Judge David Gutierrez considers Stargate: SG-1 a diamond hidden inside a massive heap of sci-fi coal.
Our reviews of Stargate SG-1 (published March 6th, 2000), Stargate SG-1: The Complete Second Season (published September 3rd, 2002), Stargate SG-1: The Complete Third Season (published June 27th, 2003), Stargate SG-1: The Complete Sixth Season (published July 12th, 2004), Stargate: SG-1: The Complete Ninth Season (published November 29th, 2006), and Stargate SG-1: Children of the Gods (published July 21st, 2009) are also available.
"My depth is immaterial to this conversation."—Teal'c
I hate most of what's considered science-fiction. Despite its reputation for reflecting and commenting on contemporary society, science-fiction often becomes a series of worthless plot devices hidden behind deux ex machina and technobabble. I find most sci-fi to be vapid and transparent, employing humorless dialogue and elementary storylines. Maybe I'm crazy, but I adored Stargate SG-1: Season Seven.
Facts of the Case
Stargate: SG-1 deals with military-sponsored expeditionary teams that explore worlds and dimensions through a Stargate, a device left behind on a number of planets by a powerful alien race called the Ancients. Imagine a telephone that allows a person to materialize at the other end of the line—that's a Stargate. The SG teams are looking for weapons or allies to aid them in their fight against the oppressive race of aliens called the Goa'uld. The Goa'uld are based upon (or the basis for) ancient Egyptian mythology.
SG-1 are Colonel Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson, MacGyver, the cracking wise field commander; Major Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping, The Void), a genius pilot and scientist; Teal'c (Christopher Judge, House Party 2), the obligatory race traitor/assimilator and resident alien/Jaffa; and Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks, Sumuru), a studly archeologist and former ascended being. Leaving SG-1 is Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec, Parker Lewis Can't Lose), proving he can lose because the person he replaced comes back.
Of all the SG teams, SG-1 gets into the most trouble and has more than its share of dangerous encounters. As the seventh season unfolds, SG-1's main concern is to end the reign of oil-faced Goa'uld Anubis and discover the whereabouts of the Ancient's Lost City. Since SG-1 appears to be cursed, nothing is easy and many terrible things will happen to them along the way.
Stargate SG-1: Season Seven never lets up. From the moment the first episode begins, a multi-part story involving aliens, death, lost civilizations and politics unfolds. Unlike most sci-fi shows, Stargate: SG-1 leaves few stones unturned and usually makes sense. Outside of the obligatory device where every civilization speaks English, the show thinks things through. For example, scientists and scholars join the expeditionary teams. Does it make sense that a bookworm would be built like an Olympian and be proficient in small arms and automatic weapons? Probably not, but these are small, forgivable offenses.
The show surpasses the movie on which it is based. Watching Stargate I thought, "This isn't Stargate. That is not Daniel and that is definitely not Colonel O'Neill. This is crap." The original source material was far inferior to the twenty-plus hours of Richard Dean Anderson and company I'd just plowed through. It felt so uninspired and empty by comparison. It's the difference between being with the one you love and loving the one you're with. It's cheating on your hot wife with the ugly girl from the video store next door with the gnarled teeth and lazy eye.
The highlight episodes this season are anything related to the Anubis storyline and "Heroes" parts 1 and 2. At the risk of giving away one of the emotional peaks of the season, "Heroes" will make a viewer feel for one of the lesser known characters on the show. Even the clip show, "Inauguration," is one of the better outings this season. Through genius stunt casting that includes Ronny Cox (Robocop), William Devane (24), Robert Picardo (The Wonder Years), and James McDaniel (NYPD Blue), the episode creatively explores the political ramifications of an intergalactic travel device. Don't miss this one.
To me, the series comes together in its final episode, "Lost City." The four main members of SG-1 gather in O'Neill's home and drink beer, and the characters are allowed moments of comedic grace. It is a great team moment that doesn't involve blowing something up.
