First a disclaimer. Yes I like Sci Fi. No, I’m not versed on the various incarnations of Stargate, so don’t go looking for me to compare this latest spin-off with its predecessors. I will leave that for fans to do. Truth be told, I’m more Kurt Russell than Richard Dean Anderson…
The two hour premiere of SGU begins with a flurry of soldiers being spat out, literally, by Stargate‘s portal onto a dark, abandoned spaceship. As the bodies crash land onto the floor, ammunition and cargo follow them at breakneck speed. It’s a treacherous start. By the time they have all arrived they comprise a small army of space travellers, marooned, wounded and bewildered. Impressive entries aside, we’re as confused as they are.
Amongst the new arrivals are Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle), Col. Everett Young (Justin Louis), First Lt. Matthew Scott (Brian J. Smith) and Col. David Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips). While it is Young and Scott who try to restore order to their dazed team, it is scientist Rush who explores his surrounding with quiet awe, engaging us more. This guy knows something is up. In the middle of it all there’s a momentary glitch when everyone is unsettled by something that can only be described as a bend in time. What was that? Well it wasn’t the monster from the opening scene from Lost but it kinda has the same effect on these frazzled characters.
But before we get a chance to discern much more we are back on Earth watching Eli Wallace (David Blue) playing a video game online with a friend. This dude’s so good at this that he even reaches the super-duper-never-been-reached stage of the game when he’s interrupted by a knock on his door. Standing before him is a mean-talkin’ Air Force general (from Central Casting?) and, omigod, Robert Carlyle -I mean Dr. Rush. They tell him he’s managed to solve the unsolvable puzzle they placed in his video game and could he please come and help them with the real thing in space? Yeah right, dude.
Sure enough he’s beamed up (apologies to Star Trek) aboard a spaceship to help them with their own Stargate. But wait, this isn’t the same spaceship. I know I’m confused.
It seems it isn’t just the Stargate itself that messes with time, it’s the storytelling too. We intercut between before / after scenes with our multinational exploration team. They are forced to escape through the portal, to eventually arrive at an unknown destination and unable to return to their rightful home, Kansas. I mean Earth.
Wallace is a teenage brainiac who, it has to be said, appears to be representing the audience. Was it too many Sci Fi conventions that convinced the producers to actually insert a fanboy into the plot? It’s a bit like those video games where we become an honorary member of our favourite action team. Eli is the dude in the sweater who gets to play sci-fi with the big boys. Are you buying this?
Carlyle brings much-needed gravitas to this piece, playing an unkempt scientist who takes charge of the sudden expedition. He’s clearly a long way from The Full Monty but adds conviction to the fantastical plot. Here he will serve as a keeper of history and mythology, always a big part of the franchise. Brian J. Smith is very effective as the dashing alpha-male hero. In a plot-heavy two part premiere, there weren’t too many others making an impact, except perhaps the bad-tempered US Senator played by Christopher McDonald. But there are plenty who will doubtless make their mark.
The series’ non-linear opening requires patience but eventually the sum of the parts makes up a mostly satisfying whole. Some scenes, notably flashbacks, were probably too soapy to have the Battlestar Galactica team worried.
By the time the 2 hour premiere ends there is enough to have set up a new franchise, and hopefully keep true fans entertained.
The Sci Fi channel (and not the Syfy channel) should be congratulated for snaring this one, set to fastrack after its US premiere. Good to see a channel that knows its audience.
Stargate Universe premieres 8:30pm Friday October 9th on SciFi.