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TV series adaptations of movies tend to be hit or miss affairs; the kinds of stories you can tell on a big screen in 100 minutes with no commercials and a big budget tend to falter when moved to the more intimate settings of a television environment. One of the happy exceptions is Stargate SG-1.
The movie came out in 1994, starred Kurt Russell as the irreverent and go getting Colonel Jack O’Neil, and James Spader stared as Daniel Jackson. With a large budget, and lots of on site shooting, Stargate was a great mix of the biblical epic and science fictional thriller.
Stargate SG-1 picks up with the original stargate of the movie moved to Stargate Command in Colorado, and has re-cast Jack O’Neil as Richard Dean Anderson, and Michael Shanks as Daniel Jackson. Season 1 introduced Amanda Tapping as Captain Samantha Carter, an Air Force research scientist, and Christopher Judge as Teal’c, a Jaffa who changes sides.
For people who are in the military, Stargate does its part to get many of the details right; uniforms are worn correctly, and, aside from the actual team of SG-1, many of the sorts of actions and consequences common to a military endeavor take place and happen regularly. There is a definite sense, with the creation of other investigation teams – using the Stargate to go to other worlds – that there’s a larger millieux and events going on.
The first three seasons tended to be episodic, building up to a two or three part season cliff hanger, and usually had one or two “clip shows” when they ran out of budget. Starting with season four, the series got a regular renewal and a slightly larger budget; much of this budget went to a larger writing team, who started building three and four episode story arcs, and a large overall plot structure for a given season, and the series continued in that vein with changes in casting, as various people (Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping) left and returned to the show for personal reasons. One of the most controversial changes came at the end of season 8, when Richard Dean Anderson wanted more time with his daughter, and left the show; this was handled (because he gave them notice) with his character getting a greatly overdue promotion, and moving to Washington DC.
Stargate in episodic mode tends to fall on recognizable plot formulas, most of which were rendered stale and trite by Star Trek back in the ’80s: The planet of primitives who must be protected from corrupting technological culture is one of the more commonly recurring themes. In its defense, even at the beginning of the series, there were efforts to make sure the little details were done right – if a weapon works one way in season 3, it works the same way in season 10. This penchant for getting the little details right helped build up the Stargate “mythos” and back story, and this mythos (with Goa’ulds, Ancients, Orai and others) is one of the main reasons why the show built a long running following.
Stargate SI-1 is off the air, having run for ten seasons. It’s spin off series, Stargate: Atlantis ties into the mythos (a very long range, seldom used Stargate linkup as used to send a colony of humanity far, far away when it was thought the Earth was in peril), and there are rumors of a Stargate SG-1 mini-series or made for TV movie coming down the pike for Sci Fi Channel.