Friday Films: Stargate

stargate 2

Hey, you know who I love?

Okay, yes, Milla Jovovich is definitely someone I love. Not what I meant, but, yeah.

If you guessed Kurt Russell, then congratulations, you are correct. As I mentioned back when I reviewed The Christmas Chronicles, I am huge Kurt Russell fan. I’ve seen pretty much everything he’s done, and even gone out of my way to catch his early appearances, from childhood, on classic tv shows.

Quick note. I love him for different reasons than I love Milla. Just wanna point that out. She’s a bad ass who could break me in half. He makes me wanna cuddle. Totally different.

Weird. Yes. I know.

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Stop looking at me like that.

The point, if there ever was one, is that I could easily go on a long running Kurt Russell film review bender, if I wanted to. Which I do want to, but I’m restraining myself. I’ve already become an accidental anime reviewer. No sense in adding accidental Kurt Russell stalker to the resume.

Course, he might come tell me to back off in person. Things might get awkward. Probably best to avoid that.

I doubt Goldie Hawn would be understanding.

Yeah, there really was no point in any of this. I dunno what to tell ya. If you aren’t use to this crap by now, I can’t help ya.

I really am making this shit up as I go.

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Ya don’t say?

Stargate is a 1994 science fiction military adventure film from venerable studio MGM, maker of damn near everything for a great many years. It was produced in cooperation between Centropolis Film Productions, Carolco Pictures, and MGM, which means absolutely nothing. Just wanted to name drop a little there.

Moving on.

The film was written by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, better known for this little alien invasion movie they made called Independence Day. I doubt you’ve heard of it. They are much more well known for blowing up the planet Earth in pretty much every movie they make. I suspect they are aliens, but as I have no proof, we’ll just say they like to make movies about blowing up planet Earth.

I mean, who doesn’t enjoy blowing up planet Earth, when you get right down to it? Not saying I have fantasies about it or anything, just that I can’t think of many reasons not to these days. Trump is President. Seems like a pretty good reason to blow the damn planet up right there, before we can do something even dumber.

Kermit the Frog isn’t Secretary of Defense yet, so we can get dumber, people. Just saying.

The film centers around disgraced archeologist Daniel Jackson, played by the legendary James Spader, who thinks the pyramids of Egypt were built by aliens, as landing pads for their space ships. I hear he had a History Channel series before this, but that it got canceled for not having enough aliens.

Jackson, after being laughed at by his colleges, is recruited by a mysterious old woman, and the Air Force, who likes to keep mysterious old women on hand for recruiting purposes, to decipher something. I have a brother in the Air Force. He assures me they have closets full of mysterious old women, and strange hieroglyphs, just in case Harrison Ford ever gets a day free.

Indiana Jones joke, for the kids.

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He’s a different famous fictional archeologist.

Upon arriving at an underground complex, Jackson discovers that the Air Force actually is trying to decipher some really weird hieroglyphs, and very quickly makes the other experts look like idiots. One of them is Richard Kind, and now I have Bing Bong feels again.

Thanks, Daniel. You asshole.

Jackson figures out that the hieroglyphs aren’t hieroglyphs at all, but constellations. Upon doing so, in sweeps Colonel Jack O’Neil, who suggest they let him see their thingy this is all about, a giant ring, covered in these symbols. Jackson theorizes that the constellations give spacial coordinates, and if you have the seventh, a point of origin, you can do… actually, he has no idea what.

Until he finds the seventh symbol, and the so called experts really do look like idiots, cause it was pretty obvious. Entering the seven symbols in correct order creates a stable, artificial wormhole, to another galaxy. Everyone is excited, except Jack, who is played by Kurt Russell with a buzz cut, and that is never exciting.

Those glorious locks should flow free, dammit.

Jackson joins the team that ventures through the wormhole, and finds himself on an alien planet, where an ancient Egyptian culture is still around, worshiping the sun god Ra. They are rather primitive, and very afraid of Ra, however, which is kind of weird. They are pretty excited to have guests, though, and that’s kind of nice.

Until Ra shows up, and is a giant dick to everybody.

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Surprise penis for everyone!

Jackson finds out that Jack has orders to nuke the gate, making sure nothing can come through it, but Ra steals the nuke, and plans to send it back, with the material the Stargate is made from, to blow up Earth. Jack is not okay with this, but Jackson is a bit busy getting some sweet ancient Egyptian love to really know how to feel about it.

Jack and his surviving soldiers team up with the locals to fight for freedom, while Jackson has a few intimate moments with a very angry Ra, but then leaves to go see how Jack is getting along. Jack can’t disarm the nuke, but with a full on rebellion under way, Ra decides it’s time to peace out. So, Jack and Jackson send the nuke to him as going away present.

Ra goes boom.

Jackson reopens the Stargate, allowing Jack and the weird uncle from Third Rock from the Sun to go home, and stays behind to get married, live in an ancient Egyptian culture, and revel in knowing he was right, and everyone else was wrong.

I actually love this movie. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I really do, for a couple of reasons.

The biggest is the whole concept. It’s wild, different, and kind of new in a lot of ways. At least, back in 1994 it was. These days, we’ve had a collective 17 seasons of Stargate on tv, so it’s not that new anymore.

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Could you stop throwing that in our face, please?

Actually, even back in 1994, the idea of a wormhole generating device wasn’t that new. Arthur C. Clarke had envisioned one in his 2001 novels, as had Heinlein in Tunnel in the Sky. The concept goes back further, having featured in the novella Secret Unattainable, by A. E. van Vogt. The whole thing is actually built on some of Einstein’s theories, so really, he probably should get most of the credit.

I mean, he get’s most of the credit most of the time. Usually, it’s him or Mark Twain who more or less came up with everything. Hell, Twain probably built the damn Stargate. I bet Jackson’s Ancient Aliens series had an episode about it.

Getting back to the movie now…

Regardless of how often a wormhole making machine had been used before, Stargate still did it very differently than it had ever been seen. By which I mean, this one actually made a lot of sense, and theoretically, could actually be possible. Very theoretically, but still, not impossibly.

This was kind of neat, back in the day. As was tying it to Egyptian gods, and mythology. The whole thing was actually a very clever idea, and with the star power attached, the film did pretty decently, overall. Critics hated it, of course, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

While the film had a nifty premise, and featured plenty of action, it really was mostly the actors attached to it that made the whole thing float. Spader and Russell were an unlikely duo, but managed to make it work, creating a very enjoyable film carried largely by their talent.

Cause, when ya get right down to it, the plot is dumb.

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We’ve shot men for saying less.

Okay, look, let me be really honest here. The problem with the plot isn’t that’s it’s dumb. It’s that there was too much of it. There was no way to make this movie what it actually needed to be. There was simply too much going on, with too may characters, in too many locations, by the end, to pull it off in any way.

This was before Lord of the Rings, guys, so it was a very different time.

The reason the critics didn’t like it are actually valid. The plot is a series of improbable events, linked together by fishing line and spit. The characters are barely more than two dimensional, with very little in the way of actual arcs, or development. Most of what happens, just sort of happens, for reasons that are barely explained.

From a critics point of view, this movie was a lot of wasted potential. I can see it, and even agree with it, while still loving the movie for what it is. A wild ride.

Cause it is. The premise and the actors are enough to carry off what would otherwise be a complete train wreck. It’s interesting from a visual and creative standpoint, even if the plot needed at least two movies worth of run time to make sense, and the characters needed three to be more than archetypes.

That, and the actors manage to make their characters feel like they are more. Only barely for the most part, but they do.

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My kids book report says otherwise.

A lot of this comes down to Russell and Spader. The Jack O’Neil of the film is still grieving the recent death of his son, and carries that grief forward on what is basically a suicide mission. In the end, his desire to save others allows him to save himself, and coming face to face with an actual alien threat allows him to appreciate his own survival a little more. Russell actually manages to pull this off, and make O’Neil a fairly believable character.

Spader’s Jackson is every bumbling scientist we’ve ever seen. I mean, bumbling is basically his entire character for the most part. Still, it is James Spader, and he’s a damn fine actor, so he manages to infuse an actual sense of wonder and awe at the events happening around him. He makes Jackson less of a walking joke, and more what we’d all kind of hope to be if we got the chance to travel the galaxy. Fascinated with everything, and eager to see more.

French Stewart, probably best known for playing Harry Solomon on Third Rock from the Sun, plays Lieutenant Ferretti, and is terribly underused. This was Stewart’s first major film role, however, so I guess it kind of makes sense that with 25 years of hindsight, he only seems criminally underused.

John Diehl, very well known for playing Detective Zito on Miami Vice, especially the episode where his character died, plays Lt. Colonel Kawalsky, and much as he felt unfulfilled on Miami Vice, I can only imagine he felt even more so here. Again, criminally underused.

The great Erik Avari, who has been in tons of movies, from Encino Man to Independence Day, plays Kasuf, the leader of the people on the alien planet. Unlike the others, he actually is not underused, and gets to breath a ton of life into character, stealing almost every scene he’s in.

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Like a boss.

Same goes for Alexis Cruz, who plays his son, Skaara, a character that quickly bonds with O’Neil. Still a relative newcomer at the time, Cruz delivered a shining performance of a young man who yearns for freedom in a world where none is to be found. He’s brilliant, sweet, brave, and funny, all while speaking a variation of ancient Egyptian.

Jayne Davidson, best known for that thing in The Crying Game, plays Ra, and man. Davidson is a good actor. This, though, is just hammy, and over the top. Ra doesn’t seem so much like an evil overlord, as a petulant child. It’s hard to take him seriously. This isn’t Davidson’s fault, really, as I doubt anyone could have done better with the material they had. Still, it’s a shame, as I think had he been allowed, he could have made Ra a great deal more threatening.

Mili Avital, pretty well known for a recurring role on Law & Order: SVU, plays Sha’uri, Daniel’s love interest. She really is very little more than that in the film, which again in hindsight, is easy to criticize. She has gone on to win many awards, and is a brilliant actor. However, Stargate is the movie that more or less launched her international career, so it worked out pretty good for her.

There’s a little surprise in here, for those who pay attention, A very early appearance by Djimon Hounsou, well known for his many film roles, and around here for being Korath the Pursuer, from the first Guardians of the Galaxy film. Hounsou plays one of the Horus guards, and damn, he looks so young, it made me feel old just looking at him.

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On the left there, being sexy.

While Russell, Spader, and Hounsou would never reprise their roles in any way, Avari and Cruz did return to their characters for the tv series the film inspired. Stewart and Kind would also revisit Stargate much later on, as different characters. So, be looking for that if you ever do a full Stargate series watch.

Yes, that includes Universe. I liked that one, too. Now hush.

Whatever failings the film had, MGM still knew they had something on their hands. When Emmerich and Devlin wanted to fiance Independence Day, they did so by selling all their rights to Stargate to MGM, saying at the time that it was not something they were ever very fond of, or proud of.

Of course, MGM went on to create a television series based on the property that run for a collective seventeen seasons, and two direct to dvd films before bankruptcy brought the Stargate franchise to a halt. Word spread a while back that Devlin and Emmerich were wanting to reboot their film universe, and suddenly it was a trilogy, and they were offended by what the tv series had done, and blah, blah, blah.

Shouldn’t have sold it off, then, should ya have?

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Somebody is gonna recover that fumble.

I’ll be straight with you guys. This movie is a cliche wrapped in a stereotype, and delivered by an archetype. It’s fun, imaginative, creative, and unlike pretty much anything else out there, despite all that. It was a hell of a fun ride, packed with stunning visual effects, action, and adventure.

It could have been more, and I think the tv series proved that. It’s easy to claim you feel ripped off after other people do your idea better than you did. So, I don’t put a lot of stock in what Emmerich and Devlin have to say.

I do put a lot of stock in MGM saying they want Stargate back, though. They did seriously look at rebooting the film franchise, but with that now going nowhere, rumor has it they are planning a return to the television universe, and an in continuity one at that. Time will tell.

Point being, whatever this movie was or wasn’t, it launched a science fiction franchise that rivaled that of Star Trek, Star Wars, and any other star based franchise. Well, except Star Command. We don’t talk about that. It’s an embarrassment to stars.

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Yeah, let’s just erase that. M’kay.

More importantly, this film is classic 90’s action fare, with a fairly interesting science fiction coat applied. The 90’s were a big time for action movies, after all, but less so for science fiction, so while it’s easy to be cynical, like me, and say this was just a cheap attempt to make science fiction appeal to action fans, that’s only because it kind of was.

What? I said I was cynical. Dunno how you expected that sentence to end.

Could it be better? Well, 17 seasons of television say yes. A two hours film, though, not so much. It was the best we were gonna get, in 1994.

