Sunday, October 04, 2009

TVOD: Battlestargate

Note: As ever, my apologies to non-US readers for the (cht)Hulu streams, but I'm sure you folks are resourceful and can find alternate outlets for the shows in question.

"A Stargate for the rest of us," the headline reads, and so far that seems to be the case. The Stargate movie was a good old-fashioned guilty pleasure, but the two series- SG-1 and Atlantis- strike me as nothing more than elaborate fan fiction or LARP (that's "live action roleplay" for all of you who -unlike me- have a life).

Believe me, I really wanted to like them, particularly since I was left without a space opera when the Star Trek franchise shat the bed with Voyager and Enterprise. I was curious when Mitch Pileggi and the adorable Jewel Staite showed up on SG: Atlantis, but I just couldn't get past the nerdy, unfunny banter that the spinoffs traded in.

I scanned some of the fan boards* and it seems the SG crowd has its knives out for Universe, bemoaning the lack of "humor" and the riffs lifted from Battlestar Galactica. That should be an endorsement for the rest of us, as the review pointed out. As with politics and religion, sci-fi TV has a major problem- keeping the base and the infinitely larger mass audience happy.

I love Firefly and Serenity, but I'm not even remotely mystified as to why they never appealed to the mainstream. Sure, Buffy and Angel have a large and rabid fanbase, but neither would have lasted a full season even on Fox. Ergo, Joss Whedon's weird and creepy Dollhouse is dying a hideous death, this week posting ratings a fraction of the size of the late, great Sarah Connor Chronicles when it got the ax. And still the EW site shills for it as if it were a cult smash.

So in a meta sense the new Stargate parallels the conflict between the vocal (and often hysterically whiny) hardcore fans and the silent majority of the real audience. And the story itself is yet more pessimism and woe- the series has a crew lost aboard a scuttled alien ship after fleeing through the Stargate from a dying planet (shades of the execrable Voyager, but certainly more interesting). The series is produced in my beloved Vancouver, but is probably written in California, which the UK Guardian has declared a failed state.

Sync-wise, I was amused by all of the talk of chevrons, but so far no really interesting semiotic stuff like we saw in the movie. But I was struck again by the militarism of the Stargate concept, which is much more pronounced than the Star Trek Universe. I've also been watching some old TNGs with the missus and realized that huge swathes of the world look a lot like the post-war earth of First Contact, and Southern California might not be far behind that.

As we've discussed, there is no doubt in my mind that a lot of movers and shakers believe the universal conscription implied in the Trek franchise might be the answer to the post-capitalist dilemma. Many of you will tell me that's been the idea all along, and I wouldn't necessarily argue with that. Certainly the Stargate franchise (not to mention BSG) has picked up on that as well, most certainly in this new series.

* "FAIL" is about as hip and edgy as "not!" Whenever I see it used on a board, particularly in a thread title, I automatically disregard everything the poster has to say. Seriously.


  1. I'm half-watching a movie on SyFy right now called "Reptilian". It is very, very bad. I guess (Ct)Hulu is a great thing after all. I only mention it because this is the first time I've turned on a TV in a long time and there are commercials for SG:U playing. I couldn't even make it through the Stargate movie, but that could be because I missed the train on that whole thing.

    I've never been a fan of the Stargate series. Jewel Staite was great in Firefly (especially in that first episode, yowza), but that's about it.

    StarGate: U/You?

  2. Hi CK,

    Firts of all: Thumbs Up!

    I visit your blog on a regular base. Just wanted you to know that quite a few video streams are unable for me to watch. (HULU) The message I get is that this stream is only available in the U.S. (I guess that's why we don't need to WWW anymore)

    I'm from the Netherlands...

    Anyway, keep 'em goin'!



  3. Hi Chris,

    I watched a film called Immortel (ad vitam) that you may be interested in seeing
    It's not the greatest film but it features Isis & Horus and many strange ideas!.
    Please check it out!!!

    All the best,

  4. Hi Chris,

    I'm with you...what's with all the pessimism and woe?

    This new Stargate vision is really joining the crowd of "destroyed planet" joyriders.

    While cruising the History Channel on this Sunday afternoon, there was the History Channel presenting the Universe series. Today's episode: "10 Ways To Destroy The Earth". BTW, the announcer says that astronomers and astrophysicists came up with these ways... pretty reputable?

    It was interesting to me that the episode included 'The Big Burn' in which Earth moved too close to the Sun, 'The Big Freeze' in which Earth orbit moved too far out and Mars or Venus colliding with Earth by somehow leaving their orbits.

    All of that was too close to AAT of an extra-galactic planet disrupting Earth's orbit. And all of this was way too much of a confirmation of the much maligned Velikovsky and his "Worlds in Collision".

    Upcoming new Universe episode: "The End of Earth".

    Also my 14 year old niece and her school friends (these are the pretty bright AP kids too not your average happy go-lucky ones!)are enthralled with the History Channels "Clashes of the Gods" in which mythology is brought to life. Mythology was my entry into things other worldly as you similarly noted below in the Harryhausen post. But I wonder about these kids indoctrination into this. Our youth are being hit hard!

