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Review: Stargate Universe catches ‘Air’

Friday - October 2, 2009
Category: EPISODES | Tags: ,


SPOILER ALERT:
LOW

Lt. Scott and Sgt. Greer deal with a panicked crowd in "Air."

Lt. Scott and Sgt. Greer deal with a panicked crowd in "Air."

Our intention here is to provide you with a largely spoiler-free review of “Air,” the 3-hour premiere of Stargate Universe.  To us, that means no major plot turns or reveals (beyond the widely publicized premise of the series).  But there are some “broad strokes” about the story in this review.  If you would rather watch the episodes cold, we suggest skipping this review until you have seen the show.

After 12 years and 15 produced seasons of television amounting to 314 episodes and two DVD movies, the Stargate franchise turns a major corner with the premiere of its third series, Stargate Universe. The first two hours of “Air” debut tonight  (9/8c on Syfy in the U.S., 9e on SPACE in Canada) and Part 3 follows next week.

Just what is that “corner?”  In every respect SGU is just what we hoped for: mature storytelling for a twenty-first century audience, an audience that tends to prefer dramatic character moments to shoot-’em-up action, and long-term story arcs to episodic vignettes.  This is, of course, not to say that everyone’s tastes are the same or to speak ill of the two Stargate shows that went before it — shows that were excellent in their own right, for the type of shows they wanted to be.

SGU is not the same type of show. That means that some viewers just won’t be interested (as a recent GateWorld poll shows). And that’s OK.  But those who do give the series a chance are sure to be rewarded with stories of heroism and duplicity, adventure and quiet introspection — stories that make us cheer, disquiet our consciences, and leave us gaping in disbelief.

Yes, Universe is a new Stargate.  But in a couple of unexpected ways, it is more Stargate than anything that has come before it.  It is human.  We treasured scenes in the later years of SG-1 when it was the whole team chillin’ at Jack’s house.  We were warmed with Sheppard and Rodney sharing a six pack on an Atlantis pier.  And then, when the time came, there were victories for the people we got to know. “Air” does exactly this and more, and it does it from episode one.

Stargate Universe is not a “perfect” show yet (what series is by the end of its pilot?), but it is exactly what we were hoping the next incarnation of Stargate could be and will be.

More than anything, SGU is about people and how they respond to incredible circumstances.

More than anything, SGU is about people and how they respond to incredible circumstances.

“Air” is cleanly divided into three acts of a single story, which brings our characters onto an Ancient ship called Destiny and begins to weave together the threads of their relationships with one another.  The first act centers on the forced evacuation of a base full of military personnel, scientists and civilians through the Stargate.  The second act turns to the question of how these people are going to survive on the derelict ship, with both a dwindling supply of oxygen and a question of leadership.  And in the third act, the crew sends a team to a newly-discovered planet on a mission to save all their lives.

If you’ve been watching the trailers and promos for SGU, looking at the photos and perhaps speculating a bit with us over at the forum, you probably know what to expect out of the first hour.  The new characters are introduced in interesting ways, leaving you liking some of them right off the bat.  The plot itself proceeds in a somewhat predictable way (again, the promotions engine has already told us a lot), but the characters are so dynamic that we found we didn’t really mind.  The circumstances which get these people onto the Destiny have a few fun connections to Stargate‘s established mythology, rewarding long-time viewers without leaving newbies behind — but this episode of television is more about the people.

The second hour of “Air” is unlike anything that this franchise has produced, and illustrates the ways in which this show is different.  The plot is incredibly simple, yet compelling to those of us who take things like breathing for granted.  Here the story slows way down, building to an ethical dilemma that is most fascinating in the variety of ways that different characters respond to it.

Taken together, “Air” Parts 1 and 2 are a fine set-up for the show and an illustration of how SGU is about people, more than technology, alien planets, or the plot of the week.  Neither of these episodes, however, represents what we think is going to be a typical hour of the show.  For that, you’ll need to hold out for the end of the story and come back for “Air, Part 3” on October 9.

SGU makes use of impressive new vistas to depict galaxies far, far away.

SGU makes use of impressive new vistas to depict galaxies far, far away.

In the final hour of what is really an extended pilot, the human refugees must send a team to an alien planet to find what they need to keep breathing.  It’s a trip through the Stargate to a vast, desert world in a galaxy where no human being has ever set foot.  In so many ways, this is what Stargate is all about — and has always been about.  But SGU gives the classic “trip through the gate” formula a new twist (or three):  Instead of exploring a planet, meeting a village of humans, and finding (or causing) a crisis, here the characters are on a continual mission of survival.  Air.  Water.  Food.  Like plane crash survivors in the wilderness, they need to stay alive long enough to find a way home.  And there aren’t any medieval villages to go to for aid.

