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Note: This review is for the box set pictured (which is a rare tinned edition) however, everything bar the aesthetics is the same for the newer more widely available editions. You can still get the tinned edition but it comes with a toy robot now.
Television. I hate to say, but it's just really bloody good these days. It's getting to the point where it's almost as good as books and definitely better than movies. TV allows a story to be told in much more depth than a film ever will. Battlestar Galactica! A TV programme that has taken up a good month or two of my life in the last year or so. Significant chunks of time have been spent and many a tear has been shed in my journey through the Battlestar Universe.
---Battlestar back story---
Having spent all my time and emotion tokens on Battlestar, I will tell you now, I'm NOT giving the story away. You need to put the work in for that. I will however give you a general run down.
For those who don't know the story, shame on you. In a corner of the universe far, far away (ahem) there is a small cluster of planets called the 12 colonies. The humans who inhabit these planets are in some ways quite advanced such as faster than light space travel which is available to the general populace. On one of those planets (Caprica) the humans invented robots called Cylons (occasionally and nicknamed Toasters by those who want to be racist towards them) to help them out, clean their kitchens, walk their dogs, kill their enemies, fight their wars etc. After a while however, as robots always do, they came to question their own existence and demand rights which leads eventually to an all out war between Cylons and Humans.
The war ends suddenly and the Humans and Cylons sign a treaty (or whatever) and off the Cylons pop into space never to be seen again, with a meeting point set up just in case they want to pop back and say "hi", "fancy a cup of tea?" or "Mum, Dad, we want a Culkin style divorce"
40 years after the last Cylon was seen, a woman (Tricia Helfer) turns up at the meeting point and basically blows the living Bejesus out of it. Queue the complete obliteration of all 12 colonial planets (all named after star signs). This is where the story kicks off.
The first season sees the remainder of humanity running away from the Cylons, who by now are much further advanced technologically than the humans. Eventually the humans decide to try and reach an ancient colony written about in their religious texts. "Earth". All the while they are being chased by Cylons and living under constant threat of infiltration as they soon discover the robots now look human. Not knowing who they can trust, they humans battle ever onwards in the hope that they will find a place to call home free from the threat of total annihilation at the hands of their creation.
I would like to point out right now that rather than being a horrendously geeky Sci-Fi space junk type show, Battlestar Galactica is a hard hitting, brain teasing, drama that *just so happens* to be set in space. Yes, there are robots and space fights and all that Jazz but it doesn't at any point go into jargon. Compare it to Stargate where nearly every episode one of the characters goes off into a rambiling explanation of something scientific and weird; that just doesn't happen here. The show doesn't focus on the science of the situation, it focuses on the plot. There writing and character development is in depth and they don't let the writers off lightly with weak get out clauses that anyone could have written. It's a show that will get you emotionally invested and keep you with them.
---Cake or death? ---
From the get go the show is full of character development. No one is there without a back story, everyone is interesting, everyone has a purpose and, by Christ, the writers are BRUTAL. Pick any series you want, take the characters you love and you know at some point (sometimes in every episode) they come near to losing limbs, loved ones and their own life. We all know they will be safe 99% of the time. Now throw that assumption out the window. You are watching Battlestar. They don't pull any punches. They let people die, they snap children's necks (first ten minutes of the show, seriously) and throw lovely, kind people out of the airlocks.
Even more brilliantly, they explore the guilt, sorrow, pain and sadness caused by the harsh reality the characters live in. Nothing is off limits. On the flip side of that, the writers also don't use the brutality as a lynch pin of the show; they simply slip it in. Personally I feel it's a great testament to life in general. It's horrible and scary and nasty at the best of times, but the characters all muddle through and get on with the task at hand, never forgetting but not dwelling. Mostly. And if they do dwell they do it like a real human being and go completely off the rails.
As well as the great human element, the cylons are played brilliantly. They make the viewer have to think seriously about reality and morals. Being that they are essentially humanities children, they are endowed with free thought, unfortunately being in space for as long as they have has somewhat robbed them of the emotional maturity and moral structure to really grasp the situation. This leads to a lot of conflict within the Cylon ranks when they start to realise they might not be taking the right course of action in annihilating their creators and sets up some fantastic friction between them. Any Cylons that do try to help the humans are generally met with suspicion and fear which adds to the atmosphere of the show perfectly.
---You Go Girls---
Another thing I love dearly about this show is the strong female leads throughout. Tv with a heavy military influence sometimes don't portray women to be very strong or active but battlestar has a fantastic female cast who constantly kick butt from a military, civilian and cylon point of view. Katee Sackhoff plays the fantastic tom-boy Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace who is quite willing to say what she wants when she wants. Mary McDonnell plays one of the best characters throughout the five seasons Laura Roslin and keeps the viewers not only entertained but emotionally on point almost all the time. She also adds a lot of warmth to the show that I don't think would be there without her. Tricia Helfer is basically a sex godess and loves to flaunt it, Lucy Lawless (Xena warrior princess!!) plays the cold hearted reporter D'Anna Biers. In fact, thinking back on it, the women of the show really carry it. They have the strongest storylines and are constantly above par with their acting. God I love them!
---We are all special (effects) ---
So, being that the show is set in space (mostly) and there are robots, there has to be special effects (though I still feel the need to remind you it's not really a Sci-Fi show!) A show like this would be dead in the water if the effects weren't decent. Gladly, they are very good. The only times the effects aren't brilliant is if there's a close up scene with Cylons who still look like Robots which are fairly few and far between. All the footage out in space is brilliantly done and looks perfectly realistic. Nothing looks like a cardboard set, there are no annoying lines around people against green screens. Big thumbs up!
