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Sheppard: McKay will come up with something.
DVD ReviewStargate Atlantis premiered during the summer of 2004 and faced the daunting task of trying to live up to the continuing popularity of Stargate SG-1. Instead of trying to copy the original, this spin-off series introduces unique characters and places them into an entirely new situation. The basic premise of a team exploring off-world via the Stargate and making discoveries remains, but the format varies considerably with this new gang. The situation is more calamitous, with a nastier enemy and a fresh environment that offers its own share of mysteries. The life-sucking Wraith may appear to be generic sci-fi villains during their initial appearances, but their progression throughout the season reveals greater complexities. The majestic lost city of Atlantis lives up to expectations and offers numerous creative outlets for exploration. With a few exceptions, the writers retain the city’s grand atmosphere and avoid using it to set up generic hide-and-seek situations.
MGM attempted to grab some extra dollars by releasing the pilot Rising on June 16, and my review of that release included the following description (with a few minor adjustments here) about the show’s main characters:
Stargate Atlantis stars Joe Flanigan as the wise-cracking Major John Sheppard, who does possess a few striking similarities to Richard Dean Anderson’s Jack 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.
The two-hour pilot Rising delivered an action-packed adventure and started the series in fine fashion, but the writers struggled to discover the right tone during the early stories. Hide and Seek followed with a bland attempt to stop an alien entity, and Childhood’s End offers a dull sci-fi tale that contains few moments of originality. The cast remains strong during the early going, with David Hewlett shining as the neurotic McKay. His excitement and eventual frustration with a newfound alien shield makes Hide and Seek worth a viewing. The series starts clicking with Underground, which introduces the recurring human enemy Genii, lead by the sly Cowen (Colm Meaney). This group is not inherently evil, and aim to defeat the Wraith, but they have few qualms about sacrificing our heroes in the process. Home follows with an ingenious tale that appears to allow the expedition to return to Earth, but all is not as it seems.
The turning point of the season (and possibly the entire series) occurs with the mid-season two-part episode The Storm and The Eye, which cranks up the dramatic tension and raises the stakes for all of Atlantis. A ferocious storm is approaching the city, and without the power to use their shield, the expedition is defenseless. After evacuating all but Weir, McKay, and a few other members to safety, they face a new threat when the Genii overtake Atlantis. The nasty Commander Acastus Kolya (Robert Davi, License to Kill) leads their strike force and will do anything to achieve their goals. The only hope is Sheppard, who must act in Die Hard fashion to reclaim the city. This story works on both a personal and large-scale level, with the internal conflicts seeming even more dangerous than the storm. The developing emotional relationships between the characters also play a role and make defeating Kolya an even more difficult task. This unpredictable episode also includes humorous work from Hewlett and Higginson, who generate silliness while their characters try to stall the Genii. The combination of serious dramatic moments and light scenes lift the bar for the series and remain all the way through the season’s concluding tales.
The second grouping of 10 episodes is solid across the board and leads wonderfully into the ultimate showdown with the Wraith. One standout is Before I Sleep—an ambitious time-travel journey that begins with the discovery of a much-older version of Weir on Atlantis. If you’re willing to make the leap that the events are possible, they lead to a riveting, emotional tale. Letters From Pegasus offers a clips show that actually moves the story forward and adds depth to familiar characters. With a possibly deadly Wraith attack imminent, the Atlantis team decides to send a brief video message to their loved ones before it’s too late. The Siege depicts this battle in a gritty two-part finale where the chance for survival are slim to none. The season concludes with a stunning cliffhanger that places the lives of everyone in direct peril.
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete First Season creates the foundation for what is sure to be a successful series for many years to come. The writers battle the growing pains typical of an inaugural year and the added pressure of crafting a spin-off, but they eventually achieve success. The entire cast is solid, but special credit should be given to Joe Flanigan, who steps out of Richard Dean Anderson’s shadow and becomes an entertaining leader. David Hewlett’s lovable McKay continues to steal the show on nearly a weekly basis and becomes even more likable as the year progresses. Torri Higginson and Rachell Luttrell also shine as strong female characters who succeed through brains and muscle, respectively. A solid collection of recurring characters expand the series’ scope and allow the stories to tackle more ambitious concepts. The possibilities for upcoming seasons are endless, and I expect the actors and writers to improve on the effective first year and present entertaining, insightful sci-fi adventures well into the future.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Stargate Atlantis: The Complete First Season utilizes a solid 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that conveys the digital effects impressively. The stunning images of Atlantis and the off-world scenery resonate brightly on the screen. Some minor grain does exist during the darker moments, but the overall presentation is clean and remains sharp throughout the season.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: This collection offers an attractive 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that helps to immerse viewers into the Pegasus Galaxy. The sounds of ships buzzing through the sky and emerging through the Stargate blast from all sides of the home theater. The complexity falls a bit short of the better film transfers, but the overall audio remains solid in every regard.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Seinfeld: Seasons 5 and 6, Ringer: Lord of the Fans, Steamboy, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Mirrormask, Stargate SG-1
