Stargate

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

When a mysterious woman makes Professor Daniel Jackson (James Spader) and offer he can’t refuse, he ends up in a secret Air 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.

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Stargate 7.5

eyelights: its basic conceit. its setting. David Arnold’s score.
eyesores: Kurt Russell’s performance. its predictability. its clichés.

“Give my regards to King Tut, @$$hole.”

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with ‘Stargate’. While the 1994 motion picture did stir the box office when it came out, and some people are so utterly enamoured with it that a whole franchise has spun out of it (to the tune of two straight-to-video movies and 380 television episodes over the course of four TV series), I always found it a bit half-baked.

I mean, I like its basic conceit: that the Egyptian god Ra was actually an alien who used a so-called “stargate” to travel through the universe, that the pyramids were landing areas for his ship, and that the Egyptians were in servitude to Ra and his guards, who vaguely resembled Anubis and Horus. And it’s fine that the Egyptians one day rebelled and buried the stargate.

(Though, why they didn’t just destroy it is beyond me.)

Where I have a problem with the picture is in the way that it ham-fistedly reveals all of its secrets and takes us on its adventure: it brings in a genius, but eccentric and misunderstood, Egyptologist to decode in an instant what decades of research by other specialists couldn’t figure out. Within just two weeks, he figures out the stargate’s purpose and functionality.

And it works – right off the bat.

Of course it does.

There are no technical mishaps, even though they are adapting alien technology with limited human advances. And they’re all gung ho about it, too: they don’t waste any time testing it or its effects. After sending a robotic probe though the stargate, they immediately send a small contingent of soldiers right through the gate  – without any special protective gear.

Just do it!!! Go go go go go!!!

Thankfully, they brought the Egyptologist along, because, for some reason, they wouldn’t be able to work the stargate by themselves from the other side (something about not being able to find and/or decode the coordinates on the other side without him). Frankly, it sounds like a pretty uncertain mission to be rushing into headfirst with nary a thought, no…?

In my mind, since they already had the coordinates for their departure point, and were able to decode the destination point, then wouldn’t this mean that they have all they need to return home? I mean, neither points have changed. And what kind of futuristic technology has no automatic recall option that keeps these crucial coordinates in its memory, anyway?

So either the filmmakers are treating us like idiots, or the characters are idiots.

But, beyond these aspect, ‘Stargate’ is a perfectly fine sci-fi adventure: it takes us to a deserted land across the universe (through a warp that is hilariously reminiscent of ‘Galaxy Quest‘) and has our “advanced” civilization mingle with a primitive mining society, where they find love, redemption and the secrets of the pyramids. And save the day while they’re at it.

Who could ask for anything more?

Well, there’s action. But it’s rudimentary, with a handful of human soldiers fighting a few of Ra’s guards, Ra’s ships attacking the civilians, and a dramatic countdown that leads to nonsense and an explosive finale. Plus there are special effects, which are mercifully not CGI-laden, given the budget and technology at the time – so the effects actually look realistic.

(When it’s not CGI – otherwise, they look dated, like something out of ‘The Abyss’ or ‘Total Recall’.)

The cast is decent, though not stellar. James Spader is the best of the lot, fleshing out Dr. Jackson in a similar way to Goldblum’s character in ‘Independence Day’ (the filmmakers’ next project). Kurt Russell basically sulks and broods his way through it as Colonel O’Neil. And Jaye Davidson poses ably as Ra, though his acting chops weren’t at all spectacular.

The score is really quite good, though it’s derivative (appropriately so, given the film’s many clichés). Right from the opening credits, we get shades of the nautical themes from the early ‘Star Trek’ films, and many other influences creep in. But David Arnold imbued the film with an epic quality that it wouldn’t have had otherwise, so he deserves much credit for it.

One thing I found very cool about the picture is the fact that the filmmakers didn’t rely on subtitles to explain what the alien miners were saying. Because our characters speak English, they are used to fill in the blanks amongst themselves. Later, subtitles are used to convey Ra’s various messages, but often when there’s no English-speaking characters around.

So, all told, ‘Stargate’ has its moments. Yes, it’s incredibly predictable and clichéd (especially the finale), it can be corny, and sometimes it defies logic, but it remains enjoyable anyway. There’s just something about ancient Egypt that instantly awes. Throw in some science-fiction components and it’s even more jaw-dropping. It’s no wonder that it’s built a fanbase.

Though, frankly, the extent of its success defies belief.

Date of viewing: January 18, 2017

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