There is one other reason I love this movie so much. It was the very first movie Patricia and I went to see together. We weren’t dating yet, and just went as friends, since nobody either of us knew wanted to see it, but still. It was the first movie we ever went to see together, and kind of lead to our relationship, as we were able to be critical of it together, and still admit we enjoyed the hell out of it.

All that aside, it remains a fun film. It’s a good ride, full of spectacle, action, likable actors doing a damn good job, and just enough solid science fiction to make it a little bit brain candy, wrapped up in lots of eye candy.

By which I mostly mean Kurt Russell.

That man is eye candy for everybody.

What? He is.

Go watch the damn movie again. Assholes.

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8 thoughts on “Friday Films: Stargate

  1. It is almost like you are walking along my DVD shelves with your pick of movies to review. I love this movie, and the TV series that followed it, and Atlantis, not so much Universe. You are right in that the plot is a bit dumb but it is really fun.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve noticed before we seem to have similar taste in film. I imagine your dvd shelf looks very much like mine.

      I do feel I need to defend Universe a bit. It was very different from previous Stargate shows, but I think that was somewhat necessary, as the formula that the previous two series had run on was beginning to get a bit stale in the writers and producers viewpoint. While I still loved it, and would have been okay with Universe moving in the same vein, I can see the logic in changing things up.

      I think they went too far all at once, really, but overall, I always found the show and the concepts they explored interesting enough to be okay with that.

      Mostly, though, it had Lou Diamond Phillips in a Stargate series. I will always adore Universe for putting that chocolate in my peanut butter.

      Yeah. I’m easy to please. I know.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t mind the different approach, but I found it difficult to like any of the characters and the plot seemed to move very slowly at times. I’ll admit, I didn’t watch very far into Universe.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, outside Eli, it was kinda hard to like any of them. They do grow on you as the show goes on, though, and the second season was a big step up in terms of character work, plots, and the whole overall show.

          Season one spent too much time on them figuring out the new formula, and that hurt it rather badly. Of course, you go back and watch season one of SG-1, and they had some rough patches as well.

          I say that, but it was mostly in the early episodes. The latter half of the season more or less created the larger narrative the entire rest of the series ran on. The first half, though, yeah, it struggled at times.

          Anyway, all that aside, I do recommend sticking with Universe. It was really growing, and showing so much promise to find it’s footing, and blend their new style with the more familiar Stargate formula. It’s a shame they didn’t get more time to develop it out.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I tried _hard_ to like Universe. The cast was fantastic; you already mentioned Lou Diamond Phillips, and Robert Carlyle and Ming-Na Wen turned it great performances. That said, there was a scene in the second half of the season that was a perfect example of why I didn’t care for the show.They had found an Ancient’s ship. Inside it, they found a Gate production line.

            And they didn’t care. They didn’t explore it.

            To me, that felt like they turned their back on the spirit of SG-1 and Atlantis.

            It was a well-crafted show, but to me, it just didn’t feel like Stargate.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yeah, I can’t argue that. That was not okay.

              It’s been a bit since I rewatched the show. I tend to go through, and watch all the Stargate shows from time to time, but it’s been a couple years since Universe, so I may be forgetful. I think there was a reason they couldn’t, or didn’t have time to, but I don’t really remember now.

              Still, that’s the sort of thing you don’t just drop in, and then walk away from. Not with the history of the franchise. That’s the kind of thing you center an episode around.

              I do recall that bugging me deeply at the time, though.

              Still, I like to believe that given time, Universe would have recovered, and developed into a good show that did credit to the franchise. Granted, I just want to believe that, cause I love Stargate, so it don’t mean a thing, really.

              I kind of hope that once MGM figures out how they want to bring it back, and their desire to do it in continuity, they can address stuff like that properly.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of those movies I rewatch from time to time. The cast was just so perfect for the roles! And while I enjoyed RDA’s Jack O’Neill, Kurt Russell still defines the role for me. Even after 10 seasons of SG-1!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In a lot of ways, I agree. Russell did so much, with so little, and got to take Jack on a journey from being self destructive, to redemption. I don’t think anyone else could have made that journey believable, either.

      Anderson got the benefit of that, and got to take Jack in a different direction, with his sarcastic humor, a thing I obviously identify with easily. His Jack was already healing, though, and moving forward, and that’s a very different thing to present than what Russell got to do.

      Some things just move us on a deeper level, and Russell got to do that in this movie. That’s hard to beat.

      Liked by 1 person

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