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Why Stargate Universe Failed

A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled ‘Why Stargate Universe Is Destined To Flop‘.  I was right, it did.  But not for the reasons I predicted.

Stargate Universe was actually a pretty decent show.  I’d go so far to say a very good show.  I didn’t think it would be.  I predicted it being a slightly darker Atlantis, when it actual fact, it was much, much darker.

Therein lay part of the problem.

Stargate Universe was simply too dark for the Stargate franchise.  SG-1 and Atlantis were quirky shows, full of humour and heroic characters who saved the day.  Universe told the story of humans; flawed, emotional humans put in a situation where they were, genuinely, stranded on the other side of the universe.  In some ways, it had a lot of what Star Trek: Voyager should have had.  Harry Kim would have been an infinitely better character had he been more like Eli Wallace.  But that just didn’t fit in the Stargate realm.  Stargate was never so much an exploration of humanity as a good old, exciting adventure.  Three years ago, I predicted Universe was destined to fail for similar reasons as Atlantis: inevitable cross-overs, miraculous escapes and dull characters.

Yes, Universe had cross-overs (handled much more sensitively and intelligently, I felt) and the odd miraculous escape, and some people did indeed find the characters dull (but more because they were too realistic and emotional than their compatriots on previous shows).  Instead of being formulaic and predictable for the franchise, Universe simply went too far in the opposite direction.

One of the criticisms levelled at SGU was that not enough happened.  ”The pacing was tedious and the plot-lines too uneventful.”  Similar criticisms were levelled at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and both shows share a certain propensity for thoughtful plot arcs that span many episodes, along with character development that is multi-faceted and can carry developments for several characters each week rather than “This is a Teyla episode” or “This is a Carter episode.”  The truth is that, again, this was not the type of story-telling Stargate had ever promoted in the past.  Deep Space Nine is surely the least well-known Star Trek today.  Upon further inspection, it’s probably the best in many ways.  Yet it took four years to really flourish.  Universe never had that chance, in an evermore ruthless television world.  Nor did it have the same core audience blessed upon Star Trek to keep the endeavour sustainable, even if it was less popular.

The show was said to be too depressing, and again, in comparison to its predecessors, it was!  Could one pick a more opposed character to O’Neill and Sheppard than Colonel Young?  Young was far more Kurt Russell’s Jack O’Neil than Richard Dean Anderson’s Jack O’Neill, and even then Young’s weaknesses were more explicitly exposed than Kurt Russell’s in the film.  Young was a great character, as was Jack O’Neill.  The problem was that within the same franchise, the two were so diametrically opposed that it was difficult to reconcile that difference for an established audience demographic.  Fans of the first two shows enjoyed the humour and the pacing and the brilliant silliness that comes with SG-1 and Atlantis, whereas new viewers were put off by the Stargate which suggested silly sci-fi.  The viewers that did enjoy the show were either those who happened to come across it, or those few SG-1 and Atlantis fans who held an appreciation for both types of show – such as myself.

Criticisms were inevitably drawn for the show being too akin to nu-Battlestar Galactica, but aside from the darker ambience of the show, political in-fighting and the ‘one ship against many’ factor, it doesn’t seem to hold much weight as a comparison.  Universe was completely devoid of the religious undertones, the mythological sub-plots and the Perhaps it was simply too soon after Battlestar for a show that was, I suppose, a bit similar, to air.

I became a fan of Stargate Universe.  I recently re-watched the finale, and smiled along with Eli as he stared into the racing cosmos.  It had been fun, it had been worth the adventure, even if this was the end.  Stargate Universe, had it launched outside the Stargate universe as it were, may have done better.  It would have needed better advertising, and probably to be carried on a channel like Showtime, but it could have succeeded.  Yet, without Stargate preceding it, it would probably never have been made in any form.  The name ‘Stargate‘ ultimately proved to be both its inception and its demise, and while there was a certain inevitability that the show would not enjoy the sustained longevity of SG-1, I’m glad to came to be, albeit briefly.

