Series VII DVD Review

There’s a problem with the Series VII DVD. Quite a big one, that none of the other releases so far has had to deal with. Put simply, the problem is this: the series is shite. Have GNP managed to put together a DVD release that compensates for this? One that’s still worth buying if you hate the series? What do you think?

The answer is ‘yes’, obviously. But then, we’ve known that this is the case for a while. Just reading the list of extras is enough, and when you actually get to see them, they certainly don’t disappoint. It’s a gargantuan package. There are over fourteen hours’ worth of things to watch here, which is quite incredible. The first thing you watch is the new 2Entertain copyright notice and logo, which was a bit of a surprise. It’s a shame that the old BBC version is no longer with us – it’s nearly as old as me. You do get the standard BBC ident, though, which is immediately followed by:

Animated Menus

Lovely stuff, as usual. More or less the same as VI, right down to the montage of Starbug fly-bys at the beginning, with all-new props and background detail. This time, however, all four screens in the mid-section are utilised for selections, rather than just two. Makes sense, considering the amount of extras spread over all three discs.

Now, the downside of having so many extras is that the sheer amount of options makes navigating the disc a bit overwhelming. If you select ‘Play All’, you get the episodes as broadcast. If you put the commentary on and select ‘Play All’, you get the Xtended versions where available. If you go to the episode select screen and pick your episode, you either go straight to the chapter menu or get up to four options for how to watch the episode. It’s a little odd at the start, but you soon get used to it.

Sadly, there is quite a major goof on the bonus material menu – the Burning Rubber featurette is labelled as “Technically Speaking featurette”. What d’yer mean “Technically Speaking“?

Tikka To Ride: Re-Mastered

Very good! The effects are still not as good as the models, but they’re certainly miles better than the original VII CGI. They’re mainly fly-bys, and they work very well. It all goes to show that Chris Veale does have the talent – it was the lack of time and money that meant the stuff in VII was so poor. The new version of Starbug spewing out waste into the rings of a planet still looks crap, though.

Cast Commentary

As was expected, the place to go for behind-the-scenes information is the documentary. If you’d rather hear about Chloë Annett’s hair, however, stick to the commentary. Well, it’s not that bad; it does have its moments and it’s always good to hear the group laughing and joking with each other. It’s still very hit and miss, though, with too many quiet moments. It’s also difficult to get through too many episodes in one sitting, as Danny John-Jules will tell you – he started reading the paper during Epideme. Well, it is Epideme.

Chloé fits in easily and makes a good commentator, joining in the giving and taking of piss. Chris’s contributions for the episodes he wasn’t in are interesting; his ‘as-a-viewer’ opinion of Beyond A Joke is “I liked the bit with the tank and the girls”. Robert Llewellyn is still sticking up for the model shots, and he is correct. Oh, and Craig Charles says the word “wanker”. Tee-hee!

Identity Within

Woah, mamma. First off, full marks for even coming up with the idea in the first place. Before it was announced, I’d have been surprised if just the text of the script had been included. Which is why what happened happened. But nope, the script on its own wasn’t enough for a Dwarf DVD – they’ve made it into something very special indeed.

Every component – the voiceover, the pictures, the sound effects, the music – is first-rate, and they’re all vital in ensuring the quality of the project. There’s always something going on. It can grab and keep your attention in a way that, say, a talking book struggles to do, because there’s always something new to notice. And, believe it or not, through Chris’s performance and the music, you actually get caught up in the drama of it. Incredible.

Unsurprisingly, this version shows off IDW’s potential far better than the script itself did. It’s very funny, and very sweet at times. There’s some fantastic character stuff towards the end, with Cat’s departure and Lister’s resultant melancholy. This would have been a corker of an episode. But then, if it had have been, we wouldn’t have had this stunning piece of work. It’s easy to forget that as well as his impressions of the others, Chris Barrie Is Playing Rimmer Again, for the first time in six years. For that alone, this is surely the bookies’ favourite for Best Extra Evur.

Here’s an interesting point… is IDW canon? I look forward to the ensuing mass debate, as I hop over to Disc Two.

Fan Films

Kicks off with the mock-copyright notice from Danny Stephenson’s film (written by Cappsy, obscure and tedious trivia fans), followed by a few clips from The Other Movie and then the montage. Ooooh, it takes a montage. Looks like they’re culled from about a dozen different films, and I instantly want to see them all in full. I wonder what happened to the idea of putting them online?

