In 1994, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich brought Stargate to the big screen. The movie starred Kurt Russell and James Spader and proved to be a decent science fiction film and was a modest box office success. For all intents and purposes it was a one-off film, but it turns out that someone had different ideas. Three years later the movie would be turned into a Showtime series, Stargate SG-1, which would go on to run for a decade between Showtime and the Sci-Fi Channel. It would even go on to spawn a pair of spin-off series, Stargate Universe (set to debut in October 2009) and Stargate Atlantis, plus a short-lived animated series. This Blu-ray brings us two fan-selected episodes and is cased with cover art also selected by fans. It is the first appearance of Atlantis on Blu-ray, and the first episodes of either series in high definition (two straight to video films have previously taken a Blu-ray bow).
As I watch the extended versions of the included episodes, I realize that this is not the best place to start for a series newcomer. Just as the title implies, this Blu-ray is strictly for the fans. Why is that? Simple — the two episodes included are the series premiere and the series finale. You miss all of the middle seasons, where the story grows, expands, changes, and develops, while characters come, go, die, and change alliances. So, if you are looking for a taste of the series, go rent the first season, skip this until you know you like the series, then pick this up to satiate your high-def bug.
Let me start by saying the high definition Stargate Atlantis experience is definitely a good one. It does not match the clarity of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but don't let that scare you away. These episodes are crisp, clear, and just really look good, the best I have ever seen them. I will say that the first episode, "Rising," suffers a little bit in that the special effects are not the best and the added resolution afforded by the format expose the technical and budgetary constraints of the early episodes. Granted it's not that bad, but it can be noticed. On the other hand, there is nary a spot to be found, colors look great, and the detail is very good.
Keeping an eye on the technical specifications, the English DTS-HD 5.1 tracks that both episodes sport are lively, and always clear. Dialogue is always front and center, and there are some very nice panning effects as firefights move around the frame and spaceships fly by. I cannot say that any particular scene stands out, but do not take that as an indictment, as the sound is solid straight through.
"Rising" is the double length premiere episode, and I have to say it plays better now than it ever did. I recall when I first watched it, I was not sure I was going to like it. It was a feeling that would linger over the first handful of episodes. I couldn't quite get a handle on the characters. It turns out, the writers probably didn't either. Watching now, I can see the actors were not completely sure of how to approach the characters. They seemed tentative and the personalities were half-baked.
Anyway, this premiere benefited from the presence of Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks reprising their SG-1 roles of Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson. On top of that, the premiere also has Robert Patrick playing the ranking military officer on the expedition. The presence of these three helps bring the fledgling series a little more gravitas.
We follow our new crew through the Stargate, using coordinates believed to be for the lost city of Atlantis. It turns out to be true and our intrepid team of soldiers and civilians explore the technologically advanced city built by the Ancients. Problems quickly arise on two fronts, with the discovery that the city is underwater and has a failing shield, and while searching nearby planets they find some friendly folks, but also some nasty aliens. In one fell swoop we meet new friends, meet the new big bad, called the Wraith (replacing the Go'auld), and show that this advanced city is still vulnerable. Overall, it is a decent way to start the series.
Moving onto the second episode of the set, "Enemy at the Gates" jumps us over five seasons worth of episodes and picks up during the final showdown with the Wraith. The life-sucking aliens have found Earth and a large ship of theirs is preparing to unleash its fury on our home planet. Defending Earth is a lone Ancient chair which controls the only weapons capable of defeating the invaders. Meanwhile, Atlantis has found the power to lift off from its adoptive planet in the Pegasus galaxy and is flying home to Earth, where it engages the Wraith ship.
Of course, more happens, but I am not going to tell you. If you are a fan, you likely know already. I will say that I sort of liked the final moments, although it fails to live up to the excellence of the SG-1 finale.
Bottom line. This is a very nice set. The packaging looks good, the two series book-ending episodes are quite entertaining. This high definition test run for the series is pretty solid and I look forward to full seasons. So, if you are a fan, get this. If not, go check out the seasons first.