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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/21/01

Stargate SG-1: The Complete First Season
1997-98 (2001) - MGM

review by Brian Ford Sullivan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Stargate SG-1: The Complete First Season Program Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C-

Specs and Features

981 mins (2-hour pilot and 21 episodes at 46 mins each), NR, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), 16x9 enhanced, 5 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging with library slip case, character profiles (for Captain Carter and General Hammond), behind-the-scenes featurette with the producers of Stargate SG-1, costume design featurette, promotional trailers, cast and crew featurette, program-themed menu screens, scene access (pilot has 24 chapters, episodes have 5-8 chapters each), languages: English, French and Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Back in 1994, the talk of the science-fiction screen was the long awaited team up of Kirk and Picard in Star Trek: Generations. Barely a month before that film's release however, another sci-fi film (from the then mostly unknown screenwriting/directing team of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich) named Stargate opened and quickly became the sleeper hit of 1994. Blending elements of Indiana Jones and Star Wars, the Kurt Russell/James Spader led flick ended up grossing just a few million less than the seventh Trek feature, making future Stargate adventures a distinct possibility. When a sequel couldn't be worked out with the original creators (they went on to a little flick called Independence Day) the franchise was realized in the form of a television series for pay-channel Showtime.

Currently gearing up for its fifth season, Stargate: SG-1 is one of the most successful science-fiction series on television, with its syndicated offerings constantly placing the series in the number one slot for first run dramas. There's even work being done on a new movie featuring the SG-1 cast. It's no surprise then, that now seems like the perfect time to release the series on DVD, and MGM has put together a fantastic boxed set of the first season for your viewing pleasure. The set includes all 22 episodes from the show's inaugural 1997-98 season, with a sprinkling of extras that we'll talk about in a second.

One of the most interesting facets of the series has been its ability to reconcile itself with the source film - something that takes a doctoral thesis in the case of many other series based on feature films. More or less, Jonathan Glassner and Brad Wright's vision of the series is an extension of what we've learned in the first film. Thousands of years ago, an alien visited Earth and took the form of the Egyptian god Ra (with a pyramid shaped ship and everything), forcing the populace into slavery to do his bidding. To help facilitate the process, Ra constructed a "stargate" that would connect Earth to Ra's mysterious home world, where slaves would be transported to mine resources and serve his will (being that travel between the worlds would take too long by ship). Fast forward to the early 20th century, when remnants of the stargate are uncovered in an archeological dig and a top secret military project is launched to find out the secrets of the gate.

Enter Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader in the film, Michael Shanks in the series) an archeological pariah who has been ostracized for his radical views on the origins of the pyramids. Jackson was recruited by the Stargate project to help decipher the gate's strange markings. When he eventually succeeds, the military decides to send a team through the gate led by Col. Jack O'Neill (Kurt Russell in the film, Richard Dean Anderson in the series), a defeated military retiree recovering from the death of his son. You know the rest - they go through the gate, meet up the descendants of the original slaves, Ra shows up, big battle ensues, Ra is killed and peace is restored to the galaxy. Or, as they say, so we thought...

A year after Ra's death, the Stargate project has been mothballed and left as a storage relic under NORAD. That is until the gate mysteriously activates itself and someone bearing a striking resemblance to Ra appears, killing most of the soldiers guarding the gate and kidnapping one of the female officers. The commanding officer, Gen. George Hammond (Don S. Davis), decides to contact the original Stargate team members and put together a mission to look into the attack. It's here that we're reintroduced to Col. O'Neill and meet Dr. Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), a resourceful scientist assigned to the team.

O'Neill seeks the aid of Daniel Jackson, who stayed behind on Ra's planet (now called Abydos) and married a local girl named Sha're (Vaitiare Bandera, taking over for Mili Avital's role in the original film). It's there that we discover that Jackson has learned quite a lot about Ra, his race and the stargate. It turns out that the gate doesn't only go to Abydos - it in fact goes to thousands of places across the galaxy. Furthermore, Ra wasn't alone - he was part of a parasitic race called the Goa'uld, many of whom had all taken the form of the various gods in Earth's history. In this case, that god is Apophis (Peter Williams), the serpent god and Ra's rival in the Goa'uld system of lords.

Apophis has been a busy boy since the death of Ra, and is currently looking for new hosts for his wife and children in an effort to increase his stranglehold on the galaxy. Interestingly enough, descendants of human beings have been scattered across the entire galaxy, making the "aliens" the team will meet all too familiar. Since the "gods" forbade any advances in technology, the civilizations the slaves were taken from have remained more or less intact over the years, providing an interesting catalyst for future episodes.

