Case Number 19957

STARGATE UNIVERSE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (BLU-RAY)

MGM // 2009 // 871 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // October 21st, 2010

The Charge

The only mission is survival.

Opening Statement

Just in case you didn't already purchase Stargate Universe 1.0 and Stargate Universe 1.5 when they were previously released, here's Stargate Universe: The Complete First Season, which combines both earlier sets without offering anything additional.

Facts of the Case

When a government research base is attacked, a group of military professionals, scientists and a few politicians are evacuated through a Stargate -- a doorway through space -- and wind up aboard an ancient ship called the Destiny. The trouble is that the ship is actually millions of light years away from Earth and lacks the power to get the stranded survivors back home. Taking charge of the Destiny is Col. Everett Young (Louis Ferreira, Saw IV), a no-nonsense leader tasked with keeping everyone aboard the ship alive as it seemingly breaks down around them. His main opposition aboard the ship is the lead scientist, Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle, Trainspotting), whose own motives and attachments to the ship are slow to reveal themselves. Also among the new crew of the Destiny are Eli Wallace (David Blue, The Comebacks), a brilliant slacker and computer geek who was invited to join the mission after cracking a code embedded in a video game (shades of The Last Starfighter); Camile Wray (Ming-Na, Push), an IOA accountant divided between her position with the government and her dedication to her stranded shipmates, and Chloe Armstrong (Elyse Levesque, Masters of Horror: The Black Cat), the daughter of a U.S. Senator forced to grow up and step up when the family dynamic changes. Throughout the first season of SGU, these survivors (and more) will have to figure out how to repair the ship's systems and sustain life, as well as encounter hostile aliens and combat their own in-fighting in order to someday make it back home to Earth.

Here are the episodes that make up Stargate Universe: The Complete First Season:

"Air, Parts 1 and 2"
"Air, Part 3"
"Air: Extended Version"
"Darkness"
"Light"
"Space"
"Divided"
"Faith"
"Human"
"Lost"
"Sabotage"
"Pain"
"Subversion"
"Incursion, Part 1"
"Incursion, Part 2"

The Evidence

My review of Stargate Universe: The Complete First Season, like this release (and, some might argue, the series itself), is redundant. The entire season has already been issued on DVD and Blu-ray, albeit in separate halves, and Judge Clark Douglas has already done a marvelous job of outlining the show's strengths and weaknesses in his reviews of those half-season sets. All this new release represents is a slightly more economical way to enjoy Stargate Universe for those of us who were either a) patient enough to hold off on the half-seasons or b) latecomers to the show. I'd like to say that I'm the former, but we all know that the latter is true.

So what about Stargate Universe? Is the show so good that its first season requires three individual releases? Probably not, but what show is? As someone who watched, reviewed and enjoyed the hell out of Stargate Atlantis, I have to say that Stargate Universe has not provided the same kind of entertainment in its freshman season. Sure, it's a "better" show in some respects -- better production values, some better acting and a greater air of respectability -- but it hasn't been nearly as enjoyable thus far. Setting aside the BSG comparisons -- which, admittedly, are hard to overlook when the show is trying to damn hard to repeat past successes -- Stargate Universe is still too slow, too somber, and too self-serious a good deal of the time. Too many of the early episodes focus on dealing the practicalities of the crew's plight: how will they get air or water or avoid flying into the center of a star? I'd actually be on board with a series that dealt with some of these issues with a realistic approach -- it can't all be aliens and space battles -- but that show exists. It's called Battlestar Galactica. Stargate, on the other hand, has always been about embracing the fantastic, dating back to Roland Emmerich's original film which spawned all three spin-off series. It's a show about opening doorways to endless worlds and possibilities; why, then, is the first half of the season so insulated and confined to a single location? Making matters worse is the fact that the answers to these "realistic" dilemmas are always too easy and relying on a single fantastical plot device.

Stargate Universe also suffers from a dearth of unremarkable, sometimes undistinguishable characters. Of course, there the standouts: Robert Carlyle and Ferreira as Doctor Rush and Col. Young, respectively, are very good and help anchor the series at opposing ends. It's not their fault that there is too much filler in the middle. David Blue does his best to play the young comic relief, but his character is rarely able to work beyond the function he serves on the show. At least he distinguishes himself; for the most part, the remainder of the supporting cast is interchangeable to the point where I had to keep reminding myself who each person was (it reminds me a little of Enterprise in the generic nature of the cast). Not to keep going back to Stargate Atlantis, but that show very cleverly offered a core group of four "types" and pretty much stuck with them, fleshing them out and finding new places to take them over the course of the series. Stargate Universe would actually be smart to simplify in some areas, its cast of characters chief among them.

I realize I've gone on and on about what's wrong with Stargate Universe without really indicating that, yes, I do still like the show. It's in the back half of the season (or 1.5 for those of you early adopters) where Stargate Universe finally finds itself somewhat and begins to click. With some of the "logistics" take care of (or at least with the groundwork laid that the Destiny will pretty much take care of itself), SGU is freed up to begin exploring new worlds and introducing new villains. The ongoing power struggle between Rush and Young becomes richer, more complex and has greater ramifications for other characters. The show finds new ways for the characters to relate to one another, and though there are arguably still to many of them, several of them begin to come into focus a little better through the sheer force of their conflict with others. SGU remains mopey and humorless, and that's too bad -- the sense of fun was one of the best things about Atlantis -- but at least its dark and somber tone begins to feel more like a part of its own show and not just an imitation of Battlestar Galactica.

For what is essentially an unnecessary release, Stargate Universe: The Complete First Season looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray. The 20 episodes are spread across five discs, all presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and a full 1080p HD transfer. It's a dark show overall (again adopting BSG's aesthetic of a ship that's not terribly well-lit, as well as borrowing a lot of that show's hand-held, quick-zooming approach), but black levels are deep and stable and skin tones are natural overall. Detail is strong but hardly mind-blowing. The 5.1 lossless audio mix is a winner, too, offering clear dialogue with solid surround effects and powerful low-end, all mixed with another good score from Joel "My Dad is Jerry" Goldsmith (though there's nothing here that I like as much as his theme for Stargate Atlantis). From a technical standpoint, this is a very solid set.

All of the extras have simply been duplicated from the previous releases (see? It's very, very redundant), so don't expect any new special features here. There are commentaries on all 20 episodes, mostly from the cast and mostly on the annoying side -- heavy on the laughing and joking and light on the actual information. Also included as a "Stargate Instruction Video" hosted by Michael Shanks, a collection of video diaries, cast and crew interviews accessible through an annoying "star map" design, a featurette on the show's production design (called "Creating a New Universe;" it's exclusive to Blu-ray, so all you HD adopters are in luck!) and a disposable interactive game called "SGU: Survival Instinct."

Closing Statement

Though not my favorite of the Stargate series, there remains a lot to like about Stargate Universe. As it progresses, it becomes smarter and more involving -- a solid science fiction TV series that gets out from under the shadow of BSG and begins to work on its own. It takes its time in getting there, but by the end of its first season Stargate Universe becomes a show worth watching.

The Verdict

The show is not guilty, but MGM should be ashamed of themselves.

Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 89
Audio: 91
Extras: 66
Acting: 84
Story: 78
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: MGM
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French

Running Time: 871 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Episode Commentaries
* Featurettes
* Video Diaries
* Interactive Game

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1286039/combined

* Official Site
http://stargate.mgm.com/