Stargate: Ultimate Edition (UK - BD RB)
Chris checks out the new release of the first and best Roland Emmerich feature
The film opens with the discovery of a mysterious artefact at a dig site in Egypt circa 1928. Fast-forward to the present(ish) day and the US military are still struggling to unlock its secrets so they enlist the help of Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader), who has some very outlandish theories about the origin of the pyramids and Egyptian culture as a whole. Jackson manages to successfully decode the mysterious symbols found on the device and discovers that it is a 'Stargate', an alien construct that is able to create and artificial gateway between Earth and a remote planet in a far-distant galaxy. After sending a probe to investigate, the military decides to dispatch a full reconnaissance team led by Colonel Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell) in order that they might explore the planet. On the planet they find a primitive human culture that has evolved independently of any outside influence, and learn that the natives worship the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra. Our intrepid explorers enlist the natives’ help in finding a way back to Earth, but before they can discover the necessary information they discover that the so-called ‘god’ is actually the last surviving member of an alien race who ruled over Earth thousands of years ago. Determined to stop Ra from returning to enslave humanity, O'Neil, Jackson, and their new allies set about closing the Stargate once and for all.
The original UK Blu-ray release of Staragate was reviewed for DVDActive by Scott McKenzie, so I can't say that I'm intimately familiar with that particular disc (although I did see it when taking screen caps for Scott's review). From what I can tell the biggest changes for this new release are undoubtedly in the the colour rendition and contrast departments. The older version had severely boosted contrast, which made everything incredibly bright and blown-out, whereas this new release is far more subdued. The dialling down of the contrast is noticeable throughout the film, but the changes are most evident once the action moves to the alien planet, as the vast sun-baked deserts appear brown instead of orange and flesh tones are more natural. I didn't see the film theatrically, so I can't comment on which release is more accurate, but I have to admit to preferring the new look of this Ultimate Edition over the older release for a number of reasons.
The image is now quite a bit darker, which can occasionally obscure detail in the darker regions of the image. Having said that, black levels are generally much better than the old Optimum UK release and detail originally lost to excessive blooming has been reclaimed (clouds in the sky are no longer obliterated). There's a healthy dose of grain throughout, with some degree of shimmering, but on the whole it's a very film-like presentation with a good level of detail, as long as you don't expect the sort of razor-sharp image associated with more recent features. Although reasonably clean for the most part, film artefacts occasionally make their presence felt. This tends to be in the form of small black and white specs, rather than huge defects. There's also a little bit of edge enhancement to be found, but it's not terribly intrusive. As with previous releases the footage reincorporated into the extended edition of the film doesn't quite match the theatrical quality, but it is much less obvious this time around. It's also worth noting that compression is noticeably better on this edition.
Given all the changes the most obvious question has to be whether or not the look of the film has been improved. On balance I'd have to say yes, although I'd like to reiterate my earlier statement about not knowing the filmmakers' original intentions. It would have been nice if the disc had included some more information on the visual changes and whether they accurately reflect the director's/cinematographer's wishes, but since anecdotal evidence suggests that Roland Emmerich was never completely happy with the previous home video releases I can at least accept that this could be the intended look. In any event it is preferable to the previous release and actually quite a decent presentation in its own right.
I'll come clean now and admit that I only have a 5.1 set-up at home, so I couldn't take full advantage of the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on offer here. With that said I'm pretty much certain that no official 7.1 track exists for Stargate, so I'm not missing out on the original theatrical audio experience. In any case the additional channels aren't lost to me, they're just matrixed into the 5.1 soundtrack that my amp is capable of handling. So while effects might not be positioned exactly where intended, I am at least hearing them.
As for the track itself, well it's a definite improvement over the 5.1 effort found on Optimum's previous BD, both in terms of clarity and overall immersion. Surround effects are plentiful; in fact there's usually something interesting emanating from all five (or seven if you have the kit) speakers. The first trip through the Stargate is a prime example of this, as the various aliens sounds whoosh over and around the soundstage transporting the listener to the alien planet. Ambient effects like the howling desert winds or crowd chattering are a constant presence, generating a great deal of atmosphere. Dialogue is clear throughout, more so than any of the recent releases I've reviewed, and it's occasionally thrown around the various channels for good measure.
Bass has been severely amped up over the previous Optimum release, with even the most innocuous effects eliciting a deep rumble from the sub. It starts with various bits of throbbing and humming machinery in the military complex, and continues with the activation of the Stargate itself. Bass gets even deeper when Ra's ship makes its entrance, and continues in this vein during the numerous action sequences. The transport rings, gliders and staff weapons are particular highlights! David Arnold's score is one of the most impressive elements of the mix, especially during the dramatic swells when it completely fills the soundstage (such as the initial discovery of the Stargate, or Ra's introduction). It's balanced perfectly in a mix that can best be described as excellent.
