When last we saw our courageous Atlantis crew, they were in dire straights indeed. The series had just completed its first season, and not without at times relying on the mother series, SG-1, for help along the way. Would the show now find its own legs in its critical sophomore year? Would the Sci-Fi Channel continue to support it or take out its legs unrepentantly as they had done with Farscape not many years ago? Oh, and then there was that pesky Wraith problem we were left with in the season 1 ending cliffhanger… The Wraith are about to destroy the city when a wormhole from Earth delivers an SGC unit to assist.
Martin Wood asserts in one of his interviews that Atlantis and SG-1 were beginning to look too much the same on the surface of things. So, one of the mission statements for the second year was to give Atlantis its own look and identity. Without a doubt, Atlantis became darker, but without losing its humor or charm. A hard thing to pull off, indeed.Season 2 brings changes for Atlantis. Some I like. Some not so much. I’m not sure I’m happy with more permanent and reliable contact being restored with Earth. One of the show’s strengths was its isolation. Thus, the temptation to lean too heavily on its parent show would be minimal. I know there was the danger of the Deep Space Nine Syndrome, but I’d be willing to risk it. First off, these characters are far more interesting than those DS9 had, and while they might have been cut off from Earth, there was indeed an entire new galaxy to explore. One of the best moves was to take a rather mediocre character like Ford and turn him into a wonderfully complex villain, of sorts. With a greater range to draw from, we find out that Rainbow Sun Francks was a far better actor than season one would indicate. If you haven’t seen his new persona, you should get these DVD’s just for that experience. Another brilliant move was to use Paul McGillion more as Dr. Beckett. Once a throwaway character, he has blossomed this season into one of the better members of the team. The character chemistry between Beckett and McKay (Hewlett) is priceless. The most significant change for season 2 is the addition of Ronon Dex, played by newcomer Jason Mamoa. For me the jury is still out on Ronon. I understand that he brings a hyped up action persona to the mix, but I might have liked to have seen Teyla provide more of that in the future. The portrayal is quite good, but I’m not sold on the mix yet. The character reminds me somewhat of Vin Diesel’s Riddick.
Stargate Atlantis is presented in its original HD wide screen broadcast format. It is obvious that the original print is a digital camera image. Gone is any of the grain or saturation of the SG-1’s filmed texture. This is a clean, if somewhat sterile, image. Colors are incredibly sharp, as is the contrast. Blacks are dead on perfect. The range of color and light is considerably expanded in this format.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is as good as it’s been since the first season. The same effort put into making the show look as good as it does obviously translates to the sound presentation. Rich score music works in perfect harmony with the needs of the dialogue and ambient sounds. While the rears are not used extensively, they do manage to surprise you now and again with just the right touch to place you square in the action.
All of the episodes come with a commentary track with folks ranging from cast members to writers and directors. As always, Peter Deluise is one of the best.
The features are spread throughout the 5 disc set. Each disc contains some nice galleries in addition to the following features. I should mention that the packaging remains slim cases but now sports single-sided discs.
“Mission Directive: The Siege Part II” The piece features director Martin Wood. These Mission Directives are a lot of fun. Beyond the intimate peak behind the camera, the directors usually go out of their way to provide an entertaining journey. Martin provides a story wrap-up of this cliffhanger conclusion which begins the second season. He then takes us to several key moments as they are being prepped and filmed. This was a critical episode, as it contains Ford’s metamorphism into a Wraith hybrid. This would be an important part of the year’s overall story arc.
“Mission Directive: The Intruder” Peter Deluise has always been just wonderful in his commentaries and features. This is no exception. He injects a ridiculous amount of humor while maintaining the impossible standards that have defined the entire Stargate run. Peter spends most of his 15 minutes giving us a tour of Stargate’s newest starship, “Daedalus”, named for the early Greek aviator. He points out the upgrades both in props from the real world and the functions found only in the reel world. Who would have imagined how important space age sneeze guards would be in defending the universe from evil? While you won’t get a ton of information on the episode itself, who wouldn’t sign up for another romp through the Stargate world with Peter Deluise?
