It's hard to pull of a sequel or spin-off show. Fans want the elements that made them fall in love with the original program, but at the same time something totally different (or else what's the point of the sequel if it's just a clone.) That's the challenge that the creators of Stargate Atlantis faced and they rose to the task admirably, creating a show that had all of the fun and wonder of the original show, Stargate SG-1, while creating new and dangerous situations for the characters to face. The fact that many of the writers who started with Atlantis had also worked on SG-1 was undoubtedly a big help. The show ended up running for five seasons and a total of 100 episodes, a pretty impressive feat. At the end of last year MGM packaged up all five seasons in a nice looking boxed set, but it wasn't until 2010 that DVDTalk got its hands on a review copy. I'm glad we did, because though watching the entire series in a short amount of time is a bit tiring, it's also very enjoyable. Stargate Atlantis is a great series and a worthy successor to SG-1, which is saying a lot.
I won't go into a lot of detail about the history of Stargate and Stargate SG-1. I assume anyone reading this is at least familiar with the concept of the show. Suffice to say that mankind has discovered a Stargate, a device created millennia ago by a race called "The Ancients" that can be 'dialed' like a phone and opens a doorway to other planets. In Stargate Atlantis an unusual address is discovered, and one that needs immense power for the gate to function. That's because this address doesn't lead to another planet in our area of the galaxy: it leads to a planet in Pegasus, another galaxy three million light years away.
A large team is sent to through the gate once the address has been established, and on the other side they find a miraculous city built by the Ancients: Atlantis. The city is filled with Ancient technology much of it dangerous and the rest hard to understand, and the multi-national expedition of explorers, cut off from Earth due to the high amount of energy required to open a gate back to the Milky Way, starts to explore both the city and the galaxy.
Exploring can be a dangerous thing however, and the Atlantis expedition soon discovers why the Ancients ultimately abandoned the city: The Wraith. Pegasus is home to a race of vampire-like creatures that feed on humans by sucking the life-energy out of them, and they are quite formidable foes. They fought the Ancients long ago and forced them to evacuate the galaxy, so they're no pushovers.
Like SG-1, this show focuses on a single team that explores the universe. This time around the team is lead by John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) a tough but likable Air Force Major. He's assisted by Teyla Emmagan (Rachel Luttrell) a native of the Pegasus Galaxy who, due to having some Wraith DNA in her makeup can sense the creatures, Aiden Ford (Rainbow Sun Francks) a Marine Lieutenant, (eventually) Ronon Dex (Jason Momoa) large warrior whose planet was destroyed by the Wraith, and Rodney McKay (David Hewlett) an egotistical yet brilliant scientist. Staying at home and running things is Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) a non-military diplomat.
This show gets a lot right from the start. Like its predecessor the focus is on a single team and what they encounter exploring alien worlds. Over the first couple of seasons they create a rich universe peopled with interesting creatures and races. They encounter both friends and foes. One of the more interesting in the latter category are the Genii. Like other humans they have been periodically culled by the Wraith. They came up with a unique solution to their problem: They posed as simple farmers with little in the way of technology, but in underground tunnels they worked on advancing their science with the goal of developing a weapon that could wipe out the Wraith. When the Atlantis team discovers that they are on the brink of perfecting nuclear weapons. Unfortunately the Genii and Atlantis have very different ideas on how to do things and Altantis' refusal to give them advanced technology turns them into enemies.
In the later seasons a popular nemesis from Stargate SG-1 makes and appearance: The Replicators. While it could have been a case of "haven't we already seen this?" the show does a great job of making the Replicators in this galaxy a bit different and much more interesting than the ones that put Earth at risk.
There is one thing that I really loved about this show that sets it apart from many other action/adventure programs: people die. I'm not talking about Red Shirts (to steal a term from Trek fandom) but some fairly major characters get written out. In the first episode there's a significant death, but that's easily written off as something that was planned from the beginning. A season or two into the show when something happens to one of the characters that you've grown attached to it's pretty surprising and makes you wonder if others are going to have something horrible happen to them. It really adds a lot to the show, putting that little doubt in the back of your mind "maybe they all won't get out of this hopeless situation."
It does take a while to get used to the characters and for the team to come together as a whole. I honestly never thought the group on Atlantis had as much screen chemistry as the folks on SG-1, but it was close. I thought the show really blossomed at the end of the first season (each season ends with a pretty dramatic cliffhanger) and kept on going strong for the rest of its run. There are some dramatic personnel changes and the show gets a slight reworking at one point (I won't tell you where... that would be spoiling it) but it never gets stale. Season five was just a notch below the standards set by the earlier seasons, but it was still a good set of programs but makes it clear that the show had run its course.
This is a repackaging of the earlier releases with an extra bonus disc included. The discs are exactly the same, down to the labeling. They still have the season set numbering: "Season 3 Volume 2 Disc 3" etc.
This complete series set comes in a custom container. Each season gets its own small fold out booklet. The bad news is that the discs are slipped into little pockets with a soft rubber hub to hold them in place. This is not the best storage idea ever. The discs are very hard to remove from the slots and the data side of the disc rubs across the hub as you pull it out. It's a real pain getting them back in too. I carefully examined all of the discs and I didn't receive any that were scratched, and I consider myself lucky. After all the complaints that studios have received on similar type of packaging, I'm a bit astounded that they're still creating sets like this.
Moving on, Each booklet features a picture of a main character on the front, scenes from the season on the back along with a nice image of Atlantis, and a listing of the episodes contained on each disc as well as the special features. The five season booklets, along with a sixth booklet for the bonus disc, are housed in a thick cardboard case that has a large v-shaped notch taken out of it so that it's easy to remove the booklets. Unfortunately this notch takes a chunk out of the nice images that are on both sides, and the pictures on the exposed booklets don't match the image on case. It looks kinda dumb, and I was hoping for more. The case is enclosed in a pressboard slipcase.
The show is presented with a DD 5.1 audio track that is exceptional for a TV show. The whole soundstage is used to great effect and there's some great directionality. The surrounds get a good workout during the many action sequences with laser blasts and bullets flying around all corners of the room. The dynamic range is very good too. Overall this is a great sounding program.
Like the audio, the 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced image looks nice. The colors are solid and the skin tones look natural and the level of detail is pretty good. The space scenes are generally impressive and the CGI looks better than what's presented in most cable shows. There is some grain that pops up now and again, and there's some blocking present, especially in low light scenes. Aside from that the show looks fine.
The original season sets were bursting with bonus features, and all of those are included in this set. Just listing all of them would take a couple of screens, much less reviewing them all, so instead I'll refer you to DVDTalk's earlier reviews to get the low down on the commentary tracks and multiple feauterettes: Season One, Season Two, Season Three, Season Four, and Season Five.
There is a bonus disc included with this set that wasn't included with any the earlier releases. It includes a pair of featurettes, both of which are interesting but not essential.
The bonus disc also includes the last two episodes of the series... though I'm not sure why they're included.
Is this set worth the upgrade if you already have the season sets? Nope, not really. The extra bonus disc doesn't warrant the cost, and the inferior packaging is a minus. If you don't have this show in your collection however, this set would be a great way to get the whole fantastic series in one easy step. Reasonably priced and with fantastic content, this series comes Highly Recommended.