Stargate: Special Edition (UK - BD RB)
Our Scott McKenzie checks out this 90s sci-fi action movie starring Kurt Russell
After a mysterious artefact is discovered in Egypt in the 1920s, the powers-that-be in the US are still struggling to learn its secrets in the present day. They call on Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader), who deciphers its markings and causes the 'Stargate' to open a doorway to a planet in a distant solar system. Led by Colonel Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell), a military team joined by Daniel venture through the doorway to investigate. Once there, they realise they will have to check out their new surroundings and get to know the natives if they are to get back home.
Released after Universal Soldier but before Independence Day, Stargate is another in the line of sci-fi action movies with which director-producer team Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin had huge success in the 90s. They were certainly ambitious here, trying to create an epic adventure on the scale of Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments, only with aliens and teleportation thrown in for good measure. I've only seen this movie once before, when it was released on VHS, and I've never watched the SG-1 TV show, so I was interested to see if the original movie had stood the test of time.
Stargate is still a very entertaining action movie, although not quite to the same overblown level of silliness as Independence Day. James Spader adds a touch of intelligence to the role of Daniel and we really believe that the man on screen is the genius we're supposed to think he is. Kurt Russell's character is given some personal turmoil to deal with but the screenplay doesn't offer him many moments to do much 'proper' acting so he's a little more subdued than we're used to, certainly when compared with the movies he's made with John Carpenter. It's worth noting that this is pretty much the last movie that Jaye Davidson made in his short career and it's nice to see an appearance from Paul from Spin City early on, even if it's difficult to imagine him as any other character.
The look of Stargate has dated quite considerably. Just a few years after this production, Peter Jackson was creating a believable Middle Earth from scratch on a computer screen, but the visual effects processes hadn't quite evolved enough to allow us to look back and still believe everything we see here. Some effects, like when the bad guys' masks disappear, look a bit dodgy now and wherever models are used, they look like nothing more than models. Some moments don't quite work either. I found the scene with Kurt Russell teaching a boy to smoke rather awkward and I was left wondering whether that would be frowned on a lot more if it were in a movie released in these more PC times.
The epic scope hangs together until the final act, when the story scales down considerably. We're left with a ticking bomb to give us suspense but the editing is way off, leaving our heroes off-screen for ages when there's only a few seconds left on the clock. There's also a rushed scene in the second act where the filmmakers suddenly realised they'd better get all the exposition out of the way if they wanted to keep the running time at two hours instead of three. It's a shame because the world created around the Stargate is compelling and detailed. It's almost enough to make me want to watch the TV series, but not quite.
Stargate is presented at 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. I was expecting a movie from 1994 to look a little dodgy when cleaned up for high definition, but the imperfections are fairly minor. There are very occasional scratches and artefacts in the picture and some grain in smoky and dusty scenes. The picture flickers a little at certain points but that's the worst I can say about the video quality, which is generally sharp and detailed. The colours are strong here, with plenty of warm tones as you would hope for from a movie set in the desert and black is sufficiently dark.
This disc comes with two audio options—Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I went for the latter for this review and I was just as impressed by the audio as I was by the video quality. One of the factors that makes Stargate an epic movie is David Arnold's ambitious score, which sounds loud and powerful here. The surround channels are given a good workout, first early on with rain and thunder effects then later in the movie when we get into full-on action mode. There are certain effects that sound particularly good, like the sound the transporter machine makes, which causes a decent thump of bass when it arrives.
There are no Blu-ray exclusive extras here. In fact, there aren't even as many as you can find on DVD because this is essentially the DVD special edition minus the commentary. The main extra feature is the ‘Making of’ featurette, which is by far the longest of the bunch at fifty-two minutes. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin talk about their desire to make a large scale Cecil B DeMille-style epic movie and when they were told their budget would need to be $150m, they said they could do it for $55m. The actors talk about their roles (Jaye Davidson is conspicuous by his absence) and we get to see the work that went into the visual effects. Most interesting to me was seeing the visual effects team working on pre-viz animations in 1994 on antiquated Apple Macs.
The 'Is There a Stargate?' featurette is an odd one. It focuses on the people who believe in the theories that the movie is based on—i.e. pyramids were built by aliens. It heavily features crackpot writer Erich Von Daniken, who penned the book ‘Chariots of the Gods’ on that subject. Next up we have interviews with Kurt Russell, James Spader and Roland Emmerich, which are clips f about two minutes each and there is a lot of overlap with the content of the ‘Making of’. The 'Original Stargate Previews' are more clips and interviews from 1994 showing behind the scenes footage and focusing on different aspects of the production. 'B-roll selection' is a compilation of behind the scenes footage with no narration, commentary or interviews. Finally we get a trailer for the movie and just like the other extras, the aspect ratio is 1.33:1 and the quality is not much better than VHS.
Stargate has its flaws, but it is a fun movie that throws a few historical points of interest into the action. The movie looks and sounds good on this Blu-ray release, but as with the other discs in the recent batch from Optimum, it offers nothing in the way of exclusive extras. It's almost as if the disc producers spent so long tarting up the movie that they forgot to do anything about the extras until the night before its release.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 4th August 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Making of, Is There a Stargate?, Interviews, Original Stargate Previews, B-Roll Selection, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Djimon Hounsou, Mili Avital
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 130 minutes
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