Monday, July 27, 2009

Stargate SG-1: Children of the Gods (Final Cut)

Written by Pirata Hermosa

The original pilot episode of the long-running television show has just been re-released on DVD. But it is a new version that’s been re-cut, re-mastered, and has new special effects.

Since I hadn’t seen the pilot episode for quite some time, I had to pull out my original copy from the Season 1 box set and compare it to the new version. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a drastic difference or if it was just going to be a marketing gimmick with just a few minor changes to the original.

I noticed the differences immediately in the credits. They began as they would in a feature-length film, and gone was the traditional opening credit scene against the backdrop of the Stargate. But there were a lot more changes than just the credits. The special effects were redone, a lot of the dialogue had been shortened up, and the story had some significant changes.

In the original, Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) has a very gutsy introduction as a woman who can handle her own with the men and even makes a comment about just because her reproductive organs are on the inside doesn’t make her any less of a soldier. It is a little out of character for the Sam we will get to know throughout the series, but I really missed it in the new version.

There’s an awkward conversation between Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and his close friend, Charles Kawalsky (Jay Acovone), where Jack explains about his son’s death that was cut out of the episode. It was an obvious attempt at filling in the audience, but really wasn’t needed and is something a good friend would have already known. In fact, the entire relationship between the two soldiers is much tighter in the new version. There are constant smirks and knowing nods between the two, and at one point they even make the same comment at the exact same time.

Another good change is the fact that the entire plot thread about how the team must return in 24 hours or else be locked out is completely removed. There is some talk of a second nuke going through the gate, but the artificial timetable in the original was just a terrible idea that didn’t work.

The renegade Jaffa, Teal’c (Christopher Judge), who defies his Goa’uld masters to help the SG-1 team, has an overhaul as well. The scenes where he actually picks the slaves to be implanted with symbiotes or killed has been removed, which helps to make his betrayal more believable. There’s also a scene at the end where his voice has been completely redubbed and he gives a much lengthier speech on his reasons for changing sides and how he himself carries a symbiote in larval form.

One of the most obvious changes in the pilot is the fact that there is no nudity. Originally, the show premiered on Showtime for a few seasons before switching to the Sci-Fi channel. The change makes it fit in better with the series as a whole, but the nudity isn’t just gratuitous. It gives the scene a slightly creepier feel as the symbiote looking for a new host crawls all over Sha’re (Vaitiare Bandera)

The changes are not just with story and dialogue, but the music score and special effects have been redone. The rippling of the water-like pool that opens when the Stargate has been activated is standardized throughout every scene. The wormhole effect when someone travels between gates is completely different. The most significant special effects addition is during the ending battle scene where more ships are digitally added to the fray. It really does make the scene fuller and more exciting. However, there’s a little too much added to the scene that it takes away from Kawalsky’s last-second heroics.

While most of the changes aren’t necessary to enjoy the episode, the last change that is made in the very last scene makes it a much more satisfying story. Originally, as the Stargate teams flee back through the gate to Earth, a symbiote leaps out of its dying Jaffa carrier and burrows into Kawalsky’s head. The last scene is the Goa’uld exerting its dominance over him and his eyes glowing yellow. After all that has happened in the pilot it ends on this really sour note. In the new version the entire incident is removed and gives the film a completely different outlook.

The DVD contains a commentary by executive producer Brad Wright and Richard Dean Anderson. There is also one short featurette, “Back to the Beginning” where Wright discusses some of the changes and his reasoning for them.

Overall, I would have to say that the new release of Stargate SG-1: Children of the Gods is a better version than the original. Mostly this is for hardcore SG-1 fans, but I would probably suggest this version to friends and family who are just starting to watch the series.

ER - The Complete Eleventh Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

On July 14th Warner Home Video released Season Eleven of this immensely popular series ER, and though it marks the last for popular regulars Ming Na as Dr. Jing Mei “Deb” Chen, Alex Kingston as Dr. Elizabeth Corday, Sherry Stringfield as Dr. Susan Lewis, and Noah Wylie as Dr. John Carter, their respective exits were anticlimactic at best, if even acknowledged at all. This season certainly represented a changing of the guard, unfortunately, with writing that took a step down from Season Ten, and one-dimensional performances, said guard-changing came a season too late.

Season Eleven was one of conflict. Some in the relationships within the show, but more so in the factions that existed within the cast and writers. Attempts to write stories for the cast members that had been with the show longer yielded poor results, and simply not enough storylines were given to burgeoning stars such as Shane West as Dr. Ray Barnett and Scott Grimes as Dr. Archie Morris. The performance of Grimes on ER would prove to be under-appreciated throughout his tenure on the show, as he brought a comedic element to the show worthy of The Office (US), long before it was a hit.

In Season Twelve, the writers would set things right as more storylines are dedicated to the people the fans want to see, and storylines such as the relationship between Luka (Goran Visnjic) and Sam (Linda Cardellini) are done away with in favor of those less annoying such as Luka and Abby (Maura Tierney). Nonetheless, much awkwardness is endured throughout this season.

Quality guest appearances are also few and far between here, and though Ray Liotta garnered an Emmy for his performance in “Time of Death,” it was the writing and directing that was worthy of awards more than the limited performance of Liotta. Legendary actor Red Buttons gives a superior performance as Jules “Ruby” Rubadoux, the husband of a former patient of a young Dr. Carter. He is now in the ER as a patient and wants nothing to do with the doctor that he believes killed his wife. Cynthia Nixon gives a fine performance as a stroke victim in “Alone in a Crowd.” The writing in is reminiscent and as innovative as an episode of M*A*S*H. We are also introduced to Charlie Pratt (Danny Glover), father of ER doctor Greg Pratt. Like much of the cast, Glover would have more opportunities to truly display his acting chops in Season Twelve.

Not much to be said of the performances of the regular cast member, though Maura Tierney gives a credible performance when she is kidnapped in “Skin,” which would have made a far superior season finale than “The Show Must Go On” in which we are left wondering what will become of Sam’s runaway son Alex (Oliver Davis).

Where as previous releases have included gag reels as part of the bonus material, Season Eleven only provides outpatient outtakes and unaired scenes, the majority of which were justifiably left on the cutting room floor.

Recommendation: Season Eleven simply as not as good as Season Nine or Twelve. There is probably enough here for the true fan, but little for those not truly hooked. Better that you check out of the ER for a year rather than checking out this season.