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REVIEW: Stargate: The Ark of Truth

Thursday - March 6, 2008 | by Darren Sumner



THE FILM
The Ark of Truth has all the action, visual effects, character interaction, and humor that has made SG-1 so great. If this movie had aired as the TV show's final two-parter, it would doubtless go down in history as one of the best ever. However, it is not entirely without flaw.

Ark was shot on 35mm film, which gives it a noticeably different and high-quality look. As the filmmakers discuss at length in the commentary track, film adds an incredible depth of field, contrast between lights and darks, and fine detail that the TV series' digital cameras just do not capture.

But just as important as the photography is the script and the editing, which slow down the pacing and allow plenty of time for the actors to feel their way through a scene. One area where Stargate has sometimes struggled in its television format is that it has the quick pace of an action show. This makes for an entertaining program, but most episodes rarely slow down to allow characters to interact, to ponder the weight of events, to emote without expositing the next portion of important dialogue (particularly in the later years). It is a deliberate move on the part of the producers to keep the story clipping along at a fast pace, in part to keep viewers from flipping channels.


SG-1 finds an ancient relic in the ruins of Dakara.


Amelius (Fabrice Grover), the Alteran who invented the Ark of Truth millions of years ago.


The Odyssey heads through the Supergate.

I think that most viewers don't notice, but this is a key difference between science fiction dramas (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation) and action/adventure series (such as Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis). The Ark of Truth does not vary from the traditional SG-1 formula of story-telling, but it does make use of the movie format to slow down. When your viewers have purchased your product and sat down to plug it into the DVD player, there is no concern about losing their attention with a more relaxed pace.

That doesn't mean The Ark of Truth is slow. It means it takes exactly as much time as it needs to feel the weight of what is happening.

It makes a noticeable difference. An episode of the television series would never take so much time to allow Daniel to brush the dust off a newly-unearthed artifact, to see Tomin's anguish over his past decisions, or to watch Cameron carefully evade enemies on board the Odyssey. What would have been a 5-second establishing shot can be 15 to 20 seconds, and this basic editing decision greatly affects the feel of "scale." As fine as the acting, special effects, and music are, it's the editing that makes The Ark of Truth a truly unique Stargate adventure.

The entire film feels more epic than a television episode, thanks also to composer Joel Goldsmith's full and robust orchestral and vocal score. As excellent as the TV series' music is, the use of a 50-piece orchestra and 30-person choir adds special texture to the film.

Goldsmith incorporates familiar themes from the 1994 "Stargate" film score, sounds which have never before been paired with the SG-1 cast. The result helps to push Ark further toward a theatrical scale, though it is not without its dissonance. The main "Stargate" theme actually feels a bit out of place for SG-1, which has musically evolved in the 14 years since the Kurt Russell and James Spader film. A new composition which more subtly blends the original themes with familiar SG-1 music, using the original movie's score in less obvious ways, would have been preferred.


Actor Currie Graham steals the show as Marrick.


Classic SG-1 archaeology plays a big part of The Ark of Truth.


Vala Mal Doran (Claudia Black)

The actors remain in fine form, proving that a little thing like cancellation won't dull their love for their characters. Daniel, Vala, Teal'c, Sam, Cameron, and Landry all have their moments to shine. But the real "out-of-the-park," show-stealing performances come from Tim Guinee ("Tomin") and Currie Graham ("James Marrick"). It's also great (and vital to this story) to see Julian Sands back as the Doci, though unfortunately he doesn't get much to do.

Much will doubtless be made about the story itself, from the return of an old foe to the manner in which the Ori threat is finally dealt with. The B-story on board the Odyssey is a whole lot of fun, classic SG-1 -- the I.O.A.'s actions here are actually rather ingenious. But there is no doubt that it takes a lot of time away from the Ori.

More significant than this debate, though, is the ethics of the Ark itself. This device was created by the Ancients millions of years ago, when they were the flesh-and-blood Alterans. When opened, the device was to essentially brainwash the Ori into the Alterans' way of thinking, in order to avert a war. The Alterans decided it would be unethical to use it, and left it behind when they migrated to the Milky Way Galaxy.

Whether or not it is right for SG-1 to now use the device on the Ori's followers is an ethical conundrum perfect for Daniel Jackson, but nothing more than a passing comment is made of it. Here the ends justify the means -- "truth" is literally contained in the box, and it need only be found and delivered in order to stop a genocidal war. There are some lovely thematic underpinnings about truth and religious faith, but ironically the viewer must be left asking, with Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus, "What is truth?"


Morena Baccarin's Adria is more powerful than ever.


Mitchell and Carter at the Asgard core, on board the Odyssey.

Stargate's anthropocentric worldview is front and center. The film's message seems to be that, because it is wrong to engage in violence on behalf of one's god, it is right to bring an end to religious belief altogether. Science brings freedom from religion (the original Alteran vs. Ori debate described by Orlin in "The Fourth Horseman"). I would by no means go so far as to call the message atheistic -- clearly the Ori are evil false gods who need to be cast down, just as the Goa'uld were -- but the franchise is still lacking in a depiction of the positive aspect of religious devotion.

Even maintaining a worldview that is rooted in the enlightened human intellect, this is certainly possible. Stargate has always been rather iconoclastic in its treatment of religion, but it needn't necessarily be. At least there is a mention at film's end that there may be something positive to Origin now that the shots are not being called by evil, power-hungry beings.

NEXT: Audio Commentary and Bonus Featurettes


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