Fucking Americans, eh? Going to war for no apparant reason is one thing, but them getting their cotton-pickin’ hands on a Red Dwarf DVD before us Brits is unforgivable. Fortunately, here at G&T, we don’t let regional coding get in our way…
So, this is what’s happening. This review will deal only with the actual contents of the discs. In a couple of weeks time, when the Region 2 version is released, an appendum will be published, covering the British-only elements, such as the cover, the picture discs, any leaflets that are included, and, if we’re lucky, the sticker. Also, I’m not going to mention picture quality in this review, as the conversion from PAL to NTSC and back again affects the playback significantly. Got that? Tough.
Right, seeing as this is a page about Series IV, we might as well get it over and done with: Meltdown is one of the best episodes ever, and anyone who disagrees is surely some sort of cretin. The series starts, rather unusually, with two Kryten stories. However, status quo is resumed when Rimmer hogs three of the remaining four. Plus, of course there’s Hattie’s finest half hour, in… *recieves a message in earpiece*… oh, the extras. Right.
The menus are crucially the same as Series Three, with different props. music and Holly lines. Once again, jokes that are scattered all over the series are arranged in such a way that a little story is formed. In the case of the main menu on disc one, this involves Holly making a mess of Lister’s curry, then fainting. As usual, the four options on the main menu are ‘Play All’, ‘Commentary’, ‘Episode Select’ and ‘Subtitles’, and on Disc Two, it’s ‘Bonus Material’, ‘Built To Last’, ‘Subtitles’, ‘Weblink’ and ‘DVD Credits’. In a break from convention, however, selecting ‘Bonus Material’ brings up an additional choice – ‘animated’ or ‘plain text’. And it’s a good job, because the animated version is knackered on my swanky new multi-region player. Still, even if it wasn’t for the widely-reported problems, it’s good to have a text-only option. As gorgeous as the animated version is, it’s a pain to navigate.
As with Series III, the lads and ladess do go a bit quiet from time to time. However, this might be to do with the editing (to remove anything liable to get GNP into trouble); one quiet patch, from Justice is followed by Danny moaning about his joke about the shape of Lister’s head being cut out. Still, when the guys get chatting, it’s usually very funny. Chris Barrie is quieter than usual, but he’s always amusing when he pipes up, whether he’s discussing the smell of a Bentley or moaning about hardly being in the first two episodes. One excellent moment is when Danny spends two minutes trying to cuss Craig, who simply responds with “what is he talking about?”.
Plus, everything Robert Llewellyn says is spot-on, particularly when he’s praising the superb model shots. And the non-sequitors are great; when Nicholas Ball comes on screen in Justice, the cast decide to talk about Terry Venables. The recollections of Paul Jackson’s day in charge are also great, particularly Robert’s line “he’s been there, done that and… sold the t-shirt”. However, once again Craig puts the fans down, dubbing one guy “sad” for having a Dwarf-based e-mail address. Funny, he doesn’t make any derogatory comments when people are paying him a huge amount of money for his autograph.
This time round, the guys were aided with production notes on each episode. This is exploited to great effect, when one of them suddenly remembers the name of an actor who gave one line, or when one of them starts reading a little factoid about the programme, and another joins in at the same time. Overall, the commentary is very funny, but the long silences can be irritating.
Built To Last
Oh, man. Seventy-three and a half minutes of joy. I simply can’t understand the argument that these documentaries are too long; after an hour and a quarter of listening to the same eleven people yakking away, I was still begging for more. The reason for this is simple. These eleven people are very, very interesting, as well as entertaining and endearing. Furthermore the documentary is rather neatly edited, and, on this occasion, there’s some lovely use of clips from deleted scenes, when the scene in question is discussed. A simple touch, but rather nice considering that the previous two docs only used broadcast stuff. Also, there’s an excellent moment where Ed Bye is talking about Casablanca (as parodied in Camille) and that clip from Better Than Life regarding Peter Beardsley is played!
