Stargate: Continuum (2008) Movie Review
Here’s a shocker: Jack O’Neill dies in the first few minutes of “Stargate: Continuum”. Now wait a minute, before you Stargate fans get all mad at me, let me say this: “Continuum” is a time travel story, so yes, Jack O’Neill dying, as well as Teal’C and Vala vanishing into thin air in a cloud of black smoke, is no cause for concern. If we’ve learned one thing about the Stargate universe, it’s that death is not absolute. Heck, it wasn’t absolute even when the episode of the week didn’t involve time travel, so why should it be even close when the entire episode hinges on the team time traveling back into the past to set things right? (And anyways, Jack shows back up as his bewildered, Homer-loving self at the 30-minute mark anyhow. Well, okay, maybe not quite his old self, but close enough.)
“Continuum” opens with a nice single long take by director Martin Wood that re-introduces us to the SG1 team of Mitchell (Ben Browder), Carter (Amanda Tapping), Jackson (Michael Shanks), Teal’c (Christopher Judge), and Vala (Claudia Black). It’s a good day for the SG1 bunch, as they’re about to embark on a mission to witness the execution of bothersome Gou’ald System Lord Ba’al (Cliff Simon), aka the last System Lord … EVER. Doing the honors are the Tok’ra, and General Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) has shown up for just the occasion. Ba’al, of course, has other ideas, and soon members of SG1, along with everyone else, begin to disappear into thin air. What is going on – or to be more specific, when is it going on? It appears Ba’al, or one of his clones, has gone back in time and meddled with the time stream, and it’s up to SG1 to set things right. Next stop: 1939 and the frozen tundra of … the Antarctic?
“Continuum” is the second of two planned Stargate SG1 direct-to-DVD movies. It follows in the footsteps of “Ark of Truth”, released earlier this year, and from all accounts, is the last time Stargate fans will ever see SG1 as a team onscreen ever again. Sad, but true. With Stargate: Atlantis quickly establishing itself as the only Stargate show out there, it was probably time to put SG1 out to pasture, even though I have to admit, Ben Browder’s Mitchell was starting to grow on me as a replacement for O’Neill. Then again, I never could get used to seeing Browder sharing the same screen with his Farscape co-star Claudia Black, and their characters having almost no interest in each other. It just seems … wrong somehow.
As a stand-alone movie, “Continuum” makes good use of its overly familiar time travel plot (seriously, though, how many times have these guys traveled through time?) to raise some intriguing, though not necessarily action-packed philosophical questions. Once the team makes contact with the government of the new timeline, a sober and very difficult question rears its head: just because SG1 knows what is, and what must be, that doesn’t mean what currently is has no right to exist. As one character tells them in no uncertain terms, the world as it is may be wrong in the eyes of SG1, but it is as it should be to those who have lived it since Ba’al altered the timeline. Who, then, has the right to “alter” what is? It’s a good question, and one I must admit I never considered before “Continuum” brought it up.
Like “Ark of Truth”, “Continuum” was made for fans of the long-running series. The movie doesn’t spend a whole lot of time explaining its science, and indeed, I don’t think there was ever a moment where the film simply stopped to explain its universe. Fans will jump right in, because the film quickly establishes its premise, and from there it’s following what’s left of the SG1 crew as they make their escape back in time, hoping to right the timeline. For much of the film, there is almost no action. Nevertheless, writer Brad Wright manages to keep things riveting as we follow SG1 as they are saved, detained, and eventually disbanded. This presents an excellent opportunity for the actors to flex their acting muscles minus the techno jargon. It’s these small moments, insignificant to the rest of the world around them, but monumental to the characters, that makes “Continuum” a far superior SG1 movie. It deserves mentioning again that if you’re a fan of the show, you’re going to absolutely treasure these quiet, no-action moments.
Most of the special effects, and the movie’s budget, seem to have been saved for the Third Act, thus guaranteeing that “Continuum” ends with some excellent sci-fi eye candy. The final 30 minutes is nicely paced as SG1 literally races against time. Although the script is confined to the human characters for much of the beginning and middle, it effortlessly re-introduces Ba’al, Teal’c, and Vala in time for the final showdown. Notable appearances include the late Don S. Davis, reprising his longtime role of General George Hammond; SG1 fans will also recognize William Devane, once again playing the President, and an entertaining turn by Beau Bridges as a more cantankerous than usual version of General Landry.
The SG1 episodes have always been difficult for me to grade, as the show seems to have a rhythm all its own that many other shows just don’t share. If I had to compare the two SG1 movies, I would have to give “Continuum” the edge. Of course, my opinion may be a tad bias, as I was never really a big fan of the Ori storyline, something that “Ark of Truth” provided closure to. “Continuum” just feels like a better, more complete stand-alone SG1 movie, with excellent character work by the regulars, and nice work by the supporting cast. Cliff Simon in particular has a, well, ball as Ba’al, while Claudia Black’s Vala is initially oft-putting, mostly because this is a Vala we have never met before, and it seems like an entirely new character. Props to Black for playing, essentially, a whole new character based on the old one.
Overall, if you were a fan of SG1 and its ability to balance its human drama with out-of-this-world sci-fi action, then “Continuum” makes for a great final movie. It doesn’t do what most “final” movies do – that is, somehow “wrap” up the show – but rather, it ends exactly the same way that most, if not all, SG1 episodes usually end: It leaves you satisfied, and wanting more.
“Stargate: Continuum” arrives on DVD July 29.
Martin Wood (director) / Jonathan Glassner, Brad Wright (screenplay)
CAST: Ben Browder … Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell
Michael Shanks … Dr. Daniel Jackson
Amanda Tapping … Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter
Christopher Judge … Teal’c
Claudia Black … Vala Mal Doran
Beau Bridges … Major General Hank Landry
Cliff Simon … Ba’al
Richard Dean Anderson … Major General Jack O’Neill
William Devane … Henry Hayes
Don S. Davis … George S. Hammond