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DVD Review: STARGATE ATLANTIS: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON



Studio: MGM
Year: 2008-2009
Cast: Joe Flanigan, Rachel Luttrell, David Hewlett, Jason Momoa, Jewel Staite, Robert Picardo, Mitch Pileggi, David Nykl, Christopher Heyerdahl, Connor Trinneer, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks
Director: Various
Release Date: June 30, 2009
Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for television audiences)
Run Time: 14h:33m:00s
Genre(s): science-fiction, adventure, action

Ronon: How are we supposed to get off the ship now?
(They look at McKay)
McKay: I just delivered a baby, that's not enough for today?
- Jason Momoa, David Hewlett

STARGATE ATLANTIS: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON

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The final season is entertaining, but it doesn't give the show the fitting sendoff it deserves.

Movie Grade: B+

DVD Grade: B+

Entering its fifth season, Stargate Atlantis seemed ready to thrive for a long time. Its previous year had concluded with an excellent three-episode arc that offered plenty of new storytelling opportunities. The plotting was more ambitious and sidestepped the hurdles faced by its usual episodic structure. In the finale The Last Man, John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) accidentally was transported to Atlantisí future, where he learned about disastrous upcoming events. Returning to the present, he tries to make changes, but ends up leading his team into a nasty trap. Buried in the rubble at seasonís end, life appears bleak for our heroes. Will they be able to escape the dire fate predicted during Sheppardís journey?

The fifth season begins strongly with Search and Rescue, which continues the ongoing story from the previous three episodes. The Wraith Michael (Connor Trinneer) has kidnapped Teyla (Rachel Luttrell), whose pregnancy has nearly come to term. While scrambling to escape the destroyed building, Sheppard, Rodney McKay (David Hewlett) and others continue their search for Teyla. Itís a fast-paced, excellent start that creates good momentum for the upcoming year. Itís too bad that the next few revert to mildly interesting one-off episodes. The Seed is a slow-moving, ìalien infectionî story that weíve seen before, and Reunion returns one of Rononís (Jason Momoa) dull comrades. The latter does include an exciting fight scene and some good work from Momoa, whoís rarely spotlighted. Slightly better is The Daedalus Variations, which shoots the team into numerous parallel universes aboard their spaceship. The plotís a bit too familiar, but the mystery elements are well done.

In August 2008 during the seasonís first half, the Sci-Fi Network brought down the hammer and announced that this would be Stargate Atlantisí final season. This was devastating news for fans expecting a lengthy run similar to SG-1ís 10 years. While the network continued to market this as the showís ìbest season,î the countdown began towards the ultimate end. The quality of many episodes remained high, particularly The Shrine, which ranks near season threeís Sunday as one of the most emotional stories. Less effective is the horror entry Whispers, which puts the new all-female team up against flesh-eating genetic experiments. Joining Sheppard and Dr. Beckett (Paul McGillion), they endure plenty of scares while trying to stay alive. Itís interesting to see the producers taking some chances, but the end result is just average. Another standalone episode is Tracker, which introduces another runner, Ronanís former role. Played well by Mike Dopoud, Kiryk creates havoc but has noble intentions, which is a welcome change.

One new aspect of this episode is the growing love triangle between McKay, Ronon and Dr. Keller (Jewel Staite). There have been moments during this season, particularly in The Shrine, that hinted at the possibility of a McKay/Keller relationship. The Last Man also presented this as something that may happen in the future. This plotline spans the entire season and divided fans into equally loud camps for and against the couple. I didnít understand the Ronon/Keller connection but liked her with McKay. Romantic connections have been very rare in this franchise, and most have lurked beneath the surface. This type of move should have happened years ago, but itís still refreshing to see. Itís helped greatly by the charms of Jewel Staite (Firefly), who keeps everything natural with Hewlett. I know that some fans donít like to mix their sci-fi with romance, but it seems ludicrous to have everyone living a celibate life. This would push the show even further away from reality and limits our connection with the major characters.

Following the impressive mid-season two-parter of First Contact and The Lost Tribe, which includes the return of Michael Shanksí Daniel Jackson, the momentum stumbles through a few mediocre shows. A particular low point is Inquisition, which brings back the dreaded clips show, designed to cut costs. It could be an interesting story, but falls victim to the limitations of the format. Thankfully, the energy returns with The Prodigal, an action-packed final confrontation with Michael in Atlantis. Although derided by many fans, Brain Storm offers plenty of silly moments from guest stars Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Dave Foley. Unlike some of the duller Wraith-centric episodes set in space, this Earth-bound story flows well. There are still things to like from the Wraith, particularly Christopher Heyerdahlís sly turn as ìTodd,î but they often revert into obvious villains running mindlessly into our heroesí weapons.