Five ways to ruin a perfectly good sci-fi show


Sci-Fi has a long and proud history of cancellation. Perfectly good shows (and plenty of plain awful shows) have seen the axe for a multitude of different reasons. Let’s take a look at five sure-fire ways to ruin a decent show.

1) Air your show on FOX
As Firefly, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Dollhouse has shown, quality has no impact on the lifetime of your show if you choose to air it on FOX. In fact, it would seem that longevity in FOX is inversely proportional to quality. Firefly was absolute quality. Just Google “firefly cancelled” to see the outcry. Dollhouse, although still a good show, wasn’t near Firefly’s calibre, and therefore lasted for slightly longer before reaching the same grisly demise. And let’s not even get started on Sliders! That’s it, Fox: create some of the finest science fiction of the last decade before callously shooting it down. Good call!

2) Kill off the lead character (or at least get rid of them unceremoniously)
Once they’re gone, the show can’t be far behind. Although Earth: Final Conflict lasted for some time after the death of William Boone, played by Kevin Kilner. However, when you base your show so firmly around the lead character’s personality and moral conflicts, you have a huge amount of creative rebuilding and restructuring that is not easy to successfully achieve. Even Ben Browder’s introduction to Stargate SG-1 to replace Richard Dean Anderson, although relatively well managed, signalled the beginning of the end for the show (even if it did provide enough energy to delay the inevitable for a year or two)

3) Go on for too long
Star Trek is probably the finest example. You can’t keep producing top quality stories week-in, week-out for fifteen years. Voyager and Enterprise probably didn’t need to happen. Deep Space Nine was tremendous, and after that the franchise should probably have taken three or four years out to refresh and re-energise. Voyager’s premise was strong, but it’s implementation was poor. As soon as the writer’s think creating an incredibly inaccurate Irish village in the holodeck is a good idea, it’s time to panic. Being from Ireland, the whole thing was laughable. And it was never going to be good sci-fi.

T'Pol

4) Sex it up!
Ratings are falling, reviews are mediocre, what do you do? Get your most attractive female cast member to take her clothes off, regardless of the plot making sense. Nudity is always a winner, right? Sadly, it’s not. Enterprise’s attempts to “sex it up” in season three were, frankly, ludicrous. Star Trek, according to Gene Roddenberry, was never adverse to lascivious female aliens: Orion slave girls, anyone? But quite frankly, making Jolene Blalock little more than eye-candy was a poor call. It didn’t fit the character, and was blatantly an attempt to attract an audience of hormonal college boys. Are the same men interested in Jolene Blalock’s “assets” going to care about the ramifications of a temporal anomaly? I doubt. Voyager and Enterprise’s writers made the other cast act like giggling school girls around Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine and Blalock’s T’Pol respectively. It wasn’t clever, nor effective.

5) When all else fails, add zombies

Take this:

Note the stirring music, high production values, moral conflict and powerful premise.

Now, take five years later:

Note the alien vampires, poor acting, poor dialogue and little or no moral/emotional conflict whatsoever? Just gunshots and explosions.

The decline still brings a tear to my eye.

The Geek’s Wedding Guide

I’ve recently started planning my wedding to a fellow sci-fi/fantasy geek, whom I’ve shared the past seven wonderful years with (Happy Anniversary, sweetie!).  We certainly intend on making certain elements of the blessed event geek-tastic, but it got me thinking: how far do some die hard fans take it?  I decided to investigate.

Geeky Wedding Ceremonies:

The possibilities are virtually endless.  Typing “geeky weddings” into Google image search brought up thousands of terrific results from the special days of geeks around the world.  From a lightsaber salute honoring the bride and groom, to “I do”s by your nearest ordained Klingon, themed wedding ceremonies seemed to be a classic sci-fi staple for geeky couples.

The most interesting example I found was a hardcore Star Wars wedding.  The groom was fully dedicated to being Admiral Ackbar, complete with mask, the couple was married by Slave Leia, and most of the wedding party were dressed in some kind of far, far away galaxy garb.  And check out that epically cool cake!

