Who would have thought, watching the Roland Emmerich/Dean
Devlin movie Stargate back in 1994
that 16 years later the franchise would be on it's third live action
less said about the cartoon, the better) and be one of the most
series this side of Star Trek and Star
Wars? As surprising as it is, Stargate
going strong and the third series, Stargate
Universe shows a lot of promise. The
first season of Universe was broken into two halves.
The first 10 episodes aired from October to
December of 2009, and it's scheduled to return for a further ten
April. The first half has been released
to home video and after watching it I'm anxiously awaiting the second
If you've never seen any of the previous Stargate
series or the movie, you might
be a little lost at first but if you're vaguely familiar with the
won't have any trouble following the story.
As you may recall from the movie and SG-1, a Stargate uses a
'chevron' address to dial other Stargates in the Milky Way. It was discovered that the device would
accept an 8 chevron address, but to dial it would take an enormous
energy only an ancient 'zero-point module' could generate.
A ZPM was hooked up, and it dialed an address
in another galaxy. (Those adventures are
chronicled in Stargate Atlantis.)
A nine chevron address was discovered, but to
generate the unimaginable power needed to dial such an address would
tapping the core of a special type of planet.
That problem has just about been solved as this current series
Yes, Earth scientists lead by Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert
Carlyle) and aided by gamer geek Eli Wallace (David Blue) have broken
codes, solved the engineering problems, and just about overcome the
hurdles to dialing the nine symbol address.
Unfortunately the base is attacked before they can dial and 60
people are trapped in the gate room when a corridor collapses. Realizing that it's a now-or-never situation,
Dr. Rush punches in the nine chevron code instead of dialing Earth and
everyone. The gate opens, and left with
no choice the 60 or so trapped people grab as many supplies as they can
No one expected what they would find. Instead
of landing on a planet, they emerged
onto a huge space ship. The ship,
unbelievably old, was built by the Ancients, the race that built the
Stargates. It's been traveling across
the Cosmos for hundreds of thousands of years or more and it's now a
light years from Earth. Lacking the
power to dial back to Earth, the survivors, half military personnel and
civilians, have to discover how to live on this gigantic ship that, due
ravages of time, is falling apart.
Their first crisis occurs when they realize that the ship,
which is not inhabited and never had passengers, has the life support
air in particular, turned off.
(Apparently the heating was still working as they didn't freeze
in the first minutes.) Then they have to
find a source of water, and food.
While all this is going on, communication with Earth has
been established via an Ancient artifact.
While that is mainly a good thing, as they now have access to
experts and scientists, the meddling from various military and civilian
organizations only serve to cause strife on the ship.
In addition to Dr. Rush and Eli, the crew of the Destiny, as
they discover the ship has been named, include the ranking military
Col. Everet Young (Louis Ferreira) who has a even temper but isn't sure
up for the job, his right hand man First Lieutenant Matthew Scott
Smith), and HR officer (Ming-Na) who is often caught in between the
Rush and Young.
One of the neat things about this show is that those are
just some of the main characters. There's
very large cast, with some of the supporting characters coming to the
some episodes then fading back to being little more than an extra in
others. The fact that they were able to
get talented actors to be willing to do that is a tribute to the
director and gives the show a lot of depth.
This is important because like the other two Stargate series,
is character driven. The reason you tune
in week after week (or hit the button to start the next episode) is to
the crew reacts to their latest problem, and how the various subplots
evolve. Having such a large cast gives
the writers plenty of opportunity to develop some of the lesser
It does take a few episodes to get into the show. At
first it seems like a rehash of Star Trek Voyager,
or Space: 1999. Yes,
there are a lot of similarities but by
the end of these 10 episodes Universe
separates itself from those precursors.
This show has more of an edge to it, with some characters being
off or written out of the show. They
also examine the mental health of everyone aboard, with the stress of
trapped in space and facing death constantly is taking its toll on the
pushing some people to the brink, and even over it.
I enjoyed this darker, more mature look at
the Stargate Universe.
Because of the darker tone, much of the humor that
the two earlier series (again, I refuse to acknowledge the cartoon) is
missing. Eli acts as a comic relief some
of the time, but when he does they're making fun of him for being a
geek. When someone fears that there are
board, for example, Eli wonders aloud if they'll be popping out of
chests. First off, the line itself isn't
funny. The writers are hoping to get a
laugh by the fact that someone would be stupid enough to say it out
loud. The big problem is that's making fun
fans, they show's intended audience.
They do that several times, in basically the same manner. It's more insulting than funny though.
The first ten episodes of the series are presented on two
Blu-ray discs that arrive in a single width case.
The show comes with a
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that is really outstanding. The whole soundstage is used to get effect,
not only in the action sequences, but in the more mundane parts of the
too. The directionality is excellent
with sounds moving around the room with great precision.
It holds up well during the more sonically
actives scenes too. The various sounds
never merge into a wall of noise, but rather stay as separate pieces
places the viewer in the middle of the action.
The dialog is clean and clear and very muddled.
The 1.78:1 AVC encoded disc looked very good too. The
show was filmed in HD, which means that
they had to redo a lot of the stock special effects especially the
a Stargate opens. These look very
impressive in HD, especially when compared to their SD counterparts. The interior of the ship is darkly lit, so
the image doesn't jump off the screen like some Blu-rays, but once they
the ship and travel to a well lit planet, like the desert world in an
episode, the image really comes alive.
The colors are nice, with fleshtones being realistic and
blacks being deep but not compressed.
The level of detail is fine but not exceptional for a HD disc. Overall this is a nice looking show that
should please fans.
I was hoping for a bit more in the extras department, but
what's there is nice (despite being in SD save for the redited episode). First off there are commentary tracks on
every episode by various members of the cast and crew.
While I didn't have time to listen to all of
them (damned deadlines!) I did spot-check several and what I heard
average for a commentary track. They
joke around and tell anecdotes about filming without just describing
on-screen action. (I hate when they do
There's also a Destiny
Starmap Log on each disc, which is a gimmick to make this bonus
look more impressive than it really is. An
image of a galaxy has several stars circled.
Highlighting any one of them reveals a short (about 2 minute)
clip. These include interviews with the
SGU costume naturally) about their roles, directors discussing their
tidbits about the special effects etc. There
is no 'play all' option, which is a shame, and I got tired of sitting
the copyright notice at the end of each piece.
One thing worth tracking down however is Stargate
101 which is included in this section on the first
disc. It's a series of short 'training
videos' where Dr. Daniel Jackson explains what the Stargate is and who
the major players in the galaxy are. It
was a fun piece.
Both discs also feature a set of Kino Video Diaries, a
series of messages that people aboard the
Destiny recorded on small flying camera that are aboard the ship. Some of these are humorous short pieces,
others expand on footage shown in the show.
It's a nice addition.
There's also an extended version of the pilot episode which
still plays pretty much the same as the individual episodes do.
If you watched the first episode of Stargate Universe
when it aired and didn't care for it, you should
give the show another chance. It takes a
few episodes to get used to the new tone and direction of this newest
installment of the franchise, but eventually it emerges as a solid show. It remains to be seen if this will have the
staying power of SG-1 or Atlantis,
and if the writers can
continue to advance the story without repeating themselves or having
dip, but they're off to a good start.