There’s also some corkingly funny stuff in the interviews. Robert Llewellyn discusses his family life, Danny John-Jules recollects the time he was late for Paul Jackson, Doug Naylor accuses Chris Barrie of stealing a wig, Hattie Hayridge moans about her ‘what a guy’ line being cut out, Rob Llew admitting to putting on a substantial amount of weight during the series (alogn with Peter Wragg taking the piss out of this) and Andrea Finch lists the many uses of KY Jelly. A special mention should go to Ed Bye, who is generally hilarious throughout. Andrew Ellard can frequently be heard corpsing in the background. There’s a few more serious moments too, such as the issue of race being discussed, in reference to Dimension Jump, and the all the connotations of the Wax War from Meltdown are analysed. Good to see that Lister’s fantastic anti-war speech at the end of that episode is commemorated.
One major gripe, though. Every now and then, bits of off-camera kerfuffle can clearly be heard. That’s not very professional, is it? I appreciate that the documentary was shot on a shoe-string budget, but surely they could stretch to putting a “do not enter and stomp about a bit” sign on the door. Oh, and someone tell Craig Charles to put his mug of tea down when he’s on camera.
Deleted Scenes (Spare Head Two)
You know, with one notable exception, it’s hard to pinpoint any moments here that aren’t actually funny. It’s a testament to the overall quality of Series IV that all bits that didn’t make the cut piss all over the stuff that makes the grade for most sit-coms. And even the bits that aren’t rip-roaringly hilarious, such as Camille and Kryten’s slow dance, are good to see; in this case, for the occasional titter from the audience, as well as Robert Llewellyn’s ‘soppy’ face. The exception noted earlier, the awful original ending of Dimension Jump, is worth it for the brief snatch of Chris coming out of character at the end.
Other moments, though, are nothing short of stupendous. The outdoor scene from Justice, for one. OK, it does look like a park in London, but the joke about the birds, as well as the sheer size of punchline, is fantastic. And the farewell to Ace, in which the characters are standing in a massive, blue hangar, is lovely stuff. As is Ace’s forced laughter when he’s talking to the Padré. This is unseen Dwarf material that will make you laugh out loud, rather than raising a smile or a titter, as most of the scenes from previous series did.
Other things of note: the first-person reveal of the three-headed skeleton from DNA is rather exciting, as is ‘Super’-Lister’s near-misses on the curry monster, from later in the episode. Also in DNA, we get some footage of the DNA Machine, before the voice-over was dubbed on, so we actually hear whoever it was who said the lines on the night! The brief shot of the countdown on Barbara Bellini’s pod, cut from Justice would have been a lovely touch. The time dilation video effects from White Hole are not as bad as the caption makes out; certainly no worse than the effect that was included in the episode! And a deleted bit from the famous ‘What Is It?’ scene was later reworked into a much longer moment of Pete (Part Two). And this version of the joke is only approximately 4% as annoying as the Series VIII version. Oh, and hurrah for Hattie, and her ‘what a guy’ line!
Smeg Ups (Spare Head Three)
Interestingness abounds. The BBFC, in its infinite wisdom, decided that if you show an actor mouthing the word ‘fuck’ to a twelve-year-old, the sheer rudeness will make his or her head explode. Therefore, whenever one of our lads does a naughty, their mouth is pixellated, as well as the audio being obscured by a beep. Strangely enough, in there “shit’s not in the script” out-take from Rimmer’s trial in Justice, Chris’s mouth is obscured for the first utterance of the offending word, but not the second. Therefore, our children are not safe. And, rather amusingly, Danny’s elongated “fu-u-uck!” from White Hole has been beeped out, after slipping through unnoticed on the Smeg Outs tape. All the cock-ups here are from the two videos, naturally, and all are from the right series.
Ace Rimmer – A Life In Lamé (Ace’s Helmet)
Ooh, controversial! The mere premise of this has annoyed a fair few people, who complain that it’s a waste of time and resources, and that Dwarf should only be written by Doug Naylor, and not his employees. Well, that’s what you get when you make your mind up about something before you’ve seen it. In actual fact, the feature is eleven minutes long, with only one and half minutes’ worth of new footage. So, it would haven’t taken a huge amount of time to shoot and edit, and cost little more than the price of a black polo neck.
The links, while far from hilarious, are rather amusing, particularly the ones about what type of chocolate Ace would be, and ‘the noble thing’. However, they are somewhat let down by Hattie’s performance. She’s forgotten how to ‘be’ Holly; it’s almost as if she hasn’t played the part for twelve years. Oh. As for the clips, there’s no real surprises. There’s some interesting mid-scene edits, which I expect we’ll be covering at some point. Overall, perhaps not the most compelling of features (if you’ve seen the full episodes, it’s pretty pointless), but certainly not as bad as many people feared.
“Lurve” Featurette (The skutter brandishing a red balloon)
You already know whether or not you’re going to like this. They’re either a complete waste of time and money, that would have been better served spent elsewhere, or they’re a nice little entertaining look back at the series. I’m somewhat on the fence when it comes to musical featurettes, but I’m leaning towards the latter. Especially as this particular featurette is ruddy bloody good.
For a kick-off, ‘Dizzy’ by Vic Reeves and The Wonderstuff is a very good song. But the main reason for “Lurve”‘s excellence is the genuinely witty choices of clips. Aside from the nice format of each verse being accompanied by one story (Kryten n’ Camille in the first, and Lister n’ Kochanski in the second), there’s the matching-up of lyrics to actions, such as “going round in circles all the time” with Starbug spinning round in Camille and “my head is spinning” with Dave and Debs waking up hungover. There’s also a couple of very funny out-of-context clips, such as Kryten performing the Heimlich maneovure on Kochanski, which is made to look like he’s shagging her up the arse. Plus, there’s a nice bit where Rimmer getting dressed in Holoship is reversed, so his clothes magically disappear. It’s a good featurette, man.
Can’t Smeg Won’t Smeg (Curry)
Well, we’ve all seen it before, haven’t we? My opinion on it is this: scripted bits = shit, improvised bits = good. That ‘A.H.’ business is shockingly poor, as is Kochanski suddenly becoming an anorexic and Cat suddenly becoming, well, someone else who bears no resemblance whatsoever to Cat. But, when the script is chucked away, there’s some great bits; Danny switching the rice, Craig telling Ainsley off for not being professional, him consuming the ingredients raw, Robert using the groinal socket to tidy up the work surface, and so on. Plus, it gets added bonus points for being a bunch of mates pissing about trying to make each other laugh, which is always good. And, yes, it’s not series-specific, but it’s nice to have it on shiny disc.
Once again, Maxine “CMA” Lehmann comes up with the goods. The first trailer plays heavily on the (completely accidental) Valentine’s theme, with clips from Camille playing over “Love Is In The Air” and a big pink heart. In this trailer, I was quite amused by the use of the fairly colloquial “Thursday week” instead of the more conventional “next Thursday”. Ho. The second trailer is from a repeat run, and features Dimension Jump heavily. Is this from the 1994 run, in which that was the first episode to air? The BBC-2 (as it was at the time) logo used is of this era. Anyway, full marks again to Could Mean Anything for her sterling work. The trailers are much better quality than they were last time as well, although still far from broadcast standard.
Raw Effects Footage (Escort Boots)
Seven and a half minutes of sheer silent joy. There were loads of new model shots in this series; the crash site in Camille, the ‘alien’ pod in DNA, Justice World, the planet pool sequence, Rimmer’s Io base in Dimension Jump, loads of stuff of Ace’s ship and Starbug on the rocks. That last sequence in particular always amazes me. It looks as if they’ve crashed a massive spaceship in the middle of the sea; not like a miniature in a pool, with salt being poured on it. As well as this, there’s a lot of lovely beauty passes of Starbug, some of which were still being used in Series VI. And, of course, the unseen stuff – a fluffed shot of Ace’s ship taking off, a longer look at Justice World, and *loads* of planet pool shots. Sheer bliss. Peter Wragg, I salute thee.
Isolated Music Cues (Oooooh, Guitar!)
After a relatively poor showing last time, the Iso-Cues (as I like to call them) are back and kicking bottom. The one disappointment is the Elvis theme, which is taken from the end of the episode (complete with a fade in to disguise the audience laugh) and not a proper isolated track. Boo. But, the hammond organ theme more than makes up for it, given that it is DOUBLE THE LENGTH of the version we hear in the episode. There’s also the fantastic “Take My Breath Away” pastiches, three in total, along with the “As Time Goes By”-inspired piece from Camille. However, Goodall’s genius has a couple of momentary blips – the “Justice Attack” music is simply awful; for years, I thought one part of it was an alarm going off on Justice World, which tells you a lot about its musicality. And the middle eight of the Planet Pool music is simply bizarre. It bears no correlation to the mood of the scene at all! Still, there’s nineteen pieces of miscellaneous excellence from How Good to make up for this. I’ll be listening to these for years.
