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Roland Emmerich
Kurt Russell, James Spader, Viveca Lindfors, Alexis Cruz, Mili Avital, Leon Rippy, John Diehl, Carlos Lauchu, Djimon Hounsou
Writing Credits:
Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich

It Will Take You A Million Light Years From Home
Box Office:
Budget $55 million.
Opening weekend $16.6 million.
Domestic gross $71.565 million.
Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English DD EX 5.1
English DTS ES 6.1
English Dolby Surround

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 2/18/2003

DVD One:
• Audio Commentary With Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin
• “Is There a Stargate?” Documentary

DVD Two:
• Theatrical Version of Stargate;
• “The Making of Stargate Documentary;
• Theatrical Trailers
• Cast and Crew
• Production Notes

Score soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Stargate: Ultimate Edition (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 12, 2003)

Over the years, I’ve mostly enjoyed the light popcorn flicks created by the team of director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin, but I must admit their movies often don’t wear well. For films such as 1996’s Independence Day and 1998’s Godzilla, my first screening was my favorite. Their works don’t hold up to much scrutiny, which makes them somewhat tough to take upon subsequent inspection. To be sure, I still think that pair remains reasonably enjoyable, but too many of the flaws come through with each new viewing.

1992’s Universal Soldier and 2000’s The Patriot escaped this pattern just because I didn’t like them very much from the start. However, the other major effort in the Emmerich/Devlin pantheon, 1994’s Stargate, introduced the repeated viewings “curse”. While I really liked the flick when I first saw it theatrically, it seemed much more flawed to me the second time. I thought part of that might have resulted from the timing; as I recall, the second screening took plus only a few months after the first.

Unfortunately, it appears that timing had nothing to do with it. When I got the new “Ultimate Edition” DVD of Stargate, I’d not seen the flick for about eight years. Now that I’ve given it another look, I can relate that my feelings haven’t changed. Though not without its charms, Stargate comes across as a muddled and generally unsatisfying sci-fi action movie.

While the “Ultimate Edition” includes both theatrical and “director’s” cuts of Stargate, my review will relate to the latter. The longer version starts with a prologue in 8000 BC. An alien craft lands in the North African desert and captures some androgynous local (Jaye Davidson). Immediately we flash forward to Egypt in 1928, where we see an archeologist named Dr. Langford (Erik Holland) who leads an expedition that discovers a mysterious artifact we’ll later come to know as a stargate. After that episode, we wind up in the present day – 1994, actually – where we see Langford’s now-elderly daughter Catherine (Viveca Lindfors) as she attends a lecture by controversial linguist Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader). The other academics belittle his theories, but he clearly knows his stuff, so via Catherine, the military recruits him to help decipher the hieroglyphs on the stargate.

In the meantime, we meet Colonel Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell). Depressed and suicidal after the accidental shooting death of his son, General West (Leon Rippy) reactivates O’Neil to take on the stargate assignment. With Jackson’s work, they find out how to use the stargate to travel across the galaxy. The military wants to send a reconnaissance mission with O’Neil at the helm, but they need someone to translate additional symbols when they arrive at their destination so they can return home. As such, Jackson goes along for the ride.

Unfortunately, Jackson assumed that certain images would readily appear at the other side, so when they don’t, the team gets stranded on the alien planet. They’ll remain there until Jackson can find what he needs. Eventually the group stumbles upon an alien society that strongly resembles that of ancient Egypt. They get to know the locals and Jackson attempts to grasp the connections between this world and the old Earth societies. As a gift, the villagers offer him a babe named Sha’uri (Mili Avatal) who he gets to help him learn the hieroglyphic system.

In the meantime, the soldiers back at the stargate are attacked by some mysterious force. Eventually we find out that Ra (Davidson) awoke and attacked the men. This leads to our discovery of the story behind the stargate and the people of this planet, and eventually they’ll need to examine their world’s underpinnings and confront their masters. In addition, the soldiers all still want to get home, and they need to figure out how to do so.

