Stargate Atlantis: Season One
It's not a franchise on the order of Law & Order
, or Star Trek
--not yet, anyway--but with Stargate Atlantis
, a more than worthy successor to SG-1
is becoming a nice little cottage industry in itself. The premise, in a nutshell: The Ancients, the greatest race the universe has ever known (or something like that), abandoned Earth millions of years ago, taking Atlantis with them; they then sunk the entire city in order to escape the clutches of the dreaded Wraith, an implacable bunch of villains who nourish themselves by sucking the life from humans. Now, as the two-hour "Rising" pilot details, a new team has gained access to the legendary city. Once they arrive, Atlantis loses the power to sustain its protective shield and rises to the surface, and thus begin the team's adventures (i.e., using the stargate to travel to other planets in the Pegasus galaxy, encountering aliens both hostile and friendly, and trying to defeat the Wraith, or at least stay out of their way).
Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), SG-1's driving force, is missed, but Atlantis has a strong replacement in Major John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan), easily the most charismatic member of the new team. Like O'Neill, Sheppard is a wiseacre and a loose cannon, as well as a superb pilot with an innate understanding of the Ancients' arcane technology. His humor, humanity and conscience provide a welcome contrast to the other characters, especially brilliant-but-neurotic Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett) and ultra-serious project leader Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson), who has little to do but give orders and stand up for her people. The Wraith, who resemble a vampire mutation of the albino blues guitarist Johnny Winter, are the focus of most of these 19 episodes (including the pilot). These bad boys will stop at nothing--nothing, I tell you!--in their quest to snack their way through every galaxy in the universe, with Earth their ultimate feeding ground. And while the final four episodes, dealing with the Wraith's massive attack on Atlantis, end with an unsatisfying cliffhanger (basically, nothing is resolved), earlier shows effectively keep their ominous presence in the forefront. The episodes in which the Wraith play little or no active role are often compelling as well, including "Thirty Eight Minutes" (one of our heroes' "puddle jumper" spacecraft gets stuck in the stargate), "Childhood's End" (we meet a race whose members are convinced that only ritual suicide is keeping the Wraith at bay), and "The Eye" (a planet-size hurricane/tsunami bears down on Atlantis). As is the case with SG-1, the visual effects work, especially by TV standards, is excellent; in fact, one might wish for bit more cool sci-fi action and less talk in some of the episodes. Special effects include commentary (by directors, writers, and/or actors) for every episode, as well as the occasional behind-the-scenes featurette. --Sam Graham
Stargate Atlantis: Season Two
If Stargate Atlantis isn't the coolest sci-fi series on television, this five-disc, 20-episode box set from the second season (2005-06) offers ample evidence that it's right up there. The writing is good; the stories are intriguing, and the science part of the equation is credible enough to justify our suspension of disbelief. The characters are for the most part well-defined, and the acting, while perhaps not Emmy-caliber, is just fine. The action is exciting, the effects work impressive, the costumes and sets first-rate. But what Atlantis really has going for it is the presence of some of the baddest bad guys in the cosmos: the Wraith.
With their flowing white locks, cat-like eyes, pale, almost translucent skin, and teeth so bad they'd make the British blush, the Wraith rock. They also have a constant need to feed--on humans, of course--and are a serious threat not only to Atlantis but to the entire known universe, including good ol' Earth. And although there are occasional diversions, the producers and writers have wisely kept the focus on these implacable antagonists; in fact, the newest member of the team, one Ronon Dex (played by the dreadlocked and hunky Jason Momoa), is a "runner" who escaped the Wraith's clutches, was a fugitive for years before being found by our heroes, and specializes in dispatching the villains with cold precision. In the course of the season, via single episodes and several multi-parters, the Stargate team, commanded by Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson in the show's least interesting role) and led by insouciant Major John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan), with genius-neurotic Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett) handling the scientific intricacies and yet another doc, Carson Beckett (Paul McGillion, affecting a Scottish brogue), overseeing medical matters, deals with the enemy on many fronts. Lt. Ford (Rainbow Sun Francks) defects after assuming Wraith-like characteristics. The team experiments with a "retrovirus" designed to turn Wraiths into humans (the results are decidedly mixed). They encounter a human who raised a Wraith female from childhood and insists she's just like us (she's not). They're captured and imprisoned on a Wraith "hive" ship. And in the final episode, the humans and the Wraiths even form an alliance of supposedly mutual convenience (the episode is a cliffhanger that awaits resolution until Season Three, but anyone who thought this "partnership" was a good idea for our side clearly hasn't been paying attention). As was the case with the Season One set, bonus materials are generous, including audio commentary (by actors, directors, and others) on every episode, various featurettes, photos, and more. Now if only there were a few Wraith interviews... --Sam Graham
Stargate Atlantis: Season Three
With Stargate SG-1 now permanently off the data screen (except for a TV movie or two) after ten productive seasons, it appears that the fate of the universe is now the responsibility of the Stargate Atlantis crew. Based on the latter's third season, whose 20 episodes (plus a wealth of bonus features) are made available here on five discs, we're in good hands.
