Hollywood's film archives overflow with the carcasses of dismal movies based on lame '60s and '70s television shows, a syndrome that shows no sign of abating. But here's evidence that the reverse effect, turning a movie into a TV series, can have surprisingly positive results. Indeed, based on the 21 episodes produced for the first season of Stargate SG-1, it could be argued that this show is significantly better than the 1994 feature it's derived from.The central conceit of the original Stargate--the existence of an artificially created "wormhole" through which one can travel to different worlds light years away from Earth--was an intriguing one. In seizing on the obvious possibilities for expanding on that premise, series executive producers-writers Jonathan Glassner and Brad Wright have smartly retained some of the film's basic elements (its amalgam of myth and theoretical hokum, or the ongoing clash of wills between scientists and soldiers), while adding a variety of fresh ideas (including new characters, new locations, and a welcome dose of humor, much of it supplied by Richard Dean Anderson, MacGyver himself, who replaces Kurt Russell in the central role of Colonel Jack O'Neill). The result is a show with multidimensional heroes and villains and consistently compelling story lines (many of them introduced in the pilot and carried forward through subsequent episodes) balancing excellent special effects and production values. All this and full frontal nudity, too (at least in the aforementioned pilot). Who can resist?
The first season is spread out over five DVDs; the 100-minute pilot shares the first volume with two other episodes, while discs 2 to 5 contain anywhere from three to five shows each. Sound and visuals (in widescreen format) alike will take full advantage of any home system's capabilities. But aside from language and subtitle options, bonus features are limited to brief featurettes that play like commercials and provide little in the way of background information or insight (there are no features at all on the first disc). Then again, if you really want to know what that symbol on Teal'c's forehead means, or why the nasty, parasitic Goa'ulds look a lot like the fledgling stomach monsters in the Alien series, there is no doubt a Web site out there just for you. --Sam Graham
Review of Season Two:
The 1994 movie Stargate was originally intended as the start of a franchise, but creators Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were distracted with Independence Day. Episodic TV treatment was the natural next step. Replacing the roles of Colonel Jack O'Neill (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) are, respectively, Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks. They're joined by Captain Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) and former alien baddie Teal'c (Christopher Judge) to form the primary unit SG-1. With a seemingly endless network of Stargates found to exist on planets all across the known universe, their mission is to make first contact with as many friendly races as possible. Chasing their heels at almost every turn are the "overlord" pharaonic Goa'uld--the ancient Egyptian gods from the original film. The welcome notion of a continued plot thread sees offshoots that follow the reincarnation of Daniel's wife, Sam's father literally joining a renegade faction of the Goa'uld, and Jack in an unending quest to out-sarcasm everyone. Amid a plethora of derivative look-alikes, Stargate SG-1 has held its own with stories that put the science fiction back into TV sci-fi.
Among the second season's 22 episodes, "The Serpent's Lair" concludes the cliffhanger from the end of the first season in a rollercoaster of wit, plot twists, and cutting-edge special effects as the SG-1 team resign themselves to a suicide mission. In the two-parter "The Tok'ra," Sam's estranged father is dying of cancer, but her obligations sway her toward saving a member of the Goa'uld renegade Tok'ra who is also dying. In "Show and Tell," the central story arc takes a dramatic turn when a child arrives to warn that some survivors of a Goa'uld attack are determined to eliminate anyone who might host their enemy--which means Earth as a whole. There's great fun to be had in "1969," with a time-travel plot that loops many aspects of the show's story lines together, and the cliffhanger finale, "Out of Mind," has Jack experience an Aliens-style awakening 79 years into his future. --Paul Tonks
Review of Season Three:
To resolve the season 2 cliffhanger, General Hammond rounds up every conceivable ally to rescue the SG-1 team from Hathor's clutches and gets a much-needed field trip in the process. "Into the Fire " is actually a weak opening for the new year, but does boast some impressive visuals as Hammond and Brat'ac pilot a shuttle through an open Stargate (euphemistically called "threading the needle"). In subsequent episodes, Daniel Jackson is intrigued by the planet Orban's scientific advances over only a few years. An exchange of knowledge is agreed and the precise "Learning Curve" of their children is revealed. Still recalling the original movie, O'Neill is concerned for the siblings because of the loss of his son. In "Demons" some serious lambasting of organized religion occurs in a storyline concerning a medieval Christian village that's being terrorized by a giant Goa'uld servant creature. This episode both brings to light and questions each of the principal characters' beliefs.