A throwback to another era, Stargate uses the action/adventure flicks of the Thirties and Forties as its inspiration. It conveys that tone fairly well, but unfortunately, it steals from so many sources that it often comes across as ridiculously derivative. As I watched Stargate, I saw obvious evocations of Alien, Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars. Plenty more exist, but those stood out to me. At times Stargate feels more like a game of “spot the reference” than an actual movie.

Admittedly, Stargate sometimes offers an interesting combination of genres. It melds monsters, science fiction, horror and exploration all in one package. Unfortunately, it rarely does so in a very satisfying manner. It seems cobbled together in a haphazard way, and that allows for some occasional moments of excitement but it makes the piece as a whole appear jumbled.

Ultimately, Stargate seems too derivative and lifeless to work. Some interesting moments occur, but too much of the flick comes across as erratic and silly to succeed. It can be fun for a single viewing, but with additional screenings, Stargate loses most of its luster.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio A- / Bonus B+

Stargate appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I never saw any of the old non-anamorphic versions of Stargate but heard pretty negative comments about them. The new edition seemed pretty good, but a few concerns left it short of “A” level.

Sharpness looked excellent. The movie never betrayed any issues related to softness or fuzziness. Instead, the film consistently came across as tight and well defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but edge enhancement created some issues. Those haloes didn’t appear excessive, but they did pop up at times. Print flaws seemed more substantial. Although the flick didn’t come across as terribly dirty, I did notice occasional examples of speckles and grit, and some large blotches appeared when Jackson met the alien mastidge creature. The speckles showed up the most frequently, though all of the flaws largely subsided during the movie’s second half; they looked significantly more prominent in its first hour.

Colors generally appeared positive. Stargate presented a fairly golden hue that matched its desert setting, and the tones mostly came across as vivid and distinct. At times the colors seemed a bit dense, but those occasions occurred infrequently. Black levels looked deep and solid, but shadow detail appeared slightly murky at times. Low-light shots usually seemed acceptable, but a few of them came across as somewhat too opaque. Much of Stargate looked absolutely excellent, but the various flaws and other concerns lowered my grade to a “B”.

As for the audio of Stargate, the film’s soundtracks worked very well. This new edition of Stargate included both DTS ES 6.1 and Dolby Digital EX 5.1 mixes. Though the DTS version demonstrated some minor improvements over the Dolby affair, the two largely sounded identical. As such, I gave them both the same grades, though I felt the DTS track seemed slightly smoother with tighter bass.

The soundfield appeared quite active and involving. From the front channels, we received a good sense of setting and atmosphere. Music demonstrated nice stereo imaging, while effects seemed clearly delineated and appropriately placed. These elements meshed together well and showed smooth movement across the channels. As for the surrounds, they added a great deal of information to the package. The rear speakers contributed a lot of ambient material and kicked to life well during many action sequences. The trip through the stargate sounded fantastic, and the arrival of Ra also presented fine use of the discrete rear channels.

Audio quality also seemed good, though those elements didn’t quite live up to the stellar scope of the soundtrack. Speech always remained intelligible and clear, but dialogue came across as a little tinny at times. Music also came across as somewhat lackluster and didn’t consistently display the heft and range I expected. While the score sounded pretty good, it didn’t appear better than average. Effects were accurate and distinct, however, and they packed a serious punch. Bass response came across as deep and tight. Overall, the soundtracks of Stargate fell short of reference level, but they seemed very fine nonetheless.

This new “Ultimate Edition” of Stargate packs a mix of extras. DVD One features the director’s cut of the film along with an audio commentary from director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin. Both of them sat together for this running, screen-specific track. This marked the third commentary I’ve heard from Devlin and Emmerich. Their remarks for Independence Day earned them the animosity of many fans, since they provided a rather dull piece of work. Actually, I thought it was a decent track, but it suffered from too many gaps and a generally unenthusiastic tone.

Their commentary for The Patriot was worse. The pair proved chattier there, but that caused problems, especially since Emmerich came across as borderline incoherent much of the time. Devlin offered some good material, but Emmerich’s vocal tics made the piece almost unlistenable.

