Stargate Atlantis: Fans’ Choice [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (4th October 2009).
The Show

My knowledge of all things “Stargate” begins and ends with the 1994 feature film, which starred Kurt Russell and James Spader. I have fond memories of the night my Mom rented the VHS at Blockbuster for us kids on a sleepover movie night and it’s probably because of this that the film remains a guilty pleasure of mine, which I can and do watch quite frequently to this day. But, as much as I enjoy the film, I never really ventured into the “expanded universe” of "Stargate," a place that is full of spin-off TV shows (“Stargate SG-1” (1997-2007), “Stargate Atlantis” (2004-2009) and a new series coming to the SyFy network this October called “Stargate: Universe” (2009)), direct to video DVD's and Blu-ray discs (“Stargate: Continuum” (2008) and “Stargate: The Ark of Truth” (2008)), comic books, animated adventures and who knows what else. So, despite running for 5 years on the Sci-Fi Channel (from 2004 until earlier this year), I had never watched more than a few minutes of “Stargate: Atlantis” before this review.

This would seem problematic, but, luckily, the “Fans Choice” set herein reviewed contains the original 84-minute (feature-length) pilot so I was able to find my footing rather easily. There is, after all, no better place to start than at the beginning. Unfortunately, however, the set jumps from the pilot to the series finale and has nothing in between, and consequently I had no real context as to where the series had gone to, why it had done so and what it all meant, when I watched the second and final episode on this disc. I had no choice but to just sort of go with it.

That leads me to point number one about this disc: this Blu-ray is for hardcore fans of “Stargate: Atlantis” only. “Fans’ Choice” is not something to pick up if you are a causal viewer or new to the series. And, really, from what I can gather by perusing the internet, although “Rising” and “Enemy at the Gates” (the pilot and finale respectively) are good episodes, they are not the highest rated entries nor the best of what the series has to offer, so even fans won’t be completely satisfied. Technically, these episodes where the top choices of the fans; those who voted via an online poll anyway, but this Blu-ray release seems haphazard and limiting. It’s a missed opportunity. Why not make this a release of the top 10 episodes or the top 5? Why not make it a multi-disc set and actually offer something substantial to those willing to pay? Unfortunately, those questions are superfluous; this 2-episode helping is what MGM has decided to offer and it’s too late to lament what should have been.

Anyway…. My thoughts on the series are thus: although I’m hard pressed to say that “Stargate: Atlantis” is a triumph of television creativity, I’m also not sure I can claim that there is anything outright wrong with it either (at least based on the 2 episodes included on this disc; the only two episodes I’ve seen in their entirety). The show can be a bit uninspired and repetitive, maybe this true, with a central plot seen in the movie and in the "SG-1" TV series, but at least the acting, production values and writing seem solid. And is repetitiveness such an awful thing? Especially when keeping a show within the same context as its companions? Do not most shows within the same franchise have at least some repeating themes, stories, characters and reveals? (The correct answer is yes, they do).

“Rising,” the pilot sees a team of scientists, led by Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) opening a new stargate in the Antarctic, which launches a group of scientists and military personnel to an unknown planet in the Pegasus Galaxy, inhabited by a race of descendants from the lost civilization of Atlantis. The team is stranded and, along with discovering the secrets of the civilization, must cope with the Wraith, a cannibalistic alien society who has enslaved the Atlantians. Really, this is no different at its core than the stories in the motion picture or the “SG-1” series. The pilot even sees Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), of “SG-1” fame, making guest appearances, tying this series into the established universe. O’Neill’s replacement, presented in a very “pass the torch” fashion, is Lt. Col. John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan); the character and actor playing said character are standouts of the series. Or at least the so I gathered in the short 2 episodes. The pilot, like most, has lots of expository material, lots of set up and introduction of characters but it’s none-the-less a solid adventure.

I won’t even begin to dissect the finale. Having no frame of reference, with some 98 episodes sitting between the finale, “Rising”, and me, I spent most of my time watching the second episode on this disc, very confused. Again, for this reason, I have to state that I see little point to this release and wonder why it exists. Newcomers have no business here; fans will want more than just two episodes (and would likely gladly sacrifice high definition quality for the ability to watch the full 5 seasons, even if it’s on DVD… which also has extra features, no less). The real solution is one I’m not too sure is plausible. MGM should start releasing the series itself on Blu-ray, season by season, not in some measly 2-episode sneak-peek pack. Real seasons. Not this “Fans’ Choice” garbage, because if the fans had any real choice, I’m sure they would tell you they want the whole series on Blu-ray.

