Wednesday, March 17, 2010

'Stargate Universe' Season 1, vol 1 [blu-ray]

'Stargate Universe' Season 1, Vol. 1 (2009)
Starring Robert Carlyle, Justin Lewis, Brian J. Smith
Created by Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright

Slacker genius Eli Wallace is recruited by the U.S. Air Force to help with a special space program called Project Icarus, an attempt to dial the mysterious 9th and final chevron of the stargate.  When the base is attacked, Dr. Nicholas Rush manages to dial the 9th chevron and evacuate the base personnel through the stargate.  They find themselves on an Ancient starship called Destiny, billions of light-years from home.  Low on supplies, the expedition team, led by Colonel Everett Young and Lt. Matthew Scott try to hold the ship and themselves together until they can figure out a way home.

Sci-Fi Channel (now lamely called SyFy) pisses me off.  Their airing schedule is flat-out retarded.  They'll show 10 episodes of a series, then take it off the air for months.  This led to all kinds of problems for the network's excellent 'Battlestar Galactica' series, and it continues to do so here for the newest 'Stargate' spinoff, 'Universe'.

'Stargate Universe' is presented as a two-disc, half-season (yet full-priced) set.  The ten episodes here are:

"Air" Parts 1, 2 and 3

'Universe' presents a major stylistic departure for the franchise.  The two previous entries, 'Stargate SG-1' and 'Stargate Atlantis' were jokey, action-adventure shows.  The episodes were snappy and fast-paced, filled with over-the-top villains, witty exchanges and big, special effects-laden action sequences.   'Universe' on the other hand is slow, more character-centric and, at least in these first ten episodes, light on action and alien encounters.

Everything here is changed - Dialogue isn't nearly as jokey.  Characters argue with each other, half of them flat-out don't like the others.  Everyone is much more serious.  Only Eli remains as a vestige of the silliness of previous 'Stargate' shows, with his sarcastic demeanor and nerdy references.  Tension is supplied amply in place of previous shows' action sequences.  Instead of huge space battles, we're witness to situations where the ship and crew are placed in danger by their environment or by their own actions, lending the show a feeling of adventure over action.

Each episode focuses on a different necessity.  In the pilot, the ship's life support system is failing and the expedition team must find a way to repair it before they suffocate.  Other episodes feature them searching for water, or attempting to replenish the ship's energy stores.  In an excellent riff on the time-loop story made famous by 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and a previous (and absolutely classic) 'SG-1' episode, 'Universe' even allows for the exploration of time.

Although stylistically very different from the previous 'Stargate' shows, 'Universe' still definitely feels like part of that, well, universe.  Guest appearances by SG-1 characters like Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), as well as using certain franchise tropes such as the stargate itself and the rules it works by, help make 'Universe' feel like a different slice of the same pie. 

The show's production design is much darker, as well.  The sets all look much more impressive and not nearly as cheap as the previous shows, as well.  'Universe' is a very slick show, with high production values.  The 'Stargate' crew hired the photographer of 'The Shield', and that dramatic shaky-cam aesthetic is used well here.  Special effects are also a notch above what we saw in the previous shows, as well.

All this said, 'Stargate Universe' is not without fault.  A few of the episodes are a bit too slow, the musical score can be dull when it shouldn't be, and not everyone in the cast is quite up to the task.  Still, after 15 seasons and two direct-to-dvd movies, it's a nice breath of fresh air to see the 'Stargate' franchise take itself a little more seriously for a change.  It may not be a revelatory character drama, but it's solidly crafted and entertaining.

There are five episodes on each blu-ray disc, presented in 1080p High Definition.  Visually, the show looks quite good.  The show is surprisingly colorful, and blu-ray's ability to reproduce stronger, bolder colors than DVD is put to good use.  Fine detail is strong, with lots of great textures visible in clothing and on the grungy sets and CGI special effects.  It's not consistent, however, with the occasional flare-ups of excessive grain and softness.  Overall, though, the video presentation is great, even better than the show's HD broadcasts.

In terms of sound, the surround track is excellent.  There's a lot of ambient work coming from the surrounds, dialogue is always intelligible from the center, and bass is solid.  The 5.1 tracks on the previous 'Stargate' DVDs were always excellent (as far as TV soundtracks went) and there's no change here.  Well done.