Judge Patrick Bromley is looking forward to Stargate: Machu Pichu.
Our reviews of Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Second Season (published March 14th, 2007), Stargate: Atlantis: The Complete Third Season (published October 3rd, 2007), Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Fifth Season (published August 3rd, 2009), and Stargate Atlantis: Rising (Pilot Episode) (published July 13th, 2005) are also available.
A new gate will open. A lost city will rise again.
With the success of the sci-fi series Stargate SG-1 (a syndicated television series based on Roland Emmerich's 1994 film Stargate), creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper saw fit to create a spin-off series, Stargate Atlantis, for the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy). The show, which aired for five seasons from 2004 to 2009, has previously been released as individual season-length box sets. Now, all 100 episodes have now been packaged together as Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Collection.
Facts of the Case
A spin-off of both Stargate and Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis finds our combined military/science expedition boosting the power of the stargate (doorways built by a race of Ancients that allow for travel all around the universe) and able to travel out of the Milky Way galaxy into the Pegasus galaxy, further than anyone has traveled yet. The expedition uncovers the lost underwater city of Atlantis, built by Ancients but abandoned for thousands of years.
In the first few seasons, the expedition is unable to return back to Earth; too much of the ZPM's (zero point modulator) energy is being used to power Atlantis and there isn't enough to power a stargate back home. Very early on in their travels, the characters wake an alien race known as The Wraith, who feed on life force sucked from other beings—namely, humans. The Wraith greatly outnumber the humans and wish to take over Atlantis, not because they're looking to settle there but because it provides a gateway to Earth, where the possibilities for feeding are seemingly limitless. Also looking to take over Atlantis are a militaristic race called the Genii, who are woven throughout the series and force our heroes to fight a battle on two fronts.
The last two seasons see some change-ups in the characters and their roles within Atlantis, for better and (mostly) worse; even Atlantis itself is changed (discussing how and why would invoke spoilers, which I'm trying really hard to avoid). Things get a little bleak, and our heroes continue to fight the Wraith (one human/Wraith hybrid in particular named Michael) as well as the Asurans. Pregnancies are written into the show (rarely good, if ever) and more and more characters are switched out all in the name of defeating the Wraith, saving Atlantis and answering that age-old question: will our characters ever get home?
Of course, a show is only as good as its characters, so let's take a look at the central participants of Stargate Atlantis:
John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan, The Other Sister)—The military leader of the Atlantis expedition and main hero of Stargate Atlantis. Sheppard is something of a generic character, but I like that Flanigan never pushes his heroism—he simply does the right thing without having to make a big deal about it every time. Flanigan also gives the character a healthy dose of sarcasm. He's got the decency of Luke Skywalker but Han Solo's sense of humor.
Rodney McKay (David Hewlett, Splice)—The brilliant scientist of the expedition, McKay is actually my favorite character of the bunch. While it doesn't always make sense that he would go along on every mission (often in what appears to be a militaristic, not scientific, capacity), Hewlett gives McKay such a nervous, twitchy energy (he reminds me a lot of Quentin Tarantino in interviews) and allows the character to be funny without pushing the humor. McKay is also the most complex of all the characters on SGA, and that's likely due to the fact that Hewlett's is the best performance on the show.
Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Tori Higginson, The English Patient)—Weir is the leader of the entire Atlantis expedition and probably the least-developed and interesting character on the show, which isn't helped by Higginson's stiff performance. Both the character and the actress get better as the series progresses, but ultimately neither are given a whole lot to do.
Teyla Emmagan (Rachel Luttrell, Imposter)—One of the only outsiders to work closely with the Atlantis team, Teyla was once a leader on her home planet of Athos before the Wraith invaded in the show's pilot. She's the spiritual member of the group—the Earth mother (or Athos mother, as it were)—who's still able to kick much ass. I knew Stargate Atlantis was winning me over when I began to realize that, yes, Teyla is kind of hot.
Ronon Dex (Jason Momoa, Johnson Family Vacation)—Joining the cast in Season Two, Ronon is the Chewbacca of the group—the strong, silent type who shoots first and asks questions later. He's a good fit on the show, and the team finally came together when he joined, but I always wished Momoa was a little better in the role. He's got presence but not a ton of charisma. Still, he's a cool character, because everyone likes the badass.
Dr. Carson Beckett (Paul McGillion, A Guy Thing)—Beckett does very little changing over the course of the show, so there's not much to say about him other than that he's decent and good at all times. As a character, he's impossible to dislike but fails to stand out the way some others do.
Sam Carter (Amanda Tapping, Life or Something Like It)—A carry-over from SG-1, Carter became an Atlantis regular in Season Four. She's both a scientist and a colonel in the Air Force, and proves to be a more interesting character than the one she replaces in Atlantis.
