Sunday, August 7, 2011

Review: Stargate (1994 motion picture)

images used above are courtesy of Gateworld and MGM

Overall Rating: Very Good
DVD version -- Ultimate Edition, Extended Cut

Stargate is a science fiction adventure film, flowing with an interesting and straightforward plot; strengthened by solid acting; and accentuated with amazing sets, visuals, and music score.

Long before the building of the pyramids, an alien spacecraft visits Egypt.  In 1928, an artifact, unlike anything seen before, is uncovered at an archaeological dig at Giza, Egypt.  In the present day, a team of scientists decipher symbols on the artifact, leading to the activation of alien technology -- the stargate.  Has a door been opened to unimaginable knowledge, or to the ultimate doom of the human race?

The Film:
The design of the stargate is outstanding, evincing functionality, while being different enough to be believable as alien technology.  The effect of the stargate opening (known as the "ka-woosh") is spectacular.  The set designs of Giza, and Abydos (the name given to the planet in the series Stargate SG-1) are exquisite.  From the lighting, to the details of the village, and pyramid, you can feel the heat, dust, and sand.

David Arnold’s score is subtle, and grand, fitting the mood of a given scene perfectly.  The opening music is intricate, and beautifully tells the coming story.

Main characters are introduced at pivotal points in their lives.  Who they are is shown, not explained with long exposition.  The extraneous is omitted, allowing the film to focus on the development of the characters, and the progress of the story.

Kurt Russell as Jack O’Neil is solid, denoting O’Neil as a complex character, not a one-dimensional stereotype.  James Spader as Daniel Jackson is intense, and obsessed, all without being weird.  Look for excellent performances by Viveca Lindfors as Catherine Langford, Mili Avital as Sha’uri, Erick Avari as Kusef, and Alexis Cruz as Skaara.  Derek Webster as Brown, and John Diehl as Kalwalsky deserve honorable mentions.  Richard Kind’s screen time is limited, but a joy to behold.

Jaye Davidson’s portrayal of Ra is uneven.  Sometimes he is menacing and powerful; sometimes petulant and pouty.  Ra keeps an entourage of young children around him, which is supposed to be creepy.  An adult who surrounds himself with young children is creepy.  Davidson’s appearance is too fey, and youthful.  It just looks like he is hanging with his peeps.

There are moments of humor in the film.  The best are when the humor occurs organically, happening naturally from the interactions of the characters.  When forced, the humor falls flat.

An important plot point revolves around two beings found at Giza in 1928, who tried to go through the stargate in ancient times, after it was buried.  They don't look like they were ever living beings. Instead, they look like artwork, a bas-relief sculpture, so the importance of their discovery is never made clear.

The movie is a rare mix -- well portrayed characters, and grand spectacle successfully combined with action, and mystery.

DVD Extras:
Audio commentary by Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin -- well worth listening to as the discussion stays focused on the pertinent aspects of the movie on screen.

Featurette, Is There a Stargate?


  1. This isn't one of my favorite movies, but it's a pretty neat, pretty entertaining B-level sci-fi film. It's maybe not as cool as ID4 was, but it's about on the same level, for whatever that's worth.

    Still, it's amazing to think that this silly little movie spawned one of the longest-running TV franchises in history.

    And while I love Kurt Russell and think he's way better than Richard Dean Anderson, I actually like the guy from the TV show better than James Spader.

  2. Amazing, indeed. SG-1, and Stargate Atlantis, would both be on my top ten list of favorite television series, if I ever get around to writing such a list. However, this movie would not be on my top ten list of favorite films. I enjoyed it, but if not for SG-1, I may have forgotten about it.

    I enjoy the performances by Richard Dean Anderson, and Kurt Russell. The slight change in the spelling of O'Neil's name (and, changing the spelling of his wife's name; and changing his son's name) gives me enough wiggle room to view O'Neil and O'Neill as different characters.

    I like Michael Shanks' (he is the guy form the TV show) performance as Daniel Jackson more than James Spader's, but my opinion is heavily influenced by seeing Michael Shanks play Jackson on 196 episodes, and have a chance to see the character evolve; versus James Spader as Jackson in one movie.

    Thank you for commenting!