It's on Abydos that the team is attacked and Sha're, as well a local boy named Skaara (Alexis Cruz - the only original cast member to return) whom O'Neill had previously befriended, are kidnapped. This puts into course one of the major plot threads for the next several seasons - the quest to get them back. Thanks to one of the injured soldiers' good memory, the team learns the destination code to where Apophis has come from and sets on their way. The group winds up on Chulack, Apophis' base of operations.

It's not long before the team is captured and Apophis' plan is revealed - Sha're and Skaara will be used as the hosts for Apophis' wife and son. It's only through the intervention of a disgruntled guard Teal'c (Christopher Judge) that the team manages to escape and go after Apophis. During the commotion it's revealed Teal'c is a Jaffa - a human incubator for one of the Goa'uld parasites. In exchange for carrying the infant Goa'uld to maturity, Teal'c is given great strength and long life. Over the years Teal'c had grown tired of Apophis' evil ways and O'Neill now offered him a chance to change things for the better. The team manages to free the refugees Apophis has imprisoned in his search for new hosts but not without a price - both Sha're and Skaara are implanted with Goa'ulds and manage to escape. The group returns to Earth with their new knowledge and mission in mind.

With all of the events fully digested, the Stargate program is re-opened with nine teams (named SG-1 through SG-9) set to explore these new worlds the gate goes to, as well as track down Apophis and thwart his plans. SG-1 is composed of O'Neill, Jackson and Carter (as well as their newfound ally Teal'c). And so the adventure of a lifetime begins.

As I said before, it's interesting to see how well the series gels with the movie. The only notable difference is that Ra wasn't the last of his kind and the "true" form of the Goa'ulds ha switched from the Roswellian "greys" to parasitic worms. Any other differences are explained thoroughly in the pilot and future episodes, making the overall product feel quite researched and thought out. The show routinely refers to previous episodes in similar ways, not so much to push along an overall story (which happens anyway) but also to illustrate that these adventures aren't stock cookie cutter stories that never intersect.

As far as characterization goes, the series lets go of the more rigid concepts from the original movie. O'Neill is no longer portrayed as morbidly depressed but rather now more of a functioning wisecracker. The same goes for Jackson, who is seen more as an authority than just a "bookworm." Both of these portrayals are in keeping with the how the events of the film would have changed the characters for the better. Again, this makes the transition feel a lot smoother.

Let's talk about the contents of the DVDs. Each disc contains roughly 3-5 episodes from the first season, complete and in order. And those worried that the episodes would be the trimmed ones used in syndication should have their fears quelled - these are the original, uncut Showtime episodes despite using the alternate opening sequence (featuring images of the cast and action sequences) from the syndicated episodes. Don't worry though, you can find the regular Showtime opening sequence (a simple tracking shot of an Egyptian headdress) on the pilot episode. These "uncut" episodes offer up all the occasional bad language heard in the series, as well as the nude scene from the pilot. I should note that MGM's episode numbering system is a little confusing considering that the series was packaged for syndication as 22 episodes (the pilot was split into a two part episode) but appears here as a two-hour pilot and 21 episodes, with The Enemy Within starting as episode 1. Making matters even more confusing is the fact there is no episode 3. The disc jumps in numbering from episode 2 - Emancipation on Disc One to episode 4 - The Broca Divide on Disc Two for no particular reason. So when I refer to the individual numbering system for each episode, I'm using what MGM has labeled on the discs, not the episode number aired.

Disc One starts with the two-hour pilot Children of the Gods, which sets up the status quo for the series. It's followed by Episode 1, The Enemy Within, featuring the events that spiraled directly from the conclusion of the pilot. Closing out Disc One is Episode 2, Emancipation, where the team encounters a Mongolian civilization that has gone unchanged over time.

Disc Two features five episodes starting with Episode 4,The Broca Divide, where members of SG-1 are infected by a virus that reverts them to their primal states. The episode is of note because it introduces us to Dr. Janet Frasier (Teryl Rothery), a recurring character on the series. It's followed by Episode 5, The First Commandment, where SG-1 must stop a renegade SG team. Next up is Episode 6, Brief Candle, where the team faces another "disease gone mad" this time concerning O'Neill rapidly aging. In Episode 7, Cold Lazarus, the team encounters an alien creature that takes the form of a blue crystal. Episode 8, Thor's Hammer, rounds out the disc and features Teal'c encountering a device that can remove his Goa'uld symbiote. The episode also introduces us to the recurring character of Thor who appears in later seasons.

