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Stargate: Continuum (Blu-ray)
MGM Home Entertainment / 2008 / 99 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: July 29, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Friday, August 01, 2008
Who would have thought that a derivative and rather junky little genre potboiler like 1994's 'Stargate' would go on to inspire one of the most enduring sci-fi franchises since 'Star Trek?' There have been so many series and direct-to-video movies inspired by that Roland Emmerich-Dean Devlin box office hit that I've lost count. Which also makes 'Stargate' the kind of geekfest with such a convoluted mythology that, by this point, it's storyline and characters are all but impenetrable for newbies. I'm afraid if you haven't seen any other entries in the 'Stargate' series, you might find yourself quite lost watching this direct-to-video premiere film. 'Continuum' is designed to bridge some gaps in the 'Stargate' timeline, but good luck trying to figure it all out if you're one of the uninitiated.
Since I'm no 'Stargate' disciple, I'll try to condense some 'Stargate' background for you in some sort of comprehensible manner. The basic conceit of the original film was that the many gods worshiped around the world are actually alien beings who originally arrived here to enslave us, and traveled through wormholes (aka Stargates) which are organized via an infrastructure of large rings that connect various universes. This concept was expanded upon in the various cable and broadcast network series and spin-offs over the years, with various "System Lords" fighting for dominance of the Stargates, and various other subplots. (To date, there have been over ten seasons of various 'Stargate's, including 'Stargate: SG-1,' 'Stargate: Atlantis,' additional direct-to-video movies, and even videogame tie-ins.)
This is where it gets confusing. 'Continuum' is meant to fill in many gaps in 'Stargate' history and mythology, but it's clearly geared for fans, not newbies. The complex storyline begins with an alien race, the Tok'ra, who use something called "symbiotes" in a fight against their number one enemy, Ba'al (Cliff Simon), whose master symbiote they are trying to obtain in order to essentially kill him. Into this battle comes the Stargate team (which for you newcomers is a group that heads up a military department largely unknown by Earth's general population), led by returning cast members team leader Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder), Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) and Vala Mal Doran (Claudia Black), plus in a cameo, Richard Dean Anderson as General Jack O'Neil. Things really kick into high gear after Ba'al's supposed "funeral" ceremony, where it's revealed that Ba'al is actually still alive (or a clone?), and his wrath of terror will continue unless the team and the Tok'ra can stop him.
Little of this will make sense (or be of much interest) to those unfamiliar with 'Stargate.' Though designed to function as a stand-alone film far more than most of the other 'Stargate' DTV features, 'Continuum' is still dense with allusions, references, and background to other events in the franchise. Taken purely as a direct-to-video film shot on a limited budget, however, 'Continuum' boasts fairly solid production values. The CGI won't rival an A-list Hollywood film, but some of the painted exteriors are nicely done, and the effects were never so cheesy that I was pulled out of the movie (which in itself is pretty dang cheesy to begin with). The actors are also clearly comfortable enough in their roles that they can say names like "Tok'ra" and "Ba'al" with an absolutely straight face. 'Continuum' is also pretty well-paced, with enough action interspersed throughout to stave off boredom, even when I was sometimes confused due to my lack of familiarity to the material.
Unfortunately, it's doubtful that 'Continuum' will appeal to anyone who isn't already a 'Stargate' fan, and even if you're curious about the franchise, this is far from the place you should start. That makes this review completely superfluous, then -- if you're already into 'Stargate' you'll likely buy this sight unseen no matter what I say. But I can confidently proclaim that 'Continuum' neither elevates nor embarrasses the 'Stargate' franchise, so by all means if you're one of the faithful, you should give it a shot.
MGM/Fox present 'Stargate: Continuum' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It's an above-average presentation for a direct-to-video production, though still hampered by the limitations of its budget.
The image veers towards the grainy and dark. There is a thin if ever-present veneer of grain/noise, and fall-off to black is steep. Even bright outdoor scenes seem dim, and its only the CGI exteriors that really excel. Colors can oversaturate, which mucks up fleshtones slightly. Detail is adequate to good, but the transfer can be noticeably soft at times if never excessively so. At least there is no overt tweaking, so contrast is pretty well balanced giving some fairly nice pop to the image. Aside from the aforementioned grain, there are no major problems with the encode aside from a couple of instances of posterization during slow dissolves. Given its origins, 'Stargate: Continuum' satisfies.
A DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix (48kHz/24-bit) is provided for 'Stargate: Continuum.' It's a tad better than the video, and gives this thrifty production a rather high-gloss soundtrack.
Truth be told, the film's sound design sounds rushed and on the cheap side. Dialogue often feels like it was looped in, with distant and background voices often balanced too quietly, while main dialogue sounds too loud by comparison. Constructed effects during the CGI and battle sequences likewise sounded rather canned. The score is dynamically (if abrasively) rendered, however, while there are a few zippy discrete effects that make nice use of the rear channels. The track is nevertheless not consistently engaging, giving a stop-start feel to the mix throughout -- it goes from enveloping one moment to front-heavy the next. The DTS-MA mix also sounds too bright on the high end for my taste, with an element of harshness that screams direct-to-video. But considering the material, this is still a notch above the soundtracks for most video premiere titles.
A nice selection of supplements is offered on 'Stargate: Continuum,' matching the standard DVD release extra for extra. All video-based extras are presented in 480p/i video, with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitle options.
- Audio Commentary - Director Martin Wood and screenwriter Brad Wright offer an overly technical discussion that quite frankly bored me. There is far less on the story and series here than I expected and hoped for. This is also a direct-to-video flick and not a big-budget effects extravaganza, so all the tech talk quickly grows numbing. For diehard 'Stargate' fans only.
- Featurette: "Behind the Scenes" (HD, 23 minutes) - The best of the disc's three featurettes. The approach is standard, with a mix of cast & crew interviews, film clips and behind-the-scenes footage. However, there is far more discussion on what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with 'Continuum,' and even some candidness about what didn't quite develop or come off as expected. A superior making-of.
- Featurette: "Stargate Goes to the Arctic" (HD, 22 minutes) - Focusing on the tough location shoot in the frigid Arctic, this featurette is a bit too long. Much of the behind-the-scenes footage is effective at conveying the arduous conditions, but there is some repetition as well as a flagging pace. Perhaps introducing other locations or also taking a look at the film's CGI might have opened this one up a bit.
- Featurette: "Layman's Guide to Time Travel by Astrophysicist Jaymie Matthews" (HD, 9 minutes) - This amusing short features Matthews dissecting the how's and why's of the science behind 'Continuum.' It's rather amusing, however, in that 'Stargate' is about as plausible as your average 'X-Files' episode, so I'm not sure the wisdom of having a featurette that points out the movie's scientific flaws. Nevertheless, this is quite entertaining.
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'Stargate: Continuum' is just one small chapter in the entire 'Stargate' saga, and as such, even this stand-alone story requires a great deal of knowledge of the television series to be effective -- it ain't for newbies. This Blu-ray offers nice (albeit not exceptional) video and audio, and a solid amount of supplements. I can't recommend 'Continuum' for non-'Stargate' fans given its narrative density, but for you fans it's worth checking out.
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