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Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series(TV) (2004-2009)
The feature-length pilot episode, Rising, sends a brilliant team of scientists through a Stargate to the legendary city of Atlantis. But not only is the city about to be engulfed by ocean water, an enemy appears who threatens everyone in the Pegasus Galaxy. And in the lengthened Enemy at the Gate from Season 5, as the team tries to disempower Wraith hive ships, the Wraith discover coordinates that will allow them to destroy Earth.
For more about Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series and the Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray release, see Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 22, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Joe Flanigan, Rachel Luttrell, David Hewlett, Jason Momoa, Torri Higginson, Amanda Tapping
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review
Stargate fans' Wish Lists are about to get a little bit fuller...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 22, 2011
I doubt anyone who sat down and soaked in Roland Emmerich's Stargate in 1994 dreamed that, some seventeen years later, his trip down the wormhole would give birth to one of the most successful science fiction franchises to date, or that it would spawn a 10-season, 224-episode television phenomenon, Stargate SG-1, and two spin-off series, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe. Yet here we are. More gates have been dialed, more planets have been explored, more intergalactic crises have been averted than Emmerich or the most deeply devoted '90s genre fans could have possibly anticipated when Kurt Russell and James Spader stepped through that first shimmering portal. And I suspect, even with the recent cancellation of SGU after two failed seasons, even with producer Brad Wright's declaration that no more gates would be opened, that 2011 won't mark the last time we'll see a daring team of soldiers and scientists step through a Stargate. In the meantime, though, while television awaits its next Stargate spin-off, might I humbly suggest diving headlong into the world -- or worlds, rather -- of Stargate Atlantis, an exceptionally entertaining, wonderfully written, smartly cast five-season series that was unceremoniously shot down in its prime.
There's no need to be familiar with SG-1 to enjoy Stargate Atlantis. It's as accessible as a spin-off comes, and soars in its own right. (Personally, I think it's the better series of the two. But that's a debate for another day.) After a shaky, strangely truncated introduction to the series' setup, creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper strand an international team of, you guessed it, scientists and soldiers on the other side of the known universe, in the ancient, technologically advanced city of Atlantis. Without a fully powered Zero Point Module (ZPM) available to make the return trip to Earth, the series' homesick heroes -- expedition leader Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson), wise-cracking military man Major John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan), self-proclaimed genius Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett), helpful native Athosian warrior Teyla Emmagan (Rachel Luttrell), medical doctor Carson Beckett (Paul McGillion), First Lieutenant Aiden Ford (Rainbow Sun Francks), scientist Dr. Radek Zelenka (David Nykl) and others, red shirts and recurring supporting characters alike -- scramble to survive in the face of a new threat: the Wraith, a vicious alien race that "culls" entire civilizations and feeds on the human lifeforce to sustain itself. Being stranded is an oh-so-convenient way to establish SG-1 and SGA as separate entities, but it works well, giving Atlantis plenty of room to stretch its legs, develop its own swagger and forge its own path.
SGA takes as many of its cues from Star Trek: The Next Generation as it does from SG-1. From the very beginning, interpersonal conflicts and dynamics are prioritized over story particulars and sweeping Stargate mythology, and character arcs are, again and again, declared king of the SGA castle. Though largely formulaic, the stories serve the characters, not vice versa. Random problems arise, often in the form of a bizarre device, ruthless alien menace or cultural clash, but it's the manner in which Sheppard and his team handle the conflicts and crises that define the series. And the series is no stranger to death or, at least, in shaking things up. Central heroes are stripped from the SGA ranks, almost once per season, and it quickly becomes clear that no one is safe from the ax. Francks loses his series regular status after Season One -- no complaints here; Lieutenant Ford wasn't very interesting and added little to the mix -- and becomes a recurring villain of sorts, but other surprise exits, evolutions and transformations (which I wouldn't dare spoil) take out other crucial characters. Replacements are never far behind, though, and, more often than not, make excellent additions to the cast. Game of Thrones' barbarian Jason Momoa replaces Franks in Season Two, filling a much-needed role on the team and stirring things up with gruff, rebel-without-a-cause fury; Mitch Pileggi and Kavan Smith come on board on Season Two; Firefly's Jewel Staite arrives in Season Four, bringing yet another element to the table (one that cozies up to Hewlett's arc nicely); and SG-1 castaways Amanda Tapping and Robert Picardo sign up for SGA's later seasons as well.
