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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 - Recommended

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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted August 02 2009 - 07:12 PM


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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
SEASON 4.5
BLU-RAY
 
Studio: Universal
Original Airing: 2009
Length: 10 episodes, plus 3 extended episode versions
Genre: Science Fiction
 
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC @ over 25 mbps (Discs 1 & 3), VC-1 @ over 25 mpbs (Disc 2)
Color/B&W: Color
 
Audio:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
 
 
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: Unrated (Some Sci-Fi Violence and Bloodshed, Language, Sexuality)
 
Release Date: July 28, 2008
 
Rating:  3 ½    
 
Starring: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, Jamie Bamber, Aaron Douglas, Michael Hogan, Grace Park, Tahmoh Penikett, with appearances by Kate Vernon, Mark Sheppard, Lucy Lawless and Dean Stockwell
 
Executive Producers: Ronald D. Moore and David Eick
Written by: Various
Directed by: Various
 
 
Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 is a three-disc Blu-ray set that holds the final ten episodes of the reinvented series, presented in high definition video and sound. It is very difficult to discuss the specifics of these episodes without spoiling them, so I’ll try to be as general as possible. In short, what we have here is effectively the final season of the series. Misnomers like 4.5 notwithstanding, the episodes here take on a completely different arc from the fourth season set previously released, and are focused on completing the story of the series (and in the UK, this DVD set was released earlier this year as “The Final Season”). As with my reviews of the 3rd and 4th season, I have to say that new viewers of the show will really need to watch the earlier seasons in order to understand what is going on here. Trying to jump in at this point is likely to result in confusion. That said, the episodes here are stronger as a group than the last collection, in that almost every episode either contains essential information, character material, or the conclusion of a major character from the series. I’m not speaking only of the identity of the final Cylon – as this is disposed of fairly early on, but of the winding up of the entire story. In broad strokes, the season begins with the shockwaves from the revelation at the end of the last batch of episodes, and builds from there. Morale sinks to the point that the third and fourth episodes here deal with a bloody mutiny. The fifth episode provides a massive amount of information about the Final Five Cylons as seen from two points of view. The sixth through the eighth episodes lay the groundwork for the final act of the story. And the ninth and tenth episodes complete the basic story of the series, with a multitude of flashbacks that place the characters and their choices in context. By the final frame of the show, it really feels as if the series has come full circle. Thankfully, this is a series that has a definite ending that to my mind fits with what we have seen here before. If the basic premise for the series is, as I have said, to show “the last five minutes of a civilization”, then it is only fitting that the conclusion of the series finds a way to perhaps see that also as the FIRST five minutes of something new.
 
The DVD set includes all of the episodes in 1080p HD picture and DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound, along with Ron Moore’s podcast commentaries from the Sci-Fi Channel website and deleted scenes for almost every episode. Each of the three discs contains an extended episode from its group, along with a new commentary. There are also several featurettes spread across the three discs, mostly presented in 1080i HD. One notable absence, however is the “Face of the Enemy” webisode group that went online before these episodes began to air. This isn’t a major issue to me, but it is perplexing, since earlier sets of webisodes were included in the 3rd season set and the Razor DVD. The Blu-ray set also includes a pair of U-Control features (The Oracle and Battlestar Actual) that are only of limited use. The Oracle provides brief character stats and the Actual setting just brings up occasional definitions for the jargon heard in the show. Of greater value are the featurettes and the commentaries, which are as good as this series has always done. And the value of the picture quality and the extended episodes make this season set an easy one to recommend to fans of the series.
 
 
VIDEO QUALITY4/5
Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 is presented in a 1080p transfer is a head-and-shoulders jump above the picture quality I have previously seen for this series.  The encoding is AVC for Discs 1 and 3, but VC-1 for the second disc. The higher definition image doesn’t change the deliberate harshness of the picture and the documentary look the show has always had. Rather, the HD picture enhances those qualities. Details like facial hair on Adama and Tigh become evident, while the amount of grime and distress in the various sets becomes a lot clearer. At the same time, the CGI effects come through with a greater clarity and color range than has been seen before. As an added bonus on the set, Ronald D. Moore provides an introduction that specifies that the series has been shot in high definition and that seeing it on Blu-ray is the most effective way to see the image that has been intended from the beginning of the series.  I should note here that I am viewing this Blu-ray set on a 40" Sony XBR2 HDTV.  If anyone with a larger set (60" or more) is noticing picture quality issues, please comment within this thread.
 
