Review: Stargate Continuum

Continuum

The following is a review of the direct-to-dvd movie, Stargate: Continuum.  Beware that spoilers abound!

I am an unabashed fan of all things Stargate.  This site has in the past featured reviews of the final Sg-1 episode, Unending , and of the first Sg-1 direct-to-dvd movie, The Ark of Truth.   Stargate was the true succesor to the Star Trek crown, a beloved and long-lived franchise embodying the best of (North) American science fiction.  It was thus with love and anticipation that I viewed the latest, and perhaps final, SG-1 movie, Continuum.

Whereas The Ark of Truth was mean to provide closure for the loose ends of plot left unaddressed due the unforseen cancellation of Stargate SG-1, Continuum was unburdened with such responsibilties, and thus was able to be a stand-alone, self-contained motion picture.  Featuring the talents of now seasoned big- and small-screen veterans, like Christopher Judge, Ben Browder, Beau Bridges and Richard Dean Anderson, and benefitting from a budget large enough to pay for such talent and some state-of-the-art special effects, as well, Continuum unsurprisingly has a big screen feel to it.  Unfortunately, the writing is still very much small-screen, with profound character explorations pushed aside in favour of cute TV-style moments.

Inasmuch as The Ark Of Truth was meant to close out the Ori storyline that dominated the final two seasons of SG-1, Continuum brings closure to the story of the Goa’uld, the original villains of the Stargate universe.  The final Goa’uld system lord, Ba’al, is to be executed.  But Ba’al has a final plan to salvage his life and empire: he goes back in time to prevent the humans from developing a Stargate programme, and uses his knowledge of the future to build an impregnable galactic Goa’uld empire.  Of course, the core of SG-1 –Mitchell (Ben Browder), Carter (Amanda Tapping) and Jackson (Michael Shanks)– manage to avoid being affected by the changed timeline and must convince the leaders of the modified Earth to help them re-set the timeline to its proper continuity.

The science fiction aspects of this story are old hat.  The idea of repairing an altered time continuity has been plumbed in pretty much every SF series of note, and by Stargate itself on more than one occasion.  What’s new here are three things: (1) Continuum‘s movie length allows it to explore the premise with a tad more depth than a mere TV show could; (2) in this version, someone finally mentions the ethical problem with resetting the timeline, specifically that it means affecting the lives –and sometimes preventing the lives– of billions of people who have only known the new timeline; and (3) at one point, the government of the new timeline forced Mitchell, Carter and Jackson to assimilate into the new world, which they do for a whole year.  I wish this last bit was more fully fleshed out.  Ultimately, watching these beloved characters function in such an emotionally and trying environment is more rewarding and interesting than watching them save the universe –yet again– with guns and space planes.

As alluded to earlier, the writing gets jerky at times.  Stargate spent 10 years alluding to a complicated, and possibly romantic, relationship between Jack O’Neill and Sam Cater.  But in a scene in which Jack is shot, Carter shouts, “Sir!” instead of “Jack!”, which is what the other team members shout.  It seemed odd and cold.  In general, emotional depth was missing, and I’m not sure whether to blame the actors, the Director or the writing.  The saving graces in this respect were Richard Dean Anderson, Claudia Black and Willian Devane.  In a fantastic moment, Anderson effectively conveyed the wounded father beneath his smirking, joking facade; Black was warm and nervous as Vala, yet cold and scary as the Goa’uld Kitesh; and DeVane always steals the scene with his simultaneous gravity and charm.

Continuum feels like yet another love letter to the fans, with cameos aplenty.  It features the return of a really aged Richard Dean Anderson (whose rapidly maturing features are in contrast to Ben Browder’s remarkable timelessness), the final performance of the late Don S. Davis (General Hammond), and the return of many of SG-1‘s greatest Goa’uld villains: Camulus, Nirrthi, Yu and even Apophis.  There is a feeling that this will be the final SG-1 movie, which makes it all the more bittersweet.

As an extended tv show, Continuum is really quite good.  As a standalone movie, it falls short of an exciting, epic feel.  The most memorable part, for me, is watching Ben Browder hold a gun.  He’s the only actor I’ve ever seen on TV or in the movies who seems to know how to cradle a shotgun or assault rifle.  It’s actually so noticeable that it’s distracting.

Die-hard fans will love Continuum.  Casual fans with some knowledge of the series and its characters will find it mildly entertaining.  Newbies will be completely lost.  Here’s hoping there’s a third Stargate SG-1 movie.  This die-hard fan sure enjoys them.

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