'Stargate' shoot goes full circle
Crews dealt with Arctic's changing landscape, cold, polar bearsAs the submarine slips under the ice, water splashes a cameraman who is lying on the ice's edge with a submersible camera. Here in the Arctic Circle, the temperature is minus-37 degrees Fahrenheit — the point at which mercury turns solid — and this crew member is in immediate danger of freezing.
Director Martin Wood quickly radios for help, and the cameraman is whisked away by helicopter to the base camp. He is treated and will be OK.
The shoot is taking place as close to the North Pole as possible — at the Navy's Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station, more than 1,860 miles north of Vancouver and 200 nautical miles north of Prudhoe Bay, the northernmost city in Alaska. A team of about 15 crew and actors arrived Thursday for a seven-day shoot of six scenes for MGM's direct-to-video movie "Stargate: Continuum," a $6 million-$7 million production that is an extension of the long-running Sci Fi Channel series "Stargate."
The "Continuum" production, headed by Wood and writer-producer Brad Wright, is housed in prefab plywood huts with stove heaters called hooches. Drinking water is obtained by going outside, grabbing a chunk of ice and melting it in a container on the stove. The closest Internet connection — and shower — requires a flight to Prudhoe Bay.
Charles Cohen, senior executive vp finance and corporate development at MGM, sat in on the Navy briefings in San Diego before the shoot and stressed two points.
"One, if you fall in any water, it's so cold that you have about 10 seconds to get out or you're dead," he said. "And two, the polar bear situation."
"A bear and a cub were spotted 14 miles away when we first got here," Wood said in an interview via satellite telephone. "(The other day) they were five miles away, so we're expecting them (to come) closer."
Riflemen stand guard in case they do.
The complicated sequence, filmed last weekend, called for the USS Alexandria to break up through the ice, surprising a lost Stargate team. The submarine was rigged with a camera, and a hole was cut through the 4-foot ice so a submersible camera could be placed about 18 feet below the surface. The ice was then cleared of snow, with an X marking the area where the sub would, in theory, break through.
On the first try, the whole sub came up pounding though the ice. On the second take, it fought to grind through, not quite hitting the mark. Each time, the crew and actors were surprised.
"They say if you want to be in the safest position when the submarine comes up, stand on the 'X' because it never hits it," Wood said.
The landscape changed daily because of the constant breaking and reforming of ice atop the Arctic Ocean. But Wood said continuity wasn't a problem. "Everything that we're looking at is pretty much ice and pressure ridges," he said. "It's as nondescript a background as you can get."
The production opted for the difficult terrain because the filmmakers were convinced it couldn't be replicated in a studio or CG environment.
"I don't think it could have been done with the same sort of intensity that you're going to have by shooting it real," Cohen said. "I don't think you can capture the right feeling and sound if you tried to re-create it in an unnatural way."