Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stargate SG-1 S1 Ep1: Children Of The Gods [Original Cut]

Stargate SG-1's Children Of The Gods. Where the ten year SG-1 run all began.
"Have you thought about writing a book?" -General George Hammond-

"I've thought about it, but I'd have to shoot anybody who read it."
-Colonel Jack O'Neill-

Who would have ever imagined a film by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin would generate three franchises running a sum total of 17 seasons? Stargate [1994], starring Kurt Russell, was a fine little science fiction excursion. I saw it in theatres once upon a time. It was a solid little idea implementing a device for agents of the military to wormhole through to vast adventures in other worlds. Apart from enterprising vessels, transporter rooms and hurtling moons has there been a more brilliant mechanism for delivering delicious science fiction drama? This, of course, was merely the beginning.

Ultimately it was the initial concept [one of the best ever by the overrated Emmerich and Devlin] that creators Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner took to new heights in the form of an ongoing science fiction serial that really captured my unquenchable imagination. Stargate SG-1 [1997-2007], the first franchise, lasted ten interstellar seasons and generated a mythology as long and winding as that road The Beatles once sang about. By the time the franchise branched off into new areas, Stargate Atlantis [Five Seasons] and Stargate Universe [Two Seasons] you'd need the memory of a tree to keep up, but that's the fun of it. SG-1 generated four primary, beloved characters and a giant supporting cast of adored guests that remain forever part of our science fiction consciousness and in our hearts.

Each incarnation of the Stargate concept is unique and some would be hard-pressed to select their favorite. SG-1 would likely pull out on top as the original with its steadfast quartet of Colonel Jack O'Neill, Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson and alien member Teal'c of the Jaffa, but it's a toss up between SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis for this adoring fan. It could go either way on any given day and at the moment Stargate Atlantis is in the pole position for this fan of the franchise. I can't say enough about Stargate Atlantis, a blast of a series on par with the likes of Farscape for me, but that's for another day.

As for the more measured, but equally terrific, military-centric SG-1, it seems like only yesterday it went off the air. It's last airing episode came in March of 2007 in the form of Stargate SG-1, Season 10, Episode 22, Unending. I offered a brief write-up of that ensemble-led SG-1 [sadly minus Richard Dean Anderson, but including the remarkable Ben Browder and Claudia Black of Farscape] over four years ago this month as my second ever blog entry here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, long before I found the rhythms and format I would establish and feature regularly here today with my evolving voice.

Where we stand on these franchises and the various distinct characters that have been brought to life is a debate that rages as endless as a twisting wormhole.

The arrival of Stargate Atlantis on Blu-Ray merely stoked the fires of my desire to see SG-1 achieve Blu-Ray status one day and fill the void on my mantle. We can hope and believe it will one day happen. If it can happen for Star Trek: The Next Generation, can Jack O'Neill be far behind? Beginning with this entry, I can only dream that I will complete a long run of coverage on the Stargate saga.

I got to thinking about what I loved most about SG-1 and, of course, the reasons are many. Still, hold me at the threshold of an event horizon that leads to the cold blackness of space and I'd have to submit to you that it was Richard Dean Anderson who easily convinced me this was a series worth watching. The strong story ideas infused with humor and Anderson's wry, sometimes dry, delivery always appealed to that part of me that yearned for a little joy in my science fiction. After all, shows like Space:1999 and Babylon 5 [save for a few moments here and there] were fairly deadly serious more akin to The Walking Dead than SG-1, and that's the beauty in variety and having sci-fi options.

The American military man, Jack O'Neill, kept things grounded and we loved him for it, week in and week out, in the face of some pretty stiff odds and dark possibilities.

