ADV Films // 2003 // 200 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // May 18th, 2005
"...but in our future, my crew and I fight to make it safe."
It's the midpoint of Season Four, and Andromeda still doesn't have a clear focus for the season. The early episodes hinted at some trouble back on Tarazed, where the Triumvirs (the leaders of the Commonwealth) may not all be on the same page. Will that turn out to be the season-long story arc we've been waiting for? Or will this penultimate season of Andromeda continue to meander aimlessly through the three galaxies?
Andromeda is based on a show concept found in the notes left behind by Gene "Star Trek" Roddenberry after his death. Roddenberry had actually pitched the concept in the 1970s, albeit in a more Mad Max post-apocalyptic kind of setting. The result was a 1973 TV pilot, Genesis II, starring Alex Cord (Airwolf) and Mariette Hartley (not James Garner's wife). (The name of the lead character: Dylan Hunt.) Genesis II had virtually all of the major elements that would later appear in Andromeda: a man ripped from his own time due to an accident; a good, peace-loving group striving to bring society and civilization back to a war-torn world; and a Nazi-like totalitarian group attempting to use the chaos to strengthen its own grasp on society.
The show wasn't picked up, but Roddenberry did return to this world the next year in a made-for-TV movie, Planet Earth, with the immortal John Saxon replacing Cord in the Hunt role. Roddenberry obviously liked the concept, and arguably would have continued to make Dylan Hunt TV movies -- but for the fact that Paramount suddenly expressed interest in his Star Trek Phase II concept, which they wanted to anchor their planned new television network. Roddenberry shifted his focus to reviving the Trek franchise, keeping him from working on any follow-ups to Planet Earth (as well as his other show, the supernatural thriller Spectre.) Star Trek II never actually entered production (and UPN had to wait until the mid-'90s before it became a reality), but its pilot episode -- which was based on a story outline originally drafted for the planned Genesis II series -- eventually turned into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The Trek franchise thereafter kept Roddenberry fully occupied until his death in 1991.
After Roddenberry's death, his widow Majel Barrett Roddenberry gathered together his notes and works-in-progress, since she knew he had been toying with some television concepts in his spare time. She discovered a fairly detailed outline of, and scripts for, a show about humanity's response to seemingly benevolent but mysterious aliens who come bearing gifts. This eventually became Earth: Final Conflict, which had a marginally successful four-year syndication run. She also found the outlines of a Genesis II-like story set not on Earth, but in a distant Star Trek-like future. This small outline -- really nothing more than a general description of the show and its characters -- is what eventually became Andromeda.
As originally formulated, Andromeda followed the adventures of Dylan Hunt (natch), a ship captain for the High Guard (navy) of the Systems Commonwealth (intergalactic government). A series of events cause Hunt and his ship, the Andromeda Ascendant, to fall into the gravitational influence of a black hole. The relativistic effects of the black hole's event horizon cause time to dilate for the ship and Hunt (who had evacuated the rest of his crew). Three hundred years later, with the universe having fallen into a protracted age of chaos and misery, the Andromeda Ascendant is salvaged by the crew of the Eureka Maru. After learning what has happened to his beloved Commonwealth, Hunt enlists the Maru's crew and sets out to reform the Commonwealth and bring peace to the galaxy.
By the time Season Four rolled around, Hunt had already reformed the Commonwealth, and was now battling the dark forces of the Abyss, a generalized evilness that apparently comes from another universe. The Abyss, through their minions the Magog (a parasitic race of pig-beasts who lay their eggs inside living hosts, who are then eaten from the inside out), are trying to bring down the Commonwealth and...well...kill everyone. Through the first nine episodes of the season, Hunt had found signs of Abyss influence everywhere he looked, but hadn't made any headway in the fight to stop them. (As usual, I refer you to the reviews for Andromeda: Season Four, Collection One and Andromeda: Season Four, Collection Two for further details.) So we now come to the middle stanza of this symphony, and rejoin the adventures of Hunt and crew...
