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Andromeda 1.5

ADV Films // Unrated // March 18, 2003
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted April 4, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The movie

Well, the first season of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda has come to an end, and now I'm in a position to look back over the entire season and reflect on it. Sadly, they're not particularly enthusiastic reflections; Andromeda is mainly a story of missed opportunities and bad scripts. The show had the potential to be a very entertaining space opera, with an interesting story to tell in a fairly complex world, but as readers of my previous reviews of volumes 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 will know, my constant refrain has been "so far the series hasn't realized its potential, but hopefully the next few episodes will improve." Well, it's volume five, and Andromeda has dug itself into a rut that it doesn't seem likely to escape.

The show obviously has a tremendous amount of background information built in, from the history and fall of the Commonwealth to the events of the "Long Night," and including a score of alien races such as the Nietzscheans, Magog, and others. The question is whether the show would use this excellent background to tell stories that moved forward and actually mattered (as in Babylon 5) or whether it would content itself to use this background merely as a setting for "adventures of the week." Unfortunately, despite a few tantalizing hints early in the season, it became clear that Andromeda was definitely an "adventure of the week" type series; episode after episode had situations come up with the potential for dramatic changes, only to have the characters resolve the situation and bring the show back to the status quo. Certainly this kind of storytelling is easier to produce, but it grows stale after a while... especially when the stories themselves suffer from poor writing.

Volume 1.5 contains the four final episodes of Season 1: "The Honey Offering," "Star-Crossed," "It Makes a Lovely Light," and "Its Hour Come 'Round at Last."

"The Honey Offering" has Andromeda involved with the internal affairs of two major Niezschean prides: Dylan volunteers the ship to serve as a go-between to arrange a marriage that will unite two warring prides. But the bride-to-be may have some dark secrets, and not all the Nietzscheans are enthusiastic about this union of the prides; not surprisingly, this "routine" mission turns out to be anything but. "The Honey Offering" is easily the best of the four episodes on this set, with an interesting and well-plotted story. It's an "adventure of the week" in the sense that nothing in the larger story world is affected at all by the events of the episode, but at least it's an entertaining story.

The same can't be said for "Star-Crossed." Now, when I watch a space opera show like Andromeda, I really do try not to over-analyze the story. But sometimes a story can be so bad that it short-circuits my attempt to forgive plot holes and just enjoy the show. "Star-Crossed" is one of those; it's so badly written that it is even difficult to provide a coherent capsule summary. Here, the sole survivor from a ship destroyed by terrorists turns out to be an android named Gabriel, played by Stargate SG-1's Michael Shanks. (Note that these terrorists, the "Resters," are simply labeled "terrorists" a priori, though their actions are similar to other groups that might be considered freedom fighters, or rebels, or combatants in a war; we don't get the slightest hint that it's worth considering the reasons for their actions. Dylan says they are terrorists, so They Are Terrorists. Granted, space opera often has fairly well-defined villains, but this is a bit much: bad guys by proclamation.) With assistance from some random mercenary types (whose motivation remains murky at best), Andromeda stumbles across the ├╝ber-terrorist ship. Romance, double-crossing, hidden identities, and battles ensue; sadly, the plot falls to pieces in the process. The plot twists make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and the conclusion is equally nonsensical, clearly showing signs of "uh-oh, better wrap this up and return the story to status quo." Dreadful.

Sadly, "It Makes a Lovely Light" is equally awful, though in a different way. You see, this episode is obviously the Kiddies, Don't Use Drugs episode... so out of nowhere, the character of Beka Valentine is hijacked by the scriptwriter to manufacture an obsessive interest in going to the long-lost Tarn Vedra. (Why is she so obsessed all of a sudden, when half the show has gone by with no mention of it? Better not to ask these questions.) Along the way, she decides to start using Flash, despite the fact the plot doesn't really require her to, and despite the fact that the character development in earlier episodes goes directly against this. Well, don't worry; it gets worse. A sub-plot involving Trance having some sort of seizures is started and then completely dropped. The route to Tarn Vedra (and back) violates any pretense at logic in the way the slipstream works. And we learn that Drugs Are Bad, But Friendship Cures Addiction (it does? And here I was thinking that addiction was a bit tougher to deal with than that). This episode has all the ethical depth of a bumper sticker, not to mention that the "reset to status quo" at the end makes no sense. My brain hurts just remembering this episode.

