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Featured TV on DVD Review: Stargate: Universe: Season 1.5

September 2nd, 2010

Stargate: Universe: Season 1.5 - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

When Stargate hit theaters in 1994, it wasn't exactly embraced by critics, but managed to begin a solid run at the box office pulling in nearly $200 million worldwide. Then in 1997, Stargate: SG-1 first aired on TV and ran for an incredible 10 years. Partway through that show's run, Stargate: Atlantis began a five-year run, which brings us to Stargate: Universe, the latest in a franchise that has lasted more than a decade. How many TV shows can say that? But, is the latest installment worthy of the name?

The Show

Stargate: Universe has a different feel than the previous two shows. In the three-part series premiere, we are introduced to a number of characters, military, scientists, and civilians, who are part of the Icarus project, a project designed to crack the mathematical code that would allow them to dial the ninth chevron on the stargates. The ninth chevron would allow travel not just between planets, but between galaxies; however, it would require an enormous power, power on the planetary scale. While they are working on this problem on a distant planet, they are attacked by the Lucian Alliance, which first appeared near the end of SG-1. In a desperate attempt to escape, they move the ninth chevron dial to a random location, but the resulting energy overload causes the planet to explode. About 80 people manage to escape and are transported to Destiny, an ancient spaceship built by unknown aliens for an unknown purpose. Two sides immediately vie for control with Robert Carlyle as Nicholas Rush leading the civilian side and Louis Ferreira as Everett Young leading the military side. They often don't see eye to eye. (In fact, the first part of season one ends with Young trying to kill Rush while they are away on the planet and then leaving him there to die.) This animosity between the two side is a major driving force of the plot for nearly all of the second half of the first season.

We find out early in Season 1.5 that Nicholas Rush survived, but he was abducted by aliens that have been chasing Destiny for a long time. It seems the automated defenses aboard the ship have been able to thwart them every single time, but now that the humans are in charge, they are hoping they will finally have their chance. Later in the season, the Lucian Alliance make their return, succeed where these aliens failed and manage to board the ship. However, this turns out to not be the greatest danger to the crew, as stellar radiation from a binary star system is threatening to kill all those aboard if they are not able to fix the shields. This is a task that would be difficult under most circumstances, but almost impossible in the middle of a hijacking attempt.

The final ten episodes of the first season are balanced between stories dealing with the conflict between the two factions aboard Destiny, their combined efforts to survive in a ship that is falling apart due to age and combat, and dealing with outside threats from the unnamed alien race and the Lucian Alliance. Some of the transitions between these stories are a little sudden, other times they intersect quite nicely. (For instance, there are these communication stones that allow people to communicate over great distances by swapping minds. In one episode, Rush swaps his mind with that of a suspected traitor, who is then interrogated aboard the Destiny. But since this is a military operation, the civilians are not told and it looks like Young is beating up Rush, which of course causes further tension. And it's not like the military side is just going to admit what's going on, because they don't want to alarm the civilians that there might be a traitor working against them.

Is the show as good as its predecessors? Probably not, but it is close enough that I would recommend the series to any fan of the franchise. It is different in tone, but that's not a bad thing. It hasn't quite gelled yet, but it is early in its run, hopefully, and it has great potential for the long term.

The Extras

Extras on the three-disc DVD include audio commentary tracks on all ten episodes with a variety of cast and crew. Subjects range from the technical side of making the series, to complaints from actors that they are not in this episode. Each disc also has a feature called Destiny SML. SML is short for Star Map and Log, but the name has little to do with the feature, which is a series of interviews with the cast and the creators. That's not interviews of the cast and creators, but interviews of the creators by the cast. Also, each disc has Kino Video Diaries, which are in-character videos that were made for the internet.

The Blu-ray has all of these extras, plus on the third disc there is a game called SGU: Survival Instinct. It's sort of like an interactive movie where you watch clips and periodically are given choices and you have to choose correctly or start from the top. It's actually quite long, but only marginally interactive. Also, as someone who has been gaming for a long time, this reminded me a lot of Dragon's Lair.

As for the technical specs, one could describe them as adequate when compared to first-run releases, or excellent when compared to most TV on Blu-ray releases. Understand, TV shows have much smaller budgets compared to theatrical releases, and this shows up in the detail level. For instance, some of the special effects are second-tier and don't really shine in High Definition. On the other hand, the black levels are strong, while the colors pop. The audio is better than the video with good use of surround sound speakers and strong base levels.

The List Price has the Blu-ray costing 33% more, which is perfectly acceptable for this type of release. On the other hand, with Amazon's discount, it costs more than 50% more to go High Definition. That's too much to ask.

The Verdict

Stargate: Universe is a different show than its predecessors were with more emphasis on the people and how they react to their situation, and less emphasis on the mythology of the various ancient races. If you are a fan of the franchise, it takes a bit to get used to, but it is worth the effort. I'm not happy that they split the season into two parts, but at least the DVD and Blu-ray are loaded with extras. Its worth picking up, but be careful with the price.

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