There has been a lot of criticism of the Red Dwarf DVDs. That’s fair enough; everyone does it, and it would be utterly wrong to sycophantically claim that they are faultless. They’re far from perfect, and that’s a given. However, let’s consider what could have happened, if the BBC had got their own way…
First, though, we’d just like to say that we fully condone people moaning about the DVDs. There are a fair few bad points about them. There’s no new out-takes, the raw effects footage has shots missing, there’s a few omissions from the music cues, Series II could have done with a new menu, there’s some dodgy editing round Lister’s head on the back cover and there’s no original continuity. Plus, with the Series III and IV DVDs addressing most of these faults, the first couple look utterly inferior in comparison. But it could be worse.
The BBC originally wanted to put the DVDs out as their first-ever DVD. I just argued that, “Why would we want to do that?” because hardly anyone in the UK had DVDs at the time, so it would be their bestseller, but it would sell about 25… to all the 25 people who’ve got DVDs. Far better to wait for a few years, until more people had DVDs, and then it would be a bigger seller.
So, let’s take a look at the BBC’s early DVD releases. There’s Blackadder, which was released as individual series and as a box set, neither of which had any extras at all. Only Fools and Horses has been given sporadic, plain releases, very rarely in the right order and with nothing at all in the way of extras. The Porridge DVDs – rubbish. The Young Ones – rubbish (they use the heavily edited 29-minute versions for series two, for fuck’s sake). And that’s not to mention ‘best of’ releases, which are utterly pointless in an age when an entire series can be easily slotted onto one disc.
So, what would the Red Dwarf DVDs have been like, had they been released as soon as possible? Well, let’s start with the cover. Look at this, this, this, this, and this. There’s some kind of link here that I can’t quite put my finger on. A plain white background, with a publicity photo in the foreground, a brightly coloured logo at the top and a cast list. Not really as good as an extremely detailed CGI rendering of a ship, a big shiny logo, a little publicity photo and details of the extras, is it? Although the cover is not an integral part of the release, it’s still a nice touch, and well worth the time spent on it. And what would a Red Dwarf cover in this mould be like?
The core problem with these releases are the lack of extras. In fairness, they do proudly list two: interactive menus and scene selection. Incidentally, aren’t all menus interactive? Otherwise, they’d just be the words ‘play all’ and ‘select episode’ printed on the screen, with no way of selecting them. And as for scene selection – whoop-de-do. The menus and scene selection are the only two extras that aren’t listed on the back of the Red Dwarf DVDs, primarily for space restrictions, but also because GNP realise that they should be standard DVD features, and there’s nothing ‘special’ about them.
As for the interactive menus themselves, they’d be a bag of shite and all. Without the sufficient budget and effort spent on the project by Deluxe Digital, the menus would have been the standard for cheap BBC releases – a list of episodes and ‘play all’ and the ever popular ‘scene selection’ options, against a white background and a publicity shot foreground. WHOOP-DE-DOO. Not quite in the same league as stunningly detailed recreations of sets from the series, complete with props and artefacts from the episodes, and even the correct lighting, is it?
So, no snazzy cover, no nice menus and no extras. What about the content of the disc itself? As Red Dwarf fans, we are extremely lucky that the people behind the releases actually give a shit about us. Not only does Associate Producer Andrew Ellard keep us up to date on the progress of the discs via the official site, he also takes suggestions and complaints from fans, usually through the official webboard.
With the fans in mind, GNP decided against releasing the Re-Mastered series; choosing to clean up the original version instead. Can you imagine the uproar that would have been caused if this was not the case? How would we have reacted if the shelves of HMV were stocked to the gills with Red Dwarf I: Re-Mastered on 4th November 2002? Personally, we’d have firebombed the fuckers. And what would have happened after Series III, when there’s no more Re-Mastered stuff available? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
This, of course, is all pure conjecture. We know that Grant Naylor Productions would never stand for such a shoddy display, and we thank them for it. But if they weren’t so dedicated, so in-touch with the fans and so eager to produce excellent releases, we’d be galloping up diahorrea drive without a paddle. No, what we’ve got isn’t perfect. But it’s unfair to judge the DVDs on their faults, and it’s even worse to judge them on what isn’t there, rather than what is there. Sadly, we’re as guilty as the man behind the grassy knoll on both of these counts. It’s an easy trap to fall in to. Hopefully, this article will help to tip the balance a little. We sometimes don’t appreciate just how lucky we are.