Director’s Cut

BBC | 2009 | 70 mins. | Not Rated

In all honesty, when I received a copy of Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, I had little idea what it was about. However, since I tend to love British programming, I was eager to check it out. As it turns out, Back to Earth was based on a hugely popular sci-fi comedy series that aired in the U.K. from 1989 to 1999. It was inspired by a series of sketches featured on Dave Hollins: Space Cadet, and has continued to enjoy a devoted cult following ever since.

Before watching the Back to Earth mini-series, I was able to watch some episodes of the Red Dwarf series to get some familiarity with the story, plot and characters. For those unfamiliar with the show, things center on a fellow named Lister (Craig Charles), the only surviving Earthling, who’s traveling throughout space in search of other humans, aboard a spaceship called Red Dwarf. Aboard the craft with him are a crazy hologram named Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Cat, a humanoid creature who evolved from the offspring of Lister’s smuggled pet cat Frankenstein, and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn), a quirky humanoid robot charged with fixing the ship.

Back to Earth begins nine years after the events of Series VIII. Lister is grieving over the death of his girlfriend Kochanski (Chloë Annett). Things are pretty boring until the crew notices that their water supplies are running low. Upon further inspection, it seems that a giant squid-like creature has taken up residence in their water tank. The crew attempts to stop the creature, but barely escape the encounter with their lives.

Right around this time, a new hologram named Katerina Bartikovsky (Sophie Winkleman), turns up (she was also a former science officer for the Red Dwarf), and informs Rimmer that he will be destroyed in 24 hours, due to his incompetence; further, she will be taking over as the ships new hologram. However, before all of this takes place, she decides to get rid of the squid using a kind of dimensional gateway. When the gateway opens, the crew is teleported to London, circa 2009. Here, the quartet discovers they aren’t “real,” but instead they are part of a fictional television show called Red Dwarf.

After finding a DVD of the Back to Earth special, they’re shocked to learn they are to die in the final part. They attempt to track down the show’s creators, to make a plea for new life. Meanwhile, Lister becomes anxious at the prospect of finding the real actress who played Kochanski and rekindling their love.

There’s a lot going on in this three part mini-series that runs a mere 70-minutes; while the original show was character based and seemed to account for every detail, Back to Earth is more plot driven—the characters interact with other hit BBC shows, such as Coronation Street, resulting in some genuinely funny moments.

For someone like myself, who didn’t have longtime exposure to Red Dwarf and its crew, the pacing seemed a bit slow and things didn’t get genuinely funny until the quartet landed in London, 2009. However, for long time fans of the series, Back to Earth will likely represent a wonderful opportunity to see the crew of the Red Dwarf again. It’s hard to know whether to label Back to Earth as a sendoff for the series, or some type of new beginning. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Back to Earth is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen using the VC-1 codec. While the show does boast a decidedly vibrant palette with crisp sharp details, the overall presentation, some of the series aesthetic choices hurt the transfer. Black levels, fleshtones and colors are fabulous, giving the show nice depth. Shadow delineation is also perfect. However, the stark overhead lighting flattens the overall look of the special. Certain scenes are incredibly sharp and clean, but heavy motion blur can be seen throughout the transfer.

All of that being said, the Red Dwarf: Back to Earth Blu-ray transfer is still significantly better than anything you’ll see in standard definition.

Audio choices are English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English Stereo with English captions for the hearing impaired. Audio was just slightly cleaner with the DTS mix (sharper than even the DVD Dolby 5.1 mix), but effects and score were only moderately mixed in rear surrounds with no real discrete separation. Unfortunately, the audio is nothing to write home about.

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth has the following special features:

• On disc one, you have the option to watch Back to Earth either as the “director’s cut” feature film version or as three separate episodes (which is how they initially aired on television).
Audio Commentaries: The director’s cut offers an audio commentary with writer/director Doug Naylor, while the episodes offer commentaries with the four key cast members.
The Making of Back to Earth (50:00) A “making-of” documentary that features lengthy interviews with all of the cast and main crew members.
Smeg Ups (10:00) A traditional gag reel.
Deleted Scenes: With optional commentary from Doug Naylor.
The SFX of Back to Earth (19:00) Offers a look at the CG effects used in the series.
Back to Earth Premiere (6:00) A look at the premiere party.
Cast Signing Session (8:00) The cast signs some autographs for fans.
Press Kit Video (6:00) Typical EPK stuff
Webisodes: There are four of them. Each running between 90 seconds and 140 seconds, the brief featurettes detail smaller aspects of the production. They include, “Carbug,” Lister on the Street,” “Cat Always Lands on his Feet” and “Robot on a Wire.”
Photo Gallery
Collection of trailers and TV promotions for the special.

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