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Blu-ray Review: SGU – Stargate Universe, The Complete First Season

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Of all the things that can really pull television viewers into a series, a sense of familiarity ranks high. Take SGU: Stargate Universe, for example. It offers fans of the original Stargate series a chance to return to the science fiction “universe” they all came to know and love. It also casts a considerable amount of “look-alike” actors that could prompt people to tune in just for the hell of it — perhaps under the impression that the people they’re seeing are really other, more famous folks.

And SGU: Stargate Universe presents us with a lot of “look-alikes.” There’s the TV Jonah Hill (David Blue), the TV Ellen Page (Elyse Levesque), and a TV Scarlet Johansson (Alaina Huffman) to boot — whose character is, oddly enough, named “Johansen.” Why, there’s even a guy that looks like an older, haggard Lou Diamond Phillips in here, too.

Oh, wait, that actually is Lou Diamond Phillips! Whoops, my bad.

Of all the science fiction television shows that have come and gone over the years, the whole Stargate franchise never really held much interest for me. The original movie itself didn’t succeed in captivating me at all (I think it may have had something to do with the fact that everyone said I looked like “Ra” when the movie first came out), so I saw no reason to sit back and watch fifteen seasons of two different live-action series.

Yet, somehow, there were certain aspects about SGU: Stargate Universe that intrigued me. For instance, the show cast an actual “motion picture” actor (Robert Carlyle, who leads the cast as the secretive Dr. Rush) for once — and not just another “television” actor: a sure sign that things might turn out OK for me. Another facet of SGU: Stargate Universe that piqued my interest was the disbanding of the usual “good guys go through gate, meet aliens, battle, then go home through gate” formula.

Our series begins with a ragtag motley crew of soldiers, civilians, and scientists being thrust onto a long-deserted spaceship when their base is attacked by enemy forces. The massive spaceship — which we come to know as “Destiny” — is billions of light-years away from Earth on a preset course to an unknown destination. It’s a pretty big pickle to begin with, but when you throw in the fact that nobody has any sort of clue how to get back to Earth, you really up the ante for compelling science fiction drama.

Sure, it’s a bit reminiscent of several other sci-fi series, such as the well-known Battlestar Galactica, the lesser-known The Starlost, and a few other classic shows that have either gone down in history or been swallowed up by it entirely. But, hey, in this day and age — where just about everything’s been done ten-times over — all one really needs to do is take a little of this, throw in a little of that…et voila: you’ve got a whole new series!

And in the case of SGU: Stargate Universe, it works. Quite well, in my opinion.

At first, the reluctant crew is faced with the horrid realization that the ship isn’t up-to-date. In fact, it’s on the verge of falling apart. And this is only the first of many dilemmas the good men and women of Destiny have to contend with on a weekly basis. Additional threats come in the form of water/power/food shortages, mutiny, and, of course, some aliens. There are even a courtroom-style drama and proverbial time-travel episodes thrown in just to give the series that extra bit of variety (and hopefully, pull in some outside viewers).

Of course, having a show set way out the cosmos’ back forty makes it difficult to have guest stars show up out of the blue, so it’s a god thing the crew of Destiny brought some Alteran Communication Stones along. If you’re not a follower of the series, they enable Destiny’s passengers to switch bodies with people back on Earth — hence, they can interact with guest stars. Speaking of guest stars, the series sports appearances by Stargate alumni Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks, as well as the familiar television faces of Rhona Mitra and Christopher McDonald.

On Blu-ray, Fox Home Entertainment presents SGU: Stargate Universe – The Complete First Season in a 5-disc set that brings us all 20 Season One episodes in glorious High-Def. Well, it’s mostly glorious, I should say: there are a number of scenes where the MPEG-4/1080p transfers look a bit flat, exhibiting some shallow black levels in the process. Most of the time, however, the Blu-ray set shines — giving us a vast array of bright, beautiful colors (one of the great things about sci-fi movies/TV shows is their tendency to use some truly dreamlike imagery); some fine detail, and strong contrast throughout. The episodes are presented in their original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio.

Audio-wise, the set boasts a default English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track — and the mix is a great one at that. Between all of the various sound effects found on day-to-day life aboard Destiny (to say nothing of foreign worlds and marauding life forms) and the show’s odd-but-likeable decision to include modern hits from recording artists (Flogging Molly and Alexi Murdoch in two different episodes, with Janelle Monáe contributing two songs and an appearance in another) as well as a traditional score by veteran Joel Goldsmith, the audio here really delivers. A Spanish 5.1 DD track is also available, and the series includes optional subtitles in English (SDH), Spanish, and French.

Earlier in the year, Fox released the first and second halves of SGU in separate sets, so the arrival of the The Complete First Season might tend to anger a lot of fans that rushed to pick up the original issues. In doing a little research, it would appear that most of the special features included in this set were available in the half-season sets (as best I can tell, the whole set is a repack, but I‘m not sure since I don‘t have the half-season sets to compare). Each disc includes audio commentaries with select cast and crew for every episode, a shitload of behind-the-scenes featurettes (most of which are located under something called “Destiny SML”), an interactive “SGU: Survival Instinct Game,” and two dozen entries from the “Kino Video Diaries” (where the show’s characters talk about their feelings, fears, etc.).

While it took a couple of episodes to completely captivate me enough to declare myself a “modest fan,” SGU: Stargate Universe comes through as being a pretty decent show. The writers seem to have a thrown plenty of darts at 3×5 index cards in order to come up with the necessary amount of plot-twists and ideas to keep their audience members interested.

All in all, I recommend the series.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.