“Mission Directive: Instinct” Andy Mikita is another one of those Stargate veterans that always deliver in these features. The episode Instinct pays respectful homage to the Universal Frankenstein in set design, if not in concept, as Andy proposes. Use of an “Andy Cam” brings us a humorous look at Andy’s interaction with crew members who might normally be uncomfortable in front of a camera. Andy’s pieces are almost always more laid back than his colleagues’, but he makes up for it in the information he provides. He takes us to Lynn Valley Park, a beautiful Canadian national treasure. I thought Spanish moss was unique to my own southern climes. Andy set me straight. Thanks Andy.
“Introduction to a Character: Ronon Dex” Ronon Dex does add a wide variety of talents to the show. Jason Mamoa is a dynamic young talent who appears to be having a blast in this new playground of acting. We get to hear some of the original ideas for the “new guy”, many of which never made it off the drawing board. Again… while I’m not totally sold on the character, I do have tremendous respect for Mamoa, if only because I don’t want him coming down here to kick my ass.
“Road to a Dream With Martin Gero.” Gero is mostly a writer for the show. In his work for Stargate shows his talents have always been behind the scenes. This spoof is an amusing look at his journey to the front of the camera, or at least the side of it. The joke does play a bit too long, however, and this is likely the weakest of the set’s features
“Profile on David Hewlett” Hewlett and his alter ego Dr. McKay have been around the Stargate Universe longer than any character on Atlantis thus far. (Amanda Tapping will bring Carter to Atlantis soon and this statement will no longer be true.) He was added almost as an afterthought when another character failed to work out. McKay reminds us of ourselves. He’s the most realistic hero of the show. Like most of us he’s not particularly brave or optimistic in a crisis. Still, he finds a way to come through in spite of his all too human faults. He’s extremely arrogant, but the truth is he’s right far more than he’s wrong. Actor Hewlett also carries a heavy load. He is most called on to deliver the show’s exhausting technobabble and exposition. When will Hollywood get it that these flawed and nuanced characters are truly the most identifiable? What made O’Neil so good was Anderson’s insistence that he be flawed and impatient with technology. Characters like Monk are popular because we are amused when our heroes are more pitiful than we are. I wouldn’t want McKay as a friend, but I’d want him there when the you know what hits the you know what.
“Stargate Stunts”. While there’s plenty of flying through the air antics going on in Atlantis, stunts means fights. James “Bam Bam” Bamfer provides the choreography for these fights. You’ll see tons of fight prep on this feature. What gets me, however, is why we almost never hear from the stunt guys themselves. Everybody tips their hat to these guys, but they never let them talk.
“Profile on Paul Gillion” Paul plays the Scottish medical doctor, Beckett. Forget for the moment that he reminds us of a beloved starship engineer. Paul actually appeared in an early SG-1 episode as the first man to go through the gate in the 1950’s in the episode Torment of Tantalus. Beckett was never intended to be more than a pilot throwaway part, but Gillion’s performance was a breakout one and Beckett began to see more action. Like our favorite engineer, the accent was added as an afterthought and not originally scripted. Unlike James Doohan, Gillion is Scottish, but his accent is greatly exaggerated for the character.
So here we are. SG-1 is nearly over, at least as a weekly series. There are 2 direct to DVD films on the way and talk of a feature film. Atlantis will soon carry the Stargate franchise forward into the future on its own. This second season is likely the cornerstone that will allow it to be successful. If Sci-Fi doesn’t manage to screw it up, and I’m not confident that Bonnie Hammer knows how not to, we should be able to enjoy the same quality of product we’ve come to expect since the first Showtime episode of SG-1. Truth be told, I’ve started watching the broadcast versions of these less and less over the years. The Sci-Fi Channel bug (that Saturn symbol in the lower right corner) has gotten annoying, and the channel is terrible about their spot breaks (jumpy or too sudden). These DVD’s are the best way to enjoy a series like this. If SG-1 is successful in their direct route experiment, we may just experience a new and better way to get quality shows in the future. Support that future by picking up this incredibly loaded season 2 set of Atlantis. Television is getting far worse in general at delivering the goods. If home video should eventually replace commercial television, then “That’s what happens when you back a brilliant scientist into a corner”.
Special Features List
- Mission Directives
- Character Profiles
- Photo Galleries
- Production Design Gallery
- Commentary by Directors, Writers, Producers and Actors on every episode
- Road to a Dream with Martin Gero
- Stargate Altlantis: Stunts
- Introduction to a Character: Ronan Dex