In honor of his contribution to the series, we begin a look at Stargate SG-1, season by season, and the world according to Jack O'Neill. Since O'Neill waxed philosophic or humorous in the face of adversity during life's many moments don't be surprised if our look back at this groundbreaking franchise [the first to truly challenge the stranglehold on science fiction long held by Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek] places an emphasis on all things Jack O'Neill. Call it a man crush, but Richard Dean Anderson spoke to me and often times you too with his world view, matter-of-fact style and plain speaking. He was like the every man locked inside all of us unafraid to come right out and tell it like it is. He cut through the bull crap and nailed it every time. As heroes go, he was like a modern day Harry Truman.

So let's see where this takes us, but for now, we're going to keep the journey light and fun, sometimes short and sweet, just as O'Neill would have it. We're sure to learn a few life lessons along the way to boot front he world according to Jack O'Neill.

Technically, the story began with Stargate, the movie, but the series picks up where that film left off linking to some of the initially open-ended threads of that story. We engage the gate and lock chevrons with Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 1, the two hour Pilot, Children Of The Gods [1997], where the great wormhole adventure all began.

Richard Dean Anderson stars as the one and only Jack O'Neill a result of ingenious casting and a bit of good fortune. He replaces actor Kurt Russell, who played O'Neil [with one 'l'] in the film, and the character soars in Anderson's care. Anderson's O'Neill remains affectionately one of the most beloved characters in science fiction television, which explains his popularity and his rare appearances in the other two franchises as well as his part in the final two season of SG-1 and its corresponding films, The Ark Of Truth and Continuum. Anderson claimed the role and in a rare, freak happenstance, Russell is nearly forgotten as the man who first brought the character to life originally. It's no slight of Russell as Anderson is given the wide berth of a series to infuse the character with his personality and own it. Richard Dean Anderson becomes Jack O'Neill.

Colonel Jack O'Neill is pulled from retirement. He connects with Major General George Hammond, unforgettably portrayed by the late Don S. Davis, in charge of Stargate command deep inside Cheyenne Mountain whereby Earth's military travels via an ancient, alien portal called the Stargate. The team's mission: the search and acquisition of alien technology.

We are introduced to astrophysicist, Captain Samantha Carter, played brilliantly with both brains and beauty by Amanda Tapping [I've never fully embraced her role as a Brit in Sanctuary]. Through the Stargate the SG-1 team returns to Abydos to retrieve Dr. Daniel Jackson, played with nerdy, James Spader-like precision early on by Michael Shanks. Finally, the trio is joined by Jaffa warrior and First Prime to Apophis, Teal'c, who betrays head Goa'uld Apophis, an alien being that alludes in name to an Egyptian demon. Teal'c, clearly of good heart, sees something in the resolve of O'Neill in his battle against Apophis, his enslaver, triggering Teal'c's desire to rise up against his oppressors. Teal'c betrays the Goa'uld, viewed as gods, and joins SG-1 as the team exits Abydos in a desperate escape.
Apophis is essentially Ra's replacement, who died in the Stargate film. Ra, an alien lifeform played by Jaye Davidson [The Crying Game], alluded to the ancient Egyptian sun god.

The Pilot to the series is notably strong. Who knew the team that would comprise SG-1 would constitute the chemistry and magic needed to keep the Stargate franchise and viewership engaged for ten full seasons [214 episodes]. Stargate SG-1 surpassed The X-Files for longest-running science fiction series in North America. The cast would remain together with but one replacement for Michael Shanks during Season Six for eight seasons. The final two seasons saw the substitution of our adored Richard Dean Anderson for the talented likes of Ben Browder and Claudia Black of Farscape. The decision to bring those two talents aboard seemed a natural fit given the kind of unashamed humor that permeated both series. Still, it's worth noting that it took four feet to fill Anderson's shoes, but fill them Browder and Black did. Farscape and Stargate SG-1 offered sci-fi outlets capable of walking the fine line of strong storytelling and smart writing infused with humor. It's not an easy tightrope to walk. Both managed the approach to classic success. Stargate Atlantis followed suit.

