Stargate SG-1: Season 1 Review

The Film

I admit it; I was a Stargate SG-1 virgin until I got this set through the post. I had vaguely half-watched the film on its release and was seriously unimpressed. Since then I have watched maybe 10 minutes of SG-1 whilst flicking through Sky channels and never been hooked. Now some may ask, if I am not a hardcore fan of the series then why have I been given this review? Well if you’ll indulge me a second I’ll explain my theory…

It has always seemed to me that TV series released on DVD can be a bit of a closed market. Fans of the series will of course buy it but what about all the Sci-Fi fans (like myself) that have never seen the series? Given the retail price it isn’t really an impulse purchase (Although £40 is reasonable for an entire season). Therefore what we need is an objective review written by a Sci-fi fan and here I am. Just so you know my love of TV Sci-fi ranges from Space:1999 to Blakes Seven, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Sliders so I cover a fair range within the genre (Go and check out some of my TV Sci-fi reviews on here). Anyway enough of my self-justification, on with the review…

Stargate SG-1 was of course spawned from the rather lack lustre film produced by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. The film always left the door open to the possibility of a sequel however relatively weak box office (it was no ID4) meant that the sequel never arrived. Someone evidently saw potential here as three years later a TV series was developed and given a lavish pilot episode called “Children of the Gods”.

The premise is relatively simple, the series starts by explaining that it has been several years since the events in the film and the Stargate has lain dormant for all that time. Colonel Jack O’Neill, now played by Richard Dean Anderson, has retired and only a skeleton crew guard the gate within the mountain complex. Aliens of course infiltrate the understaffed complex and kidnap a female officer before disappearing again.

O’Neill is dragged in and has to explain that he did not destroy the other world as instructed (See Stargate). However tests prove that the peaceful humans are still on the other side of the gate, which begs the question… Where did the Aliens come from? O’Neill is quickly reunited with Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) and together with Captain Sam Carter (Amanda Tapping) they discover that the Stargate actually leads to hundreds of different worlds.

The crew then track down the nefarious aliens and (almost) save the day. During this one of the aliens Teal’c (Christopher Judge) changes sides. The aftermath of all this is that the big bad guys are set up and the Stargate is to be used to explore all manner of worlds using nine different teams. Of course the characters above form the first team, SG-1.

The pilot is one of the best that I have seen and it sets up the characters and the situation/premise effortlessly. My lack of knowledge of the film was irrelevant as the important points were imparted quickly and easily. The use of the Stargate is a clever one in that it allows the series to explore an infinite number of worlds without the restrictions of a spacecraft and Star Trek comparisons.

The series continues as you would expect with a different world visited each week and each one has a different problem to deal with. I have watched the first 7 episodes to prepare for this review and only Emancipation stands out as being particularly weak as it deals with the question of female equality, which seems oddly out of date. The major standout episodes are the pilot, Children of the Gods, The Enemy Within and Cold Lazarus. I have already covered the pilot whilst The Enemy Within is a great continuation of this story and gives us more background into how the aliens possess humans. Finally Cold Lazarus is an outstanding piece of drama let alone a decent piece of Sci-Fi. The exploration of O’Neill’s character and his painful past are handled beautifully and this more than anything got me hooked.

The four main characters are well developed and provide a decent varied base for the human aspect of the storylines. My worries about McGuyver playing O’Neill were baseless as he is probably the best actor and character on the screen. The use of sarcasm, cynicism and sardonic humour make this character very funny to watch and he is also a believable tough guy despite his age (Anderson was 47 when the series began). The alien, Teal’c, is mostly silent and when he does speak it is almost always pure information he spouts. Even so there is plenty of potential here for characterisation and growth. The third main character, Daniel Jackson, is played reasonably well by Michael Shanks. The character doesn’t seem to have enough depth right now and he sounds a little too much on one level a lot of the time but there is time for him to develop. Finally Amanda Tapping plays the token babe, Sam Carter, very well. She avoids the pitfalls that both Jeri Ryan and Jolene Blalock have fallen into, as she isn’t simply a sexy body stuck on the screen to make the teenage boys watch.

