The television series Stargate SG-1 first aired in 1997 and is still going strong in 2002; nonetheless, though I'd heard of it, watching the Season 2 boxed set was my introduction to this popular science fiction series. It's always a tough test for a series to have a new viewer step into it partway through, but Stargate SG-1's second season proved to have the right stuff for this reviewer.
If you enjoyed the feature film Stargate, there's a high probability that you'll also enjoy the television series based on the film. While the series, of necessity, lacks the charm of exploring the utterly new technology and mysterious world of the original film, it introduces the appeal of a galaxy-spanning adventure set in the near future. A bigger picture has been sketched in: the Goa'uld are out there, a race vastly more powerful than the humans on Earth, and distinctly unpleasant. The stargates, their coordinate system now decoded, have become windows on a multitude of planets, many of which support human civilizations. And also out there are alien civilizations that are more advanced than the Terrans, who would make powerful allies against the depredations of the Goa'uld... if the SG-1 team can make, and maintain, contact.
The series follows the adventures of the team "SG-1", referring to the first of the stargate exploratory teams. As Season 2 begins, it's clear that the four members of the team have grown to be faithful companions through thick and thin. I found the characters to be a fairly generic "adventure" team, animated by run-of-the-mill television-quality acting. We get the wisecracking leader, O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), the tough-as-nails but pretty Samantha (Amanda Tapping), the geeky Daniel (Michael Shanks), and the wise alien Teal'c (Christopher Judge), who we can tell is alien because he has a forehead stamp and pointy eyebrows. They're not bad actors, and the characters are fairly well suited to the demands of the plot, but we're not looking at anything that pushes the envelope of cliché when it comes to characterization here. I also am compelled to point out that the dialogue of the series is rather less than outstanding, with one-liners sprinkled too liberally throughout. Fortunately, the series doesn't stand or fall on the strengths of its characters' conversations.
What are the strengths of Stargate SG-1? The premise is one that can give rise to an almost infinite variety of situations, and the story writers and production crews seem to have realized the potential at their fingertips. There's hardly any sense of the typical "series formula" in Stargate SG-1, as the individual episodes show a great deal of variation in the types of plots that develop. Story development is furthered by the refreshing fact that in the Stargate SG-1 universe, humans are only midway on the totem pole of galactic civilization: we are more technologically advanced than many of the civilizations they encounter, but far below the achievements of the uber-races out there... including the hostile Goa'uld.
Continuity is another high point in Stargate SG-1. While the structure of the show lends itself naturally to an episodic structure with self-contained missions, it's clear that the story writers are making an effort to weave the individual episodes into a larger and more significant whole: what happens in one episode is referenced, and relevant, in a subsequent one. For example, the Season 2 episode "In the Line of Duty" introduces a significant element that is brought up and is relevant in several following episodes, and even leads to additional plot developments. (I'm being intentionally vague to avoid spoilers here.) In "Thor's Chariot," the story brings the SG-1 team back to a planet visited in the first season, with plot threads that develop from actions taken in that earlier episode. This overall story development adds a great deal of depth and interest to the series, and provides a strong reason to keep watching.
Stargate SG-1 also looks great from a production design point of view. The sets and costuming are first-rate, particularly for television, and the special effects would look great even in a feature film. The mythological flavor, mostly Egyptian but occasionally venturing into other mythos, is embedded in many minor details and creates a distinctive and intriguing atmosphere.
Stargate SG-1 gets high marks for video quality. The episodes are presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, which is the original aspect ratio. It's a pleasure to watch a television show filmed in widescreen, and Stargate SG-1's cinematography makes good use of the wider field of view, creating a more immersive and cinematic experience.
Colors appear accurate; it's not the most colorful of shows, with the protagonists dressed in drab olive green and the "home base" set mostly gray concrete, but skin tones look natural throughout, and when the episodes venture into fresh air and sunshine, brighter colors are well represented. The one area of weakness with respect to color is in the black level, which is not as dark as I'd have liked to have seen.
Noise is the main issue in terms of image quality, as there's a distinct contrast between the well-lit and the moderately- to dimly-lit scenes in terms of image quality. Scenes that take place in outdoors daylight or bright light are generally of excellent image quality, with little to no noise present, though the image is never particularly sharp. However, as soon as the scene darkens, as with many indoor scenes, more noise is present, with very dark scenes noticeably noisy.
Overall, though its transfer isn't perfect, Stargate SG-1 is distinctly better in terms of video quality than most television shows on DVD, and it's visually enjoyable to watch.
Stargate SG-1 is presented in Dolby 5.1 surround sound, which is a very nice touch for a television series. The audio quality is high, with both dialogue and sound effects coming across clearly. Stargate SG-1 is a show that can give a workout to the soundtrack, with explosions, alien sound effects, and so on, and for the most part the surround sound is used well to create a pleasing audio experience overall.
The production values on the DVD set are quite high. The second season's 22 episodes are spread over five discs, with four episodes on Volume 1, five each on Volume 2 and 3, and four on Volume 4 and 5. The five DVDs, in separate keepcases, are enclosed in a glossy cardboard case that is distinctly sturdier than most boxed set cases I've seen. The artwork on the case and the individual DVDs is very well-done and makes for an attractive set.
The menus are well-designed and extremely easy to use, and the episode selections thoughtfully do not contain spoiler images for that episode. My only quibble about the DVD design is that the opening credits are not a chapter by themselves, so you can't bypass them by skipping to the next chapter without also skipping over a chunk of the action. Since I'm not interested in watching the credits more than once, this requires the nuisance of fast-forwarding.
Completionists will be pleased to find that each of the DVDs includes a set of trailers for the episodes on that disc; these are the original teasers run on television, of the "Next week, on Stargate SG-1..." style. Volume 1, 4, and 5 also contain short featurettes; Volume 1's is a 7-minute interview with the production designer, discussing how the crew invents and constructs new worlds for each week's episode. The other two featurettes focus on "Dr. Jackson" and "Teal'c."
I started watching the second season of Stargate SG-1 with an open mind and no preconceptions about the show; I ended up very favorably impressed by it and looking forward to watching more of it in the future. It's entertaining and well-crafted, and should appeal to any viewers who have a liking for science fiction.