Casting is one of the great strengths of the series. Richard Dean Anderson plays a military man who isn't a stiff and doesn't take himself too seriously. As Teal'c, Christopher Judge does more with an eyebrow and a nod than most actors do with full monologues. It took longer for me to warm up to Michael Shanks' Daniel Jackson than any of the other characters. However, I have figured out Shanks' acting method: End every line with furrowed brow, a squint, rapid head nods, or an underbite jaw-clench. Amanda Tapping is a goddess. She's a genius goddess and an amazing director to boot. Watch for the scene where Major Carter hums the theme song. It will bring a smile to your face. Don S. Davis (Major League) as General Hammond from Texas is my favorite of the bunch. I believe that this man is a general. It's too bad that coming seasons won't allow for much Hammond. He can carry his own show.
Stargate: SG-1 is blessed to have director Martin Wood. His episodes feel like short features instead of standard television shows. He rivals such talented directors as David Nutter (Smallville) and Jon Cassar (24). Wood can stage both strong acting scenes and those requiring heavy special effects. I especially appreciate his use of the steady cam and his allowing a scene to play out without heavy cutting.
The special effects are something to behold. The show never looks cheap and doesn't skimp on the effects budget. The space battles and the final battle over Antarctica are amazing. It is easy to take for granted the beautiful Stargate activation when everything looks as wonderful as it does.
The DVD set is heavy on the extras. Every single episode has a commentary track by the cast and crew. Not every commentary is solid, but they are generally full of information and trivia. Richard Dean Anderson, Chris Judge, and Don S. Davis are absent from these sessions. It would be nice to hear from any of these three. Also included on each disc are "SG-1 Directors Series" featurettes. Each spotlights an episode and allows its director to discuss production trivia. While they aren't necessary to enjoy an episode, they do touch upon how the episodes are forced to change. . Strictly for hardcore fans of the show, the "SG-1 Beyond the Gate" series interviews each of the four main cast members. Finally, each disc contains a Photo Gallery that depicts stills from various episodes. I've never been a fan of photo galleries and these didn't do anything to change my mind.
Visually, MGM has done a tremendous job on this series. Presented it its 1.78:1 format, the series looks phenomenal. I did notice some problems with heavy darks, but these occasions are fleeting enough to dismiss them. The show sounds equally great. There are tons of explosions, and we clearly hear them all. Dialogue sounds perfectly crisp, with no muffled words or hissing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some of the episodes are skippable. The final battle in "Homecoming" is a blatant (and admitted) rip-off of the final battle in Return of the Jedi. I hate it when theft is glossed over as homage, as it is here. It's bad storytelling. I expect more from such a talented group of writers.
Here's my suggestion to the producers of Stargate: SG-1: Don't let your cast write for you. The weakest entries of the season were penned by cast members Corin Nemec, Christopher Judge, and Michael Shanks. Maybe it's contractual, who knows, but the worst of the lot came from these guys.
Why don't aliens use contractions? Is this an unwritten rule in sci-fi?
Finally, it's a big deal in the SG-1 world for Daniel Jackson to come back. He was "ascended" and now he's not, so why did he return? This is never fully explained. Everyone thought he was dead, or never coming back (not the same thing, apparently), so wouldn't it be a big deal that he's alive again? Instead of shock, the rest of the cast seems to react as though this is nothing short of ordinary. Maybe it is for SG-1, but I expected a more realistic reaction to resurrection.
Judging by information in the commentary, this season turned out better than it probably should have. Budget constraints, overlapping shooting schedules, and the need to minimize Richard Dean Anderson's screen time should have crippled the show. Yet somehow, it came together nicely most of the time. The show is probably one of the best things airing today. Rent it or buy it: Stargate: SG-1 is enjoyable, and pretty darn smart too.
Stargate SG-1: Season Seven is free to dial out and get out of my courtroom. Anyone know Amanda Tapping's gate address?
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