Unfortunately the subtitles are a bit of a mixed bag. On the old release the subtitles were white and placed outside of the 2.35:1 frame, but at least they looked similar to the burned-in captions. Unfortunately for this release those subtitles have been replaced by yellow, player-generated subtitles with thick black boarders that appear within the 2.35:1 frame. They stick out like a sore thumb next to the various captions ('North African Desert 8000 BC', 'Giza', 'Present Day' etc), which are are still of the white, burned-in variety. The contrast between the two is quite jarring and I can honestly say that the new subtitles detracted from the overall viewing experience. Annoyingly, the foreign language subtitles look like the old high-res subtitles from the previous Blu-ray...
Stargate: History Made (22:19 HD): This is a contemporary retrospective featurette that includes plenty of interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes material, discussion of the lasting impact of the project and more. After so many years of watching the same old documentaries on DVD and the previous Blu-ray, it was nice to have a modern take on the whole thing.
Making of Stargate (52:02 SD): This is the same lengthy making-of featurette that was included on Optimum's previous Blu-ray release. It covers virtually all aspects of pre-production, production and post-production, and provides a lot of information along the way. Emmerich and Devlin talk about their desire to make a film that harked back to the old Cecil B DeMille epics on a relatively modest budget, we see the difficulties of filming on location, the actors discuss their roles, and the FX guys take us through the process of creating the digital effects (which were still in their relative infancy in 1994).
Is There a Stargate (12:11 SD): This is another carry-over from the privous Blu-ray. In it Erich Von Daniken, the writer of 'Chariots of the Gods', talks to us about his belief that extra-terrestrials were involved in the formation of a number of ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians. It's reasonably entertaining for what it is, but it's probably not going to convince you that aliens built the pyramids if you're not already of that opinion.
Original Stargate Previews (17:19 SD): These previews are a series of short featurettes from around the time of the original production. They each focus on a different element and include interview footage and behind-the-scenes material. As with the preceding features, these were also present on the last Blu-ray release.
B-Roll (06:03 SD): This is just a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage from various scenes set to music from the film. It's not particularly interesting, especially considering a lot of similar material covered elsewhere and in greater detail.
Gag Reel (03:13 SD): This is possibly the strangest gag reel I've ever seen. Whereas most feature unintentional goofs and gaffs, this gag reel is actually a scripted affair shot in one long take with a huge number of participants. I wouldn't actually call it funny, but it's bizarre enough to warrant at least one viewing.
Picture-in-Picture: Stargate Ultimate Knowledge: Running throughout the length of the extended cut of the film, the PiP option presents interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and other information in a video window in the corner of the screen. From what I could tell a lot of the footage is lifted from the other featurettes, and there are lengthy gaps between video segments. To be honest this isn't the most impressive use of BonusView that I've ever seen...
Director's Commentary with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin: This is the same commentary track as featured on a number of previous versions of the film, but it's the first time I've heard it. Surprisingly it's not actually a bad track, although there are quite a few extended periods of dead air. However, when Emmerich and Devlin do talk they provide a lot of pertinent information about the technical side of the project, along with plenty of cast and crew anecdotes. They are also very keen to point out that they had no involvement whatsoever with the Stargate TV series!
Trailer (02:38 HD): The film's theatrical trailer is presented in high-definition. The quality isn't really up to much, but it does make you appreciate the work that went into making the main feature look as good as it does.
BD-Live: There wasn't any Stargate content online at the time of writing, so I can't really comment on this feature.
Stargate is one of those films that I watched more times than I care to admit during seemingly endless cable re-runs, and while it's never been at the top of my sci-fi favourites list I do enjoy its novel take on the origins of ancient Egyptian civilisation. Fans of the film may well be wondering why they should stump up for yet another copy of the film, but if you want the best possible audio-visual presentation then there really is no alternative. Although the video quality receives the biggest boost, the 7.1 Master Audio track is also an improvement over the old 5.1 effort and the extras are also slightly better overall. If you're going to buy Stargate on BD, this is the one to get.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 29th March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 German
Subtitles: French, German
Extras: Audio Commentary, PiP Track, Documentaries, Featurettes, B-Roll, Gaga Reel, Trailer, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: James Spader, Kurt Russell, Jaye Davidson, Mili Avital
Genre: Action, Adventure and Sci-Fi
Length: 129 minutes
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