December 3, 2007

DVD Review: Battlestar Galactica - Razor

Prior to the broadcast of Razor the last time we saw new Battlestar Galactica was March 27, 2007. In other words, it has been a long time. In my opinion, it has been much, much too long. When new episodes of Galactica are airing it is a glorious thing. It gives fans of science fiction, and good television in general something to look forward to each week. Now, with no new episodes slated to air until April 2008 (at least, that's what they're saying now), more than a year since the conclusion of the third season, Razor is a very welcome arrival on the TV landscape. Even more so now with the writer's strike. Now, the funny thing is, I did not watch the broadcast. I didn't watch as I had just received a copy of the unrated DVD that Universal is releasing, so I skipped the broadcast and watched the DVD. Actually, I have watched it a couple of times and I have to say that it is a fantastic watch. Seriously. Anyone who is a fan of the series will not want to miss this.

As good as Razor is, it is pretty much a requirement that you already be a fan of the show. If you don't watch the show, there are a lot of things that you are likely not going to understand or care about. You will probably enjoy it, if you like good science fiction, but there is just so much more flavor to be had when you are familiar with everything that is going on. That said, I will be the first person to admit that I am not quite as well versed in the show as I would like to be. I have watched every episode and have loved every minute, but I have not taken the time to scrape it for every detail. I have scraped enough to recognize the brilliance of the series, but that is a story for a different time.

Razor is a stand alone story. I do not believe that you need this to understand the big picture story that is being told. However, Razor does give a look back to the first Cylon war, the journey Battlestar Pegasus and Admiral Cain takes, and even some implications of what is to come in season four. It is a brilliant piece of cinematic television that slowly reveals itself to be something more than just a stand alone story. It is a weird creature to be sure, but there it is.

There are two primary threads woven throughout the narrative, both of them centering on new character Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen). The first, set in the film's present, is set following the Pegasus arc in season two, which culminated with Lee Adama taking command of the Pegasus. It follows Kendra Shaw's promotion to XO under Adama. The second is set in flashback to the second Cylon war and Kendra's initial arrival on Pegasus and what they go through after destruction of the Colonial fleet. The tales are intricately woven together by screenwriter Michael Taylor and director Felix Alcala.

The past story follows Kendra Shaw as she arrives on Pegasus and her interactions with Admiral Cain (the fantastic Michelle Forbes). We learn how the Pegasus survived the initial Cylon attack that began the series, and how they survivied for the months between the attack and their meeting up with Galactica. Let me just say that it was not an easy road.

This thread allows us to see the changes that Cain goes through, and the tough decisions she has to make and why she feels the need to be such a cold blooded leader. We see the effects that her command style has on the development of Shaw and the effects it has on the present day story.

Back in the present, Lee and the Pegasus are sent on a search and rescue mission that causes Kendra to look back on her experiences. It also sets up some impressive space battles and the first appearance of the old school toasters, inspired by the original series.

In the big scheme of things, this movie is not necessary at all. Where Battlestar Galactica began and where it is going is not going to be changed by anything that happens here. Why not? Well, it all takes place considerably before the most recent episode. Still, Razor is a great opportunity to look back at where it all began. It fills in bits of continuity that are a lot of fun to reflect back to, seeing just where all of the pieces fit.

Razor could also be looked at as a teaser movie for the final season. While it is not set in the present (as far as the seasons go), it reintroduces the old style Cylons, which are said to play a part in season four. It also reveals something about one of the main characters that throws even more questions upon the finale of season three and where the fourth season is heading.

However you choose to approach the movie, you will come away with something to like about it. A stopgap between two seasons is still new Battlestar Galactica for the fans. That is never a bad thing.

The performance of Stephanie Jacobsen has to be mentioned. Prior to her role as Kendra, she had never seen a single episode of the series. She stepped into the uniform and took the bull by the horns, turning in a captivating performance. Combine her work with that of Michelle Forbes, and you have a formidable duo to contend with, possibly two of the finest acting jobs of the series so far.

Audio/Video. The disk looks and sounds great. The video is anamorphic widescreen in a 1.78:1 ratio. The colors are sharp, black levels deep, and there is a nice level of detail. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it does a fine job of delivering the dialogue, sound effects, and great music. There is nothing to complain about here.

Extras. There is a nice complement of bonus material.
  • First off, both versions of Razor are included. The broadcast version, running about 87 minutes, and the unrated version, running about 103 minutes.
  • Commentary. This full length track features producer Ronald D. Moore and writer Michael Taylor. It is a very good track with very little in the way of dead air. They offer up compliments and criticism to their baby in equal measure, as well as giving some background information on the series and the shooting of this movie.
  • Deleted Scenes. Three cut scenes. The first is a young Lee Adama awaiting transport to his first ship. The second features a brief scene between Kendra and Kara. The third has Lee and Kara reviewing footage of a civilian ship they shot down. (3.5 minutes)
  • The Look of Battlestar Galactica. This is an interesting, if all too brief look into how they went about deciding and designing how the show would appear. It goes into how they wanted to step away from the standard science fiction look and make it more familiar. (8 minutes)
  • My Favorite Episode So Far. This features interview clips with cast and crew concerning their favorite episodes and scenes. It is nice to get a glimpse of what the actors like best, and where they feel everything fell into place. (10 minutes)
  • Season 4 Sneak Peek. Don't watch this until you have watched the movie. It is a teaser of what could be happening in the last season, and how Razor plays into that. (2.5 minutes)
  • Season 4 Trailer. A brief collection of clips from next season. (>1 minute)
  • Minisodes. These are the shorts that ran on the Sci Fi Channel to promote the movie, as well as appearing online. These are a perfect example of what the strike is about. They are also good character bits. Some of these were reintegrated into the unrated version, but not all of them. (19 minutes)

Bottomline. Not important in the long run, but still a great watch. There are lots of character bits to flesh out known characters, humanize deceased ones, and introduce new ones. It fills in continuity holes. Most importantly, it is highly entertaining, has some great acting and delivers some strong action. I absolutely cannot wait until the next season begins!

I did find this wiki, which offers much information (spoilers!) about the film that is worth checking into.

Highly Recommended.


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