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MGM Studios DVD presents
"If we don't stop everything that we're doing right now, we are dead!"
DVD ReviewThe fall of 2003 represented a crossroads for Stargate SG-1 executive producers Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper. The immensely popular sci-fi series had begun its seventh season, which might possibly become its final year. The idea of a feature film after the series’ conclusion had been floating around for a while, and the discussions gained momentum with a storyline involving the Lost City of Atlantis and its importance in protecting Earth. This film might also lead into a spinoff series involving a fresh cast exploring the newly discovered Atlantis. Then everything changed. The Sci-Fi Network renewed the show for an eight season and requested that a spinoff series would begin in the summer of 2004. The writers scrambled to revise their movie concept and shift the two-part finale’s story towards opening the door to a brand-new series.
Stargate Atlantis premiered on July 16, 2004 with the two-hour pilot, Rising, one week following the premiere of its sister series and directly relating to the events of that story. Initially planned to run after Stargate SG-1 was over, it played instead at the same time and even interacted on several plots with the original characters. General Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) made appearances in the pilot and helped to give a friendly push to the ambitious show. Their activity immediately gives relevance to the tale and conveys the sense that this offering will be more than just a second-rate version of the original.
Rising stars Joe Flanigan as the wise-cracking Major John Sheppard, who does possess a few striking similarities to O'Neill. However, as the story progresses, he moves away from this mold and crafts a more emotionally involved role. The official team leader is Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson), whose past job as a treaty negotiator gives her a much-different perspective on events. She also ran the Stargate program for a short time, but quickly soured on the project and passed the reins to O'Neill. The most entertaining character is David Hewlett's neurotic Dr. Rodney McKay, who appeared several times on SG-1 as a foil to Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping). His fast-talking and quirky personality could be grating in lesser hands, but Hewlett makes his faults charming. The show’s "alien" presence is Teyla Emmagan (Rachel Luttrell), a stunning and capable leader of the nearby villagers. Although she looks human, her knowledge of the major enemy will prove extremely valuable. The other leading team member is Lieutenant Ford (Rainbow Sun Franks), who supports Sheppard on the military side of the things.
This story also includes a solid supporting cast that moves well beyond the typical science-fiction conventions. Robert Patrick (The X-Files) plays a key role as Colonel Marshall Sumner, the military leader of the expedition to Atlantis. He initially clashes with the choice of Sheppard to join his group, but proves he’s more than just the typical grumpy commander. Paul McGillon also makes an impression as Dr. Carson Beckett, a nervous Scotsman who became a pivotal recurring character during the series’ first season. His squabbling with Dr. McKay helps to provide some of the more entertaining moments of this initial entry.
Without revealing any major spoilers, I should discuss the actual premise of this new series, which promises to offer major headaches to the producers when budgeting the impressive effects. It focuses on an expedition to the recently discovered Pegasus Galaxy, which houses the Lost City of Atlantis. Dr. Weir has received approval to lead an international team of both military forces and scientific minds to explore this compelling location. This journey offers quiet a catch, though; it appears to be a one-way trip. Upon their arrival, the team faces considerable trouble on multiple fronts. McKay struggles with maintaining the city’s power level, and Sheppard and Sumner discover the existence of a brutal new enemy—the Wraith.
The Goa'uld villains of Stargate SG-1 have allowed the writers to develop countless dire situations, but they needed unique and nastier bad guys for the next gang to face. The result was the life-sucking Wraith, who keep humans in the Pegasus galaxy in constant fear of their return. Their appearance is slimy and a bit clichéd, but they do provide a darker, more sinister enemy than the Goa'uld. Their technology is well beyond anything seen before, which should make things extremely difficult for our heroes in the future. Their first encounter quickly reveals the depth of evil and power of the Wraith, who treat the humans as a means to an end. Searching for a means to defend against these demons will occupy much of the team’s time during the early days.
Stargate Atlantis: Rising provides a strong introduction to an original series that retains the positive aspects of its predecessor but does not simply copy its success. Much of this accomplishment occurs due to an excellent cast that showcases more confidence as the season progresses. Their interaction has a few rough patches here, but the groundwork for plenty of intriguing stories exists right from the start. The special effects sequences also move well beyond the typical sci-fi offering and lend a cinematic quality to this story. This top-notch filmmaking would continue throughout the year and culminate in an emotionally charged two-part conclusion. As the second season begins, I can only expect more of the same from a spinoff that definitely lives up to the high quality of the original series.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Stargate Atlantis was shot in HDTV, which offers a cheaper, less-grainy appearance but also must be adjusted to look like film. This 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer offers a clear picture with very little grain, but it does vary slightly from the images presented on a feature film release. Considering its television origins, the images are especially sharp and present the wondrous effects superbly.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: This release offers an excellent 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that offers an impressive use of the rear speakers. They don't match the depth of the best DVD transfers, but improve over the tracks usually offered on television releases. The audio does move well throughout the sound field, which helps to generate an intimate viewing experience. The powerful music and impressive effects make the sci-fi moments believable and enjoyable throughout the story.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Stargate Atantis: Season 1, Stargate SG-1: Season 8, Dead Like Me: Season 1, Jeremiah
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Martin Wood and Joe Flanigan
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 01h:05m:52s
The other major extra is the 23-minute documentary Preview to Atlantis, which gives the background story and takes us behind the scenes of the pilot. This promotional feature offers interesting material about early story ideas and concept drawings. The production footage gives us plenty of worthy details concerning the ideas behind the series. The eight-minute Season 2 Preview includes interviews with executive producers Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright concerning the series' future. In addition, writer/story editor Martin Gero takes us on a brief tour through a few of the new sets being designed during the hiatus. The spoilers are minimal, though viewers who have only seen the pilot might want to avoid this featurette.
The remaining supplements include the trailer for the Stargate SG-1: The Alliance video game, its concept art, and other previews for Stargate Atlantis: Season 1, Stargate SG-1: Season 8, Dead Like Me: Season 1, and Jeremiah. The seven color stills and one-minute preview for the video game promise an impressive and visually stunning gaming experience.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsStargate Atlantis aired 20 episodes during its first season and developed a strong foundation that should last for many years. I am definitely looking forward to the eventual DVD release of the entire opening season. The early release of the pilot does raise some red flags about MGM trying to gouge additional dollars from devoted sci-fi fans. It does offer a quick refresher course prior to the second season premiere on July 15th, but is pretty much an unnecessary release for regular viewers. That said, Rising works especially well for a pilot episode, and its exceptional content warrants a strong recommendation.
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