The final episode is "Its Hour Come 'Round at Last." Fortunately for the state of my sanity, the plot does actually make sense. Here, it seems that the show's producers realized that it wouldn't be a good idea to end the series on yet another stand-alone episode; who would bother tuning in for the next season? So here we get a "to be continued" episode that actually draws on some of the mysteries suggested earlier in the season, regarding the Magog. In itself, that's a good thing, but the actual story that's told in this episode is only so-so. Andromeda's core personality is accidentally overwritten by a back-up memory recording, and suddenly she's off on a top-secret mission without consulting the crew; on the way, she's attacked by Magog.

The key to successful cliffhangers on episodic shows is that there has to be some sort of puzzle or challenging situation other than "will the characters survive?" Given the nature of the show, we know that the characters will survive, so any suspense has to come from the unresolved mysteries and unanswered questions of the first half of the plot. Star Trek The Next Generation's cliffhangers were outstanding examples of this kind of dramatic tension, for instance. In Andromeda's cliffhanger, though, there's a lot of frantic action, but by the end, no particularly meaningful story has been begun. There are no new mysteries, as the Magog-related mystery is the same as what was presented earlier in the season, and the Andromeda's problem is adequately solved within the course of the episode. The only question that viewers are left with is "Will the crew survive?" Somehow I doubt that any viewers over the age of six will find that to be a particularly pressing question.

The DVD

Video

The widescreen image is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is anamorphically enhanced. Andromeda's final four episodes of Season 1 look just as good as the rest of the season: stunningly clear, with bright, vibrant colors. The print is sparklingly clean, with not even a trace of noise or print flaws; nor is there any edge enhancement in evidence. In my effort to be as picky as possible, I did notice a tiny hint of grain in a couple of the darker scenes, but we're talking about splitting hairs here; Andromeda's image quality is nearly perfect.

Audio

Andromeda is presented in a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. While the sound is, as it has been throughout the series, quite good, it's clear that the show would benefit from a 5.1 track. Many scenes involve a lot of audio action, and while the 2.0 does a good job of presenting a clean, crisp sound, it doesn't create a totally immersive audio environment. This is a good quality track, though, with clean sound free of any noise or distortion, and with the actors' voices and environmental effects always sharp and distinct.

Extras

Andromeda 1.5 is a two-disc set, packaged in a double-wide keepcase. Each DVD contains two episodes and part of the special features. The animated menus have gotten a bit tedious by now; I'd really prefer something less time-consuming to navigate through. The best part of the menus is that they use the snazzy techno-pop theme from the credits.

One major problem with the special features here is the lack of one of them: specifically, the promised commentary on "It Makes a Lovely Light." Though the back cover of the DVD advertises a commentary track for this episode, there is none. I consider this a serious problem, especially since this isn't the first time that it has happened.

Of the special features that are actually present, we have the usual assortment of miscellaneous stuff. Two cast interviews are included, with Gordon Michael Woolvett (Harper) and Laura Bertram (Trance), running three and a half minutes each; they're of the "let me describe my character to you" style and aren't particularly informative. Disc one includes an alternate take of a scene from "Star-Crossed," which is actually only a slight variation on the final version, and disc two contains a completely deleted scene involving Harper and Rommie in "It Makes a Lovely Light." Two minutes of rather flat bloopers are included, and a seven-minute behind-the-scenes video.

Prop and set drawings, teaser trailers for the show, and a set of trailers for other ADV releases are also included.

The rest of the special features are continuations of the background information on the show's setting that we've seen on each DVD. We get an image gallery on technology, the glossary of the High Guard S-Z, All Systems University 101 on engineering, science, and technology, and a timeline of the Commonwealth (The Long Night).

Final thoughts

Andromeda 1.5 offers the final four episodes of Season 1, in which the season tries to end with a bang, but ends up sounding more like a whimper. One episode is entertaining space opera; two are so badly written as to be absolutely incoherent; and the cliffhanger ending is watchable but decidedly uninspiring.

Could Andromeda improve in the next season? Hope does spring eternal, and after all, Star Trek the Next Generation went on to become one of my favorite series of all time after a lousy first season. However, I wouldn't bet any money on Andromeda improving radically, and so I suggest that viewers hold off from committing to purchasing the rather expensive and unwieldy episode sets of this show. The video quality continues to be stunning, but the special features are only so-so, especially since the advertised commentary track for one episode is missing. For those who found the earlier episodes entertaining, a rental will probably suffice.

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