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Thursday, July 29, 2010

SGU: STARGATE UNIVERSE 1.5 -- DVD review by porfle

If you read my review of the first half-season of "SGU: Stargate Universe", you'll know that I liked it a lot but had certain reservations about it.  Judging from various message board posts and such, I'm sure many viewers felt the same way.  Fortunately, the release of SGU: STARGATE UNIVERSE 1.5 proves what I'd been hoping for--that the previous episodes were slowly leading up to a marked increase in the action and excitement levels of the show and that certain irritating aspects would be eliminated.  Which is exactly what has happened, barring one or two exceptions.

As before, a number of military and civilian personnel are stranded on a city-sized Ancient starship that's on a seemingly neverending journey through the cosmos, stopping for a few hours whenever it encounters a planet with a stargate and then jumping back into faster-than-light speed.  With Colonel Young (Louis Ferreira, DAWN OF THE DEAD remake) in command, the entire group is under military control, which leads to constant conflicts with the brilliant but unstable Dr. Rush (Robert Carlyle, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH) and civilian leader Camile Wray (Ming-Na, ER). 

The professional and personal relationships between them and the rest of the ship's inhabitants generate much of the show's dramatic interplay, including a love triangle between true-blue soldier Lt. Matthew Scott (Brian J. Smith), fish-out-of-water senator's daughter Chloe Armstrong (Elyse Levesque), and the lovestruck Eli (David Blue), a neurotic nerd-savant hijacked into service because of his mad gaming skills.  Alaina Huffman plays Lt. Tamara Johansen, the closest thing to a medic on the ship, who carries some pesky romantic baggage with Col. Young.  And then there's Sgt. Greer (Jamil Walker Smith), who's so gung-ho that he seems to relish the thought of occasionally blowing away a civilian or two just to keep them in line.

The first half of the season spent a lot of time setting up the premise and then meandering along with stories about the hazards related to their mysterious starship and the heartbreak of being away from home while trying to find love among the stars.  But now that the writers have worked some of this stuff out of their systems, the show has gotten into gear and started kicking some ass.  With the appearance of a new race of enemy aliens--spindly blue CGI-generated creatures who covet our heroes' Ancient starship--we finally get some cool space battles (as always, the special effects are gorgeous) and deadly shipboard encounters.  Also, the military vs. civilians conflict embodied by Young and Rush erupts into a full-scale mutiny in one of the season's best episodes. 

One of the main improvements is the absence of those damn Kino diaries, which offered characters the chance to philosophize, navel-gaze, and blubber away precious show time with a blatant and boring writer's convenience.  The formula was pretty much the same every time--the subject fiddles with the Kino camera ("Is this on?"), starts to record a personal diary entry, gets either teary and emotional or speechless with inner turmoil, and then slaps their hand over the lens.  It was one of the worst aspects of the show and to my great relief has now been confined solely to the extras menu where it belongs.  However, we must still contend with the frequent appearance of those contemplative montages set to some truly awful emo ballads.  These really need to get sucked into a black hole along with the Kino diaries.

As usual, Robert Carlyle is the main on-camera talent here and makes the abrasive Dr. Rush a continually fascinating character whom we're never quite sure whether to admire or distrust.  Some insight into his backstory give us a little more understanding of his motives and attitudes.  Louis Ferreira's soulful, haunted Colonel Young holds our interest by going against the "infallible leader" type, playing a commander whose decisions may not always be 100% correct and are often swayed by emotion.  Watching these two characters either butt heads or struggle to cooperate for the good of the crew is one of the best things about the show. 

As the dreaded season cliffhanger (I hate those) draws nigh, Young's suspicion that his arch-enemy Colonel Telford (a solid Lou Diamond Phillips) is a mole for the Lucian Alliance leads to Dr. Rush undertaking a highly perilous undercover mission in Telford's body via the communication stones.  Rhona Mitra makes for a very formidable villain as the ruthless Commander Kiva, who has located another Icarus base and is attempting to dial the elusive ninth chevron.  The story arc which follows combines the pulp sci-fi action and suspense of the other Stargate shows with SGU's own darker edge, culminating in a blazing stargate invasion of the ship, a hostage crisis, and a countdown to total destruction, among various other points of interest.

The three-disc set (10 episodes) from 20-Century Fox and MGM is in 1.78:1 widescreen with English 5.1 Dolby and Spanish Dolby surround.  Captions are in English, Spanish, and French.  Each episode features a cast and crew commentary.  Extras also include about fifteen "Destiny SML" featurettes and several Kino diaries.  (Blu-Ray contains additional extras.)

With SGU: STARGATE UNIVERSE 1.5, the idea of mixing the sci-fi fun and excitement of the earlier Stargates with a darker, more serious sensibility--something which the first half of the season didn't quite pull off--seems to have finally started realizing its potential and yielding some first-rate episodes.  And suddenly the future of this show is well worth looking forward to.

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