We love the original Stargate movie, and we love the TV series that expanded the universe three years later. But there’s no doubt that the television show did a lot of things differently.
Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s Stargate hit theaters in October of 1994, wowing audiences with a brand new science fiction world laced with military elements and ancient mythology. Although the pair wanted to make sequels, instead MGM decided to send the Stargate franchise to television.
Stargate SG-1 premiered in July 1997, with Richard Dean Anderson taking over for Kurt Russell. A mostly Canadian team took the reigns of what would grow into a full-fledged sci-fi franchise, including new “Daniel Jackson” actor Michael Shanks and a cast and crew based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Of course the show was a hit, running for 10 years and more than 200 episodes.
There are some small and some big differences between the world of the film and the TV universe — some the result of production necessities, and some possibly oversights on the part of the writers. Some of these changes we can explain away with some in-canon speculation (and we’re really going to try hard here!), but others are so different that you might have to conclude that the movie and the show are just set in two different universes.
On with the list! Some of these are obvious, but you might not have noticed the more obscure changes. If you’ve spotted something that we don’t mention here, be sure to post it in the comments below.
#10 – NEW FACES
Let’s get the most obvious out of the way first: only two actors from the feature film reprised their roles on SG-1. That’s Skaara actor Alexis Cruz (who was originally considered for a spot on the main cast), and Kasuf actor Erick Avari (who didn’t show up until Season Two).
Richard Dean Anderson took over the role of Jack O’Neill (two “L’s”!), and Michael Shanks replaced James Spader as archaeologist and all-around geek Dr. Daniel Jackson. Catherine Langford was now played by American actress Elizabeth Hoffman (losing Viveca Lindfors’ Swedish accent in the process), and the Abydonian princess Sha’uri was played by Vaitiare Bandera (who had actually auditioned for the role in the movie).
Finally, two members of O’Neil’s recon team made it to television: Lieutenants Kawalsky and Ferretti. Jay Acovone was cast in the role originated by John Diehl; and French Stewart’s character went to Brent Stait.
#9 – MOVING MOUNTAINS
This one always struck me as a funny thing to change. In the movie the Stargate research program is housed deep within the fictional Creek Mountain military complex … but the TV show changed this to a base that actually exists in the real-world: Cheyenne Mountain (also in Colorado). Here General George Hammond was in command, rather than General West.
Explaining this one away in canon means that, at some point after Jack O’Neill returned from the Abydos mission, the Air Force packed up the Stargate and transported it to a different decommissioned missile silo … where they reconnected it to power and the dialing computer, and then proceeded to throw a sheet over it and decommission the project.
Why the change? The writers probably liked the idea of connecting Stargate Command with the real-world U.S. military base at Cheyenne Mountain, where N.O.R.A.D. is located. It’s also fitting, because the North American Aerospace Defense Command itself is a joint organization of the United States and Canada. But it is worth noting that the show’s ongoing relationship with the real Air Force didn’t start until after SG-1 had started airing.
The two gate rooms and control rooms are very much the same, though the upstairs conference room in the TV series is a good deal more spacious. One other nice bit of continuity: in both mountains the Stargate is located on Sublevel 28.
#8 – WHICH GALAXY?
Unlike the location of the S.G.C., the decision to change the location of the planet Abydos relative to Earth actually has an important reason in canon. Fans of the movie will remember that awe-inspiring moment when the probe is first sent through the gate and tracks its location to the “Kaliem Galaxy” (a fictional invention of the writers). This contributed to a sense that this story was massive in scale, as Dr. Langford declares that the Stargate has reached a world “on the other side of the known universe.”
The vast distance between Earth and Abydos (which is named in the script, but never actually named on screen) also gave the marketing department the film’s tagline:
It will take you a million light years from home. But will it bring you back?
When SG-1 premiered with “Children of the Gods,” though, we quickly learned that in the TV universe Abydos is very close to Earth — in the Milky Way. In fact it’s one of our closest neighbors in the Stargate network. This was necessary because the Stargate was able to connect without the dialing computer having to compensate for millions of years of stellar drift.
Other addresses discovered in the pilot episode would have to be adjusted to account for the fact that stars and their planets slowly drift apart over time. The base computer would only calculate a few per month … just enough for an episodic series!
#6 – WHAT’S IN A NAME?
