Released: October 1994
Director: Roland Emmerich
Run Time: 121 Minutes(Theatrical), 130 Minutes(Extended Cut)
Kurt Russell: Colonel Jack O’Neill
James Spader: Dr. Daniel Jackson
Jaye Davidson: Ra
Erik Avari: Kasuf
Mili Avital: Sha’uri
French Stewart: Ferretti
Alexis Cruz: Skaara
Djimon Hondsou: Horus
In one of my previous reviews, I mentioned that the 90s had some fantastic movies. Movies like Alien 3, Independence Day, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Men In Black among many, many others. Independence Day was directed by Roland Emmerich who would go onto do more disaster movies including the ill-advised Godzilla 1998 debacle, as well The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. So, disaster movies are the name of his game. He’s great at destroying the world, if nothing else. But before he did Independence Day, he directed two of the most interesting action and science fiction films to date: Universal Soldier and Stargate. Universal Soldier had an interesting premise in which dead soldiers could be revived into super-soldiers. The film was an absolute blast with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren leading the way. But the film that really came in under the radar and got people’s attention was Stargate. Released to audiences in October 1994, Stargate would go on to be one of the most unique and interesting movies of the decade. In a year that had some of the biggest movies of the decade, including a Star Trek movie and Disney’s The Lion King, Stargate basically came out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people. The film got mixed reviews, but that didn’t stop people from talking about it. Personally, I loved the hell out of it.
The film begins in 1928, in which an archaeologist has discovered an interesting find on the Gaza plateau: A mysterious ring-shaped object. 66 years later, Dr. Daniel Jackson is essentially laughed out of a lecture for his theories that the Pharaohs of the 14th Dynasty didn’t build the Great Pyramids. Offered a chance to prove his correct by a mysterious old woman, Dr. Jackson is brought to a secret military installation where he begins to translate the hieroglyphs on an ancient cover stone. After successfully determining that some of the symbols on the stone were actually star constellations and basically a map of some sort, Jackson gets to see the Stargate. Discovering a seventh symbol that the original team had been trying to locate, they succeed in activating the Stargate. After sending a probe through, it turns out the gate leads to planet on the other side of the known universe. A decision is made to send a team through the gate to discover what’s on the other side. Leading the team is Colonel Jack O’Neill, a tough-as-nails Air Force Special Forces soldier with an awesome flat-top. Dr. Jackson joins them so he can decipher the symbols on the other gate. After going through the gate, Jackson reveals that he can’t get them back home because he needs an order of alignment of symbols to open the Stargate. This leads to O’Neill, Jackson, and a couple of other soldiers heading out to the desert to search for some traces of civilization, which they find in people that speak ancient Egyptian. They learn that these people are descendants of people who were nabbed from Earth thousands of years before by a tyrannical being known as Ra.
I have to say that this story is one of the most interesting and unique I’ve ever seen in a science fiction movie before. I like it because they take actual Egyptian history and give it a science fiction twist. It shouldn’t work, but it does. While a majority of the characters aren’t really given much of a back-story, Dr. Jackson and Colonel O’Neill are very compelling. Jackson gets laughed out of a lecture only to find that he’s been evicted from his apartment and basically homeless. O’Neill is suffering from the tragic death of his son who accidentally shot himself, and left O’Neill despondent until he was reactivated by the Air Force. These stories help give us an insight into the characters and how they deal with certain situations. The rest of the military outfit aren’t as compelling. Ferretti is pretty irritating. I guess that comes from the fact that I don’t particularly like French Stewart as an actor. Things get pretty amusing when they encounter the primitive tribe that’s mining a bizarre mineral. Leading the tribe is Kasuf and his son, Skaara. As you would expect from a situation with a serious language barrier, things get a little bizarre. The humor works and the writing is pretty exceptional. The way that the characters interact with each other feels very genuine, especially when Jackson is learning to speak their language, and develops a relationship with Sha’uri, Kasuf’s daughter. Our villain is the Egyptian Sun God, Ra, who is actually an alien in human form. This is an interesting take on Egyptian history and mythology. If the ancient civilizations witnessed aliens landing among us, they would certainly be regarded as gods, so having the Egyptian Gods as aliens makes an unusual kind of sense, especially when you consider how the pyramids were built and you look at their particular alignment. That’s not entirely far-fetched. A portal that leads across the universe? Because, you know, science fiction. Anyways, Ra is a tyrant and he has enslaved the population of the desert planet, making him the Big Bad.
