Red Dwarf: The Complete Series Five & Six DVD Review
By Widge - posted 04.08.05 @ 3:35 am
Starring Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge
Released by: BBC.
My Advice: Fans must own.
This is quite possibly the oddest show I've ever run across. It's got the odd group of anti-heroes, some of whom are appalling in that wonderful way that the Brits can pull off appalling. It's a first class sitcom, but its roots are heavily in sci-fi. Some of the concepts for shows are truly out there: they all get stranded on a moon that's getting its cues from Rimmer's psyche...or bits of time travel and virtual reality before Star Trek sucked the life out of those concepts and feasted on their dried corpses. It's all over the map as far as where the story is going, since you can just leap forward (and sometimes backward) in time, but it's oddly coherent.
I think this is first and foremost due to the fact that it's a half-hour show, but the show itself is so dense with info and laughs (in fairly equal proportions) that it doesn't have time to screw around. This is also thanks to the fact that the Brits--who have it right, I think--don't screw around. Rather than make twenty to thirty episodes of middling quality each season, they'll do six. And they'll be good. Damn good. Fawlty Towers is one of the funniest shows of all time, but it still boggles my mind that it only has twelve episodes--and that's it. Here you've got the crazed mirror universe of "Demons & Angels" and the wild western (no pun intended) "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" as standout episodes that testify to all this.
These releases are stacked. Each episode comes with commentary from the cast, which is a nice blend of sitting and watching, relating stories and memories, and just general goofball mayhem. It's kind of hard to keep track of who's talking when, but c'est la guerre. The fan commentaries are decent, but only for the hardcore fans in my opinion. Each series set comes with an overview documentary that takes you through each of the episodes and gives a lot of great background info. There's also deleted scenes, which are mostly bits you can do without, but some actually do have some chuckles. They're better than what you find on most DVD releases, but only by a skoche. The "Smeg Ups," or blooper reels, are sadly what we've seen with ninety percent of blooper tracks out there. Cast members flubbing lines or cursing is only funny for maybe sixty seconds. After that, we're over it.
There are a number of featurettes on both discs that are basically montages of clips ("Sick" and "Bad Guys" being two) that are pretty much filler. If you've seen the episodes, seeing these bits again in a sad music video kind of way isn't going to make them feel fresh again. For FX stuff, you've got a "SFX of Red Dwarf V" which is a behind the scenes look at a lot of the stuff going on, making of models and creatures and whatnot. Along with commentary by Mike Tucker, an FX tech from the show, you also get rolling subtitles providing some more information as needed. So that's nice. There's also, on the sixth series set, raw FX footage are provided of the crew in their ship...which is nice for posterity.
Original radio sketches from "Son of Cliche," which served as the inspiration for the show, are provided...and you can see that the comedy has improved in the translation. The series six set has a featurette with Howard Goodall, who wrote the score and the theme song for the show and it's a nice meet with the guy, but it kind of put me off that we got footage of his various awards superimposed over him playing the theme song. There's ways to put across the fact that he kicks ass at his trade without making it feel like it's a brag reel. Another interesting bit is Robert Llewellyn returning to Laredo where the "Gunmen" episode was shot and revisiting the location eleven years later. I don't know why, but I always find it amusing to see a whole bunch of cowboys and they're all speaking with British accents. That makes absolutely no sense, so feel free to pretend I didn't type it.
My favorite part of these two sets was the bit about the attempt to bring the series to the U.S. and what a terrible piece of shite the whole thing was. Interesting is the extremely candid discussion of how awkward it was to have Llewellyn be the only cast member to reprise his role and what these original folks thought the American version got both right and wrong. It screams out yet another series where the folks bringing it over missed the point completely.
The good parts of these discs far outweigh the bad, but there's one thing that drives me up the frigging wall. The animated menus, which take you through parts of the ship to get from one part to another take too damn long. It's kinda cool the first time, but on the third or fourth pass, when you can't hit the skip button to just get it over with, it's very, very irritating.
The fan of the show probably already has these. But everyone else should give them a view, after which they will no doubt become fans as well. These are sick, demented folks and should be respected as such.