olmos, Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer, James Callis, Katee Sackhofh, Michael Hogan, Aaron Douglas, Tahmoh Penikett
Sound Formats: English Dolby True HD 5.1 & Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 756 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish and French



Plot: 5/5
This box set contains the initial 4 hour miniseries and an additional 13 episodes in what is not a re-imagining of the original (and beloved by me!) 1978 TV series, but a brilliantly executed and much more mature continuation of the mythos. As this series opens, the Cylons and Humans have established a cease fire and the Cylons have not been heard from in decades. Humanity has begun to move on, and the expertise that was gathered in the Cylon conflicts is mostly lost. The great Battlestars are slowly coming to an end of life, and even the mighty Galactica is being decommissioned and turned into a museum.

Unbeknownst to the humans, the Cylons have used this time to develop new technology that allows them to appear like completely real men and women. By infiltrating society so thoroughly they execute a devastating sneak attack that destroys most of the 12 planets and sends those lucky enough to be off planet into hiding. Galactica is the only Battlestar to survive, mostly because of the policies implemented by her Captain, William Adama (Olmos). Humanity initiates a great quest to find the missing 13th colony of Koldor, a mythical lost planet called Earth.

Truth be told I’m not much of a TV nuy, mostly sticking to Movies simply because I find that most of the stuff that’s on the tube either repetitive, dry or just aimed at the lowest common denominator viewership. Somehow BSG escaped my attention and this is my first exposure to the show, and I was excited to find that it had just about anything I could want in a series: Terrific, even brilliant writing; plenty of action; slick graphics and effects; interesting and complex relationships between a diverse group of characters played by seriously skilled team of actors; and a refreshingly cavalier attitude towards mature themes. If all broadcast series contained this level of quality I’d be watching a heck of a lot more TV, and I’m really looking forward to catching up with the rest of the series that is sure to follow on HD, as the first three seasons are already available on standard DVD.

While saying too much more than what I’ve already given away would diminish the fun for anyone else new to the series like I was, the one thing that truly stands out for me is the complex plots and relationships between the characters. Specifically Adama’s relationships with hotshot pilot Starbuck(Sackhoff) and his own son Apollo(Bamber) is just fascinating to watch unfold as it takes many ups and downs. The character of the traitorous Dr. Gaius Baltar(Callis) is a study in so many of the things that drive us as a species mad: Ambition, lust, deceit, and egotism. Balancing Baltar is newly minted President Roslin (Stands With a Fist herself, Mary McDonnell), who represents the best in us, and what a driven leader can accomplish when the reality of the world is more important than “politics as usual.”

Finally, having the Cylons appear human really puts a fine point on many of the issues we face as a species: trust, religion, duty, honor, security, and hope. It is a lens on which to focus on those things that are heavy on our minds today, as we deal with the complex issues of a global society.

Sound Quality: 4/5
I found the sound quality of BSG to be of generally high quality and even exceptional in several instances. The theme and title music in particular is fantastic, with thundering drums and bass. Using the original series’ main theme in the first episode is a nice, if bittersweet touch as well. Where the sound is really well focused however is in the battle sequences. BSG utilizes the idea that sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum in an interesting way, using a dull roar of silence as ‘fill’ to round out the action. It’s difficult to describe yet highly effective in practice. While bass isn't overly present, the use of surround sound is fantastic, as ships track across the room throughout the fights and silent sectors of the ship often echo as appropriate. Voices are universally well captured, with Adama’s barked commands and moody broodings both being worth waiting for.

Note that BSG has both True HD and DD+ tracks, and while I didn’t do any critical comparisons a quick jump back and forth led me to believe that there are not significant differences that my non trained ears could immediately detect. While I’m happy to have the highest quality possible I don’t know that I would have cared much if more space had been dedicated to added content instead of this extra track. Those with more golden ears will certainly disagree.

Visual Quality: 4/5
I was also impressed visually with BSG. Knowing that it’s a TV show and not a feature film makes the visual quality here even more impressive, and there were no occasions where I noted any artifacts or damage. There aren’t a whole lot of scenes with explosions of color once action moves off of Caprica, but the visuals throughout are completely sharp, clean and often stunning in their clarity. The battle sequences are extraordinary, with tremendous amounts of detail and literally thousands of spacecraft in each sequence. Grain is a non issue and I never noted any edge enhancement at all. Once again tho, the single biggest complaint I have is the drubbing that facial details take. Olmos’ is fearless in letting the craggy structure of his detailed face be shown in excruciating detail, and yet other faces are often plasticy mush.

