Review for Red Dwarf - The Promised Land
As far back as I can remember, there has always been an ambition to make a Red Dwarf movie. It’s been a consistent non-starter, although rumours are that they got tantalisingly close on more than one occasion. On the other hand, I like to think that there are already three Red Dwarf movies out there; you just need to know where to look. Take Season 8 for example, the last to be produced by the BBC. That had a radical reinvention, which through the magic of nanobots not only resurrected the ship, but the original crew as well. To establish this new world, season 8 kicked off with a three part story, Back in the Red, and you can watch it on the DVD as an 82 minute feature. Then there is the return of Red Dwarf which came with Dave and the Back to Earth three part mini-series. Again, you can watch that ambitious if flawed tale as a feature on its Blu-ray. The thing is that while these stories had to make do with TV budgets and effects, the narrative, and the scope was such that you could see the theatrical premise behind them. They felt more like movies on the cheap, than TV shows with delusions of grandeur.
This brings us to the third Red Dwarf “movie”, which in the extras Doug Naylor resolutely insists is not a movie, rather a TV special, although for broadcast they didn’t even bother breaking “Season 13” into chunks. The Promised Land is the most movie-like story yet, calling back right to the beginning of the show, telling an epic, nay biblical tale, and delivering something that fans have long wished for and speculated about... the Cats.
3 million years ago, Dave Lister smuggled a pregnant cat aboard the Red Dwarf, and when challenged about it, refused to give it up. As a result, he was put in stasis as a punishment. A poorly maintained drive plate failed, and everyone aboard the ship was killed, except for Lister, safe in stasis, and the cat hidden safely in the hold. Over the next three million years, the cat’s descendants evolved into intelligent beings, who created a religion based on the legendary benefactor Cloister, who saved the mother of their race. Where there is a religion, there are religious wars, and the survivors left the ship in a grand exodus, leaving only the cripples and the idiots behind. 3 million years later, the radiation faded and Lister came out of stasis to encounter the Cat, a hologram of his dead bunkmate Arnold Rimmer, and subsequently a deranged sanitation droid named Kryten, and the rest is history.
Dave Lister’s midlife crisis continues, as does the ship’s 3 million year journey back to Earth. Only now, they’ve found Holly’s back-up disc. The Red Dwarf has been without the main computer ever since Dave left the taps running and flooded the computer deck. The one problem is that this is the original Holly program, the one that wasn’t alone in deep space for millions of years, going insane. This operating system AI is competent, and follows procedures, which means ejecting all non JMC personnel, and those employees that have broken regulations, and decommissioning the ship.
The ‘boys from the Dwarf’ need a new home, and they recently passed a derelict. Exploring the Iron Star, they find some promising technology, but are surprised to find three Cats there. Cat society has gone through an upheaval, and the Feral King Rodon is persecuting any true believers of the religion of Cloister. The three Cats on the Iron Star are clerics fleeing persecution, and they think their prayers have been answered when they meet their god. They’re going to be disappointed.
The Promised Land gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer on this disc, at 1080i 50Hz resolution. Audio is in DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English form with optional English subtitles. The image is clear and sharp, the quality of the effects work is pretty decent, and the level of detail and richness of colour makes a world of difference from the SD broadcast I first watched, although there is still a smidge of banding. The audio is fine, the action is presented well in the surround track and the dialogue is clear throughout.
The disc comes in a BD Amaray wrapped in an o-card slipcover. The disc boots to an animated menu.
It seems that the quantity of extra features has been consistently diminishing since those early DVD days, but thankfully the quality is still appealing.
The Promised Doc lasts 27:57 and is the usual behind the scenes with interviews with cast and crew.
There’s more of this in Through an Audience’s Eyes, which lasts 14:33, and as you might expect looks at the studio audience experience.
There are 7:39 of Smeg-Ups and 6:12 of Deleted Scenes.
Finally there is an Easter Egg, located in the ROM_CONTENT folder on the Blu-ray disc, if you have a BD Rom that is.
I have been waiting for this story for almost as long as I have been watching Red Dwarf. Ever since that season 1 episode introduced the civilisation of the Cats and painted their back story, I have been waiting for the show to address this loose end. We almost got something a couple of times. Cat and his girlfriends most recently turned out to be a hallucination, and early on, a Cat story was written, but never filmed (the script is on one of those early season DVDs), but now, after more than thirty years, we get a Cat story. Of course it’s going to disappoint a little. The anticipation and the imagination after all that time can never be matched by reality, especially reality accomplished on a TV budget. But it doesn’t take long to get past that, and appreciate The Promised Land on its own merits, and it’s really very good. The story is excellent, the pacing is spot on, and the comedy hasn’t diminished in the slightest.
If I had a criticism about Season 12, it might have been an over-reliance on call backs, Those six episodes had a tendency to reference and mirror the early seasons a little too often for my liking, to the point that it started to feel cute. But that approach is totally justified in The Promised Land, given that it is in effect a sequel to an episode made in 1988. The whole thing is a love letter to the show, an exercise in nostalgia. You don’t need to look any further than the return of the fan-favourite Holly, whose digitised gormlessness is just as hilarious now as it was when we first encountered him. The new element comes in the form of the society of the Cats, and while like me, you might have hoped for a feline civilisation stretching across the stars, what we get here, constrained by the budget is satisfying enough. All it takes is the appearance of that ridiculous cat flap, and you know that you’re in safe hands when it comes to the humour.
When it comes to the story, we’re in familiar territory again. It hasn’t been too long since Red Dwarf was poking a little fun at organised religion when the crew travelled back in time and met a long-haired bloke named Jesus. The Promised Land is even more on the nose, given that Lister is the god figure to the Cats. The story this time really looks at how messages can be warped and twisted through time, until the original meaning is lost.
Red Dwarf is still hilarious. It’s still my favourite comedy show, and The Promised Land was well worth the wait. Over the years, Red Dwarf has had the odd blip, occasionally when the show tried to do something different, and I didn’t appreciate it at the time. But looking back at the show as a franchise, I see a degree of consistency and a striving for excellence that is pretty unmatched in UK TV comedy. The idea, especially in the most recent Dave shows, of making the show when the scripts are there, and the feeling is right has served the show well. We do have to wait longer for each new instalment, but it’s invariably worth the wait. In the extras, they talk about doing more of these specials, to answer some of those lingering questions from the series, just as this one revisited the Cats. That’s something definitely worth looking forward to.