13 Feature/Episode commentaries by cast and crew members on Rising (Parts 1 and 2), Hide and Seek, Thirty Eight Minutes, Childhood's End, The Storm, The Eye, The Defiant One, Hot Zone, Sanctuary, and The Brotherhood
Packaging: Box Set
Although it falls short of offering commentaries on every episode in the vein of the SG-1 releases, this collection still offers an impressive group of commentaries. Unlike its companion series, this set also has more appearances by the primary actors. The standout contributors are still the writers and directors, though, with Martin Gero and Martin Wood especially worthy speakers. The following feature-length tracks are provided with this release:
Rising (Parts 1 and 2): Director Martin Wood and Actor Joe Flanigan
Hide and Seek: Actors Rachel Luttrell, Torri Higginson, and Paul McGillion
Thirty Eight Minutes: Actors Rachel Luttrell and Paul McGillion
Childhood's End: Writer Martin Gero and Actors Rachel Luttrell and Rainbow Sun Francks
The Storm and The Eye: Director Martin Wood, Writer Martin Gero, and Actor David Hewlett
The Defiant One: Director Peter DeLuise and Stunt Coordinator Dan Shea
Hot Zone: Writer Martin Gero and Actors Rachel Luttrell, Rainbow Sun Francks, and Paul McGillion
Sanctuary: Actors Rachel Luttrell and Torri Higginson
The Brotherhood: Director Martin Wood, Writer Martin Gero, and Actor David Hewlett
The Gift: Director Peter DeLuise and Actor Gary Jones
The Siege Part 1: Director Martin Wood, Writer Martin Gero, and Actor David Hewlett
The Siege Part 2: Director Martin Wood, Writer Martin Gero, and Actors Joe Flanigan and David Hewlett
Stargate Atlantis Set Tour with Martin Wood and Peter DeLuise (11:21)
This tongue-in-cheek feature offers a few glimpses at the set, but most of the time is occupied with pointless silliness. The worse offense is the constant inclusion of quick clips from the show that comment in annoying fashion on the directors’ statements. Wood spends most of his screen time pretending to price the set pieces, which becomes tedious fairly quickly.
Diary of Rainbow Sun Francks (9:15)
The bright-eyed portrayer of Lieutenant Ford offers a quick description on his experiences during the series’ first season. The actor seems very similar to his slightly green but well-meaning character. We also follow him on the set through Rainbow Cam, which gives a few short looks at the production.
Wraithal Discrimination: It’s Not Easy Being Green (11:28)
This feature offers an overview of the Wraith—the mean, life-sucking major villains of the series. The actors who play the numerous wraith enemies also discuss their costumes in entertaining fashion. Each one is identified with typical human names like Bob, Steve, or Gordon. We also view some footage from The Gift with Teyla in crazy Wraith makeup.
Mission Directive: The Storm/The Eye (5:59)
This very short feature offers a quick glimpse from Martin Wood at how on-set elements were used to create the illusion of a massive hurricane. We also see David Hewlett and Torri Higginson being doused with tons of water and looking miserable. This entry is far too short, but it does offer an improved side-by-side comparison of the production footage and final version, which sits in the bottom-right corner of the screen.
Mission Directive: Sanctuary (11:34)
This informative extra is less silly than the previous entries, thanks to the more serious tone of Director James Head. There’s plenty of side-by-side footage here, especially involving the primary actors sitting in the puddle jumper set, which showcases the effective use of digital effects.
Mission Directive: Before I Sleep (13:55)
Director Andy Mikita leads us through a considerable amount of production footage surrounding this intriguing episode. I would have preferred to learn some details concerning the story’s creation, but the focus remains on the production material. It is interesting to view the considerable time needed for Tori Higginson’s makeup, which required her to arrive at 2:30 in the morning.
A Look Back at Season Seven with Martin Gero (17:23)
Writer/Story Editor Martin Gero offers worthy details on the first season during this uneven interview. The discussion clips also include responses to some viewer questions, Gero’s thoughts on the primary cast, and his favorite episode. Then there are the dumb clips that show Gero trying to interview the actors, who appear to have no idea who he is. While this gag may have worked once or twice, it is overused and lessens this otherwise enjoyable feature.
Mission Directive: The Siege (11:12)
Easily the most pointless featurette in this collection, this frustrating inclusion basically avoids any notable discussion of the pivotal two-part finale. Instead, we’re forced to watch the actors being silly and ripping on Martin Wood, which gets old very quickly.
Production Design and Photo Galleries
Each disc contains a collection of more than 50 photos that consist largely of stills from the show. The color pictures also include some production shots, but the design images are pretty minimal.
A significant group of previews appear spread across the entire collection and are definitely geared at the show’s target audience. The trailers provided are Seinfeld: Seasons 5 and 6, Ringer: Lord of the Fans, Steamboy, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Mirrormask, and Stargate SG-1.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsStargate Atlantis faced tremendous expectations right from the beginning, and the writers managed to craft a unique series that stands apart from its predecessor. The second season has included some major cast changes, but its first 10 stories have offered added complexity and helped the show to surpass SG-1. The already approved third season promises an expanded scope and more surprises for the consistently improving series.
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