"Forever in a Day" begins an important storyline about Daniel's wife Sha're's stolen child who is a "Harcesis," an illegal breeding between Goa'uld hosts. Then an earlier thread is picked up in "Past and Present" on planet Vyus whose people all suffer amnesia. Their leader Ke'ra (played by Megan Leitch who's portrayed Mulder's missing sister in The X-Files) is a link to the earlier "Prisoners" episode and the dangerous "destroyer of worlds". In a two-part cliffhanger, Sam must attempt to rescue her father, face Satan himself on a prison moon, and resurrect "Jolinar's Memories" from the Goa'uld she was briefly possessed by, then "The Devil You Know" reveals an embarrassing secret that could allow the team to escape the clutches of Satanic Sokar. "Pretense" is one of those sci-fi series staples as a character is put on trial to prove their guilt on behalf of another. "Urgo" expands the general sardonic humor with a little pathos for the guest appearance by Dom DeLuise. Lots of slapstick ensues.
"A Hundred Days" is the three months O'Neill spends stranded on planet Edora by the fire rain of a passing asteroid belt. Then in "Shades of Grey" he appears to suffer a total personality switch when he steals technology from the Tollan and is insubordinate in the extreme. Both these are terrific concepts but are scarcely enough story to have stretched across more than one episode. --Paul Tonks
Review of Season Four:
It wasn't until the beginning of Stargate SG-1's fourth season that fans knew to take the Replicator threat seriously. The spidery nasties had only seemed like one of many new enemies introduced in previous years. But when the one seemingly omnipotent backbone of the galaxy was asking Earth for help, clearly we were in real trouble! In fact, the team's list of enemies expanded and got far more complicated this year. Proving without a shadow of a doubt that this is science fiction, the Russians reveal they have their own Stargate program and ask the Americans for help. This twist allows for exploration of all the political machinations occurring behind the scenes of the SG-C, all of which appear to stem from the embittered Senator Kinsey (Ronny Cox).
There were quite a few Earth-based stories in the year, but not all the new enemies were originally local. Willie Garson comically guest-starred as Martin, a geekily suspicious guy with too much knowledge of the Stargate. More sinister was an old flame of Daniel's turning into something far more painful than an old wound (thanks to an ancient Egyptian curse). Thankfully, the writers hadn't forgotten the importance of one-off storylines too. In "Upgrades" the team learns a lesson in abuse of power. In "The Other Side" (featuring DS9's Rene Auberjonois) they learn about blind trust. In "Scorched Earth" a dangerous claim for a planet's ownership means they learn to value Daniel's contribution to the group dynamic. If only this last lesson were learned better, season 5 might not have ended up as muddled as it did. --Paul Tonks
Review of Season Five:
It now seems clear that season 5 of Stargate SG-1 will be remembered as the one in which something went awry with Daniel Jackson. Lots of behind-the-scenes rumors fueled the idea of cast tension, but whatever the problem, his sudden departure from the show was obviously through a quickly contrived scenario. In retrospect, there must have been a problem for some while before the weird penultimate episode ("Meridian"). Michael Shanks looks frequently bored in his rare moments of individual screen time as he infiltrates a Goa'uld meeting and even when making friends with a creature everyone else wants dead. In fact, there's only one point when everyone really seems to be having fun, and that's in the spoof 100th episode "Wormhole X-treme!"
