A long time ago, there was this great movie called Stargate, which surprised everyone by presenting a smart, well-acted, science-fiction adventure that was accessible to the slobbering masses. It successfully plumbed the tired old Erik von Daniken theories… you know, the ones about aliens visiting ancient cultures on Earth and helping our forebears to build such things as the Pyramids of Egypt (because, obviously, they were too dumb to do it without extraterrestrial help).
Stargate told of US airforce officers travelling to a distant planet by means of a “stargate”, a doorway to a wormhole, to meet a population of humans enslaved by an alien posing as an Egyptian god. For a surprisingly large demographic of viewers who were fascinated by both science fiction and ancient history, Stargate was pure gold.
Interestingly, the movie was successfully translated to the small scene with the creation of Stargate: SG-1, a show whose premise built upon the whole aliens-did-your-grandmother thing by suggesting that the galaxy is teeming with life -human life- brought there by meddling dictatorial aliens. The premise was fantastic and, via the perfect plot device of the stargate itself, allowed for some great adventures.
But Stargate: SG-1 surprised many of us by not just being a Star Trek rip-off or a throwaway weekend adventure show. Stargate was smart and adult. I didn’t discover the show until well into its 3rd season, and was shocked to find stories that were internally consistent and that did not talk down to its audience with meaningless technobabble or “particle of the week”. Facts that we learned about the physics of the stargate were consistently applied and incorporated into actual physics, making the show all the more plausible and exciting.
Stargate quickly became my favourite TV show. I have likened it to “comfort food” because I knew that each week would bring me the intelligence, adventure and good production that I craved in a television show.
Unbelievably, despite repeated threats of cancellation and moves to different networks, Stargate secured a run as the longest continuously broadcast science fiction show in American TV history, capping its 10th and final season with an elegant and intimate finale. Yet many in the mainstream TV-watching audience had never seen an episode or had even heard of the show. Though it was survived by its weaker spin-off, Stargate: Atlantis, the intimacy, quality, respect and intelligence of SG-1 did not resonate with a large enough audience to merit its rescue from the network hitmen.
Clearly, there was a dedicated audience of die-hard fans keeping the show alive all this time. It was to this hardcore group that the first direct-to-dvd post-cancellation SG-1 movie was targeted. Called “The Ark of Truth”, this feature length offering tied up all the loose ends from the last 2 seasons, but wasted no time in filling in a back story for new or casual viewers. This was for dedicated fans only.
Viewed in that context, the movie works fine. The story is simple. The great villains of the last 2 seasons, the Ori, are dead, but their followers persist in their crusade to, of course, invade our galaxy and enslave all humans, etc. The team, minus the beloved and much missed Richard Dean Anderson, must locate the fabled “ark of truth”, which can finally put an end to the Ori threat. This means that they finally get to go to the Ori galaxy, a plot development that allows for some great space visuals.
Shot on 35 mm film and scored beautifully, it has that big screen look and sound. But it still has a small screen feel. And this is a problem. One of my beefs with Stargate is how every alien planet looks like British Columbia, and how every alien society is essentially a bunch of white folks in torn felt, walking around Pioneer Village while speaking without contractions. This was foregiveable in the TV show, with its limited budget and time. But with the new powers granted to a full-length movie, surely some money could have been spared for more believable alien environs? I would have preferred less spectacle and more authenticity.
The story itself is disappointing, complete with my least favourite resolution device, the deus ex machina ending… literally. There were plot holes and lazy elements aplenty, many of which could have been addressed with a bit more screen time. But instead of allowing for that time, there is an extended and pointless scene of one character climbing to the top of a mountain. Yes, it looked great, but didn’t really advance the storyline much.
It pains me to criticize a Stargate offering, but “The Ark of Truth” is lesser than many of the show’s best episodes. But as a two-part episode, it would have functioned well as a broadcast finale on regular television.
Despite its flaws, “The Ark of Truth” accomplishes its goal, to tie up loose ends for dedicated fans. Casual viewers will not find this offering appealing in the least. But this hardcore SG-1 fan was pleased to see these characters flash across my screen once more, and I’m glad I invested the time to enjoy this bit of nostalgia. I have greater faith in the next SG-1 movie, however. Called “Continuum“, I suspect it focuses more on a good story and less on playing with an expanded budget.