OK, this one is smaller … but while we’re talking about characters brought over to the small screen, it’s worth noting that some of them also received name changes. Stargate SG-1 fans will know that Sha’uri was renamed “Sha’re” — more than likely just to make it easier for the actors to pronounce. Probably for the best.
Then there is Jack’s late son, whose accidental death has sent the Colonel into a spiral of grief and made him willing to accept a suicide mission. The young boy’s name in the TV show is Charlie, given time and again throughout many episodes. Charlie’s name was never spoken in the film, but eagle-eyed viewers will spot the framed award on his dresser: it’s “Tyler O’Neil.”
As for Jack himself — who knows why the TV series changed the spelling of “O’Neil” (with one L) to “O’Neill” (with two L’s). But it became a running joke, with Jack telling a reporter to be sure to spell his name right (“There’s another Colonel O’Neil with only one L, he has no sense of humor at all”), and again later to Senator Kinsey. This Colonel O’Neill can’t pull off Kurt Russell’s flat-top haircut, and he’s much more likely to start a mission with a lighthearted quip.
#6 – PUSH-BUTTON DIALING
It was the television show that introduced the dial-home device, which allows the Stargate to be dialed quickly and easily on most of the planets the team would visit. The movie never actually explained how the team dialed back to Earth at the end.
After Colonel O’Neill convinces Hammond to let him take a team through the gate back to Abydos, he and his team discover that the planet now has a D.H.D. conveniently located next to the Stargate. Push-button dialing, at your fingertips! And even though Samantha Carter geeks out about the device the moment she lays eyes on it, Daniel doesn’t say anything about it. I guess maybe he found it tucked away in another pyramid, had it moved, and figured out how to connect it to the Stargate … using his archaeology degree? (Let’s not think about this too hard.)
Of course the D.H.D. too was a necessary plot convenience for a weekly show. The team (or their enemies) could quickly and easily activate the Stargate whenever they wanted to. On SG-1 the Stargate goes to many different planets, and so a handy D.H.D. pairs nicely with the cartouche full of gate addresses that Daniel has discovered.
#5 – EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH
It’s a question as old as science fiction itself: Why do all the aliens speak English? Well, because … reasons. This was a bona fide short cut, and the writers clearly decided they didn’t want to spend the first 10 minutes of every episode with the team figuring out how to say “Hello.”
On Abydos it makes sense, and it’s perfectly in line with the feature film. Daniel has been living on the planet for a year, and he has taught the people of his adopted home how to speak his language. But this explanation doesn’t travel through the gate to the many other worlds where aliens and humans speak English.
Unlike Star Trek‘s universal translator or Farscape‘s translator microbes, Stargate never came up with an in-universe gimmick to explain this conceit.
This point also brings up a significant change behind the scenes: the TV series dropped the use of a language consultant to make the language of Abydos, the Jaffa, and the Goa’uld sound like ancient Egyptian. Words like “Chappa’ai,” “kek,” and “sholvah” were entirely invented by the SG-1 writers.
#4 – THE STARGATE
Let’s talk about the 64,000-pound elephant in the gate room: the Stargate itself underwent numerous changes for the television series, both in design and effects and also how it works.
When the show sent crew members to retrieve props from the film shoot, most of it was in bad shape — including the Stargate itself. The production in Vancouver would commission the construction of a brand new gate to serve as the focal point of the series, with chevrons that light up and an inner track that could be spun using hidden motors.
There are several subtle changes here from the movie gate, and the way it functions:
- The movie gate was not part of a network of thousands of Stargates. In two planned sequels the writers intended to use the eighth chevron to dial to a second planet and the ninth to reach a third — but that’s it.
- The chevrons positioned around the gate look a bit different, and slide out differently when they lock. The chevrons on the movie gate are a flat grey, and lack the reddish crystal of the series.
- The TV series simplified the unstable energy vortex that “kawooshes” out of the gate when it first connects, eliminating the reverse funnel effect that appears behind the Stargate.
- In the movie, gate travelers are thrown out of the gate after a rough ride through the wormhole. At first the show continued this (including ice crystals on their faces), but soon cut it from any future scripts — again, making the process of gate travel more simple and streamlined. (In Season Five’s “Red Sky” Carter explains that the rough ride was caused by the margin of error in calculating planetary shift, stating that it had been fixed.) Soon SG team members would simply step through the gate like walking into the next room.
- Dialing the gate also caused the whole base to shake violently in the movie. The show also dispensed with this, explaining that frequency dampeners had been installed that reduce the shaking to a slight vibration (“Solitudes”).
- That seven-symbol coordinate system for gate addresses was a brilliant concept for Daniel to figure out in the movie, but it was tough to maintain when writing weekly stories where the team had to be able to dial home quickly. So on the show, Earth’s address seems to be mostly static — something that all off-world personnel could just memorize.
While the movie made finding the address back to Earth a plot point, the show kept this vague and occasionally showed D.H.D.s that had one unique symbol (“Solitudes,” “The Gamekeeper”) — so the characters could assume that was the point of origin for that planet, and use the same six symbols for dialing Earth.
#3 – DID YOU HEAR THAT?
Of course an effects-heavy feature will be big on visual spectacle, from dialing the Stargate to the destruction of Ra’s ship in orbit. But the sound design also adds a whole lot to a movie like this. So pay close attention to the sound effects used in the film … and how different they are from the 214 episodes of television that followed.
Some key sound effects are different on Stargate SG-1, and some sounds are actually reused for other things. The sounds of the Stargate’s dialing sequence are very different, especially the sound of a chevron locking into place. In the movie that’s a thinner and more high-tech sound; but the TV series would make it heavy and metallic, emphasizing that the gate is an ancient and very weighty artifact.
Last but not least, listen for the sound that is heard when the death gliders launch from Ra’s pyramid ship. This one plays a radically different role in the show: it’s the sound of a wormhole disengaging.
#2 – LITTLE ORPHAN DANNY?
Daniel’s backstory in the movie is left a bit vague. When he meets Catherine Langford we really only know that he’s broke, and he’s been laughed out of the academic world because of his unconventional theories. Daniel has nothing to lose by accepting her offer, and in fact he gets a chance to prove that his theories about the pyramids are right. (The whole “landing platforms for alien space ships” thing is never spelled out in the movie, actually.)
When the two first meet, Catherine shows Daniel an old photo of a couple with a baby. She asks him, “Are these your parents?” Daniel tells her that they are his foster parents. (The fact that he was orphaned at a young age further cuts him off from any ties he would be leaving behind on Earth.)
So what’s up with Danny’s parents showing up in a childhood memory in Season Two’s “The Gamekeeper”? In this episode we witness the accident that killed both his mother and father, and it’s clear that Daniel was older than that baby when it happened.
So the show suggests that Daniel was orphaned, but it was when he was much older. If you squint really hard, the way to explain the apparent inconsistency within canon is to conclude that Daniel isn’t actually the baby in the photo. His foster parents must have had another child (or foster child). Or maybe Daniel is the baby, and he was fostered by a couple who knew his parents and posed for a photo with their friends’ baby before they died.
Yeah, we’re trying pretty hard here …
#1 – RA WAS NOT AN ASGARD!
No doubt the biggest change from the Stargate movie to the television series is the main villain — Ra, an alien who abducted humans from Earth thousands of years ago. In the film Ra is depicted as an alien life form that resembles the classic Roswell “Greys” with a big head, big eyes, and sharp teeth. He was also said to be the last of a dying race, who was looking to cheat death.
Just how he used his technology to take a human boy as a host isn’t explained at all. It was up to the show to make some sense of the mythology that had been a bit cobbled together.
On Stargate SG-1 the team learns that Ra was not the last of his kind at all, but only one powerful Goa’uld among a race that used advanced technology to dominate the galaxy. Not only did Ra find his host on Earth 10,000 years ago, but the show revealed that his discovery of human hosts led to a long-term occupation of Earth by the Goa’uld. Thus there are countless Goa’uld who, like Ra, are connected to the gods of the ancient world.
In their natural state these creatures are much smaller and snake-like. They enter a host body (usually through the back of the neck) and take control by wrapping around the brain stem. This makes a whole lot more sense for a parasitic species that appear human on the outside.
So, no … Ra was not really an Asgard. Eventually SG-1 would also make use of the Roswell Greys, but on the show they were a benevolent race that are more advanced than the Goa’uld. Eventually the Asgard become an ally of Earth, and play a key role in the mythology of the television universe.
Did Stargate SG-1 make good changes to the movie universe? Or did you like things better the way they were? Post a comment below, and let us know if you found any changes we didn’t mention!