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MGM Studios DVD presents
Weir: What are our options?
DVD ReviewStargate Atlantis' first season concluded with a gigantic two-parter involving the Wraith's ferocious aerial and ground siege of Atlantis. Building through the entire year, the growing enemy threat culminated in a violent battle that could change everything. The cliffhanger finale placed the lives of everyone in dire peril, which raised doubts about our heroes' survival. Major Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) tackled a suicide mission to destroy a hive ship, Lieutenant Ford (Rainbow Sun Francks) was cornered by the Wraith on Atlantis, Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) may have been killed, and the others prepared to self-destruct the city. Their fates are resolved in The Siege, Part III, which may stop the immediate threat but introduces even larger struggles. Reinforcements arrive from Earth on the Daedalus to fight the Wraith, but their appearance could just delay the inevitable. Will Atlantis survive and keep fighting, or will this episode mark their ultimate end?
After a successful opening season, the show's creators faced the difficult challenge of topping their first efforts without repeating themselves. This season includes several major cast changes that provide a different feel from the inaugural output. As the first year progressed, Francks was given little to do as Ford, and his character needed an overhaul. They decided to introduce sweeping physical and emotional changes that made him a recurring presence away from Atlantis. He appears in only four episodes, but the mid-season arc of The Lost Boys and The Hive does give Ford a key role. Replacing Francks as a regular is Jason Momoa's Ronon Dex—a powerhouse figure who brings a tougher physical presence to the team. He's introduced convincingly in The Runner and brings a much-needed mystery to the series. However, it does take a while for Momoa to grow comfortable in the role. His acting style is a bit stilted, but his physical skills and screen presence more than make up for any limitations.
Another significant addition is The X Files' Mitch Pileggi as Colonel Caldwell—a hard-nosed military man who believes he should be in charge of Atlantis. Back on Earth at the SGC, General Landry (Beau Bridges) and the military contingent want a stronger presence on Atlantis, which leads them to consider this promotion. These events play out in flashback during The Intruder, the season's second episode. Facing a crisis on board The Daedalus, Caldwell's differing views come to the forefront. Pileggi brings considerable weight to the series, which would benefit greatly if he became a regular. In Conversion, Caldwell receives temporary military command when Sheppard faces a deadly crisis. He immediately begins making significant changes that bring him into serious conflict with Weir. Hopefully the writers will continue to give Pileggi more chances like this one to offer a different perspective. When Weir and Sheppard's bodies are occupied by aliens in The Long Goodbye, Caldwell takes over and shows his leadership abilities. The episode is not one of the year's best, but it does offer a positive showcase for this accomplished actor.
While the series' first season struggled at times with budget limitations and some clunky one-off episodes, it also thrived from the ongoing Wraith threat. After that arc's partial resolution in The Siege, Part III, the writers aim to develop unique stories without the benefit of the single driving narrative. While this situation does create some issues, it also leads to highly original storytelling within several memorable episodes. An early gem is Instinct, which guest stars Firefly's Jewel Staite as a young Wraith girl hoping to become human. Her father is treating her with a retro-virus to lessen her Wraith tendencies, but it may not be enough. Acting behind large quantities of makeup, Staite brings humanity to the role and makes us care about her situation. This episode's concluding events lead directly into Sheppard's peril in Conversion. Another unique tale is Aurora, which involves the discovery of an Ancient ship with its crew members in stasis. Sheppard enters a virtual-reality world to interact with them and hopefully discover a Wraith weakness. I'm a big fan of this type of science fiction, and this story's mysterious side makes it a worthy entry.
Even during its mediocre stories, Stargate Atlantis remains enjoyable due to the extremely likable cast. The primary figure is David Hewlett, who has made Dr. Rodney McKay one of the most neurotic and entertaining characters in science fiction. In the excellent Grace Under Pressure, he is trapped underwater in a Puddle Jumper with little hope for a rescue. Hewlett makes this situation both nerve-wracking and silly—a combination that has worked for him throughout the series. This episode benefits greatly from a guest appearance by Stargate SG-1's Amanda Tapping as a manifestation of McKay's brain. He's consistently irritated her Samantha Carter character in the past, but still holds a torch for her, which explains the mental choice. Other notable guest appearances include the return of Colm Meaney and Ryan Robbins in Coup D'Etat. They play dueling members of the Genii race, who have come into conflict with our heroes in the past. This is not the year's strongest episode, but it does include some surprising twists and changes to the Genii hierarchy.