We found this final chapter of the premiere to be the best — the most compelling, the most visually unique, and the most satisfying.  By this point the characters are beginning to feel familiar.  The alien vista provided by filming in White Sands, New Mexico is stunning, harkening back to the deserts of Abydos in the “Stargate” feature film.  And yes, the producers’ promise that any alien life we encounter will be very alien pays off early.

"Everyman" characters are plenty in the newest Stargate series, most notably newcomer Eli Wallace (David Blue).

"Everyman" characters are plenty in the newest Stargate series, most notably newcomer Eli Wallace (David Blue).

Just watching this show, you get the feeling that it is expensive.  The visual effects in Stargate Universe are among the finest ever made for the franchise.  The set design, a mix of Jules Verne and Firefly, are James Robbins’ best work.  And composer Joel Goldsmith proves that he is as flexible as the show’s writers by reaching so far outside of himself with a stunning and original score that you have to check the end credits to make sure it is still him.

But “Air” is, again, not perfect.  While the three parts are distinct and each tells an important piece of a single narrative, we wonder if a 2-part opener would have made for a stronger start.  But we’re getting used to the slower pace of storytelling, just like the writers are getting used to writing Stargate differently.  Somewhere in between those is “Air,” a strong start to a show that will only get better.  Those who want everything they hoped to see in a new Stargate series will, like the show, need to slow down and wait for the rest of the season to unfold.

Unlike its predecessors, Universe is also a show aimed particularly at adults.  This isn’t one to watch with the kids, as one very “adult” scene demonstrates early on.  (It’s up to fans to determine whether or not the scene is inappropriate — but watch what is going on with those characters later on before deciding.)  It is tonally darker, as advertised, but it’s not the next Battlestar Galactica by any stretch of the imagination.  As another reviewer recently put it, SGU finds a sweet spot between the enduring optimism of Star Trek: Voyager (which rarely seemed to appreciate the gravity of its disturbing premise) and the brooding moodiness of BSG, which seemed to take itself so seriously that it was at times nihilistic.  For those of us who want optimism qualified by realism (and vice versa), Universe is right on the mark.

What more is there to say?  We’ve been talking-up the show for over a year now, and it certainly does not disappoint.  But watch it for yourself.  We think it’s just what is needed in 2009, and we’re sure that it has a great future ahead of it as we get to know the Destiny and open up our living rooms to the men and women on board.  Like the ship itself, Stargate Universe is going where no Stargate show has ever tread.

SGU "Air" Review - Stargate




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COMMENTS (124):Rules | Report Comment | Trackback

  • I’m sure the show will be great (in terms of quality) and I’ll watch the first episode but if it’s anything like I think it is (and you say it is) I may have to give it a miss, which is a shame, as I was really looking forward to more of the ‘old’ Stargate, which may never happen in this economic climate if SGU succeeds.
    I fully admit I’m still bitter over SGA and SG1’s cancellation, and the fact that they are no longer making that ‘style’ of show, disappoints me.
    We’ll have to wait and see if there is enough of the ‘old’ Starage in there to keep me happy but I doubt there will be.

  • Sounds like the rumors that this will be “Stargate Voyager” are accurate. Depending on whether they mange to combine the best or the worst of both series, it could be excellent.

  • Interesting… I’m looking forward to it.

    About Voyager not living up to it’s disturbing premise, you have to consider that these are Starfleet officers who may serve on deep space ships for years at a time. They know how to handle themselves on a mission like that.

  • “Unlike its predecessors, Universe is also a show aimed particularly at adults. This isn’t one to watch with the kids, as one very “adult” scene demonstrates early on.”

    So much for them aiming at getting the younger crowd watching.

  • @ J-Whitt987: Younger audience meaning teenagers and early-20’s, not the ten-year-olds the review was probably indicating to. Yeesh

    Great review. Less than a day left! Awesome.

  • “Unlike its predecessors, Universe is also a show aimed particularly at adults. This isn’t one to watch with the kids, as one very “adult” scene demonstrates early on.”

    So Joe Mallozzi lied about Universe being a show the family could watch, huh?

  • @imitation Tofu: Sadly, Family no longer has the traditional “Mom, dad, 2.5 children and a dog” meaning. Now it broadly encompasses “person, spouse or significant other (more to what this show targets), and an unspecified pet of indeterminate gender”. It’s like Gene Roddenberry’s “To boldly go where no man had gone before” changed to “no one had gone before”. So technically, Mallozzi may not have lied. New Seasons of Stargate in the past was always a joyous occasion, and much looked forward to. Now All I have is an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach (Wonders off to find a doughnut and coffee to drown my sorrow) :(

  • Cannot wait for this. Damn lucky yanks watching it tonight :(

    Still have to wait for 4 days and I refuse to watch it on the internet. Ah well, enjoy :)

  • I subscribe to many of the opinions above regarding the disappointment, caused by the radical change in tone, of the show. I really enjoyed the uplifting sensation the show gave during the first two series and I will miss it incredibly. I’m also a bit sad because there aren’t that many shows out there which make you fell like stargate did when it comes to humor and knowing stargate will be different just makes the world a place a bit less cheerful. I do hope something similar will come to take it’s place( I have enjoyed Warehouse 13 so far :P )

    I will watch SGU and I’m certain that it will be a great production, however this stargate series, though different from BSG, will definitely give a similar vibe at some levels, and from what I read it will be, at leas I hope it will be, unique on other levels…anyway I just didn’t need another show to see life how it really is( there are plenty of those), I see it every day. Going to miss Stargate.

