After 15 seasons and a pair of direct to DVD movies, the Stargate franchise’s powers that be decided to go with a whole new direction after staying mostly the same for well over a decade. This resulted in the grittier, darker, and shaky-cammed Stargate Universe. Unfortunately, it also resulted in a first half season of lackluster writing, incredibly shallow characters due to their “real” personalities, and overall abhorrent pacing for what was supposed to revitalize the franchise. Fortunately, they seemed to realize this before writing the second half of the season, leaving season “1.5” – as this set declares it – to be vastly improved from any of the previous half’s episodes.
The latest hit series from the creators of “Stargate SG-1” makes a date with destiny when “SGU 1.5” debuts on Blu-ray Disc and DVD July 27 from MGM Home Entertainment. Featuring the final 10 episodes of season one, the story continues to follow a group of soldiers, scientists and civilians that was unexpectedly transported to the other side of the universe. Stranded billions of miles from Earth on an Ancient ship known as the Destiny, the passengers encounter adventures beyond their wildest dreams as they struggle to survive.
Although I’m having trouble fathoming why we need half season releases now rather than being patient for a full season release, this release at least feels more appropriate given the difference between the two halves. The first was easily definable as simply mediocre and only left you wanting more because it hardly had any substance at all, but immediately into the start of this half you’re sent to the edge of your seat. The tension is elevated to surprising levels, and you’re quickly finally given better development for these characters past their clichéd roles. However, there are still some unfortunate aspects. The plots are still recycled from previous shows, albeit far better modified than something like Enterprise’s recycling of Star Trek: Voyager script, but, I digress. There is a major problem that has plagued Stargate since the 9th season of SG-1, which eventually made its way into Atlantis, and has been thoroughly nestled in Universe from the start: indecision. Although Universe does shake things up dramatically in the second half, there is still that air of indecision that you can feel lurking when you simply known that perilous danger just isn’t so perilous.
Despite that, they do accomplish a feat that hasn’t been done since season 8, and that’s keeping you on your toes and worrying about whatever character you may actually manage to connect to. They may be wary to sacrifice a character, but at the very least the danger is generally well written this time around, making you actually question each time whether or not that indecision will come to an end. This is especially true with the season finale, where so many characters are left with seemingly dire fates to meet within the first few minutes of the next season – but you can be sure that their indecision will strike. Honestly, I guess the death of a longstanding character (I won’t say who in case you’re new to Stargate) in season 8 of SG-1 was just so well done, that they even rattled themselves.
In further evidence of the improved writing, the cast finally seem confident in their roles. Robert Carlyle as Dr. Rush no longer feels like a simple two-faced jerk to turn to for surprise twists, and actually has a compelling depth to his backstory now; Justin Louis as Colonel Young finally feels like an actual leader, although still a far cry from the authority that Richard Dean Anderson instilled into Jack O’Neill – Cameron Mitchell also suffered from a lack of sense of authority; and Jamil Walker Smith as Sergeant Greer completes the trio of most improved characters. I actually HATED (yes, even in caps) his character in the first half, but between the seasons they found more of a reason for him to exist other than to add undue conflict. The rest of the “main” cast still leave a lot to be desired, however. Eli, LT. Scott, LT. Johansen, Chloe and Camile Wray have found more solid roles, but they still suffer from clichéd roles and shallow development.
Honestly, Eli does get some decent heroic writing in the finale, but there’s still that frequent lack of subtlety about the character hitting you over the head to let you know this is who YOU are supposed to identify with. Although, Camile’s character does stand out from the rest of the lacking main cast as their usage of a lesbian relationship with her and her partner is admirable. It lacks cheesy gratuity that “two chicks kissing!” generally brings for annoying ratings pull, and you get the feeling that they really are romantically entwined. It’s refreshing in that not only it maturely and openly acknowledges homosexuality, while it was merely hinted at with Stargate Atlantis (but it was totally Major Lorne), but it also adds a needed depth to an otherwise dull Stargate cliché. Throughout Stargate Atlantis, and in the end of SG-1, civilian overseers lacked heavily in significance and just served to whack you over the head that they were the episode’s main antagonist.
Overall, I will simply say this is a more solid set of episodes than the previous and really wish this could have been what they started off with. Although I still have a lack of confidence in the Lucian Alliance as a source of common villainy (…I’m not sure if there’s an SG-1 episode with them that I don’t hate…), Stargate Universe seems to be going in a solid direction regardless, and I’m looking forward to being along for the ride now. Admittedly, I was actually ready to give it up after the first half. Now, however, I’m looking forward to next season and further development of the characters, especially those that had to take a back seat to Rush, Young and Greer’s development. Highly Recommended!
