Published on August 23rd, 2021 | by Douglas Rasmussen0
Red Dwarf: The Promised Land
Long running sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf releaesed a movie in 2020, called, The Promised Land. It’s not a great starting point for new fans.
I first discovered Red Dwarf through reruns on PBS when I was about 18, maybe 19 years old, when PBS showed reruns on Saturday afternoons. By the mid-90s I had joined the Red Dwarf fan club, had the t-shirt, and read the novelizations. I was hugely invested in the first 8 seasons, especially seasons 3-8.
Then the series disappeared for many years, with season 8 ending in 1999 and season 9 not emerging until 2008. The almost decade-long gap was largely due to a fractured partnership between series co-creator Rob Grant, who has never returned to the franchise, and Doug Naylor, who oversees the current production of the series.
Over the next 12 years Red Dwarf would produce four seasons. There were, to be honest, more misses than hits with the franchise at this stage. The age of the series was starting to show and despite some promising and hilarious episodes, more often than not the episodes would lack the vitality of season 3-8. Seasons 10 and 11 did have some bright spots, but they were few and far between.
Which brings us to the new 90-minute movie The Promised Land (2020). Recently released on DVD and Blu ray and streaming exclusively on Britbox. The Promised Land fills in the story gaps from the original series. In the first season it was established that crew member Dave Lister (Craig Charles) of the mining ship Red Dwarf was put in suspended animation because of a quarantine violation when he smuggled his pet cat on board. He is placed in suspended animation during which a catastrophic radiation leak kills the crew, with only Lister emerging millions of years later. He is accompanied by an evolved cat (Danny John Jules) and a hologram of crew mate Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie).
I have been watching Red Dwarf for 20+ years of its 33-year run, so at this point I feel deeply invested in the property. And I am glad to have seen this movie, but while watching it I found myself wanting to like it more than I actually did. To be sure there are some great, funny bits that do remind me of the classic series. The problem is that the story is stretched way too thin and an hour movie would have sufficed. Stretched over an hour and a half, however, it becomes apparent just how repetitive some of the jokes are getting. There are only so many variations on how Cat is vain and self-absorbed, Rimmer is an over-ambitious idiot, and what a slob Lister is before it gets a bit tiresome.
For the most part the actors do a good job in their roles (Robert Llewellyn was hospitalized for most of the shoot, so Kryten was played by a replacement actor in some sections). The problem is that there is not enough material for them to work with. Red Dwarf has always worked best as a short sitcom with some clever science fiction ideas. Extending the story into a movie-length production does a disservice to the end product. As a result the writers end up injecting attempts at contemporary humour with a superhero parody of The Mighty Light which does not land well. There is also the issue that jokes that were funny 30 years ago about a perpetually drunk slacker being the last human alive feel a bit more depressing when it’s a story about a 50-something drunk slacker.
But, having said all that, I will say that for Red Dwarf fans, it’s still worth watching. There are worse products out there and this will at least pass the time. For casual fans who are foreign to the Red Dwarf universe, however, I would recommend skipping it, as you’re likely to find it a bit on the dull side. Even for long-time fans the film is a bit thin in areas, but at least watchable and mildly entertaining. If you have Britbox and you’re a long-time fan of the franchise, then it’s worth a stream.