Stargate (1994)

stargate

“Give my regards to King Tut, a-hole!”

The Scoop: 1994 PG-13, directed by Roland Emmerich and starring James Spader, Kurt Russell and Jaye Davidson.

Tagline: It will take you a million light years from home. But will it bring you back?

Summary Capsule: A stone ring sends a group of soldiers to a desert planet, as stone rings are wont to do. Prequel to a popular TV series and various spin-offs.

Louise’s rating: 3 out of 5 androgynous villains. Also, they should never have cancelled Stargate Universe.

Louise’s review: My view on Stargate is that it is okay, but nothing special, and it hasn’t aged particularly well. It ticks all my boxes: James Spader is an actor whose career I like to follow (through Pretty in Pink and Mannequin to Secretary and I understand he’s in some TV programme or something with some other actor…). One of my favourite tropes is ‘likeable academic-type must put down the books and take ACTION!’; also I am very into alternative archaeology, and the premise of Stargate is basically ‘Erich von Daniken was right!’. I used to record it when it came on the gogglebox and then I bought the DVD, but only when I saw it in a charity shop for £2.99. All the components are right, I quite like it, and yet, Stargate doesn’t really rise to greatness.

Spader is a floppy and specky student of ancient Egyptian linguistics. Russell is the flattest-topped flat-top in motion picture history. The story is a fun combination of advanced-civilization science fiction and rather racist edge-of-Empire cliche, where our heroes confront a strange tribe of natives who proffer the parts of the animal Westerners never eat, mistake you for a god, and in the morning you realize you’ve unwittingly married one of their females, and if you protest you might end up in the pot yourself. Then there’s a revolution that would make Tom Paine proud and some EXPLOSIONS. Funny scenes abound – I like how the American soldiers and alien/human desert-dwellers learn how to communicate with each other through food, the teenage boys learn about guns (actually… that shoudn’t be encouraged…), and the villain Ra has a really handy sarcophagus and a court of children. Children! What the…?

However, certain things really get on my nerves. While it may be explained in the Stargate SG-1 TV series, from watching the film I have no idea how the stargates (upright stone rings which get all watery and portal-y and send you across the universe) work. They talk about symbols and the ‘point of origin’, but it goes straight over my head. Dr Jackson (Spader) learns the language of the desert-dwellers in about 5 minutes – completely unbelievable – and then he decides to remain on a primitive desert planet for the sake of a desert bloom he fell in wuv with in, again, about 5 minutes. Couldn’t he take her to earth? The special effects are rather clunky by today’s standards – but I still think those Anubises are way scary.

Do rent it if you get the chance, because it’s quite fun. At the very least, it’s down to this film that we had the joy of Stargate Universe for two years.

Kyle’s rating: For the television show it spawned, the film is grrr-reat!

Kyle’s review: I didn’t get pulled into the big Stargate hype back in high school, when the movie was a smash hit and the action figures sat tantalizingly on the shelves at my Colorado Media Play. Sure, the movie sounded like fun sci-fi (right up my alley!) and the Stargate toy that came with the Kurt Russell figure looked really intriguing. However, something about the movie just didn’t intrigue me like that piece of plastic did, so I was content to wait for my grandma to pirate me a copy when Stargate came out to rent. And the beat goes on.

I was glad I waited, and I’m still glad. Stargate has a really cool set-up but, as mentioned in countless other reviews, once our heroes reach the distant alien planet the focus mutates from cool and thoughtful science to tired and repetitive action. Still, it’s all good, party people! There’s plenty here to keep your interest!

I really dig the television show (Stargate SG-1, seen on Showtime with weekend repeats on Fox) but the film has 1.5 things going for it: the eccentric heart of the film, James Spader, and the stiff yet heroic Kurt Russell. Spader deserves to be send off-planet because that’s clearly where he belongs, and Russell deftly deals with the tragedy of his character (his son killed himself with Russell’s handgun) while taking command of every situation. If you’ve got to trust a military expedition to another world, you better send at least two trustworthy hero types like Spader and Russell along with the rest of the Aliens-inspired grunts. Certainly you can guess which military dudes are going home and which are staying put in puddles once the evil aliens attack, but at least you care about what happens with Spader and Russell. Even if their action figures (which I eventually bought this year!) are crap!

Really, Stargate is solid entertainment for your next rainy day to kill a couple hours. The heroes are strong and, um, heroic, and the evil enslaving aliens (especially uber-androgynous Jaye Davidson as evil leader Ra) are very E-V-I-L and S-T-R-O-N-G. You might think the good guys are in trouble, but this is a family show so without giving anything away I can tell you not to worry too much.

So, yeah, Stargate = good. It’s kind-of-somewhat ham-fisted “America rules!” propaganda mush like 1996’s Independence Day was, but it’s good-natured and well-made enough to keep you entertained for an afternoon. And man, once you get the back story here in the movie try to watch the television spin-off Stargate SG-1, with Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver!) as O’Neill and Michael Shanks as Jackson, because the TV show is the cat’s meow, dig it! The cool premise of the stargate is taken to logical extremes and the true exploratory spirit of original Star Trek lives on through the early seasons. Now if only they’d make new action figures for the show, the movie ones were really bad…

Lissa’s rating: Y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a Fifth Avenue bar.

