When a mysterious woman makes Professor Daniel Jackson (James Spader) and offer he can’t refuse, he ends up in a secret Air Force military base. His mission: to decode an ancient Egyptian artifact known as the Stargate.
The mission leader, Colonel Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell), a tough military man with nerves of steel, commandeers their trip through the Stargate to an ancient civilization on the other side of the universe. But once there, they must battle the astoundingly powerful Sun God, Ra (Jaye Davidson), before they can find their way back home.
‘Stargate’ is one of those films that I have a minor love-hate relationship with. Ever since I first saw it (back in the mid-‘90s), I’ve kind of liked it, wanted to like it even more, but couldn’t get past this threshold of me feeling relatively entertained, but not awed.
It’s not that ‘Stargate’ doesn’t try. It’s got an original concept: the idea of cross-universal travel through a gate that was designed and planted on various planets by sophisticated aliens -aliens that inspired Egyptian mythology and civilization- can be pretty exciting if it doesn’t cross the line into preposterousness.
The problem is that the film takes a pretty novel concept and then processes it to the point of making it completely sterile, emotionally; it doesn’t give you any real reason to care about the main characters, the civilizations on either side of the gate or even about the outcome. Instead, the film offers many mini-scenarios to latch on to and all we need do is see them through. Link them together and you have feature-length film.
At first glance, one might get the sense that it’s a whole. But, upon reflection, it feels so devoid of life: Kurt Russell’s character is a cold, gratingly unlikeable, jerk (even if he is the most disciplined and reasonable of the bunch), James Spader plays the smart dork exceptionally well, but he’s been fashioned with a cookie-cutter, and Jaye Davidson poses real well as the alien leader, but has the depth of an airbrushed Barbie doll.
Meanwhile, the rest of the cast is a carbon-copied array of side-characters – nothing more: there’s the pretty-girl-who-will-become-the-love-interest, the simpleton-who-is-gosh-darnit-amusing-and-likeable, the benevolent-and-well-meaning-but-powerless-king, …etc. And even the squad that Russell leads is only a bunch of Hollywood’s standard hotheads and (mostly) immature wankers – you’d think that, for a first mission into the unknown, they’d send in seasoned professionals. But alas…
Speaking of a lack of professionalism, the moment that the scientists were able to power up the gate, they should have realised that leaving it running was a dangerous affair. Not unlike keeping one’s computer powered-up and connected to the internet, keeping this gateway open is like inviting the unknown in. And who knows what awaits on the other side, right? So, wouldn’t it be best, for the sake of preventing a contamination on earth, to (at least) quarantine the area or even keep the gate shut at all times except for when probes are sent to the other side?
Yes, probes – not people (stupid! stupid! stupid!).
Anyway, I won’t get into the adventure itself, because it’s fairly standard fare and I don’t want to spoil any “surprises”. I will say this, however: for an advanced civilization that has travelled the universe and conquered many planets, Ra and his followers are pretty stupid and incompetent. Much like in ‘Independence Day’, these filmmakers’ follow-up to ‘Stargate’, humans being always find a way to save the day – even if it’s mindnumbmingly dumb (I’m specifically referring to ‘ID4’ here); somehow, really sophisticated minds are easily humbled by human “ingenuity”.
Bottom line: ‘Stargate’ is a very nice-looking film and it’s, technically, well-made. However, it doesn’t grab you by the gut like it should; it is pretty, somewhat exciting, but vacant. Based on the number of spin-offs this film generated, it has amassed quite the cult personality – one I must admit is possibly warranted. But It’s not a masterpiece and it never will be considered as such: it certainly doesn’t challenge the viewer with a metaphysical journey such as in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, nor does it delve into three-dimensional character developments such as ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ did.
‘Stargate’ is a decent enough Hollywood distraction – no more, no less.