Red Dwarf: Back to Earth (Blu-ray), Review
By Marc | October 11th, 2009
Gone for a decade, but definitely not forgotten, the Red Dwarf crew return.
After a decade away, is one of Britian’s premier sitcoms as strong as ever, or in this case, does time erode all things? Let’s go “Back to Earth” to find out. (And yes, I’m aware how terrible that line is.)
Now, to start this review off, there won’t be any screencaps. Due to issues (motherboard go boom) I’m not working on my normal computer. Normally when I review I go back and forth between TV and PC, and check things through as I’m writing the review. Once my computer is back up I will go through the set and add a screencap gallery, but for now… nadda. I’ve tossed in promotional shots from the official Red Dwarf website. Check it out, it’s one of the best official sites a show has ever received.
As always, let’s start off with the packaging. Red Dwarf comes in a standard 2 disc holder Blu-ray case. One disc on each side, no insert or booklet. While I won’t say the case artwork is the best thing ever, looking like something any fan could put together in Photoshop, I actually quite like it. The front is just the logo, along with some credits and company logos. It also has a “The Director’s Cut” banner across the top. The Red Dwarf logo is newer, and more polished, and it’s all any fan needs to see to grab the disc. The back has all the information you need listed well, in a style similar to the ‘photoshoppy’ style of the front cover. Now here is the twist… the cover art was done that way on purpose. The cover art was used in the show as a prop, so it had to be done in such a way that people could see the details. And reproducing the packaging (mostly, the one in the show was labeled as ‘coming soon’) and the description as it’s read to us in the show starts the humor before the packaging has even been unwrapped. It’s a great little touch. But we will get to how and why the cover art appears in the show later.
The menu on the set is one of the few weak points. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clean and looks nice. But there are a few small issues. The first, is sometimes the menu stutters when you make selections, much like DVD menus tended to do. The other issue has to do with scene selection for the show itself. If you want to watch Back to Earth as it aired on TV, you need to go into the scene selection menu, and it’s a bit confusing how things are setup. As an example, clicking “Episode 1″ in the scene selection menu doesn’t play the first episode. It instead takes you into a scene selection menu for Episode 1 itself. This is a bit confusing, and I feel it could have been done far better. The menu for disc 2, containing a whole mess of extras, doens’t have this issue. Nice looking menus, and if you never plan to watch anything but the director’s cut, then you won’t have an issue.
I should mention something before going into Back to Earth itself. This is for Red Dwarf fans. It uses its three episode runtime to tell a story for the fans. If you aren’t familiar with Red Dwarf, it makes little attempt to explain what’s what. Each character gets a scene that (re)introduces them to the audience, and that is it. Go watch Red Dwarf first.
When we last left the crew the ship was tearing itself apart, Lister, Kryten, Kochanski, and the Cat had escaped to an alternate universes Red Dwarf, and Rimmer (the second Rimmer that is) found himself stuck on the quickly deteriorating ship running from the Grim Reaper himself. After a decade of waiting, Back to Earth begins with… “Nine Years Later.” Yes, Red Dwarf returns, and in its opening seconds, gets the joke on the fans by skipping nearly a decade ahead.
The characters are the characters we remember and love, but a few things have changed. The original Rimmer seems to be back (dialogue and plot information definitely suggests it’s the original hologram Rimmer, rather than the ‘second’ Rimmer turned into a hologram), Holly is down due to an accident, and Kochanski is dead.
After some events I won’t go into (have to fight between giving info and avoiding too many spoilers that aren’t obvious through descriptions given on the box, trailers, etc.) the crew ends up in our world and discover they are in fact, television characters. More importantly, reading a box advertising a ‘coming soon’ collection of new Red Dwarf episodes (there’s that cover art I mentioned…) they find out their time is limited, that the Red Dwarf Season/Series they are in now (right now… with the box description overtly pointing out both what I’m saying, and informing the characters what is going on) is their last. With the cover art mentioning they attempt to track down their creator and ask for more life, what else can they do but…. attempt to track down their creator and ask for more life.
The interesting thing about Back to Earth, it was originally written as a two parter and then expanded into a three parter. All three parts cleanly cut off at natural breaking points, but quite frankly, watching the director’s cut (less a director’s cut and more just the episodes clipped together without intros and outtros, although there is one joke cut about it being three episodes, and a small scene without dialogue added) makes it feel much more coherent. It basically feels like a ‘Red Dwarf: The Movie’, with more CGI, and a few updated designs.
I enjoyed Back to Earth immensely. It plays to the Red Dwarf fan (how could you not with a plot like that.) The primary issue for me, I feel Red Dwarf works better when it’s being a sitcom, and this one is much more an adventure (with the traditional Red Dwarf charm, and a twist or two…) There’s nothing wrong with that to me, and with only three episodes after a decade of waiting, doing a big adventure made sense. Is it the best Red Dwarf ever? No. Is it the worst? Again no. It’s a nice Red Dwarf movie, and having already watched it twice (and that was before I checked stuff for the review, so add on more) I expect in the upcoming weeks I’ll be watching it a few more times, and trying to get more people to watch Red Dwarf.
The audio on Back to Earth is about the same. It’s very good, but not perfect. Red Dwarf tends to be dialogue heavy, so very good is generally what’s needed. Based on which version of Back to Earth you watch you get a different audio track. If you watch the ‘episodic’ version you get Dolby 2.0. This is a nice track, a little soft, but very good for a TV audio track. If you watch the Director’s Cut you get a DTS HD High Resolution 5.1 track. This is not the DTS HD MA lossless that many modern releases use, but a slightly lower quality version. I’m not quite sure why they chose to use this codec (lower licensing cost, the disk appears to be a single layer Blu-ray also, so regardless, it appears the reason was budgetary), but I don’t believe it’s created any sort of issue. The audio for the Director’s Cut is rich, and richer than the episodic audio. A few specific action scenes surprised me with how great they sounded. Much like how this is the best Red Dwarf has ever looked, it’s also the best it’s ever sounded, regardless of which version you watch.
Extras… extras… extras… No Red Dwarf fan needs to be told that Red Dwarf has traditionally had a lot of extras, and this is no exception. On the first disc you get 2 commentaries. The first commentary, on the Director’s Cut is a commentary from co-creator of Red Dwarf (and writer/director of Back to Earth) Doug Naylor. The episodic version has commentary from the four people every Red Dwarf fan wants to hear from: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn. Both tracks are definitely worth a listen, with both tracks filled with good information and being relatively good information. The only flaw here is that I think it would have been nice if Naylor had someone else in the room to bounce stories and comments off of. For a show that has had a ton of commentary tracks, it’s nice to see that tradition continue. The first disc also includes a relatively detailed audio and video calibration ‘program.’ While not technically an extra, it looks like a fairly comprehensive one (although not likely to be used by anyone who bought a stand alone disc) and I felt it was worth mentioning.
As for the second disc, all extras. I won’t be going over them in detail, because frankly, there is just to much, with the majority in HD to boot. We get two documentaries about the making of Back to Earth, one that aired on TV, and a new one that clocks in at over 45 minutes. We also get another round of Smeg Ups (bloopers in Red Dwarf jargon.) As always, the cast have some great blooper moments. After that, deleted scenes (with commentary from Naylor if you want it.) You also get featurettes, promotional videos that aired on TV for PBS and Dave (Dave is the channel in the UK Back to Earth aired on. As for the PBS promos, they seem to be new ‘in costume’ footage of the actors asking people to donate to public television rather than specific promos for Back to Earth). You also get videos used on the web to promote Back to Earth, episode introductions, a photo gallery, and it just keeps going on. I could probably do a detailed article on just the extras if I really wanted to. They also tell you outright that there is an easter egg somewhere on the disc. I don’t think anyone expected a lack of extras on Back to Earth, but I love just how much stuff they stuffed on here.
Red Dwarf came back, and it was great. It wasn’t the best Red Dwarf ever, but it was fun. The Blu-ray is a nearly perfect love letter to fans. I don’t really have much more to say about it other than that Red Dwarf fans need to run out and buy this now, and others need to go watch the series so they can go pick this up and know what is going on. And with the recent announcement (just yesterday) that there will be a Red Dwarf Series/Season X filming next year, Red Dwarf fans have more to look forward.
The American Blu-ray appears to be identical to the Blu-ray released in the UK. And also, the only difference for DVD buyers is that they don’t get it in HD, you still get all the bonus features as far as I can tell. So people without Blu-ray can still enjoy the greatness that is the Back to Earth set.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you have a Netflix account in the USA, all of Red Dwarf (prior to Back to Earth) is up for streaming on Netflix’s website, or on any Netflix connected device.
Movie: B (Red Dwarf is as fun as ever.)
Overall (not an average): A (A great Red Dwarf release. A must own.)