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Stargate: The Ark of Truth DVD Review

Stargate: The Ark of Truth DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Stargate: The Ark of Truth
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Robert C. Cooper

Cast: Ben Browder (Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell), Amanda Tapping (Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter), Christopher Judge (Teal'c), Claudia Black (Vala Mal Doran), Currie Graham (Marrick), Morena Baccarin (Adria), Tim Guinee (Tomin), Julian Sands (Doci), Sarah Strange (Morgan le Fay), Michael Beach (Col. Ellis), Beau Bridges (Major General Hank Landry), Michael Shanks (Dr. Daniel Jackson)

Video Debut: April 11, 2008 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $26.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover

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By Christopher Disher

A conclusion has finally arrived... almost. With ten seasons on the air, "Stargate SG-1" became the longest-running American science fiction TV show of all time. Its unexpected cancellation last year left a lot of story to be resolved and heaps of fans shouting for more. As a result, two direct-to-video movies were slated.
The latter, Stargate: Continuum, comes in July, but the first -- Stargate: The Ark of Truth -- is now here, packed full of the excitement, humor, and charm that characterized the "SG-1" series.

Robert C. Cooper serves the project as writer, director, and executive producer. His experience with the Stargate franchise is extensive: since creating "Stargate: Atlantis" with Brad Wright in 2004, Cooper has written or co-written every episode of that spin-off. He was also the executive producer on "SG-1" nearly since its inception. Towards the end of the series' life, he created and developed the Ori storyline, of which Ark of Truth concludes.

With all of this control comes a great deal of responsibility. The faults of the film therefore weigh heavily on Cooper's shoulders. With correct pacing, tighter editing, and a script revision, the 102-minute picture could easily fit into the series' normal one-hour time slot. There is no real mystery to how it will conclude, given Continuum is to follow as the definitive end to the series. As a result, Ark is left filling a void that adds nothing to the Ori mythology. Even in its execution, it is completely unoriginal and anemic, resorting to a blatantly recycled "false god" plot line that originally carried the series to its glory. The concept for a concluding film was set for failure if the creators simply tied up the loose ends, which is exactly what they do.

The formidable Earth ship Odyssey flies through the Supergate and never shows its muscles. Teal'c (Christopher Judge) trudges over mountains to finally end here, where he collapses at the feet of his destination.

Despite the recycled plot, the Ori themselves develop into effective villains, but they never are as menacing as the Goa'uld or Replicators who preceded them. For one, we never actually saw the Ori, only their incompetent followers. Only when the Ori had ships attacking the Milky Way Galaxy did they ever feel like formidable foes. Ark of Truth never moves pass this failing, instead simply adding to it. When one of the characters becomes a type of zombie, it is clear the film has debased itself by regurgitating Hollywood clich้s.

The primary fault lies at the film's core: the story is built around an ancient artifact, The Ark of Truth, that has no pre-established mythology. It isn't even clear how the item works. As Aristotle said, "...a convincing impossibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility." The Ark never works because Cooper never makes it convincing. In the series, an explanation was at least attempted. For a show that prides itself on discrediting belief and faith, it seems out of place to have an artifact whose power feels more magical than technological.

The mere concept of it is ruinous for a satisfying conclusion. Just as SG-1 killed all of the Ori in one swoop, they set out to open the eyes of all the Ori followers in a like manner. It ultimately required little effort on their part, and the established problem of using the device -- how amoral and unethical it is -- never resurfaced. In truth, SG-1 acted as the Ori acted and Cooper and company see no need to address this. This ethical quandary would usually fall into the lap of the morally apt Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), who instead casually makes note of it in passing.

While being a bit untrue to their original selves, the characters maintain charm and chemistry here, but never above and beyond the norm. The main reason for this is the introduction of Marrick (Currie Graham), who comes way out of left field and carries no real past relation to any of the characters. He was another crony of the International Oversight Advisory and we're expected to believe he has ill intentions simply because of his involvement with IOA -- that and his ceaseless smug remarks. He adds to the convenience of plot developments and setbacks, never contributing any real substance to the story. His primary function is to exploit the Asgard technology on board the Odyssey ship and use it against SG-1.

For all of its power, advancement, and technological proficiency, the retrofitted Odyssey has only served to endanger its crew, not assist it. I, for one, have been anxiously awaiting the moment Earth effectively uses the ship's superior improvements. That moment never occurs, though perhaps it is being saved for Continuum. Still, it contributes to the feeling that SG-1 are merely passive in the conflict, solving problems by convenience of visions, capture, and happenstance.

Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder) brandishes an automatic assault riffle in the midst of a serious debate with Vala (Claudia Black). The most powerful villain in all of existence (Morena Baccarin) does nothing to ensure her survival. Women's empowerment or sexy she-devil?