Next up is the Fan Film Awards ceremony, hosted by a tuxedo-ed Doug. It’s shot in true fan film style – a sign pinned haphazardly onto the background, a random piece of furniture for a podium, and some Dwarf paraphernalia plonked in the shot for no particular reason. In this case, it’s the D-Form models of Rimmer and Duane, unpainted. If these are the equivalent to the Oscar statues, when can the winners expect to receive one? (Insert winking emoticon here.)

Doug’s introductions are brief, but funny. It’s so rare that we see Doug doing anything but interviews (which are excellent, obviously), so it’s a nice treat. Also, I think I’m going to make a loop of Doug Naylor saying my name and play it constantly for the rest of my life. This is an impartial review, however, so I’m not going to say that the first film featured is the highlight of the disc, and that it displays its genius director’s incredible talent and creative flair. That is for other people to say. James Hickey’s film is brilliant, though. Very, very funny and clearly lovingly made.

Back From The Dead

You know how the documentaries for V and VI were that little bit better than the ones for III and IV? And how those were themselves vastly superior to Launching Red Dwarf? Well, they’ve done it again. They’ve really invested in the doco this time – with more contributors than ever before and, for the first time, clips from other shows. The latter really helps to add depth and context. Doug mentions The 10%ers… and we see The 10%ers! Robert mentions I, Camcorder… and we see I, Camcorder! The latter looks bloody brilliant, by the way; full DVD release pls.

The contributors are refreshingly frank and fair about the various problems the production faced. They treat subjects like Rob’s departure, Chris’s departure, the introduction of Kochanski, the various visual effects crises, the guest writers and the lack of audience with honesty and clarity, and all sides of the story are represented. This is exactly what we want from a documentary – a more or less definitive chronicle of a tricky stage in Dwarf‘s history.

Deleted Scenes – Time Drive

Forty minutes of the fuckers. And that’s despite the majority of Tikka, Ouroboros and Duct Soup‘s deleted scenes being omitted from this section, as they are in the Xtended versions. As usual for the later series, the majority of clips are deleted lines rather than scenes. Some of the snippets are brilliant (highlights include ‘Ace’ talking about how he was recruited, some brilliant Holly material, and a visually-unimpressive, but quite funny, alternate ending to Epideme) mixed in with some pretty awful stuff. But it’s all very interesting nonetheless.

Smeg Ups – Bog Roll

Surprise surprise, it’s the same ones from the Xtended video. They’re even in the same order, from what I remember. Probably not a bad thing, though – the out-takes just aren’t as funny without an audience. But it’s worth it for Craig’s ‘back in jail’ quip.

Trailers – Red Wibbly Thing

The broadcast trailer is quite weird. It never struck me at the time (probably due to the fact that I was ten), but it’s quite a shoddy ad. The music comes on and off between clips, and it’s not edited with any great skill. Also featurred here are the links from Xtended and the RDN Smeg Ups show. It’s odd how we get some archive stuff like this and not others – why not the Patrick Stewart links or the links from Smeg Ups and Outs? (That’s a genuine question, not snideyness.) Also, there’s a clip missing! Kryten’s intro the full-length Munchkin Song is nowhere to be seen. I can’t think of a reason why it couldn’t be cleared – is it something else that… fell off in the edit?

Behind The Scenes – Epideme Projection

First off, we’ve got Robert Llewellyn’s Video Diary. I know it’s been floating around the internet for years, but this version is in top-notch quality – and a longer edit anyway. I love this piece – it’s a first-person peek at the camaraderie and silliness of the cast and crew. And it’s very funny, even if Craig’s humour is a little obvious. A great inclusion.

Also in this section is the How Do They Do That? piece. Good to see Pete Tyler’s taste in crap shirts was with him even then. There’s some brilliant footage in here, although the voiceover is a little annoying. “These effects were actually all done in a studio.” WERE THEY REALLY? I THOUGHT THEY DID THEM IN SPACE.

Raw Effects Footage – Kryten’s Heads

Christ alfuckingmighty. Three sections of pure fascination. The Chris Veale section contains all manner of Starbug shots, both the raw elements and the finished effect. I’ve only just noticed that half the shots in the series are exactly the same, but with the nebulae in the background tinted different colours. There’s also plenty of unused shots, including some godawful stuff with the comet. They definitely look better without that horrible blurry effect, but still, they’re miles off the efforts of Wragg, Tucker, Tyler and the others.