Most shows go through a run-around, skin-of-their-teeth period awaiting renewal, and it certainly seems to have affected storylines this year. For example, a next generation of younger SG teams is introduced. Replacements? The most unfortunate aspect of things, however, was that not a single episode managed to stand alone on its own merits. Every single story was dependent on a part of the greater interwoven warring-species threads. Some of the one-off tales were terrific in and of themselves, but it was as if the writers fell into the trap of having to refer to as much backstory as possible, perhaps to ensure loose ends could be easily wrapped up? Ultimately none of this mattered since the show went on for quite a while. --Paul Tonks
Review of Season Six:
The biggest change for Stargate SG-1's sixth season was its move to the Sci-Fi Channel. Financial rescue or genre haven from cancellation? Whatever the behind-the-scenes politics, the departure of Daniel Jackson (actor Michael Shanks) the previous year most certainly contributed to the need to run a tighter ship somewhere. With the addition of his replacement, Jonas Quinn, the new show dynamic (hinted at by the new title theme) meant far more convolutedly involved story arcs and less individual focus. One of very few solo spotlights came from Christopher Judge writing his own show, when "The Changeling" saw Teal'c act out a life as a fireman. One reason for its being a fan favorite was the cameo from still-alive-after-all Daniel Jackson. There'd be several more through the year, culminating in a finale that relied on how much attention you'd been paying to that all-important back-story. Other kooky cameos included Dean Stockwell in one of the many spotlights on the energy resource n'quadria, Ian Buchanan as one of the devilish Replicators (and hopefully the end of that plotline), and regular spots from John DeLancie, Ronny Cox, and Tom McBeath as the Earth-bound series bad guys. More pertinently, we also saw The X-Files' Byers (Bruce Harwood) as a scientist involved with the Antarctic Gate. Lest we forget, there are other portals on Earth. Is that an already planned spin-off on the horizon? --Paul Tonks
Review of Season Seven:
A gradual shift in overall style, character homecomings and departures, and evolving on- and off-screen roles for the major players are among the attractions of the seventh season of Stargate SG-1. Spread out over five discs, these 21 episodes are ample indication that changes notwithstanding--and admittedly, not all of them are for the better--the series remains arguably the best-made, most compelling sci-fi program on television.
Perhaps most noticeable is the reduced role of star Richard Dean Anderson, who opted to limit his number of trips to Vancouver, where Stargate SG-1 is filmed. But that's not a bad thing. The show's ability to poke fun at itself has always been a strong suit, and while Anderson still brings a welcome sense of humor to his portrayal of wiseacre and loose cannon Col. Jack O'Neill, his act is getting a little smug by now. What's more, the other principal cast members have taken up the slack, both behind and in front of the camera: Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson, who rejoins the cast in episode 1) wrote one episode and co-wrote another; Christopher Judge (Teal'c) wrote one as well; Amanda Tapping (Lt. Col. Samatha Carter) directed episode 19, "Resurrection"; and even Corin Nemec (Jonas Quinn, who appears in just a few episodes) contributed one story.
The seventh season also finds the series somewhat more earthbound than in the past; indeed, there are episodes in which the Stargate (the "wormhole" our heroes use to travel to different worlds) doesn't appear at all. On balance, the stories are more personal, and more political--especially the final two, with the newly elected U.S. President (William Devane) struggling to decide the fate of the Stargate program (and, of course, the fate of the entire known universe as well!). And then there's the ultimate villain, Anubis, who makes perennial nemeses the Goa'uld (of which Anubis is one... sort of) look tame. He's a combination of Star Wars' Darth Vader and evil Emperor, but hey, at least these guys borrow from the best.
Stargate SG-1's production values remain first-rate. The bonus DVD features are also much better than they once were, with audio commentary (mainly by directors and writers) for every episode, as well as director profiles and "Beyond the Gate" featurettes focusing on individual characters. --Sam Graham
Review of Season Eight:
The beat goes on for Stargate SG-1 in this five-disc set containing all 20 episodes from the show's eighth season. If that beat is now a bit more faint than in previous years, that's not particularly surprising when a franchise has been around this long; what's more, if Season 8 has some fairly odd aspects to it ("Threads," which appears to have been planned as the final episode of the entire series, is followed by two more in this set alone… not to mention an unexpected renewal that led to an all-new Season 9), that too isn't exactly unusual in the wacky world of series television.