The show must be taken in stride and with humor. This is entertainment after all. The American military seems to freely intermingle with aliens between Teal'c, Vala Mal Doran [formerly a host to the Goa'uld and matriarch to an ORI leader], the Tok'ra and Jonas Quinn. All work closely with classified information throughout their tenors. Yes, suspend disbelief and roll with it indeed.

With a seamless professionalism the cast immersed themselves into their respective roles. Apart from some minor, awkward moments, the cast immediately connects out of the gate, to use a word, with their parts. The cast grows remarkably strong with each passing episode. But almost immediately the characters fit like hand in glove and merely capitalize on this natural chemistry. It's a pleasure to see an ensemble sell the science fiction so effortlessly. Star Trek: The Original Series, Firefly and Stargate Atlantis are all strong examples, while others have not necessarily had such good fortune.

There isn't one among the cast that didn't embrace the working relationship from the start. There was immediate chemistry and working relationships would quickly become friendships. That natural ease with one another was easily conveyed to the audience in the wonderfully accessible stories of Stargate. Actress Amanda Tapping expressed that sentiment in Starlog Magazine #249 [1998]. "We're all really good friends. We care about and respect one another. The chemistry we have as friends lends itself to the chemistry we share on screen." No truer words have been spoken about a science fiction cast. These guys connect and they all feel that way to a man and woman. I don't normally quote the lovefest between cast members. It's generally boring stuff, but it's important to note with Stargate SG-1, because it is so evident and integral to the nature of the show's success.

This nude scene would be among the many casualties of the director's Final Cut of Children Of The Gods [2009]. While not entirely necessary, the nudity is in no way gratuitous. Christopher Judge shared similar thoughts in Starlog Magazine #251 [1998]. "Shanks is like my younger brother. We get along fabulously.... Amanda Tapping is like my sister. It sounds almost too rosy, I know, but we get along that well."

Richard Dean Anderson expressed his own sense of loyalty to the pack in Starlog Magazine #289. "We all get along famously." He goes on. But, again, the reason for pointing to this excessive praise for one another is to highlight one of the show's greatest strengths–character! The series is filled with it and with them.

Grounding the quartet is unofficial fifth member General Hammond, played with tough believability by the late Don S. Davis [Twin Peaks, The X-Files]. Davis views the series as one of the few that stabilizes the genre within a military reality, through a ranking hierarchical prism. In Starlog Magazine #275, he offers M*A*S*H and China Beach as analogies to the kinds of humanistic portraits of the military characters presented on Stargate SG-1. He wouldn't be wrong. What Stargate SG-1 may have lacked in hard science fiction it more than compensated for with strong stories, an effort to conform to military realities, a sound mythology with smart mythological underpinnings, a sense of humor and crackling interrelationships as they ventured into the vast unknowns of space.

And like the cast of SG-1, Davis too had a tremendous affection for his fellow actors. His regard for Anderson is extremely high. "He is one of the nicest, most honorable men I've ever worked with. And he's tremendously talented." It is without question the casting of the series was the fulcrum by which the creators could explore their fascinating worlds and mythology. Without this chemistry SG-1 might have faltered and failed despite the perfection of the Stargate as a story device. Clearly other factors come into play. Otherwise, how could you explain Firefly's quick dismissal?

The effects and production values are stunningly good for a pilot of this vintage. Are they perfect? No. But they look remarkably good and have a major leg up on Star Trek: The Next Generation for obvious reasons.

The series was filmed in Vancouver, Canada [my personal preference over and above virtual sets]. Of course, the frequent exterior shots never gave that away. That's Stargate humor. Season One through Season Five appeared on Showtime, which certainly accounted for its decent and sizable budget. Broadcasting the series on a cable channel allowed the creators to take their liberties with an adult approach. Nowhere is that more evident than in Children Of The Gods whereby Sha're, Daniel's Abydos' lover, is abducted by Apophis and bears all in several, full frontal shots despite Wright's opposition. The tips of her breasts are standing at attention and it's easy to see by the footage this is not the SyFy Channel, then Sci Fi Channel. Of course, the eyebrow-raising Stargate SG-1 toned things down following the pilot film throughout its five season run on Showtime. Seasons Six through Ten broadcast on Sci Fi Channel to round out its record-breaking ten season run.

