Stargate Universe – SGU: Season 1.5 – Blu-ray Review

When last we left the not-so-merry castaways aboard Destiny, Colonel Young had a showdown with Dr. Rush, leaving the scientist stranded on a deserted planet. But what looked like the end of his problems turned out to be just the beginning, because, even though the humans aboard Destiny want nothing more than to leave the ship, powerful forces in the universe want the vessel and don’t care who or what gets in the way of their prize.

Stargate Universe continues to focus on the human drama, but the science fiction elements are increasing and the external conflicts greater. This makes for a fine balancing act that the series performs incredibly well. Each conflict inspires or reflects an inner struggle happening within the crew members, and this human interaction, this display of what William Faulkner called “the human heart in conflict with itself” adds depth and sets Universe apart from the other shows in the Stargate family.

Everything about this show is top-notch. The writing is enjoyably complex, setting up difficult moral quandaries and not shying away from the hard answers. For example, some members of Destiny’s crew get the chance to live on a habitable planet for approximately one month before the ship jumps back into hyperspace. A few of these people come to believe that the planet is a gift from a God, placed there for them to find.

Working from this belief, they want to stay instead of rejoining the rest of the crew. This puts Colonel Young in a delicate position as the people planetside are a mix of military and civilians, and while he can’t order the civilians to leave, he can’t ignore any of his soldiers going AWOL. That episode combined the typical social and political issues that are at the heart of Universe with questions of religious beliefs and faith. It will be interesting to see if it comes up again later in the series or if this was just a one-time tale about religious zealots.

The complexity of the writing is matched by the complexity of the acting. Even though he’s a complete bastard, I can’t help but love Robert Carlyle as Dr. Rush. Considering it says this on the back of the Blu-ray case, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by letting you know that his character does return. The interplay between him and Justin Louis’ Colonel Young really make the show, as does David Blue’s performance as Eli Wallace, the slightly overweight resident nerd genius. His character could easily stray into Wesley Crusher territory, but he escapes it with a vulnerability and basic decentness that makes you root for him.

Or maybe it’s just that we slightly overweight nerds need to stand together. I could go on pretty much name every other actor in this show for recognition of their skills (Jamil Walker Smith as Sgt. Greer has some amazing episodes in this half of the season), but that would get tedious. Suffice to say, this is an impressive cast.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the show’s look. SGU drastically differs visually from the other Stargate shows. The set design and lighting create a dark, oppressive, almost claustrophobic atmosphere, and the use of shaky cam and lens flares help make each episode feel raw and immediate, highlighting the danger and tension the characters experience every day. The special effects tend to blend in the background but in a good way because they don’t take the emphasis away from the characters. In many ways Stargate Universe is atypical for a science fiction show in that it strives to be subtle, and that makes it a welcome change of pace for fans like myself that like a bit of variety in one of our favorite genres.

Season 1.5 picked up right where 1.0 left off and ran off to the stars. The adding of more external conflicts make this an even more exciting show than before, but it’s the continued focus on the human drama that makes this a show worth watching and my favorite series in the Stargate franchise.

Each episode is presented in Widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with the audio in English 5.1 DTS-HD and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided for the hearing impaired and non-English speakers. As far as the video quality goes, this show is top notch, but the audio leaves a lot to be desired. Like many movies and shows these days, the sound can’t stay at a reasonable level. The sound effects and the music would blare and I’d have to turn down the volume only to have to turn it back up again to hear the dialogue. I halfway considered turning on the subtitles just so I didn’t have to constantly play with the remote. I don’t know why this is so difficult to do, but DVD and Blu-ray producers need to fix it.

Like season 1.0, 1.5 is chock full of special features, most of which I could do without. The chatting with the cast featurette was fine, even though it really didn’t give me any new information, and the audio commentary was enjoyable to listen to just for the fact that it’s obvious that the cast and crew get along very well and really seem to enjoy working on this show. That and I find it hilarious that Lou Diamond Philips refers to himself as “LDP.” The game included was a nice touch, but not that fun to play.

SGU is science fiction at its best. It’s a strong, compelling human drama that happens to take place on an ancient (and Ancient) ship hurtling without a pilot through the cosmos, and, given that this season ended on a cliffhanger, I can’t wait for season 2.0 to begin. Highly recommended.

MGM Home Entertainment presents Stargate Universe 1.5 . Starring: Robert Carlyle, Justin Louis, Brian J. Smith, David Blue, Alaina Huffman, Jamil Walker Smith, Elyse Levesque, Jennifer Spence, Ming-Na, Lou Diamond Philips, Michael Shanks, Richard Dean Anderson, and Julia Benson. Running time: 537 minutes. Rating: G. Released on DVD: July 27, 2010.