Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stargate: The Ark of Truth

Stargate: The Ark of Truth is the first of two Stargate SG-1 direct to DVD films. It wraps up the Ori story arc begun in the series as well as brings back on old enemy for another go around. The film is a satisfactory ending. It higher production values are also pretty to see. However there are some narrative issues that slow things down considerably.

The SG-1 team is sifting through the ruins of Dakara in search of the Ark of Truth, a weapon designed by a Ancient prior to their ascension that convinces anyone who opens the ark to see the truth. The ancients refused to allow its use when the ori were first rising to power because they believed in free will. But now Daniel is receiving visions from Merlin--actually Morgan Le Fay in disguise--as to its location. Our heroes are ambushed by ori forces lead by Tomin. When the prior orders him to kill the SG-1 team against the teachings of origin, he refuses. When our heroes kill the supposedly invincible prior, Tomin loses his faith in Origin.

Convinced the ark is in the Ori galaxy at a place considered the birth of evil, Tomin agrees to help our heroes through the super gate so they can search for it. An International oversight Agency operative named James Marrick goes along on the mission ostensibly in charge, but cam keeps him in the dark as much as possible. Snubbing Marrick turns out to be a bad thing. While our heroes are on what cam dubs the Vatican of the Ori, Marrick uses the asgard database to recreate a Replicator in the hopes it will multiply and destroy the ori as they did the Goa’uld.

It is as this point the film runs into issues. The SG-1 team splits in half. Cam and Sam return to Odyssey to battle Replicators while Daniel, Teal’c, and Vala continue searching for the Ark. The Replicator battle, including a long fight scene between Cam and Marrick turned into a Terminator-like creature due to their infestation in his body, is the only action that occurs for nearly thirty minutes of the 97 minute film. It is interspersed while what amounts to little more than an archeological dig lead by Daniel. The problem is the latter is so uneventful, it feel like the Replicators are thrown in as an apology to offer something exciting to watch rather than a complement to the quest for the Ark. It is certainly a plausible, if misguided, idea for the IOC to use Replicators, but it is so much more interesting than the supposedly main plot.

The film does course correct somewhat when the Ori take the Ark and Daniel’s team captive, but again an issue arises. Adria and the Doci appear for the first time nearly three-fourths of the way in. While there is a certain impact to their appearance, it is bad form to introduce main villains in the final act. The Doci is a particularly odd choice. He has only appeared in one episode in the early eighth season, then never seen again until a few minutes near the end of The Ark of Truth. Admittedly, I am disappointed Julian Sands was not better utilized throughout the ori arc because he plays a great villain, but there is still merit in my complaint at his abrupt appearance and dispatching.

I will offer props that both the Replicators and ori are dealt with in different ways. The Replicators are stopped with gunfire, big explosions, and a computer program. The Ark is opened, thereby converting the Ori forces existentially. There is the best of both worlds in the combination.

To state the obvious, I was expecting a lot of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark homage. So much so, I was bracing myself for The Ark of Truth to be a cheap rip off. As near as I can tell, the ending is the only homage. The Ark is taken to Area 51 to be studied by top men. Top men. Kudos for self-restraint on the part of writer Robett C. Cooper. The film could have been wall to wall parody and homage.

When it comes right down to it, there is more elements of The Terminator in The Ark of Truth with Replicator Marrick. I am curious if Marrick is a reference to John Merrick, the famed Elephant Man. He is hideously deformed when replicators are controlling him, so the possibility exists. I have not found any inside info on the matter.

The Ark of Truth has its weak points with pacing and throwing in main villains at the last minute. I am also curious why, if the Replicators have control of Odyssey’s systems, they do not simply cut off life support and be done with the humans trying to destroy them. But I do not want to be too critical of the Replicator subplot,. It is the only thing keeping the viewer awake while Daniel and company are walking down tunnels and, moving rocks, and dusting off the ark for thirty excruciating minutes. The addition subplot of Ori ships hovering near Earth, poised to attack, but inexplicably not doing so is kind of thrown in there to put Earth in peril and give Landry something to do. It is not really necessary to add that in.

Tomin, who has not been a character I have cared much about, shines here, too. He and Teal’c become kindred spirits who empathize with one another over the inability to forgive themselves for the atrocities they committed while serving false gods. Tomin does strangely go off in the end to minister the teachings of Origin as a philosophy rather than a religion, which makes him a self-help guru. I suppose he is meant to find some redemption that way, but I am so jaded all I could think to do was make Tony Robbins jokes at Tomin’s decision.

There are some good points. The CGI work is very impressive in HD. Seriously, The Ark of Truth is quite the eye candy. Cooper, who directed as well as wrote the script, utilizes more long shots and shaky cam effects to give the film an epic feel and enhace the action sequences. I can imagine how fans who have not had a Stargate SG-1 fix in over a year would be extremely excited for The Ark of Truth and forgiving of its flaws. It is not much more than a two part episode with better location ashots, but it is still highly entertaining in spite of some shortcomings.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

(Cross posted at Eue of Polyphemus)

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