The second season concludes with several episodes concerning a Wraith transformed by our heroes into a human. In Michael, we meet this confused figure (Connor Trinnear) who has no memory of his time as a Wraith. As hints slowly appear about his true nature, each character responds differently to the growing threat. Joe Flanigan, Torri Higginson, Rachel Luttrell, and all the actors give some of their best performances as the team struggles with the moral implications of their experiment. Paul McGillion also shines here and throughout the season as Dr. Beckett, who supervises their work with Michael. In the finale Allies, Michael returns to broker an amazing Wraith peace deal with Atlantis. Do they actually mean well? The answer is revealed in a stunning cliffhanger that leads perfectly into the series' third year. That season would improve on the successes of this collection and offer strong character development, new enemies, and original avenues for the likable characters.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: This collection offers a top-notch 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that significantly improves over the first-season release. Atlantis' distinctive grays and blues are sharp throughout the set's 20 episodes and sometimes offer a majestic presentation. The grain remains minimal, even during the nighttime scenes, and the CGI effectively melds with the live action. While some episodes largely take place indoors, the grander entries showcase impressive visuals and help to create a memorable release.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Sometimes facing limited budgets, Stargate Atlantis always gets considerable mileage from using creative audio. This release includes a strong 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that effectively conveys the stirring music and bombastic sound effects. It ranks among the better television DVD transfers and deserves high marks across the board.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 80 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
20 Feature/Episode commentaries by cast and crew on every episode (see below)
Packaging: Box Set
One of the reasons for this DVD's success is the participation of BOTH the cast and crew during these commentaries. We only get a rare appearance from the SG-1 stars on their DVD sets, but actors like David Hewlett and Joe Flanigan make multiple appearances here. Hewlett is a particular trooper and offers comments on a large number of discussions. One highlight is Amanda Tapping's appearance on the Grace Under Pressure track, which allows her to recount her experiences with Hewlett. The individual speakers are listed below:
The Siege, Part III: Director Martin Wood, Writer Martin Gero, Joe Flanigan, and David Hewlett
The Intruder: Director Peter DeLuise and Actor Gary Jones
Runner: Martin Wood and David Hewlett
Duet: Peter DeLuise, Martin Gero, and David Hewlett
Condemned: Peter DeLuise and Gary Jones
Trinity: Martin Wood and Writer Damien Kindler
Conversion: Martin Gero, Joe Flanigan, and David Hewlett
Aurora: Martin Wood and Peter DeLuise
The Lost Boys: Martin Gero, Joe Flanigan, and David Hewlett
The Hive: Martin Wood
Epiphany: Director Neil Fearnley
Critical Mass: Director Andy Mikita, Rachel Luttrell, and Director of Photography Benton Spencer
Grace Under Pressure: Martin Wood, Martin Gero, Amanda Tapping, and David Hewlett
The Tower: Producer Paul Mullie and Andy Mikita
Long Goodbye: Andy Mikita, Torri Higginson, and Benton Spencer
Coup d'Etat: Martin Wood, Martin Gero, and David Hewlett
Michael: Martin Wood and Peter DeLuise
Inferno: Peter DeLuise and Gary Jones
Allies: Andy Mikita, Martin Gero, and David Hewlett
Mission Directive: The Siege, Part II featuring Director Martin Wood (10:46)
This featurette begins with some lengthy plot summary from Martin Wood that is probably not necessary on a bonus feature. Following this segment, we do receive some good information about visual effects and the light tone on the set. Wood also discusses the changes to Lieutenant Ford and the need to introduce jeopardy for the primary characters.
Mission Directive: The Intruder featuring Director Peter DeLuise (11:00)
Peter DeLuise also begins this piece with some plot summary, but it is briefer than in the previous feature. He openly describes how it rips off SG-1's episode Entity, and speaks with his typical enjoyable demeanor. The best element involves the discussion of filming challenges, which covers the use of the same sets to depict multiple areas.
Mission Directive: Instinct featuring Director Andy Mikita (15:09)
Andy Mikita's features are usually the most informative, straightforward extras among the directors. These piece's comments praise the script, describe his enjoyment of filming outdoors, and identify some old SG-1 items present in the lab set. We also view some good behind-the-scenes footage with shots from both inside the camera and out.
Introduction to a Character: Ronon Dex (15:06)
This worthwhile introduction avoids fluff and includes some great material from Robert C. Cooper and Martin Wood about the reasons for creating Ronon. Jason Momoa had never seen Stargate before or fired a gun, but he appears to be very proud of the part. This featurette includes lots of clips, but they are accompanied by interesting comments and do work for this type of profile.
Road to a Dream with Martin Gero (19:16)
This hilarious featurette attempts the tongue-in-cheek humor that often fails on DVD features, and it actually succeeds. Set up like a documentary with an off-screen interviewer, it chronicles Writer Martin Gero's supposed attempts to become an actor, and the result is plenty of big laughs. He tests the Scottish accent with Paul McGillion, rehearses a fun scene with David Hewlett, and tries to one-up Rachel Luttrell with his "acting background." Gero's attempts to sneak in front of the camera during an infirmary scene are classic.
Profile On: David Hewlett (20:51)
This lengthy profile covers the series' most entertaining actor, David Hewlett, who plays the neurotic Dr. McKay. He was cast at the last minute to replace a character who wasn't working, and I cannot imagine the show without him. This feature also covers the difficulties of giving him so much exposition and techno-babble during each week. This enjoyable profile concludes with a few quick questions from fans.
Stargate Atlantis: Stunts (18:21)
This enjoyable feature focuses on Stunt Coordinator James "Bambam" Bamford, who showcases tremendous enthusiasm for his craft. He usually choreographs the fights within a very short time, and then films rehearsal tapes to assist the directors during filming. We also see multiple shots of Paul McGillion jumping on a mat to avoid a CGI Wraith dart and hear from Rachel Luttrell about preparing for her complex stick fights.
Profile On: Paul McGillion (20:43)
This considerable profile introduces one big surprise that I had somehow missed to this point—Paul McGillion doesn't speak with a Scottish accent. His does have a Scottish background and was born there, but his English is fairly standard. This feature spends a good deal of time covering McGillion's friendship with David Hewlett, and their silly scenes in Duet receive significant coverage. The two actors goof off during much of the later moments, which is fun but could have been shortened.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsStargate Atlantis: The Complete Second Season did suffer a minor identity crisis while the creative staff strived to develop the series' personality. However, the acting and entertainment level remains strong throughout the year and effectively leads into the excellent third season. New episodes return to the Sci-Fi Network on April 6th and will almost certainly take the story in an enjoyable direction.
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