What do you get when you combine an all-star cast, a $55 million budget, and a promising sci-fi concept about interstellar wormhole travel? Not much, actually. Stargate had the potential to be a fascinating science-fiction adventure. It has an aliens, astrophysics, Egyptian mythology, even an interplanetary romance. So what went wrong? For starters, they hired Roland Emmerich to direct (he later went on to direct such bombs as Godzilla and 10,000 BC). At the time, maybe the studio didn’t know what they were getting into, or maybe they just wanted a watered down, flashy cliche fest. That’s what they got anyway. What could have been a fun, thoughtful sci-fi flick was taken hostage by the Hollywood system, given some unnecessary explosions and totally predictable one-liners, and came out as an artistic failure. But I can’t completely trash the movie. After all is said and done, it was responsible for a world and a story that would give me hundreds of hours of top-notch TV entertainment.
Three years after Stargate, Showtime aired a follow up to the film with Stargate SG-1. The plan was to run the show for two seasons. It ran for ten, placing it second in longevity for science fiction TV (Doctor Who is first). Some viewers will call SG-1 formulaic, corny, predictable, etc., and they’re probably right. But hey, it’s a science fiction serial. You kinda know what you’re getting into, and SG-1 is great for what it is. With over 200 episodes of course there are some misses, some episodes I wish would have never aired. But as a whole the story is a lot of fun, and there’s actually plenty of science fiction philosophy to chew on. The US Air Force advised the writers on astrophysics, military protocol, and weaponry so there is actually a lot of accuracy in this show. As for the actors, they are no A-listers. They are not masters of their craft. What they are is consistent and likeable, and you’ll grow to love them before all is said and done.
Two 2008 films, Stargate: Continuum and Stargate: The Ark of Truth, are follow-ups to the SG-1 series. I could review them separately but they are essentially just continuations of the series and should be viewed as such. Both are available on Amazon.
Stargate Atlantis follows a group of SG teams to the Pegasus galaxy where they encounter a force known as the Wraith. Little by little the conflict increases and the stakes get higher and higher. Usually spin-offs are short-lived ripoffs of their parent show. Not so with Atlantis. There are similarities, even some copycat action, but there is plenty new here to stay interesting. Unlike its predecessor, Atlantis lacks the profundity of classic science fiction thought. It is more a series of space thrillers–more suspense than philosophy. But like SG-1, it is what it is, and it succeeds mightily.
SGU is the only Stargate series to officially get the axe, but I’m not convinced it deserved it. If SG-1 was science fiction, and Atlantis a thriller, then SGU is the Stargate drama. From the beginning it felt very much like Battlestar Galactica–focused on the human elements of the Universe rather than the alien conflict. The characters are trapped on an ancient spaceship with unknown destination, billions (yes, billions) of light years from Earth and the story has a tendency to keep their struggles on the ship, where tempers would flare up, relationships would develop, and people would have a chance to go insane. There is a sense of claustrophobia about the whole thing. Claustrophobia and loneliness. It is dark and human, and it feels very very real. The series is anchored by some terrific acting, specifically from Robert Carlyle, who is the scientist you hate to love. Given a chance, SGU could have built some momentum and gone places but alas, it just wasn’t in the stars.