With the recent news that Roland Emmerich would like to make a second, big screen, Stargate movie, questions surrounding the future of the franchise have again started popping up throughout fandom.
It’s been three years since Stargate: Universe was cancelled and fans want to know: What’s next? Whither Stargate?
Well in my humble and somewhat informed opinion: Beats me.
But let’s look at the possibilities…
THE BIG SCREEN REBOOT (TWO WAYS TO DO IT)
Look at the re-imagined Star Trek. Both movies did HUGE business. And, like Star Trek, Stargate is an established scifi franchise that would undoubtedly wow with a big screen treatment and visual effects budget. The potential box-office returns could be tremendous!
Or not. If the summer of 2013 has taught us anything, it’s that Big Budget Star-driven features don’t guarantee success. The Lone Ranger ($215 million dollar production budget), White House Down ($150 million dollar production budget), Turbo ($135 million dollar production budget), RIPD ($130 million dollar production budget), After Earth ($130 million dollar production budget), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones ($60 million dollar production budget). What do the aforementioned have in common? Yep, you guessed it: Big hopes, Big budgets, and, all of them, Big box office disappointments. Also, keep in mind that the listed amounts in parentheses are the approximate production budgets which don’t take into account the equally sizeable costs of marketing these movies. Ouch.
So, it’s clear that “throwing money at it” won’t guarantee a movie’s success. Neither will casting hitherto bankable actors like Johnny Depp and Will Smith. BUT Stargate is an established property with a pre-existing fan base, so it’s got that going for it. Right? Well, okay, so did The Mortal Instruments movie but, for argument’s sake, let’s just stick to Stargate for now. Big budgets aside, the Stargate franchise is much like Star Trek in that it has that built-in SF fan base eager for more. So it stands to reason that it should follow the Star Trek model and find success as a big screen reboot!
Well, not so fast…
First of all, as proud as I am of everything we accomplished with the Stargate franchise, I’ll be the first to admit it doesn’t have quite the reach or support of Star Trek. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, we produced three series, two direct-to-dvd features, and some 300+ episodes over 15 years but, while impressive a feat, it pales in comparison to Star Trek’s five series, twelve theatrical features, and some 700+ episodes over 46 years. As a result, Star Trek’s influence reaches far beyond its fandom – which is important given that, despite its established fan base, Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled after four seasons. This is not to minimize the impact of fans but simply to suggest expectations should be tempered. A robust and passionate fandom doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Having said that, however, it’s in instances such as these, where a franchise’s reach may not be as wide-ranging as a Star Trek, that fandom is even more important in a studio’s campaign to “get the word out”.
It’s for this reason that you want to make sure you get fandom “on your side”. And this is where reboots can get a little tricky. On the one hand, re-imagining a property offers first-timers the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. They’re on equal footing with longtime fans in that they don’t need to come in to a movie knowing what has come before. It’s fresh and new to them as, ideally, it would be to longtime fans. A new beginning of sorts. Problems arise when you start distancing those longtime fans, the support crew that could prove an indispensable part of any pre-release online campaign, who may not take kindly to the franchise they’ve come to know and love being messed with. And, by messed with, I mean…
Ignoring what has come before.
Yes, a fresh start is a great idea when it comes to reaching out to a potential new audience, and while some fans would undoubtedly be pleased with a complete relaunch, many others would no doubt take umbrage with a complete dismissal of established canon. In some ways, it’s the equivalent to the Bobby Ewing in the shower scene in Dallas. Remember? Actor Patrick Duffy decided to leave the series and his character was killed off at the end of the show’s eighth season. But then Duffy had a change of heart and decided he wanted to come back. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a scifi show and cloning, time travel, and ascension were not viable options. So, to address the issue and bring back Bobby Ewing, Duffy’s character makes an inexplicable appearance in the final episode of of the show’s ninth season. His wife hears the water running, walks into the bathroom, and is shocked to see him there, showering. When season 10 got underway, it was revealed that Bobby never died and that the show’s ninth season was just a dream. An insanely detailed dream that ran 31 episodes! Which leads me to wonder how that ninth season performs in syndication and alternate media purchases (i.e. downloads). Anyway, my point is that a creative clean slate could hurt rather than hinder a reboot’s prospects as it slams shuts: a) the book on beloved characters and b) the door on the faces of longtime fans.