This DVD collection contains episodes 410-413 of Season Four, presented in their broadcast order:
* "Exalted Reason, Resplendent Daughter"
The Andromeda is called in to help hunt down the infamous space bandit Robin Hood...er, I mean, Kulis Barra (Martin Cummins, Dark Angel). Kulis appears to have kidnapped Aliess (Christina Cox, The Chronicles of Riddick), the daughter of a powerful local leader named Shineoa-san (Jim Byrnes, Wiseguy). Some things just don't add up, though: Why was a princess on board a freighter traveling a hazardous trade route? Why doesn't she want to be rescued? Why is she making out with Kulis? Dylan attempts to figure things out before somebody gets killed.
Bonus trivia note: Martin Cummins is the ex-husband of former
Penthouse Pet of the Year / Vince Neil sex toy Brandy Ledford, who plays
Doyle in Andromeda's fifth season. I admire him for having the courage to
boldly go where readily-available Internet evidence shows at least one skanky,
probably disease-ridden man has repeatedly gone before. But I digress...
* "The Torment, The Release"
The Commonwealth Triumvirate, manipulated by the nefarious Collectors, put Dylan on trial for his repeated insubordination in what passes for an Andromeda clip show. Rommie (Lexa Doig, Jason X), Beka (Lisa Ryder, Forever Knight), and Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett, Mission Genesis) look for a way to "rescue" Dylan, while Rhade (Steve Bacic, 21 Jump Street) hides in his room. Since it's a sham trial, there's no real doubt as to the final verdict. But Dylan finally learns which Triumvir is on his side -- and it's not who you'd think...
* "The Spider's Stratagem"
Dylan finds himself "entertaining" a petty local dictator named Viceroy Moldar (John Cassini, Get Carter), who earns a substantial living on the side by running guns and armor to war-torn star systems. The Andromeda has just intercepted a shipment of Moldar's booty, in the form of a small freighter captained by a moderately famous smuggler named Rox Nava (Nia Peeples, The Party Machine with Nia Peeples). Nava was carrying a shipment of very dangerous bio-armor, and Dylan wants to find its source. So he joins forces with Nava to strong-arm Moldar into revealing his operations. Meanwhile, Beka and Rhade take the Eureka Maru and deliver the bio-armor, hoping to gather more information. Unfortunately, Beka, for some reason, actually puts on a suit of the semi-sentient armor, and starts acting a bit...testy. Wacky hijinks ensue.
* "The Warmth of an Invisible Light"
In the hope of avoiding pursuing bounty hunters, Dylan orders Harper to try his untested new gadget, the em-bender, which may help camouflage the Andromeda. Or, it may open a massive rip in space-time and kill them all -- Harper's not entirely sure. In any event, it winds up transporting Dylan to an alternate reality; one where the Long Night never happened, thanks to his efforts in forging peace with the Nietscheans. But all is not well -- he finds himself aboard the Andromeda, now a rusting, abandoned museum piece, in the middle of a conflict between Abyss-controlled dictator Commander Harper (and his loyal sidekick Rhade, chief of the High Guard police force) and a group of rebels led by General Valentine. One of General Beka's tactics involved exploding Dylan Hunt androids, which explains Hunt's less-than-warm welcome from the natives. Although Dylan eventually figures out how to get back to his reality, thanks to the pan-universal nature of Trance (Laura Bertram), he's never one to leave well enough alone, and tries to bring peace to this war-torn reality.
Andromeda: Season Four, Collection Three is the strongest set of episodes so far in Season Four. Even the clip show is well done, and never feels like a tired rehash of stuff we've already seen. How often do you see that? And "The Warmth of an Invisible Light" is a minor classic, giving the cast a chance to play their characters in a completely different way than usual -- an opportunity they grab by the horns. "The Spider's Stratagem" is the weakest of the bunch, but is still a darn good episode. It's just a bit confusing at the outset (a very common problem in the world of Andromeda).
The core problem with Season Four is still there, though -- the lack of a coherent season-long arc. It's clear at this point that the conflict within the Commonwealth hierarchy -- fomented by the possibly Abyss-influenced Collectors -- is supposed to be the arc. But how is this actually implemented? By subtly hinting at it in a few episodes over the first half of the season, then devoting Episode 11 to escalating it into a full-blown civil war in the space of an hour. Um...what? What just happened? Didn't that just end the arc? I guess we'll see as the season progresses, but for now, it all seems forced and -- sadly -- a bit ill-conceived.
