Movie: One of the things about reviewing a set of episodes from a series is that there usually isn't a lot you can say about them without spoiling the whole season or at least the episodes themselves. This is why it's so much easier tackling a season all by itself, the current most popular way for releasing television shows on DVD. Some shows make it even easier by including the whole series, much like Firefly, Crusade, Cleopatra 2525 and Earth 2 have done in the recent past but the concept works better for series that only last a season or two than those that last longer. Last month, I picked up reviewing the science fiction television series Andromeda where my friend Holly left off, taking a look at Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 1 and here's a look at the next boxed set in the series, Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 2, with a bit of overview from my last look at the series:
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 Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 1 and continued on with the Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 2 DVD set. Here's a look at the five episodes contained in the set:
506: When Goes Around: October 29, 2004
507: Attempting Screed: November 5, 2004
508: So Burn The Untamed Lands: November 12, 2004
509: What Will Be Was Not: November 19, 2004
510: The Test: January 7, 2005
There are some spoilers this time so if you've never seen the show and don't want to know about it, bypass this section and move onto the technical matters discussed below but also keep in mind that I'm not of a habit to ruin shows as some at other websites do as part of their usual format. Notable highlights included that the rest of the cast returned in some form or fashion (Lexa Doig had her kid) and the budget seemed to be restored to the levels of the previous season (still too low to accomplish the task at hand but not so ridiculously low this time). More than half the episodes dealt with the past (or future) of Dylan as he met with someone he knew before his 300 year long sleep, was put to the ultimate test to see if he and his potential crew were ready to get back into the swing of things in the real universe, and the reappearance of a character vital to the continuation of the season. The general themes seemed to favor exploring the Seefra system's mysteries as various problems with the Vedran made pocket universe began to become more apparent.
At the onset of the collection, the Andromeda Ascendant was still barely functioning, for lack of power as much as the multitude of needed parts and repairs, and this greatly limited the character's abilities to do a whole lot when they saw a wrong in need of righting. Previously, they could rely on gunboat diplomacy to get their way but with Andromeda sitting dead in space and the computer barely able to handle routine calculations, they had to rely more on their wits, all to a variety of ill effects. Initially, the crew continued their new versions of themselves, primarily looking out for number one above all else but this started to change as the episodes proceeded; a trend to be continued in the future from the handful of episodes I saw earlier this year. Dylan's new status first touched on earlier in the season started to play a larger role here too so the true fans of the show will be able to enjoy that thread as it grows stronger. In all, the episodes laid the groundwork for some of the better action of the season, most of which came after the material here. I'm still going to rate the collection as a Rent It since the converted will need no backing from me to pick this one up and those who haven't watched the first four seasons would be ill equipped for jumping in here.
Picture: Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 2 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 (previously) 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: Lisa Ryder (Beka Valentine) interview where she explained some of the changes of the season in a very positive and diplomatic way, a second feature of Meet the Cast: Brandy Ledford (Doyle) where the hot looking new crew member with a taste for pink clothing got a chance to say Hi, a Behind the Scenes with visual effects supervisor Bruce Turner where he further explained a lot of the special effect aspects 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: Collection 2 seemed to be the road to recovery for the series in my estimation because while the characters were still acting in manners that didn't work with their personality traits (like having an alcoholic Nietzchean made no sense at all given the genetic purity their race espoused) and having the Andromeda fixed up with the virtually complete lack of spare parts on the various planets striking me as unlikely. It went deeper than that though and while some of the later episodes actually worked pretty well in context, they were a far cry from the glory days of the series at best. The technical matters got slightly better at times, perhaps the saving of the budget busting effects from the earlier episodes allowed them to splurge a bit as the season went on, though if I recall correctly, it was a bit later that things started looking up in that sense. In short, there was enough for fans to like and pick up a copy of the set but most of you will be better off getting the earlier seasons (found very cheaply online too) and working your way through them to the point where the forced changes get too much for you to take.