Thursday, November 22

Battlestar Galactica: Razor DVD review

Source: Digital Bits

Unrated Extended Edition - 2007 (2007) - Sci-Fi Channel (Universal)

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B

Razor is a somewhat different beast than the typical Battlestar Galactica episode. It's certainly bigger and more epic than most installments in the series. But while it tells a solid action story, it's really meant to fill in some critical gaps in the series' overall arc, while also hinting at things to come in Season Four. The fact that it manages to accomplish most of this fairly well, while also offering an homage to the original Battlestar TV series AND being entertaining too, is no small achievement.

In terms of continuity, Razor takes place near the end of Season Two, right after the episode The Captain's Hand, just as Lee Adama takes command of the Pegasus. It's a difficult assignment for Lee, as the position of Pegasus Actual has been something of a revolving door in the wake of the deaths of her three previous commanders. Lee means give the Pegasus' crew back its pride, and so he enlists the help of a new character, one Lt. Kendra Shaw, to serve as his XO. Shaw was a favorite of the ship's original commander, Admiral Helena Cain, but following Cain's death she was busted down to KP duty for insubordination.

Fans will recall that in the episodes Pegasus and Resurrection Ship, Parts I and II, we learned that the Pegasus had been in spacedock for refit during the original Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies, and had barely escaped. We also learned that Cain had subsequently given several questionable orders, leading to a number of deaths, both military and civilian. Shaw is clearly haunted by these events, and finally we get to see them in flashback as she recalls her own involvement in them. These scenes personalize not only Shaw, but also Cain and go a long way toward explaining the Admiral's actions - actions that have been previously hard to understand or empathize with. Actress Michelle Forbes reprises Cain in a very substantial role in Razor, and she simply chews up the screen.

The action in Razor is personal to others as well, particuarly Admiral Adama. Bill Adama was just a rookie Viper pilot at the end of the First Cylon War, but his first and last combat mission was a serious furball. During the battle, he crashed on a Cylon outpost and discovered that the original mechanical Cylons were conducting horrific experiments on the crews of missing Colonial vessels. It seems they were trying to create the next step in their evolution - a hybrid between themselves and humans, that would be the precursor to the familiar humanoid Cylons that have dominated the series to date. Years later, as Lee Adama and Kendra Shaw lead the Pegasus on their first mission in search of a missing Raptor, they turn up clues that suggest that this original hybrid might still survive... and that the now obsolete original Cylons have continued their experiments.

As the story of Razor plays out, we'll learn still more about the histories of the Cylons, as well both Admirals Cain and Adama. We'll learn more about another Cylon too... the character of Gina plays a key role in the flashback events. Most of the major Galactica characters are involved in some way (though to varying degrees - some appear in only one or two scenes), and there's plenty of dazzling spectacle and CG action. Two combat sequences in particular are as balls-out as this series has ever gone. One bit actually finds young Bill Adama grappling hand-to-hand with an old-school Cylon as they fall through a planet's atmosphere after ejecting from their fighters. I'm not kidding. The effects work is spectacular, particularly given the show's TV budget. Fans of the original 1970s Battlestar series may get a kick out of seeing classic Cylon warriors, Baseships and Raiders in several scenes.

If there are any points for criticism with Razor, chief among them would be that some of the flashbacks are a bit too long. As much of the story seems to take place in the past as it does in the present, and the transitions between the time periods are a bit awkward, as they often take place in the middle of scenes of dialogue. The ultimate resolution of the story - specifically, who sacrifices what and why - is also a little predictable. Still, fans should enjoy every minute of this, and there's a critical bit of information revealed at the very end of Razor that casts a major character in a surprising new light going into the show's final season.

Universal's DVD release is a treat. Not only do you get the original 87-minute broadcast version of Razor in full anamorphic widescreen video, the studio has used seamless branching and a dual-layered disc to offer the 103-minute extended version as well. The latter features added material in many scenes, including instances of more graphic violence and gore, as well as bits of dialogue not fit for TV broadcast. Young Bill Adama refers to a Cylon as a 'cocksucker' in combat in his trademark gravelly voice, for example, and this particular space battle is eliminated entirely in the broadcast version. There's a major bit of Cain's personal history that's added here as well, along with additional moments of tension between Shaw and Starbuck. Suffice it to say, the extended version is definitely the one to watch.

The video quality is very good, if not quite great. There's some artifacting here and there, and you'll notice that in some scenes, there's a bit more 'grain' than others. I believe the show is shot digitally, so this must be a deliberate choice - something added to acheve the series' hallmark gritty look. Color and contrast are generally excellent, however. It's not perfect, but fans should be happy. Personally, I can't wait to see the future HD-DVD version of this. The audio is presented in a very active Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that places you right center in the middle of the action. There's good use of the surrounds, a nice wide front stage and the LFE support is terrific. Just wait until you hear the thunderous sound of a Battlestar... well, better leave that for all of you to discover yourselves.

The DVD offers a surprising amount of extras, including a full-length audio commentary track with series creator Ron Moore and writer Michael Taylor. Moore's commentaries are always interesting and informative, and this one is no exception. You'll be treated to tons of little insights into the story, the characters and the production process. You'll learn of roads not taken, how the entire structure of Razor was changed in editing and much more. Three featurettes are included too. My Favorite Episode So Far has the cast and crew describing their favorite moments while working on the series to date. In The Look of Battlestar Galactica, DP Stephen McNutt and the producers talk about their gritty, documentary-style approach to shooting the series. And in Season Four Sneak Peek, the cast and crew hint at some of the events to come. You also get a teaser trailer for Season Four and a pair of deleted scenes from Razor. Finally - and this came as a surprise because it wasn't advertised by Universal - the DVD includes all of the Sci-Fi Channel preview Flashbacks that have been shown in recent weeks (they're called Minisodes here). These include a couple of additional scenes not in either version of Razor. Best of all, everything but the deleted scenes is presented in full anamorphic widescreen video.

Battlestar Galactica: Razor has been a long time coming, but I'm pleased to say that it's been mostly worth the wait. Despite a few flaws, Razor delivers. And that's a very good thing, because it's now going to be another long dry spell until the start of Galactica's final season. Season Four is tentatively set to begin airing on Sci-Fi in April 2008... but that could be pushed back even further due to the ongoing writer's strike. With that in mind, Universal should do Battlestar fans a solid and move up the DVD release of Season Three to ease the wait. In any case, here's hoping that you enjoy every single minute of Razor... and every single added minute that's on this DVD... as much as I did. To borrow the show's vernacular: Don't frackin' miss it.

Bill Hunt

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