Geeky Wedding Cakes:

The sugary, delicious confection that takes center stage at most weddings can now be designed to the strictest of specifications.  Most brides still go with the traditional ivory tiered cake, but the bells and whistles are just a bit fancier.  Geeks have a whole new range to think about when it comes to designing their wedding cake.  Maybe a diorama of the original Enterprise, or the One Up mushrooms from Mario.  There are plenty of ideas to be had, as well as a variety of action figure cake toppers.

I personally like this Stargate cake topper.  I just don’t see enough of those.

Geeky Wedding Rings:

It’s now possible to display your eternal geeky love on your sacred fingers with themed wedding sets.  In my search, I came across rings featuring USB ports, binary, and my favorite, elvish.  The beautiful scrawling script on the “One Ring” is now available on many rings for purchase for that special day.  I happen to find elvish very pleasing to the eye, and since it’s actually a real language, you can inscribe whatever loving phrase your heart desires.

Anyone else getting married soon? Are you keeping the geek in your nuptials? I wonder how many Avatar themed weddings will pop up this year… lets just hope the blue body paint doesn’t get out of hand.

Stargate: Continuum Review

Continuum_BoxArt In-brief:  Pleasantly delighted.

In-detail:  Following the decidedly average Stargate: The Ark of Truth, I wasn’t really holding out too much hope for the second movie.  It sounded tagged-on, perhaps even somewhat unnecessary.

I was wrong.

Stargate: Continuum might well be unnecessary, and even unrelated to the Ark of Truth and anything Ori-related, but it is very, very good.

Clocking in at around 1 hour and 30 minutes, the movie deals with SG-1 becoming trapped in an alternate timeline; one fabricated by Baal as a last-ditch attempt to control Earth and the universe.  It’s the perfect setting for plenty of cameos, lots of action and some nice, fun settings.

Mitchell

In other words, it would have been exceedingly easy to screw up in some way.  This has been what Stargate producers have done best over the last three or four years: take great ideas and half-fulfil them.  Not here.  Continuum hits the mark.  Why?   Well, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the use of character.  The producers choose to focus on SG-1 (Mitchell, Carter, Jackson, Teal’c and Vala) and Baal.  They are the integral characters to the story.  I was relieved to see the writer’s also resisted the temptation to try and use this to develop Mitchell and Vala excessively.  Sure, they both get nice character moments, but so does everyone.  They’re treated like team members, rather than the new guys who need air-time.

ONeillThe others are dealt with in relation to their importance during their time in the show.  O’Neill’s role is prominent, yet the writers didn’t try to overplay it.  They didn’t go, “O’Neill’s back, let’s make the movie around Richard Dean Anderson’s undeniable talent and make it seem forced”.  Perhaps the strongest aspect of RDA’s appearance is that it seems completely natural.  He’s there long enough to make an impact, not long enough to seem forced or contrived.  Full marks on that.

The focus on SG-1 also drives the plot.  In a story with so many potential distractions, it’s great to be able to keep track of the team and follow them rather than try and delve into countless backstories.  SG-1 provide the focus, and simply put, it works.  As a result, casual fans and die-hards should enjoy this movie. 

The production is excellent as well.  Some of the sets are fantastic, including the USS Achilles and Baal’s time chamber.  The use of real-settings such as the Air Force Hanger and the Arctic shoot provide for some really expensive looking shots.  You can tell money was put into this movie, and it tells far more than in Ark of Truth.  The Goa’uld fleet visuals are great, as are the F16/Glider/MiG fight sequences.  Some of the effects are a little suspect (the city and the pyramid at the beginning) and leaves you to wonder why the inconsistency in effects standards on Stargate?  Some are excellent, others are a little dodgy; often within minutes of each other.

It was great to see all the Stargate alumni on screen once more.  Apophis, Major Davis, Kronos, Yu, Hammond, President Hayes… it feels like a real celebration of the last eleven years of Stargate SG-1.  I must confess, I found it very difficult watching Don S. Davis’s performance of General Hammond, given his recent passing.  Rest in peace, Don.  You are a star.