The acting is actually really good. Kurt Russell brings the bravado and machismo that is required of an armed soldier. He also has that awesome flat-top that says, “Don’t f**k with me!” James Spader is one of the most underrated and intense actors that I’ve ever seen. He gives the role an awkardness that you would expect from somebody who is almost out of his element. As the film goes on, the character starts falling in love with Sha’uri and the tribe as a general, as if he’s found what he’s been looking for. That leads to him being to step and help defend the people against Ra and his cronies. French Stewart’s character is irritating and I was hoping he would die. Painfully. Erik Avari, who plays, Kasuf, brings humility and caution to a character that’s trying to look out for his own people, and is understandably cautious when these strangers show up speaking a strange language. These tribesmen are innocent because they know nothing of warfare, or why they do what they do, because writing has been outlawed by Ra. All the actors do a really good job at making their characters….human. Jaye Davidson plays Ra, and aside from the glowing eyes bit is particularly menacing, even though he looks pretty feminine at times. Davidson played a transgender person in The Crying Game and was nominated for an Academy Award for it, but after Stargate, he dropped off the map, and pretty much hasn’t been seen since. Ra was a character that he could have overplayed hilariously, but he really gives the character a very elegant and menacing demeanor that made the character memorable.
One of the things that really stand out in the film are the costume designs. Look at Ra’s outfit and mask as well his henchmen, and it’s extraordinarily detailed. The masks for Horus and Anubis are amazing and pretty freaky. And this where some special effects come in, when these guys retract their helmets revealing the actual people underneath. Likewise, the sets are absolutely phenomenal. Most of the film was filmed on location in Arizona and California. The huge dunes that you see in the film are in Yuma, Arizona. There were a lot of sets that were built out in the desert. The pyramid entrance that the soldiers come out of, was an actual set with the pyramid and moons that were put in post-production. The interior of Ra’s pyramid ship is extraordinary. It’s a combination of advanced technology and ancient Egyptian architecture. It’s really quite spectacular. As far as special effects go, outside of some CG, most of it’s done either in front of the camera or miniatures. This is one of my favorite aspects of Stargate, it doesn’t really heavily on visual effects to sell the story or action. This is a very human-driven story. Don’t get me wrong, the visual effects that are there are spectacular given the film’s budget. The opening of the Stargate is awesome as well when Jackson steps through it. That is one of the most spectacular sequences in the film. The action is intense especially towards the end. O’Neill’s fist-fight with Anubis is awesome. It’s one of the best fist-fights I’ve seen in a movie and it ends with an awesome one-liner.
As of this writing, there are two different versions of the film available. There’s a Blu-Ray release that has an extended cut which is 9 minutes longer than the theatrical release and has a very different opening to the film. There are also extended scenes. While it’s cool to see the extra stuff, it’s superfluous in the long run. There’s not enough extra stuff put in to recommend it over the theatrical version. I have an opinion on extended versions of movies, but that is a post for a different day. In fact, that may be my next post. Stargate, regardless of the version you choose to watch is an extraordinary film. It’s well written, acted, and has some of the most incredible sequences I’ve seen. The music by David Arnold is iconic in the same way that the music from Star Wars is iconic. It gives the film it’s epic flair, emotion and grand sense of adventure beyond the stars. It’s wonderful. If you can find it, I definitely recommend picking up the soundtrack. It’s not very often that single film can spawn an entire universe. Star Trek did it first, but it started out as a TV series first. Star Wars did it, as did Alien. Stargate, which could have benefitted from maybe one more movie sequel, actually ended up getting several TV series. SG-1 saw Richard Dean Anderson in the role of Jack O’Neill, and while he was different, he did a great job with it. Atlantis itself was a spin-off of SG-1. Universe was a spin-off of Atlantis. While the original series lasted 10 seasons, Atlantis saw only five, and Universe only lasted two. From what I’ve been reading, they plan on redoing Stargate from the ground-up as a trilogy of films that bypass the TV shows. I’m morbidly curious. Overall, I can’t recommend Stargate enough. It’s an incredible action-adventure sci-fi romp that is thrilling, funny and spectacular all at once. With some minor quibbles, I’m giving Stargate a 9.5/10. It’s an awesome movie, and I wish Roland Emmerich would return to this kind of film-making instead of finding different ways to destroy the world.