Disc Three starts a trend to more character based episodes starting with Episode 9, The Torment of Tantalus, which features the re-appearance of Catherine Langford (the little girl who grew up to lead the Stargate program from the film, now played by Elizabeth Hoffman, taking over Viveca Lindfors' role). Next up is Episode 10, Bloodlines, which has Teal'c returning home to Chulack where he finds out the price his family has paid for his betrayal of Apophis. It's followed by Episode 11, Fire and Water, where Daniel is presumed dead after a mission gone awry. Next up is Episode 12, The Nox, which introduces the team to seemingly primitive race of people that turns out to be quite powerful. Closing out Disc Three is Episode 13, Hathor, where we meet a new Goa'uld villain - Ra's wife Hathor (Suanne Braun).

Disc Four begins a trend of introducing a lot of concepts and characters to the Stargate mythos beginning in Episode 14, Cor-Ai, where Teal'c stands trial for his crimes as First Prime of Apophis. It's followed by Episode 15, Singularity where the team finds an entire planet wiped out aside from a seemingly innocent girl named Cassandra. Next up is Episode 16, Enigma which introduces us to an advanced culture called the Tollan whom are on the brink of destruction. Following that is Episode 17, Tin Man, which has the team replaced by robotic duplicates (while pretty much a stand-alone episode, the duplicates go to appear in a future episode of the series). Rounding out this disc is Episode 18, Solitudes, where O'Neill and Carter are trapped on an icy planet together with no hope of rescue.

It's in Disc Five, the final in the set, that things really start to pick up with a four part episode (the conclusion to which is the second season opener). Part one is offered up in Episode 19, There But For the Grace of God, which finds Jackson transported into a parallel world where Earth is about to be attacked by Apophis' ships surrounding Earth. It's here he meets "mirror" versions of the all the series regulars the most interesting of which is Teal'c whom thanks in a neat twist of fate turns out completely opposite than we've encountered before. It's followed by part two of the arc, Episode 20, Politics, where after narrowly surviving the previous episode's events Daniel pulls a Chicken Little with the SG-1 team about the impending invasion, none of whom believe his claims. Making matters worse is an obstinate senator (Ronny Cox) who threatens to shut down the Stargate program. The disc and season one conclude with part three of the arc, Episode 21, Within the Serpent's Grasp, which thanks to some neat plotting has the team getting a jump start on Apophis' invasion, prophesized in the previous episodes.

Let's talk about quality. Each episode is presented in its original 1:78 widescreen aspect ratio, something they did not appear in during their runs on Showtime or syndication. While obviously not too big a deal (not too much is cropped out for the 4:3 broadcast presentation), I found seeing the episodes this way to be an eye opening experience. Overall the video is giant leap above the broadcast airings, despite an overall soft feeling to the transfer, not to mention some artifacts and grain. Best of all, the discs are presented in full anamorphic widescreen for 16x9 displays - pretty impressive. The sound is presented in a nice Dolby 2.0, which serves the action sequences and musical score very well. This is particularly evident in the battle sequences, featuring the "Oh, I wish I had one" staff weapons and death gliders. Again, this is pretty much what you'd expect in terms of quality when you bring TV quality to the DVD format.

While fans of The X-Files saw their season sets packed full of goodies, the supplements are pretty sparse here. The set does offer a handful brief featurettes across the discs, which focus on a particular aspect of the show's production. Disc Two offers up the general featurette used to promote the show for its original Showtime debut as well as two brief promotional spots. Disc Three features a profile featurette on General Hammond's character. Disc Four contains two brief featurettes - one a character profile of Captain Carter and a brief Q&A with the series' producers. Finally, Disc Five offers a featurette that looks at the show's costume design and features clips from all four seasons of the series. Each of the featurettes runs from four to six minutes. It would have been nice to have more character profiles and perhaps even a history lesson when it comes to Egypt and the gods mentioned on the show. Even the commercial spots for the series aren't included or even a text description of the episode. Obviously, something like a commentary over the pilot would have been nice too, as there's lot of tidbits I'm sure fans of the series would find interesting (did you know the series is the only TV show to be officially sanctioned by the U.S. Air Force protocols?). Sadly, we have to settle for this tiny handful of featurettes. Disappointment all around for sure.

Despite these downfalls, I can't quite say there's no reason not to buy the set. While the set's MSRP runs around $90, you can find deals online to bring your price down to the $70 range, making each episode only cost a few dollars to you. Plus with Discs Three-Five still not available for purchase outside this set, it seems like this boxed set is the best deal possible to get all the episodes from the show's first season. Overall though, Stargate: SG-1 is easily one of the best science-fiction series on television right now and MGM has done a nice job in giving you a chance to see the complete package.

Brian Ford Sullivan
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