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 The Flash, 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. Late last year, 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 Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 2 here's a look at the next boxed set in the series I picked up for review, Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 4, skipping the third set though providing a bit of overview from my last looks 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 thanks to a betrayal by his first officer, a Nietzchean. 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 seasons progress, Hunt and crew attempt to reestablish the Commonwealth since the decades of fighting left the universe susceptible to various threats, included some wolf man 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 Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 2 DVD sets. Here's a look at the four episodes contained in the set:
515: The Opposites of Attraction: February 11, 2005
516: Saving Light From A Black Sun: February 18, 2005
517: Totaled Recall: April 9, 2005
518: Quantum Tractate Delirium: April 16, 2005
While it was disappointing that there were only four episodes this time and much of the context was lost by not getting to see the third set of episodes released by ADV Films (this being a complex soap opera styled season, context typically meant more than in previous attempts by the producers to make each episode a stand alone adventure), there were some highlights. By now, Shamus had all but repaired the major systems of the Andromeda Ascendant, albeit without parts, and the ship was sufficiently powered up that it was the big guy on the block again. Still, the crew was mostly land bound and not in a position to escape the Seefra system they were still stuck in. The opener was yet another tale of a past love of Dylan's, this time an avatar for the black hole he had been stuck in for his 300 year sleep at the onset of Season 1, who had finally found him after scouring the universes. She wanted him back in her loving arms and to tell the truth, he would've done well to embrace her hot little body.
This was followed up by another adventure where Trance was in multiple places at the same time, not always looking out for the crew as they sought to fix the broken second sun that was causing endless misery on the planets of the system. Dylan was then the victim of a repair attempt on the Andromeda's exotic matter system that was an integral part of their faster than light drive system, forcing him to relive various dimensional versions of his life in order to save the day from a disaster that killed a huge number of innocents. The episodes ended with an attempt to finally rebuild Rommie's avatar although a little glitch develops where she tries to kill the crew that she felt abandoned her. In all then, the major themes of the show continued to be the rebuilding of the bridges needed to escape the system and go back home to the re-established Commonwealth, not knowing how much time has pasted (Seamus had been there for three years before the others joined him from the end of the fourth season).
For me though, I'm sorry but I couldn't piece together the nuances from the missing episodes of the third set. Other than that, so many of the little factors seemed out of place with the characters not acting in their own best interests or the best interests of the crew and the problematic relationships that they had all developed with one another making far too little sense to fully appreciate the adventure. As Gordon Michael Woolvett said in the extras section, this type of show is more about getting a "fix" of sci-fi over anything else, even when the quality was lacking. In that sense, watch the series in order or you'll lose out on too much context and be forced to make guesses about what happened in order to drive the storyline as it appeared here. I caught almost every episode up until the end of the fourth season and some of the matters here simply flew by like chunks were missing out of the scripts, lines were missing, or even episodes were lost, to give you an idea of how it all seemed almost surreal to me. As such, even though I am a big fan of science fiction television, I was generous in giving this one a rating of Rent It.
Picture: Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 4 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 some grain, some of it added to give the CGI effects a film look, a bit of video noise, and the corner cutting was quite apparent throughout the four 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 has 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 though at least this time, a lot more action took place on the set of ships so it looked slightly better than more recent efforts on the show.
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: Gordon Michael Woolvett (Seamus Harper) interview where he explained some of the changes of the season in a very positive and diplomatic way, though he did so with full acknowledgement that the series jumped the shark in some ways, a Behind the Scenes with Production Designer Brian Kane where he further explained a lot of the design aspects of the show, another feature of Behind the Scenes with makeup artist Francesca Von Zimmerman, where she discussed some of the weird make up needed to assist the productions (this was a reach though), 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 4 followed well enough in the footsteps of the previous double disc sets of the fifth season (Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 1 and Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 2) and seemed to spend a few more dollars on the special effects, budgets in general, and brought back the lovely Lexa Doig as fans had clamored for but it was still far short of an effort from the heydays of the first couple of seasons. Still, given the weak first half of the season, they really couldn't go much further into the pit of despair so I'm sure than many, if not most, fans saw these episodes as a step up the ladder in terms of overall quality. There's only one more boxed set to go and this one will be history although I really wish the producers had finished the show with a satisfying conclusion, not what amounted to a cliff hanger as you'll find out about if you check out that set.