Movie: Television history, particularly syndicated television history, is littered with the remains of shows that failed to live up to some mythic standard by the suits in charge of programming. Shows like Firefly and Babylon 5 are but two that come to mind; each seeming to gain popularity well after being axed by whomever was paying the bills. Some shows are lucky enough to be killed before they face the inevitable cost cutting that attempts to keep a show alive long enough to hit the mythic 100 episodes typically required to put a show in heavy rotation (on late night TV or on cable) and other shows are like Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, a show that started off with such promise but soon became just another excuse to cater to the lowest common denominator.
Starring popular hunk Kevin Sorbo, the show was set in the far distant future at a time when most planets seemed to belong to an organization called The Commonwealth. Much like Star Trek's Federation, the Commonwealth had an extensive set of ideals and rules with various races contributing to the greater good. While this sounds like a socialist fantasy come true, human nature interceded and in the first episode, one of the main races of sentient beings, the Nietzcheans (a genetically enhanced form of human that are matriarchal and dedicated to furthering their individual genetic material via "prides" much like lions) attack and start the downfall of society at large. The ruling class of the Commonwealth military, the so-called High Guard, is taken by surprise, especially Captain Dylan Hunt (Sorbo) who ends up suspended in time on the event horizon of a black hole for over 300 years. The series really starts when he is rescued by a small group of salvagers who later become his crew on his similarly trapped space ship the Andromeda Ascendant.
As the first few series progress, Hunt and crew attempt to reestablish the Commonwealth since the decades of fighting left the universe susceptible to various threats, included some wolfman like predators, the Magog who use living beings as incubators to hatch their own young. Technology and society had devolved to the point where Hunt's ship was the most superior battle cruiser known and various beings did everything they could to take control of it. Okay, with the geniuses in charge of the series, the first season was easily the best, the second okay, but the subsequent firing of writers and others left the show stuck in a weekly formula much like Sorbo's Hercules series, a punch-fest action show that tossed aside the arcs of the past, left good ideas dead on the vine and unexplored, and generally catered to a LCD (lowest common denominator) approach for the show. Some last minute maneuvering by one of the principle companies making the show rescued it from oblivion to allow for a fifth and final season but after the ending of the fourth season, there wasn't much that could be done other than a complete overhaul of the show that started with the Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 1 DVD set. Here's a look at the five episodes contained in the set:
501: The Weight: Part 1: September 24, 2004
502: The Weight: Part 2: October 1, 2004
503: Phear Phactor Phenom: October 8, 2004
504: Decay of the Angel: October 15, 2004
505: The Eschatology of Our Present: October 22, 2004
The five episodes show the reintroduction of the cast (well, most of them anyway) one by one with them physically falling onto a desolate planet (most aren't shown actually falling, only Dylan truly falls from the sky) in an uncharted system. Dylan is met by a man called Flavin (played by Alan Scarfe, a well known character actor) who gives him a heads up of the "rules" of this sector; the people are hostile to technology of any sort, they distrust outsiders, and there's no way out of this Vedran-created pocket universe. The twin suns are unstable and no one is quite sure how the Route of Ages sends people on their one way journey there but it's a regular occurrence. As the cast is reintroduced, they are found to have been there for a lengthy variety of times; since time is distorted as well. None of them care about the Commonwealth or following Dylan any more and their mundane day to day survival is job one. This so-called Seefra System also appears to be in the midst of falling apart and a heavily damaged Andromeda Ascendant floating about in the sky becomes the object of desire for various factions on the handful of planets in the area. With no power, limited means of repair, and people willing to destroy the ship if they can't have it, Dylan's immediate task seems hopeless and, in the eyes of many who watched the series fall from grace, pointless.
The fifth season was distinctive because no one challenged the obvious notion that the budget looked as if it were cut in half (likely due to the dispute that nearly prevented the season from happening in the first place). More of the action took place in a bar or the established tunnels (spray painted to look as if a series of new sets); essentially inside without lots of expensive special effects, particularly at the beginning of the season. The general dynamic of having a focused villain of the week was still in place but the scale was brought way down into the arena of ultra low budget shows, a trend that seemed to start about the beginning of the third season for the show but markedly more noticeable here. Everyone from season four had at least guest appearances with Beka now completely immune to Dylan's charms as she looked for work to make a buck, Rhade reduced to a cartoon of his former Nietzchean self, Harper looking out for himself over all else, and Trance in, well, a trance. The primary new cast member was a hotty named Doyle (Penthouse Pet of the Year for 1992, Brandy Ledford) who was introduced primarily as a replacement for then pregnant Lexa Doig (Rommie).
