As I write this, the first three series of Red Dwarf are available on DVD. They have become massive sellers, and been subject to ultimately unanimous praise from fans, the public and journalists alike. For the sake of counter-argument, I aim to address a few issues I’ve had with the first two releases, largely in the technical department, and put forward my case that the discs aren’t exactly the fact the flat and circular pieces of perfection they’ve made out to be.
It’s definitely worth stating that I didn’t instantly have a tainted opinion of these first two titles – I bought them on their respective release dates, and my initial opinion was that they were above perfection. They both provided me with a chance to re-aquaint myself with the episodes themselves and enjoy lots of bonus features as well. I and every other fan were in total agreement that these had definitely been worth waiting for, and I still stand by this opinion despite what I’m about to say. However, I recently re-watched both releases in their entirety (episodes, commentaries, extras – the lot), and was a tad disillusioned when I’d finished – there were a few problems that I hadn’t noticed before.
My main bugbear with this inital pair of releases is the deleted scenes. They’re fascinating and occasionally amusing glimpses into scenes we were never intended to see originally, and they’re clearly the most popular feature of the DVD range, but they would have been much, much better had they been transferred on equipment that actually worked properly. There is a terrible compressed, muffled sound to all of these sequences which is rather distracting and distancing, presumably caused by faulty or dirty heads on the equipment used to transfer the rushes to DV. Blaming the age of the footage is not really a valid excuse, as the compilers of the Smeg Outs video had no problems getting bright and clear sound from the same archive tapes – it’s puzzling that the DVD producers didn’t spend more money on hiring better facilities, rather than blowing it all on over-elaborate and disposable menus and considerable fees to Chumbawumba’s publishers. Even further, the manky audio transfer could have been corrected afterwards with a bit of digital remastering, and still nothing was done!
The isolated music option is generally brilliant – nice sharp, stereo transfers of all Mr Howard Goodall’s beautiful incidental music, albeit presented rather clumsily. Vague presentation aside, I’d love to know whatever the compiler of this section was thinking when they decided to dub the main opening and closing themes (the two most important pieces of music in the first two series) from the VT masters of the episodes themselves! As well as this resulting in them being rather dirty-sounding mono mixes, it also means that several seconds have had to be shaved off the beginning of the ending song and an ugly fade-in applied, to obscure the audience laughter that usually segues into the credits music. This is baffling behaviour – clean, stereo versions of both tracks exist, as do alternate takes of the Jenna Russell-sung theme song (one of which appeared on many later episodes, notably series 3). The stereo master of the original closing song eventually appeared on the series 3 DVD, despite this version not appearing any episode of series 3! To add further to the musical misery, Goodall’s Androids song is nowhere to be found in the isolated music section of the series 2 disc either, although luckily it appears in the deleted scenes, albeit as a mono mix.
I’m giving a special mention to various Tongue Tied-related complaints. Firstly, the version used in the Music Cues section is also a grotty mono mix with an ugly fade-in, which is even odder, as a clean version of the song’s intro is used on the song’s VT insert tape included elsewhere on the DVD, although even this is ruined by being pointlessly segued with the last couple of seconds of the sound effects accompanying the opening caption. The extended instrumental version of this song, used heavily as background in Parallel Universe, is nowhere to be found at all, even though it could have been incorporated into a ‘sing-a-long-a-Tongue Tied’ karaoke feature if it desperately needed justification for inclusion. To summarise – the most famous three pieces of music in the first couple of series (the opening theme, the closing theme and Tongue Tied) are presented in an incredible mess. Not brilliant, really.
It’s not just the extras that have sound problems, either. The episodes themselves could have done with some more involved audio cleanup to accompany the Digital Video Noise Reduction (DVNR) applied to the picture. A handful of episodes are disconcertingly hissy, and there are a worrying amount of nasty blobs on the soundtrack (out of place pops which are very audible indeed when headphones are used), particularly in a couple of Series II episodes (Better Than Life stood out as having quite a few).
As you can (hopefully) see, these first two releases, although great, aren’t exactly perfect. The release of Series III was a massive relief, as it didn’t share these problems – the sound quality on both the episodes and the deleted scenes was excellent, the editing on the documentary and out-takes nice and tight, and the whole package much better generally. Hooray!
Although I’m principally attempting to offer criticism of things that did appear on the discs – what about the ones that didn’t? I assume there was a reason for not including the raw Mugs Murphy animation (be it clearance, film stock being AWOL etc), but surely full-frame versions of the Chef from Balance of Power and such could have been included? “Also, there’s an out-take that appeared on the Smeg Outs tape that was missing from the Series I DVD. Although Andrew Ellard apologises for said clip (the post-take corpsing from the end of Me²), “falling off in the edit”, it would still be nice for it to make an appearance somewhere for completism’s sake, for example as an Easter Egg on a future release, though I don’t know how likely or unlikely this would be.”
On the subject of lost extras opportunities, I feel some significant mention should have been made of the ill-fated Re-Mastered project, perhaps in a featurette featuring extensive clips of significant moments from the run and interview footage of people such as Doug Naylor elaborating on the matter, perhaps fan vox-pops recorded at a convention as well? There’s still time for them to do this on the series 7 disc of course, but I doubt it’ll happen. I’m extremely wary of them forcing a boxset of the Re-Mastered episodes on us in 2006…
Well, it’s on that note that I sign off, and leave you to ponder on my words, opinions and obscene mental images. If you disagree with anything I’ve said you’re a cunt, and I personally am going to find and kill you. Possibly. Well probably not, but you never know. Err, bye.