Judge Clark Douglas has declared martial law. No one leaves this review until they've finished reading.
Our reviews of Stargate Universe: The Complete First Season (published December 27th, 2010), Stargate Universe: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) (published October 21st, 2010), Stargate Universe 1.0 (Blu-Ray) (published February 26th, 2010), and Stargate Universe: The Complete Final Season (published June 19th, 2011) are also available.
Where will Destiny take you?
"We are going to survive. We are going to make it home."
Facts of the Case
When we last left the crew of the ancient starship Destiny, the situation was tense. The semi-hostile relationship between Col. Young (Louis Ferreira) and Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle, 28 Weeks Later) had come to a boil, causing Young to beat Rush within an inch of his life and leave him stranded on a desert planet. Though no one but Young and Rush knows what really happened, many onboard the Destiny strongly suspect that foul play was involved. This puts further strain on the already-difficult relationship between the civilians and the military onboard the ship, leading to additional whispers of revolt and mutiny. Meanwhile, Dr. Rush finds himself captured onboard an alien vessel, being held prisoner by strange creatures whose intentions remain unknown.
While Stargate Universe 1.0 stuffed its ten episodes onto two discs, Stargate Universe 1.5 chooses to spread the episodes across three discs:
In my review of Stargate Universe 1.0, I noted that SGU seemed to be attempting to provide viewers with a more "realistic" level of sci-fi than one expects from the Stargate franchise. The first ten episodes featured a notable lack of aliens with funny foreheads; the show did whatever it could to maintain a grim, "real-life" vibe very reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica. Season 1.5 sees the show taking more confident steps in its own direction, as the series starts to step out of the BSG shadow and establish its own unique identity a bit more. Even more impressively, this season throws big blue aliens, giant spiders, and even a dinosaur at us and somehow manages to maintain its convincing tone without ever feeling too silly.
One of the noteworthy changes from 1.0 to 1.5 is the general speed of the show. While Season 1.0 took its sweet time in terms of establishing the characters and the scenario, Season 1.5 moves at breakneck speed the majority of the time. The cliffhangers from the mid-season finale are quickly resolved, new conflicts are set in motion and the characters go through an awful lot of wild developments over the course of these ten episodes. In some instances this could be a sign or trouble or desperation, but Stargate Universe actually seems to have an increasingly strong handle on where it's going and what it wants to be as it proceeds.
The relationship between Young and Rush continues to be one of the show's most compelling plotlines, as the two men butt heads on a regular basis yet also find themselves part of an unlikely alliance from time to time. It's easy to label the scheming Rush as the "villain" in contrast to the more sturdy, straightforward Young, but I actually think Rush's ideas tend to be about as sound and legitimate as those Young has to offer. Compelling ethical debates were a large part of what made BSG so successful, and I'm happy to see that SGU is maintaining that element of imitation while becoming more distinct elsewhere.
Another area in which this half-season really excels is bringing emotional weight to the proceedings. One of the strongest episodes (my personal favorite of the series to date) is "Human," in which Dr. Rush is forced to re-live one of the most painful portions of his life in the hopes of finding a crucial piece of information. It's a moving piece of science fiction, blending large-scale ideas with deeply human elements quite successfully. Also strong is "Divided," which sees the civilians and the military going head-to-head in a particularly harrowing manner. "Sabotage" provides another moving subplot, as a paraplegic doctor is permitted to have a fully functional body again for a brief window of time. Everything culminates in the final three episodes, which introduces Rhona Mitra (Doomsday) as a new villain and sends the crew of Destiny into deadly territory. The last disc of this set essentially plays like a three-part feature film; albeit one that ends on yet another cliffhanger.