Some significant changes are apparent in Season 8. Jack O'Neill (series star Richard Dean Anderson) has been promoted to Brigadier General and is now top dog (as he puts it, the guy who "spent my whole life stickin' it to the man" now is the man). The existence of the stargate, an artificially created "wormhole" through which one can instantly travel to different worlds light years away from Earth, is no longer a well-guarded secret. And Stargate Command itself now exists primarily to "develop new weapons and technologies to defend the planet" from our various alien antagonists--principally the "Replicators," relentless little bug-machines poised to take over not only Earth but the entire galaxy.
The rest of the SG-1 core cast (Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge, and Michael Shanks) is intact. But whereas Anderson, who has steadily reduced his role in the show, wasn't much missed in Season 7, one wishes there were more of him this time around; O'Neill's general insouciance and aversion to techno-speak are a welcome antidote to the kind of sci-fi gobbledygook (discussions about "a time dilation field on the planet Hala" and such) that now threatens to take precedence over the action and fine special effects that distinguished earlier seasons. Most of all, while there are still all manner of villains (Anubis, Ba'al, the ever-present Goa'uld) to contend with, as well as a few good guys (the Asgard, the rebel Jaffa) to help our heroes fight the good fight, Stargate SG-1's writers and creators may be running out of steam. Hence we get an episode like the very peculiar "Citizen Joe," featuring Dan Castellaneta as an average guy who sees "visions" (i.e., clips from past episodes) of the SG-1 team in action and becomes obsessed with proving that the whole stargate project really exists; an uneasy combination of self-parody and self-congratulation, this episode, while not unamusing, sticks out like a sore thumb.
Bonus features include audio commentary (mostly by the various directors) on 19 of the 20 episodes, along with photo galleries and one featurette per disc. --Sam Graham
Review of Season Nine:
Stargate SG-1 soldiers on with this five-disc, 20-episode set from the sturdy franchise's ninth season (2005-06), incorporating numerous changes while continuing to distinguish itself as one of the television's best sci-fi shows. Longtime star Richard Dean Anderson makes only brief cameos these days, after seven seasons as Lieutenant Colonel and one as Brigadier General Jack O'Neill. Stalwarts Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge, and Michael Shanks (as Samantha Carter, Teal'c, and Daniel Jackson, respectively), are still on hand, but with Season 9, Ben Browder (known to many genre fans for his lead role in the excellent Farscape series) takes over as leader of SG-1, the Stargate project's ace team in the field. As Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell, Browder effectively projects the same kind of cocky irreverence that was Anderson's trademark, but he has a ways to go before he fully equals the latter's appeal. More engaging is fellow Farscape alum Claudia Black as Vala (Daniel Jackson's one-time love interest and a vixen, thief, and liar who becomes an integral part of the team during the several episodes in which she appears), while Beau Bridges is capable but uninspiring as Major General Hank Landry, who runs the show back on Earth.
Then there are the bad guys. With longtime nemeses the Goa'uld having essentially been eliminated, we now have the Ori, whose agenda of domination through religion provides the season's principal story arc. They're certainly a timely addition. With their "Book of Origin," rejection of free will, and goal of subduing all heretics and "unbelievers," the Ori resemble extreme fundamentalists of various stripes; on the other hand, when the U.S. military talks about crusades and "ridding the galaxy of evildoers," parallels to the Bush administration's war on terror are obvious and unavoidable. Problem is, while we know that the Ori are relentless, devious, and bloated with the pride that always attaches itself to false gods, we can't actually see them. They have semi-human apostles, called Priors, who spread "enlightenment" and bad mojo (not to mention plagues of carnivorous bugs) all over the universe. They have mighty ships that that leave the good guys in dire straits in the climactic battle that ends the season (typically, little is resolved, leaving viewers to salivate for Season 10). But the Ori themselves are kin to the all-knowing Ancients, who exist not in recognizable physical form but as energy; unlike previous villains, from the Goa'uld to the Replicators to Stargate Atlantis' Wraith, when it comes to the Ori, there's no there there. Meanwhile, the writers' replacement of the ancient Egyptian iconography used in earlier seasons with various aspects of Arthurian legend (Merlin, Knights of the Round Table, sword in the stone) is sometimes cool, sometimes merely hokey.
