SCI FI WIRE‘s John Sullivan was one of the press who got to see a screening of Brad Wright’s Stargate: Continuum recently, and now he’s reporting his impressions from the movie. One such report zeroes in on the trials and tribulations of one Dr. Daniel Jackson.
Way back in August 2007, Michael Shanks did an interview with Dreamwatch’s Total Sci Fi about what happens to Daniel because Shanks wasn’t able to make the trip to the Arctic along with Ben Browder and Amanda Tapping. When Solutions originally reported the contents of that interview, we plastered the article with a “Massive Spoiler Warning”. So, if you don’t want to read more, turn back now!
Sullivan opens his report, “The upcoming straight-to-DVD movie Stargate: Continuum, based on SCI FI Channel’s original series Stargate SG-1, gave producers a chance to wreak havoc on a main character to serve the exigencies of the film’s location shooting. (Major spoilers ahead!)” … See, even he knows how massively spoilery his report is…
“Writer and executive producer Brad Wright told SCI FI Wire that the script called for Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) to lose a leg—but not simply to serve the writer’s whim. Rather, Jackson had to become disabled to meet the needs of the production, which shot several scenes in the Arctic, when Shanks was unavailable,” Sullivan reveals.
The movie’s crew went to the Arctic in late March 2007 to film scenes with the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine USS Alexandria. At the same time, Shanks was filming his three-episode arc in Fox’s hit TV show 24. Brad Wright had to rewrite the scenes that were supposed to include him on a wrecked ship in the Arctic and on the ice floes. “I knew I had to separate Carter and Mitchell from Daniel,” Wright told Sullivan. “But he was on the boat! I didn’t know what to do. I thought, ‘How do I keep him there?'”
Wright’s solution came after doing research on exposure. All members of the cast and crew who went to the Arctic were given plenty of training on how to survive the extremely cold temperatures of the Arctic Circle. In the story, when Daniel, Carter, and Mitchell end up on the frozen ship with the Stargate in the cargo hold, they weren’t dressed to suit the colder temperatures.
“I called Ben [Browder] to discuss the script, and he asked what I was going to do with Shanks,” Wright continued. “I told him I fixed it by having him step in the water, and he gets frostbite. He asked, ‘What happens next?’ I said, ‘We cut off his leg.’ He said, ‘Man, you are harsh!'”
Accommodating the Actor’s Absence
Rewriting the scenes was only the beginning of the response to Shanks’ absence from the Arctic shoot; there was a ripple effect of changes in costuming, props, and sets to explain Daniel’s separation and injury.
In the March/April issue of the Official Magazine, production designer James Robbins explained what he had to do in order to make Shanks’ studio-shot scenes fit with the rest of the footage taken on the submarine with the other actors. “We also had to build a wardroom for the submarine. When the guys went up to the Arctic, we shot some scenes on the sub, but not in the wardroom because Michael Shanks was unavailable at the time. So, during the off-season John Smith and Martin Wood flew down to San Diego and they got all these shots of the interior of the sub and the wardroom. Then from the photographs we were able to create a very convincing wardroom on the set. It married beautifully with the existing footage of Richard Dean Anderson in the real sub. He exits the set and we pick him up on the real sub from there. It’s seamless; it really worked beautifully.”
In addition to the wardroom, a portion of an ice floe was built to accommodate the separation of the three team members (see picture above of Shanks on that ice floe set). All of these changes were appreciated by Shanks, who told TV Guide’s Ileane Rudolf in an August 2007 interview, “We did end up building a frozen ship and part of an Arctic floe in a frozen soundstage in Vancouver. The temperatures in there were minus 7 (19 Fahrenheit) so we didn’t have to act that much because it was cold! As much as everybody raved about their Arctic experience, I was happy not to go, and happy that they brought the Arctic to me!”
Wright and Wood adjusted subsequent scenes to temporarily confine Daniel to a wheelchair. Amazingly, Wright found the best possible way to say thank you to a very special person through this change. “Charlie [Cohen of MGM] is arguably the biggest Stargate SG-1 fan we have,” Wright told the Official Magazine. “I know this for a fact because long before he was actually in charge of the show directly, when he was in a different department at MGM, Hank Cohen, who was then president of the Television Division, would bring me by to talk with Charlie to get his opinion on what we were doing with the show. I was always astounded by his depth of understanding of the series. He has even been an extra in Stargate Atlantis and played a cameo, a small cameo, in Stargate: Continuum! That’s Charlie Cohen, our boss at MGM, pushing Daniel down the corridor in a wheelchair. He loved doing it, and it’s great that he’s part of it.”
The Actor’s Adjustment
Shanks told Dreamwatch, “I went, ‘Oh, this is great. It gives me something very different to play with the character, where he’s thrust back into a changed reality with a missing leg and is forced to live his life as a normal civilian.’ So we get to see more of a dark, bitter aspect of the character than we’ve seen before. … And then the psychology of what goes into that — To be told to live your life missing a leg, as a normal civilian, can lead you down a dark path. The character has always been so idealistic and optimistic about things, so we see him go to a darker, bitterer place.”
Obviously losing a leg will have an impact on the way Daniel moves, and Shanks shared with Dreamwatch how he approached this acting challenge. “My grandfather, who actually fought in World War II, had been missing a leg. He’s gone now, but as a kid, I remember thinking in terms of what he had to deal with on a daily basis. This was a really great opportunity to access those memories and bring some of that back.
“Of course, I worked on the walk. It was a little bit tough, but we got through it. It was nice to play that realistic scenario as opposed to using your imagination and wrapping your mind around this possibility.”
The Finished Product
Sullivan wrote in a previous report to SCI FI WIRE, Continuum Expands SG-1, that we’ll see many character moments in the movie, “The film includes a scene in which Carter goes shopping and Mitchell returns to a farm he visited as a boy. Wright said he couldn’t have gotten away with such character drama in an SG-1 episode.” And as far as Daniel’s character moments are concerned, they’ll be evident throughout most of the film.
Wright told the Official Magazine about Shanks’ handling of Daniel’s plight, “He thought it worked and he understood. Actors love playing things. That man has been doing Daniel Jackson for over ten years and to have another side to the character, another facet he just grabbed on to, and he colored his performance quite expertly. When you’re watching the movie, you are aware that he’s had this loss.”
And how permanent will this loss be? Wright has penned other SG-1 time-travel stories, including one, “2010”, in which all of the team members die in an alternate future (and he had the story idea for “Moebius” in which a time-traveling team dies in Ancient Egypt). “But it’s fun to watch your characters sacrifice themselves for what they believe in,” Wright told Sullivan, possibly hinting at Daniel’s fate in the altered timeline in Continuum. “There’s a nobility of the character, and that’s fun to do in a time-travel story, because you know you can get away with it, and it will be OK.”
To read Sullivan’s complete article, visit SCI FI WIRE: Continuum Made Character Suffer. There is an additional spoilery hint in the interview there, so beware.
Stargate: Continuum makes its premiere on DVD and Blu-ray on July 29, 2008, in North America.
[Thanks to Andreas of Repro Images for the MGM Movie Stills.]