Let me preface this review by saying I was never the biggest fan of 'Stargate.' It's not that I hated it, I just never followed the franchise after the movie with Kurt Russell. I had no idea that 'Stargate' had spawned so many successful spinoffs, but I guess with a core story in which numerous portals transport you across the universe, 'Stargate' can have almost an infinite number of possible storylines to follow. Also, for the longest while I refused to believe that something Roland Emmerich thought up could have such staying power. I stand corrected.
'Stargate Universe,' is a SyFy original show, which I had no idea I would like as much as I did. When 'SG-1' was on TV I caught a few episodes of it, but never really got into it. It was more like 'Sliders,' where each episode more or less stood on its own. Sure there are a few overarching storylines (like the Goa'uld, Anubis, and Ori plotlines), but for the most part each episode featured a new place where the team got into some sort of trouble, prevailed, and came back home.
'Stargate Universe' is basically, at its most rudimentary form, 'Stargate' meets 'LOST.' A group of people have congregated at a base on a nearby planet called the Icarus Base. Here the military and scientists have been trying to dial out to the ninth "chevron." They've only ever been able to get eight of them, but since there's a ninth, it must go somewhere. Robert Carlyle plays the eccentric and demanding Dr. Rush who seems to have one mission only, find the ninth piece of the stargate puzzle. Dr. Rush embeds a highly difficult problem into an online game in hopes that someone out there will solve it. That someone is smart but socially challenged Eli Wallace (David Blue). Eli is whisked away to Icarus Base to help Dr. Rush figure out how to dial the ninth chevron. Senator Alan Armstrong (Christopher McDonald) is visiting the base with his daughter to see how the tax payer's money is being spent. All is well, until the base is attacked by a fleet of alien spacecraft. Dr. Rush sees this as his very last chance to dial the ninth chevron before the base is destroyed and for the purposes of the rest of the series he and Eli do just that. Instead of dialing to Earth and saving everyone, the entire crew of Icarus Base zips through the stargate and onto an ancient abandoned spaceship that has been floating around the universe for hundreds of thousands of years.
We soon learn that the ship was built by the ancients, who also constructed the stargate technology. Millions of light-years from home the cast of characters is now stranded on an empty spaceship without much food, water, or air. I like how each episode continues from the last, much like a serialized drama like 'Lost.' The action takes a backseat to the characters that populate the ship. They must find ways to survive out in space and Dr. Rush and Eli are the only ones smart enough to run the ship. The show does a nice job juxtaposing the scientific parts of the story with the military elements. The military personnel and Dr. Rush don't get along at all, and just a few episodes in you can tell cabin fever is starting to set in. I was surprised that in one early episode the show even discussed how people who drink numerous cups of coffee everyday would fare when thrown into a situation where caffeine was now non-existent. It's little details like that that keep me interested in this show and keep me coming back to visit the characters and storyline I've now come to appreciate.
'Stargate Universe' arrives on Blu-ray with a satisfactory 1080p picture that you'd expect from a cable channel like Syfy. As a matter of fact, I was fairly impressed by it. Never does the show look campy or fake, like those infamous SyFy movies. 'Sharktopus' anyone?
Much of the show is given a subdued color palette as the crew must navigate a spaceship that is almost devoid of light besides the fluorescent lighting. Even the lighting is gloomy though, but what do you expect from a ship that's most likely older than the Roman Empire. It's a good thing that the transfer handles blacks relatively well. Shadows are decent enough, providing good detailed delineation when the image calls for it. There are times where crushing is a factor, but it's never so bad that you'll feel like people are being sucked into an abyss. Most of the awkward crushing takes place during the show's pilot, when the characters first find themselves on the dark abandoned ship. When the crew visits other planets through the 'Stargate' and color is called upon, the transfer does a pleasant job with it. Many instances feature stylized color, as during the episode entitled "Air," where the crew goes to a nearby desert planet to find a substance that will help them fix the oxygen generator in the ship. The colors are overblown and skintones are whitewashed to give that hot, desert look. This is a style choice that works for that certain episode, but when the characters are back on the ship their skintones calm down and become natural and normal (I did enjoy the attention to detail that the filmmakers had in showing the people that went down to the desert planet came back with bright red, excruciatingly sunburned faces). Facial details are refined and edges are, for the most part, well done. They aren't overly impressive, but for a TV show you can't ask for much more detail than what you're given here.
Like I mentioned before I'm always wary of SyFy shows, because their special effects tend to look downright terrible. On 1080p their CGI looks even worse, so color me surprised when I saw a gigantic spaceship flying through space that looked real and interesting. When you first get to the menu you are taken through a CGI fly-thru of the spaceship, and it looks like SyFy spared no expense on the digital effects, which in turn look unpredictably good on Blu-ray. With that said, as the ship flies past, faint aliasing and some micro-blocking can be spotted from scene to scene. Those are the only technical faux-pas I saw, but they can be pretty annoying at times. Haloing and banding are almost non-existent, although I did notice faint banding during the "Air" episode in the light blue sky. These type of oddities seem to be common with a TV show like this, and I was actually expecting them so they didn't catch me off guard or annoy me quite as much as if I would have seen them on a Blu-ray like 'Avatar.'
I was quite astounded with the oomph and sheer force that the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track has during each and every episode. This mix is done well, using every available channel to create a lifelike experience, and a soundfield that truly sucks you in. The rush of the wormhole every time a stargate opens and surrounds you. The attack on Icarus Base in the pilot is full of heavy, room-shaking bass. There's a subtle rumbling through the sub as the hulking spaceship glides through our view. Voices are clear, and concise. The only time dialogue has much trouble is during the scenes where actors are in areas of the ship that echo slightly. Then the dialogue comes off canned and a little askew. Other than that, dialogue is intelligible even during some of the more intense, bass-booming moments. Panning effects, are done to perfection as spaceships, people, and the opening of the stargate move from channel to channel. While the video presentation is sufficient for each and every fan's needs, the audio surpasses expectations and lends a lively mix to the show that always find ways to surprise you.
I've never been into 'Stargate' before. It's just not my thing, but I understand there are a lot of fans out there. Even though I'm not a 'Stargate' fan, I still find myself drawn to this particular series because of its realistic, character-based drama about people being stranded on a lost spaceship. It's got its quirks yes (sometimes I want to up and punch Dr. Rush in the face), but overall this is an enjoyable series that has incorporated a serialized drama structure to keep the viewer interested in what's happening and excited for what's to come. The video is a little better than expected for a sci-fi cable show, but the audio is great and will surely be something that everyone, not just fans, will enjoy. The special features are discombobulated as they're hidden away in the Star Map feature that's more of a hassle than it's worth, but overall this set comes with a light recommendation. If you've even been the least bit interested in seeing this then picking it up isn't a bad idea. For the fans out there, this is a great looking and sounding set, pick it up soon.