The primary story arcs and alien races throughout the series include the Goa'uld System Lords, the Tok'ra, Anubis and the Kull Warriors, the Asgard, the Replicators, the Ancients and the ORI. The latter, a dark version of the ascended beings, would be a departure from the Egyptian-tinged and Norse mythology supplanted with one of Arthurian legend. Concepts surrounding the Ancients, like ascension, and the human physiological connection to the Ancients, builders of the Stargates, would also permeate the series. The Earth-based NID, a shadowy X-Files-like, CIA-like entity would also be a constant thorn in SG-1's side.

Despite all of the variables Stargate SG-1 had going in its favor, it was ultimately derided by a majority of critics. It certainly never received the respect of hardcore science fiction fans or writers. But, not unlike Star Trek: The Original Series in the beginning, the story of Stargate has yet to be firmly established or written. Three separate incarnations of the series have ensured that perceptions of the series will change and the series will endure.

But years ago the franchise opened with Children Of The Gods. Children Of The Gods squarely puts the focus on Egyptian mythology as first created and established in the feature film. The so-called gods are called Goa'uld, a parasitic, snake-like creature that inhabits hereditary slaves dubbed Jaffa. The Goa'uld use the Jaffa and other humanoid races as hosts. The alien race travels via Pyramid-like warships in design. As we discover in the pilot, Teal'c is a host himself. Let us begin with our first notable bit of straight talk from the world according to Jack O'Neill.

As O'Neill makes efforts to locate the inhabitants of Abydos his no nonsense, sense of humor shines.

Finally, this very early opening scene between O'Neill and Hammond sets the stage for O'Neill's character.

From the very beginning the Jack O'Neill character becomes the ever so apparent embodiment of Richard Dean Anderson. Perhaps his work on MacGuyver [1985-1992] had a lot to do with grooming that confidence and his comfort level in a leadership role. Nevertheless, Anderson delivers classic scene after classic scene throughout the series in its entirety.

His no holds barred approach is one of the reasons Stargate SG-1 made science fiction history and became must watch television. Anderson put it quite succinctly regarding his take on O'Neill in Stargate SG-1: The Illustrated Companion Season 1 and 2. "He's a man trained to obey orders, but with the need to follow his own moral compass. I thought it would be interesting to draw out his humanity and sense of humour in situations where he's under pressure." He added fittingly, "I have a very irreverent sense of humour. It's very dry, sarcastic, naughty, and I wanted to give O'Neill that kind of levity. Fortunately, they went along with me."

This approach is undeniable and his character is equally so as he became a personality embraced by millions. Every effort will be made to bring you all of those clever, colorful O'Neill moments remembering that all the wonder of the journey and the sci-fi magic of the series and the franchise began right here. Children Of The Gods: B-

Characters: Colonel Jack O'Neill [Richard Dean Anderson]/ Captain Samantha Carter [Amanda Tapping]/ Dr. Daniel Jackson [Michael Shanks]/ Christopher Judge [Teal'c]/ General George Hammond [Don S. Davis]/ Jonas Quinn [Corin Nemec] [Season Six]/ Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell [Ben Browder] [Season Nine and Ten]/ Vala Mal Doran [Claudia Black] [Season Nine and Ten/ Major General Hank Landry [Beau Bridges] [Season Nine and Ten].

Film composition: Filmed in 16:9 Widescreen all episodes. Broadcast 4:3. 16mm film [Season One-Three]/ 35mm film [Season Three finale- Season Eight]/ Digital HD [Season Eight-Ten].


le0pard13 said...

Always happy to read someone giving credit to 1994's 'Stargate' film (even if it's by the overrated Emmerich and Devlin ;-)). You know I think highly of its original story and cast.

