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Reviewed by Will Harris
iven the level of dedication that the “Stargate” franchise has earned from its fans during the course of its first two series (“Stargate: SG-1” and “Stargate: Atlantis”), it was to be expected that the level of anticipation for the latest addition to the franchise, “Stargate Universe,” would be virtually off the charts. Isn’t it somewhat surprising, then, to find that their excitement dropped off exponentially almost immediately after the series premiered on SyFy? Nah, not really. No one’s ever claimed that science fiction fans weren’t fickle, and if there’s one thing they hate above all else, it’s when someone comes in and fucks with the status quo of their show.
“Stargate Universe” definitely takes a completely different approach to the universe of “Stargate,” eschewing the more traditional action elements of the previous two series in favor of a psychological drama. For those who aren’t familiar with the mythos of the franchise, rather than explaining the concept of the Ninth Chevron (no, it’s not a gas station), let’s just say that this series begins with a team of soldiers, scientists, and engineers passing through a transportation device known as a Stargate and finding themselves on a starship – the Destiny – that’s a long, long way from home, with no way to return. They do, however, have a unique manner by which they can sporadically interact with those they’ve left behind: using long-range communication stones, they can essentially take possession of a human on Earth, seeing, hearing, and speaking through them. Even so, however, it’s a far cry from actually being there.
While the premise of “Stargate Universe” is one that we’ve certainly seen before in science fiction, most notably in shows like “Lost in Space” and “Star Trek: Voyager,” this is arguably the first time we’ve really seen individuals in a situation like this react like you’d actually expect them to react. These people are freaked out. They don’t want to be where they are, they didn’t ask for it and weren’t prepared for it, and they want to go home. But as the series progresses, we bear witness as they gradually realize that they may never make it back to Earth. Nerves grow frayed, some of the passengers are questioning their mental health, and others find themselves irrationally determined to find a way to return, even if it’s at the expense of the lives of others.
There are a wide variety of character personalities on the series, including individuals both military and civilian, but let’s forget all of that and just start with the highest profile actor of the bunch. Robert Carlyle, late of “Trainspotting” and “The Fully Monty,” plays Dr. Nicholas Rush, an expert in the technology of the Ancients. Rush has been dedicated to exploring the mystery behind the Ninth Chevron of the Stargate, and now that he’s trapped on the other side of the galaxy, he seems perpetually torn between finding a way home and continuing his quest for knowledge. The result is a character that’s equal parts Dr. Smith from “Lost in Space” and Dr. Chandra from “2010.”
Rush is regularly assisted in his scientific endeavors by Eli Wallace (David Blue), a young man who – shades of “The Last Starfighter” – found himself part of the Stargate program after earning a high score on an online video game. Ordinarily, Eli would be the guy who we’d all be able to relate to, since he’s Joe Ordinary, but with “Stargate Universe,” it’s surprisingly easy to relate to just about everyone given how disconcerted they all are about their situation. Still, Eli is the likeable schlub who most sci-fi fans will be rooting for: he’s smart, he’s funny, and he’s alone. If he doesn’t manage to convince the gorgeous Chloe Armstrong (Elyse Levesque) that she needs to accept him as more than a friend, there’ll be a whole lot of disappointed viewers out there.
Of the military characters, you’ve got Col. Young, First Lt. Johansen, and First Lt. Scott from the USAF, Master Sergeant Greer from the USMC, and several others who are floating around the series from episode to episode. Col. Young (Louis Ferreera) has somewhat of a soap opera story going on with his wife, one which is complicated by Col. David Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips), who serves as the de facto contact between the Destiny and Earth. But then, there are quite a few interpersonal storylines going on as a result of the tensions amongst the individuals on the ship and their unique interactions with their friends and family members back at home.
It’s no wonder those who grew up on “SG-1” and “Atlantis” find “Stargate Universe” to be a painfully boring viewing experience. Although there are certainly exceptions, it’s by and large a show that’s more about talking than doing – but then, that’s what it would be like if you were stranded on the other side of the galaxy. With that said, however, it would be highly surprising if the showrunners opted to maintain this same pace as the series progresses. It works insofar as these initial episodes go, but when you look at segments like “Water” and “Time,” which do feature a bit more in the way of proper sci-fi goings-on, you realize just how little of it had been going on. One hopes, however, that the overall thrust of “Stargate Universe” remains the psychological drama of the experience. It might not be what the fans have come to expect from the franchise, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
Special Features: If nothing else, at least the producers of this set are still giving the old-school “Stargate” fans the same level of bonus material that they’ve come to expect from previous releases. All of the episodes feature audio commentary and there are one-on-one interviews with the various cast members. We get to see the Kino diaries, a regular feature of the series in which the characters treat the camera as a confessional, but with five previously-unseen videos. Additionally, you can watch “Stargate 101: Presented by Daniel Jackson,” which allows you to get the same crash course in the mythos of the Ancients that Eli did when he came into the Stargate program. Lastly, there’s an extended version of the show’s pilot episode, “Air.”