Speaking of whom, there’s also a twenty-minute model shot section. A *lot* of these shots were cut. Bloody buggering hell. Now, most of the effects aren’t of the standard of previous series – time, space and money being more of an issue than ever before – but they’re still fascinating to watch. It’s a real shame that everything went tits up for the effects team on this series. If every episode was of the same standard as the chase in Ouroboros

Finally, there’s a BBC CGI section. It transpires that the BBC Video Effects department were responsible for some of the worst effects ever seen in Dwarf, including the coup de shit – that shot of all the Ace coffins. They also did a terrible version of the Gemini XII and a truly bizarre visualisation of The Rimmer Experience. So, well done them.

Burning Rubber Featurette – The Lying Skutter

Yes, not only is the skutter an anachronism, he’s also lying about what feature he links to. Burning Rubber is pretty much how the rest of the musical featurettes are. Some nice clips set to pleasant enough music… but that’s about as far as it goes. Not worth watching more than once, unless you decide to demonstrate the labelling error to everyone you meet.

Son of Cliché – Crossbow

Two for the price of one this time round – this one and this one. Interestingly, this one still hasn’t been released. They’ve left the second sketch aired until the last DVD, for some reason. As usual, it’s lovely to have them on the discs. I wonder if the BBC will release Son of Cliché on CD, if we ask nicely?

Isolated Music Cues –Mr Guitar

The majority of these aren’t used in the series. It’s like having an album’s worth of previously-unheard Howard Goodall music. And most of it is up to his usual standards of excellence. Interestingly, many of the cues are variations on the main theme tune, or at least contain distinctive motifs from it. This is perhaps unexpected, given that this style of incidental music is rarely used for new pieces in later series.

One of the least successful pieces is an attempt to fuse a Hammond Organ version of the theme tune with Ace Rimmer’s theme. Sounds like a neat idea, but it really doesn’t work. Still, there’s plenty of beautiful cues to make up for it. Plus, a clean and complete version of the Rimmer Munchkin Song, without that bloody laughter on it. Hurrah! Incidentally, Chris Barrie says in the docco and on the commentary that he regrets not recording a version of the song himself. It occurs to me that a great little easter egg could have been put together, given that they had Chris Barrie in a recording studio for a day…

Stills Gallery – Golf Clubs

Huge! And full of pics that I don’t recall having seen before! What more could you want? Other than slightly more consistent captions – every shot featuring Ed Bye had a caption along the lines of “Ed Bye directs”, but the majority of pictures of crew members had no such caption.

Weblink

An all-new documentary, exploring Red Dwarf‘s connections to the internet. Includes a behind-the-scenes video diary about TOS, a report into the various online retailers that stock Dwarf stuff, and interviews with the key fansite owners. Oh, hang on. It’s just a weblink.

Subtitles

Very handy if you’re deaf, not so good if you’re blind. Look out for the massive cock-up during TM:YNYN… unless Andrew Ellard is changing his name to Patrick.

DVD Credits

Nice one, chaps. You know, when I first started doing these reviews, I thought that I’d be able to come with something interesting and thought-provoking about things like the weblink, subtitles and DVD credits, twice a year for the next four years. How wrong I was. Still, Easter Eggs!

Easter Eggs

Get ’em while they’re hot. There’s only two this time, the low number presumably being down to sheer lack of space. And they’re both in more or less the same place – on Disc Three’s main menu, go down to the emergency ammo, and highlight the red one. This is the live one. You’ll pick up a bazookoid and load the clip. You will have a choice of two buttons – the first one fires at the door, takes you through to the AR suite and shows you one egg. The second button fires at the door and shows you another. If you’re firing blanks, of course, nothing happens. Those eggs in full:

Chloe Annett Audition – Excellent camcorder footage of Chloe performing the flashback scene from Ouroboros, with Ed Bye reading Lister. It’s amazing to see, and very well performed. And look out for the cat sound effects…

Red Dwarf Trailer – This is brilliant. A spoof movie trailer, cobbled together from various clips, voiced by Gary Martin. Funny, clever and well-edited. All the clips come from either VII, VIII or Re-Mastered… but it’s good anyway. I love things like this – taking clips from something and completely changing the mood until it resembles some other genre. Presumably, it’s Ellard’s work.

Overall, then… phenomenal. Better extras than ever before, and a real sense of longevity. We’ve got a first-class documentary, an episode’s worth of specially-made visual effects, the fan films, of course, and the incredible Identity Within. Regardless of your thoughts on the episodes, this DVD is arguably a more essential purchase than any of its predecessors.

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