STARGATE: CONTINUUM – DVD review

Note: Non technical portions of this review share text with the review of the Blu-ray release of this film.

The “Stargate” feature film starring Kurt Russell and James Spader is not new to me. I have seen that film at least half a dozen times and will probably watch it once or twice more in my lifetime. It is just one of those films that pops up every once in a while with a reason to watch it. However, the spin off “Stargate SG-1” is relatively new to me. I have watched the Richard Dean Anderson vehicle maybe three times in my entire lifetime and while I knew it existed, the show was one of those things I just never seemed to have the time to enjoy. I’m very one dimensional when it comes to television. If it isn’t a Flyers or Eagles game or a new showing of “Lost,” I’m not turning on the cable box. Sometimes I wonder why I even pay for cable.

The new direct-to-DVD film “Stargate: Continuum” is the latest entry in the “Stargate” franchise that has spawned two television shows, an animated show, a previous direct-to-DVD effort and has an upcoming television series in the works. “Stargate” has a solid and fervent fanbase and director Martin Wood and writer/co-creator Brad Wright intend to use “Continuum” as a re-introduction of the cast from the now defunct “SG-1” television series and have their story possibly continue in a series of direct-to-DVD films. Of course, this would all be dependent upon the success of “Continuum” to move copies from the store shelves or rental outlets. Released onto DVD and Blu-ray day-and-date, it’s my job to help decide if it is worth helping Wood and Wright’s cause.

Not being familiar with the “SG-1” universe, I may not be the best person to review “Stargate: Continuum,” but I’ve always held some fascination with one day watching some of the episodes from the series because of my enjoyment with the original theatrical film. The concept of ancient travelers using the Egyptian pyramids as star ports and being able to travel through wormholes through ‘Stargates’ that are hidden throughout the universe made for an interesting film and I enjoyed the futuristic Egyptian space warriors led the by the transgender Jaye Davidson. Richard Dean Anderson was a hero as MacGyver and one draw of “Continuum” is that Anderson returns to his second most-famous role as Jack O’Neill, whom is now a General in the Air Force.

I would have to watch the movie a second time to fully remember all of the names to go into any great depth with my synopsis of the plot. That would just open a huge can of worms with the strong cult following the series has if I were to confuse characters or perhaps lead somebody astray with false information. Instead, I think it would be wise to just give a very quick overview of the film and then my opinions of how enjoyable “Continuum” was for a non-fan and an outsider of “Stargate SG-1.” Right off the bat we know that “Stargate: Continuum” is a treat for fans of the series that ran for nine seasons, but I’m sure Brad Wright would love to gain a few new audience members with this direct-to-video release and I’ll try to speak to the masses and give my opinion of whether or not I think that’ll happen.

The film begins with the SG-1 crew attending a ceremony for the extraction of a System Lord parasite from Ba’al (Cliff Simon). Apparently, the System Lords are evil worms that take a host and then attempt to rule the universe. The theatrical film’s villain Ra was one such example of a host being controlled by an evil System Lord. Anyhow, during the ceremony Teal’c (Christopher Judge), an alien member of the SG-1 team, disappears into thin air. Team member Vala Mal Doren (Claudia Black) also disappears. Remaining team members Col. Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), Col. Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder) and Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) return back to Earth through the Stargate and discover that something isn’t quite right with the time continuum.

Upon arriving at Earth they discover that everything is not what it was and they now have different jobs and are not recognized by those that were formerly their friends. Major General Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) is one such person and cannot remember Daniel Jackson, although Jackson states they were once great friends (A quick history lesson is that O’Neill was the character portrayed by Kurt Russell and Jackson was portrayed by James Spader). After a number of meetings, they find themselves in communication with Major General Hank Landry (Beau Bridges) and are told they are not to do anything to affect the time continuum and are placed into a witness protection program.

Time passes and the team’s warning that the Goa’uld will invade and potentially destroy the planet begins to take shape. Alien spacecraft are witnessed by the inhabitants of Earth and the SG-1 team is reassembled in an attempt to stop the evil System Lords plan of world domination. Teal’c is revealed to be the First Prime of Ba’al, who is still under the control of the System Lord, and Mal Doren is now the Queen wife of Ba’al and answers to the name of Quetesh. Once the Goa’uld begin the invasion of Earth, the SG-1 team acts quickly and finds the location of a Stargate that will help them discover how Ba’al managed to escape his fate of extraction and correct the rifts created in the time-space continuum.

The hour and a half of time I spent with “Stargate: Continuum” was not too badly spent. It would have helped tremendously had I been a fan of the television series “Stargate SG-1” before sitting down and watching the film, but after about twenty minutes I was comfortable enough with the characters and story to follow along relatively easily. Of course, it didn’t help much that I did not realize Michael Shanks had taken over the James Spader role. I was confident that Spader was left behind on the planet after the first feature length film. I did not immediately recognize the man that made MacGyver a household name either. Richard Dean Anderson has certainly aged since his days as MacGyver.

“Stargate: Continuum” is an experience best reserved for fans of the “Stargate SG-1” series and those that have seen the first made-for-video film. With returning characters and relationships that may not be understood during the ‘alternate timeline’ story of “Continuum,” much of the enjoyment that could be had from the film was lost because I was not fully familiar with what was going around. For instance, I did not know until the commentary that a major character had a three second cameo in the entire film. With Anderson returning after missing most of the last two seasons of the show, “Continuum” is at least a comfortable welcome home for the character first made popular by Kurt Russell. “Continuum” was made for the fans and it plays that way.

However, “Continuum” is still something that can be enjoyed for the casual viewer. The action and special effects are fairly good for a film of this budget and I enjoyed the orbital bombardment of Washington D.C. at one point in the film. The actors have spent so much time in their characters’ skins that this is a well acted film. I don’t feel that “Continuum” can go toe-to-toe with the Dean Devlin / Roland Emmerich original film, but this is far superior to most direct-to-video motion pictures. The plot is a small step ahead of being a long episode and from what I gather, those behind “Continuum” bested what was recently done with the larger profile theatrical film “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.” That plays out exactly like a long episode. I’m not so sure that “Continuum” would serve as an entry drug to the expanded universe of “Stargate,” but it would be a decent rental for those who were not fans of the show and it is a must own for the fans of “Stargate SG-1.”

Video:

“Stargate Continuum” is a direct-to-video release and the film lacks the budget of the larger Hollywood blockbusters, but “Stargate Continuum” does not give up much ground to the bigger films in terms of visual quality. The film is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and looks quite good visually. Detail is very good and was stronger than the previous DVD releases of the original “Stargate” film. Colors were quite good and skintones looked natural. There was a little film grain present and some of the scenes that took place in ‘modern times’ did look like something that was broadcast on television and not filmed as a major motion picture, but this anomaly was never too worrisome. Black level was not the strongest and during some of the darker moments in the film, the picture quality became a bit muddied. The transfer is clean and no flaws in the source materials are visible. While this is far from being a reference-quality release, it may set a benchmark for direct-to-video releases.

Audio:

The DVD release of “Stargate Continuum” comes fully equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for the English speaking audience and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround for French and Spanish persons. English and Spanish subtitles are also provided. One of the reasons I have watched the original “Stargate” so many times is because of the once-reference material wormhole effect that showcased the early days of Dolby Digital 5.1 and AC-3 compression. “Stargate” was easily one of my favorite LaserDiscs because of the sound quality. The wormholes return with “Stargate Continuum” and the effect wasn’t as awe inspiring as the first time around, it was still an effective showcase of what 5.1 channel sound is capable of. Bass is strong and the scenes where orbital bombardment takes place pushes the .1 LFE channel nicely. Dialogue is nicely handled by the mix and I was generally pleased with the sound of this direct-to-video title.

Extras:

The bonus features begin with a Commentary with Executive Producer / Writer Brad Wright and Director Martin Wood. These are two very important men in the “Stargate” universe and fans should be thrilled with the commentary track. Wood and Wright were recorded together and you can instantly tell how much they enjoyed making the second “Stargate” film and the friendship and camaraderie they share. Both men spend a nice chunk of time going into the technical details about the shooting of the film and a few nice anecdotes about what goes on behind the scenes. They also share some nice background on the series and I learned a good deal about the characters and previous occurrences of the storyline. I found a better liking for the film after watching it a second time and listening to the commentary track.

After the commentary, a trio of features is included. The Making of Stargate Continuum (22:35) finds an enthusiastic Martin Wood and other members of the cast and crew talking about how they brought the story of “Stargate SG-1” from television to film. The featurette is 4:3 full frame video and a large part feels like a reunion special and the remainder of the documentary is a decent making of feature. Stargate Goes to the Arctic (21:53) is another making of documentary and looks at the rough times faced by the crew while filming the Arctic scenes in the film. Two crewmembers lost their lives during this filming. I found this to be more entertaining than the first feature. The final feature is The Layman’s Guide to Time Travel (9:19) and this has the crew of “Stargate Continuum” discussing the topic of time travel. This was oddly entertaining and gave a sci-fi explanation of the Stargates.

Closing:

“Stargate Continuum” continues the storyline of “Stargate: SG-1” and most of the shows stars return for this direct-to-video sequel on DVD. Richard Dean Anderson and others return and fans of the show are rewarded with a story that is a little different than what was typical during the television broadcasts and “Continuum” feels closer to being a feature film than it does in being a long episode. A friend of mine recently conveyed his feeling that “Continuum” was about on par with the most recent “X-Files” film. I haven’t seen that movie and cannot second his opinion, but it seemed like a noteworthy comment. As a non-fan of the show, I found “Continuum” to be entertaining, but I would hardly recommend this title as an impulse buy for those that have not watched much of the television show. A little background is really helpful for anybody looking to watch this direct-to-video film. Still, this is a good little science fiction film that takes a little intelligence to follow, but should be accessible to mostly everybody. The DVD release combines good sound and video with the same feature set of the Blu-ray release. Overall, this is one of the better direct-to-video releases I’ve paid witness to.

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