The season concludes with two strong episodes that donít really act as a typical ìseries finale.î Big moments do occur during the final battle over Earth, but the characters are just doing their usual thing. First off is Vegas, which is easily one of the yearís best. Occurring in an alternate reality and featuring alternate versions of Sheppard, McKay and others, this tale differs seriously from the typical formula. Itís great to see Writer/Director Robert C. Cooper trying something new while still incorporating a few standard elements. He even pulls in some popular music from Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones and Marilyn Manson. This story cleverly leads into the finale Enemy of the Gate, which places Earth directly under attack from a massive Wraith ship. Itís an exciting conclusion, though it really needs two hours. The DVD version is slightly extended, but it still moves way too quickly to bring character scenes into the mix.

One of Stargate Atlantisís greatest attributes has always been its cast, who can bring life to even the most derivative stories. Robert Picardo continues this trend this season and joins the cast full-time as new Atlantis chief Richard Woolsey. Similar to Hewlettís McKay, who started out on SG-1 as a jerk, the character grows into a well-liked leader. Picardo replaces Amanda Tapping, who left the series to work on Sanctuary. Her presence is missed, but the switch doesnít hinder the show. Returning actors Momoa, Staite and Luttrell continue to perform well, though the focus remains on Hewlett and Flanigan. These guys have the most screen time and have great chemistry, which the writers use constantly. Iíd love to see more focus on the rest of the cast, especially Luttrellís Teyla, but itís hard to complain during McKay and Sheppardís best scenes.

This collection includes the large group of commentaries and featurettes that are expected for a Stargate release, but the overall presentation is very mediocre. It's well past time for the DVD crew to start trying some new things. A feature-length documentary on the making of a single episode would be a great inclusion. The Shield releases are perfect examples of the depth provided by this type of feature. Another option would be lengthy, candid interviews with the cast about their roles. Joe Flanigan is always outspoken, and the six minutes given in A Conversation with the Colonel barely scratches the surface. The ìMission Directiveî features usually cover the director and writer, but they barely touch on questions of style and technique. There's only so much you can say in 11 or 12 minutes, especially when time's wasted on unnecessary computer effects.

The past seasons also played it safe, but at least everyone seemed to be having a fun time. With a few exceptions, these extras are predictable and not very informative. One piece that has the right idea is Stargate Atlantis Goes to Vegas, which gives a 20-minute look at that episode's production. The extra time allows us to get a better look at a dangerous explosion and the shooting in Vegas. Also welcome are the two groups of deleted scenes, which offer about 15 minutes of extra footage. This isn't much for an entire season, but there are some interesting moments.

A major draw with these sets is always the commentaries, which usually cover most episodes. This release includes 16 tracks, with the exceptions being Ghost in the Machine, The Shrine, Infection and Identity. This group is more then enough to satisfy most fans, but it still is too bad they didn't talk about The Shrine. Sadly, the main actors are almost completely absent from these discussions. One notable exception is Jason Momoa appearing for Reunion, but I wouldn't get too excited for that one. The rest involve directors, writers and other crew members and are informative but usually pretty dry. Paul Mullie and Mark Savela give some worthy details for the finale Enemy at the Gate, but I would have preferred someone like Flanigan or Hewlett. Their input would have lifted these tracks above just offering the expected information.

Looking back at Stargate Atlantis' five years, it's amazing how quickly it's flown by. When the cancellation announcement happened, news of an upcoming DVD movie assured fans their favorite characters would return. But little has occurred, and now the producers are involved with the next seriesóStargate Universe. Debuting in October, it will hopefully keep the franchise alive and move beyond the episodic formula. But I still hope the Atlantis cast gets another chance to shine. The final season is entertaining, but it doesn't give the show the fitting sendoff it deserves. Here's hoping that Sheppard, Teyla, McKay, Ronon and the gang will get another chance to end the story right in the upcoming year.

Posted by: Dan Heaton - July 21, 2009, 8:07 pm - DVD Review
Keywords: stargate, atlantis, hewlett, sci-fi, picardo, tapping, shanks, flanigan




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