'Stargate Universe

Syfy hopes to corral new fans without alienating the existing base with 'Stargate Universe.'

Stargate Universe" builds upon a proven product for SyFy. With a younger-skewing cast and a new approach to a familiar story of travelers lost in space, the network hopes to corral new fans without alienating the existing base. Working as a stand-alone from previous versions, but peppered with references to and cameos from older series, "SGU" isn't steeped in complex mythology -- other than an ancient alien ring-like device that creates an energy vortex or wormhole to other worlds, the problem being you don't know where you're going until you get there.

For a group of civilians, military and scientific research personnel trying to evade an alien attack, their desperate escape through the Stargate lands them aboard an ancient, unmanned space ship, the Destiny. The ship, created thousands of years ago as a way to place Stargates throughout the universe, is on an unstoppable pre-determined course. With no way to alter the ship from its current autopilot, the group unwittingly has to continue the mission with the hope of somehow eventually dialing back to Earth via the Stargate.

Through the Destiny crew and their struggle to survive, viewers learn via flashback a bit of backstory. Given the size of the ensemble, these stories are designed to unfold slowly, but as a pilot, things are especially vague. Director Andy Mikita’s dark style, combined with “The Mist’s” Rohn Schmidt’s lensing, creates a deliberately unsettling milieu. Everything and everyone is presented as a possible underlying menace.

At the heart of much of the discord is Dr. Rush (the excellent Robert Carlyle), who seems the least frantic about their situation, though his motives are nebulous at best. The counterbalance is Eli (David Blue), the unemployed gamer geek who unwittingly won a place on a Stargate research team by solving a math problem within a computer game. It’s a smart marketing move — deifying your target audience by making one of them the show’s only obvious hero.

Still, it takes a galaxy to raise a sci-fi show, and to fill the macho roles are Louis Ferreira as Col. Everett Young and Lou Diamond Phillips as Col. Telford. Ming-Na, as the putative highest-ranking member aboard the ship, is wasted in the first three hours; Blue is the only source of humor, and Brian J. Smith as Lt. Matthew Scott seems designed almost solely as fan fiction fodder.

It all makes for an intriguing setup that doesn’t quite gel, even by the end of the third episode. Sure, “SGU” is grittier, darker and psychologically deeper than previous versions. But so far, it’s also a lot less fun.

Stargate Universe

SyFy, Fri. Oct. 2, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Vancouver by MGM Worldwide Television Distribution. Executive producers, Brad Wright, Robert C. Cooper, Carl Binder, N. John Smith; producer, John G. Lenic; director, Andy Mikita; writers, Cooper, Wright,

Crew

Camera, Rohn Schmidt; Carl Binder; editors, Mike Banas, Brad Rines, Rick Martin; music, Joel Goldsmith; casting, Paul Weber, Jennifer Lurey, Jennifer Page, Corinne Clark, Sandra-Ken Freeman. Running time: 120 MIN.

Cast

Dr. Nicholas Rush - Robert Carlyle Col. Everett Young - Louis Ferreira 1st Lt. Matthew Scott - Brian J. Smith Chloe Armstrong - Elyse Levesque Eli Wallace - David Blue 1st Lt. Tamara Johansen - Alaina Huffman Master Sgt. Ronald Greer - Jamil Walker Smith Camile Wray - Ming-Na Col. Telford - Lou Diamond Phillips

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