The magic of Atlantis lies in its relationships. No one ever quite sees eye to eye, but there isn't a sense that betrayal lurks around every corner. Stargate Universe was an ugly, at-times maddening chess game populated with too many self-interested pawns trying to work their way up the board. Not so in SGA. Civilians and military personnel butt heads, sure, but rarely at the expense of mutual respect. Atlantis, like SG-1 before it, finds its spark in its ensemble's chemistry. Sheppard, sarcastic as he is, has a healthy streak of selflessness coursing through his veins and Flanigan strikes a deceptively spontaneous balance between chummy wit, quick-thinking and battlefield prowess. Dr. Weir is a bit one-note, ever reduced to slapping a stamp of approval on the best idea presented in the Atlantis war room, but Higginson makes the most of a thankless role and, by the middle of Season Two, makes something more of the expedition's leader. Likewise, Teyla is initially more of a expositionary tool than an essential member of the team, but Luttrell does a fine job mining the depths of her warrior princess's soul. (The writer's room also eventually assigns Teyla other more meaningful tasks come Seasons Four and Five.) McKay is anything but one-note or expositionary, though, and stands alongside Sheppard as one of the defining characters of the show. Armed with nervy rants, anxious ramblings and a last-second solution to any problem, Dr. McKay is, by some inexplicable genre miracle, Spock, Bones and Scotty rolled into one blazingly funny, terribly endearing savant. Season Two addition Ronon Dex is the polar opposite of McKay but, I would argue, just as indispensable. Momoa brings a straight-razor edge and deadpan charm to his no-nonsense warrior, and it isn't long before Ronon joins Sheppard and McKay as the third point of the series' heroic trinity.
Over the course of its five seasons, SGA doesn't attempt to hide the fact that it takes itself a bit more seriously than SG-1. Even so, it never comes close to devolving into a bleak, humorless affair (a la Stargate Universe). The Wraith are a fantastic antagonist and, unlike the baddies and beasties of SG-1, aren't weighed down by intergalactic politics and diplomatic sludge. Hungry, ruthless and nigh unstoppable, they're feral juggernauts of the highest order, and inject a palpable sense of menace and dread into the series' lifeblood. Even when civil war threatens the various hives, the power plays that result are never tedious and, in actuality, lead to some of the show's best storylines. And it's villains like the Wraith (among other foes) that help make the show's drama and humor that much more pointed and refreshing. In the face of certain doom, Sheppard and his allies don't bend or break, they aren't snapped like weak-minded branches in the onslaught of a psychological storm, and they don't fall victim to despair. There's always light at the end of the tunnel, and it's a light that makes the series an absolute joy to watch, even during its darkest hours. (Which become more and more prevalent as the series nears its fifth season endgame.)
Of course, comparisons to other sci-fi series -- Battlestar Galactica, among them -- are unavoidable. (Ironically, both series arrived in 2004 and both went off the air in 2009.) I wouldn't even begin to suggest that Stargate Atlantis is somehow superior to Battlestar Galactica. It isn't. BSG is, hands down, the better show. However, there's something to be said for the fun, adventure and genre-pulp intensity there is to be had in SGA. Battlestar Galactica, brilliant and breathtaking as it may be, is sometimes an exhausting, bittersweet trial of endurance. It's tough to watch episode after episode without feeling the effects deep in your bones. Atlantis, by comparison, is a breath of crisp, clean air; a more episodic, less demanding genre jaunt that knows itself and knows how to give its fans everything they want, week in and week out. Frankly, as much as I adored BSG (and continue to), I was always happy to watch SGA in tandem, if for no other reason than to have a chance to kick back and relax on Atlantis after a devastating, heart-wrenching Cylon trap had been sprung on the Galactica. Truth be told, the two are so different in tone and intent -- SGA is pure genre escapism, BSG is more focused on social, religious and political commentary -- that I hesitate to even shove them into the same category.