If you're a slavering fanboy of the cast or invested a lot of emotional energy into the previous four seasons and just can't let go, by all means keep watching the last season. I did and there's no shame in playing a likeminded lemming. Just keep in mind that for all the quality ADV Films poured into the DVD set (I still greatly prefer season sets), the original material was still so limited compared to the highlights of earlier seasons. The producers made conscious decisions about the course of the show and the characters were reduced to even more two dimensional parodies of their past glories in what could truly be called a dumbing down of the show. Still, if you've watched the rest of the show or simply want something to fill a void in your lonely existence, this DVD set was worth a rating of Rent It. Keep in mind that even at the height of the show's existence, it was based on a handful of scribbles by Gene Roddenberry for two distinctively different shows, brought to life by his widow to fill the void of science fiction in syndicated television (those who've seen the last seasons of his show Earth Final Conflict will recognize the drive to pump out enough material for syndication rights). Roddenberry was great at taking contemporary melodrama and adding in fantasy elements in order to sell the stories to a particular audience and that's what virtually all his shows seemed to do. While not especially creative, he wove a web of universes that compare favorably to the modern day science fiction such as Firefly, Babylon 5, Cleopatra 2525 and Earth 2; probably providing the basis for their being with his works over the years.
Picture: Andromeda: Season 5 was presented in anamorphic widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 as originally shot. The two DVDs included in the set both looked better than their original presentation on cable last year but they looked sub par to the first or second season discs just the same. There was a lot of grain, some of it added to give the CGI effects a film look, a lot of video noise, and the corner cutting was quite apparent throughout the five episodes covered in the package. If you've ever watched the show's fourth season on DVD or the fifth season on television, you'll already know that there wasn't much enhancement that could be done (much like how cheap TV shows started looking when they moved production from California to foreign countries in order to save a buck). Director of Photography Gordon Verheul made comments about the show looking better since the effects were cheaper by this point in time but any savings they made were not used to improve the picture quality in my opinion. That most of the action took place on darkened sets didn't help the picture either.
Sound: The audio was presented in the same 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo it was shot in. There wasn't much separation, even using headphones to find it, and the dynamic range was limited; making me think the audio was one of the first casualties of the budget cutting process. The music all sounded like stock material gleaned from previous seasons and the effects were sometimes slightly off in terms of timing. The vocals sometimes sounded almost as if rushed through the process to cheaply make deadlines with some parts sounding awfully hollow for a science fiction show shot for distribution in the USA (if this were for an audience in England, that'd be fine since they rely more on quality writing then expensive production qualities).
Extras: Compared to many other television shows, Andromeda fared pretty well though. There was a Meet the Cast: Kevin Sorbo interview where he explained some of the changes in a very diplomatic way, a Behind the Scenes with director of photography Gordon Verheul where he further explained a lot of aspects of the show, but had spoilers so watch it last, Behind the Scenes with executive producer Bob Engels, the man many fans blame for the continued collapse of the show, another short on visual effects where some of the special effects were shown from beginning to end, bloopers, photogalleries, trailers for the show and other releases by ADV Films, and a paper insert in the DVD case that outlined the episodes by chapters nicely.
Final Thoughts: Andromeda: Season 5 was not quite the train wreck most critics made it out to be if you take it in context of the previous season and the syndicated television market requirements of the day but it sure didn't live up to the premise of the original napkin scribbles of Gene Roddenberry either. To say the characters dove head first off a cliff might be true but wouldn't tell the whole story as the entire series was so riddled with extraneous plot threads that went nowhere and wasted opportunities in the previous two seasons that a continuation of the show under those circumstances would've been worse. Could anything have saved Andromeda by the time season 5 came around? Probably not but getting better writers, spending more money, and having an actual plan for the season sure would've gone a long way. If you're a huge fan of science fiction wanting to see how far off a show can go, join the rest of us who always found some meager reason to tune into the episodes but leave your brain on neutral or you'll be upset over where it went.