    Thanks, Chris!

  5. Also on History Channel tonight at 9 PM, Chris.

    New presentation: "I Know What I Saw" in which UFO believers DON'T get debunked!

    That ought to be very interesting!

  6. Thanks as always for the info-rich comments, Soapie. One thing I never experience these days is boredom- really wild what's flying around out there.

    And cheers to all of the great comments I get here- I'm very grateful to you all. I'll be doing something on Immortel in the weeks to come- stay tuned.

  7. For the not-so-resourceful...
    and those OUTSIDE the USA

    SG-U Episode 1

    But to avoid legal issues, use Chris's link inside the USA.


  8. Great really looking forward to the Immortel piece.

    Keep up the good work!!

    Also FlashForward had some military in command stuff going on in episode 2. The characters are scared seeing military/hummers on the streets. FBI will solve all as well. Interesting show so far...

    All the best,

  9. I am more than a little behind on movies -loved the Cth(hulu) :-)If I am not mistaken Lou Diamond Phillips was in another outer space movie (of course I cant remember the name) were he was flushed out through an airlock to his death by a member of the crew that had been taken over by an interdimensional space-thingy! I wonder what happens to him in this-thanks so much for the link-all the best to you!! If I can find or think of the name of the other movie will come back and comment!

  10. I loved the film and enjoyed the SG1 until it started jumping the shark (defeating the Goa'uld and then changing the team line-up, eventually bringing in the Farscape refugees - it all felt like they were spinning out a concept past its best). I initially did get hooked by SG: Atlantis but it did hit its stride and I caught up in the repeats and it ended on a high.

    I saw the trailers for SG:U and was intrigued by the concept but I watched the first two episodes tonight when it showed on Sky and I wasn't very impressed. The characters all seem to have their traits written on their T-shirts: Robert Carlyle (driven, possibly mad, scientist), Eli (lovable geek), unstable soldier, by-the-rules soldier, etc. The setting was what looked to be the Big Sell and it is a let down. I was hoping that the Ancients had left a Stargate on some big mad, distant even more ancient starship they'd found (so you'd have the discover of truly alien technology, probably bump into other species exploring the ship, etc.) but it is just another fairly familiar big bit of technology and as we've seen whole cities flying and fighting a big spaceship is never going to be enough. It seems like it is designed so they can have the general franchise set-up (dial a planet, find something strange, get into trouble and triumph. Eventually an overarching storyline with recurring villains/species will emerge) just in a setting where they are in a whole lot of trouble (billions of light years from home with no way back, no food and the air is running out). Sky are really pushing the "grim and gritty" angle and this is what is giving me The Fear.

    It feels like the early nineties in comics, the early years of the Dark Age of Comic Books, when people were chasing the grim and gritty feel based on a shallow reading of Watchmen, missing the point and giving Alan Moore years of heartache. In the same way I have the horrible feeling someone has looked at Battlestar Galactica and come to the conclusion that it was the fact that it shows humanity thrown onto the bones of their arse that was the key to success of the series when it was down to so much more (obviously a great story, actors, etc.) and it seems to also miss the point (which I think is more about Hope).

    So the worry is they have headed off in the wrong direction and they still might be able to turn things around as they develop an interesting and compelling story, as well as fleshing out the wafer thin characters, but they have set themselves a hard task. Unless they pull something out of the bag that makes it must-see-TV (and probably has a few watercooler moments for good effect) then it is not going to reach a wide audience and it will be catering to a diminishing fanbase.

    I have my fingers crossed but not a lot of hope in my heart.

  11. As always, thanks for you your in-depth and thoughtful comments, Empie. I'll keep your estimation in mind if I get the SG series another go. One quibble- I'd give Frank Miller more credit/blame for the grim and gritty bit- he was doing it in Daredevil and Ronin well before Watchmen. But I get your point, for sure.

  12. Indeed Frank Miller deserves some "blame" too and there is the horrible feeling that without his earlier work people might have taken more away from Watchmen but there was clearly a meeting where everyone in comics sat down to figure out the winning formula behind DKR, Watchmen, etc. and they decided it must be the grim and gritty feel.

    The added irony is that a few years earlier Alan Moore did a spoof short Daredevil story which made fun of the grim and gritty (it was in the shortlived Marvel UK comics magazine The Daredevils). So he already knew back then.

    There is also Morrison's Arkham Asylum and, if you read the interviews at the time, he was clearly taking the piss and was apparently amazed that it did so well (OK he was also pretty pleased as it paid for his house).

    Both Moore and Morrison have spent years reacting against this now, while Miller seems to have gone bonkers (Batman vs Al Qaeda, All Star Batman and Robin, etc.).

    What I'm hoping is that SG:U proves this grim and gritty idea won't work and we can avoid years of tedious sci-fi as things are certainly going well on the big concept front (Lost and now Fringe and FastForward) and the g+g approach will kill it dead.