Tuesday, May 10, 2016


I'm not talking about Stargate SG-1. I just have to mention that because it seems to be the assumption whenever I bring up the title. The fanbase for the series seems to have been at least an order of magnitude larger than that of the original movie. As is so often the case with mass appeal, this should not be taken as praise.

Here's the thing. Stargate itself was no great cinematic achievement. Heroes get girl and/or new lease on life and nuke bad guy in exotic locale. Kurt Russell plays his usual macho hard-ass disenchanted military antihero character, motivated by children. 'Cuz universality. Nerd sidekick discovers his inner manliness. 'Cuz more universality. At the line by line level, many of the dialogues could've been lifted from any buddy comedy or war movie. The producer and director should probably not have tried writing the damn thing themselves.

Now, a couple of years later I did watch what at the time I'd thought to be a sequel for Stargate when it showed up on a video store shelf. This was, as it turns out, the pilot for the spin-off television series, and if nothing else emphasized the predictable nose-dive in quality when a concept shrivels from the silver screen to fit the idiot box. Stargate had utilized bland stereotypes and plot hooks as set pieces, stepped lightly and even deftly from one to the other to build something atop them. SG-1 dove into the lowest common denominator as if its writers thought they had just invented the straight-backed square-jawed dependable male archetype, or creepy-crawly nondescript slimy monsters or gratuitous nudity. Even expanding the Stargate to a "network" from one lonely planet, from the fiefdom of one poignantly solitary villainous relic of an alien species to an endless string of villains of the week eliminated what little true drama the original had scraped together. From an honest (if flawed) science fiction concept it instantly degenerated into such a sexed-up militaristic ode to tribal ape instinct as to make Starship Troopers look philosophical by comparison.

So what made the original worth remembering while Children of the Gods convinced me SG-1 wouldn't be worth the bother? Basically the same distinction about which I've waxed poetic many a time before. Science fiction is the genre of ideas. It depends on a sense of wonder and discovery (pleasant or not as the case may be) for much of its appeal. Amusingly, it's a Wikipediad quote by Stargate's soundtrack composer which best captures the flick's best feature.

"Every time there was an amazing sight, the characters would stand back and say, 'Oh my God!' But James would just smile and walk towards it. That was the basis for the Stargate score, moving forward with a sense of majesty instead of being frightened by what's around the corner." - David Arnold

The "James" in question would be James Spader, the actor playing the nerd half of the soldier / nerd buddy duo. Yeap, that's right. It was the nerd pushing forward, the mind and not the muscle advancing. Not only that but the tool of oppression imposed on the human slave population to keep them from rebelling is... illiteracy, of all things to be concerned with in an action movie! Yes, it provided quite a bit of hugs and guns and other inter-human bullshit but over-arching the petty building blocks it still portrayed an adventure driven by the thrill of discovery. What's this gate thing? What's through this gate thing? What's over this rise? What's in that old temple? What's the story with this weird-ass religion? How big a stick is up this alien's ass anyway?

Speaking of which, I never did like the ending. Blowing up the bad guy, y'know? Ra, as last of his species and a superior intellect encompassing scientific and historic knowledge quite likely unique in the universe, should have been preserved. He was worth any number of dime-a-dozen young anthropoid ape bodies. Feed them to him in exchange for information. Let him keep his little bronze age theocratic play-pen of a planet. The secret to matter transmission alone would be worth a few million commonplace, quasi-sentient human lives.

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