There was nudity in 'Stargate SG-1'!!! Well, it was on cable ;-). I've got a lot of catching up to do. Anyway, another of your excellent examinations, SFF. Thanks.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

Stargate: SG1 aired on Showtime the premium cable network for its first four seasons – hence the nudity in the pilot episode. In those days of cable [1997] there were still only one channel each of Showtime, HBO, etc. So you were able to subscribe to only one premium channel for the premium price of $10.00 dollars a month. My wife and I were such big fans of the film Stargate that we ordered Showtime just to watch Stargate: SG1 and continued shelling out the money until Stargate went into syndication after its second season.

We have Netflix streaming now and have started watching Stargate: SG1 from the first season, episode one. The effects are fairly minimal in the first few episodes, but the chemistry between Jack O'Neill [Richard Dean Anderson], Captain Samantha Carter [Amanda Tapping], Dr. Daniel Jackson [Michael Shanks] and Christopher Judge [Teal'c] is there from the very start. I too would love to watch Stargate : SG1 in HD on Blu-ray, but the cost of such a huge 10-season-set would be too prohibitive. My only hope is that Netflix will eventually stream these in HD when they do put S:SG1 on Blu-ray.

SFF said...

Hey L13,
Um, yeah, the nudity is really only in this one episode as far as I can recall. BRad Wright even cut it out for a re-release of this Pilot for the series called Final Cut. And I did like the movie, but definitely enjoyed the series much more. Thank you.

I understand. I definitely read about the syndication thing essentially killing Showtime's gorwth on the series which finally ended its run there after five seasons.

I also understand costs on box sets.

I normally jump to upgrade my Box sets, but even the release of Farscape on Blue-Ray this week wasn't enough to get me to pull the plug on my DVD box. I just can't do it right now.

If they realy cleaned up Stargate SG-1 especially in the early going I might be intrigued enough to do it.

Stargate Atlantis looks amazing on Blu-Ray. I wonder how far away an SG-1 Blu-Ray is?

Cheers to you both and I hope life is well.

Unknown said...

I came to this show very late in the game. Was never a huge fan of the film and then I caught it again recently and I don't know if time has just made me look at it differently but I really enjoyed it and decided to check out the show on Netflix and have been pretty much hooked.

I agree with everyone that it is the chemistry between the lead characters that really makes it work. Very quickly you grow to care about them and take a vested interest in what happens to them. It's not easy to get that chemistry right - actors either have it or they don't and thankfully, whoever cast this show, got it right.

Haven't had a chance to check out ATLANTIS yet but I know one of my genre faves, Jewel Staite joined the show at some point, which has certainly piqued my curiosity.

SFF said...

Hello JD
All this talk of the film may actualy have me revisit it for the site one day. I did enjoy the film, but I am quite patial to the series. I know its apples and oranges though.

By the way, Stargate Atlantis is terrific and dare I say I like it on some levels even more than SG-1.

Jewel Staite actualy appears on the show in a role in Season Two that is quite affecting and it is not the role she would ultimately play toward the end of the series, but rather a Wraith girl. SHe's very good too.


bethany actually said...

I'm sad to see there are only two posts in your series 'The World According to Jack O'Neill.' I'd love to read more of that series! :-)

Also, I'd like to note that when RDA left SG-1 after the end of Season 8, it actually took SIX feet (eventually) to fill his shoes, not four. Ben Browder, Claudia Black, and Beau Bridges as General Hank Landry all came onboard when RDA left. (Though Claudia Black was originally a temporary fill-in for Amanda Tapping, the character of Vala Mal Doran was actually the closest to Jack O'Neill in terms of humor, so I consider her part of the RDA replacement team.)

SFF said...

Actually Bethany... that is excellent observation! I really like that. Thanks for taking time to write.

I need to dust off some Stargate SG-1 soon.

These things are entirely a matter of mood for me. I don't like to force it, but I do love Stargate SG-1 and the others actually.

Thank you again for writing.