Stargate: Atlantis, Pilot (2004) TV Review

Wondering if you should bother with “Stargate: Atlantis” when you’ve never even seen a single episode of its predecessor, “Stargate: SG-1”? Here’s the quick answer: the first 30 minutes or so of the “Atlantis'” pilot will confound you, but the rest won’t. Although the early minutes of “Atlantis” are admittedly heavy on exposition and show lingo, once our heroes step through the stargate it’s basically a brand spanking new sci-fi show, complete with new rules, new villains, and new heroes.

For the uninitiated, “Stargate: Atlantis” is the spin-off series to the long running “Stargate: SG-1”, a TV show starring Richard Dean Anderson. If the title sounds familiar, that’s because the show is a television adaptation of the movie “Stargate” starring Kurt Russell in the role now occupied by Anderson. Now in its eighth season, “SG-1” has proven popular enough (albeit in a cult-ish sort of way) to warrant a spin-off series, thus “Atlantis” was born.

The premise for “Atlantis” is simple: humans are searching for signs of the Ancients, an (as the name may imply) ancient alien race that created the stargates — essentially metal rings that can send a traveler instantaneously across the galaxy by way of artificial wormhole. The goal is to find the technology that the Ancients left behind in order to fight the Gou’ald, an alien menace that seeks to enslave mankind. The Gou’alds are the villains that “SG-1” has been battling for the last 8 years; not exactly a long time, considering that the Gou’alds are an ancient evil, and have been propping themselves up as fake Gods since the dawn of human history.

“Atlantis” follows the adventures of civilian scientist Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson), who leads a new team through the stargate, but this time instead of just going to the other side of the galaxy, their destination is another galaxy entirely. Joining Weir are charming smartass and ace pilot Major John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan), exuberant young Lt. Aiden Ford (Rainbow Francks), and twitchy scientist Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett). Of the cast, Higginson was in “SG-1’s” season 8 premiere , and Hewlett has been in previous episodes of “SG-1”. Genre fans will also recognize Hewlett from “Cube”. There’s also an Irish character that seems primed for the Teryl Rothery role.

The 2-hour pilot introduces other characters, but there’s only going to be a small set of regulars, as is the case with “SG-1”. One of the guest stars is Robert Patrick (“T2”), playing a tough Marine Colonel in charge of the military wing of the expedition. Soon, the team comes into contact with Teyla (Rachel Luttrell), the leader of a band of nomads on a primitive planet. From Teyla, our heroes learn of a new enemy called the Wraith. How bad are these guys? Well, they’ve been terrorizing the entire galaxy for thousands of years and culling the human populace as livestock. Worst, these are the same guys that beat back the all-powerful, all-knowing Ancients!

Fans of “SG-1” will fall easily for “Atlantis”. Not surprising, since the creative forces being “Atlantis” are the same ones behind “SG-1”. While the enemy is new, and the look of the series varies a bit, there’s still a lot of familiarity. The only real distinction between the two series is the Wraith, a species that would give the Gou’alds a run for their money. Whereas the Gou’alds came across as a spoiled aristocracy in dire need of overthrowing, the Wraith looks like they should be running the Gou’alds’ castle dungeons and loving every second of it.

If you were to delve too deeply into “Atlantis”, its most basic construction is essentially a photocopy of “SG-1”. I.e. human explorers battle an alien menace that feeds on humanity with the help of an indigenous warrior who knows the surroundings. Sound familiar? Maybe I’m in a forgiving mood, but I didn’t particularly mind the lack of originality here. For one, the new enemies are pretty cool. The Wraith comes in two forms — the Wraith Queen — a sleek, blue-skinned creature with amphibian features — and her warriors, who looks like the bastard children of the Predator hunters and Klingons.

As the lead, Flanigan is charming and likeable, and is the spitting image of a younger Jack O’Neill, right down to the wiseass one-liners and surprising heroic tendencies. His chemistry with Rachel Luttrell is dead-on, which should infuse the series with sexual tension. Of the cast, Torri Higginson has the least to do, and her scenes consist of her running around the Atlantis station worrying. The pilot’s biggest name, Robert Patrick, was clearly never going to last beyond the premiere, so his ultimate demise at the end is no big surprise. If you are wondering, the reason why most of the cast are unknowns and Canadian is because both “Atlantis” and “SG-1” are shot almost exclusively in Canada.

As a brand new show, “Stargate: Atlantis” has gotten off to a strong start. If you like “SG-1”, there’s absolutely nothing about “Atlantis” that will disappoint you. It’s more of the same, with some minor variations, but it’s still “Stargate”.

CAST: Joe Flanigan …. Maj. John Sheppard
Rainbow Francks …. Lt. Aiden Ford
David Hewlett …. Dr. Rodney McKay
Torri Higginson …. Dr. Elizabeth Weir
Rachel Luttrell …. Teyla Emmagan

Buy Stargate: Atlantis on DVD