Cinematic Flashback: Stargate (1994) Review
A traveler from distant stars escaped from a dying world, looking for a way to extend his own life. His body decaying and weak, he couldn’t prevent his own demise.” Apparently, his whole species was becoming extinct. So, he traveled or searched the galaxies, looking for a way to cheat death. Look here: “He came to a world rich with life, where he encountered a primitive race.” Humans, heh. A species which with all his powers and knowledge he’d maintain indefinitely. He realized, within a human body, he had a chance for a new life. Now, apparently, he found a young boy. It says, “As the frightened villagers ran, night became day. Curious and without fear, he walked towards the light.” Ra took him and possessed his body, like some kind of a… parasite looking for a host. Inhabiting this human form, he appointed himself ruler” and here it says is my “cinematic flashback” review for 1994’s Stargate.
“It will take you a million light years from home. But will it bring you back?”
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writer: Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin
Starring: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, and Viveca Lindtors
Run Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: October 28th, 1994
In 1928, in Egypt, a strange and large circular device is found by an expedition. In the present days, the outcast linguist Dr. Daniel Jackson is invited by a mysterious woman named Catherine Langford to decipher an ancient hieroglyph in a military facility. After decipher the text, Jackson soon finds that the ancient device (called a Stargate) was developed by an advanced civilization and acts as interdimensional gateway to another planet. Dr. Jackson is invited to join a military team under the command of Colonel Jonathan ‘Jack’ O’Neil that will explore the world beyond the Stargate. However, the military has its own plans. Once there, Jack, O’Neil, and their team find a land that recalls Egypt and humans in a primitive culture that worship and are slaves to Ra, the God of the Sun.
Back when this movie came out in 1994 (I was 9 years old), I remember seeing the commercial for it on TV and also remembering seeing the movie poster at my local movie theater. Of course, I was too young to see it, but I do remember seeing parts of it on TV a few years later (mostly the scene with the first activation of the Stargate). It looked cool, but I never fully had an interest in seeing the movie. Flash forward a few years later (roughly when I was in high school), I finally sat down on actually watched Stargate and I loved it! It was definitely a fun 90s sci-fi movie and got myself interested in watching the TV spin-off series (more on that below).
Directed by Roland Emmerich, Stargate was a visually compelling sci-fi action romp that was creative in its usage of storytelling of blending action entertainment, sci-fi nuances, and Egyptian lore. It might sound like a bizarre mixture, but it definitely worked and provided an intriguing motion picture. The script, which was penned by Emmerich and Dean Devlin showcased a fun sci-fi aspect of narrative that centers around a group of Earthlings traveling through a gateway (i.e. the Stargate) to another world as well as delving into Egyptian mythology to be used in the feature’s story. In additional, the film’s presentation is quite impressive, especially for movie project that was done during the 90s. Of course, some of the CGI visuals look a bit dated, but still look quite good for that particular time period of its release. Of course, my favorite part was when the Stargate first opens up (love that part). The overall appeal and “look and feel” also looks quite as the various sets and its decorations are great looking, especially since it utilizes the ancient Egyptian architecture and styles. Also, who could forget the movie’s iconic score by David Arnold (loved it).
The problem with Stargate is the lacked a strong script for its story as well as in its various characters. There’s definitely a story to be told in the movie (and it’s pretty good one), but there are particular parts of it that could’ve been easily expanded upon and fully dressed in the movie. Of course, the movie has plenty of expositional scenes of explaining “who’s who” and “what’s what”, but it felt that there could’ve been more of a concrete storytelling aspect the script was better handled. The same can be said about some of the film’s characters. Some of them are fleshed out a bit, but (again) could’ve been easily expanded upon to give them a more dynamic / well-rounded character build.
In addition, Emmerich’s Stargate is a very ambitious cinematic undertaking and definitely has a certain “scale and scope” to it all, but it somewhat feels like the movie had limitations with its representation. Meaning…. the story is very big and probably Emmerich had big ideas for this movie, but the film itself feels a bit restraint. I mean Independence Day (1996), Emmerich’s next film after Stargate, had the large-scale grandness of a sci-fi feature film as well as ushering in Hollywood’s interest in sci-fi movies once again. In short, Stargate has the potential to go “big” and really could’ve, but the film holds that potential back….and it does show.
The cast in Stargate is pretty good, with actors James Spader and Kurt Russell as the two main lead characters of Daniel Jackson and Jack O’Neil. Though their participation in this movie wasn’t exactly the defining moment (as actors), both Spader and Russell were creating in their respective characters, with Spader giving Jackson the classic “dweeby” nerdy scientist and Russell bringing a stoic / no non-sense presence with O’Neil. Of course, both characters could’ve been expanded upon (a little bit), but what’s given works for the movie. Perhaps the only other character worth mentioning is the character of Ra, the film’s antagonist character, who is played by actor Jaye Davidson. He definitely plays the role well and its cool that the movie gives all of his dialogue lines in ancient Egyptian rather than in English. The rest of the cast has a few recognizable faces from other projects, so it’s fun to spot them, but (much like what I said above) these characters are mostly minor / stock-like characters.
Of course, the success of Stargate, while not as palpable as Hollywood success, was met by its fans and quickly gained a cult following, which did see a continuation of the franchise as a television series. What’s even more interesting is that Stargate was given three television series to expand upon the 1994 movie property. First, there was Stargate: SG-1 (1997-2007), which ran for 10 seasons (214 episodes) and two TV movies (Ark of Truth and Continuum). The success of SG-1 saw two more Stargate spin-offs with Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009), which ran for 5 seasons (100 episodes) and Stargate Universe, which ran for 2 seasons (40 episodes). I loved SG-1 and Atlantis series. Both were great and definitely expanded upon the Stargate franchise in very fun and interesting ways. Some part of the shows were a bit cheesy and campy, but it was in a good way. Of course, there is the 2018 endeavor titled Stargate Origins, but I think that many fans out there will disavow this project altogether. I’ve seeing the first ten minutes of it and I turned it off. It’s just that bad!
In the end, 1994’s Stargate is a slight mixed bag that ultimately works and works better than what it should be; gaining a strong and vast cult following on its franchise from both this movie and its various TV spin-offs. The script could’ve been ironed out more and the characters could’ve been fleshed out, but the movie definitely has a science fiction appeal and a creative visual flair to indeed make the film wholesome and fun to watch. For nostalgia purpose, Stargate is a perfect choice of displaying cinematic nuances of mid 90s, showcasing the sci-fi action of its era as well as providing viewers with means to escape reality for two hours in an intriguing premise and entertainment story. I personal would love to see remake / reboot of Stargate….
Cinematic Flashback: 4.0 Out of 5
Fun Fact: Actor Jaye Davidson’s dislike of the attention that he received after The Crying Game (1992), made him reluctant to take the role of Ra in Stargate (1994). He didn’t want to just turn the offer down, so he made what he expected to be an unacceptable demand of one million dollars. This was accepted, and he appeared.