Three years into it, Atlantis has retained numerous familiar elements while continuing to evolve steadily. The core cast is intact, with the cocky wiseacre-hero Lt. Col. John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) and the egotistical, neurotic genius Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett) still the most entertaining of the bunch; as the series explores the characters' personal lives and backstories, we even meet (in "McKay and Mrs. Miller") the latter's sister, who's every bit the wiz that he is. On the other hand, the roles of team leader Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) and members Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) and Ronon Dex (Jason Momoa) are neither especially well-written nor well-played. The return of Richard Dean Anderson (and his sense of humor) as General Jack O'Neill, the SG-1 mainstay during most of its run, for a few cameos is most welcome, as is the presence of the Wraith, the series' principal villains (SG-1 fans will also recognize the "sentient machines" known as the Replicators from that series). With their flowing white locks, cat-like eyes, pale, almost translucent skin, ultra-fine black leather dusters, and, in one case, shades that would make a Hollywood hipster envious, the Wraith remain the coolest bad guys on the sci-fi scene. We already knew that they feed on humans, but this season brings some startling new revelations, particularly in "Common Ground," an excellent episode that finds Sheppard and a Wraith (Christopher Heyerdahl) forming an unlikely alliance against a mutual enemy; we also witness the return of the Wraith known as Michael (Connor Trinneer), who was the subject of the Atlantis team's ongoing "retro-virus" experiment (designed to make Wraiths human) in Season Two and plays a significant recurring role in Season Three. Other developments are apparent as well, but most dramatic of all is the death of one of the team's key members.
Stargate Atlantis isn't the most original TV show ever created; in fact, elements of The Running Man, Alien, The Abyss, Enemy Mine, and other sci-fi works are sometimes so obvious that the characters themselves mention them in dialogue. But as always, the action sequences, special effects, models, and other technical elements are first-rate, as are the bonus features, which include episode commentaries, featurettes, and photo galleries. --Sam Graham
Stargate Atlantis: Season Four
Replicators and Wraith. ZPMs and hyperdrives. Good guys, bad guys, and guys who could go either way. They’re all on hand for the fourth season (originally aired in 2007-08) of Stargate Atlantis, still one of television’s finest sci-fi shows. There are a number of new developments in the course of this 20-episode run. The first is the departure of leader Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson), who’s gone from the team by the third episode, replaced by Col. Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping, who will be familiar to Stargate SG-1 fans after her long stint on that now-defunct series); seems Weir’s body contains “nanites,” the elements that make up the “sentient machines” known as the Replicators, which leads to her making a supreme sacrifice on behalf of her fellow humans. (Speaking of the Replicators, these bad boys are so formidable a threat to the entire known universe that even the Wraith--the cat-eyed, white-haired, weird-skinned, vampire-like Johnny Winter lookalikes who feed on humans--fear them, resulting in a rather fraught, on-again-off-again alliance with the Stargaters. Unfortunately, the Replicator-Wraith showdown, which could have made Godzilla v. Megalon look like a game of tag, isn’t exploited to nearly the degree one might have wished for.) Meanwhile, the team’s personal lives are examined more closely this time, as Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) becomes pregnant, dreadlocked beefcake dude Ronon (Jason Momoa) considers rejoining his original tribe, irreverent hero Lt. Col. John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) returns to Earth for his father’s funeral (where he runs into his ex-wife and estranged brother), and genius scientist Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett, a good actor whose character’s incessant glass-half-empty, pessimistic whining is getting a bit old by now) once again meets up with his sister, who also made an appearance in Season Three. Overall, the fourth season contains several terrific stories (like “Adrift,” in which the entire city of Atlantis heads into space in search of a new home planet, “Tabula Rasa,” in which the crew is infected with amnesia, and “Trio,” described by its creators as the most logistically complex episode of the entire series), and a smattering that aren’t so hot. As always, Atlantis has terrific special effects, sets, and action (this show ain’t cheap to produce, and it shows), plenty of wit (Sheppard, upon being served a strange-looking meal by his captors: “Is that a form of torture?”), and a very generous selection of bonus features, which include commentaries for every episode, featurettes, and photo galleries. --Sam Graham
Stargate Atlantis: Season Five
As the curtain is drawn on the first of the 20 episodes that comprise this fifth (and apparently last) season of Stargate Atlantis, we’re assured that “the threat level is down” across the universe. The “sentient machines” known as the Replicators have been defeated; The Wraith, the white-haired, translucent-skinned, cat-eyed vampire dudes who have been our heroes’ principal nemeses all along, are in disarray; And while the character known as Michael, who was the subject of the team's ongoing ""retro-virus"" experiment (designed to make Wraiths human) in Season Two and played a significant recurring role in Season Three, is still around, he too no longer inspires much dread. So, “the threat level is down,” right? Yeah, right. You don’t need to be an astrophysicist to know that rosy analysis is mere wishful thinking. Indeed, Michael’s human-Wraith “hybrids” are a serious menace almost immediately; and by the end of the season, not only have the Wraith pulled themselves together, they have constructed the mother of all “hive ships,” located Planet Earth, and begun attacking it. In between, regular Atlantis fans will witness a few significant developments: among other things, Samantha Carter (Stargate SG-1 veteran Amanda Tapping), who took over command of Atlantis in Season Four, is soon replaced by the by-the-book civilian Richard Woolsey (Robert Picardo); team member Teyla (Rachel Luttrell) has a baby; and Rodney McKay (David Hewlett), the kvetching genius scientist, and medical doc Jennifer Keller (Jewel Staite) kindle a romantic relationship. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), another SG-1 veteran, appears in two mid-season episodes.
Story-wise, Season Five offers considerable variety; “The Daedalus Variations” is heady sci-fi filled with technical mumbo-jumbo about parallel universes, while “Whispers” is a zombie jamboree straight out of Night of the Living Dead, and Vegas, an “alternate reality episode” in which Lt. Col. John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan, in what is still the show’s most appealing role) plays a beleaguered homicide detective, takes place almost entirely in that city. As usual, the best stories are the ones involving the Wraith, including “The Queen,” in which Teyla temporarily transforms into one of those villainous creatures. Also as usual, the visual effects are first-rate, and the bonus material is copious (including commentaries for every episode and all manner of featurettes) and impressive. If this is indeed the end of Stargate Atlantis as a series (a feature-length movie is already in production), it will certainly be missed--but at least they’re quitting while they’re ahead. --Sam Graham