Talking Book Chapters (Talkie Toaster)
Two clips from Better Than Life, both relating to White Hole. Hardly surprising, seeing as the episode was based on parts of the novel. ‘Planet Pool’ is Part Two Chapter Five, and ‘Talkie Toaster’ is Part One Chapter Eleven. That second one is worth listening to purely for Chris Barrie’s, ahem, interpretation of Talkie Toaster, giving him a gravelly New York accent. Thank goodness for David Ross, eh?
Photo Gallery (Polaroids)
As per Series III, the gallery is absolutely massive. A lovely mix of the famous and not-so-famous shots; some of the rarer production shots include ones of Ace and Lister trying to fix Starbug, Craig posing as “Super”-Lister and the crew doing an odd bit of synchronised panicing in the cockpit. There’s also some lovely sketches of Ace’s ship, as well as all the video covers from around the world, which are amazingly similar to one another. One disappointment; the “instant snapshots” section doesn’t include any pictures of Robert Llewellyn’s penis.
Fantastic, both in terms of content and hiding places. This time, there are three of the buggers, and they’re all top-notch. Obviously, if you’d rather track them down yourself, don’t read this bit.
‘Easter Egg’ – Winner of the best hidden Dwarf egg ever. From the main menu, choose ‘episode selection’. On your way down to the lockers, you’ll see a skutter carrying a videotape. Press enter at this point, and you’ll be rewarded with some camcorder footage of a cast commentary recording session, in which our boys hunt a real and actual chocolate egg! Fantastic stuff. It’s good to get a behind-the-scenes peek such as this, plus the cast are all marvellous, and they get bonus points for being a bunch of mates pissing about trying to make eachother laugh.
Red Nose Day – Go to the episode menu for DNA. You’ll see a picture of a chicken laying an egg, carved into the locker. Well, click that egg, boy. You’ll be rewarded with the cast’s contribution to Red Nose Day ’91, which I never knew existed. Hooray! As well as the hilarious line “give us your smegging money, you smegging smegheads”, we see the cast doing a quick rehearsal, and having a good laugh about it. Top notch stuff.
Animated Interview – The hard way: on the animated version of the bonus material menu, go down to the curry and wait. Then, when the green light comes on the matter paddle (just after Talkie asks “how about a muffin?”), select it. The easy way: on the text version of the menu, go down to ‘back’ and press left. Tsk. Anyway, this is, obviously, an animated Rob, Doug and Ed talking about Dimension Jump. This is very short; just the first two minutes of the section are used. Perhaps anecdotes were removed because they are repeated in Built To Last?
For those who worked on the DVD… we salute you. Again, the list is too long for the music, so an extra bit is tacked on the end. This time, it’s cleverly done so the extra bit sounds like an extension to the blast from the end of the theme tune. Hurrah!
Just some gorgeous chunk of loveliness. There’s plenty of good new information in here; my favourite being that the rain we see falling in Dimension Jump is actually a load of salt being poured onto the models! It’s also nice to have the name of the Japanese movie from which the unconvincing dinosaurs in Meltdown were taken in print. This time, the booklet is only has one major error; “The Aigburth Arms” is misspelled as “The Aigbeth Arms”. Oh, and a closed bracket is missing from the first paragraph of page three, for which Ellard should be fired, really.
Oh, Jesus! They refer to Danny’s alter-ego as “Dwayne” during Can’t Smeg Won’t Smeg! Thus the DVD has no worth. Seriously, though, full marks for going to the trouble of subtitling all the extras. Apart from the raw effects footage, obviously.
It seems to me that the second DVD released from each batch of two gets a much quieter reaction to the first. This is understandable, really; Series I and III blew us away, and thus set extremely high standards for II and IV. Fortunately, Series IV lives up to all expections, and even improves on Series III in many ways – the featurette is much better, in my opinion, as is the main documentary and the deleted scenes. Hopefully, this pattern of ever-increasing quality in the DVD releases is, ahem, built to last.
Red Dwarf IV is released in Region 2 on Monday, 16th February, so do buy it.