But Stargate Atlantis is a formula-driven series and, as such, comes with all the baggage a formula-driven series entails. The Atlantis team is in constant, episode-to-episode danger and, even though a few shocking developments prove otherwise, it's hard to buy into the ever-present peril. There's rarely any legitimate doubt that Sheppard or McKay will walk away from an impossible situation, battered and scarred maybe, but only temporarily. Regardless of the physical or mental torment they're subjected to, almost everyone walks away from every encounter well enough to have a bounce in their step come the next episode. And, as much as the writers valiantly redress the same setup and payoff -- a problem presents itself, insurmountable odds abound, and someone comes through in the nick of time -- watching multiple back-to-back SGA episodes reveals just how repetitive and predictable it can be. Still, Stargate Atlantis is comfort food; familiar but tasty. The stories may toss old and over-utilized ingredients into the sci-fi stew, but the actors' performances, the writer's sharp dialogue, the series' brisk pacing and the characters' involving arcs prevent things from growing bland or boring. And that isn't to say the showrunners don't have plenty of tricks up their sleeves. SGA is as inventive as it is satisfying, and once you fall in love with the heroes, the ongoing narrative and, yes, even the formula, it's a cinch to accept most everything at face value, be it ordinary or extraordinary.
SGA stumbles here and there, but its hardships are mainly limited to the first half of Season One -- when the showrunners and actors alike were still working to establish the series' tone and self-contained mythology -- and the latter half of Season Five, when the cast and crew race to wrap up Atlantis and, to some extent, tie up a few additional SG-1 loose ends. The series finale is a particular disappointment; one that doesn't quite complement the grand adventures and harrowing battles of earlier seasons. In fact, it's so rushed and anticlimactic by comparison that you can almost feel the heartache of the hard-working ensemble and showrunners who have been left with little choice but to bid farewell to a series that could have easily lasted another three or four seasons. But brief growing pains and last-minute blunders hardly sully the Stargate franchise's Pegasus Galaxy-spanning spinoff. Indeed, the biggest letdown is that SGA didn't thrive for a few more years. Had Wright and Cooper known that Stargate Universe would fizzle and die so soon, would Atlantis have been put up on the chopping block? Even the long-planned and highly-anticipated direct-to-video SGA movie has been put on hiatus, meaning the Pegasus Galaxy is set to remain on the other side of the universe indefinitely. Ah well. Regardless of whether or not Sheppard and his team are ever given another mission, Stargate Atlantis is a five-season genre delight that deserves as many converts as are willing to join its fold. An expensive Complete Series box set isn't the best way to attract newcomers, mind you, but those who give it a try will find SGA to be as good as series diehards maintain.
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
There's only one real hurdle to completely enjoying MGM's otherwise solid 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation of Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series, so we might as well get it out of the way up front. In reality, though, it isn't a hurdle at all. It isn't even what I'd call an issue. Like other modestly budgeted science fiction series, old and not-so-old, SGA features a number of effects shots that weren't created with high definition scrutiny in mind. It's a problem that affects every season and rears its head time and time again. You'll notice a soft shots of Atlantis and other alien cityscapes, a few less-than-crisp dogfights and carrier battles, a handful of hazy CG-born alien entities and other visual effects that were produced at a lower resolution, and therefore serve as brief but disappointing distractions. However, the only way to eliminate these eyesores would be to go back to the drawing board, re-render the problematic FX shots that appear, and insert them into the HD masters of the corresponding episodes. (And yes, unlike pre-Season Six SG-1, every episode of Stargate Atlantis was blessed with an HD master.) Considering how limited a problem the affected shots amount to, and considering that SGA was canceled two years ago, the likelihood of that happening is... well, not very likely at all. Again, though, I wouldn't even call it an issue as MGM's 1080p encode represents the series' source as well as it does, wrinkles and all.