 
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is much more active than I recall hearing from the earlier seasons in standard definition. The subwoofer has a definite presence throughout, and the atmospheric effects in the surrounds are much more widespread. The story point of the ship literally groaning and creaking through much of the latter episodes is a big factor here. 
 
 
DISC BY DISC:
As I did with the earlier seasons, I think it will work better here to account for what can be found on each disc, in order. To save time, I’ll note here that every episode features the original Ronald D. Moore podcast as provided on the Sci-Fi website. All deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic standard definition.
 
All discs contain a Blu-ray U-Control feature on the episodes, which brings up Picture-in-Picture text about various subjects. There are two aspects to this. On all discs, there is a “Battlestar Actual” function which gives definitions to the various bits of jargon thrown around in the scenes. (For example, when a character refers to “1900 hours”, this feature pops up with a definition of 1900 being the same as 7pm. On the first two discs, there is also a feature called “The Oracle”, which provides character background and stats for the main characters of the episodes. On the third disc, this is morphed into “What The Frak Happened to You?”, which pretty much does the same thing only with a multiple picture idea. Neither U-Control feature is particularly interesting or informative, unfortunately.
Disc 1 also has BD-Live functionality, allowing users to access the BD-Live site to download trailers and a character card game. The card game requires users to log in to the Universal BD-Live community.

 
DISC ONE:
 
Episodes: 
 
Sometimes A Great Notion (longer episode than normal, running 46:42), with deleted scenes (7:25) that include a longer search by Kara and Leoben of the planet surface.
 
A Disquiet Follows My Soul (aired ep runs 43:46), with no deleted scenes due to the longer version of this episode on this disc.
 
A Disquiet Follows My Soul – Extended Version (53:05) with a new commentary by writer/director Ronald D. Moore. (Moore’s discussion here is intended to focus on his directorial work but he admits he is overlapping with his earlier podcast commentary on the aired version)
 
The Oath, with deleted scenes (3:36)
 
Blood on the Scales, with deleted scenes (4:46) that include an alternate version of a massacre scene. (In the aired version, the massacre happens off camera. Here, it happens on camera. Personally, I think it’s more effective in the aired version.)
 
This disc also contains:
 
The Journey Ends: The Arrival – (VC-1, 720p, 12:47) – This high definition featurette covers the ending of the series, and includes on-set footage from the filming of the series finale.
 
Evolution of a Cue (480p, Anamorphic, 23:14) – This is a standard-definition featurette with composer Bear McReary, covering the development of a cue he wrote for the episode A Disquiet Follows My Soul.
 
What the Frak is Going on with Battlestar Galactica? (480p, Non-Anamorphic, 8:18) – This is a very fast Cliff’s Notes-esque retelling of the first three seasons of the series, with a narrator providing a tongue in cheek commentary over short clips from the show.
 
 
DISC TWO:
 
Episodes:
 
No Exit, with deleted scenes (3:45)
 
Deadlock, with deleted scenes (13:09)
 
Someone to Watch Over Me, with deleted scenes (4:37)
 
Islanded in a Stream of Stars, with no deleted scenes due to the longer version of the episode on this disc.
 
Islanded in a Stream of Stars – Extended Version (1:03:06) with new commentary by director Edward James Olmos. (I note that this is a refreshingly frank commentary by Olmos, who isn’t known for mincing his words...)
 
