There are tons of potential reasons to dismiss a television series – perhaps it has stars you don’t know (or don’t like), perhaps it’s a genre show, perhaps it’s a spinoff, perhaps you just never realized that it was on until it was too late. There are, in short, a plethora of possible reasons why you never watched Stargate: Atlantis.
A science fiction basic cable spinoff of a spinoff that had to switch from premium cable to basic cable, there are, potentially, a whole lot of prerequisites for starting to watch Stargate: Atlantis. However, simply sitting down to watch the first few episodes easily dismisses all of one’s doubts about the series. Stargate: Atlantis is nothing short of a great science fiction series and quite potentially better than the show from which it was spunoff (Stargate SG-1). Atlantis follows the tale of a group of people sent by the combined governments of the world to inhabit, and learn the secrets of, the famed lost city of Atlantis which, it just so happens, was an alien civilization on another planet. Okay, I understand, that sounds like a weird and big leap, but the way it all plays out it isn’t, it is a completely acceptable jumping off point for the excellent series which follows.
In its early episodes, the first Stargate television series, SG-1, is burdened by the fact that it has to both build off the major motion picture and differentiate itself from the same. It takes a full season, perhaps a little bit more, for that show to find its footing and to grow into its own. Atlantis, on the other hand, is off and running as soon as the original series cast members which appear in the pilot are out of the way (original series cast members do visit from time to time, but never to this show’s detriment). These are mostly new characters here, or at the very least ones who were never really explored in the original series. Additionally, the plot of this series gets the cast far enough away from what those versed in the Stargate universe know, thereby letting them establish their own world and timeline before reintegrating that which came before.
The series stars—at least in its first season—Joe Flanigan, Rachel Luttrell, David Hewlett, Torri Higginson, Paul McGillion, and Rainbow Sun Francks. They make up the exact sort of characters whom you would expect from such a series. Flanigan is the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants army guy who doesn’t really fit in the army, John Sheppard. Luttrell is the friendly alien who agrees to help out the band of new folks, Teyla Emmagan. Hewlett is the super-genius with an attitude to match (and the comic relief), Rodney McKay. Higginson is the civilian commander of the project who has to constantly play politics at a distance of millions (maybe billions) of light years, Elizabeth Weir. McGillion is the doctor who is constantly tasked with stitching everyone up and fighting new and different illnesses, Carson Beckett. Over the course of the show’s run folks leave and others come, but I don’t wish to ruin anything about the cast alterations, save for mentioning the addition in season of two of Jason Momoa who plays Ronon Dex, a big, tough fighter who has a history with the series’ baddies. He is on the series for much of its run and a great addition to the core group.
As for those baddies, while the show does have a whole lot of single episode issues that need to be dealt with, and a whole lot of recurring issues as well, the series as a whole pits the Stargate crew against the villainous Wraith. The Wraith are an enemy so ferocious that they actually ended up causing the last inhabitants of Atlantis, the incredibly advanced Ancients, to abandon the city. The Wraith are not only technologically advanced but physically formidable and make for quite the adversary. Again, as bad guys go they are certainly arguably better than SG-1‘s Goa’uld.
Over the course of the series’ 100 episodes you’ll find your regular assortment of sci-fi tropes, from massive battles to humanitarian decisions, to tales of star-crossed loves. Where Atlantis excels is not necessarily in its originality, but in its execution. Most episodes are well written and completely compelling, they make you care about the characters and their actions. Atlantis also does a great job over the course of its five seasons of bringing back enemies and revisiting decisions the crew has made to show their ramifications. Never does it feel as though an action taken by the men and women of the Atlantis base is without consequences or repercussions in the long term – they may get away with something one week, but soon enough their decisions come back to haunt them.
The new Blu-ray release of Stargate: Atlantis sports quite a good presentation. The visuals don’t have the crispness or detail that you see on a big scale Hollywood major motion picture, but for a television series it is quite good. Some of the effects don’t really stand up to HD scrutiny, but that is an issue related to the show’s age (and what was expected of it at the time) and not the transfer. What you won’t find is unnecessary noise, scratches, or other imperfections. Depending on the world the crew is on, you’ll find beautifully muted colors or incredibly bright and rich ones. In short, the series looks very good. One won’t find any faults either with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It is immersive, putting you the viewer into any and all of the various locations visited on the series. Explosions pound the bass and gun fire (be it of the bullet or laser variety) regularly tracks from one speaker to another.
The release also contains a huge amount of bonus features. There are, it seems, 88 commentary tracks over the course of the 100 episodes. There are then a huge number of look backs, making-ofs, deleted scenes, and various other behind-the-scenes pieces. All told, there are over 50 hours of bonus features, and while they’re not all gold, fans of the show will find a whole lot to like, and tons of things they can learn about the series. It will, unquestionably, keep you busy for hours if you choose to dig through it all. It is a little hard to pick a favorite piece, although the ones put together on various individuals episodes (as opposed to characters, actors, effects, etc.) tend to be quite good and informative.
A brilliant show that hit the ground running and then never lessened its pace, Stargate: Atlantis stands as a perfect model for what science fiction on television can and should be. If there is anything to be disappointed about with the series it is that it lasted for 100 episodes whereas SG-1 ran for 214 plus a couple of made-for movies. Upon finishing all the episodes of Atlantis, one will certainly wish for more.