On the whole, though, Andromeda is still a sadly overlooked science fiction series. The regular cast members are all terrific -- even Steve Bacic (who plays Telemachus Rhade) has improved substantially by the end of these four episodes. Some of the guest stars tend to be a bit over-the-top -- in this collection, that would be Nia Peeples -- but not to the point where they ruin the show. Sorbo is perfect as Hunt, heroic and self-deprecating at the same time. The writing does tend to be inconsistent, but the show always manages to have a decent story and plenty of fun action.
Picture quality on this set is consistent with the other ADV fourth season sets -- extremely good. The show is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format, with good, crisp color and contrast.
The extras package on this collection is also consistent with the other ADV sets. The subject of this set's "Meet the Cast" featurette is actor Brett Stait -- which doesn't make any sense. Stait played the character Rev Bem in the first two seasons of Andromeda, but then left the show. (The elaborate and heavy Rev Bem makeup became too much for him to handle, and he asked to be written out of the show.) He did come back for a guest appearance in Season Three, with a very drastic change in appearance. But he doesn't appear in these episodes at all -- although he does appear as a guest star in Episode 415, which will be included on Collection Four. So why put his interview here? Why not include it with the next collection, which would make more sense?
In any event, the interview with Stait is the best of the Season Four interviews. Stait is an extremely nice guy; very soft-spoken and intelligent, and sporting the stereotypical northern Canadian accent. He's also clearly a fan of the show, and speaks very intelligently on the show's themes and philosophy. He also talks about how he brought elements of his personal life into the Rev Bem character, and how the character (through the elaborate makeup) shaped his performance. A discussion of the Rev Bem makeup, in both its old and new forms, is worked in along the way, adding a "behind the scenes" dimension to the interview. All in all, it's an interview that fans of the show should love.
A second interview is included as well. This "Meet the Director" featurette focuses on Richard Flower, the director of "Exalted Reason, Resplendent Daughter." Flower -- who also directed Collection One's "Harper/Delete" -- directed at least one episode in each of Andromeda's four seasons, giving him a unique view of the show and its production methods. Alas, the interview is a bit on the short side, and isn't as revealing as you'd hope it would be. But it's still a valuable addition to the package.
A small "Behind the Scenes: Makeup" featurette has two of the show's makeup artists discussing the practical techniques behind the special makeup effects on the show. Which basically boils down to Rev Bem and Trance, as well as the occasional monster. The best part of this piece? Getting to see Purple Trance again. I miss her...
A series of text-based informational features are included, too. There are two features covering technical details about the Andromeda and how it works, and biographies (character and real) for Sorbo and Ryder. The now-requisite blooper real is present, this time focusing on Gordon Michael Woolvett. If you're a fan of the show, you'd expect this one to be funny as hell. And you won't be disappointed. Finally, the usual lot of TV promos and trailers are included as well.
This section is becoming a broken record. At the risk of repeating myself: The sound on the episodes is terrible, a Dolby 2.0 stereo mix that drowns out dialogue; and charging $40 for a four-episode disc is ridiculous. I think it's probably safe to say that this will be the case for Collections Four and Five as well.
If you are a science fiction fan, you should absolutely give Andromeda a chance. If you have to start with this set as your first introduction to the show, it won't kill you. These episodes are good enough to stand on their own. But again, I strongly recommend you start with the first season of the show. There's a good deal of backstory prior to this fourth season, and you'll enjoy this collection (and the other Season Four discs) more if you know at least something about that backstory.
Not guiltier to a greater extent than the past two collections! Except for the sound and the disc's price point, both of which are criminal.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Ryan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 200 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Meet the Cast: Brett Stait (Rev Bem)
* Meet the Director: Richard Flower
* Behind-the-Scenes: Make-up
* Character Bios: Dylan Hunt and Beka Valentine
* Cast Bios: Kevin Sorbo (Dylan) and Lisa Ryder (Beka)
* The Andromeda Guidebook: Slipstream
* The Andromeda Guidebook: Powering the Andromeda Ascendant
* Gordon Michael Woolvett's Bloopers and Gags
* TV Promos
* Official Site
* SciFi Channel Andromeda Site
* Review: Season Four, Collection One
* Review: Season Four, Collection Two