This disc also contains:
 
David Eick’s Video Blogs (480p, Anamorphic, 44:47 Total) – A final collection of Eick’s video blogs is presented here in standard definition.   As with the prior sets, this is not an identical collection to what is available on the show’s website. There are several new video blogs here, and at the same time, there’s also a fair amount of material from the website which is not included. The eleven blogs here are, in order, “No Retreat, No Surrender” (covering the writing of the final eps), “The Hatch” (covering Richard Hatch), “The Fifth is Among Us” (a ruthless tease about the Final Cylon that doesn’t reveal anything), “Action Please” (a look at Ronald D. Moore’s directing assignment), “Hanging in the Background (interviews with extras on the set), “Some Guy Named Colin pt II” (a discussion with one of the guys in the camera department), “A Cylon Til the End”, “Inserts, Action and FX”, “Documenting BSG”, “Life on a Cylon Base Ship” and “Favorite Battlestar Galactica Moment”. The blogs may be viewed separately or through a “Play All” function.
 
 
DISC THREE:
 
Episodes-
 
Daybreak pt 1 (43:44), with deleted scenes (5:20)
 
Daybreak pt 2 (1:36:23), with no deleted scenes due to the longer version of the whole finale available on this disc.
 
Daybreak – Complete and Extended Series Finale (2:32:32 – which means it contains about 12 ½ minutes of additional footage) with a new commentary by Ronald D. Moore, David Eick and Michael Rymer (This is a fairly emotional commentary that covers a lot of ground. By the final 30 minutes of the show, you can hear Moore choking up.) (I also note that the new scene material is done with by the time the finale gets into its final act. The last new piece of material is a character flashback that doesn’t affect the current goings-on.)
 
The disc also contains:
 
A Look Back (VC-1, 720p, 37:05) – This is a relatively short look back over the life of the show with interviews with the cast and creative staff conducted during the final episodes. There are six parts to the featurette, which can be viewed separately or through a “Play All” function.
 
“...And They Have A Plan” (VC-1, 720p, 4:27) – This is a very quick sneak peek at the upcoming BSG TV movie, which addresses the infamous note in the show’s opening sequence where it announces that the Cylons have done various things “AND THEY HAVE A PLAN”. The point of the new movie, clearly, is to say what the heck that plan was. Director Edward James Olmos joins the teasing here, telling fans they’ll have to watch the whole series again after seeing the movie.
 
The Musicians Behind Daybreak (480p, Anamorphic, 30:29) – Here we have another standard definition featurette about the work of composer Bear McReary. This one covers the musicians involved in the scoring of the series finale. As a side note, the commentary for the extended version of the finale includes the note that they were significantly overbudget, to the point that Moore and Eick kicked in money toward the music.  
 
 
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French for the episodes and for the special features.   Standard chapter menus are included for quick reference. The usual Blu-ray pop-up menus work fine. In the event that you pause the show for more than a few minutes, a Universal Logo will appear as a screensaver. For my PS3, I only need to hit the “Enter” button to get back into the episode in progress. Some people have also commented on the packaging here. There’s an odd setup here where the 2nd two discs are packed in a way that you must remove one disc to get to the other. I was okay with this, but I’m hearing that other people were frustrated by it.
 
 
IN THE END...
 
Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 Blu-ray completes the story of this series with a collection of episodes that bring everything to a conclusion and a brace of special features that provide some perspective. The best part of this set, beyond the high definition picture and sound, of course, is the trio of extended episodes and the new commentaries provided for them.   For fans of the series, I am happy to recommend this set for purchase. But I’m probably a week late on that recommendation, since they likely already have it...
 
 
Kevin Koster
August 2, 2009.
 


#2 of 3 OFFLINE   ATimson

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Posted August 03 2009 - 12:35 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin EK 

Some people have also commented on the packaging here. There’s an odd setup here where the 2nd two discs are packed in a way that you must remove one disc to get to the other. I was okay with this, but I’m hearing that other people were frustrated by it.
Would it be possible to get an image of the packaging? I know that I was expecting slim cases like the DVD sets...

"Niceness is the greatest human flaw, except for all the others."
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#3 of 3 OFFLINE   AL KUENSTER

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Posted August 03 2009 - 05:47 AM

It sounds like the way SNL box sets are, with one disc overlapping the other, not a big deal for me.

Al Kuenster