With that out of the way, on to the goods. Make no mistake, Stargate Atlantis has never looked better. That doesn't mean the presentation is quote-unquote top tier, or even outstanding, but it is noteworthy. The brilliant blue eruption of an activated gate, the rich reds, oranges and purples of Atlantis, the natural earthy tones of the various worlds Sheppard and his team explore, the ominous interiors of a Wraith hive ship, the swimming colors of a nebula... it all looks great. Fantastic even, on occasion. Primaries aren't overwhelming, but pack punch; contrast is intentionally hot at times, intentionally subdued at others, but remains attractive and pleasing regardless; skintones are warm and lifelike, and rarely appear oversaturated or flushed; shadows fall convincingly and darkness hangs heavy, all with a reasonably filmic disposition; and delineation, though imperfect, is generally as revealing and secretive as it should be, showcasing ancient discoveries one minute and cloaking terrible dangers the next.
Detail is, more often than not, striking as well. In fact, barring the usual crop of soft shots and unavoidable mishaps that inevitably creep into any ongoing series -- especially one with a hundred episodes -- as well as those tied to problematic FX sequences, there isn't too much to complain about. Closeups are strong (especially in the first two seasons, before the series grows darker and grittier), fine textures are fairly refined and well-resolved on the whole, overall depth and dimensionality is impressive, and object definition, both foreground and background, is clean and sharp (without any egregious or prevailing ringing to point to). Note the tiniest flecks of blood on Sheppard's battle gear, the slightest hint of stubble on McKay's face when he's been trapped in a room for days, the tight patterns on Dr. Weir's uniform, the unruly hairs wound into Ronon's dreadlocks, the smallest nicks in Teyla's hand-crafted possessions, the scuffed hull of a puddle jumper, the tangled brush on an uncolonized planet, the organic horrors on a Wraith ship; the series' original photography has been preserved and rendered with care.
There are a slew of variances from episode to episode and season to season, but not enough to label the experience uneven or inconsistent. The first two seasons aren't quite as gritty as later seasons (call it the BSG effect), but the subtle visual evolution that occurs along the way is most certainly related to tonal changes and production values, not a difference in the technical quality of the encode itself. Likewise, some episodes look completely different than others -- some are moody and starkly lit, others are bright and buoyant, still others are dark and savory, and a number of others exhibit a distinct noisiness one might associate with separate sci-fi shows (particularly in the course of Seasons Three and Four) -- but, again, such discrepancies trace back to deliberate choices made by the showrunners, not some deficiency in the presentation. Significant macroblocking, banding, crush, aliasing and other anomalies are held at bay (for the most part), although a few oddities sneak through here and there. (For instance, Season Two's "The Siege, Part 3" exhibits a bit of isolated shimmering early on, weirdly along McKay's nose.) Crush is a minor factor, even if it's an issue inherent to specific episodes. Artifacting also appears at times -- keep an eye on Dr. Weir's red shirt in "Vengeance" -- but is mainly contained to CG-heavy shots. Noise inches up and down too, sometimes seemingly at random. While it's hardly detrimental to the presentation, the up-ticks in noise (see eps like "Michael," "Submersion" and "Trio" for reference) will no doubt catch the eyes of many viewers.
Scouring every minute of the Complete Series will no doubt unearth other trivial blips and aberrations, but nothing I've seen in the last few days has really raised any red flags. And believe me, I've spent a lot of time with Stargate Atlantis this week. As a fan, I remain pleased with how good the series looks, episode to episode, season to season, beginning to end. As a reviewer, I'm impressed by the level of faithfulness and care MGM has afforded the show, and the proficiency of the 100-episode encode. And as a videophile, I'm mildly relieved that I don't have many grievances to air. No, SGA's video presentation isn't perfect. However, it certainly outclasses its DVD and HD broadcast counterparts, pays respect to the hard work of the series showrunners, and leaves little room for serious improvement. Stargate Atlantis has never looked better and makes the box set's pricepoint seem a bit more generous. All things considered, it's safe to say diehards, casual fans and newcomers alike -- at least those armed with appropriate expectations -- will be satisfied with the results.
