Stargate Universe -- TV Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the release of "Stargate," the movie that launched the "Stargate" franchise of films, TV series, animated series, video games, comic books, amusement park rides and, yes, even a pinball machine. The newest addition to the list is "Stargate Universe," which confidently sets out on its new space adventure with an order for 20 episodes.

The series is competently produced and has all the cinematic bells and whistles you would expect from a member of the "Stargate" family. But if it is to be more than that -- if it is to establish itself as an intelligent drama that, for example, explores the military-civilian dynamic -- it has light years to go.

The link between the various series and films is the stargate itself. When operational, it is a round, spinning, tastefully lit portal that provides access to a galactic wormhole. Walk through it, amid watery and steamy special effects, and you can be teleported just about anywhere.

In the opening scenes, people and luggage are whooshed through the stargate and propelled into an antique spaceship from some other civilization. Through flashbacks, we learn that these accidental passengers had been on a military base in space that was attacked. The stargate provided a fortuitous means of escape.

The new leaders of the spaceship -- some military, some civilian -- are trying to figure out where they are going and what they are going to do. And, from the looks of it, so are the creators of this series, Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright.

Cooper and Wright have established a mostly youthful crew to attract younger demos to the existing fan base. But then they wrote a plodding two-hour opener that does little but explain the circumstances of the series, none of which are that complicated. The opener also introduces the cast, none of whom are that complicated, either.

Robert Carlyle plays Dr. Nicholas Rush, the borderline eccentric scientist leading the stargate research. David Blue is cast as Eli Wallace, a wide-eyed genius at computer games. Also on board is a medic (Alaina Huffman), a "human resources executive" (Ming-Na) and assorted military personnel (Louis Ferreira, Brian J. Smith, Jamil Walker Smith and Lou Diamond Phillips). In addition, there's the daughter and aide to a U.S. senator (Elyse Levesque), whose bad timing it was to be visiting the base at the time of the attack.

The second episode is mostly spent on some barren desert of a planet in search of an ingredient to scrub carbon dioxide from the air inside the spaceship. The show works hard at manufacturing suspense despite the mainly foregone conclusion.

True, "Stargate" fans likely will climb aboard this spaceship. But if this series is ever to really take off and become stellar, it will need more surprising stories and more intellectually challenging drama.

Airdate: 9-11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 (SyFy)
Production: Stargate Universal Productions Inc. in association with MGM Global Holdings
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Lou Diamond Phillips, Ming-Na, David Blue, Alaina Huffman, Louis Ferreira, Jamil Walker Smith, Elyse Levesque, Brian J. Smith, Chris McDonald
Executive producers: Robert C. Cooper, Brad Wright, N. John Smith, Carl Binder
Producer: John G. Lenic
Co-producer/director: Andy Mikita
Line producer: George F. Horie
Consulting producers: Joseph Mallozzi, Paul Mullie, Martin Gero, Alan McCullough
Writers/creators: Robert C. Cooper, Brad Wright
Director of photography: Rohn Schmidt
Production designer: James C.D. Robbins
Editor: Mike Banas
Music: Joel Goldsmith
Set decorator: Mark Davidson
Casting: Paul Weber