Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Starring: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, Alexis Cruz, Mili Avital
Running time: 121 min (theatrical cut), 128 min (extended cut)
Growing up, my formative film-watching years involved a number of firm favourites which I saw at the cinema and then owned – and watched relentlessly – on VHS. The 1994 sci-fi blockbuster Stargate is one of these and, like some but not all of my other VHS favourites, it’s a film I’ve not returned to for many years.
Revisiting the extended cut of the movie on this new Blu-Ray was a joy; childhood memories rekindled, scenes playing out exactly as I remembered them, and the evocative score by the great David Arnold returning like an old friend.
It contains some of the excesses director Roland Emmerich is known for, but feels more grounded and focused too despite its fantastical elements, which makes it easier to recommend than most of the director’s blockbusters. It also left such an impression that it spawned three TV series (themselves leading to two TV films), an animated series and a web series, as well as comic books and plenty of merchandise.
The extended cut of Stargate opens with two scene-setting flashbacks; first to 8,000 BC showing an extra-terrestrial’s arrival to earth where it takes a human host to extend its life, and then 1928 and an archaeological dig that leads to the discovery of the titular gate. Moving to the present day, we’re introduced to the two main protagonists: archaeologist and linguist Dr Daniel Jackson (James Spader) and Colonel Jack O’Neill (Kurt Russell). Jackson is employed to decipher the hieroglyphics to get the gate – now controlled by the US military – working, and O’Neill, depressed following the death of his young son, is brought back to the military to oversee this clandestine mission.
Jackson activates the gate and he and O’Neill, together with a number of military personnel, enter it, travelling through a wormhole to the planet of Abydos. Here they encounter Ra, an extra-terrestrial who has taken human form to extend his life and has enslaved other humans to mine a mineral needed for his alien technology. A fun and entertaining adventure ensues as Jackson and O’Neill try to reactive the Stargate on Abydos to return to Earth, whilst joining forces with the enslaved humans to revolt against Ra and his army.
Russell and Spader embody their characters well; Russell humanising the military leader who is still reeling from the death of his son, and Spader showcasing both the intelligence and drive of Jackson and his softer side as romance blossoms with Sha’uri (Mili Avital). The rest of the cast is on fine form, and there’s a very early role for Djimon Hounsou (billed simply as Djimon) as one of Ra’s personal guards, Horus, a few years before his breakout roles in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, and decades before he joined both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe.
Arnold’s score is typically rousing, with an endlessly hummable central theme, and there’s some striking cinematography at times, particularly shots of silhouettes against sunsets and the liquid-like wormhole of the gate.
Despite all of these great elements, this isn’t a perfect film; some of the effects, which seemed ground-breaking in 1994, haven’t dated well and the script varies in quality throughout and is a tad too clichéd. Yet, the blemishes are far outweighed by the positives, and at its heart the movie is an entertaining sci-fi blockbuster which combines action and adventure with some thought-provoking theories around the impact of extra-terrestrials on the origins of the human race.
Stargate Ultimate Edition is out now on Region B Blu-Ray in Australia, released by Via Vision. It looks excellent throughout, with a crisp image and strong vivid colours. The audio quality is also top-notch, the score and effects being a particular highlight.
The 2-disc set is packaged in a blue amaray case with a cardboard slipcase. Disc 1 contains the Theatrical Cut and most of the special features, with Disc 2 containing the Extended Cut plus the audio commentary and Picture-in-Picture Stargate Ultimate Knowledge extra.
Special features and technical effects:
– High definition transfer of the Theatrical and Extended Cuts in its 2.40:1 aspect ratio, with DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
– Audio commentary by writer/director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer Dean Devlin
– Deciphering the Gate: Concepts and Casting – featurette
– Opening the Gate: The Making of the Movie – featurette
– Passing Through the Gate: The Legacy – featurette
– Is there a Stargate? – featurette
– The Making of Stargate – documentary
– Original Stargate previews
– B-Roll footage
– Gag reel
– Theatrical trailer
– Picture-in-Picture Stargate Ultimate Knowledge
All of the special features are archival but they’re pretty comprehensive, covering most ground that you’d expect for a blockbuster, with the video content mostly containing talking heads, film footage and limited behind the scenes footage. Most date from 2009.
Special features Disc 1:
Deciphering the Gate: Concepts and Casting is an 8-minute piece featuring a variety of interviews with the cast and crew exploring the origins of the movie.
Opening the Gate: The Making of the Movie is a 10-minute look at the making of the film, again with interviews, mostly with the crew.
Passing Through the Gate: The Legacy is a 4-minute piece about the impact of the release of the movie and references to the TV shows and fan conventions, and this time also contains interviews with fans as well as members of the cast and crew
Is there a Stargate? is a 12-minute look at extra-terrestrial visitations, focused on Erich von Däniken, a Swiss author who explores the possibility of extra-terrestrial influences on early human culture, particularly Ancient Egypt. It’s a brief but riveting piece from 2002 looking at the origins of the pyramids, amongst other early structures and cultures.
The Making of Stargate is a 23-minute archival retrospective documentary which has some different anecdotes to the other extras and showcases early concept art. It also features a brief but informative look at the effects, both CGI and practical, as well as the production and set design. There’s also some fascinating test footage.
Original Stargate previews are 17 minutes of electronic press kit style pieces from the time of the release, five in total. They’re heavy on voiceover, with lots of film footage and some choice interviews explaining the film and its concepts. Despite their style and promotional leanings, they do contain some entertaining anecdotes.
Rounding out the Disc 1 package are 6 minutes of B-roll footage, a fairly entertaining 3-minute gag reel and the original theatrical trailer.
Special features Disc 2:
The commentary is very informative and engaging and one of the gems of the set. The effects sequences are particularly enjoyable with Devlin and Emmerich sharing a lot of detail about how the scenes were brought to life. There’s also discussion of the scenes that were added for the extended cut and some nice anecdotes about the cast.
The Picture-in-Picture piece runs off and on throughout the film with some snippets of new information, but also repetition with the other extras.
The extended cut adds a few small but worthwhile scenes, including the aforementioned initial flashback to Ra’s abduction of his human host in 8,000BC which now opens the film, an extension to the original 1928-set prologue, and a couple of other scenes, all of which add to either the mythology or characterisations.
It’s a really good package, but it’s a shame that there’s nothing new; no new retrospectives, video essays or lengthy looks at the wider franchise.
I really enjoyed revisiting the movie and, overall, this ultimate edition is a disc that’s easy to recommend for fans of the film, packing both cuts and a number of archival features onto its two discs, with a strong audio/visual presentation.