• Red Dwarf: Back To Earth

    Released by: Warner Brothers
    Released on: 10/06/2009
    Director: Doug Naylor
    Cast: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
    Year: 2009
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    The Movie:

    It’s not surprising, given the cult following it has, that Red Dwarf is back with this 2009 production, a three part mini-series entitled Back to Earth. While this latest offering does have moments, it unfortunately never really hits the stride that the earlier material had and so you wind up wondering when it’ll all be over, sadly.

    Back to Earth is set after the supposed final tenth season of Red Dwarf, where the ship’s crew wind tossed into a portal where their consciousness is altered and they begin to realize that actually just television characters. On top of that, they’ve arrived in the modern day and they realize that the last episode is upon them and that they’re going to die during the finale. Not really relishing the idea of death, they decide to track down the actual actors who play them and the series’ creators in hopes of changing their minds and saving their lives.

    While long time fans of the series will absolutely enjoy seeing the original cast back at it again, the rampant inconsistencies hurt this one a bit too much for its own good. Even at a brisk seventy minutes in length, you can’t help but feel that the picture is poorly paced and at times just a bit too post modern and self referential for its own good. There are bits here that work and sometimes just seeing the characters in fresh, new material can help bring a smile to your face but those expecting the series’ earlier brilliance will no doubt be let down by some predictable and at times groan inducing bad humor.

    That said, the effects work is kind of interesting here and a bit more to look at than what you’d probably expect from a sci-fi series that never really depended on heavy special effects for its success. A scene with a giant octopus springs to mind as a stand out moment but unfortunately this modest improvement isn’t really enough to save things.

    Part of the problem stems from the fact that all of this feels forced, largely because it all is. Naylor states that he wrestled with how to approach the material and eventually decided upon just basically fast forwarding nine years into the future from where the TV show left off. While this helps in getting things off to a fairly quick start, it’s a bit jarring and it feels out of character for the show. It’s largely agreed upon that the last two seasons of the show were the weaker ones basically because co-creator/co-writer Rob Grant flew the coop and left Doug Naylor flying solo, and the material here seems to back that up, sadly.


    The anamorphic 1.78.1 1080p VC-1 encoded widescreen transfer for Red Dwarf looks excellent. The picture quality is generally rock solid and rich with detail even if it isn't quite reference quality. Color reproduction is nice even if the movie tends to lean towards a blue tint at times, while black levels stay strong. Skin tones look dead on and both foreground and background detail is quite good throughout the film, even those heavy with optical and digital effects work. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts and any print damage that shows up however infrequently is minor. All in all, this is a very nice looking effort from Warner.

    The primary audio track on this release is a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in English. Optional subtitles are included in English (SDH only. The surround mix on this Blu-ray disc is very strong with plenty of aggressive rear channel activity to heighten the tension when called for, particularly during the action scenes. The mix benefits from nice, clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. There aren't any problems at all with hiss or distortion and the score sounds nice and crisp as do the various sound effects used throughout the picture.

    Warner/BBC Video have loaded this release with extras including a cast commentary and a solo director commentary, both of which are fairly interesting, even if the cast commentary is the more amusing and entertaining of the two. Discussions include following up the cult favorite TV series, production schedules, budgeting, effects, writing and rewriting and more. If you’re a fan of the series, give them both a shot as there’s a good bit of information here.

    From there check out the new documentary, The Making of Back to Earth, a seventy one minute look at the making of a seventy minute movie. There are some good interviews in here with the cast and crew and various production types as well as some good behind the scenes clips. It’s a bit long for what it is, but it’s interesting enough and once again, if you’re an established fan of the series you’ll probably really appreciate it.

    Rounding out the extras are a trio of deleted scenes (with or without optional commentary from Naylor), a three minute blooper reel called Smeg ups, a twenty minute effects featurette that isn’t as detailed as it could be, a few trailers, a collection of promotional web videos and a decent sized still gallery. All of the extras except for the commentary tracks are on the second disc and, The Making Of Back To Earth notwithstanding, are presented in standard definition.

    The Final Word:

    Lightning, unfortunately, doesn’t always strike twice and while the original television series holds up very well, this attempted re-launch fails to really take off. Warner/BBC have done a very nice job and presented the movie with excellent audio and video quality and a host of decent extras, which will obviously please its fans, but the picture just never really succeeds in capturing the zany humor that made the earlier material so good.