As always, Stargate SG-1's production values and effects remain first-rate, even as the stories become more character-driven and less dependent on spectacular action sequences. The DVD transfers are excellent. Special features are similar to previous box sets: audio commentary on all episodes, featurettes focusing on sets, props, and special effects, and five "directors series" entries devoted to particular episodes. --Sam Graham
Review of Season Ten:
If this five-disc, 20-episode, tenth season set really is the end of Stargate SG-1--and considering the number of reprieves the show has already had and the rumors of various movie spin-offs, not to mention the fact that the final installment is entitled "Unending," who knows?--then the folks responsible for this durable sci-fi series can be proud that they finished it off in style, with a run of episodes that are for the most part highly entertaining, exciting, and fun, offering resolution if not complete closure. And if sharks were jumped, at least they were small ones. As was the case in Season 9, and to a large extent in Season 8 as well, original series star Richard Dean Anderson is little in evidence here. Portraying Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell, Ben Browder, who came to Stargate SG-1 from the underrated Farscape, is now entrenched as leader of SG-1, the Stargate project's ace team in the field, joining series veterans Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge, and Michael Shanks (as Samantha Carter, Teal'c, and Daniel Jackson, respectively). Most notably, fellow Farscape alum Claudia Black has an ever-expanding role as Vala, whose cheeky wit and irreverence bring a consistent spark to the proceedings. The big, bad villains known as Ori are back as well. We still can't see them--they are, after all, "ascended beings," represented by the blind, monk-like Priors, who roam the universe intoning "Hallowed are the Ori" and ensuring that all will submit to their will (the element of scary religious fanaticism remains as relevant as ever). But the Ori are also still the most implacable, irresistible force our heroes have ever encountered; nothing less than the fate of the entire galaxy is at stake (again)! And now there's an added twist: the Ori have a frontwoman, if you will, whose powers make the Priors look like pikers. Known as Adria (or "the Orici" to believers), this beautiful young woman (played by Morena Baccarin) also happens to be the daughter of Vala, whom the Ori chose to bring their demon seed into the world; the uneasy (to say the least) Adria-Vala relationship provides many intriguing moments. On the minus side, the show tends to break its own rules (for instance, for a character who's supposed to be invincible, Adria often seems awfully, well, vincible), and the commingling of Arthurian legend, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian myth, magic, and other sources is occasionally over-the-top, even for this franchise. Some episodes are plot-heavy, bogged down by too many characters (past bad guys like the Goa'uld, and Ba'al reappear, as do several Stargate Atlantis principals in one episode) or excessive techno-rap about time dilation fields, flux capacitors, and something called the Clava Thessara Infinitas (don't ask). Episodes in which the writers move away from the central Ori theme are less than stellar; "200" exists mostly as an opportunity to make fun of the TV business and is as irrelevant and silly as "Citizen Joe," the worst episode from Season 8. And finally, without revealing details, suffice to say that "Unending," which offers a possible fate for our heroes before totally pulling its punches, may frustrate some longtime adherents. By and large, though, Stargate SG-1 has all the elements--humor, action, great effects, good story-telling and acting, characters you care about--to more than justify its ten-year run. It will be missed. Special features are again bountiful, including audio commentary on all episodes, various featurettes, and five "directors series" entries devoted to particular episodes. --Sam Graham