Stargate (1994)

5 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Imagine you are one of many people who step into an ancient mystic stargate that is said to take you a million light years across the universe.

What would your reaction be? Awe? Amazement? Surprise? All of the above? My reaction would be “all of the above.” But unfortunately, the only reaction to the characters in the sci-fi action/thriller “Stargate” is “What a rush.” They step into the stargate, go through a weird trip in space and time, and find themselves inside a pyramid on a distant planet. They don’t even seem surprised that the stargate didn’t kill them on entry. They just walk about the land as if thinking, “OK, we’re here. What now?” How about taking in some of this discovery?

“Stargate” is a big-budget sci-fi romp that seems empty, despite the top-notch actors, the amazing sets and the nifty special effects. It’s the script that doesn’t take chances or even seem at all like this is going to be fun. Directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich, “Stargate” doesn’t seem to have thrills within its thrilling, mysterious storyline. This is one of those movies where the marketing is a lot more compelling than the actual film that is being marketed. The trailer for this movie showed that there is a mystical, otherworldly stargate that can send people from one world to another. It never showed where the stargate took them or what they found when they got there. This way of marketing left moviegoers wondering what was in store.

But sadly, the discovery is a disappointment. We learn that this distant planet (which looks a lot like Egypt, but the three moons indicate that it isn’t) is home to the human race that were left behind when the Sun God Ra created life on Earth, as well as the stargates. The stargates have been destroyed since and the people are slaves living in the desert. So you can probably guess by what I’m saying in this paragraph that, yes, aliens did create the Egyptian pyramids.

OK…so what?

The aliens themselves seemed too human to be interesting—that’s because they are humans who speak only Ancient Egyptian. Their ruler—the Son God Ra—is definitely not much better. Ra takes human form because it seems to suit him, but he looks more like a showgirl at a costume party and did not seem like any kind of a threat. And then when he talks (in his own language, of course, with English subtitles), his voice is distorted—it didn’t even seem like the voice fit him. Oh, and here’s a hoot—Ra is played by Jaye Davidson from “The Crying Game.”

As “Stargate” opens (in, as a caption informs us, “Egypt 1928”), Egyptologists discover the arch-like, mystic-looking stargate. We then flash to the “present day” (another caption—there are captions like that here) in which a nutty Egyptologist named Daniel Jackson (James Spader, complete with glasses and long blond hair) is brought into a top-secret government facility that has been storing the stargate all this time. He is hired to decode the hieroglyphics that could activate the stargate. Of course Jackson is able to but here’s my question—after all this time of trying to unlock this big secret, couldn’t they have found someone better than a young Egyptologist whose methods have been described as “nutty” through all these decades?

But I digress. Jackson joins the tough-as-nails Col. Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell) and a team of soldiers armed with automatic weapons as the group steps into the stargate and arrives at this strange world. And it was, I might add, indeed a “rush.”

It’s here that many clichés are used—O’Neil shows a young alien a few modern conveniences, the aliens fear the newcomers but learn to accept them, and such. But the most overused is this—Jackson is mistaken for a god because he wears around his neck an ancient Egyptian heirloom given to him for “good luck.” Eventually, there must be a heavy-handed, special-effects filled, action-packed climax in which the humans and the aliens must fight against Ra and his henchmen. But the characters are so under-developed that I didn’t care for them when they had to fight for their lives. Plus, it’s a copout that the writers had the bright idea of having a stargate that could send people who step into it to travel one million light years away from home, but could only think of shooting everybody when they got there. Another thing I must mention about the story—Jackson claims that he knows how to get back home. Not once do any of the soldiers ask how he knows—he just knows because it’s convenient enough.

The actors do what they can with nothing roles. I like Kurt Russell and James Spader, but their characters are underwritten here. At least they tried. Jaye Davidson cannot be taken seriously as the ruler of the universe.

“Stargate” is a movie that is empty in its storytelling. The sets, cast, and special effects are there but the story needed a lot of adjustments. Why not have more interesting characters step into this intergalactic stargate and discover something wonderful and even more mysterious about the secrets of the known universe? Or even the unknown universe? The possibilities are endless. But all “Stargate” can think about is blowing stuff up. And in the way of something more interesting in the background of the plot, that’s not interesting.

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