SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure
DIRECTED BY: Roland Emmerich
WRITTEN BY: Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich
PEW PEW: There’s a bit of a wait, but you can see the action coming, and it’s entertaining and well-executed when it happens.
CAT FOOD: A fairly linear plot that will not tax your cranium. “Aliens” – History Channel Guy.
I saw this movie when it came out, back in ’94, and I remembered almost nothing about it beyond the fact that I didn’t really seem to care for it. Deciding that, due to its having since spawned a huge cult following with the help of several spin-off television series, it is time to revisit the film. I picked up a copy of the director’s cut and I’m glad I did. While Stargate is still far from my favourite film, I did manage to have a good time watching it.
So basically, thousands of years ago, a powerful alien hellbent on living forever took human form, christened himself Ra and built the ancient Egyptian culture we all know and love. After a bloody revolution, Ra fled Earth and used a stargate (an alien device that transfers objects from one gate to another, across vast amounts of space) to transfer hordes of hapless slaves to a new planet whose environment mirrors that of ancient Egypt.
We pick the story up in the present day when Daniel Jackson, a professor who believes the pyramids weren’t built by the folks we think they were built by, is hired by important but secretive types to decipher the code used to activate Earth’s newly discovered stargate (work with me here, 1924 is newly discovered when put into perspective according to when it would have last been seen).
Enter the U.S. military (because: ‘Murica!), who believe there could be a threat beyond the stargate (an alien force that wants to come into their country, destablise it, and establish ‘a more stable form of government,’ perhaps? :P). In charge of the operation is Kurt Russell, who was seriously still keeping it real in the nineties as a more class and respectable badass than the Van Dammes and the Seagals. Russell’s Col. Jack O’Neil, we soon find out, is quite suicidal thanks to the death of his son by accidental self-inflicted gunshot (‘Murica!).
So once this is all established, and at director Roland Emmerich’s trademark breakneck speed no less, the soldiers and Professor Jackson go through the gate and find themselves stranded in an alien ancient Egypt, whose culture has been suppressed by the alien Ra to maintain the simplistic order of the ancient time. We then follow a linear path as Jackson must find a way to get us off the planet (while still managing to pick up a very lovely piece of trim) and the team has to incite a revolution to dethrone Ra, disarm a powerful bomb that the team brought themselves but is now being used against them (‘Murica!), and save both planets from the clutches of this ancient alien menace.
As an action / adventure film in the mold of other Emmerich pictures (Independence Day, Godzilla, etc.), Stargate holds up. The fireworks are great and the design is nice. I especially enjoyed the sci-fi approach to the ancient Egyptian apparel worn by Ra’s henchmen. Everything is staged quite nicely to achieve the feeling of cold dominance asserted by the villains.
And about that villain. In my opinion, the only thing that really stands out in order to make this film a little more than just another two-dimensional action concept, is the impressive performance of Jaye Davidson as the film’s brilliantly androgynous antagonist, Ra. He doesn’t do much more than look effectively menacing in spite of his elegant presence, but it’s this same presence that makes him a mystery to be feared. Ra doesn’t need to do shit and you still buy it. I maintain that this is the very best kind of villain. It’s not all Davidson, however. Special effects in the form of an exceptionally modified voice and creepily illuminated eyes help to complete the picture.
While the film maintains a semi-exciting adventure feel (it’s not nearly as effective as Emmerich’s Independence Day), its linear path makes it hard to find anything in terms of depth beyond cliche. That massive summary I gave at the beginning of this review? Most of that is made clear in the first ten minutes of the film, with a few more quick revelations later on, and then say goodbye to wonder because you’ll be two steps ahead of the characters at all times.
Extra points for the casting of the ever-capable Erick Avari, who will clearly take any role offered to him, but is always more talent than the pictures can support. Seriously, Mr. Avari seems to have taken it upon himself to class up some pretty lackluster movies, but I’m always happy to see him. It’s like riding shotgun in the middle of a shitstorm, but at least you know there’s someone in the vehicle who knows how the fuck to drive.
And, last but certainly not least, is the always-appreciated bitchin’ eighties / nineties one-liner, this time in the form of “give my regards to King Tut, asshole.” Hahahaha, perfect.