First thoughts: Stargate Universe

A new direction or a misguided adventure for the series? James Rundle gives his thoughts.

Air_(SGU)First of all, a quick apology. We did intend to put this article up after last week’s premiere of SGU on UK television, but when it became clear that the episode was a three-parter, we decided to wait until that aired to give a full view on events to date.

So, ‘Air’, the first three-parter of the new Stargate series has aired, showing a new direction for the franchise as a whole, and the producers experimenting with different styles. We’ve given over a lot of coverage to the series in the run up to its broadcast, but as this is an opinion column, I get to give my thoughts on what I’ve seen so far outside of the magazine. Have I been impressed?

Yes, very.

For a bit of background, I’ve been a Stargate fan ever since Children Of The Gods first debuted in a double bill on Sky 1, in 1997. I would say that I’ve been a fan of the series since the film, but to be honest, it was released when I was eight, and at that times I was more concerned with the the fight scenes than the storytelling or acting. I watched Stargate through its full ten seasons and loved every single one, even when they replaced Daniel Jackson for Jonas Quinn, and even when they killed off Dr Fraiser. I loved Ben Browder when he replaced Richard Dean Anderson, and the last two seasons are some of my favourites in the whole franchise, which I realise may instantly put my opinion at odds with other fans. When Atlantis started, I watched it all the way through as well, and also loved the series. If not as much as SG-1.

When Stargate Universe was announced after Atlantis’s cancellation, I was excited rather than upset. The franchise needed rejuvenating, and while I liked its warm, comfortable predictability (indeed, I had to after 15 seasons worth of episodes) and loved Continuum and Ark Of Truth, I felt that a change in direction was in order. And Universe certainly gave me that.

NUP_133845_0355Combining the camera styles of Firefly with the grittiness of Galactica and the complex characterisation of Lost, Universe, for me, has been a breath of fresh air. I’ve found myself watching the episodes over and over again without getting sick of them, and I can honestly say that I am a confirmed fan of the series.

What worked for me was the raw edge to the proceedings that complemented the rough cuts of the characters well, the non-linear structure that prevented it following the same formula of Stargate episodes before that. Robert Carlyle’s character, Doctor Rush, is a deliciously Machiavellian character, played with aplomb by the Scottish actor. David Blue’s Eli Wallace gave us an everyman’s connection to the series, while Alaina Huffman’s TJ was sympathetic, Ming-Na’s Camille Wray was powerful and Louis Ferreira’s Everett Young was the right balance of fatherly and commanding. I was also impressed with Brian J Smith as Matthew Scott, and I’m looking forward to seeing him gain a higher profile as the series progresses.

The design of the ship was fantastic, I thought, and I liked the fact that they simply couldn’t explore much of it due to hull breaches and damaged components. It’s more or less what I expected, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of it.

That’s not to say that it was all perfect, however. I struggled with Elyse Levesque’s Chloe Armstrong, and her acting was decidedly sub par in the more emotional scenes. David Blue was annoying rather than entertaining on occasion, although I thought it fit with the character’s profile. The most disappointing actor in the first two parts was Jamil Walker Smith with his massively over-the-top Ronald Greer, but by the end of the third part, he’d redeemed himself in my eyes and actually became one of my more liked characters.

In the third act, though, the hallucinations didn’t work for me. It felt as if the show was trying to tread too heavily over Lost ground, something that the show has clearly done better, and in greater detail before.

However, I did like the slow pacing, and I hope that’s something that continues for the future episodes.

Pros: Atmosphere, suspense, pacing, tension, structure, Robert Carlyle, design and potential.

Cons: Initial shaky acting, miscasting in one or two instances, dodgy CGI in the third act.

Overall, I’ll be avidly tuning in every week. I’m sure that many will disagree, so please, air your thoughts below.