Children of the Gods Remix
Frequent contributor and wiki editor Aurora Novarum presents her review of the recent DVD release of a remixed version of the Stargate: SG-1 pilot, “Children of the Gods”. Enjoy, and let us know if you find it helpful!
The latest to come out of the Stargate franchise is actually an old classic. Brad Wright, co-creator of all three Stargate TV series, spearheaded a revisit of the Stargate SG-1 pilot, “Children of the Gods”.
Initial suspicion that Wright was “pulling a Lucas” transformed into pleasant surprise. The final cut version of “Children of the Gods” is a wonderful new look at an old friend. Sharper, clearer imaging (you can actually read the name-tags on the poor red-shirt airmen in the opening sequence), new music, and various alterations of camera angles give a different look and feel, while maintaining the core story, and even giving a stronger portrayal for many of the characters.
It’s amazing how much difference the new soundtrack has made. Emmy nominated composer Joel Goldsmith has always been talented in creating the feel of the various Stargate series, but the first pilot relied heavily on the original Stargate movie soundtrack, and sometimes the ubiquitous music didn’t fit the scene. This new soundtrack, more judiciously used than the original version, subtly enhances the tone of the episode.
It’s difficult to explain how the new variation compares with the original. Wright and the editors went back to the original dailies and started from scratch. Sometimes it’s a matter of seeing a wide shot of all the characters rather than a single or dual shot, or vice versa. Sometimes it’s a completely different angle. For example, the forest scene on Chulak had a major flaw in the film, and so a lot of footage was unusable back in 1997. New technology allowed them to repair the damage and thus the editors had more options in how to portray the scene cinematically. Another factor is with high definition and widescreen TVs now the norm, the editing could take advantage of the 16:9 aspect ratio film standard and have more action/character moments showing within a frame.
Many of the special effects were redone for the pilot, but most are more subtle. The biggest change was a more uniform Stargate “puddle”–the original pilot used three different outside firms. The most noticeable change is the space ships in the climactic scene. The over-sized death glider that rings down the Goa’uld at the Stargate has been replaced with the canonically more accurate tel’tak cargo ship, introduced in Season Three’s “Deadman Switch” as the Goa’uld standard “sedan” transportation.
A major change for the film was Christopher Judge’s performance as Teal’c. Judge re-recorded all of his dialogue, and instead of the hesitant “Yul Brynner alien” performance (as Wright refers to it), Teal’c’s voice is the deep resonance of Judge portraying the centenarian character he molded for over a decade. Between that and the newly cut footage, the road to Teal’c’s betrayal of Apophis flows organically as what happens to Weterings, Skaara, and Sha’re affects him. Mixed with only slightly altered moments of him studying this new Tau’ri technology, when O’Neill tells him, “I can save these people”, Teal’c’s response is natural.
Carter’s introduction to the team has been shortened, including removal of the infamous “reproductive organ” speech, giving her less of a chip on her shoulder when introducing herself to Jack O’Neill. But screen moments have been added during the arrival on Abydos, showing Carter’s first true love–-technology, specifically the DHD and later the Cartouche room. There’s also new cuts between her and Daniel in both the Cartouche and prison sequence, cementing that friendship. Overall a stronger set up to the Samantha character.
The alterations to Daniel are seconds added/altered here and there, but they have an impact. There’s more of a homey feel to Daniel’s presence on Abydos, not just with Sha’re, but with all the Abydonian “boys”. His angst and despair at leaving them is profound, the speech leaving Abydos is more intense than the first edit. It echoes throughout the rest of the movie, from the moment he’s so lost, Jack takes him to his place, all the way up through his attempt to share Sha’re’s fate in the prison scene, which plays out slightly differently than the original pilot.
Daniel’s concern over Sha’re is echoed in Jack’s relationship with Skaara. The “shoulder bump” bypassing Daniel is seen from a different angle, emphasizing Jack isn’t so much dismissing his friend from Earth as focusing on the Abydos boy. The extended feast scene also cements that relationship, which plays out through the rest of the movie, making an appropriate final moment of Daniel and Jack worried for Sha’re and Skaara. However, the focus on that has narrowed the breadth of Jack’s introduction as a character. Gone are the early banter with he and General Hammond taking their measure, as well as Hammond noting Jack’s grey background, unnecessary for the standalone nature of the movie.
Hammond’s characterization has also narrowed. Without some of these lighter moments in the O’Neill introduction, Hammond is more the hard-edged military commander hinted at in earlier edits, before more of Davis’s influence by the grandfatherly mentor became established. Understandably he’s focused on the invasion of his base by aliens, a recalcitrant colonel and a smelly academic forcing his way back into an active role on the base. Even the President disagrees with George’s opinion. This hard edge wars with the single scene where he keeps Samuels from sealing the Stargate for as long as possible, with the effect of that quiet moment having more of an impact.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of the major changes (Spoilerphobes beware!):
- The harem. There is no harem in this new version. The story-line of this new CotG differs the most dramatically in that Amaunet’s rejection of Sgt. Weterings is the impetus for Apophis to go to Abydos and capture Sha’re and Skaara.
- “I never knew you had a kid.” Kawalsky’s lack of knowledge about Charlie O’Neill has been cut, which actually improves canon since later eps like “Gamekeeper” reveal Kawalsky and O’Neill had a familiarity with each other aside from the original Abydos mission.
- The nudity. One of Wright’s oft quoted reasons to revamp the series was to cut the frontal nudity on the original “Showtime”/DVD version of the pilot. The impact and horror of the sequence is still intact (and with the musical changes, much more powerful than the syndication cut), but lacking some the graphic nature that would keep this from being family fare for at least some in the American audience.