Daniel2 The plot is magnificent, in my opinion.  A little bit of everything.  You have the pace and the fun of an action thriller, coupled with some great character moments (O’Neill’s fury at Daniel suggesting his son had committed suicide being one, or Daniel accepting he’s going to lose a leg as another).  You’ve got the cleverness of a great science-fiction plot, weaving time-travel together with an established villain who, above all, has very believable motive.  The whole jaunt may be a little unrealistic, and time-scales sped up for the sake of entertainment, but hell: this is what SG-1 always excelled at.  It’s a perfect representation of the best of the show.  Sure, it’s a little silly – but it’s fun, and above all, it’s good.

achilles

Standout performances?  Hard to say.  Cliff Simon was fantastic as Baal, so I’d have to say he would possibly get my vote.  There was a nice balance of serious/humorous for Richard Dean Anderson, but he simply wasn’t in it enough for his undeniable talent to really echo around the movie.  Ben Browder, Amanda Tapping and Michael Shanks all performed solidly, particularly Ben.  Mitchell felt like a character who had been there from the beginning, gelling perfectly, even in scenes with O’Neill.  Strong work from the Farscape man.  I felt a little underwhelmed by Christopher Judge and Claudia Black, but the script wasn’t really a showcase for either of them, so it’s perhaps unfair to be too critical.

As with Ark of Truth, the music sounded great, really complimenting what was seen on screen.  It sounded excellent, and was once again great to hear the original Stargate anthem make an appearance.  If there were any critique, it would be that when Apophis was first revealed, the dramatic clichéd reveal music was a bit over the top.  But I’m nitpicking as usual.

arcticPerhaps most interestingly about Continuum: when the movie ended, I felt fulfilled.  If this is all the Stargate we’re ever going to get, I feel okay about that.  Some people wanted something bigger, more epic.  I simply don’t feel that could’ve been achieved withou t losing some of the integrity of the entertainment.  This was a celebration of ten years, and a good one at that.   It succeeds.  It provides homage and it entertains.  There could be more movies (talk of a third revolving around the character of Jack O’Neill is floating around the interweb – hurry, he’s putting on weight fast!).  Should that come to pass, I would like it to finish.  An O’Neill bookend would be welcome in my mind, but let’s not run this into the ground.  It’s ready to end.  Continuum would end it with dignity – one final hurrah that it is clear was enjoyed by all – cast and crew.

Grade: 88% (A)

Don S. Davis Passes Away

It is with great sadness that we report Don S. Davis who we knew as General Hammond for several years of Stargate SG-1 passed away on June 29th.

This message taken from his Representetive and his wife Ruby Fleming-Davis.

Dear Fans and Friends of Don S. Davis,

So many of you have been touched by not only the work and art of Don S. Davis, but by the man himself, who always took the time to be with you at the appearances he loved, that it is with a tremendous sense of loss I must share with you that Don passed away from a massive heart attack on Sunday morning, June 29th.

On behalf of his family and wife, Ruby, we thank you for your prayers and condolences. A family memorial where Don’s ashes will be scattered in the ocean will take place in a few weeks, and should you wish to, please make a donation to the American Heart Association in Don’s memory.

Source

Ed: Don S. Davis was one of the first actors I met whom I had looked up to in a sci-fi show.  He was a delightful good-natured gentleman who enjoyed meeting the fans.  You will be truly missed, Don.  – Chris

American TV Network “Decisions of the Year”

Still bitter about the Jericho cancellation (which hasn’t been officially announced yet, actually), I found a post on TrekBBS by NX01_Mark. It’s his list of the “best” decisions taken by US TV Networks this year (edited slightly by myself).

How To Run A Network

* Let’s move our most popular show, Lost, to 10pm and then air the first 6 episodes. Take a six month break before airing the rest.

* Let’s premiere a new show on FOX, in April.

* Let’s split JERICHO up in two halves with a three month+ break in between episodes 11 and 12, even though the ratings held perfectly well until episode 11.

* Let’s split up our most succesful night of SCI FI programming and wonder why they are failing.

* Let’s air half a season of Stargate, then go on a break for 7ish months. During our ingenious beak the remaining half of the year will air in most other world countries. When we air our half, fans will have downloaded the new episodes from abroad. Magnificent. :)

Most fans could do a better job of running American TV Networks than the current heads of scheduling.