“Its cold outside, There’s no kind of atmosphere, I’m all alone, More or less.
Let me fly, Far away from here, Fun, fun, fun, In the sun, sun, sun.
I want to lie, Shipwrecked and comatose, Drinking fresh, Mango juice, Goldfish shoals, Nibbling at my toes, Fun, fun, fun, In the sun, sun, sun…”
If you recognize that silly ditty, then you know it can only mean one thing. After 10 long years of silence, witness the return of the BBC science fiction comedy, Red Dwarf. With the huge success of the rebirth of Doctor Who, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Red Dwarf would make some kind of a return as well. Just like the revitalized Doctor, the show has been brought all the way into the new millennium. The cardboard f/x and limited production has given way to state of the art computer generated f/x. Unlike the Doctor, this crew is not returning to a full slate of episodes. The feature is essentially a limited run of three episodes molded into a single story. There are no immediate plans to bring back the series, but this feature certainly lets the world know that they’re back, and maybe better than ever.
In case you’ve been locked away in cryosleep somewhere, I’ll give you the basic 411 on the original series idea. Lister (Charles) smuggles his cat on the ship Red Dwarf. He is punished by being put into stasis. When he awakes he finds it is 3 million years later, his cat has evolved into a humanoid (John-Jules), his best friend, Rimmer (Barrie) is just a hologram, and the antics have just begun. The look of the characters hasn’t really changed, and surprisingly this thing looks just like it did when it left off in 1999.
Now the good news is that you can pretty much enjoy this feature without knowing too much about the original show. It certainly helps, and you won’t get all of the jokes if you don’t. Still, the new story is quite accessible for newcomers.
It’s 9 years later on the Red Dwarf, just as it has been 9 years since the last episode. Things are pretty much as they’ve always been. But now there seems to be a water shortage. Rimmer reports that the tank is full, but the taps are drying out. Of course, that could have something to do with the sea monster Cat encountered at the water tank. After a battle with the multi-tentacled beast, the Red Dwarf is suddenly visited by a new hologram. Katerina (Winkleman) is a Russian command program who has appeared to relieve Rimmer because he has not allowed Lister to grow and complete his mission to repopulate the human species. She builds a machine based on the interdimensional properties of the monster and sends the gang to an “alternate” Earth. The boys end up in present day London where they find that they are characters from a television show which is about to air its final episode. That means the boys are goners if they can’t find the show’s creator and get him to write more episodes. Is it all over?
The answer is that it might be. The new feature is an obvious attempt to try and build interest for more adventures. It’s rather clever, as the characters are doing just that inside the three-part feature. The gags are usually pretty good. I did tire a bit of the merchandising jokes which are likely intended to sell more Red Dwarf stuff. The actors fell back into their parts as if they never left them. They get along so well, and that comes through pretty well. Looking at the extras, you can tell these guys are comfortable with each other and had a grand old time doing the feature. There are a ton of Blade Runner references here, down to a pyramid structure in this version of town town London. There’s even a clever Star Trek reference.
Red Dwarf: Back To Earth is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 codec. One of the first things you are going to notice from the very first shot is how good the production actually is here. This is not your old Red Dwarf at all. Blu-ray does a great job of reproducing these improved visuals. Colors are outstanding. Rimmer’s blue uniform and Cat’s outrageous costumes work quite well here. Detail is also very high so that you’ll see more of this show than you ever did before from the clutter in Lister’s room to the product placement in the control center. Black levels are wonderful. This is a sweet video presentation, indeed.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track isn’t near as majestic as the image. There aren’t any flaws; it’s just that most of the audio is dialog in claustrophobic settings, and so the presentation is controlled from front and center. There are some ambient sounds from time to time but nothing that just breaks through and grabs you.
This is a 2 disc set with a commentary on disc one and a ton of extras, in HD on the second disc:
The Making Of Back To Earth: This feature is broken into 2 parts for royalty concerns. (24:00) (47:58) This thing is fully loaded. Everybody participates, and there’s a ton of talk about reuniting for the film. The feature covers pretty much every aspect of production with plenty of behind the scenes footage. There’s a close-up look at the Starbug car, special f/x, writing, table reads, camera equipment and set design.
Smeg Ups: (10:45) These would be bloopers.
Deleted Scenes: There are 3 scenes with optional commentary. Not all of the f/x are completed.
The SFX On Back To Earth: (19:24) There is some overlap here, but it’s a good look at the film’s most notable f/x.
Back To Earth Premiere: (5:40) The cast and crew appear at the London premiere of the feature. There are tons of fan interviews.
Cast Signing Session: (7:43) The cast in full costume and makeup sit at a table to sign pictures. They joke around a lot and answer questions from an off-air person. It’s a wonderful look at the dynamic of the actors.
Press Kit Video: (6:24) Basically an extended trailer with cast and crew talking up the feature.
Behind The Scenes Web Videos: There are 4 short web production diaries. These are technically in HD, but the picture quality is pretty minimal.
And so Red Dwarf is back. I was never a huge fan of the show, but I did watch it from time to time. My sensibilities leaned closer to Doctor Who. Still, I always got a good laugh out of the gang. To tell you the truth, I liked this far more than any episode in the series, with the possible exception of the bar room tidy. It’s clever and very entertaining. I’m sure some of you will consider it more or less an extended episode, and I can’t really disagree with you. Even so, it’s one of the best episodes. I’m on board to see more of this new Red Dwarf, if the BBC gods should allow. Unless of course, “The series cancellation sequence can’t be reversed once it’s established”.