I absolutely love the movie "Stargate." Who couldn't possibly enjoy the odd pairing of James Spader and Kurt Russell in a sci-fi movie about aliens on an Egyptian inspired planet? OK, I'm sure a lot of people out there aren't sold on that premise, but I was. When "Stargate SG-1" debuted on Showtime three years following the feature film, I was intrigued. I caught an early episode and it took only a few minutes to realize this was nothing like the movie I loved. There was a whole new cast of characters and MacGyver himself, Richard Dean Anderson, had replaced Kurt Russell. Now, 12 years later, after a solid 10 season run and multiple spin-offs, the original pilot episode "Children of the Gods" returns to DVD as "Stargate SG-1: Children of the Gods- Final Cut."
The set-up is quite simple and obvious. When we left our characters at the end of the feature film "Stargate," Col. O'Neil was back on Earth and Daniel Jackson was left behind on Abados with the love of his life, Sha're. One year later, the Stargate is left mothballed, but open for business from other worlds. During a poker game between some unnamed soldiers, an interstellar raiding party pays an unexpected visit and quickly decimates their opposition, enabling them to leave with a female captive. There's one more catch to the story though; the leader of this party appears to be Ra, the same Ra, Col. O'Neil gave a one-way ticket to see King Tut to at the end of the film.
Maj. Gen. Hammond (Don S. Davis) realizes he has a major problem on his hands and is forced to enlist the help of a now retired Col. O'Neil. The obvious is decided and after some false posturing by both sides, O'Neil is allowed to take his old team along with some new faces, through the Stargate in order to enlist the aid of Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks). It's an entirely fun ride up until the point when the series pulls out the tired cliché of adding new characters to kick-start tension. The character in question is Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), the female equivalent of Jackson and an instant thorn in the side of O'Neil.
The casting and/or characterization in the series is my biggest complaint. I have nothing against Richard Dean Anderson, I like many, loved MacGyver and his acting here is very solid, but he's no Kurt Russell. The Col. O'Neil of this series is nowhere reminiscent of the stone-faced career man of the film. It's understandable that during the transition from film to TV, certain changes had to be made. Yet, with this series, the end result is so far removed from the film, that for a huge fan of that original work, the newly fashioned product fails to hook me.
However despite my frustrations with the series' heavy diversion from the tone of the movie, I can recognize that "Stargate SG-1" is a well-made show. As I stated above, I have no nitpicks with the acting, it's all solid work and it's commendable that the creators chose to do more than merely rehash the movie (however, in doing so, the mystique of the aliens is sacrificed and we don't get to stay on Abydos for too long). As a pilot episode, "Children of the Gods" works very well in setting up the theme and tone of what's to come. Nothing is overly rushed and the production value is quite high. For a sci-fi fan not nearly as invested in the film as myself, there's a good chance, the series will tickle your fancy.
Fans on the other hand, are going to be curious as to what is changed in this "final cut." Since, I'm not familiar with the original pilot episode, I can only speak for what is mentioned on the commentary and bonus featurette. The biggest changes are visual effects enhancements. The gate effects are all redone and according to co-creator Brad Wright, now consistent in appearance. Additional visual effects have been redone including the aerial attack during the feature's climax as well as some establishing shots. Christopher Judge has been allowed to re-dub his lines as Teal'c so they are consistent with his voice throughout the remainder of the series. Lastly, the introduction of Carter has been retooled and from the looks of the original pilot, it's all for the better. It's a much more credible introduction and removes a very cringe worthy line.
For a 12 year old television show, "Children of the Gods" looks quite good. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer shows some noticeable grain during the forest scenes in the program's second half and fine detail is above average. Aside from that, there are no glaring digital defects.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital English audio isn't quite as strong as modern television show like "Lost," but is nothing to sneeze at. The track comes alive during battle scenes and surrounds area used well when in the caverns on Abydos. A French Dolby surround track is available are English, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
The disc sports two bonus features, firstly a commentary by co-creator Brad Wright and star Richard Dean Anderson. I gained a little more appreciation for the program after listening to this. It was refreshing to hear two people so deeply connected to a program they worked hard on, still be able to poke fun at some of its shortcomings. It isn't all laughs though, as both share their thoughts on the project and discuss some technical aspects.
The other extra is a short featurette titled "Back to the Beginning." It's a rundown of what has been changed on this re-release. Wright acknowledges the controversy in re-editing this pilot, but reminds viewers the original is still out there. A few of the changes I would say are entirely justified, namely the ADR work by Christopher Judge. Wright's explanation for the original odd voice work is very understandable, as are his references to studio mandates (namely some graphic nudity in the original airing that was excised in future airings). For someone new to the series, it was very helpful to see what was changed and just how much it enhanced the experience.
All in all, this release will likely make a solid addition to the collection of an SG-1 fan. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for newcomers to get a taste of things without an investment in a full season set. Personal bias aside, "Children of the Gods," was a decent way to spend an hour and a half. Recommended.