Thursday, May 24, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Stargate (1994)

The first time I saw the movie Stargate, I was in late elementary or middle school having a friend spend the night over and I'm pretty sure we'd rented it from a Hollywood Video. That's how long ago it was. The second time I saw it with some of my church friends, who had a tradition of a double feature and then going to the Chinese Buddha in Atlanta for midnight-or-later Chinese food, after I graduated college.

Well, the third time I saw it, it was for Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. Here's the podcast. And now for the review.

(Let the record state the version I saw was the extended version, which has a different beginning than the theatrical version.)

The Plot

On Earth in 1928, an alien artifact is unearthed in Egypt by an archaeologist with a young daughter Catherine. Flash forward to the present day and Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), a fringe archaeologist on the verge of homelessness, is recruited by the grown up Catherine Langford (Viveca Lindfors) to translate the hieroglyphics on her father's artifact--which are in ancient Egyptian.

It's soon discovered the artifact is a stargate to a distant world and a military team led by the troubled Col. Jack O'Neill (Kurt Russell) is dispatched to explore it. There they find the distant descendants of Egyptians, led by the priest Kusuf (Erick Avari). Jackson befriends Kusuf's daughter Sha'uri (Milli Avital) and O'Neill his son Skaara (Alexis Cruz), but things get complicated when a tyrannical alien masquerading as none other than the god Ra (Jaye Davidson) shows up.

The Good

*The movie starts out with a bang with an alien spacecraft landing in ancient North Africa (extended edition), followed by the discovery of the buried stargate (the theatrical opening and, and in the extended version, it includes some of Ra's soldiers who'd been buried with it or attempted to come through after it had been buried and didn't survive). Then we see Dr. Jackson getting humiliated for his alien theories--that turn out to be right--and the game is on.

*The back-story for Col. O'Neill and his son is exposited in an "as you know Bob" fashion, but this time it actually makes sense--one of the two soldiers sent to "reactivate" him honestly doesn't know why he's acting so weirdly, so the other guy needs to fill him in.

*Per the above, the relationship that O'Neill develops with Skaara makes a lot of sense and is generally well-done.

*When we meet the beasts of burden the peasants of Abydos use, they use practical effects, and these are good practical effects. It looks like Dr. Jackson is interacting with an actual animal. Since so little CGI is used, the special effects have aged well in the 24-odd years since the movie came out.

*The arrival of Ra and his entourage of Abydos is well-done. So are the armor and equipment of Ra and his minions (in the SG-1 TV series they're called Jaffa and they're augmented humans who serve the "gods")--they're designed to look as though they inspired Egyptian gods and iconography and they work. The armor and gadgets are also practical effects generally speaking, so there's no risk of good-for-its-time CGI aging badly.

*Sha'uri and the other villagers have pretty good teeth and that actually makes sense--if they're transplanted Berbers or other North African peoples from the pharaonic or pre-pharaonic period of Egypt and retain their traditional diets, they wouldn't have very much if any sugar. The increased availability of sugar owing to the Caribbean plantation system is what led to growing dental problems--Queen Elizabeth I of England had black rotten teeth from snacking on sugar.

Of course, their teeth might have gotten worn out in other ways--ancient Egyptian bread might have actually had sand in it.

*One of Ra's henchmen has a particularly creative death.

The Bad

*When the American soldiers leave the pyramid on Abydos, it's pretty obviously a matte painting behind them.

*The soldiers other than O'Neill are pretty interchangeable. They don't get a lot of differentiation beyond Kowalsky being a bit of a hothead.

*Dr. Jackson and Sha'uri are pretty obviously making eyes at each other not long after he arrives. Just how old is she? Avital would've been 22 and Spader 34 when the movie came out, but I got teenager vibes off the character, at least at first. The second viewing I remember some ribald commentary about the age difference.

*In one scene, Dr. Jackson is allowed to wander around Ra's spacecraft. This is after hostilities have occurred between the American troops and Ra's soldiers. It'd make more sense if he were forcibly taken into Ra's presence as soon as possible.

*Not going to go into further detail for reasons of spoilers, but Ra really needs to study nuclear strategy. His scheme would generate only around half the destructive power of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo when I was a little kid, and in a fairly isolated area too. There's only one way I can possibly think for Ra's grandiose claim to actually bear fruit, which you can see at this post here, but it's a long shot.

The Verdict

The third time around is up with the first in terms of fun. 9.0 out of 10.0. It's not great cinema, but it's entertaining. I never watched the TV show (other than part of one later episode that seemed so silly it really soured me on the whole concept), but the story expands well beyond the film if you'd like to see how far down the rabbit hole it goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment