Warning: Spoilers Below! This review is based on an advanced screener copy placed on a burnt DVD-Rom so your mileage may well vary from the final product. I hope to be given the chance to compare it when able so take all technical comments with a grain of salt.
Easy traveling through a wormhole.
Background: Stargate is the franchise built from a single movie, turned into a pay cable series, then a free cable series, into all sorts of spin off projects including an upcoming videogame. The concept was built on the many gods people around the world worshipping actually being alien visitors, most of whom enslaved our ancestors, that came here via a network of large rings that connected planets across vast distances in space. The rings linked stable wormholes and provided reliable transportation, the original movie showing a governmentally financed science project discovering how to use them. A military team is sent to explore, finds a powerful alien pretending to be a god, they kill him to free the local inhabitants, and all is well. The series spun it a bit broader and had a whole network of competing "System Lords" with ten seasons of the show Stargate SG-1 and four of Stargate Atlantis to show for it. The main series ended but spun off one direct to video movies earlier this year and coming up in a few weeks will be the second such movie, the subject of this review in Stargate: Continuum.
Movie: Stargate: Continuum is a relatively stand alone project that attempts to tie a lot of series history together, designed largely for fans over newcomers, and easier to follow than the recent Ark of Truth for those that haven't watched the show religiously (pun intended). The world is contemporary to our own and the space faring ways of our military are largely secret to the general population, the thought being that the public would panic if they knew how many times the program itself invited danger to Earth. In the years of the programs existence, we have made powerful enemies, powerful allies, and encountered a wide variety of sentient life forms that have alternately helped or hindered our progress; the program establishing principles of first contact and a code of conduct not completely alien to the Star Trek franchises Prime Directive. Based in the Cheyenne Mountain military base, the Stargate program has a number of small expeditionary teams, the lead of which is SG-1; the members changing over time as actors came and went. The current lineup of the team is made up of team leader Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder), Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), and Teal'c (Christopher Judge) with associate member Vala Mal Doran (Claudia Black), Using Mitchell's aggressive action style, Carter's scientific knowledge and intellect, Jackson's knowledge of societal dynamics and history, Teal's military prowess in battle, and Vala's thieving self interests, the team wins in almost every encounter over vastly superior numbers and technology using their combined abilities. Their plans always fall apart while executed but their resourcefulness is legendary and their on the fly ability to overcome adversity is the most standard thing about their group other than their refusal to leave a comrade behind.
Continuum begins with the Tok'ra, an alien race similar to the series main adversary the Goa'uld that uses symbiotes, performing a criminal punishment on a hated foe, Ba'al (Cliff Simon), to remove his controlling symbiote. This will effectively kill the part of him responsible for mass carnage and terror, freeing his human host in a humane way. On hand are the team, a bunch of Tok'ra never seen before and General Jack O'Neil (Richard Dean Anderson; the former leader of the team), the boring ceremony resulting in Ba'al warning them all that this isn't over and hinting that the original Ba'al is still alive. Whether this version is the last clone or merely a lying original, they are content that his reign of terror is over, the last of the System Lords to be killed off or otherwise dealt with in an increasingly peaceful galaxy. There was no mention of the Ori, another invading alien race, so the specific place in the franchise timeline is not established but it strikes me that it is sometime after Ark and before Stargate Atlantis: Season 4 where Carter moves for awhile, this not set in stone due to the manner in which the show is written (with plenty of loopholes in case the writers are caught by diligent fans).
The long arctic walk complete with a sun.
Just as Ba'al is set to be punished, people start disappearing in plain sight, the evil despot laughing as he kills one last victim (see it for yourselves), and buildings start vanishing as though never there. The remaining team members rush to the Stargate and ends up in the icy hold of a freighter, the audience let on early as to the events that provided this event; Ba'al time traveling to re-write history. The team miraculously not all vanished in the process, the explanation that the vortex of the wormhole saving them falling flat considering Ba'al's first set of acts upon returning to the past. The team ends up in the Arctic Circle and are rescued by a conveniently placed team including a popular but cranky former member that knows nothing of their history together; the group separated and interrogated at length largely based on the fame of one member whose alternative time line version died a few years back in a hugely popularized tragedy.
The US government brings in an assortment of people the team claims to know who don't, of course, know them due to the paradoxes of time travel that fans have experienced before, leading to all of them being safely tucked away and warned what will happen if they try to contact one another. The trio warns that Ba'al will eventually strike at Earth and it is only a matter of time before the cover-up blows up in the face of those in charge. A lengthy portion of the movie deals with this dynamic, including the group getting used to their mundane lives for the "One Year Later" at which time, their prediction holds true. Needless to say, they have no means of putting things back in place until a series of coincidences give them a narrow opening to fight Ba'al's scheming ways, using a trick employed in the series at the very end.
