Stargate 15th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray] (1994)

Actors: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Alexis Cruz, Viveca Lindfors, Mili Avital
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Producers: Dean Devlin, Joel B. Michaels, Mario Kassar, Oliver Eberle, Peter Winther
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Lions Gate
DVD Release Date: October 27, 2009
Run Time: 130 minutes



Today, when one thinks of director Roland Emmerich, images of flaming cities, hysterical acting, ubiquitous marketing, and paper-thin plots spring immediately to mind. Back in 1994, Emmerich was only in the process of building his name, creating movies such as Moon 44 and Universal Soldier - minor league genre scrappers that showed more technical prowess and entertainment value than anyone was expecting.

Then came Stargate, a film financed outside of the Hollywood system and saddled with ill-fitting blockbuster aspirations for a feature with very little pre-release buzz or sellable premise. Ending up a sleeper hit of the autumn season, Stargate overcame the odds because, well, it's a delightful, exciting, distinct adventure film crafted by Emmerich with what would be his very last of welcome tentative touches.

Daniel Jackson (James Spader), a gauche Egyptologist, has been summoned to a secret military base for reasons not immediately made clear. Casually deciphering hieroglyphic codes top minds have been unable to crack, Jackson is allowed access to the Stargate, a massive circular structure able to access vast reaches of the galaxy via wormholes, if dialed correctly. Teamed up with gruff Colonel Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell) and a small band of grunts, Jackson passes through the Stargate, arriving on a strange planet ruled by the merciless god, Ra (Jaye Davidson). Endearing himself to the local slaves, Jackson seeks to comprehend this intriguing new land, finding a native (Mili Avital) willing to assist his efforts. However, O'Neil has his orders, ready to blow the planet to pieces once the Stargate is reopened to prevent Ra's wrath from reaching Earth.

Stewed in the juices of classic 1980s sci-fi thrill rides and, to a certain homemade extent, Lawrence of Arabia, Stargate is such a completely oddball film at first glance. Here, James Spader is hired to be one of the heroes, gender-bending Jaye Davidson is the epitome of evil, and the spastic blend of lasers and pyramids takes some time to adjust to. I prefer to see the material as a unique thumbprint for Emmerich and his partner-in-crime, producer/writer Dean Devlin. Made just before the massively successful Independence Day started to bend their antennae, Stargate runs on a full tank of gallant enthusiasm, showcasing two hungry Hollywood dreamers allowed to make an epic with a semi-epic budget. Emmerich and Devlin weren't going to blow this rare opportunity. The flop sweat courses through the film's veins.

Stargate, with its contrast between classic Egyptian iconography and Star Wars high adventure, is quite an ingenious bit of hokum. Cleverly written as a thick-skulled summer movie, the film is fully aware of itself, looking to gift the viewer a rollicking experience of explosions, extreme alien encounters, and sun-caked melodrama, using the polar opposite cinematic postures of Spader (stealing the film with his nerdy idiosyncrasy) and Russell to wonderful effect. It's a story of heroes and villains, with Emmerich using the alien landscape superbly, not only through stunning cinematography, but also to develop an enticing haze of mystery around Ra, who deploys vibrating energy bursts to torture his enemies, controlling the land through illiteracy and an army of boomstick-wielding warriors. The Crayola-outlined characters help the filmmakers attain cart-wheeling Saturday-matinee standards, where Stargate is most comfortable and effective.

However, as colorfully illustrated a world as it is, Emmerich and Devlin don't milk the possibilities with an expected forcefulness. Once secure in alien territory, it's not all gun fights and scripted sass. The filmmakers pull back some to incorporate the community of slaves, giving Jackson a love interest and O'Neil a payoff to his domestic misery. Scenes of bonding and community acceptance slow the film down some, keeping matters from the blazing fun of the desert or inside Ra's perilous pyramids. The subplots have a purpose, just not a tempo.

THE DISC: This BD also includes the Extended Cut of the film, which runs nine minutes longer than the Theatrical Cut. Introducing Ra and the remnants of his power early on in the picture (along with little scraps of additional material scattered throughout the film), the Extended Cut just doesn't hold the same sense of mystery. However, it's nice to have both versions for easy comparison.

The VC-1 encoded image (2.40:1 aspect ratio) on the Stargate BD is actually quite impressive. This is the best the film has ever looked on a home entertainment format, recreating the theatrical experience through the preservation of the film's luxurious cinematography - a task previous image transfers found quite troubling. The film's sheen of smoke and sun is maintained without much in the way of EE issues, permitting penetrating colors and superb black levels, contributing to a darker, fuller image. Detail is consistent, great with interior matters of life and death. Skin tones look proper as well. Stargate was a never a clear, pop worthy picture to begin with, and this BD preserves the special saturated look of the film. It's a bold and welcome step up from earlier visual opportunities.

The 7.1 DTS-HD sound mix is pretty extraordinary here, with a deep bass boom prevalent from the opening credits, continuing on throughout the feature presentation. Dialogue is easy to discern against the intense sci-fi backdrop, but the rest of the mix is wonderfully active, with surround activity top notch during outdoor and battle sequences. David Arnold's brilliant score (seriously, one of the best of the 1990s) is handed extraordinary life here, crisply and confidently joining the rest of the elements when need be, or overpowering the experience when called upon. Rich, deep, rumbly, and soaring, the mix elevates the viewing experience, blasting through with dynamic range and power. A French 2.0 track is also available.

English SDH, English, and Spanish subtitles are offered.

A feature-length audio commentary with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin is ported over from previous Stargate releases and provides a splendid mix of hard facts and amusing mischief. Two charming guys who clearly love their film, the pair submits an informational chat over the Extended Cut only, providing insight for the new additions while basking in the legacy of their first major moneymaker. It's well worth the time for those who haven't already enjoyed it.

Stargate: History Made (22:30) collects three featurettes under one roof. Spotlighting new interviews with select cast (sadly, no Spader or Russell) and crew, the mini-documentary explores the creation of the film, from concept to shooting, singling out the efforts of the special effects crew and the Egyptology experts. The event ends with a discussion of franchise fandom, which exploded with the arrival of the television spin-off.

Is There a Stargate? (12:11) attempts to merge historical facts with sci-fi speculation. A bit of a reach, but an interesting discussion regardless. Passionate interviews with experts help to sell the argument.

The Making of Stargate (23:33) is a straightforward BTS featurette, again tracing the film's path to the big screen. Produced for earlier Stargate DVDs, the information here is repeated throughout the BD experience.

Gag Reel (3:15) isn't so much flubs and giggles, but an elaborately produced single-take summation of life on the hectic set of the film. It's odd, and not really gag reel worthy, but still appealing.

Master of the Stargate is an interactive trivia game, offered during the film. Up to four players can give this challenge a shot, though the time between questions is maddening.

Picture-in-Picture Stargate Ultimate Knowledge is a trivia track that runs during the movie, providing everything that needs to be known about the film.

A terrific theatrical trailer is included.

WORTH IT? Matters pick up considerably for the grand finale, where Jackson and O'Neil hope to outwit Ra and keep Earth safe from a possible second visit. It's a wild capper on a dynamite sci-fi odyssey. Back in 1994, Stargate was a huge question mark, leaving it a rare opportunity to impress without suffocating expectation. The film has matured wonderfully, sustaining as a curious genre exercise in blockbuster yearn marked by surprising buoyancy, madly entertaining performances, and a fertile cinematic imagination behind the camera not yet corrupted by massive box office success.

- Brian Orndorf



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