This was Cinema Blend’s first year at the San Diego Comic Con, and we figured as long as we were there, we might as well do it up in style. So Thursday night we abandoned the sweaty, stinky, nerd infested digs of the San Diego Convention Center, hopped in a Jesus-powered Hamlet 2 pedicab, and paid the son of God 6 dollars to pedal us to an aircraft carrier. Being hard up for money, what with his vow of poverty and all, Christ obliged. Within minutes we stood at the base of the USS Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier now permanently docked and floating in the San Diego Bay.
We were there for the world premiere of Stargate Continuum, a direct to DVD movie spun-off from the ever popular, yet still inexplicably cancelled television series Stargate SG-1. After skipping past all the shlubs forced to wait in line because they don’t have sexy press access, we arrived on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier just as the sun began to set, and the celebrities began to rise.
To our right was a gigantic movie screen, set up on the landing strip, up against the conning tower, with a grand stand in front of it. To our left, a red carpet wedged between two fighter planes, where Richard Dean Anderson, Ben Browder, and the rest of the cast (minus the absent Claudia Black) lined up to endure our questions. Endure them they did (cheerfully even), and we grilled them on the MacGyver movie. All of them. Even though none of them save one have ever had anything to do with MacGyver. Blame Richard Dean Anderson, who suggested we keep asking the question to everyone who came behind him, until we got a scoopy answer. Oddly enough, most of the cast simply looked confused, except for Browder, who cheerfully latched onto the idea of replacing Richard Dean Anderson in yet another role. After all observed Browder, Anderson isn’t getting any younger.
Enough with the celeb humping though, we were there to see a movie. As the last rays of the sun sank below the clouds, everyone, cast, crew, fans, and press alike filed over to the makeshift theater, ogling the stunning twilight vistas all around us. The speakers boomed, the movie started… and I can’t believe I’m saying this but… I liked it.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a Stargate fan. That’s no secret, everyone knows it. I don’t hate SG-1 (though I do hate Atlantis, sorry that thing’s crap), but I don’t really respect it either. I’ve watched plenty of it, and long since dismissed it as yet another one of those throwaway science fiction shows which gets good ratings because it’s easy while better, smarter, and more challenging science fiction like Farscape and Babylon 5 has to fight to stay on the air. Well I’m standing by that assessment of the series, but believe it or not Continuum is definitely a big notch above the average, serialized adventures of the SG-1 team. It’s even, dare I say it, kind of cinematic.
The first thing I noticed, sitting there under the stars, surrounded by retired fighter planes, is that unlike a lot of TV shows, Stargate Continuum really works on the big screen. I know what I’m talking about here. I’ve seen more than a few that way. For instance I love Battlestar Galactica, and have always thought it an incredibly cinematic television show. But when I had the chance to see an episode actually in a movie theater… dammit the whole thing falls apart. It’s perfectly designed for the small screen to give it the illusion of theatricality, but actually put it in a theater and it just looks small and cheap.
That’s probably true of the average Stargate SG-1 episode too, but it’s not true of Stargate Continuum. This thing belongs in a movie theater, and it’s kind of a shame that outside that one night atop an aircraft carrier, the only other place it’ll ever be seen is on TVs.
It helps that they’ve got a solid story. For those of you unfamiliar with the Stargate SG-1 series, it’s all about a team of military types who journey through a portal from Earth which takes them to all kinds of dangerous new worlds. The portal is called a Stargate, and things both good and bad wait for them on the other side. Since this is a movie (albeit direct to dvd), simply teleporting to other worlds isn’t enough, so they had to think of a way to make it bigger and better. As all sci-fi properties seem to do whenever they want a bigger story, they resort to time travel.
It opens with the SG-1 team, plus recently retired from the show character Jack O’Neil (Richard Dean Anderson), attending the execution of one of their most hated enemies. Unfortunately, the execution goes awry, the bad guy escapes through time, screws up the timeline, and the handful of SG-1 team members who get out are the only ones who have a shot at putting things right. To do it, they’ll journey to an alternate future where the Stargate has never been discovered, and back in time to the spot where the bad guy du jour screwed everything up.
The script relies on a few too many coincidences, but it’s full of fun and the cast really throws themselves into it. Richard Dean Anderson seems to be genuinely pleased to be back in this universe, after his pre-emptive departure from the series back when it was still on the air. The more of him they give us, the better. Ben Browder in particular, easily the best actor of the bunch anyway, really shines here, and if anyone is the focus of the story it’s him. In fact he plays multiple roles, something that was old hat for him back in his far better Farscape days, but a skill that’s been woefully underutilized since taking refuge in the rigid world of Stargate.
That willingness to embrace the weird and color outside the norm of the Stargate universe is what makes this so much better than the usual Stargate SG-1 episode. That’s always been my problem with the show, it’s usually so formulaic. Stargate Continuum tosses those formulas out the window for a change, and just goes crazy. Most of the time it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but the result is easily the most entertaining thing that’s ever been done with these characters and this universe, at least since the original movie starring Kurt Russell way back in the mid-90s.
With the screening over we filed towards the stairs and debarkation. As we walked across the fighter deck, San Diego decided we deserved fireworks, and everyone took a break from raiding the last vestiges of the free buffet to enjoy the multi-colored, exploding view. Maybe it was the fresh ocean air, maybe it was the breathtaking scenery, but for one night at least, Stargate made a fan out of me.
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