Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Stargate Atlantis S1 Ep1: Rising (Part I)

"The most high-profile science fiction television spin-off series since Star Trek: The Next Generation." -Sharon Gosling [Stargate Atlantis: The Official Companion Season 1]-

New faces. Classic faces. A fresh coat of paint for a new gate. You really can't keep a good Stargate SG-1 member down. Stargate Atlantis, Rising, is the first in a number of guest appearances by the SG-1 team. Richard Dean Anderson [Stargate SG-1] and Michael Shanks [Stargate SG-1], SG-1 veterans, join Robert Patrick [Fire In The Sky, The X-Files] to round out perhaps one of science fiction's finest debuts to burst from the small screen as the torch is passed.

I had originally planned a one entry post on the debut pilot, Rising, for the launch of Stargate Atlantis. It's often been compiled as one, lengthy installment for viewing purposes. But, it was just too good for that and Rising was actually shown originally in two parts, plus it was a little less daunting in two segments, thus I went for the two-part format.

Rising also feels like two parts in presentation. Part I sees the team assemble and head through the gate on their one-way ticket to Atlantis and the Pegasus Galaxy. Part II introduces the series primary nemesis- a nasty, big old shark in the Pegasus sea dubbed The Wraith.

What most interested me in revisiting Rising is how it came to be- how the series came to fruition. The Stargate universe is particularly interesting given all of its franchises, its birth from Dean Devlin/ Roland Emmerich film, Stargate [1994], and even recent discussions about returning to the big screen despite the dissolution of Stargate Universe [2009-2011]. There's always plenty to talk about it with this franchise and clearly more than a few, including myself, that would have loved a better resolution to the seemingly disrespected Stargate Atlantis arm. Didn't it deserve better? We take a glimpse at how Stargate Atlantis, Season One, Episode 1, Rising (Part I) came to pass.

Stargate Atlantis had been bandied about in the mind of Brad Wright since as early as Season Five of Stargate SG-1. The creators and those involved with the original series understood an end date would come eventually. The show was becoming progressively more expensive with respect to its special effects budget. The actors too had become major stars and also commanded greater salaries. These things of course happen naturally. Well, each successive year rolled into the next and Stargate SG-1 somehow managed renewal each time despite the ever present threat of cancellation looming around the corner going as far as the end of its first year, Season Six, on the, then, Sci Fi Channel. There was clearly a fear the money would simply run out.

The brilliant David Hewlett as Rodney McKay would be a big part of the success of Stargate Atlantis. The strategy for Stargate SG-1 Season Seven was to conclude with a film implementing the Lost City concept as the focus. This inevitably led to the briliant two-parter by Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper and directed by Martin Wood for that season's end called Lost City.

This evolved into the Ancients' outpost as a wonderful plot thread and building block within the fantastic Stargate mythlogy. Wright planned to have Atlantis under Antarctica and ready to go to supplant the closure of Stargate Command [SGC] when Stargate SG-1 ended, but renewal of the aforementioned franchise forced their hand again.

It was Cooper who suggested the city be in a galaxy, far, far away and as Wright put it in Sharon Gosling's wonderful series of companion guides, "I think the series is much better for that change."
The writing partnership of Wright and Cooper mandated the new series, Stargate Atlantis, have a life of its own since both Stargate SG-1 (Season Nine and Ten) and Stargate Atlantis (Season One and Two) would need to run concurrently for two years.

Cooper said this in Stargate Atlantis: The Official Companion Season 1: "We wanted the new show ... to have a distinct life of its own." Cooper wanted this new Stargate team to be in a remote galaxy away from the possibility of SG-1 saving the day whenever trouble was brewing. Granted, a collaborative action episode between both teams was always a special option. Think Stargate Atlantis, Season Four, Episode 17, Midway, or Stargate SG-1, Season Ten, Episode 3, The Pegasus Project. It was like Avengers Assemble.

Robert Patrick as Marshall Sumner always delivers. Ultimately, Stargate Atlantis received a greenlight and Wright and the team had to work very quickly at writing, set building, casting and pulling together their new series in a very short space of time. What's remarkable is how damn, big, epic and exciting this new series looked. What's even more amazing is how lightning in a bottle struck twice in casting a group of actors this stunningly good out of the gate. Everything clicked once again.

Director Martin Wood launched the script for Rising, by Wright and Cooper again. "The movie was really, really good, but no one will ever see it now!" Still, Wood kept some of the best aspects of that film plan and applied them here and Rising is positively cinematic and beautiful. A longer shooting schedule for the pilot allowed them to deliver a fine piece of television. Everything is up there on the screen in Rising and it's easy to see why this series beat out Stargate SG-1 in the ratings. There was vibrancy, a color, an energy, an enthusiasm, excitement and a newness about it that really captured the imagination. The coral contrast to the dark greens and browns of SG-1 was fairly stark. The creative team worked wonders in separating their Stargate children from a stylistic perspective. The New York Times' felt the introduction was "dull" oddly enough despite being impressed by the "lavish special effects." She called it a "relic of our own unenlightened time." Sounds like the words of a self-loathing journalist. Unfortunately, you just can't please everyone.

Garwin Sanford, previously Narim from Stargate SG-1's Enigma [Season One], Pretense [Season Three] and Between Two Fires [Season Five], plays the love interest to Torri Higginson's Elizabeth Weir character on Stargate Atlantis. With Stargate Universe, the team went back to the darker tone and made it even darker than the original and perhaps in a television universe filled with anti-heroes and the skepticism of mankind the world either wasn't ready or simply had enough. The third franchise was markedly different in style and tone and I can't help but think perhaps its premature death was the result more of timing than anything else.

Joe Flanigan was perfectly cast as the Atlantis expedition's version of Colonel Jack O'Neill. With the second series changing the dynamic was important and thus Stargate Atlantis moved away from the core of the four member team found on Stargate SG-1, and moved Stargate Atlantis into a roughly five actor ensemble with even more recurring characters. Utilizing a group of virtual unknowns with tremendous talent made for an engaging energy and that made Rising feel different. More on the rise of Stargate Atlantis and its tremendous cast of talent that became the internationally-comprised face of this new series for five seasons in Rising (Part II). Rising (Part I) introduces science fiction fans to a most auspicious debut for a well-constructed, entertaining series that was, unlike some franchise arms, strong out of the gate. Rising (Part I): B+. Writer: Robert C. Cooper & Brad Wright. Director: Martin Wood.

Season One Cast: John Sheppard [Joe Flanigan]/ Rodney McKay [David Hewlett]/ Teyla Emmagan [Rachel Luttrell]/ Elizabeth Weir [Torri Higginson]/ Carson Beckett [Paul McGillion]/ Aiden Ford [Rainbow Sun Francks].


Kellie @ Delightfully Ludicrous said...

I'm a late comer to SGA, only finding it about six months ago, but I just love it! David Hewlett is an absolute genius!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I was late on arrival too Kellie. But, I agree with you completely.

Hewlett was like a revelation when I started watching Atlantis. He was very good in his few SG-1 appearances, but who knew he would really be what a franchise needed as one of its stars. He's one big reason the series is a lot of fun to watch.

His comic timing is perfect. Check out my look at A Dog's Breakfast when you have a chance if you haven't seen it already. he directed and starred with his sister in that one. Take care Kellie. sff

Maurice Mitchell said...

I've never seen an episode. Now I'll have to catch it.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Oh yes, Maurice. It's just great science fiction adventure fun.