Fox pushes out SGU 1.5 on Blu-ray in probably one of the nicest packages I’ve ever seen for a TV series as of late. While the set itself arrives in a standard width Elite Blu-ray case, it also includes a fold-out cardboard slipcase for putting this season as well as the first part of the season in—nice little bonus! Those who have the first part of the season know how packed with extras it was and this half of the season is no different. Everything about this set is just a really nice boon for fans of the series.
Starting off with the AVC encoded 1.78:1 video the series is truthfully not all that grandiose to look at. There isn’t a lot of color gaze upon unless we go to another planet, so if you’re looking for something to test your color levels you’re looking at the wrong show (although the skin tones look great). Having said that there is still plenty of detail to glean from the image and there are only a few cases where the image loses its sharpness—but a few times out of 438 minutes of video is an acceptable quality ratio.
Moving onto the audio we get a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is befitting of a modern sci-fi series. Consistent use of not only the surrounds but also the LFE creates a fantastic mood from start to finish on this set. There isn’t a moment that doesn’t sound fantastic and the normal dialogue of the series is delivered through the front channels with spectacular clarity.
Extras are plentiful as previously mentioned. Included:
• Audio Commentaries
o Space (Director Andy Mikita, Effects Supervisor Mark Savela, Writer Louis Mallozzi)
o Divided (Actors Elyse Levesque, Justin Louis, Julia Benson)
o Faith (Actors Patrick Gilmore, Alaina Huffman, Brian J. Smith)
o Human (Creator Robert Cooper, Director of Photography Michael Blundell)
• Destiny SML (Approx. 17 minutes total, 1080p)
o David Blue: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
o Designing A New Race: Space Aliens
o Tanked! Elyse Levesque Goes for a Swim
o Chatting With The Cast: Peter Kelamis (2:20, 1080p)
• Kino Video Diaries (Approx. 11 minutes total, 1080p)
o One Long Endless Night
o Horrible Accident
o We Volunteer to do This
o Wait For It
o Lost (Actors Brian J. Smith, Peter Kelamis, Jamil Walker Smith, Patrick Gilmore)
o Sabotage (Actors Elyse Levesque, Justin Louis, Julia Benson)
o Pain (Actors Brian J. Smith, Patrick Gilmore)
• Destiny SML (Approx. 28 minutes total, 1080p)
o Brian J. Smith: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
o The Destiny of General O’Neill
o A Day in the Life of Louis Ferreira
o Chatting with the Cast: Julia Benson
o Out for a Spacewalk with Jamil Walker Smith
o Finding Destiny: A Tour of the Destiny Set with Chris Beach
• Kino Video Diaries (Approx. 8 minutes total, 1080p)
o Drop the Sirs
o Like a Hug
o Painful Moments (Part 1)
o Subversion (Actors Brian J. Smith, Patrick Gilmore, Alaina Huffman, Jamil Walker Smith)
o Incursion (Part 1) (Actors Elyse Levesque, Alaina Huffman)
o Incursion (Part 2) (Actors Elyse Levesque, Alaina Huffman)
• Destiny SML (Approx. 23 minutes total, 1080p)
o Alaina Huffman: An Interview with the Creators of SGU
o Chatting with the Cast: Jennifer Spence
o A Behind the Scenes Look at “Incursion”
o Two-for-One: Behind the “Incursion” Double Ratchet Stunt
o Chatting with the Cast: Patrick Gilmore
• Kino Video Diaries (Approx. 2 minutes total, 1080p)
o All the Stages
• SGU: Survival Instinct Game – BD Exclusive
As you can see it’s a pretty healthy list of extras—although they are brief in nature, the addition of a commentary on every episode is the real cherry topper. True, some of the commentaries are a bit dull considering most of the actors don’t talk all that much, but all in all it’s a pretty satisfying package…although I’m not a diehard fan of the show, so it may not be as pleasing to you if you’re really into it. All total we get around an hour and a half of featurettes as well as seven and a half hours of audio commentaries so there should be plenty here to keep you busy after you’ve finished your first pass on the set with just the episodes. Plus if want even more Stargate you get a coupon inside good for $10 off any Atlantis or SG-1 boxset.
Overall a Recommended set.
Stargate SGU – 1.5 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Season review by Andrew
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter