H D - S E L E C T

A view on HD DVDs by Yunda Eddie Feng

 

Introduction: Hello, Beaver readers! I became a serious cineophile in 1994 when I saw Schindler's List on my birthday. I realized that movies weren't just for fun--they could be serious art, too (even mainstream popcorn flicks if they're made with skill). Although I have a BA in English, I went to grad school for an MA in Film Studies. There, I met my mentor Dr. Warren Buckland, who shares my interest in Steven Spielberg's artistry (Spielberg and art aren't mutually exclusive). I helped edit Dr. Buckland's book Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. I also contributed a chapter to Dr. Buckland's forthcoming anthology of essays about "complex storytelling" movies--movies that avoid classical linear storylines in favor of temporal disruptions, unreliable narrators, metatheatrical/"self-aware" references, etc.

Eddie's Home Theatre:
Sharp 30-inch LCD TV (1280x768 resolution)
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player
Oppo OPDV971H SD-DVD player
Pioneer 7.1 DD/DTS receiver
Harmon Kardon speakers (5.1)

(I'm using the HD-A2's optical audio connection to obtain DTS 5.1 downmixes.)

Yunda Eddie Feng

 

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Battlestar Galactica - Season One HD-DVD

(Executive Producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, 2003-2004)

Universal (USA)

Review by Yunda Eddie Feng

 

Universal (USA)

1.78:1 1080p

755 minutes

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, DD+ 5.1 English

 

Subtitles: Optional English SDH, Spanish, French

 

Extras: U Control: Encyclopedia Galactica; U Control: Picture-in-Picture; audio commentaries by director Michael Rymer, executive producer David Eick, and executive producer Ronald D. Moore; deleted scenes; sketches and art; eight behind-the-scenes featurettes; Internet connectivity features

 

Released: 4 December 2007

custom cardboard and plastic case

64 chapters

 

Note: Dis-satisfied consumers have been reporting in various Internet fora that their copies are being damaged during shipping.  The rubber nubs that are used to hold the discs in place are reluctant to part ways with the HD DVDs.  Some people even have discs with deep gashes in them.  All in all, this is the worst packaging for an optical-disc release in a long while.

 

Although Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore worked on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I haven’t been following his re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica because I haven’t had cable TV for the past five years.  Also, knowing that high-def optical discs were on the horizon, I was reluctant to spend big money on TV-on-DVD box sets.  Therefore, not having seen any BSG at all (not even the TV show from the late-1970s), I started spinning Disc 1 with basically no knowledge of the series other than the fact that there are some robots with red eyes.

 

 

From what I’ve learned, Battlestar Galactica began life as a three-hour miniseries that was used to test audience waters.  If the miniseries got big numbers, then TV honchos would greenlight it as a regular series.  Well, the show is about to enter its fourth and final season.  I was blown away by the miniseries--it’s probably one of the best programs ever to appear on TV.  It creates a genuine sense of desperation in depicting a civilization’s annihilation, and the acting is filled with believable conviction (even the relative unknowns are credible).

 

Most of the other episodes are solid examinations of how difficult life must be when a society has to function while living aboard cramped spacecrafts with limited resources.  The best scenes are the action scenes, not for the “usual” reasons but because we see how ragged the humans become when being tailed by relentless, un-tiring Cylons.  The before-and-after moments where the characters learn more about each other also make the action scenes compelling.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, there are some clunkers, the most-obvious being the episode that focuses on the return of a major character’s wife.  The episode is played for laughs, but it’s such a broad farce that I almost shut off my HD DVD player in disgust.  Also, the show seems unsure about what to do with Sharon “Boomer” Valerii, a pilot on the Galactica who turns out to be a Cylon.  (This is NOT a spoiler as the opening credits show her as a Cylon.)  One of Boomer’s clones gets pregnant, one of Boomer’s clones gets depressed, and all of the multiple versions feel like they were shoehorned into the overall story.  I suppose a little patience will bear fruit as the series progresses.

 

There is a major deficiency in the writing.  The humans develop a method for detecting Cylons, but it’ll take sixty human years for the doctor in charge of detection to test every blood sample.  However, none of the characters mentions an easy way of uncovering Cylons--simply look at faces and pictures to see if there are any physical identicals.  The doctor would then test the identicals first.

 

After watching all of Season 1, I am a bit wary of future seasons.  The show began as hard science-fiction but took a sharp veer towards fantasy with a lot of talk about drug-induced visions, ancient prophecies, myths about gods, etc.  I have no problems with fictional characters having religious beliefs, but I feel that Battlestar Galactica’s first season changed course rather suddenly--certainly a dashing of my expectations.  Nevertheless, I am sufficiently intrigued, so I hope that Universal will issue other BSG HD DVDs quickly.

 

 

 

Video:

The 1.78:1 1080p video transfers have already drawn a firestorm of queries and complaints.  Some shots look 100% clean, but most shots look very, very “grainy”.  “What gives?”, one might wonder.  Well, the box set includes a note stating that the HD DVDs preserve the artistic intentions of the show’s handlers.  I believe the veracity of that statement as while the show is indeed “grainy” to the point of looking like 16mm footage (actually, high-def video cameras were used), the video noise is kept under control and imparts a gritty, desperate atmosphere.  The video noise is not the same as the distracting mosquito swarms that plague the Ocean’s Thirteen transfer.  The level of detail does not match what you see with Harry Potter 5 or The Bourne Ultimatum, but this is clearly an improvement over standard definition’s ability to reproduce fine detail such as on-screen text, lettering on spacecraft and clothing, facial wrinkles, etc.  On the downside, there are few instances of deep blacks, so you get a lot of muddy grays.  Also, there are numerous digital artifacts (especially white specks).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio:

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English audio tracks are the best aspects of this box set.  I really dig the sound design, which features unusual approaches to mixing for an action series.  For example, explosions are slightly muffled to simulate the way that sounds would be muted in outer space.  This is a welcome departure from the norm as I’m really tired of the overbearing audio that so many contemporary movies have.

 

The memorable music is also a highlight.  The TrueHD mixes have fanciful ways of re-producing the music cues.  The music will cause you to look to the left and right rear speakers as much as the sound effects do.  Localization is very good; in the last episode, check out the scene with multiple Sharon Valeriis.  The spread separation across the front impressed me.

 

DD+ 5.1 English tracks have also been included.  Optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles support the audio.

 

 

 

Extras:

The first two discs have dynamic HD DVD U Control features for the miniseries.  “Encyclopedia Galactica” displays text and graphics relating information about the characters, the spacecrafts, and the story.  “Picture-in-Picture” is a video stream of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that plays over the show.

 

 

As Disc 1’s sole episode is the first half of the miniseries, most of the extras are also on Disc 1.  “Sketches and Art” is a brief slideshow that presents storyboards and conceptual designs.  Next up are eight featurettes that basically form a long documentary about the show’s development.

 

There are ten audio commentaries by director Michael Rymer, executive producer David Eick, and executive producer Ronald Moore, though five of them are actually Moore’s podcasts from when the episodes first aired on TV.  The three commentators are very frank about some of their disappointments and mistakes, and they also provide a lot of background about their inspirations for what they injected into the show.

 

There are deleted scenes for nearly every episode, and combined, there is a total of more than an hour’s worth of footage.

 

Finally, you can connect to Universal’s HD DVD web portal for additional extras, though right now, all you can get are trailers/TV spots and some news updates.

 

--Miscellaneous--

An insert instructs viewers on using the discs’ U Control and Internet connectivity features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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