- The Washington Times - Monday, April 12, 2010

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs (compatible with DVD-ROM and Blu-ray-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series, (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, not rated, $299.99) The best sci-fi television series ever made (“so say we all”) and one of the top 10 best dramatic shows ever produced returns for high-definition completists to appreciate its entire four-season run.

Now available in a tightly constructed, consumer- and shelf-friendly package (sans the pop-up, clunky cardboard box and Cylon minifigure from last July’s release), the Blu-ray set contains all four seasons of the show, including the “Resistance” webisodes, the “Razor” special and the final TV movie, “The Plan.”

For those who have been living on the outskirts of Tauron, Ronald D. Moore and David Eick re-imagined the original 1970s prime-time kiddie show and turned a war between man and robot into a mature, often socially relevant, action-packed, angst-ridden study of human nature for the Sci-Fi Channel.

Survival is at stake for the remaining citizens of the 12 colonies after those wily Cylons destroyed their home worlds and managed to infiltrate the human ranks with “skin jobs” difficult-to-detect, very evolved versions of the silvery bots.

Starring a grizzled Edward James Olmos as Admiral Adama, Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin, James Callis as Dr. Gaius Baltar and Katee Sackhofffixed as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, the show sported plenty of tight writing for the cast to tear into.

There’s no way I am going to ruin any minute of this show with my clunky memories other than to report that the high-definition presentation, even when often purposely grainy, stands out with rich colors, detail and special effects to make for one amazing viewing experience.

Best extras: Anyone looking for a reason to jump aboard the Blu-ray bandwagon will find one while watching and interacting with the variety of stuff packed into this collection of 21 discs.

Besides the welcome commentary track on nearly every episode, picture-in-picture interviews with cast and crew, podcasts and extended episodes, my favorites include:

• Universal’s U-Control features menu-driven access to the Oracle, a mixed-media encyclopedic resource to watch over the action. Character and vessel profiles, down to the length of Galactica, and information on Chief Galen Tyrol’s home planet (Gemenon) eventually pop up.

• Battlestar Blips and Battlestar Actual are more U-Control-style options offering pop-up trivia and guides to the show.

• A “Career Assignment Quiz,” “Colonial Military Assignment Quiz” and “Are You a Cylon?” quiz pretty much handle all possible employment opportunities for the fan living vicariously through the Galactica experience.

• A BD-Live (broadband connectivity required), multiple-choice trivia quiz from “The Plan.” It’s six rounds of 10 questions each with scores being compared to those of Galactica cadets across the galaxy.

• U-Control with “What the Frak Happened to You?” offers a final biographical tribute to the major characters of the series through a mixed-media presentation, accessible while watching the final episode.

• Battlestar Galactica: Ultimate Battle is an online, BD-Live collectible-trading-card strategy game. A pair of players fight for the Colonial forces or Cylons and build 20-card decks and attack and defend until one player loses all of his health points. It’s certainly not as deep as Magic the Gathering, but it explores yet another facet of the Blu-ray format’s capabilities.

Read all about it: Dynamite Entertainment offered multiple comic-book series based on the updated “Battlestar Galactica” from 2006 to 2009. Some of the limited miniseries worth a look that have been compiled into trade paperbacks include “The Final Five” ($14.99), “Origins: Starbuck and Helo” ($12.99) and “Cylon War” ($14.99). Also, “New Battlestar Galactica Complete Omnibus, Volume 1” ($24.99) covers writer Greg Pak’s 14-issue run of the monthly series.

The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, $99.99) Fans looking for “one set to watch them all” will be left speechless for a couple of reason after watching the latest high-definition collection devoted to Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” movies.

First, eyes will pop further than Gollum’s while absorbing the 1080p picture quality of the theatrical releases of all three films “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King.”

Watching Gandalf battle the Balrog in such clarity, hearing Howard Shore’s booming score in DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1, scouring the panoramic New Zealand landscapes doubling as Middle Earth and marveling at detail afforded the computer-animated life form of Gollum will elicit Hobbit-like giggles from all in attendance.

However, the speechlessness will extend to the money-grabbing tactics unleashed upon the unsuspecting purchaser of this collection.

Warner Home Video should be stomped by an army of Ents for wasting consumers’ cash and time by not offering the extended versions of the these films on Blu-ray. They already are available on DVD, so what’s up?

That’s what the fans want, what average viewers deserve, and it’s crazy to think they will have to wait or do the double-dip dance and purchase yet another “Lord of the Rings” collection.

Warner, the films look magnificent, but stop wasting “precious” time and resources and give the fans what they deserve.

While on the topic, Warner Home Video also has released legendary cartoon innovator Ralph Bakshi’s unusual “The Lord of the Rings” on Blu-ray ($29.99). Offering only part the saga, up through the end of the battle for Helms Deep, this two-hour-plus 1978 epic is an acquired, art-house kind of taste, primarily because it uses an animation technique called rotoscoping. (Hand-drawn frames are traced over live action.)

The only extra is a 30-minute bonus retrospective of Mr. Bakshi’s career that lovingly explains his impact in the animation industry and his vision for the cartoon.

Best extras: Before delving into the nonexistent Blu-ray extras for Mr. Jackson’s films, I offer these DVD-compatible words: Platinum Series Special Extended Edition.

You see, each film gets a separate extras disc. The problem is, it’s reproduced right from the earliest releases of the films in the DVD format. It just cannot compare to those Extended Edition gold mines.

I’m speechless again.

Yes, there are still seven hours or so of featurettes, such as a National Geographic special, Starz Encore special from the set of “Two Towers” and a behind-the-scenes wrap-up of all of the films, but there’s nothing in a high-definition format.

For New Line Cinema’s signature franchise, where’s the exclusive BD Live capability, why isn’t Mr. Jackson offering commentary (the tracks are already available) and where’s a map and an interactive timeline?

I can only assume the best is yet to come. I’m betting a blowout collection arrives along with the theatrical release of “The Hobbit” in 2011. Can you wait that long?

Read all about it: There’s no official “Lord of the Rings” comic-book series, but Eclipse Comics offered a three-part sequential-art adaptation of “The Hobbit,” which features Gandalf, Gollum and Bilbo Baggins, back in 1989. Starring artwork by David T. Wenzel, the 2001 revised trade paperback from Del Rey, “The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic” (averaging $17.95), is easily found online.

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