'Stargate: Atlantis - Fans' Choice' is the product of a contest that was held giving fans of the second live-action series inspired by the 1994 sci-fi film 'Stargate' the opportunity to vote for their favorite episodes for a Blu-ray release and even submit designs for the packaging. The winning cover art entry was by William Johnson (his design is pictured to the left), and the runners-up can be viewed on www.sgafanschoice.com. As for the chosen episodes, fans selected the two-part pilot 'Rising' and the series finale 'Enemy at the Gate.'
The series spins off the story arc from the seventh season's finale of 'Stargate SG-1.' At the recently discovered outpost the Ancients built in Antarctica, Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) believes he has found the Lost City of Atlantis in the Pegasus Galaxy. The only catch is that the location is barely within the range of the Stargate (a wormhole doorway to other Stargates scattered throughout the universe), meaning it could very well be a one way trip. Nevertheless, Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) doesn't want to let the opportunity go to waste and heads her team for the landmark expedition, escorted by military personnel under the command of Colonel Marshall Sumner (Robert Patrick). Weir also convinces Major John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) to tag along after it becomes clear he possesses a natural gift in using the technology of the Ancients.
Upon their arrival in Atlantis, however, finding a way back home soon is the least of their troubles. Not only is the city itself completely submerged under water and on the verge of being flooded by the ocean, a new and more sinister threat emerges, a cannibalistic race known as the Wraith. Now the team must face their greatest challenge yet--keeping themselves and the citizens of Earth off the Wraith's radar and menu. That is of course, if they don't happen to drown first.
I'll be honest, I'm not much of a 'Stargate' guy. Sure I liked the original film well enough, but I wouldn't brand myself as a "fan." Still, when 'SG-1' premiered in 1997 I decided to check the show out like most sci-fi fans, and unfortunately I just couldn't get into it. The show didn't have a very big budget so the sets/props were cheap and the special effects were hokey, although that really wasn't an issue for me. My problem was I couldn't connect with any of the characters, which were so wooden and one-dimensional they weren't interesting to me at all. The acting was also pretty terrible on top of this, but in all fairness the show has accumulated a decent following so I'm assuming the hammy performances are an acquired taste.
Flash forward seven years to the birth of 'Stargate: Atlantis' in 2004. One would think that with all of the advancements in CGI technology and more shows stepping up their production values by the mid-2000s that this franchise would have been updated over time as well, but alas, the spinoff of 'Stargate SG-1' resembles a show trapped in the nineties. Maybe it's the high-definition, but the alien technology like the Drone projectiles and Ancient Control Chair look like plastic products bought at Wal-Mart, and most of the background settings have a studio feel. Then there's the acting, which is like bad dinner theater most of the time. When characters fall, it's blatantly obvious they are taking it easy so they don't get hurt, and some of the line deliveries are totally cringe-worthy. I couldn't stand any scenes with Higginson who is awful, and even the usually reliable Robert Patrick missed his mark more than once. I will admit the dry wit of Flanigan wasn't bad, however, and the episodes themselves were moderately entertaining for what they are. But while I didn't dislike them per se, nothing about them "wowed" me when they were over.
Of course in the end, my opinion of the show in this particular case really doesn't matter. The fact is, a 'Fans' Choice' product might have seemed like a good idea on paper, but realistically it hits a few major snags. A pilot/finale combo of a spin-off most certainly isn't a good entry point for newcomers, and fans of the show only get a mere taste of the series. With ninety-seven episodes in between MIA, 'Stargate: Atlantis - Fans' Choice' is no more than an Oreo cookie without any cream filling.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM presents 'Stargate: Atlantis - Fans' Choice' on a dual-layered BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. There are three forced pre-menu trailers on startup for 'Stargate: The Ark of Truth,' 'Stargate: Continuum,' and the newest series 'Stargate: Universe.' The U.S. version of the Blu-ray is also locked and therefore will only function properly in Region A PlayStation 3 machines and standalone players.
MGM presents 'Stargate: Atlantis - Fans' Choice' with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) encode for both inclusions on the disc.
Being five years old, it shouldn't really come as a surprise that 'Rising' is the weaker looking of the two episodes. The picture has a minor grain field and some areas appear softer than others, it really depends on the scene. Colors are more subdued and contrast is dimmer, although black levels are fairly strong. Flesh tones and facial features are pretty natural, but detailing isn't as sharply defined as on more recent shows. Dimensionality is also lacking here, which naturally results in an image with less "pop." I noticed a bit of color banding and a few darker scenes have a small amount of digital noise, however there doesn't seem to be any significant use of DNR application or edge enhancement at least.
From what I gather, the last season was filmed in HD, and as such 'Enemy of the Gate' looks better all around. There's a considerable bump in clarity and detailing, plus the image here often has a nice layer of depth. Colors are brighter too, so this one doesn't have as drab of a look. Blacks are deeper as well, and there's more definition in shadowy areas. As with 'Rising,' DNR and edge enhancement concerns should be a non-issue. Overall, most people will be satisfied with both entries, with the finale edging out the pilot.
A lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/16-bit) soundtrack is provided for 'Stargate: Atlantis - Fans' Choice.' Considering the show's chintzy budget, I have to admit I was surprised how well it sounds.
Both episodes seem evenly balanced with each other--having clean and well-prioritized dialogue, if a little on the quiet side in places. Joel Goldsmith's musical score sticks to the front channels, but is still generally pleasing. While the action sequences are the high point of soundstage activity with decent directionality and rumbling explosions in the battles with the Wraiths, there's also noticeable rear channel participation in the quieter scenes. The discreet sounds of the Stargate Command Center are a nice touch, as is the rippling effect of the gateway bouncing from speaker to speaker as Sheppard pivots to take in the new surroundings. While the mix didn't exactly blow me away, I couldn't find much to complain about, either.
'Rising' has alternate French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks, while 'Enemy at the Gate' offers Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish. Both episodes include optional English and Spanish subtitles.
MGM has chosen to produce this Blu-ray as a bare bones release, which doesn't make a lick of sense especially since A) this title is supposed to cater to the fans who'd actually be interested in that stuff and B) the supplemental content is already available on the DVD seasons anyway, so it's not like it doesn't exist. The folks at MGM definitely didn't put their thinking caps on, that's for sure.
In a strange way, 'Stargate: Atlantis - Fans' Choice' kind of defeats its own purpose. The episodes in the release were chosen by fans for fans, but if I really were a fan then I'd much rather have complete seasons on Blu-ray rather than just the bookends of the entire series. On top of this, the lack of extras won't satisfy a fan's hunger, even if the video and audio are decent enough to appease dedicated followers of the show. I suppose hardcore fans may still want to add this title to their collections, just remember the recommendation comes with a buyer beware clause.