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Andromeda - Season 5 Collection

ADV Films // Unrated // October 3, 2006
List Price: $69.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted October 11, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Background: Most folks know Gene Roddenberry as the guy who created Star Trek but he was always writing something or other, taking contemporary social issues and running with them, never straying too far from a particular formula that he found comforting. The stage he set for that show was decent enough to allow a number of great writers to expand on the themes and provide some of the best science fiction the boob tube has ever seen, though even a Trekker like I am can admit that a lot of episodes were simply poorly conceived bits of fluff that amounted to tributes to the televisions powers that be as a weekly series (or several) finds itself in the mode of churning them out to keep the money rolling in. Well, as his widow was going through his papers to mine even more bright ideas for television, she came across a couple of possibilities worth investigating, one being href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=7611>Earth Final Conflict (which started out very intelligently before some idiot messed with it) and then a small space opera called Andromeda. Today's review of Andromeda: Complete Season 5 is an attempt to shed some light on the final season of the show, notable for existing almost purely to obtain the magical number of episodes the syndicated market demands (100+) to stay in rotation instead of to finish off the ideas of the creator.



Series: Andromeda: Complete Season 5 is not my first look at the season since I picked up href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=18331>Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 1, href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=18543>Andromeda: Season 5: Collection 2, and href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=20386>Andromeda Season 5 Collection 4 prior to this. Starring popular hunk href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=16798>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 seasons 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 by a wide margin 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 href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=16798>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 the 1st Andromeda: Season 5 DVD set.



The first four episodes show the reintroduction of the cast one by one with them physically falling onto a desolate planet (most aren't shown actually falling, only Dylan truly falls from the sky) in an uncharted system. Dylan is met by a man called Flavin (played by href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=16697>Alan Scarfe, a well known character actor) who gives him a heads up of the "rules" of this sector; the people are hostile to technology of any sort, they distrust outsiders, and there's no way out of this Vedran-created pocket universe. The twin suns are unstable and no one is quite sure how the Route of Ages sends people on their one way journey there but it's a regular occurrence. As the cast is reintroduced, they are found to have been there for a lengthy variety of times; since time is distorted as well. None of them care about the Commonwealth or following Dylan any more and their mundane day to day survival is job one. This so-called Seefra System also appears to be in the midst of falling apart and a heavily damaged Andromeda Ascendant floating about in the sky becomes the object of desire for various factions on the handful of planets in the area. With no power, limited means of repair, and people willing to destroy the ship if they can't have it, Dylan's immediate task seems hopeless and, in the eyes of many who watched the series fall from grace, pointless.



There are some spoilers here 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. As the season progressed, Shamus had all but repaired the major systems of the Andromeda Ascendant, albeit without the highly complex parts or huge power requirements needed to make them, 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 passed (Seamus had been there for three years before the others joined him from the end of the fourth season).



The fifth season was distinctive because no one challenged the obvious notion that the budget looked as if it were cut in half (likely due to the dispute that nearly prevented the season from happening in the first place). More of the action took place in a bar or the established tunnels (spray painted to look as if a series of new sets); essentially inside without lots of expensive special effects, particularly at the beginning of the season. The general dynamic of having a focused villain of the week was still in place but the scale was brought way down into the arena of ultra low budget shows, a trend that seemed to start about the beginning of the third season for the show but markedly more noticeable here. Everyone from season four had at least guest appearances with Beka now completely immune to Dylan's charms as she looked for work to make a buck, Rhade reduced to a cartoon of his former Nietzchean self, Harper looking out for himself over all else, and Trance in, well, a trance. The primary new cast member was a hotty named Doyle (Penthouse Pet of the Year for 1992, Brandy Ledford) who was introduced primarily as a replacement for then pregnant Lexa Doig (Rommie).



Fans of Trance were most likely to be happy that her character, while starting later in the season, ended up with nearly as much screen time as Hunt (amazing since so many of the past changes in the show were essentially designed to take the show from an ensemble approach to parading him as the total lead all the time). Her background and past had been so secretive previously that the glimpses allowed provided substantial fodder for more esoteric plots and storylines, though sadly misused by too many writers and squandered so freely that it was clear no "vision" for the series had been established. Her race and her personal place in it was greatly elevated by the end of the show, more often then not becoming the season's "Harper" in terms of saving the day (Harper, as the genius engineer, far too often played the role of geek savior who would come up with fanciful devices that propelled the story along and/or saved the day ad nauseum like so many of Roddenberry's previous shows). The final two episodes brought it all around where the Paradigm concept so weakly established used her to clean the slate but as interesting as the final space battle was, the fight with the Abyss seemed somehow a letdown of epic proportions. Maybe someone involved with the series closer of Quantum Leap wrote it, or at least contributed to it, but it was too clean a break and made almost no sense considering the past of the show (and one thing about fans of science fiction shows is that they keep precious track of the past; effectively boxing in poorly equipped writers that aren't brought up to speed beforehand). The steady decline of the show was served well by the ending but only in the poetic justice sort of way that karma caught up with it.