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series hurtles through the universe courtesy of an energetic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. And, though not quite as aggressive or engrossing as the lossless mix that graces Battlestar Galactica, SGA fans will find it complements MGM's video presentation. Dialogue -- be it shouted, whispered, sniveled, barked, cooed or flavored with the series' patented sense of humor -- is clear, intelligible and intuitively prioritized throughout. A few lines are thin by comparison (some are even buried a bit in the ensuing intergalactic chaos), but it hardly detracts from the experience. (Still, considering the spread of episodes, it's a wonder that there aren't more issues of that sort.) Sound effects are bright, engaging and altogether convincing as well, and the whole of the soundscape is bolstered by solid directionality and commendable dynamics. The rear speakers are active and assertive, even when action and intrigue is in short supply. Hardly a single conversation or silence goes by that isn't nestled amongst humming Atlantian technology, pulsing engines, busy city passageways, crowded mess halls, planetary winds, the rustle of a dense forest, the watery rippling of a Stargate portal or the sheer madness of battle. Ambience is persistent and appreciated, acoustics are fairly believable (as TV-based sci-fi acoustics go) and directional effects make good use of the soundfield. None of it is blisteringly mind-blowing -- or ear-shattering, for that matter -- but it all works well within the confines of SGA's established sonic parameters.
LFE output isn't sternum-cracking either, but that doesn't mean SGA pound the floor and put its all behind every explosion, implosion, eruption, energy blast and rocket booster that lights up the screen. Low-end power is formidable, heavier elements are nice and weighty, and gunfire, cave-ins and wormholes make their presence known. The series' score sounds great too, despite the fact that it isn't always properly featured in the mix. While these incongruities are presumably a product of the show's original sound design, the results aren't ideal. Even so, the track rarely falls short, and not an episode goes by that doesn't revel in the dust-ups, dogfights, shootouts, ground assaults and battlecruiser barrages the Pegasus Galaxy has to offer. Stargate Atlantis sounds as good as it looks, perhaps better, and MGM's DTS-HD Master Audio track adds even more value to the Complete Series box set.
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
In addition to several extended episodes (none of which are identified on the cases, discs or menus), the 20-disc Stargate Atlantis box set boasts an obscene amount of supplemental content. Eighty-eight audio commentaries, hours upon hours of behind-the-scenes documentaries and featurettes, and dozens of additional extras will keep diehards busy for weeks on end. Yes, it's all presented in standard definition, but considering the sheer volume of special features in its coffers, I'd have to really plum the depths of a bad mood to complain. As to the packaging, it's refreshingly simple. A glossy cardboard sleeve houses three standard-height Blu-ray cases: a thick 8-disc case that houses Seasons One and Two, another beefy 8-disc case that contains Seasons Three and Four, and a thinner 4-disc case that's home to Season Five. No unwieldy collector's box, no oversized monolith, no infuriatingly ungainly monstrosity. Sometimes simple is simply better, and Stargate Atlantis is one of the more wonderfully understated, shelf-friendly complete series box sets on the market.
Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Sci-fi spin-offs don't get much more entertaining and accessible than Stargate Atlantis. With a carefully honed blend of action, light comedy, intense alien conflicts and meaty character drama, it has it all. SG-1 junkies may continue to take issue with some of Wright and Cooper's SGA creative decisions, but others will find it to be a more refined franchise outing. MGM's 20-disc Complete Series box set is even better. The series' video presentation is remarkable, its DTS-HD Master Audio surround track is stirring, and its supplemental package is extensive and exhaustive. Eighty-eight audio commentaries, hours upon hours of documentaries and featurettes, extended episodes and more... it's enough to keep even the most devoted Gaters and supplemental junkies busy for weeks on end. Newcomers should approach with a bit of caution, at least until the set's pricepoint comes down a few notches, but SGA fans shouldn't hesitate. Stargate Atlantis doesn't get much better than this.
Stargate Atlantis: Other Seasons
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Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series - July 25, 2011
Blu-ray.com and MGM Home Entertainment are giving two Blu-ray.com members the opportunity to win one of two Stargate Atlantis prizes: a Blu-ray copy of the Stargate Atlantis: Complete Series box set or an original episode script signed by members of the cast and ...
• Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series Blu-ray - June 9, 2011
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