Stargate Universe 1.5 soars on Blu-ray sporting a very strong 1080p 1.78:1 transfer with AVC @ 26MBPS. As with the previous collection, this sit offers sharp detail and considerable depth, though this time around there seems to be greater diversity on a visual level. There's bright colors that really pop off the screen in "Faith," while "Human" presents flashback scenes in soft, faded, milky shades of white. While the show's general aesthetic remains muted and gritty, the assorted locales and broader array of sets in season 1.5 allow for a steady stream of change-ups. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio is also superb, as Joel Goldsmith's synth-y score and the complex space sound design still pack a considerable punch. One little trademark I've noticed turning up in an increasing amount of shows is the "closing music video montage," as a melancholy pop song plays over a series of clips spotlighting various characters as the episode nears the end. This happens an awful lot in this show, but the music selections are generally spot-on.
The supplements are organized in the same manner as those on the first volume. Most significantly, there are an abundance of audio commentaries, as assorted cast and crew members are onhand to chat about every single episode. Among the participants are actors Brian J. Smith, Alaina Huffman, Patrick Gilmore, Jamil Walker Smith, Elyse Levesque, Peter Kelamis, Louis Ferreira, Julie Benson, director Andy Mikata, creator Robert Cooper, effects supervisor Mark Savela, writer Louis Mallozzi and DP Michael Blundell. It's surprising to note the absence of actor David Blue, who participated in over half the commentary tracks on the previous set. I know the actor took some flack from some for his jokey, rambling style of commentary, but I hope we haven't heard the last of him in this department.
A whole host of brief featurettes are contained within the "Destiny SML" section on each disc, running between 2-10 minutes each. You get: "David Blue: An Interview with the Creators of SGU," "Designing a New Race: Space Aliens," "Tanked! Elyse Levesque Goes for a Swim," "Chatting with the Cast: Peter Kelamis," "Brian J. Smith: An Interview with the Creators of SGU," "The Destiny of General O'Neill," "A Day in the Life of Louis Ferreira," "Chatting with the Cast: Julie Benson," "Out for a Spacewalk with Jamil Walker Smith," "Finding Destiny: A Tour of the Destiny Set with Chris Beach," "Alaina Huffman: An Interview with the Creators of SGU," "Chatting with the Cast: Jennifer Spence," "A Behind the Scenes Look at Incursion," "Two-For-One: Behind the Incursion Double Ratchet Stunt," and "Chatting with the Cast: Patrick Gilmore." I kind of wish all this stuff could have been compiled into some larger, longer featurettes or a documentary, as the brief nature of these pieces requires a boatload of clicking and disc-changing. You also get eight improvised "Kino Video Diary" pieces, plus an interactive game called "SGU: Survival Instinct Game." It's fun at first, but gets dull pretty quickly.
The most controversial extra will probably be the bonus full-season box that comes with this set; a thin cardboard box designed to contain both this set and Stargate Universe 1.0. While I genuinely appreciate the effort, the fact that the box is folded in half (which causes a great big crease in its mid-section) combined with the box's flimsy construction makes the bonus something of a flop. Nice try, though. Also, in my previous review I noted the absurd retail price as a significant negative factor. This time around, MGM has come to their senses and dropped the price tag from $70 to $40 (meaning you should be able to pick it up from various online outlets for between 20-30 dollars). This makes picking up the collection a much easier decision.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are still too many supporting characters hanging around the edges that haven't quite gotten the development they deserve. Listening the audio commentaries on some of these episodes, I noticed the cast and crew members discussing the personalities of certain characters that we still know very little about. It seems like one of those cases where everyone has been pretty well mapped-out on paper but some of that mapping hasn't really translated to the screen. However, I will note that some of the underdeveloped characters from Season 1.0 (particularly those played by Ming Na and Lou Diamonds Phillips) actually have something to do this time around.
The most serious character-related offense in this batch of episodes is the manner in which Eli (one of the show's better characters) gets sidelined significantly during the final few episodes. He's one of the central figures of the show; he should have more to do when things hit the fan.
An increasingly engaging sci-fi show gets a very strong Blu-ray release. Here's hoping Stargate Universe continues to grow as it heads into Season 2.
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