Mindy Newell: Stargate Revisited
Stargate, as many of you I’m sure remember, was a 1994 movie which circled around a gigantic ring made of unknown metal and covered in what is believed to be Egyptian hieroglyphs that is discovered buried in the sands of Giza, Egypt in during an archeological expedition in 1928. The purpose of the ring remained a mystery for sixty years, its hieroglyphs untranslatable. Finally a brilliant linguist and archaeologist specializing in Egyptology named Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is co-opted by the U.S. government and brought to Cheyenne Mountain (home of NORAD) to decipher the scrawlings on the ring, which has been brought there for study and possible use by the military.
He tells the assembled scientists and military officers (including United States Air Force Colonel Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell) that the hieroglyphs speak of something called a “stargate,” some kind of device used for travelling to other planets. But the symbols on the ring itself aren’t hieroglyphs at all; they are representations of mathematical coordinates of the constellations which, when put into a specific sequence, creates a tunnel through space, or “wormhole” that will allow instantaneous travel to another world. Colonel O’Neil assembles a team, including Jackson, to use the Stargate, as it is now christened, to take them there
Stargate SG-1 picks up a year after the movie ends.
The top-secret Stargate Project is overseen by the United States Air Force, and its mission is to not only explore the galaxy, but to also find new allies and technology as defense against the Goa’uld, alien symbiotes that use humans as hosts in their drive to establish themselves as “rulers of the galaxy.” As established in the movie, the Goa’uld enslaved humans to serve them, posing as the gods of ancient Earth cultures, especially the mythology of Egypt.
The Stargate Project is under the command of General George Hammond, and the reconnaissance teams are dubbed SG-1, SG-2, SG-3, and so on; Colonel Jack O’Neill, now played by the charming Richard Dean Anderson, leads SG-1, composed of Captain Samantha “Sam” Carter, astrophysicist (Amanda Tapping); the Jaffa defector Teal’c (Christopher Judge); and Daniel Jackson (now played by Michael Shanks).
Being a continuing series, Stargate SG-1 gave Anderson the space to expand O’Neill’s character. His Jack was a more relaxed version of the character than that of Russell’s, displaying an “easy-goingness” and a sly wit that, I think, hid a vein of cynicism born from the tragedies of O’Neill’s life, especially the death of his son in a tragic accident that resulting from O’Neill’s own gun. Jack used that wit not only to cope with unexpected and possibly dangerous situations, but as a weapon that sliced through the bullshit with sharp sarcasm. He was career Air Force, he believed wholeheartedly in the mission of the United States as a beacon of liberty and good in the world, but he distrusted the men and women who pinned flags on their lapels and called that patriotism.
Like Star Trek, Stargate SG-1’s true strength was in its characters and the relationships they had with each other. Amanda Tapping’s Sam Carter has been, I think, overlooked as a well written, strong, female character that meets, as my sistah Martha Thomases put in her column last week, the Bechdal Test. (IM-not-so-HO, and if I could arrange some kind of time warp, Tapping would be the perfect actress to play a live-action Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel). Christopher Judge’s Teal’c is the perfect “stranger in a strange land.” Michael Shank’s Daniel Jackson is a quirky nerd whose anti-establishment and anti-military stance is tempered by the people he comes to love and respect. Don Davis’s General Hammond was military through and through, but he was the father figure for everyone on the Stargate Project. Even supporting characters like Teryl Rothery’s Dr. Janet Frasier and Gary Jones’s Sgt. Walter Harriman became important facets of a show that became, also like Star Trek, a starting point for spin-offs (Stargate: Atlantis, Stargate Universe) and movies (Stargate: The Ark Of Truth, Stargate: Continuum). Disparate and brought together by a mission, they became a family.
As the daughter of an fighter jock, I think it’s really cool that the United States Air Force worked with the SG-1 producers, not only allowing them to shoot footage at the Cheyenne Mountain complex, but also providing help with the military minutia that helped make the show so realistic, everything from character backgrounds to uniform and hair style regulations. Air Force personnel worked as extras, and two Chief of Staffs of the Air Force, General Michael E. Ryan and General John P. Jumper, appeared as themselves in Season 4’s “Prodigy” and Season 7’s “Lost City.” According to Wikipedia, General Jumper’s second appearance was “cancelled because of ongoing real-world conflicts in the Middle East.” Richard Dean Anderson was honored by the Air Force Association in 2004, not only for his work as an actor and executive producer, but also for the SG’1’s positive depiction of the Air Force.
The U.S. Navy also got in on the act, inviting SG-1 to film aboard the nuclear submarine U.S.S. Alexandria (SSN-757) and at their Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station in the Arctic.
Stargate SG-1 is available from the beginning, courtesy of Netflix. That’s where I’ve been rewatching the show.
If travelling through a Stargate doesn’t for work you, there’s still some MacGyver out there for you Richard Dean Anderson fans. As Captain Samantha Carter said in the pilot to Colonel Jack O’Neill: “It took us fifteen years and three supercomputers to MacGyver a system for the gate on Earth.”
TUESDAY MORNING: Emily S. Whitten
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis