Stargate the movie was actually pretty good.
Sure, we now can’t look at James Spader without seeing a smarmy, horrible lawyer with a double life as a sadist, but before he spanked Maggie Gyllenhaal for our viewing pleasure, he donned the khaki and gated to another world, for some reason full of Egyptians. Not content with just enjoying the process of interstellar travel, he and his gun-toting colleagues decide to defeate the creepy-eyed body-invading snake alien Goa’uld and bring freedom and democracy to this random part of the galaxy. Go them.
This entertaining but otherwise predictable movie sparked the interests of TV executives, hungry for more meat for the viewing public, and Stargate SG-1 was born. Atlantis soon followed, and the arrival of Universe gave hope, albeit briefly, that the series could endure longer than a decade. But what can we learn about movements in the ‘real’ world from this body of work?
Leader: Colonel Jack O’Neill
Lesson: Defending the entire galaxy is somehow the job of a barely evolved race of apes who recently dug up technology they didn’t invent to travel to places they know nothing about.
This is such an easy concept for an episodic TV series that it’s no surprise it ran for as long as it did. Jump through magic portal to yet another world. Again. And again. All the time fighting for democracy against evil tyranny, often in foreign lands and weird terrain. Oh and it’s a total coincidence that during the height of the show’s popularity, the 9/11 attacks occurred and US audiences craved an understanding of how to defeat those nasty terr’ists.
Leader: Major John Sheppard
Enemy: Wraith, Replicators
Lesson: Being biologically different from human is wrong. Also, it’s important to hold the high moral ground over species that eat humans, as you chow down on a tasty beef burger.
Stargate Atlantis took all the cheese of the original Stargate series and beefed it up a notch. No longer content with just bouncing around the galaxy from a base on our own planet, we needed to explore another galaxy as well. Find an abandoned technological city, claim it as your own and start fighting the bloodthirsty aliens you inadvertently woke up with your noisy arrival. We’re mixing adventurous exploring with bunkered defence moves, and Americans using the advanced technology of another society (*cough*cough* Israel). Add some blatantly holier-than-thou assertions about evolution and genetics, and this seems pretty in line with general foreign policy of most countries in the mid-to-late 00’s.
Leader: Colonel Everett Young
Enemy: Humanity itself (deep, man)
Lesson: People are complex individuals and everything is very serious.
Universe tried to take the big wheeled wormhole to a whole new place – the human mind. Gone are the days of just popping into the gate to find the *insert storyline here* planet for that episode – now we’re stuck on an Ancient ship that is cruising around deep space with no ability to stop or control it. Cue the internal conflicts that come from placing a group of people in a confined space. With clear hallmarks back to Battlestar Galactica, Universe attempts to be all serious about absolutely everything. And really, why shouldn’t it? It’s 2009/2010 and television audiences think they’re smarter than they probably are. We’re used to HBO and Showtime giving us television series with budgets rivalling that of Hollywood, and plotlines that make us feel that we’ve been in an arthouse cinema for three days. This could have worked too, if they’d only realised one thing – there’s only so much internal reflection, agonising psychological torture and cliffhanger moral dilemmas that we can handle before we realise they’re still stuck on the goddamn ship. Universe taps into the strongest socio-political theme we have running at the moment – a desire for escapism into long running serious HBO dramas. Too bad it got canned.
Interesting fact number one: The US Air Force extensively consulted with the writers of Stargate SG-1, providing potential plot lines, concepts and information. The crew were allowed to shoot inside Cheyenne Mountain complex, decommissioned submarines and other usually off-limits areas. Two USAF Chiefs of Staff even guest starred on the show.
Interesting fact number two: Stargate SG-1 is surpassed only by Smallville and Doctor Who as the longest running sci-fi TV series of all time. SG-1 ran for a total of 214 episodes, whereas that stupid Superman one had 218 and the good Doctor tops out at 695 and counting.
The important thing to remember as we gaze back on the body of work that is the Stargate series is that what we are searching for as a species might not be out there in the inky blackness, it might be right here, under our very noses.
Hahah I kid – we’re fucked if we don’t get off this rock. Someone start digging under the pyramids, stat!
Next week we return to that epic bastion of sci-fi politics – The West Wing. Wait, I mean… Battlestar Galactica.