Stargate Atlantis: Rising (Pilot Episode) (DVD)

A lost city will rise again.

After enjoying seven successful seasons, it was time for the creators of Stargate SG-1 to branch out with a new series. The resulting spin-off, Stargate Atlantis, took the concept of the series and set it in a new environment with new characters.

The Atlantis pilot was created with the partial purpose of drawing in new viewers, and to further that cause, that introductory episode is now out on DVD. Die-hard Stargate fans already know their feelings about this new series, but how does it fare for a newcomer, stepping into the gate for a first time?

Billions of years ago, there was a race now known as the Ancients, who traveled across the universe leaving behind traces of their amazing technology. The general public doesn’t know it, but a group of international scientists and soldiers have been secretly using this technology to travel to other planets and have all kinds of crazy adventures. This is all thanks to the Stargate, a miraculous doorway that connects Earth to planets beyond.

Now, the team has made a fantastic discovery. A lost city once inhabited by the Ancients is located in the distant Pegasus Galaxy. But this city is actually a gigantic spaceship of some sort—and it once visited Earth. Before you can say “Mrs. Packard,” everyone figures out that this is, in fact, the legendary Atlantis. An elite team of tough guys and geniuses soon transport themselves to the underwater city and start exploring. But Atlantis has run out of power, and our heroes have to head right back through the Stargate again to find a solution before their new home collapses in on itself. On yet another world, they befriend some locals and stir up the anger of the vampire-like Wraiths, who have a hunger for both Atlantis and Earth.

Ah, marketing. Everything about this disc is set up to entice new viewers into this new series. With a Season One box set on the way—there’s even a trailer for it here—the goal of this release is to let Stargate newbies test the waters before jumping in. The pilot starts off with a somewhat awkward action scene, in which a mind-reading chair sends an alien missile after our heroes. Once this is over, though, the writers do a fine job of laying out the backstory about the Ancients and the Stargate, while at the same time letting us know about our hero, wisecracking pilot John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan, Thoughtcrimes).

From there, the story takes off and doesn’t slow down until the end. This is rollicking, high-adventure stuff. The minute everyone arrives at Atlantis, there’s no time for exploration, because there’s instantly a crisis. So, it’s back into the Stargate and off to yet another planet. Once there, we meet the local aliens. But there’s no time to get to know them, because suddenly everyone’s under attack. That’s the pretty much the pace of the entire pilot. It zips right along, never letting viewers catch their breath.

For a cable series with a small but viciously loyal fan base, the production values are excellent. There is an enormous amount of detail in every set, some of which are clearly gigantic. Adding to this feast for the eyes are the costumes, makeup, and special effects. We’ve got space battles, gun battles, Goth aliens, disembodied limbs, and an entire underwater city on the move.

An action romp is good, but one wonders if the story would be better served by slowing down a little. We’re shown that Atlantis has an intelligence of its own, and can somehow tell what the characters are thinking. Further, we’re told that crews of soldiers are out exploring the city. But we don’t get to see any of it. One can only hope that as the show progresses the writers spend as much time investigating the mysteries of Atlantis as they do other planets.

The performers here are still getting to know their roles, thinking of the series to come. As such, the acting is hit or miss. Flanigan does the action hero thing well enough, and Rachel Luttrell (Imposter) shows both strength and wisdom as the alien leader. On the other hand, Torri Higginson (Storm of the Century) comes across rather bland as the team’s civilian overseer. And then there’s Andee Frizell (Deadly Little Secrets) as the villainous Wraith leader. She combines sexiness and creepiness with skill, but tends to chew the scenery a little too much as her screen time goes on.

This was the year that both Stargate series went high definition. As such, the picture quality on this disc is excellent, with sharp details, vivid colors, and deep, solid blacks. Audio is good but could be better, especially during the explosion-laden action scenes. There are no subtitles.

So, this disc is a fine introduction for new viewers. But is there anything here to recommend for the fans? That would be the commentary track with Flanigan and director Martin Wood. The two dish out a lot of behind-the-scenes anecdotes while also pointing out some subtle references to past SG-1 episodes. Flanigan throws out some wisecracks—but perhaps he should stick to battling aliens, and leave the standup routine at home. The brief documentary offers little information about the production of the pilot, but it does cover a lot of Stargate history, so it’s another useful extra for newcomers. The video game trailer and art gallery provide only a slight hint of what the game will be like. There’s also a heavily promotional look ahead to Atlantis’s second season, and trailers for other MGM TV box sets.

There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but at the end of the day it’s still a cable TV pilot. A lot of what happens is just set-up for upcoming episodes. A lot of potential character development is on hold, with the writers knowing they have a whole season ahead to do that. So although there are effects and explosions everywhere, plot and character are slightly lacking. This is chapter one, not a complete story.

This reviewer went into the Stargate franchise mostly blind, and after seeing this pilot, is intrigued. Therefore, this disc did its job. It’s a nice jumping-in point. Fans, however, might want to hold out for the upcoming season box set.

The Verdict

This version of Atlantis stays afloat.

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