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Stargate the Movie

06/04/2011

Stargate the movie

Stargate the movie

Well, as I promised on Twitter, I’m going to rematch all the Stargate movies and tv shows after concluding Stargate: Universe. I think the franchise went out on a very high note, and while there is no immediate plans to bring back the franchise, I’m confident MGM won’t let it sit dormant for far too long. And since the last episode of SGU had a built in excuse for that particular incarnation of the franchise to lie in status for a few years, I really hope that that particular show will come back one day in one form or another.

So I think I’m going to blog through Stargate as I watch it. I don’t know how fast I will go through this, or how frequently I will blog about it, but my goal is to watch two or three episodes a week and blog some thoughts about each of them. Hopefully I can keep my blogs short.

And with that, let’s start with where the franchise began, the 1994 movie Stargate directed by Roland Emmerich, written by Emmerich and Dean Devlin, and starring Kurt Russell and James Spader.

Why do all the best action adventure movies incorporate the desert in some way? The look of Stargate and feel of it feels like it could have been made at the same time as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Romancing the Stone; it has a vintage quality to it that was lacking from another recent action adventure movie, The Mummy. Stargate came out in 1994, and the Mummy in 1999, yet there feels like decades in between the two.

And another cliche (or homage) of these types of films is that there needs to be a seen set in a library or lecture or some type of academic setting. This is probably a throwback to Indiana Jones being a professor, and within the story it provides a good source for exposition, background, and a bit of comedy.

Looking forward, of all the characters that started in the film version of Stargate and were continued in the tv show, Stargate SG-1, Daniel Jackson has remained the most consistent, with James Spader and Michael Shanks being extremely close in performance, while Jack O’Neil changed drastically between the film and later seasons of the tv show, or really, after season one of the tv show. Kurt Russell plays an amazing soldier with nothing to lose going out on one more assignment to save the Earth; Richard Dean Anderson can play that soldier, but is also a bit of a clown, a goof. He instilled a much needed sense of humor into the character of Jack O’Neil. Within the story, coming to grips with his son’s death probably softened O’Neil and brought his sense of humor back to the forefront, so it’s probably best to assume that Kurt Russell’s Jack O’Neil was just as funny before the tragedy.

Daniel Jackson and Jack O'Neil before Ra

Daniel Jackson and Jack O'Neil before Ra

Ah yes, Daniel Jackson’s allergies…another recurring motif that was eventually dropped completely from the tv show. Thank God.

You can almost see the awe and puppy love Daniel Jackson has for Jack O’Neil the moment he sees him. And Jack just doesn’t give a crap at all. Wait, Jack just laid down the law…and now Daniel’s man-crush is broken.

Another interesting design feature is that the look of the Stargate base has remained consistent between the movie and the tv show. The decision to also keep up with technology in the show was a good one, as you can tell the movie was using early 90s technology like Walkmens. And Jack O’Neil is smoking up a storm in these scenes; I can’t recall if RDA (Richard Dean Anderson) had Jack smoke or not.

And here we go, the reveal of the stargate! Suitably epic and wondrous and otherworldly while at the same time ancient. Beautiful piece of design and construction. The gate room differs from the one in SG-1, as the conference room seems to be about three stories above the gate, instead of nearly on level as in the show. The sense of scale is definitely different, but plays well on film. I still love how the stargate spins, locks into place, and then erupts with a liquidy ripple. It’s a beautiful piece of design by the creators of the movie. I had forgotten how dialing in the stargate made the whole room shake, and subsequently how traveling through a stargate was a roller coaster ride; they explained later on that upgrades in computing and sophistications in programming is why later travelers can walk through with no problem. After all, the ancients didn’t have a problem…

Ah yes, and I’m glad Stargate eventually did away with the gate travel effect, so heavily computerized and early CGI…looks more like the original Tron than anything else. But you can really feel the wonder in Daniel Jackson as he approaches the gate and sticks his head through.