The flaws with the series are more to do with the writing than the concept. Sci-fi traditionally has trouble finding its feet in a first season and this one is no exception. Whilst 90% of the dialogue is handled well there are tendencies for it to lapse into soap opera and moralising. The Broca Divide suffers from this and it doesn’t help that Star Trek has handled the concept many times before. Also some of the camaraderie and humour seems a little forced in places… We don’t know these characters well enough yet to be able to joke along with them. However I would guess that most of these problems would have been fixed over the 6 seasons it has been running.

Finally I must mention the production values here. As opposed to other Sci-fi series there is a huge amount of filming done on location. The gates themselves always look impressive when placed in a forest glade or desert. The sets themselves generally look fantastic although I spotted at least two redressed sets within the first few episodes and I am not usually one to notice things like this. The CGI is mostly excellent with only a few establishing shots looking a little forced. Overall the show looks expensive and I sure it was very expensive… definitely worth the money though.

Overall this is a pretty damned good series. The characters work well together and the concept is sound and gives us a wide range of possible stories. I get the impression that the first season is weaker and that it takes a while to find its feet. However it is certainly no worse than Star Trek: The Next Generation’s first season. TV Sci-fi fans should definitely take the plunge and give SG-1 a try if they haven’t already done so. Personally, I am cursing my DVDTimes reviewer status as now I have another TV series to collect on DVD.

The Discs
The curious thing about this release is that normally SG-1 discs are released every month or so as single discs (Vol 25 is due very soon) so to jump back and do Season 1 as a boxset seems a bit odd. I can’t comment on the packaging as my review copies had no packaging or artwork included. The series of 22 episodes (the pilot counts as two) is split over 5 discs, two discs have 5 episodes each whilst the others have 4. The menus themselves are pretty but barren with a simple episode selection or choice to play the disc all the way through. Each episode has a rather measly 4 chapters except for the pilot, which has a much healthier 24. Unfortunately there isn’t a chapter stop immediately after the opening credits so you either have to watch the credits every episode or fast-forward through them.

The picture is presented as 1.85:1 anamorphic as it was originally filmed. Sky show this cropped to 4:3 so it is nice to see the original intended format being presented on the DVD. Unfortunately I wish that the picture itself matched the intentions. The good news is that the picture is fairly sharp and the colours are handled very well, the contrast between the desert and the blue crystals in Cold Lazarus is stunning. The good news stops here however as the bitrate seems to suffer quite badly in places. This results in a lack of shadow detail in quite a few dark scenes and as a result things can look a little indistinct on occasion. The main gripe however is the amount of grain in the picture; whilst this may be intentional it looks to me like it is artefacting. Without checking the negative of course we can’t be sure but certain shots and scenes look very grainy indeed and it detracts from the good points mentioned above. Finally there are rare occasions when the pans are not smooth but judder… this is very odd and annoying.

Here however I was pleasantly surprised. There may not be a DD5.1 track but there is a very decent Dolby prologic track available. The use of the subwoofer during battle scenes is highly impressive and the channel separation is decent if not outstanding. The dialogue can occasionally seem a little quiet but this is the only flaw I could find in this dynamic and impressive track.

None. No trailers, no featurettes, no cast and crew biography, nothing. This is disappointing as the current releases contain commentaries and other extras. It seems that the first season has been neglected whilst the later seasons get the treatment they deserve. The creation of a series is usually interesting to hear about so it is a shame that this opportunity has been missed. It seems that the R1 release is not much better in this regard as it only has a few very brief behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Well despite my initial misgivings that caused me to miss this on its first run I was very impressed by this series. The first season obviously has teething problems, but nothing that a decent writing team can’t solve once they find their feet. As for the boxset… Well the picture is above average despite the problems with grain, however the sound is very impressive. The lack of extras is very disappointing given the treatment of the later seasons. Overall fans should and will plump for this in droves (although those with multiregion should go for the R1 which can be bought for £25-£30 if you shop around). Sci-Fi TV fans should definitely give this serious consideration if they have avoided it until now, although again you may want to search out a cheap copy on R1.

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