RIP Don Davis!
Teal'c serves another.
As far as being able to enjoy the movie if you aren't an avid fan, I have my doubts since the movie so rapidly skims over major data needed to make sense of what is taking place. The story inconsistencies will be enough to cause flame wars on all the usual fan websites (my first viewing counted twelve, subsequent viewings and listening to the commentary track yielded more) but as more of an homage to the series, it worked well enough to provide the equivalent of a double length episode in the middle of the pack in terms of quality. I'm sure some of the slavering fanboys will say anything to boost sales (it has been established that the success of this one and Ark could bring about more direct to video titles) and even as a lot of the later seasons chugged along in major need of new blood to revitalize the franchise (it had become too inbred on the creative side), this was about par for the course. I like the franchise enough to have watched all the episodes multiple times, keep up with Atlantis, and defend it against haters from time to time online but Continuum was barely worth a rating of Recommended for any fan of science fiction other than the devoted following. As my review is written for a general audience, the "must watch" nature of fellow fans is certainly not the case with those that have passed it up over the years; watch a few episodes in syndication if you have any doubts of your own.
The System Lords!
"They've found us!"
Picture: Stargate: Continuum was presented in the usual 1.77:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color as shot by director Martin Wood for release on this SD version in the MPEG-2 codec. The video bitrate was almost always hovering right around the 2.4 Mbps area, my advanced screener copy potentially weaker looking than the final product that comes out at the end of the month. I say this because there were some compression artifacts, video noise, grain, and a variety of other issues that reminded me of the way the show looks on broadcast syndication (the later seasons at that). Clocking in at 98:36 minutes, the movie should have looked better and I won't fuss about the company logo that appeared at times on the burnt disc I was handed, but hopefully I will have access to the Blu-Ray version and final release to see if these troubles were just a fluke or not. The fleshtones were inconsistent and the CGI effects looked rushed, even weaker than the last couple of seasons of the show, the budget cutting all too apparent from first glance onto the critical inspection given.
Sound: The audio was presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English at a sampling rate of 48 kHz and a 448 Kbps bitrate, alternative tracks in Spanish or French presented in 2.0 Stereo (all with optional subtitles in English and Spanish). Listening to the primary track, the vocals were often canned sounding (as if dubbed in a studio), but they were better handled than the visual elements for the most part, even if they did use a less aggressive approach to the rear speakers and subwoofer than they could have (especially in the battles). A friend offered to crank up my stereo to make it sound "better" but I pointed out that "loudness" does not equate with quality and stuck to it. There was some headspace and directionality at times but the score was the same and I expected more of a movie than a television episode dressed up like a movie here too. Aural qualities are more noticeable when you seek them out critically, and my subsequent viewings yielded scant reason to cheer, but they were competently done all the same even if the mix was off in a few scenes.
"I'll cut the power to the tractor beam" sorry, wrong movie.
Extras: The best extra for me was the 22:35 minute long Behind the Scenes Making of Continuum feature. It was a nice balance of the human elements that went into the production with many of the principles giving some comments about what they were trying to do. The audio commentary by executive producer and writer Brad Wright as well as Director Martin Wood was okay but they were more into providing technical cheerleading than extended story commentary; delving into a few areas about things that did not work (I agreed with them in large part) and what they had wanted to do. There was also a 21:54 minute long feature called Stargate Goes to the Arctic that detailed the limited crew actually going to an arctic military base with cast members; the added expense seeming a waste to me since special effects could have saved a bunch to use elsewhere rather than the "look where we shot a few scenes" approach that seems almost like bragging rights. There was also a 9:19 minute long Layman's Guide to Time Travel by Astrophysicist Jaymie Matthews that gave a decent head's up about the paradoxes involved (too bad the producers didn't listen to him more). Some trailers rounded out the extras for those that care.
Final Thoughts: Stargate: Continuum seemed to suffer from the same issues the series fell prey to since the show was taken over by the Sci-Fi Channel; budgets too low to support the ideas at hand being the biggest problem of all. The 1939 parts looked hopelessly fake, the CGI was years behind that expected of a movie (if you've seen low budget effects movies on the cable channel, you'll know what I mean), the Migs Vs. the attack ships fantasy, the "One Year Later" cheat, and the totally uncharacteristic manner in which Teal'c "converted to the cause" so readily were the most distressing. The acting was about average for the series and fans wanting one last go will find it worthwhile to check out but make no mistake, this should have been so much better that accepting it as a wonderful return to the series is about as far from the truth as could be. I'm not going to be one of the apologists blindly hawking the movie in hopes of another, better, release in the future; I expect the producers to give fans exactly what we deserve as loyal fans of the series (and nothing less). In all then, it was a pretty fair effort of the producers that will entertain you but I don't see this one making a lot of new fans as it should have done.