With the re-introduction of the Replicators, Ark of Truth becomes just another episode out of the hundreds before it. It is, above all, unnecessary and there is no precedent for it. Its function became a device for adding a countdown to defeat.
As we all know from the series, SG-1 saves the day in the nick of time. As a result, the annoying little machines tie up some of the best members of the cast, rendering them useless in the broad conflict. This type of convenience paints the movie as lazy over and over again.

Ultimately, Ark of Truth nearly brings the entire series to its knees. Its fundamental philosophical arguments hinge on meaningless, postmodern beliefs in the power of self. It indulges in Eastern-inspired ways of thinking, mixed with quasi-nihilism meets sci-fi religion, that offer hope with no basis, salvation with no evidence, and truth with no purpose. If the writers weren't attempting to pontificate on the meaning of existence, this would be a non-issue. The Bible has proven to be both basis and fodder for stories during the past two thousand years, yet those tales that muse on the power of self, for the sake of the self, wither and die under scrutiny. The writers, Cooper in particular, would have done well to reference Heidegger or Kierkegaard if depth and truth were something they desired in their writings.

In summary, Ark of Truth lacks the sense of urgency of the best "Stargate SG-1" episodes but excels over the many meandering installments from the past, particularly those written by actor Christopher Judge. If substance were a measure of quality, the story fails. And with story as the cornerstone of all films, it is safe to form a judgment around it. Ark of Truth neither compels nor inspires, neither beguiles nor entertains. With all of its "big budget" fancy, no amount of eye candy or special effects will support a movie whose legs -- its story -- wobble under the weight of pretentiousness. It can only be a film recommended to the most ardent of fans, perhaps blinded by their deep-seated allegiance to the franchise, not those looking to enter the massively successful sci-fi series for the first time.

The panel discussion at Comic-Con is full of inside jokes and sarcastic one-liners. Director Robert C. Cooper talks at length about the film, giving insight into his motivations. The well-designed, easy-to-navigate menu compliments the attractive packaging.


Unlike the series, Ark of Truth is shot on 35 mm film, but it too is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The frame is often vibrant, complete with a dynamic use of light and shadow and brilliantly rendered special effects in the space arena. The transfer is spot-on and few scenes have noticeable grain in the dark areas. Still, the matte paintings leave a lot to be desired and occasional other effects (splinters from trees, Replicator renderings, etc.) could be improved.

The default Dolby Digital 5.1 track is complete with a solid environment of surround sound,
loud action sequences, and a well-mixed center channel for the vocals. The score is overbearing but to be expected with the type of fare it texturizes. Dolby Surround mixes are offered in French and Spanish, while English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.


Ark of Truth comes with an audio commentary with writer/director/producer Robert C. Cooper, actor Christopher Judge (Teal'c), and director of photography Peter Woeste. Why Judge is on the track and not any of the other actors is beyond me. They shed light on how they indulged (perhaps overly so) in the film medium as opposed to working in television. Much of the conversation hinges on working with the extended format-- which makes me wish they hired a film director, not a television writer, to see the project through.

The film plays with an optional 9-minute prelude titled The Road Taken. This is also accessible on the Special Features menu. It does well to summarize the Ori plot line but might not be enough to catch up someone who hasn't seen the series in full.

Next is a 20-minute panel discussion on Stargate SG-1 at the mega-geek event: Comic-Con. In attendance are Robert Cooper, Amanda Tapping, Ben Browder, Christopher Judge, and Martin Wood. The discussion and questions bring hilarious and informative off-the-cuff remarks that make it one of the most entertaining special features I've seen.

The final primary selection is a documentary on the making-of Ark of Truth. The filmmakers talk about concluding the series and the general making of the film for nearly thirty minutes.

Wrapping up the selection are two trailers for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2:20) and In The Name of the King (1:29).

The menus have an expected sci-fi look but are altogether quite simple. The pages don't animate but the background music is stimulating enough. Overall, the theme of the entire product -- the cover art (with slipcover), disc art, and menus -- mixes well even with a slightly different color palette. A single insert inside the case advertises "Stargate" official guides.

Stargate goes Hollywood clich้ with this attempt at a menacing monster incarnate. Mixed motives cause a stir and testosterone boils over to dampen the simmering tempers.


The Ark of Truth is a perfect addition to the Stargate enthusiast's collection. The DVD's well-made, entertaining, and informative special features are worthy enough to encourage a purchase even if one isn't too enthralled with the film. Still, it may only be for fans of the series, as others will likely be lost without sufficient knowledge of the characters and history.

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Reviewed March 26, 2008.

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