There’s something different about Stargate. Compared to the asinine, ridiculous, and brain-dead quality of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s previous piece, Universal Soldier, Stargate is actually commendable. The less said of their films after this, with the sole exception of the city-destroying stupidity of Independence Day, the better.
Stargate’s first chapter details the discovery of an ancient Egyptian portal, which when activated can send humans across space to a distant planet. Here, a human civilization lives in slavery, forced to labor for an ancient alien which is the last of its kind.
Limited time is spent discussing the Stargate itself. As a summer popcorn movie, it just is. Once on the new planet, Cpt. Jack O’Neill (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) begin their mission to investigate the area, but cannot reactivate the Stargate to return home.
This is where Stargate is surprising. Instead of finding the new civilization, revealing the enemy, and blowing up pyramids, the film chooses to stick with its compelling characters. It’s over an hour until the first action sequence. James Spader is excellent, delivering a performance that lets the audience grasp the Egyptian mythology, laugh at his antics, and create a fine finish that completes his character’s role.
Kurt Russell is also given some touching moments. A curious slave (Alexis Cruz) approaches Russell as he enjoys a cigarette. The slave begins to mimic his motions, before lighting his own cigarette, apparently leading to Russell’s own admission they’re not right for him. His hardened character is further allowed to break down during a similar sequence when he asks the native people where Spader’s character ran off. It’s a wonderful, charming way of easing the tension prior to the finale.
Despite some notably dated CG effects 15 years later, Stargate still creates an immersive environment through miniature and sets. The Egyptian guards, including Djimon Hounsou in one of his first roles, are impressive in their stature. Their animatronic heads are eerie, and somehow useful. The enemy is a legitimate threat, even as the slaves and US forces combine to stop their plan to blow up Earth.
Along with David Arnold’s wonderful musical themes, Stargate is complete entertainment. This is a surprisingly coherent script that leaves few, if any, questions when the admittedly cheesy “The End” card scales on-screen. The numerous TV spin-offs would fill in any blanks.
Stargate was released numerous times on DVD, and will likely be handled the same way on Blu-ray. This initial release is fair, with the opening moments appearing scrubbed, delivering an unnatural smoothness. Given the natural film grain later, it’s hard to see DNR as the culprit, but likely the warm photography and slightly bleeding color.
Flesh tones are rather sickly throughout, and the transfer does deal with some noise problems, notably just past the hour mark inside the cave. Contrast is excellent, and the print used is free of damage that plagued prior efforts. Black levels are strong, and colors (especially the costumes of the Egyptian guards) are beautifully natural. Positives aside, detail is lacking and inconsistent, and besides the obvious sharpness and bitrate increase, the Special Edition DVD isn’t that far off.
Lionsgate was late to the HD audio party, delivering a DTS-ES HR mix, coming in at 3.0 MBPS. Throbbing bass, whether from explosions or the spectacular trip through the Stargate, is notable. Fidelity is slightly off, straining lightly on the high end. Surprisingly, the surrounds are flat during heavy action.
The notable action sequence, that of two aircraft attacking the slave population, offers little in the way of surround action. While the craft do track as they move from the front to the back, their lasers are purely stuck in the front channels. The stereo effects are wonderful, but this is a disappointing and lacking mix.
Despite the DVD editions of the past, Stargate comes with a fine commentary from Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, but that’s it.