Extra Features: 4.5/5
BSG starts off with deleted scenes for almost all of the episodes and feature length commentary for well over half of them, including full length input from the director and producers through the whole of the miniseries. The meat of the extras are found in 8 short featurettes on disk one, all of which help bridge the two series and give an idea of the direction the producers and director were working towards. Finally rounding out the extras is the integrated U-Cotrol content, which takes a step forward in providing an online encyclopedia that allows viewers to pull up reference information about the key players in the cast at any time and a huge step back in providing great picture in picture cast and crew interviews without making them menu selectable. I simply cannot understand why a studio like Universal would think that people would want to sit through 700+ minutes of a feature with a remote in hand choosing to watch some pop up clips and not others, or that there is a huge percentage of people who would watch ALL 700 minutes worth a second time just to watch ALL of the popups….

One special note to add. BSG season one has one of the most interesting looking boxes I’ve ever seen, utilizing a neat clear plastic cover and angle cut corners on the cardboard packaging. Unfortunately this is a triumph of forum over function, as there are multiple reports of these boxes being easily crushed in transport and widespread reports of the flimsy knobs that hold the disks onto the paper failing. While none of my disks were scratched, every other purchaser has noted at least one scratched disk on HTF immediately on opening this box.

Overall: 4.5/5 (not an average) Recommended
While not flawless, BSG has enough going for it to be a solid recommendation. If nothing else, it is encouraging that such smart and mature content has gotten enough support to keep this series going for as long as it has and I am now officially hooked and looking forward to seasons 2, 3 and beyond. If you are a fan of the original, a Sci Fi nut, or simply looking for signs of intelligent life on television, BSG will be right up your alley.

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#2 of 7 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted December 22 2007 - 01:36 AM

Great review, Sam. BSG is intelligent, dramatic, exciting and fun by turns. A rare gem for TV on any network. The resonant and deep storytelling coupled with outstanding special effects quickly made this my # 1 TV show, ranking right up the top of the list with X-Files and Star Trek for the best damn TV show ever!

A wonderful show for anyone and a fine example of how scripted television is an art form when done right!

Thanks again for the Review, Sam - that was alot of BSG to go through so that you could share with us your thoughts! Posted Image

Neil
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#3 of 7 OFFLINE   Mark_TB

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Posted December 22 2007 - 06:45 AM

Hi Sam -- Thanks for the review. One quick correction, though. I assume you meant to say:

"This box set contains the initial 4 hour miniseries and an additional 13 episodes," not "11 episodes."

Mark

#4 of 7 OFFLINE   ReggieW

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Posted December 22 2007 - 09:16 AM

Thanks for the review Sam!

Packaging snafus aside, I think this will be a worthy purchase in HD (especially if you don't own the SD counterpart). I had read many complaints over at AVS regarding the video quality, but then many level-headed posters starting posted images comparing the SD, UHD broadcasts and this HD-DVD, and there was clearly a difference. A nice step up over the UHD boradcasts and a large step up over the SD-DVD.

Happy holidays to you Sam!
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#5 of 7 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted December 22 2007 - 11:37 AM

Fixed that, the packaging said 13 episodes but when i counted em out I only saw 11 more =)

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#6 of 7 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted December 23 2007 - 10:58 AM

Quote:
Packaging snafus aside, I think this will be a worthy purchase in HD (especially if you don't own the SD counterpart). I had read many complaints over at AVS regarding the video quality, but then many level-headed posters starting posted images comparing the SD, UHD broadcasts and this HD-DVD, and there was clearly a difference. A nice step up over the UHD boradcasts and a large step up over the SD-DVD.

Ironically, I think if screenshot comparisions were posted for every single title in dispute, that would be the end of people dogging all these "non Discovery HD releases". The differences would be apparent.
It would be ironic in that, while easily apparent in a still image, the emphemeral, temporal nature of the sights and sound in films mitigates the ability to process much of this detail on the fly before a new stimulus(scene) is brought up.
And that isn't even taking in to account the emotional engagment of the content.

I think it is these things that are hampering many peoples ability to appreciate the more refined presentation of HDMs...not so much that the HDMs themselves are flawed.
It was amusing to go thru a seven page thread of kvetching and bitching about the BSG PQ, and then see everyone look at screen cap comparisions and back off on their criticism.

The packaging and QC are an unfortunate stain on this release. It should have been High watermark for the format so far. Those, and possibly the poor ergonomics of the U-Control content (when will they learn) compromise a release whose actual content is golden.
Hopefully Universal will wise up and for S2 we just get a nice, functional case with beautiful graphics, like Blade Runner.

#7 of 7 OFFLINE   Chris Will

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Posted December 30 2007 - 07:34 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul_Scott
The packaging and QC are an unfortunate stain on this release. It should have been High watermark for the format so far. Those, and possibly the poor ergonomics of the U-Control content (when will they learn) compromise a release whose actual content is golden.
Hopefully Universal will wise up and for S2 we just get a nice, functional case with beautiful graphics, like Blade Runner.
Agreed! The only problem I have with this release is the packaging. It is the worst packaging I have ever seen for disc based media. Those rubber hubs should be outlawed, they didn't work in the LOTR complete recordings set and they don't work here.