On the other hand, instead of a complete reboot, the studio could opt for a reboot that makes use of established characters – which is what Star Trek did. We are presented with a new version of long-established characters – Kirk, Spock, McCoy – but the potential to piss off longtime fans is minimized because the story takes place in an alternate universe. So, quite literally, fans can have the best of both worlds. The new adventures don’t undo what has come before. Fans will, of course, have a preference, but both versions can happily co-exist without trumping one another.
Of course, one could argue that the reason this type of reboot worked for Star Trek is that, while these classic characters have long been engrained in the SF consciousness, it’s been almost twenty years since we’ve seen them onscreen in a new adventure. In the case of Stargate, well, it’s been about two years since we last saw Jack O’Neill grace the small screen. Is it perhaps too soon to expect fans will embrace someone other than Richard Dean Anderson in the role?
A SMALL SCREEN EVENT (TESTING THE WATERS)
Another possibility is to produce a one-shot Stargate television event that could potentially act as a backdoor pilot for a new Stargate series. If the ratings are great, the studio can move forward with an all new t.v. series while, if the ratings disappoint, they can cut their losses with this single production. At first blush, this seems like a great idea. Creatively, it would allow the franchise to head in a bold, new direction while still paying its respects to what has come before, leaving the door open for established characters to make an occasional appearance and help bridge the gap between old fans and new. Upon closer scrutiny, however, it becomes clear that a “one and done” deal wouldn’t make much financial sense. In order to do it properly, especially if it was going to serve as a potential backdoor pilot, $$$ would need to be spent, and broadcast license fees and alternate revenue streams may not be enough to make the venture worthwhile. Like any show, it would be a gamble, but the fact that science fiction requires more of a financial investments makes this even more risky. At some point, the studio needs to ask itself what would be the better scenario: strike now or wait? There’s an argument to be made for both. The fact that the last Stargate episode aired only two years ago suggests the fans are still out there and, if a movie or series is produced sooner than later, one could count on their support – in addition to the potential support of new viewers. Strike while the iron is hot! Then again, the ratings for SGU’s final season could suggest viewer fatigue and maybe waiting is advisable.
A CLASSIC STARGATE MOVIE OR MINI-SERIES
As much as I would love to see a television mini-series or movie based on either of the three past Stargates (SG-1, Atlantis, or Universe), this one is the longest of long shots mainly because the sets no longer exist and rebuilding them for a one-time adventure doesn’t make a whole lot of financial sense. At the very least, if one were going the backdoor pilot route, there is the very real prospect of recouping those upfront expenses in an ongoing series. Back in the day, the two Stargate direct-to-video features, Ark of Truth and Continuum did VERY well. But that was before the bottom fell out of the dvd market. Sadly, a “classic Stargate” miniseries or movie isn’t the slam dunk it used to be.
A NEW STARGATE SERIES
Well, yes wouldn’t that be great? A new set of characters and host of new adventures with the potential for guest spots from the likes of Rodney McKay, Daniel Jackson, and maybe even Eli Wallace. A new Stargate-based television might be the best way to go. After all, while the original movie was successful, it was the television franchise that proved an incredibly lucrative earner for MGM. But some of the same questions arise. When should the studio look to put another series in development? Sooner or later? Has enough time passed?
So, having said all that, what DOES the future hold for Stargate? Again, I haven’t a clue and I’ve long since accepted the sheer folly of applying logic to Hollywood decision-making. But, for what it’s worth…
My gut instinct tells me the studio would LOVE to follow the Star Trek model: take an established property, re-imagine it for the big screen, and makes hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, it could be argued that that is a very best case scenario. If the studio does consider going down this route, careful consideration will present two indisputable facts: a) Stargate is not Star Trek, and b) alienating long-time fans in favor of a new audience could prove disastrous.
As much as I would love to see that Atlantis movie or SG-1 movie or even a mini-series that incorporates elements from all three Stargate shows, this is the unlikeliest of scenarios for the simple reason that the risks far outweigh any potential rewards.
No, given the history of the franchise, it would seem a new television series would be the best way to go – a fresh take on Stargate that would bring in new viewers while rewarding the long-suffering fans.
However, I’m not the one making the call.
In the end, I think there’s only certainty: On the question of Stargate’s glorious return, it’s not a matter of IF but WHEN.