The Strongest (But Sadly Shortest) Stargate To Date
Jul 21, 2012
I'll come right out with it: I've typically considered the Stargate franchise a cut below the rest. Now before you immediately close out my review and vote it "unhelpful", allow me to explain. Despite considering myself a bit of a science fiction connoisseur, I could only go as far as labeling the 1994 feature film Stargate, the one that started it all, as merely an average effort. I went to the theater opening-week, owned the VHS tape then DVD incarnation but there was never any real danger of it dethroning such classics as my Star Trek box set collections.
Then there was SG-1, which I considered entertaining enough whenever there wasn't anything better on the tube. It carried on with many of the finer moments of the film, perhaps going as far as improving upon several of them. While it was solid enough for broadcast television, I fear a lack of connection with the characters made it not quite compelling enough to warrant purchase of the colossal 10-season & multiple-movie dvd releases.
I did however purchase and toured the complete Atlantis release and found that to be an improvement to the franchise. It was still a bit too quirky for me to be considered genuine competition for say Star Trek, Firefly or Farscape but it did have some pretty interesting moments/ characters along the way of its 5-season story arc.
This brings us naturally to 2009's Stargate Universe. Met with fairly lackluster critical response, I remember watching an occasional episode on SyFy but found it difficult to get into on account of the serial nature of the prose. Having not been a part of it steadily, it was a bit too much to follow as a casual observer. Once MGM decided to release the entire show across two box sets, I decided it was time to add the final chapter of the Stargate franchise to the collection and let me start by saying that I'm extremely glad I did.
SG:U follows the adventures of a present-day, multinational exploration team who "gate" onto an Ancient spaceship known as Destiny, which happens to be multiple-millions of light years outside the Milky Way. A good part of the plot centers on the crew's discovering secrets of the massive vessel while hoping to find a means of returning to Earth.
Like all Stargate entries prior, there is no shortage of alien races and technology to help & hinder our crew of humans along the way. This show, however, is certainly the most serialized of all the SG entries, truly coming off as a single story thread that just so happens to span 40-episodes. Additionally, because the core of the tale takes place on an alien spacecraft, the reliance upon the stargate itself is certainly not the center-point of each episode as it's been in entries past.
The show is often considered the "darkest" of the franchise to date- a seemingly dual-purpose description as it tackles some themes (like homosexuality) rarely covered in the mythos as well as having the distinction of being the darkest set/ lit; after all it does take place in space a majority of the time rather than on earth or in a sprawling cityscape.
The characters in this show take a bit longer to accept than those in entries past but once the first few episodes are underway, the dynamic proves very, very effective. I may go as far as to say some of the most memorable and likable characters of the franchise to date. Not to worry if you find yourself missing series staples General O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) or Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), as each make appearances here as do some of our favorite Atlantians (Dr. Rodney McKay played by David Hewlett for example).
You've surely heard such buzzwords as "dark & edgy" used to describe the show but I would counter these claims by reminding that this series served to fill the void left by Ronald D Moore's reimagined Battlestar Galactica and, when compared directly, is far less sexual, violent or as alcohol swilling/ cigarette smoking dependent. Of course the flip side to this is that there are undeniable influences of BSG present in SGU: Gritty/ character driven drama set in deep space, themes of survival outweighing exploration and the desperation of being cut off from one's home world. Additionally the show makes use of the almost "documentary" style of shooting that comes with more handheld shots/ jitters rather than the laser precise steadycam stuff of big budget motion pictures.
Pacing starts off a bit slow & cobby as is expected (the opposite of BSG in fact; which started off downright explosive and concluded fairly anticlimactically) but builds into 43-minute episodes that flow with orchestral precision. By the time season 2 gets underway, the formula is absolutely perfected; with episodes that conclude with just enough of a cliffhanger flavor to crave "just one more episode" even when it's 3:00am and you have to be up in a few hours.
Addressing the darkness (looks) of the show- I can attest that the broadcast of the show did indeed seem poorly lit but the situation is nearly completely remedied by high definition. The Blu-ray reveals details that were otherwise lost to the shadows of course but even the standard DVD when viewed on a high def television through an upscaling DVD player looks remarkably better than the standard def broadcast in terms of contrast.
In conclusion the biggest tragedy here is that the show has the unfortunate distinction of being the shortest-lived of the Stargate television franchise (2 seasons compared to Atlantis' 5 and SG-1's 10). Make no mistake though; this is in no way a reflection on the quality of the show itself, which, in my opinion anyway, is by far the strongest of the trio. The full-time space element finally pushes the Stargate franchise into more traditional space opera territory, a good thing in my opinion, without sacrificing the show's reliance upon mythology, alien technology and just a tad bit of zaniness usually absent in hardcore science fiction. Perhaps the New York Times' Mike Hale put it best when he said that with Universe, Stargate was finally "catching up" to the long-running Star Trek franchise.