- O’Neill & Hammond introduction: Jack’s explanation of jokes and the classified nature of his work has been cut as extraneous to the movie setup of CotG, and they go “straight to business”. It keeps the story flow with the urgent call to drag O’Neill to the mountain, but it also cuts some characterization.
- Carter’s entrance. “Just because my reproductive organs are on the inside…” Apparently Wright and Glassner battled over that line for years. Ironically, the mocking references to it over the years in “200” and “Moebius” have cemented it in canon, and its presence is obviously missed. Unfortunately, losing that line also meant the appellation lines needed to be cut, and thus there’s no “Captain/Doctor” debate either in this scene or on Abydos.
- The MacGyver line. This loss is my biggest regret in the recut version. The cute “insider” joke Tapping’s Carter makes at Richard Dean Anderson’s previous iconic character has been replaced with the originally written dialogue of “jury rigging” the SGC’s computer.
- Samuels/Hammond waiting. At least one scene between Samuels and Hammond while awaiting word from the teams was cut from this new version, but to be honest, if they hadn’t mentioned it in the commentary, I would never have caught it.
- Teal’c’s surrender of his staff weapon. The original version makes a big show of Teal’c peacefully handing his staff to Carter. This sequence is cut and the weapon just magically disappears while Teal’c and the giant prisoner escape.
- Kawalsky’s fate. Wright has set up this new cut to be an “independent movie” rather than the pilot to the series, and so the cliffhanger of Kawalsky getting Goa’ulded has been judiciously cut. It’s not as if the events don’t happen to change the later canon of “Enemy Within”, but it’s not visible on screen, and the denouement is properly on Jackson and O’Neill’s concern for Sha’re and Skaara.
- * A Stargate Dial. One of the “pilot” errors was not explaining how Apophis and crew got out of the SGC in the first scene, since Stargate canon is “no two-way wormholes”, which has caused various fan theories throughout the years. Peter Williams actually came in for new filming to have Apophis bark Goa’uld-y orders to manually dial up the Stargate.
- Female Jaffa. One of the Jaffa revealed in the SGC makeshift morgue was a female warrior. It had been cut when they were still not sure whether there should be women Jaffa.
- The Abydos Feast. The whole arrival on Abydos has been recut, so the angles are all different, but there’s also some added moments while they’re cooking; even the crushed MALP parts were recycled as frying pans. The entire sequence is rich with minor moments.
- The Abydos Cartouche. This too has been recut with wider shots. Carter’s recording of the walls is clearer as is an entirely new and slightly different sequence of dialogue amongst the expedition. Tapping and Shanks agreed to come and redo their dialogue for at least this scene.
- Abydos attack. The aftermath of the attack has new angles and a fresh view of the confusion and panice after the Jaffa leave, including the farewell between Daniel and his adopted people.
- A completely new briefing room scene right after the return from Abydos. We learn how many addresses were part of the Abydos cartouche and see a bit more of Hammond’s skepticism about Dr. Jackson.
- Kawalsky’s team. While “Planet Kawalsky”‘s line is gone, the scene is much more intense amongst the members of SG-2 and their waiting and worrying for their comrades as well as more screen time when they come to SG-1’s rescue in the climax.
- The prison sequence. The sequence seems more streamlined and extended, from the point of Daniel waking up through to the picking of the “children of the gods”. There’s much more interaction between Sam and Daniel woven in with Jack and Skaara, and Daniel’s attempt at self-sacrifice has a slightly different spin.
- Teal’c. Teal’c’s betrayal of Apophis has a more continuous arc in this final cut. Some is the nature of the vocal performance being less stilted, but a lot is a second or two reaction shots throughout the movie. When he confronts Jack at the pivotal moment, his allegiance switch is much more believable.
- The escape. There’s added footage of SG-2 coming to the refugees rescue and the interplay in the battle/escape to the Stargate (especially regarding the big man…who obviously was captured with his family.
- Dedication. The end credits dedicate the film to Don S. Davis, the actor who played the beloved General Hammond in both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis
An opportunity was lost here for added content considering this is a re-release, not a new original movie. Only two “extras” means many people excited about Easter eggs and added content will be disappointed. One is a short interview with Wright and a few others discussing many of the major film changes. It includes side-by-side glimpses between the original and new version. The main extra is the audio commentary by Wright and Richard Dean Anderson (Jack O’Neill), which is candid and friendly. Anderson happily offered to do more, to which Wright responded “You tell me this NOW? After 300 episodes?” (Note to Mr. Wright and MGM: The other episodes of the first three seasons have no commentaries attached. Put those, deleted scenes, and bloopers in make it an easy re-purchase for a lot of fans.)
The Bottom Line
A chorus of franchise viewers and fans legitimately wonder why they should buy the new CotG when for a few dollars more, they can get a variation of the same story plus twenty more episodes in the Season One DVD set. Many fans may be perfectly happy with keeping/getting the original pilot, but it’s definitely recommended viewing for:
People who are just getting introduced to the franchise (yes, there’s still new fans getting introduced to the show…as Wright and Cooper realized at the Stargate Universe panel at Comiccon). This show has a lot of the heart of the series to come, without the cheesiness and faltering steps that often happens with any pilot.
Family fans concerned about the nudity aspect of the pilot. This is a wonderful addition/replacement to the original airing, and much better than the hacked up version of the cut used in syndication.
Big fans of the franchise. Of course the uberfans have probably already added this to their library, but for those sitting on the fence, there’s definitely enough freshness to the tale that it’s worth viewing.