If you're a slavering fanboy of the cast or invested a lot of emotional energy into the previous four seasons and just can't let go, by all means keep watching the last season. I did and there's no shame in watching a guilty pleasure such as this one. Just keep in mind that for all the quality ADV Films poured into the DVD sets, the original material was still so limited compared to the highlights of earlier seasons. The producers made conscious decisions about the course of the show and the characters were reduced to even more two dimensional parodies of their past glories in what could truly be called a dumbing down of the show. Still, if you've watched the rest of the show or simply want something to fill a void in your lonely existence, this DVD season set was worth a rating of Rent It. Keep in mind that even at the height of the show's existence, it was based on a handful of scribbles by Gene Roddenberry for two distinctively different shows, brought to life by his widow to fill the void of science fiction in syndicated television (those who've seen the last seasons of his show href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=7611>Earth Final Conflict will recognize the drive to pump out enough material for syndication rights; that magic 100 episodes I spoke of earlier). Roddenberry was great at taking contemporary melodrama and adding in fantasy elements in order to sell the stories to a particular audience and that's what virtually all his shows seemed to do. While not especially creative, he wove a web of universes that compare favorably (in some ways) to modern day science fiction such as href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=8581>Firefly, href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=13559>Babylon 5, href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=16748>Cleopatra 2525 and href=http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=16755>Earth 2; probably providing the basis for their being with his works over the years. For me then, as a truly guilty pleasure of a guy that stuck it out for FIVE LONG YEARS, I feel obligated to rate the boxed set as a Rent It but with terrible acting, weak writing, low rent effects, and a host of letdowns for the fans, your mileage is really going to vary a lot this time.



Season Five



501: The Weight: Part 1: September 24, 2004

502: The Weight: Part 2: October 1, 2004

503: Phear Phactor Phenom: October 8, 2004

504: Decay of the Angel: October 15, 2004

505: The Eschatology of Our Present: October 22, 2004

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

511: Through A Glass, Darkly: January 14, 2005

512: Pride Before The Fall: January 21, 2005

513: Moonlight Becomes You: January 28, 2005

514: Past Is Prolix: February 8, 2005

515: The Opposites of Attraction: February 11, 2005

516: Saving Light From A Black Sun: February 18, 2005

517: Totaled Recall: April 8, 2005

518: Quantum Tractate Delirium: April 15, 2005

519: One More Day's Light: April 22, 2005

520: Chaos and the Stillness of It: April 29, 2005

521: The Heart of the Journey, Part 1: May 6, 2005

522: The Heart of the Journey, Part 2: May 13, 2005



Picture: Andromeda: Complete Season 5 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 (in the included extras section on one of the volumes) 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 fares pretty well in terms of extras. On the first set of discs, here was a Meet the Cast: Kevin Sorbo interview where he explained some of the changes in a very diplomatic way, a Behind the Scenes with director of photography Gordon Verheul where he further explained a lot of aspects of the show, but had spoilers so watch it last, Behind the Scenes with executive producer Bob Engels, the man many fans blame for the continued collapse 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.



On the second set of discs, 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.



On the third set of extras, there was another Meet the Cast interview, this time with Laura Bertram (Trance Gemini), who became a sort of write in favorite of the geeks online for various reasons. I missed her tail and the original look she sported as much as the way she was written midway through the series into a darker character but she seemed so upbeat and positive about her role that I enjoyed the interview. There was a second such interview with guest star Lochlyn Munroe (Peter) that wasn't as interesting too. Director David Winning (in charge of Pride Before The Fall was kind of interesting but his contribution by that point was minimal. A feature on the 100th episode called It's Never Easy: 100 Episodes and Beyond was a tribute to the show's endurance but largely self congratulatory in nature. A short on filming Prideā€¦ was included, with some more on the special effects, a few minutes of bloopers, image gallery material, some deleted scenes, TV promos, and trailers rounded out the package.



The fourth set of discs offered up 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.



The last set of extras was similar to the others with the series ending tribute And Night Falls: Farewell To Andromeda being a look at the cast and crew using clips from early on compared to more recent bits and an homage to the crew. The Meet The Cast episode was on Steve Bacic (Telemachus Rhade), a behind the scenes look at the prop manager Don Buchanan, another BTS with the costume designer Toni Burroughs-Rutter, some more image gallery stuff, promos, and trailers too.



Final Thoughts: Andromeda: Complete Season 5 was not a complete bust of a show. It had the computer generated graphics (CGI) expected of a syndicated show, the predictable style of acting, outrageous plots and served to tie up most of the loose ends for the show, albeit by disregarding much of what took place previously. If you watched the first four seasons, you saw the decline of the higher concepts early on and were braced by this point to settle for whatever eye candy you could get from the show, much of it spent on mundane planetary exploits as the crew sought to revive their battleship in orbit above. If you suffered through season four like I did, this one was a cakewalk by comparison though I would advise you to watch the show in order by season since at least early on in the show, references to earlier events were heavy and you won't want that nagging feeling that you missed something as being the reason why you're totally confused (rather than it being the writing itself). There are worse shows on television but if you can get past the marketing hype, you'll probably find this one has enough appeal to watch a time or two while you wait for the next episodes of Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, or other genre shows to come out.

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