Stargate (1994), or This Makes Perfect Sense

21 11 2009

Last week, as I’m sure you noted, I reviewed Roland Emmerich’s effects-riddled disaster opus 2012. I did not think it was very good. So you might be wondering, “Eric, you myopic jerk, why are you reviewing ANOTHER Emmerich film so close to your first?” Well, trust me, my rapier-witted friend, I have a reason. You see, after combing through the filmography of Mr. Emmerich, or, as I like to call it, the $5 bin at Wal-Mart, I noticed an alarming trend; all of his movies, while not without their merits, pretty much suck. I mean, it’s alarming how much his movies have made considering their poor quality. And while that must really say something about us as a nation that we would all rather go see mindless shit rather than well-told and well-executed films, it also says something about Emmerich’s style.

In an odd way, he’s making movies based on what we want to see rather than a vision or his own ideas. Movies like Independence Day, 2012, and especially The Patriot are, in an aesthetic sense, his critique of American taste. And, based on his box office clout, he has hit the nail on the head with a forklift, which is what he uses to haul all that American money away. It’s a shame that they’re all terrible movies, though, and a real shame that Americans identify with them and roll with it anyway, like a pig being teased with a slice of bacon. Today’s film, Stargate, is probably my favorite example of this strange phenomenon. It’s still not very good, but you can look at it as a surprising indictment of American Imperialism and our rough-and-tumble cowboy attitude and really get a lot more out of it.

So, basically, in the late 20s, archaeologists discover a mysterious stone ring near the pyramids in Giza. It seems to have some sort of purpose, but nobody can understand the meaning of the hieroglyphs. The mystery stays a mystery until a woman named Catherine Langford, daughter of the man who found the ring, figures it all out. It seems to be, believe it or not, a transport that can teleport people across worlds (!!!). The US government steps in and has all of this information classified, working on it in top secret, trying to get this “Stargate” to work. Eventually, they uncover how to do it, and they put together a team to go through the gate, which now has a thin sheet of rippling liquid suspended in the ring. Commander Jack O’Neil leads the group, along with Dr. Daniel Jackson as the brains, Lt. Col. Charles Kawalsky, and some dude played by French Stewart; together, along with some Red-shirts, they bravely enter the Stargate, and are indeed transported to another world. But it’s not one they like very much.

Apparently, the Egyptian god Ra was actually an alien (!!!) who came to Earth thousands of years ago for slaving purposes. He captured and bred Egyptians so they could serve him on his alien world, with the Stargate as the link to new, fresh Earth slaves. O’Neil is flabbergasted by all this, but even more so by the fact that they, in their current state, can’t return to Earth because the coordinates are missing somewhere. So, for the time being, they’re stuck on an alien planet full of hostiles devoted to Ra and a bunch of Egyptian slaves that don’t really speak their language. Great! They’re going to be in for a bumpy ride on this planet, and what at first was a recon mission soon becomes a skin-of-their-teeth plan to both destroy Ra’s evil endeavor and get back home alive!

Whew! Crazy, huh? It’s a pretty out-there concept if you think about it too much. Even crazier is that someone threw $55 million dollars at this nutty idea! But somehow even crazier than that is the philosophy behind it. If you look at it from a certain angle, it closely resembles our relationship with countries overseas and our wars across the globe the past 100 years. From the Spanish American War to the troubles in the Middle East, Stargate does a fair job in emulating what we do in other people’s countries. We topple the current regime without anyone asking us to, leave a whole lot of rubble to clean up, and expect everyone to thank us for all the things we did that they should have done on their own, just like Mr. Jack O’Neil. What are the slaves supposed to do without Ra? They never planned for a life without him, or a body to replace him, so why is toppling him such a good thing when the people doing it aren’t even invested in the fight and have no intention of staying around after the fighting is over? It’s a pointed question I think Emmerich had in the back of his mind while he was making this, and even if he didn’t, he’s somewhat of a savant for making something that’s vaguely political.

Of course, maybe I’m looking into it a little too much, but I think that something’s definitely there. Stargate is a rather dumb, preposterous science fiction movie otherwise, and it helps if you interject your own thought processes into it so it doesn’t drag like an Egyptian ball and chain. With middling effects, an over-wrought cast filled to the brim with soldier and scientist cliches perpetuated by phoning-it-in A-listers Kurt Russell and James Spader (I feel like I slipped into Starship Troopers for a few seconds of this movie), and a whole lot of ear-screeching dialog, it’s pretty much on par with the rest of his work as far as quality and taste. There is some interesting set design and some of the props are shiny and attention-grabbing, to be fair, and Jaye Davidson, who plays Ra (and subsequently the famous Dil from The Crying Game) is a good character actor, but nothing really meritorious about it. It’s a Sci-fi Original with $55 million behind it. Excuse me; Syfy Original. But if you put your thinking caps on and try digging a little deeper on this, you might find that you can stomach it. All things considered, I give Stargate 6 Americans on foreign soil out of 10.

Keep an eye out for my second review later today or tonight! Until then!

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3 responses

21 11 2009
jj1960

Hmmm….I love Stargate because it is just FUN! It has no hidden messages, it is just FUN. James Spader is so cute and nerdy in this one that is is just FUN. You know not all films have to be masterpieces, sometimes all you want to watch is something that takes you away from real life and its issues…you just want to be entertained and have some FUN.

21 11 2009
cinematronica

I wholeheartedly agree with you there, jj1960. Some movies ARE good just to have fun and laugh along with. That’s why I gave The Running Man an inconceivable 8 stars!!! But Stargate is all frowns, it seems from what I saw today. Nobody’s laughing or having a good time. They’re all just square-jawed sad-sacks from what I saw, either slaves or desperate scientists or suicidal Marines. I was hoping for a little more fun, and hopefully I get some more from the series that is based on this movie, Stargate: SG1, which I was supposed to start watching sometime soon.

22 11 2009
Steven

SG1 is a moderately interesting show. It is not the worst, not the best. The androgynous black man is way too cliche though. I think that they call what he is a “symbiote”. But you better believe fuckin’ MacGyver is in it!!!!

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