The Ark of Truth
Director: Robert C. Cooper

Director: Martin Wood

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The direct-to-video Stargate: The Ark of Truth (2008) was released with a very hard-sell promise of an exciting movie with the same cast as the cable television series Stargate: SG1 (1997-2007).

The Ark of TruthThere's a long introduction that recaps the previous season's episodes quite badly, then a not-quite-stand-alone movie begins. What we get is strictly television & just seems like a double-episode, no more or less shoddy than the series -- a series which I like, so I liked the alleged movie despite itself.

Previously SG1 found & executed a means of destroying the seemingly all-powerful Ori, who were the dark enemy of the Ascended Beings as well as of humanity, pretty obvious Gods & Demons parallels cribbed from godlike race known as the Q Continuum on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Though the Ori were destroyed, their priors still exist & are mighty fellows even without the darkly ascended to back them up.

In the course of the double-episode fake-movie, the Leggo brand Replicant crab-creatures are brought back to pad out the story, since the quest for the Ark of Truth is no big deal, nothing to hang a story on.

The Ark of TruthAlso to stretch it to feature length we get to see "Teal'c's march." Even though this is way too obviously just to fill up time, it's cool watch Teal'c walking about even if all he's doing is walking about. His role in the story is way too marginalized.

He's badly injured & the climax of his contentless journey will be when a rebel Descended One heals him so he can take part in the predictable climax.

A script that prefers the banal male lead played by Ben Browder, & can think of nothing to do with Christopher Judge as Teal'c, just never figured out what was cool about the whole run of the series.

Also returning for a new good turn is Julian Sands as the pope of the Ori, finally getting unmanned by the Magic Merlin Box, or Ark of Truth as the film prefers to call it.

There's finally the not-so-amazing return of Adria (Morena Baccarin), the one female Ori who escaped anihilation, who has become Super Ori empowered to destroy & soak up the energy even of the diffident Ascended Ones.

The Ark of TruthAlthough vastly increasing the power of who had formerly already been presented as all-powerful diety-like power-maid, ultimately she's not really any harder to destroy.

The limitations of imagination of the writers of this series is pretty much revealed by resorting to bringing back the All Powerful Girl just to say she's more than all powerful.

Maybe in some future sequel they'll bring her back again to say she was all powerful, became more than all powerful, but now she's now even more all-powerful than that, cuz she's super-gallumptious all-powered powerful. Gads, the show was just never as good when there were no more Gao'ulds & Richard Dean Anderson got the axe.

The long episode serves up everything expected & nothing above & beyond to justify calling it a movie. One reasonable bit is that the priors didn't need to be killed en masse, unlike the Ori, & the Gao'uld before them, or the sentient replicators. Kidn of surprising the semi-imaginative writers finally realized teh "kill 'em, kill 'em all" mentality of the series is only an attempt to make such things as the Holocaust & every other genocidal act look right & proper "because the other really is evil."

Generally this series advocates the idea of unutterable arch villains against whom genocide is right & just. This time SG1 merely advocates the slightly lesser crime of irreversible mind control. Still, my one complaint about Ark of Truth is not how blithely it lies, but the fact that it is nothing more than a padded out standard episode, & I don't like being tricked into believing it was going to be a movie.

Continuum The late but long-running television series Stargate: SG1 seriously lost a lot when it decided to eradicate Goa'uld from the universe. And the first direct-to-video movie to keep the series alive pretty much suggested it should've been allowed to die.

But the second direct-to-video film, Stargate Continuum (2008), indicates that somebody in charge agreed it just wasn't worth it without the Goa'uld. We're given a time-travel plot by which the Goa'uld were never eradicated, because the Stargate program never existed.

This permits the series to "reset" & start the game from square one. It's as close as we'll get to a confession that sundry foes such as the Ori, the Replicators, & from Stargate: Atlantis the Wraith, were second-banana so far as villains are concerned.

The television series also lost a lot of charachter value when Richard Dean Anderson was replaced by a muppet co-stars from Farscape. Although, to be sure, Claudia Black as Vala is less a drag-down than Ben Browder as Colonel Mitchell. It's nice someone realized it would take two recognizable stars to replace one Richard Dean Anderson, but how much better to just get him back. Which Stargate Continuum does! Well, it's only a bit bigger than a cameo appearance, but it's great to see Jack O'Neal still has the smart-ass annoyed-with-everything quality.

ContinuumBeau Bridges as Major-General Landry was a perfectly good replacement for Don S. Davis who was always great as Ltn-General Hammond, & a sad loss to the series even if Beau was awfully good too.

So it was so nice to see Hammond back in the cast for a cameo, though a little alarming that he didn't look at all well. He didn't have much to do in the story, but a moment with him was moving since he died a month after the shoot.

