[13 August 2009]
When Stargate SG-1 premiered on Showtime in July 1997, even the most devoted fans of the 1994 Stargate feature film couldn’t have predicted its long-term success. Finally concluding in 2007, the series lives on this fall with the arrival of its second spin-off, Stargate Universe.
Its premiere episode was “Children of the Gods”, a two-hour pilot that retooled the adventure movie to work as a weekly series. The uneven story introduced key plot elements but included some truly flat scenes.
Co-creators Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner were still figuring out what type of adaptation they wanted to make, and it showed—frequently. Was this creepy adult fare or clever family fun? The latter approach eventually won out, but the dominant tone is not clear during the pilot.
Originally, the major draw was the presence of Richard Dean Anderson, widely known for starring as MacGyver. Replacing the stern Kurt Russell as Colonel Jack O’Neill, he injects more humor into the role, which is pretty much required for this type of episodic television. It seemed unlikely that Anderson’s presence would inject enough star power to deliver a lengthy run, however. For the other key role, Michael Shanks takes over for James Spader and does a spot-on impression of his brilliant, nervous Dr. Daniel Jackson.
The pilot’s story picks up one year after the movie. O’Neill has retired but is thrust back into the action when a new enemy arrives through the Stargate. Rejoining Jackson, Captain Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) and a military team, they take a daring mission to a new world.
The villain is Apophis (Peter Williams), a parasitic Goa’uld searching for additional hosts. When he steals Jackson’s wife Sha’re (Vaitiere Bandera) and O’Neill’s friend Skaara (Alexis Cruz), the stakes rise immensely. After a narrow escape, the heroes become SG-1 to explore new worlds each week.
Twelve years after its original airing, MGM has re-released “Children of the Gods” in a new “Final Cut” DVD version with many changes, including a new score and better effects. Wright has added extra scenes while trimming parts that don’t work or go too long. The widescreen visuals and 5.1-channel audio are a definite improvement, but the rest depends on your point of view. There’s a fine line between improving a dated product and gouging fans, and this release falls right in the middle.
Besides the improved CG effects, the most obvious change is the complete removal of the full-frontal nudity, which Showtime requested to match its reputation. It makes sense within the story and effectively heightens Sha’re’s brutal experience. Cutting that scene minimizes the dread, but it’s understandable in the entire series’ context. Nudity only appears within this episode, so its appearance does feel out of place.
Approaching this DVD as a standalone movie, however, that argument loses some ground. Wright also excised a key moment near the conclusion that sets up the second episode, “The Enemy Within”. His justification is to treat the pilot as a separate film, which I understand, but it might counter the reasons for cutting the nudity. Regardless, the removal assists families screening the show for their kids, which makes sense.
Another removal improves a ridiculous line of dialogue from Carter’s introduction to O’Neill. While trying to prove that she can hang with the boys, Carter gives the following declaration: “Just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside, doesn’t mean I can’t handle whatever you can handle.” Wright has satirized this line in several other episodes, and the scene obviously is better without it. But he can’t remove the hokey feeling of the entire sequence. There’s barely a connection between this Carter and the character we see in future seasons.
The highlights of this revision are Joel Goldsmith’s new score and the updated visuals, which mirror recent SG-1 episodes. The music doesn’t overwhelm the story and matches the familiar beats from the series.
Unlike George Lucas’ Star Wars upgrades, the improved effects mesh nicely with the older scenes, with one exception. As the characters exit a massive pyramid, the original footage pulled away to reveal a grand structure. That moment was effective originally, but the revised images look too much like a video game. The flowing sand dunes are overdone and seem to promise a ridiculous hike for our lead characters. It’s a worthy attempt at enhancing the scale, but it takes us right out of the story.
Opening his audio commentary with “When’s lunch?”, Richard Dean Anderson immediately reveals the light-hearted tone of his discussion with Wright. It’s refreshing to finally get his participation, which is a series first for this type of extra. Anderson doesn’t spend much time reflecting on his overall experience, focusing instead on the on-screen events. Wright gives interesting details on the excised scenes, taking mild shots at Glassner for some choices. It’s not a spellbinding conversation and has quiet points, but it’s worth a listen for devoted fans.
The other extra is “Back to the Beginning”, an interview with Wright and Visual Effects Supervisor Michelle Comens about the changes. It runs for about seven minutes and provides some good information, particularly for viewers not interested in the commentary. However, it’s far too short and only scratches the surface of the discussion. Wright briefly addresses the expected criticism, and I would have enjoyed more thoughts on why the new version was needed.
A glaring omission is the absence of co-creator Glassner, who left after several seasons. His participation would have provided an intriguing counterpoint to Wright’s changes. He may have agreed with them, but we won’t find that answer here. It’s possible that Glassner may have refused an offer, but I expect his thoughts on the new cut weren’t solicited.
This “Final Cut” of Stargate SG-1: Children of the Gods will please loyal fans excited by any new franchise material. It’s a better episode and loses some tired elements that haven’t aged well. However, I doubt it will convert many new viewers to the series. I’m still hesitant to strongly recommend a release that feels unnecessary. There are some interesting changes, but the revamp falls short of providing jaw-dropping new material.