Video

The two episodes, both with 1080p 24/fps 1.78:1 widescreen transfers, using the AVC MPEG-4 compression codec, and averaging a bitrate of 37 Mbps, are good looking but basically entirely different from each other. The feature-length pilot, coming 5 years before the finale also on this disc, is far colder looking, with bleak contrast, inconsistent grain levels, weaker CGI and occasionally soft imagery. Although it is definitely high definition and overall, quite pleasing to look at within it’s own context, next to the finale it looks a bit worn and dated. Lets just say the pilot is overall, less attractive. The finale is stronger, with richer colors and a noticeable pop to the picture with layered contrast and a reasonable sharpness. Shot on high-definition video in the final season (as opposed to 35mm film of the pilot), the picture is cleaner and has no appreciable grain or noise to speak of. CG looks more standardized and polished. Overall, I think it’s a tighter presentation. Neither episode looks to be effected by digital noise reduction, artificial sharpening or any signs of print damage. Each encode is strong with a high bitrate retaining grain structures and limiting noise bursts. Although this is clearly not something to be used as a “reference point” for high definition greatness, I still think it looks pretty good, and, at times, even great. Fans should be more than happy.

Audio

Both episodes see lossless upgrades via the standard for MGM (Fox) codec of choice: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz / 16-bit), with an average bitrate of 2.2 Mbps. A modern sci-fi production, this is a solid, supportive audio track. With full-bodied dialogue, some weighty bass and smooth precise, pans across both the front and rear channels. Joel Goldsmith’s score sees a sizable improvement in both clarity and depth, and is probably the most easily identifiable plus of the lossless DTS-HD tracks. Unlike the video, both episodes are fairly similar and share many of the same attributes. I couldn’t really say which episode is better and which one is worse, just that they’re both good, but neither is outstanding. Although not the most impressive TV on Blu-ray release I’ve ever heard, this is still notable.
Optional foreign language tracks are offered in both French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround on the pilot and French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 on the finale. The set also includes optional English and Spanish subtitles on both episodes.

Extras

Unfortunately, the fans get nothing. For something so squarely aimed at the most hardcore members of the “Stargate: Atlantis” fanbase, I find it disappointing that MGM doesn’t offer anything, especially when you consider that those likely to buy this disc are also the people most likely to watch documentaries and featurettes and listen to audio commentaries. Even more disconcerting is that the DVD versions of these episodes do contain bonus material. The standalone release of “Rising” included an audio commentary and a featurette. The season 5 DVD set that includes “Enemy at the Gates” (the series finale) offers commentary on that episode and contains numerous featurettes. Why none of that was transitioned in the move to Blu-ray is anyone’s guess.

Idiotically, only one of the bonus trailers on this disc is even in HD – this is Blu-ray, right? The pre-menu bonus trailers are for:

- “Stargate: The Ark of Truth,” on DVD and Blu-ray runs 1 minute 2 seconds, in window-boxed 1.78:1 480i standard definition.
- “Stargate: Continuum,” on DVD and Blu-ray runs 33 seconds. Native 1.78:1 AVC MPEG-4 1080i high-definition.
- Promo for “Stargate: Universe,” runs 34 seconds, in window-boxed 1.78:1 480i standard definition.

Packaging

A single, dual layer BD-50 is packaged inside an Elite eco-case.

Overall

I just have to shake my head in disbelief at the way MGM has handled this release. What should be a 10 episode fan collection is nothing better than a 2 episode peek at what “Stargate: Atlantis” could be on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, I don’t see the complete series making its way to high-definition home video anytime soon so if you’re a fan, this will probably be the best that you’ll ever get. Zippo extras do little to entice and good video can’t save what has to be a truly lazy, disappointing release. At $29 MSRP, this is overpriced and probably not worth your time.

The Show: C Video: B Audio: B Extras: F Overall: C-

 


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