As part of our romance with SciFiNow (wait, what, you haven’t read the first issue of SciFiNow+ yet?), the world’s number one science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine have opened up their archives to allow us to bring you some classic coverage of our favourite shows, such as this exclusive first interview with creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper on a little show called Stargate Universe which ran in SciFiNow issue 25 way back in 2009.
To put a twist on a phrase, as one Stargate closes, another one opens. That is precisely the case with MGM’s long-running Stargate franchise, which is in the midst of a transition as Atlantis finishes its run and preparations are made for the newest incarnation, Stargate Universe, to arrive this summer.
Of course, having one version wind down while another starts up is nothing new to executive producers Robert Cooper and Brad Wright, the franchise’s guiding force. “I’ve been winding down or winding up at the same time for 14 years,” says Cooper. “This just seems normal to us. What’s odd is that we’re usually developing stories for the following season, and this time we’re thinking of stories for another series. When you’ve done a particular show for five years, I think it’s exciting to press the reset button and do something fresh.”
Adds Wright: “We also don’t think of winding down on a show that’s gone on for five years as being anything but something to be proud of. Having said that, we did spin stories all yesterday morning for Universe and then sat down to watch a mix of the 19th episode of Atlantis that Robert directed. So we were, like, ‘Oh right, we’re still doing Atlantis’.”
Looking at Atlantis from the beginning of its run to the end, both producers feel there has definitely been an evolution. “I’m not sure if there’s been a major evolution,” Wright offers, “but all shows evolve and we try to help them evolve, because status quo is death. People grow, our directors have grown, our writers have grown, actors grow and relationships grow.”
“Technology changes,” adds Cooper. “The way you shoot stuff has changed significantly over the years and hopefully we’ve been keeping up with the cutting edge of how television is being made and putting as much quality visual effects on the screen as we can. We are able to do things this year that we couldn’t two years ago.”
Creatively, that could very well be the case with Stargate Universe, which serves as an intriguing variation of the franchise to date. Whereas both SG-1 and Atlantis have been decidedly earthbound (whether on this world or not). Universe will be a shipboard show – though about as far removed from a Star Trek-type of series as you could get. Utilising a Stargate, a mixed age group of people (ranging from their 20s to 50s) find themselves on a vast alien ship in the middle of a mission to unlock the secrets of the universe that had been programmed into it thousands of years earlier. They’re unable to get back home until they find a power source strong enough to send them the distance required from the ship’s Stargate to the one on Earth.
“Keep in mind that we will be using the Stargate to visit worlds as the ship encounters them,” Wright details of the show. “A unique aspect of all of this is that we’re not flying this ship. This ship is flying and we’re aboard it. The ship is following a path, the same path it’s been following since it was launched thousands of years ago to follow the ship that was launched thousands of years before that, planting Stargates.”
Cooper elaborates: “It’s kind of like getting on a cruise ship. You’re not steering the ship. Every once in a while it stops in a port and you can get out and explore, but you only have a limited amount of time before you have to get on board and it moves on. You’re not in control of that and there’s something very interesting about that to us.”
Also interesting is the idea that the ensemble on this show doesn’t necessarily want to be there, which creates an element of conflict that has been missing from previous Stargate series. On one level it suggests the conflict that was presented and quickly abandoned on Star Trek: Voyager between Starfleet and the Maquis, but both writer/producers assure us that this certainly won’t be the case with Stargate Universe.
“We tried to put some more conflict in Atlantis,” says Cooper. “We tried to have members of the team at odds and it just didn’t work because of the hierarchy. There was a spirit of, ‘We all signed up for this and should be working together, and it felt wrong if someone was cutting against the grain. Furthermore, it didn’t make sense why they wouldn’t just be eliminated from the situation. Whereas in this case we don’t have that option, we have to deal with each other and certainly everyone that we’re trying to develop is ripe with human failings.”
The mission statement of the new series seems to be change, and that will be evident through every aspect of it. “We’re being deliberate in terms of changing how we shoot it, how we write it,” Wright states, “and by the fact that the overall paradigm of the series is going to be new in a challenging way.”
“We believe that the tone and theme of the show,” Cooper interjects, “is asking us to be a little more naturalistic and a little more in touch with a sense of reality. SG-1 and Atlantis were adventure shows. They were on some levels a little bit comic book-y. and I don’t use that necessarily in a negative way. They were fun, but the spirit of this show is a little closer to one of a realistic portrayal of survival. We’re going to try and adapt our shooting style and the ways in which our directors attack performances from the actors to reflect that.”
Wright offers that if, thematically, Stargate SG-1 was akin to the Mercury astronauts programme of first going into space, and Stargate Atlantis represented the best and the brightest of those astronauts going into space, Universe is essentially the opposite of that. “We’re really thrusting ordinary people into an extraordinary circumstance in this series, and that’s going to allow us to tell stories from a less technobabble/scientific way of approaching things that we have in the past.”
Cooper opines, “One of the elements that we feel was very successful about the that we want to re-emphasise, is the everyman’s point of view of science fiction. What would happen if you plucked someone off a street corner and put them on a spaceship? That was kind of O’Neill’s point of view at the beginning of SG-1. His reactions to things characterized how a non-science fiction fan might react to a crazy situation with aliens or spaceships. It’s a much more focused, in some ways, version of that, because everybody on this mission is a bit of a fish out of water and we’re hoping that allows our audience to put themselves in that situation.”
Besides Universe, fans mourning the end of Atlantis can take solace in the fact that a new two-hour Atlantis movie will be filmed, as well the third two-hour SG-1 film.
Sadly the Atlantis movie, Stargate: Extinction, and the third SG-1 movie, Stargate: Revolution, were never made.
“They’ll shoot back to back,” says Cooper. “Even though we’ll be producing those while we do Universe, it will be easy compared to shooting 40 episodes a year, which we did for three years. And with Atlantis leaving the air, I think too soon is better than too late. I don’t think we would have had the opportunity to make movies if it died on the vine. The ratings were good, but they weren’t a slam-dunk as far as the network was concerned. But, creatively, the thing with the Stargate as a storytelling device, you could go on forever. It’s a very, very rich storytelling device. So it’s a question of do we take five years and be happy with it and then do a potential series of movies, or do we do a sixth season and that’s it?’ I think it was a decision that we, MGM and the network made, to go forward with Stargate on all fronts.”
Stargate Universe has now been cast, the first scripts written and will begin shooting soon for a release aimed at the third quarter of 2009.