Although I have vague memories of watching this film on TV when I was a kid, I didn’t really discover anything “Stargate”-related until earlier this year when I started watching “Stargate SG-1” and, more recently “Stargate: Atlantis” too.
From what I remembered, I knew that the original “Stargate” movie from 1994 was quite spectacular and was set in somewhere resembling ancient Egypt, but that was about it.
So, a while back, when I saw that 2nd hand DVDs of the original movie were surprisingly cheap, I had to get a copy of it and it turned out that the only version I could find on DVD was the “Director’s Cut”. Yes, I still watch films on DVD – and that’s only because my VHS player doesn’t work any more. I may be in my twenties, but I’m probably a lot older at heart LOL!
Since it’s been over a decade since I saw the original movie, I can’t compare the two versions – so I will be looking at this film on it’s own merits. Plus, although I’ll be comparing it to the TV shows it inspired a bit later in this review, I’ll also try to look at the film on it’s own in this context too. I’ll also try to avoid SPOILERS, but there might be a few in this review.
“Stargate” is a sci-fi/adventure movie from 1994, which begins with a mysterious spaceship landing on earth in 8,000 BC. Many years later, in the 1920s, an archaeological expedition in Egypt (led by a man called Dr. Langford and his young daughter Catherine) turns up a mysterious giant ring-shaped device near a pyramid.
We flash forward to 1990s America, where an Egyptologist called Dr. Daniel Jackson (played by James Spader) is delivering a lecture about his theories regarding the age of various pyramids. His theories prove unpopular and most of the academics present walk out of the hall in disgust.
As Dr. Jackson leaves the lecture theatre, he is confronted by several military officers and a much older Catherine Langford, who ask for his help in translating some hieroglyphics.
It quickly turns out that the hieroglyphics are related to the mysterious device that Catherine’s father discovered in the 1920s and, once Dr. Jackson has been able to decode the symbols on it, the device whirls into action and generates a portal to another planet. After some deliberation, the military finally decides to send Dr. Jackson and a reconnaissance team, led by Colonel Jack O’ Neil (played by Kurt Russell) through the portal, where they discover a planet which looks exactly like ancient Egypt……
One of the first things I will say about this film is that it was a lot more “serious” than I expected. If you’re used to the slightly more irreverent and humourous tone of the TV shows that it inspired, then you might be surprised by this. But, basically, it’s just an ordinary mega-budget action/adventure drama film which takes itself reasonably seriously.
Another cool thing about “Stargate” is that when the main characters arrive on the planet and meet the people who live there, no-one understands each other for about half of the film. As you would expect on a planet that is similar to Ancient Egpyt, the people there don’t speak English.
This sounds like a really small detail, but it adds an extra layer of realism to the film and it really gives you the sense that the main characters are on a world that they know nothing about. Plus, it’s a refreshing contrast from “Stargate SG-1”, where everyone across the entire galaxy somehow speaks perfect English.
The special effects in “Stargate” are fairly good for 1994 too. Yes, the pre-CGI model effects look slightly dated twenty years later, but they still work very well. And, to be honest, the really impressive thing about the film is the story and the settings rather than the effects.
All of the set designs in this film are extremely good too and there are vast city scenes, sweeping deserts, ancient pyramids and pharonic spacecraft aplenty here. Although the special effects might not have aged so well, all of the sets still look absolutely brilliant.
The acting in this film is fairly good too and you get a good sense of who the characters are fairly quickly. Daniel Jackson is the cute nerdy scientist that we all know and love and, if you’ve seen Michael Shanks’ version of Daniel Jackson in “Stargate SG-1”, then you pretty much know what to expect.
However, Jack O’Neil is very different in the film to how Richard Dean Anderson portrays him in the TV show. Kurt Russell plays the character completely “straight” and he’s a serious, no-nonsense military “action hero” with a depressing past and more than a little bit of a death wish.
The only minor criticism I have of the film is the pacing. Maybe it’s because this is the director’s cut of the film or maybe it’s because I’m much more used to TV shows than to movies, but this film moved at a slightly slower pace than I expected it to. Still, in a way, it’s kind of a refreshing change from the perfunctory, ultra-fast pace of most modern mega-budget “blockbuster” movies.
All in all, this is an extremely good film that is worth checking out if you like sci-fi and/or ancient Egypt. Yes, the effects look a little bit dated, but it’s still an atmospheric and compelling film that stands the test of time.
Although I prefer the TV show that this film inspired, that show would never have been possible if it wasn’t for this film. Although, as I mentioned earlier, if you’re a fan of “Stargate SG-1” and you’ve never seen this film before, then expect quite a few changes.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would get four and a half.