Lissa’s review: If I listened to Hollywood, being a scientist type would be easy. All I would have to do is be brilliant in some obscure field, and have a super-crazy theory, like Atlantis exists or life in outer space is trying to contact us or male pregnancy or human beings are evolving to have super powers or the pyramids were built by aliens. Then I would just have to give lectures (always well-attended, for some reason) and wait until my money all ran out, unless I was shacked up with a telepathic cop and a kid that wasn’t ours. And then, just as they were about to evict me, a mysterious person would show up and offer me unlimited amounts of money and technological resources beyond my wildest dreams if I’d come work for them. I’d protest for a moment, naturally, because even though I’m a scientist I’m a starving artist at heart, but then they’d offer me some token that made it clear they knew more about me than I thought anyone knew, and I’d have to accept.

For the record, those scenarios I reeled off? Disney’s Atlantis, Contact, Lost, Heroes, and Stargate. Why can’t I ever be a cliché?

So, we start with the oldest scientist cliché in the movies- or at least one of the most popular. And okay, Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is a linguist, not a hard scientist, but you get the idea. Daniel would be the pyramids guy, and he’s whisked off to a super-sekrit government military facility, and introduced to the Stargate. Naturally, he figures out its secret in two minutes (movie time, but still very quickly), because part of the scientist cliché is that you have to throw convention in everyone’s faces. Add in a grieving Colonel Jack O’Neil, a bunch of redshirts, and some fairly cheesy (by today’s standards, for sure) special effects, and you’re whipping through space on a whirlwind adventure.

You know, I think Stargate was probably the first non-Star Wars sci-fi movie I ever saw. My family considers me a total geek for loving sci-fi and fantasy. It’s an opinion that doesn’t bother me, but it does mean I didn’t get to see a lot of those sorts of movies before I was allowed to go alone. (Instead, I was subjected to things like Police Academy and Curly Sue.) I remember I saw it in theaters in Canada on a youth group trip, and loved it for weeks afterwards. And every time I watch it, I love it. It’s a solid, fun sci-fi movie.

And yet, for some reason, even though I like the movie, I can never, ever remember the ending. I remember the very, very end (who stays where and all that), but I can never remember how Ra is defeated or what happens with the
slave kid or the resolution of several of the plotlines. For me, the movie sort of fizzles out somewhere in the middle. I really don’t know why, because it’s not bad… it just isn’t that memorable.

The effects are mediocre and the setting reminds me forcibly of Tatooine and ancient Egypt (which at least makes sense). The acting is decent and the script has some genuinely clever moments. It’s an interesting blend of primitive living and science fiction technology. There’s nothing really wrong with Stargate, and it’s a solid movie, but like I said, I just never seem to remember it. Oh well. At least that way when I rewatch it, it’s almost like having a good new movie to watch.

I am an ancient superpowered autocrat from across the stars, and I will surround myself with kids!

Intermission

  • Here is an external link to a good website on the whole Stargate franchise.
  • That’s French Stewart (stupid alien Harry in 3rd Rock from the Sun) as one  of the soldiers.
  • ::SPOILER:: We’ll put the bomb on the ship – what about all those children?
  • How efficient is a pyramid shape at flying through space?
  • The language spoken by the archeologists at the Egyptian dig site when the Stargate is found is Swedish: “Herregud, vad är det?” (Oh my God, what is it?) “Skulle önska jag visste det.” (I wish I knew.) (Although Norwegians say it’s poorly-pronounced Norwegian.)
  • Conceived by director Roland Emmerich during film school in 1979.
  • Many of the crowd scenes feature mannequins, as they were cheaper than extras.
  • In the film, James Spader’s character “speaks” Egyptian, but he can have no knowledge of what the spoken language sounded like. In reality, Egyptologists assigned their own pronunciations to the Egyptian language’s various symbols after the Rosetta stone “cracked the code” of the written language. Dr Jackson shouldn’t have understood a word of what they were saying unless they wrote it down for him.

Groovy Dialogue

Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil: Give my regards to King Tut, a-hole.

Lt. General W.O. West: So you think you’ve solved in fourteen days what they couldn’t solve in two years?

Daniel Jackson: I don’t want to die. Your men don’t want to die and these people don’t want to die. It’s a shame you’re in such a hurry.

Daniel Jackson: Thank you I, I smell much better now… Oh I smell like a yak!

Daniel Jackson: Tastes like chicken.

Colonel Jack O’Neil: I guess the word dweeb wouldn’t mean anything to you.

If you enjoyed this, try:

  • The Mummy
  • Pitch Black
  • Stargate SG-1 (says Kyle) and Stargate Universe (says Louise)

4 comments

  1. Oh, here’s another weird fact for you; the reason Ra wears that funky bronze corset? Well, he was originally supposed to be bare-chested, but Jaye Davidson got his nipples pierced right before filming started and refused to take them out, so they had to improvise.

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