Tonight was the U.K. premier of the first two episodes of the latest incarnation of the Stargate franchise, Stargate: Universe. Like all pilot episodes, it was a stop and start affair filled with massive infodumps and establishing scenes for characters. Without being too spoilerific for people who Skyplussed it or are waiting for repeats (you know who you are), the show then goes into a flashback explaining how things ended up where they are at the first moment of the show. The current situation is dealt with, intercut with flashbacks that help to establish the characters firmly into their presently defined roles.
Despite a few fan pleasing cameos early on, the show is very quick to distance itself from previous treatments of the Stargate universe (Ooh, check out the meta implications in the title!), most visibly in the camera work. Gone are the shiny, glossy, mid-budget movie visuals, to be replaced with a shaky, often slightly out of focus handicam feel, complete with muted colours and less obvious make up. This works surprisingly well, although it remains to be seen if it will be continued in the long term. I for one hope so, since I think this approach works best for deep space sci-fi, helping to emphasise the claustrophobia inherent in the situation.
What can I say about the special effects? I didn’t notice them, which is the way an effects shot should be. It should convey exactly what the makers want you to see, without making you go “That looks silly.”, which it did admirably considering the size of the budget available to programs made for the U.S. Sci-Fi Channel (No, I won’t use it’s dopey sounding new name).
The most important thing though, is the characters and storylines. This is the case in any drama, but even more so in sci-fi drama. Without believable characters and plot development, the willing suspension of disbelief is that much harder to attain, leading to a greater incidence of people finding a show ridiculous, rather than gripping. It’s far to early to say whether this will be the case with SG:U, however the early signs are good. All the characters are engaging, helped in no small part by the excellent performances from almost everyone involved. The presence of two heavyweights like Robert Carlyle and Ming-Na helps no end on that score, along with some excellent support from Louis Ferreira and Christopher McDonald. The only character who stands out as obviously clichéd is the over the top menacing sergeant. Whether this is the fault of the actor, or the script is yet to be seen. Happily, even the “geek” character is seen to be relatively socially well adjusted, at least by Hollywood interpretations of “geek” characters.
As for the storyline? Workmanlike is the best way to describe it. This is usually the necessity in a pilot episode, before a viewer can really invest in the situation a character finds themselves in, they have to care about a character and how things will affect them. The show does this efficiently for most of the characters, while still putting across all of the information necesary to the premise.
All in all, it’s a promising start, even if it hasn’t yet grabbed the attention and made itself into an absolute must see. I’ll be watching with interest to see if it manages to hold my attention in the way Stargate: Atlantis failed to. (I still have no clue how that show ended.)
Stargate: Universe airs in the U.K. on Sky 1 at 8 p.m. on Tuesday nights.