BBC Video // 2008 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 14th, 2009
Let the metaphysical odyssey begin!
Most reviews of Red Dwarf: Back to Earth begin with something like, "I've been a fan of Red Dwarf for a very long time. The first six series were great, the later series weren't so great, so I had mixed feelings about this Back to Earth special made nearly ten years after the conclusion of the program." Full disclosure: I've never seen a single episode of Red Dwarf, and this Blu-ray disc turned up as a surprise review assignment. It's not that I have no interest in the program...being someone who generally enjoys British comedy, I've been meaning to get around to the show for a while, but I would always wander off in a different direction for whatever reason. Anyway, if you're a big fan of the show you probably either saw the special when it aired or checked out the DVD released a couple of months before this Blu-ray set. So, consider this a review from someone who has absolutely no experience with Red Dwarf written for people who are curious about whether or not they should check out a 70-minute special based on a cult show that they haven't seen, either. (Yes, I know. Just bear with me.)
Back to Earth opens by introducing us to a human named Dave Lister (Craig Charles), a hologram of a guy named Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie), a robot named Kryten (Robert Llewellyn), and a super-evolved cat named Cat (Danny John-Jules) who looks more like a vampire than a cat. They're attempting to deal with a situation on-board their spaceship: apparently a giant squid has invaded the ship's water tank. In the middle of battling the squid, the eccentric foursome is transported to another dimension. This is a dimension in which they are characters from a once-popular television series called Red Dwarf. It seems that at the moment, they are living out a soon-to-be-released adventure called Red Dwarf: Back to Earth. Can they ever make it back to their planet?
Again, I know nothing about the rest of the series, but this special is a campy, preposterous, witty, juvenile, and inventive little adventure that I enjoyed and chuckled at when I wasn't furrowing my brow in confusion. This special is very clearly geared at fans of the series, with loads of in-jokes (I'm pretty sure they're in-jokes) and metaphysical gags involving the cast and crew ("Dave Lister" confronts "Craig Charles" in one odd scene). Even so, it's clear enough that even the uninitiated will have a reasonably good idea of what is going on, and the plotting is entertaining stuff that plays like a very cheesy cousin of Being John Malkovich. You also get a generous dose of puns, silly sight gags, and a selection of references to Blade Runner. It all ends with a satisfactorily peculiar and amusing confrontation with the "show creator" (played by actor Richard O'Callaghan rather than one of the actual creators) in which the characters attempt to run away from bullets that will cancel them permanently and end the series. It works reasonably well on a surface level as kitschy sci-fi comedy and on a subtler level as a satire of the British television industry.
The Blu-ray transfer is quite solid, despite the fact that it's presented in 1080i rather than 1080p. There is a bit of black crush at times and flesh tones occasionally seem a bit too reddish, but otherwise I have no complaints of note with the image. The level of detail is solid, and the rather diverse color palette is conveyed with vibrancy and warmth. In terms of audio, there are just a few moments in which the dialogue seems distant and tinny, but most of the time it's perfectly solid. The rumbling sound design and energetic occasional music selections come through with clarity and strength.
This 2-disc Blu-ray set comes absolutely packed with extras, far more than one normally finds on a television special of this sort. 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). The director's cut offers an audio commentary with writer/director Doug Naylor, while the episodes offer commentaries with the four key cast members. On disc two, the biggest and best extra is a 50-minute making-of documentary entitled "The Making of Back to Earth," featuring comprehensive interviews with everybody in the cast and crew. You also get 10 minutes of "Smeg Ups" (a gag reel), deleted scenes with commentary from Doug Naylor, a 19-minute featurette on the special effects, 5 minutes of footage from the Back to Earth premiere, 7 minutes of footage from a cast signing session, a 6-minute press kit video, and a handful of brief behind-the-scenes web videos. In addition, you get an assortment of trailers and promotional spots, plus an introduction to the special from Craig Charles. Finally, you can browse through a selection of photo galleries. Best of all, the vast majority of the supplemental material is presented in HD. Cool!
I may not be any sort of respectable fan of the program, but I enjoyed Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, and the strength of this special makes me want to go add the earlier seasons to my Netflix queue. I have no idea what the diehard fans will think, but it's good stuff as far as I'm concerned. The Blu-ray release is top-notch.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Trailers and TV Spots
* Image Galleries
* Official Site