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Stargate Review

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by AVForums May 21, 2010

    Stargate Review

    'Stargate' was released in 1994 and was directed by Roland Emmerich. Famous for his more recent directorial duties on the fantastic 'Independence Day', 'Godzilla' and the not so fantastic 'Day After Tomorrow', Emmerich has made a name for himself with his ability to produce highly exhilarating cinematic experiences. At the time of the release of 'Stargate', Emmerich was fresh from the success of one of my guilty pleasures, 'Universal Soldier', and was ready to take his movie making skills to the next level. It's also worth noting that Emmerich penned the script for this movie, as well as the aforementioned blockbusters. Spawning a huge franchise and a couple of uber-popular spin off series (notably “Stargate SG-1”), I have fond memories of 'Stargate' and was looking forward to revisiting it for its fifteenth anniversary release on Blu-ray.

    Emmerich usually puts together a cream of the crop cast, which more often than not features actors at both the peak of their careers and popularity. This movie is no exception, with one of my favourite actors, Kurt Russell, taking on the lead role, playing Colonel Jack O'Neil. James Spader, gaining huge popularity recently for his stint on “Boston Legal”, takes the co-lead, playing Dr. Daniel Jackson. This was an unusual choice to take on a sci-fi/action lead role (even if it is a rather geeky one!), as Spader was renowned for playing very eccentric characters at the time of this release. Aside from these two acting powerhouses, the remainder of the cast are largely unknowns. Djimon Hounsou features, playing one of Ra's bodyguards, and French Stewart (of “Third Rock from the Sun” fame) also pops up playing one of Jack's soldiers. The weight most certainly lies on Kurt's sturdy shoulders but we all know that he is more than up to the job so no need to panic good reviewers!

    Opening with a shot of an Egyptian archaeological dig in the fifties, we witness an ancient artefact being unearthed. This is the stargate, a hieroglyphic gateway to other worlds across the galaxy. Flipping to present day, we are first introduced to Jack O'Niell who, having lost his son, is thoroughly down in the dumps and contemplating suicide. Receiving a visit from his old army unit, he is informed that he's back in action and is required to travel to a top secret location (well, it's actually in Colorado!) to preside over an archaeological team as they struggle to comprehend a certain artefact. The team has tried in vain for decades to elucidate the strange markings on a tablet which was found buried with the stargate and which certainly holds the key to an operational gateway.

    Enter geek extraordinaire, Daniel Jackson. Like a modern day (crap) Indiana Jones, Daniel is fascinated with ancient Egyptian text and, although undoubtedly brilliant, has developed outlandish theories which have brought him nothing but scorn from the archaeological elite. Following a seemingly chance meeting with a strange old woman who promises him a chance of a lifetime (she is in fact the daughter of the original man who unearthed the stargate years previously), Daniel is whisked away to the stargate military base. As is to be expected, Daniel quickly decodes the key to operating the stargate and it's all systems go. A bad ass with nothing to lose, Jack leads a team of less than enthusiastic soldiers and Daniel through the stargate as they journey to another galaxy.

    I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie the first time that I saw it (on DVD) and I also enjoyed it this time around. Even though this movie was released post 'Terminator 2', it reeks of the eighties. It's like a delightful mishmash of 'Indiana Jones', 'Romancing the Stone' and 'Star Trek'. Although it's most certainly dated, it still retains considerable charm and an ability to engross. It's got the almost perfect mix of action, sci-fi and romance, complete with a super cheesy feelgood movie ending (which is a refreshing change to the sometimes depressing modern day movies). Kicking off with a mysterious Egyptian dig, the plot quickly introduces the characters and then ups the intrigue as the stargate begins to whir into action. As we plunge into another galaxy, which of course contains a suitably evil “bad guy”, the excitement really begins with some engaging battles. There's a healthy dose of romance thrown in to boot and some remotely amusing humour. Along with the customary “guns are bad” message for the kids, the smile-enducing ending (where everything is cheesetastic) is the cherry on top. The plot is actually quite sinister when you begin to discover who Ra really is and there are definitely hints of 'The Matrix' at a very conceptual level. It's a flaw of recent movies to try and be too clever and it felt good to watch a movie that just covers the bases well and thus is a winner.

    Russell holds the entire piece together with his portrayal of Jack, who starts out as a mean block of ice who slowly melts to reveal a still warm heart. Although he is sporting a ridiculous Vanilla Ice-esque hairstyle, he puts on a terrific performance here and is thoroughly convincing. Spader is equally impressive and his romance with Sha're is believable enough for the duration. The supporting cast are strong and generally put on a very solid performance. The plot hurtles along with plenty of life or death encounters (although this is somewhat tainted by Ra's choice of non lethal weaponry). The special effects hold up although some of the effects, such as the stargate travel sequence, definitely have aged. The direction from Emmerich is sweeping and epic, giving the entire piece a grandiose boost of energy. He immerses us in a tightly controlled storyline, which he frames to perfection and intertwines scenes of action and compassion with ease. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing mind-blowing or revolutionary on show here, it's just a competently put together piece of movie making.

    It's a rare thing nowadays where a plot and script match up to the mind blowing special effects which are at every directors disposal. Although there are many fine actors available it's a rare occasion where they are perfectly cast to deliver believable and engaging performances. This movie manages to combine both. The only problem is that the entire tone of the movie and the manner in which it has aged has tainted it with a distinct air of tongue in cheek. At the time of its original release, this movie spawned a range of concepts which formed the basis of many sci-fi productions (and it itself has borrowed heavily from many sources), and contains ideas which were believable to many. Now, the plot seems farcical and has been surpassed by many movies which have delved much deeper into the sinister nature of the unknown beyond our own planet. As such, it must be enjoyed for what it is, a throwback to the glory days of thrilling good yarns. Revisited, it has lost none of its charm and as such comes recommended as the perfect Saturday afternoon movie to new and old viewers alike.

    This BD release comes with both the Director's Cut and the Theatrical Version of the movie. Having never seen the former, I went for that option for the purpose of this review. I have to admit that I really can't remember the fine details of the original and therefore couldn't really pinpoint the new additions. That being said, the plot was much meatier than I can recall and has some dark sci-fi undertones that seemed much more pronounced this time round. With the high definition upgrade and new 7.1 uncompressed surround mix, I can highly recommend the upgrade from the previous Ultimate Edition DVD. In fact, you would be a fool not to buy this release if you are fan of 'Stargate'.