Another aspect of the show that makes it so interesting is the mythology laced throughout the show. So much of the 12 colonies names, and the religious aspects which are explored throughout stem from our own religions and beliefs, a lot of it Greek and a lot of straight from astrology and all of it so slightly different that you can believe these people have connections with Earth as we know it.
There are also subtle differences throughout the show, most completely strange like when they say "Frack" instead of "Fu**". Now you know why all those geeks say frack. Because it is COOL. Yes. Yes it is.
Lastly, there are quite a few topless actors. Topless, sweaty, muscled actors. *fans himself* definitely enough for anyone to swoon over. Jamie Bamber who plays Lee Adama, for example, is gorgeous. He plays the son of the fleet commander William Adama (played by Edward James Olmos who was recently a main character in Dexter) It's hardly pornographic, mind. Just a fun little perk.
---NO! NO SPOILERS!! ---
Unfortunately that's where I'm going to stop telling you things about the show. To be honest if you're buying a 5 season box set, you surely know what's going on there and it's just TOO GOOD to spoil for anyone. All I will say is that Battlestar far outshines any other Sci-Fi show out there and definitely kicks the arse off of a lot of drama out there today. It thunders through your heart to an effing stunning finale filled with gut wrenching sadness and heart lifting hope.
Now I'll move on to the more general fan-boy stuff that you'll really want to consider.
---What's in it for me? ---
This box set contains the pilot miniseries and all the seasons of Battlestar. It also has "Razor" (which is a spin off movie length episode that fits in just before the end of season two but was released just before the start of season 3) but not The Plan (which is the other spin off movie released after the end of Battlestar).
Other geeky things that haven't been included in the box set would be the two sets of Webisodes that compliment the seasons called "The Resistance" and "The Face of the Enemy". This does make me a little sad. I mean, seriously, Webisodes are PERFECT extra features and they totally missed a trick on not including them.
Thankfully, while the movies and webisodes very muchly compliment your viewing pleasure the do not by any means include anything that is vital to your enjoyment. You can if you wish just imagine they don't exist. You can also probably find them floating about the internet, but that is up to you.
There are a tonne of extras on the discs, with deleted scenes and various documentaries about the making of Battlestar. To supplement all of this you get a collectors booklet that will give you the profiles of all the main characters, human and Cylon, and a full list of all the features, episodes and synopsis which can come in very handy when you're trying to find that episode you really love. If you haven't watched the whole thing before I'd recommend skipping the character lists so you don't spoil it for yourself as it will inform you who the Cylons are and who the Humans are. While it's not the biggest of plot spoilers, you'll probably appreciate the series more if you go into it without knowing.
---Tin Tin Out---
The box this set comes in is some sort of flimsy metal. Imagine a tin of Quality Street and it's not far off it. It's incredibly pretty to look at but I would warn against buying it online unless you are willing to put up with the million and twenty dents your loving, gentle postman will no doubt leave in it. Grumble.
The lid is hinged and inside the seasons are laid into a foamy type thing to keep them safe. The vigilant of you will note that there are only four segments. This is one of my little annoyances. There are technically only 4 seasons BUT the last season was split over two years. The last half of season four is referred to as both Season 4.5 and "The Final Season". So, I say there are 5 seasons, others say there are 4. Most people don't really care. It's too good to care about their sordid money making schemes.
Each season is in its own little cardboard sleeve that fits very snugly round some lovely red disc holders. Sometimes it's a bit tight. Sometimes you may accidentally rip the cardboard trying to get it back in. Sad times, unhappy geek faces. All that aside, it's very pretty if not a little fragile.
---Waiter, can I see the menu? ---
Yes! Yes you can! The menus are always an interesting thing on any DVD and vary from season to season. Mostly the menus were fine however there is one set (season two) where you don't choose your episode with a cursor. The episodes flash in front of you for a couple of seconds and you have to hit enter when the one you want comes up. That can get quite annoying when you have a remote that's running out of battery or you accidentally miss your episode. Thankfully they must have got a tonne of complaints because after that season you get to move a bit more freely around your episode selections.
Rather awesomely, they were nice enough to make a "next scene" point directly after the starting credits so you if you get bored of watching the start sequence in every single episode (EVERY SINGLE EPISODE) you can just hit skip and you don't miss anything! They probably do that for everything but bugger it, took me ages to realise!!
If you are just as geeky as I am then you will want to know what the correct order to watch everything is. In that case I would suggest the following blog to direct you in your quest for chronological correctness.
http:// thunderpeel2001.blogspot.com/ 2010/ 02/ battlestar-galactica-viewing-order.html (take the spaces out after the forward slashes)
---Show me the money---
If you want to get yourself or a geeky friend this box set you'll be looking to spend between £35 and £50 depending on the time of year and where you shop. It's well worth the spend. Buying the extra DVD "The Plan" will set you back a fiver so if you really want to treat yourself, get that too.
---The Final Section---
In conclusion, this box set definitely has its flaws. From the flimsy nature of the materials used to the lack of some of the best bonus features it really is a half arsed attempt. When it first came out there wasn't really anything better. Even now it's difficult to get the webisodes in a box set, but the materials are a bit more sturdy at least.
When I originally posted this review on ciao a while back I gave the box-set five stars despite the poor materials used and the lack of webisodes. Having seen the other box sets available now I'd be inclined to knock a star off. As you'll more likely buy the newer version with the Cylon toy included I remind you that the set included in this is the exact same. There are other box sets that are simple thick cardboard affairs that don't look quite as quirky but certainly look neater and sturdier. If I was buying this set now, I'd probably go for one of them. Overall four stars for this set due to it's physical downfalls and lack of webisodes. Battlestar as a series, however, will always remain a firm favourite in my heart for a very long time.