It's too bad the bulk of the story is about the time-travelling heroics of Colonel Mitchell, as he's just not the leading-man presence he's expected to be. Mitchell has with him on the journey Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) & Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), who get comparatively little screen time, so it's a Colonel Mitchell story in spades.

Though many discriptions of the film say they all travelled back in time, that's not precisely true. They were in the black hole between stargates when reality changed due to System Lord Ba'al (Cliff Simon) having gone back in time to spike the Stargate program. So they arrive at the North Pole where the lost Stargate was in a ship frozen in ice; it's their "present" but when they're saved from a freezing death they discover the world greatly changed.

It's worth noting that scenes set in the Arctic really were shot in the Arctic, though none of it seemed to require the special filming trek, where alas two Royal Navy Submariners lost their lives, due to what a Board of Inquiries found to be systematic errors of judgement made by people who had these lives in their hands. Next time, inept people, fake it on a soundstage! Even a better film than this one isn't worth getting killed, & a "dedicated to" notice at the end is almost insulting in its triviality considering the size of the crime.

But back to the show. Our threesome soon learn that Samantha Carter died as an astronaut hero; Cameron Mitchell doesn't exist at all because his grampa died at sea thanks to Lord Ba'al's actions; & Daniel Jackson does exist in this timeline but lives in introverted seclusion to avoid his reputation as a scientific crank convinced aliens from outer space made the pyramids as landing fields for their ships.

ContinuumAs with the first direct-to-video movie they pretty much write Teal'c (Christopher Judge) out of too much of the story, as if not realizing he's the only character equal to Jack O'Neil. But when he does show up in the new timeline as Ba'al's First Prime, he proves again he's rivetting in his few but important scenes.

Whatever faults one might mention, it nevertheless has to be admitted the script is pretty good. After the initial Ark of Truth fiasco, I didn't expect much, but Continuum's tale of the return of the Goa'uld ain't bad at all.

One effective factor is that the Goa'uld who once possessed Vala still lives, so Vala is permanently Qetesh, whose cruelties exceed even those of her lord & master Ba'al, who is soon to be tortured to death by his never-loving Queen.

Meanwhile Cameron, Samantha, & Daniel (who lost a leg but we know he'll get it back when Time is set right) have got to convince the military to set up the Stargate program however belatedly, & let Colonel Carter work her supernatural science to restore the time-line.

It's worth noting that scenes set in the Arctic really were shot in the Arctic, though none of it seemed to require the special filming trek, & alas two Royal Navy Submariners lost their lives doing the submarine scenes, due to what a Board of Inquiries found to be systematic incompetence & errors of judgement made by people who had these lives in their hands. Next time, inept people, fake it on a soundstage! Even a better film than this one isn't worth getting killed, & a "dedicated to" film-frame is almost insulting in its inability to set anything right.

But back to the show. Turns out, the people who exist in this new time line quite like existing & don't want their reality molested by Cameron, Samantha, or Daniel's "corrective" measures. The SG1 time-survivors are broken up, given new lives in various parts of the country, threatened with imprisonment if they try to contact one another, & are thereby forced to live like ordinary people.

This is not entirely just padding to stretch a simple story to feature length, as it's genuinely interesting to see them suffering in their attempts to adapt as regular folks, no longer spending an hour each week saving the universe.

But eventually the Goa'uld arrive en masse to make life on Earth so untennable that the team of three will be brought back & the time line restored, not without plenty of thrilling complications
Throughout, the suspense flags because just like when the same plot got used & re-used on Star Trek & its spin-offs, time travel permits just about the whole cast & the very Earth too to come to awful ends, only to undue it all a la Mr. Mxyzptlk in the Superman comics.

The perfunctory manner by which Colonel Mitchell & his grampa back in 1939 stop Ba'al from changing time gives it no drama at all. But that's probably just as well, since we've seen this ending too many times already it might as well be kept brief. It does mean the climax is not as good as the film overall, it just gets the obviouis over with, without even a moderate twist or surprise.

There are so many good bits throughout the hoary tale that it's ultimately quite the winner. When early in the story SG1 members vanish from reality one by one, it's genuinely disturbing. When Daniel makes a phone call to himself in the new timeline, there was a hint of a whole other storyline possibility, & too bad there wasn't time to develop it further.

And when Ba'al shows up on a ship at sea circa 1936, it's quite well staged, though unintentionally comical to see Browder dressed up as his own grampa. I came up with an alternate story in which Mitchell, at tale's end, is sent back to 1936 to stop Ba'al, but Mitchell overshoots the correct time so he ends up in 1899. He has to orchestrate his whole life to end up on that ship in 1936, kill Ba'al, & conclude with a rendition of the classic country tune "I'm My Own Grandpa."

Despite that we know throughout that nobody can really stay injured or dead given the Rules of Temporal Silliness, fact is, this is a decent little film. It completely makes up for the lame first post-series stab at a video movie, & lends some hope that future video films will be rewarding to watch.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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