Jennifer Keller (Jewel Staite, Firefly and Serenity)—Eventual chief of medicine in Atlantis, Staite brings a lot of the same sweetness and soulfulness to Keller as she did to Kaylee on that other science fiction show.
Atlantis also features guest appearances from Richard Dean Anderson and Beau Bridges, both of SG-1; Mitch Pileggi (of The X-Files and Sons of Anarchy) in a recurring role as the commander of the Daedalus; Robert Picardo (Runaway Daughters); Connor Trinneer (Star Trek: Enterprise); Robert Davi (Licence to Kill) and Colm Meany (Intermission) as leaders of the militaristic Genii and A Serious Man's Richard Kind as Lucius Lavin (the Harry Mudd of SGA), among others.
Cynicism can be the worst. I say that as a person who uses cynicism more than any other tool in my arsenal; irony is both my first and second languages. For some reason, though, when it comes to movie and TV watching, I reject cynicism. I don't like to suspect everything of sucking, and never enjoy feeling superior to something as I watch it. I know it doesn't make sense. My worldview couldn't be more acidly bitter, but I like my movies and TV show to be sincere. I'm a complex individual filled with deep thoughts and deeper feelings, see?
This is all a precursor to my admission that cynicism almost ruined Stargate Atlantis for me. I liked Roland Emmerich's Stargate enough but didn't love it, and my cynicism about syndicated sci-fi shows has kept me from watching pretty much all of them. I've never seen an episode of Stargate SG-1; to me, it might as well have been another Farscape or Babylon 5 or Earth: Final Conflict (all which might be great, by the way)—shows which all seemed to air on Saturday afternoons on WGN in Chicago and which I never got into. Therefore, when Stargate Atlantis began airing in 2004, it wasn't really even on my radar. Even when I began watching the series for this review, cynicism could have ruined it for me. I lowered my expectations significantly and had them met early on, as the show appeared to be little more than a routine genre exercise. Then, a funny thing happened (not funny ha-ha-, more like funny-makes-a-good-segue): my cynicism began to melt away. I was entertained by Stargate Atlantis. It wasn't reinventing television, but it was snappy and enjoyable and clipped along nicely, often wrapping up before I even realized 41 minutes had passed. By the end of the first season, it had surpassed being a fun time waster and had become a show I genuinely liked. At the end of each episode, I was ready to start another. I guess it's a good thing I had 100 of them at my disposal.
The great thing about TV on DVD—particularly in mass quantities like this 100-show collection—is that disappointment is usually short lived. If you're a follower of a series from week to week and a particular episode sucks, it's easy to grow resentful and jaded with a full seven days (or sometimes longer when a series takes a break) between airings. With something like Stargate Atlantis on DVD, however, it doesn't really matter if an episode isn't that great. You can just wash the taste out by starting up the next episode and hoping for the best. To SGA's credit, the lackluster episodes are pretty well spaced out; just when the series is beginning to try your patience with a string of disappointing shows, you'll get a few mythology-heavy episodes (or even just an action-packed one-off) to renew your interest and pull you back in. Even the lesser shows on Atlantis, while not as gripping or exciting as the show at its best, usually manage to at least be entertaining. With television improving so much in the 2000s, I realize that too often I've come to expect greatness from everything. Not every show is going to be The Wire or The Sopranos or Lost. Sometimes, a show just needs to be truly entertaining to do its job. Stargate Atlantis does its job very well.
Obviously, it's an imperfect show—I don't think I've sold it as anything else. There's not much hard science fiction content, particularly in the first three seasons (the last two seasons kick it up a little). The plotting often takes some major shortcuts; rather than attempt to provide scientific explanations for things, the scripts just jump ahead or fall back on the old "it's Ancient technology that we still don't understand" excuse. It can be derivative of a lot of series and movies that came before it, from Star Trek (2009) to Predator to Alien (though, to its credit, the show is quick to acknowledge these references with some offhand remark). The series can often be too narrow in its scope, with episode after episode falling into the familiar patterns of the same four crew members exploring distant planets that pretty much resemble a forest on Earth; aside from the Wraith, the chief villains through much of the series, there's hardly any attempt to create a race of people that look like anything but humans. Many of the characters fit into formulaic "types," with each one filling in a role more than becoming three-dimensional people. This is often true of the central team, consisting of Sheppard (the heart), Teyla (the soul), McKay (the brain) and Ronon (the muscle). Still, there's something to be said for keeping things simple, and Stargate Atlantis is usually good about attempting to flesh out each character enough that they become more than just cardboard cutouts. Add to this a healthy dose of humor that never becomes obnoxiously jokey, a tone that manages to be dark at times without ever becoming oppressively bleak, some cool special effects (occasionally heavy on the obvious CGI, but whatever), decent action and, yes, likable characters and you've got a pretty terrific package.
