Can't Help But Love 'Stargate'

Directed by: Russell Mulchahy, Runtime: 121 minutes
Grade: B

Since 1994, the Stargate universe has blossomed into something rivaling the Star Trek behemoth, cranking out extensions like Atlantis, SG-1, and the newly-found Stargate: Universe to generally high fanfare. It's amazing to think that it all started with Roland Emmerich's slice of other-worthly delight, a box office smash that rides right along the surface with hints of Egyptian culture, beat-a-minute action, and simple time-travel concepts. Stargate can't be taken seriously, yet it's difficult to think of a short list of '90s entries in the genre that wouldn't include this fun and outlandish sci-fi romp.

The concept of Egyptian culture believing in other-worldly beings isn't a foreign one, as they've cropped up in theories and writing for many years due to their presence in hieroglyphs. Egyptologist Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) has taken this concept and researched it to a point of hypothesis, structuring a theory that proves aliens built the Great Pyramids instead of the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian citizens. Though he's laughed out of a lecture about that very topic, researcher Catherine Langford (one of Viveca Lindfors' final performances) knows his theories to be true -- and she hires him to decipher markings on a device discovered roughly seventy years prior by her father in Giza.

Little did Daniel know that it's all under military control, now under the head of Colonel Jack O'Neill (Kurt Russell) in case he "succeeds". His success, occurring in a belief-suspending two weeks, happens to be the discovery of a seventh and final symbol of the item mentioned on the coverstone -- the Door to Heaven Stargate. Instead of deciphering a mere hieroglyph, he's actually been trying to find the missing link that would activate the device and, quintessentially, open up a doorway to another galaxy. It's at this point when Roland Emmerich's picture kicks it into high gear, with Daniel and company hopping through the gateway to an atmospherically-similar location on the far, far outstretches of the known universe.

It ratchets up the excitement once Daniel sticks his face through the device on Earth and never looks back, sending us through an immediate blitz for the crew to find a way home once they've been spit out on the other side. They tumble towards a faraway civilization from their landing site, getting us tempered to caricature-like Army soldiers pushing and picking on Daniel as he tries to find a way home from their jump. Almost everything you need to know about the characters can be grasped within two or three quick scenes; James Spader's Daniel is an awkward romance-less scientist, a sneezing, scrawny "dweeb" who packs books upon books for an adventure, while Russel's Colonel O'Neill embodies a rough-and-tumble, flat-topped antithesis to Snake Plissken in Escape from New York -- though he's got a dark streak under his belt due to a family accident that claimed his son's life. It's in the cards for us to immediately get the shallow construction of Stargate's characters, since they'll develop into little more than amiable heroes as the film rolls on.

" works, because the rudiments of Egyptian culture paint up an alluring universe within Stargate. It's difficult not to be impressed with the stylish, intricate take on the mythology, due to dazzling production design and effective visual acumen."Stargate's adorned with Egyptian influences from sand to sky, especially once they reach their destination and try to communicate with "locals", though it's not handled to a degree that's supposed to be all that indicative to the culture's truths. Emmerich and his writing crew incorporate the likes of the sun god Ra -- eventually becoming the villain, played by Oscar-nominated actor Jaye Davidson in another gender-bending role -- and like-minded symbols and deities, including an early role from Djimon Hounsou as a henchman to Ra in the form of falcon god Horus. They're constructed with the help of Egyptologist experts to drive up the setting's charisma with a bit of fantasy-infused yet semi-authentic flair about the language and a few cultural elements, not without some embellishment on the truth behind the deity's hierarchy and timeline.

And it works, because the rudiments of Egyptian culture paint up an alluring universe within Stargate. It's difficult not to be impressed with the stylish, intricate take on the mythology, due to dazzling production design and effective visual effects. Computer-generated techniques are used to create elaborate morphing helmets and other digital effects that impress on ground level, yet what still really impresses with the visual effects is the usage of plane-like devices soaring over the Egyptian-infused town. Though from the mid-'90s, the effects -- smartly constructed with the technology's limits in mind -- still hold an impressive amount of water, though on a lower level to that of the still overwhelmingly effective Jurassic Park that's one year its senior.

Rife with explosions and bombast in the vein of later productions Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, Stargate is pure Roland Emmerich -- but it's more tightly-realized and exhilarating than his other high-budget whirlwinds in alien warfare and natural disasters. It comes loaded with a sense of adventure, a clever streak of humor, and flickers of gleeful romance and sentimentality underneath semi-suspenseful immediacy, lassoing everything together into a complete science-fiction adventure that stops at nothing to entertain. It's not without holes and gaps in logic, like many other productions of its type, yet the intrigue behind the concept and the sublimely entertaining adventure rhythm masks it all to a point that bolsters it ahead as a modern cult classic. Yeah, it's not perfect, but I be damned if it's not a blast from start to finish.


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