  • So the big difference between SGU and previous incarnations is that we are immersed in the characters issues from the start (oh and their sexual relations)and this is meant to draw us in. Stargate was about the adventure and the comraderie, not plodding plots and cliched characters. All of them have over the top dramatic pasts to add to the so called “drama” that was seemingly missing from past shows. Well I could relate to the previous casts much better than this latest one. You need to be able to connect and care for the characters before inflicting their interpersonal relationships and their past issues on us, and that takes time and good solid writing.

  • I’ve read most of the reviews by the more major media outlets (e.g. TV Guide, NY Times, Hollywood Reporter). Not one mentioned the “adult” scene. I’m expecting that it won’t be any racier than what you typically see in Primetime TV these days. Nevertheless, Kids under 12 only represented 4% of the audience of the previous shows anyway. Time to stop writing for an audience that wasn’t even there in great numbers anyway.

  • blackhawlk I understand where you’re coming from. Do not take our word for it, of course. See for yourself and make up your own mind. :)

  • I have been watching Star gate since I was in 7th Grade! I am 26 now and still a doe hard StarGate fan…. Today is like Christmas to me because I have been waiting for new StarGate for along long time… Please let this new show be even close to as good as SG1 and I will be happy! Also lets get the next SG1 movie!!!

  • Well, thats reassuring to hear that aliens will actually be alien. I just hope they dont have boring features like Legs, arms ect.. I want -completely- alien aliens that are entirely unrelatable and out of this world, and a lack of symmetry would be nice too ;)

  • […] as “military scifi,” the series is reportedly less campy than its predecessors and uses thematic elements which will seem familiar to Battlestar Galactica fans. Preview trailer. For US viewers, Hulu will […]

  • I’m not reading this until after I watch it. Gotta do it with fresh eyes

  • DOA. Any show that requires porn in order to get ratings to replace the lack of substance is poor writing. Not to mention trained professionals crying in the middle of an immediate crisis situation. Looks like they have combined the bad from both BSG and Voyager.

  • Fell asleep in it. Too much like Battlestar G’s “I’m peeing my pants” camerawork. Maybe someone could bring back Lost in Space.

  • I really enjoyed parts 1 and 2 and i’m hoping 3 will be a decent conclusion. One thing that i’m worried about is the character drama we’re going to get. Now it seems we’re going to end up with conflict between the characters which is understandable and probably a good thing. But I really hope it isn’t just this week character A hates Dr. Rush and next week character B hates Rush.

    That’s the majority of the conflict I saw allthough Greer I think? He seems like he’s going to be interesting but then the teaser for part 3 shows him and rush arguing so I don’t know.

  • Hi, I am Tom and I have been watching an SG-1/SGA episode everyday on DVD for two years. First of all I would like to say I am a Die Hard SG-1/SGA fan. When I found out that SGA was cancelled, It saddened me deeply, but on the other hand the franchise had gone off the air in a blaze of glory. Whith the new films comeing out my sorrow turned to anticipation. Then I heard of Stargate Universe and how it was going to be “different”. I said I would try it because the other two shows were so great. After watching the premire tonight I have relized my worst fears have come true. Instead of leaving the franchise good and epic, my favorite TV show makers have done the unspeakable. They have made stargate into a Sci-fi soap opera. No aleins? No shoot-em-up action? No evil bad guys?If this show is just about characters it will only be half as good as SG-1 and SGA. This is extremely depressing. Do not take my opinion litely as I am about as big a stargate fan as you will ever meet.

  • Well i just watched air and it was awesome. I anticipate it just getting better. The writers made you care about these characters in the first hour. It’s different yet familiar. And it was nice to see a few familiar faces.

    For those of you still complaining, perhaps the campy Dr. Who is more your style. Let the rest of us enjoy the new series you’ll be missing out on.

  • Only thing that bother me was the sex scene. I really don’t think it was necessary. That was too much for this being Stargate. Everything else was fine. It’s too early to tell if I really like it.

  • It looks promising… right now I would give it a solid 6.5 and expect it to jump another point or two after episode 3. I do like how they are portraying the young LT’s though. It is easy to think that you are just a Lieutenant and you have little responsibility or influence and then all of the sudden you are flung into a situation that you never thought you would be in. Some step right up… some revert to the whole “I’m just a Lieutenant… don’t ask me” mindset. I think it is very accurate how these characters are responding to the situation (Speaking from experience).


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