Like a lot of series television, though, Stargate Atlantis wears out its welcome in the last two seasons, which are a great deal more uneven than the first three. Some of that has to do with some changes in personnel, while too many one-off episodes and a repeated reliance on The Wraith as the main villain also share some of the blame. It's not irreversible damage, as the show is still able to come through in a clutch with shows and stories that work and salvage the seasons overall, but it's for the best that the series wrapped up when it did (no one wants another Season Seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on their hands). If you're working your way through The Complete Series Collection as I did, you're already invested enough in the characters and the story that there's little chance you won't find something to like in the last few seasons. They're not disastrous, but I couldn't help feeling like I wanted the show to keep building on itself and go out on its strongest note. It doesn't quite make it.
The 100 episodes that make up Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Collection are spread out over 25 discs (a bonus 26th disc of special features is also included; more on that in a bit). The show is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer which looks remarkably good for a television series; it's almost always clear and sharply detailed with consistent color and flesh tones throughout. Most of the show's palette consists of grays, blues and blacks—it's not the most colorful show ever to hit the air—but the discs do a great job of reproducing the look of the show without ever becoming too soft or bland. The 5.1 surround audio track is just as good if not better. Again, while my standards may have been slightly lower for a TV series versus a $100-million feature film, you wouldn't necessarily know the difference based on the audio presentation. Dialogue is always clear, there's a lot of good low-end bass on the action sequences and plenty of cool, immersive separation and surround moments. The consistently excellent score also gets its fair shake, particularly the theme by Joel "Son of Jerry" Goldsmith, which I somehow never got tired of hearing.
Though the Complete Series Collection comes packed with bonus features—and it is packed—almost all of them have just been ported over from the individual season releases. I can't imagine that's too much of a problem, though, as fans who already own the seasons aren't the likely audience for this complete set. Almost every episode comes with a commentary track from a range of participants, including cast members, writers, directors and other creative personnel. Obviously, I wasn't able to listen to every commentary included, but the ones I did hear (mostly from Peter DeLuise, one of the show's go-to writers and directors, because I'm also a big 21 Jump Street fan) were good enough and I like the show enough to make me want to hear the rest. Each disc also contains several photo and production design galleries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, cast profiles, season retrospectives, deleted scenes, blooper reels and more.
The only new bonus features are contained on a 26th disc: "Mission 100: Atlantis Reaches a Milestone," a 100th episode featurette, and "Stargate Atlantis: A Retrospective Featurette." Both are pretty self-explanatory, but provide a nice cap to the series and are a good way for fans who have stuck out all 100 episodes to look back on the show with the cast and creative team. It's pretty standard end-of-series stuff, but fans of all things SGA will likely eat it up. Having said that, there's no new content worth upgrading from the individual seasons to the Complete Series Collection. It's strictly for fans who don't already own the series on DVD.
For as good as Stargate Atlantis and as comprehensive as this box set is, if there's a problem with The Complete Series Collection, it's in the packaging. While I appreciate the attempt to condense and streamline 26 discs worth of content into as slim a package as possible, the way that the box has been put together leaves a lot to be desired. The box itself is a thin but oversized package, meaning it's not going to fit comfortably on any shelf with the rest of your DVD collection. Inside are six separate thin cardboard packs, each containing one full season (the sixth houses only the special 26th bonus disc) inside sleeves and housed on some sort of rubbery, plastic hub. It's almost impossible to slide each disc out of its cardboard sleeve without dragging it against both the package and the hub, which could easily lead to scratching; when trying to replace it once you're done, good luck trying to get it back on the plastic hub in such a way that it will stay in place. I know I'm not alone in my disappointment—just head over to Amazon and read the customer reviews, many of which say that the discs were scratched when people first opened the box. I'll admit that I didn't have any of those issues—every disc played just fine—but it's easy to see how it could happen. It's really too bad; Stargate Atlantis is a show I could see myself revisiting, but I'm a little reluctant to handle the discs too often for fear of damaging them.
Packaging complaints aside, I was pretty blown away by just how involved I got in Stargate Atlantis. It began as pretty standard sci-fi stuff before quickly evolving into something watchable and, eventually, a compelling, entertaining series that I couldn't wait to keep watching. It's not a show for everyone and doesn't transcend its genre like some better science fiction (Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: The Original Series, for example), but for what it is, Stargate Atlantis works really well. I liked it enough that I'm looking forward to going back and watching Stargate SG-1. That's got to be worth something.
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