The two Jack O'Neils, Richard Dean Anderson and Kurt Russell

The two Jack O'Neils, Richard Dean Anderson and Kurt Russell

Just realized that French Stewart is in the Stargate movie; he later guest stars on the last season of Stargate: Universe. Full circle…

It’s fun watching them step out into a desert, turning around, and seeing the most massive pyramid ever. Plus the three moons trick is always cool. I watched a documentary recently that argued that the obelisks that you can find in Egypt were actually ancient power receivers for electricity. With their prominence outside of the pyramid on this alien world, I can easily see them as the electrical poles powering something in the pyramid, or at least used to. I dig all these theories about ancient Egypt and how everything was built and for what purpose. That one story about ancient Egyptians putting a piece of paper on a boulder, writing something, and then removing the paper only to see the boulder begin to float…I dig that. Makes me wonder if maybe we have lost some science or power source that our ancestors used to have. (Much prefer that theory to “the Jews did all the work”)

You know, for this being the Ultimate Edition dvd of Stargate, there is a surprisingly high amount of grain and out right screen tears on display. The scene with the alien buffalo creature is particularly bad…

Ah yes, the “humans traveling through the stargate are gods” aspect of the movie and early seasons of the show. It makes sense, really. The ancient Egyptian “gods” always traveled through the stargate, and took upon human form (which the tv show altered greatly), so any humans going through a stargate must be gods. I’m glad they made it a point in early seasons of SG-1 to show everyone that humans are just humans and not gods, and the “gods” themselves were just parasitic life forms. But one major concept that didn’t last long is for giant spaceships to land on pyramids. Sure, it works in the movie as a plot device and cool visual effect, but if you have ships in orbit and stargates everywhere you can just walk through, how often do you need to physically land a spaceship? It works, but is just not necessary.

Movies today just don’t have time to breathe or an appropriate sense of scale. The unveiling of the Ra symbol is a type of scene that wouldn’t play in today’s movies. There is lots of scenery, lots of extras, a general sense of scope and awe…Hollywood is treating us all like we are dumb.

And now the nerd gets the girl, as it should be.

Is Earth the center of the stargate world? I’m not certain…Earth is obviously important to us humans and our viewpoint of the universe, but is it where everything originated? I know it’s where the Egyptian gods found their laborers (and subsequently used them to seed the whole galaxy with human life), but I don’t think it’s where everything developed. Not sure…I’ll keep this question on the backburner as I rematch all things Stargate.

The Wikipedia entry on the differences between the film and the tv series is fascinating. I didn’t know several major name changes were done, and that O’Neil is technically spelled “O’Neill” in the tv show. I agree with most of the changes done to make the show more sustainable and separate from the film, especially changing Ra from the last of a dying race of aliens to a parasitic alien in a host body that is part of a group of System Overlords controlling space.

Still love the pyramid elevators…the rings are tight. And the masks and armor and weapons of Ra’s guards are a great explanation of Egyptian mythology and writings.

Well done on the part of the writers to bring to mind Jack’s son’s death by having Ra surround himself protectively with young children. You can see the torment on Jack’s faith when he sees them. And that scene is also notable as being the first of many (many!) deaths of Daniel Jackson over the course of the franchise. I wish they had made more use of the healing/resurrection sarcophagus in the franchise, but it was always one of those too powerful devices for normal storytelling. Best to just bring a character back from life once or twice.

These humans on the alien planet are incredibly smart and resourceful, figuring out how to use complex weaponry and formalize a pretty decent rebellion really quickly. Still, nearly a massacre watching Ra’s guards turn on them.

I love how Daniel Jackson just goes onboard the alien ship, taking the girl to the sarcophagus to heal her. It’s like…who cares if there is any more aliens on board! He just walks everywhere calmly.

I think the final rebellion scene lasts longer than the timer we lost saw on the nuke. Oh well, that’s forgivable. Still, a great ending to a pretty good moving.

So that’s Stargate. Looking forward to starting the tv series, Stargate SG-1, real soon.

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