It was 1994 when Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s Stargate finally hit the big screen. It was an ambitious science fiction film with a modest budget (just $55 million), and it wasn’t a summer blockbuster by any means. But for an off-season, October release, Stargate did remarkably well with its $71 million gross domestic earnings and nearly $200 million worldwide.
The team’s production studio had found third-party financiers, and signed over the rights to MGM only after the film had been made — reportedly to secure a wide distribution in the U.S. Along with that deal went the pair’s rights to the intellectual property, and in the years following MGM would opt for making a TV series for Showtime — Stargate SG-1 — instead of letting Devlin and Emmerich move forward with their intended sequels.
Flash forward to 2013, and Stargate is off the air after three television series and a hugely successful, 14-year run. The production team at The Bridge Studios in Vancouver have moved out and on to other things. MGM has passed through the fires of bankruptcy and is under new management. And Devlin and Emmerich are back at MGM’s Los Angeles offices to pitch their trilogy once again — or, rather, a “reboot” of the Stargate concept for the big screen.
So is this the best thing for Stargate? And is it the only way for Stargate to make a comeback?For many fans, the TV incarnation simply is Stargate. (From “Reckoning”)
Now this is just my opinion, as someone who has been following Stargate from the beginning — nearly 20 years now. And I recognize that for millions of other Stargate fans around the world … well, “your mileage may vary,” as they say. So I hope you’ll consider what I have to say, and then sound off in the comments section below.
I think the feature film reboot could be a very, very good thing for Stargate. It’s not the version of Stargate that I want the most right now, but it’s the version that has the best chance of bringing the franchise back to life.
There are two things you have to know about me to understand why I’m looking at the potential reboot trilogy this way. First, I’m what you might call a grim realist. I understand a little bit about the way that the film and television industry works, and I know what it takes for studios to get behind a project and put up the cash to get it made.
It has next to nothing to do with satisfying a vocal online fan base (which usually makes up a tiny fraction of viewers or ticket holders).
It has next to nothing to do with fulfilling “promises” made by past regimes of executives (who lost their jobs, it might be argued, as a result of their mismanagement of a bankrupt studio).
And it certainly has nothing to do with the creative need to tie up loose plot threads or resolve cliffhangers.
It has everything to do with the latest pitch’s potential profitability. For a company with shareholders, like MGM, that’s doubly true.
No, if the writers of Stargate SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe were the ones holding the purse strings and calling the shots, they would go in for all of those other reasons. But Stargate is no longer in their control; it’s in the hands of executives who only know that (a) Stargate has a strong fan base, (b) Stargate has made MGM a lot of money over the years, but (c) Stargate on television seems to have been run into the ground and cancelled by its broadcaster due to steadily decreasing viewership over a 6-year period.
What was once MGM’s most lucrative franchise second only to James Bond is now consigned to the vast archive of past generations (think the Raiders of the Lost Ark ending).
That, I think, is the studio’s point of view on the franchise circa 2013. That means that the odds of MGM bringing back any of those three series and their casts, of tying up their storylines, even of making a one-off DVD movie, is hovering somewhere around zero.
Is that what I want? NO. I want to know the rest of the SGU story. I want SG-1 and Atlantis back in the form of reasonably-budgeted movies every couple of years. But that ain’t going to happen. I’m a grim realist about it all.
So Stargate either reinvents itself, or goes away for good.
Second, you need to know that I am a “franchise fan.” There are different ways to love a multi-show, multi-media franchise like Stargate, you see. I understand that my way is not everyone’s way. And that’s cool. Many people aren’t fans of the concept so much as they are fans of SG-1, or Atlantis, or Universe, of Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks, Joe Flanigan and Torri Higginson, of the characters and villains and great one-liners that have made up the fabric of those 14 years. If those shows are never coming back, some fans will stick with their DVDs and won’t come back, either. And that’s totally fine.
I, however, am first a fan of the Stargate concept. I’m very interested in anything that takes place in this universe, making use of gate travel to explore other worlds, meet alien species and displaced human cultures, and get into trouble along the way. So the idea of a big-budget, big-screen trilogy of Stargate movies is incredibly exciting to me.
Not because I don’t want SG-1, or Atlantis, or Universe back.
Not because I’m even all that big a fan of Devlin and Emmerich’s other work.
Because it’s Stargate. And it’s the best damn chance of ever seeing any Stargate again.
The Stargate franchise is at a crossroads. The shows that we love are over — but we’ll always have them, on DVD and Blu-ray, to love. We’ll always have each other to talk to and to relive old memories, whether online or at conventions around the world. But at this crossroads, the Stargate concept either becomes something new or it dies.
One of my favorite shows of the 1990s was Babylon 5. Creator J. Michael Straczynski tried the DVD movie route a few years ago with The Lost Tales, but it went no where. JMS recently made a comment that I haven’t been able to get out of my head: he said that, because the show isn’t airing in repeats anywhere (at least in the U.S.), it can’t draw any new fans. A handful of people may find it in the DVD bargain bin, or while cruising Netflix or Hulu, or on a recommendation from a friend — sure. But since it’s not very “discoverable” its fan base is simply going to grow older and shrink through attrition. And Warner Bros. has little motivation to ever make anything B5-related again … unless the fans demand it.
The same is true for any property, including Stargate. The more attention it draws, and the more people who join its fan base, the more likely it is that more and more stuff will get made. Movies. New TV shows. Comics. Video games. Toys. All those things you think Stargate needs more of — well, it first needs the viewership to justify it.
Not to the MGM who made SG-1 and rode the wave of Stargate‘s international success for more than a decade. Not the MGM that cashed the cheques that the current fan base already wrote. No, we’re talking about the new MGM for whom Stargate looks, on paper, less like a sure-thing and more like a potential liability.
That’s not an MGM that owes us anything. It’s an MGM that needs to be convinced that Stargate can be a major property again.
The Bottom Line: A rebooted film trilogy, helmed by established names and given a significant budget, would be a huge injection of life into Stargate‘s dying embers. It won’t be the same as SG-1, Atlantis, or SGU, no. But it will be Stargate, and it will bring millions of new people into the broader world of our fandom.
That way, in 10 years, we’ll be watching new Stargate, anticipating the next TV series, playing the video games, hunting for the toys, and grabbing tickets to the next convention … and not just remembering how fun it all was while it lasted.
Read more about Devlin and Emmerich’s hopes for a new Stargate trilogy — which has NOT yet been given the go-ahead by MGM — here.