Emmerich’s language issues cause some concerns during Stargate as well; he often interjects “you know”, “like” and “kind of” into his statements, and this makes his statements sound confusing. Nonetheless, he appears better composed here than on The Patriot, and he actually manages to offer some decent information during Stargate. The pair interact well and give us a fair amount of useful facts. They cover topics such as sets, locations, working with the actors, effects, and story. Devlin also tries to make sure that we know what parts are new to the director’s cut. Emmerich remains moderately incoherent at times, and too many gaps mar this piece. In addition, the track falters after the first act or so, as the pair become less compelling. Devlin spends far too much time simply relating plot points, especially during the movie’s final act. While arguably the best commentary provided by Emmerich and Devlin, it remains fairly mediocre.

Also on DVD One we find a featurette entitled Is There a Stargate? This 12-minute and 10-second program concentrates on the work of Erich Von Daniken, author of Chariots of the Gods. We learn of the roots of his interest in potential ancient alien visitations as well as discussions of his theories. Interviews from Von Daniken and Legendary Times editor Giorgio Tsoukalos appear. Frankly, it all sounds like a crock to me, but the program offers a moderately interesting synopsis of these ideas. It never addresses the subject of the title, though, as it doesn’t talk about the possible existence of an actual stargate.

When we move to DVD Two, we locate the theatrical cut of Stargate. It receives the same treatment as DVD One’s director’s cut. That means the theatrical version boasts anamorphic enhancement as well as Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 audio. I appreciate the option of the original released version plus the director’s cut and I think this makes for a nice extra.

Next we get The Making of Stargate: Creating a Whole New World. This 23-minute and 31-second program mixes movie clips, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. We hear from special creature effects designer Patrick Tatopoulos, conceptual designer Oliver Scholl, production designer Holger Gross, visual effects supervisor Jeff Okun, location manager Ken Fix, and actors Ken Russell and James Spader. If you’ve already listened to the audio commentary, you’ll know much of the material presented here. Many of the same facts pop up again, though a fair number of new details emerge, and the behind the scenes shots seem fun. Tatopoulos leads us through demonstrations of some practical effects, and other images offer nice insight into the work.

Unfortunately, “World” suffers from a rather puffy tone. For example, the narrator tells us the movie came out “at a time when special effects were still new”. No – the original King Kong came out at a time when special effects were still new, and this statement seems bizarre. In addition, the piece includes way too many movie clips. Some of these help illustrate information – such as the Spader puppet pulled by the dog-powered mastidge – but many appear gratuitous. “World” includes some decent information, but it could have been just as satisfying at a much shorter length.

A few minor extras finish Stargate. In the Trailer Gallery we get the movie’s standard US theatrical clip as well as an international ad; both are presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Cast and Crew Files provides entries for actors Kurt Russell, James Spader, Viveca Lindfors, Jaye Davidson, Alexis Cruz, Mili Avatal, Leon Rippy, John Diehl, French Stewart, and Djimon Hounsou plus director Roland Emmerich, producer Dean Devlin, cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub, production designer Holger Gross, and composer David Arnold. These biographies range from fairly detailed to pretty sparse, but they provide decent coverage for the most part.

More text shows up in the production notes area. It includes 19 screens of details about the flick, from its genesis through many technical aspects. A lot of this information appears elsewhere, but the “Notes” offer a nice general discussion of the flick. We find similar material within the DVD’s booklet along with a short welcoming note from Emmerich.

While I wouldn’t call Stargate a bad movie, it’s not one that holds up well over time. The flick has some fun moments but it suffers from erratic pacing and too many influences worn on its sleeve. The DVD offers inconsistent but generally positive image quality along with very fine sound and a decent set of supplements.

As with all reissued DVDs, I need to issue a few different recommendations. If you’ve not seen Stargate, I’d advise a rental. Despite my criticisms of the flick, it can offer some fun, especially on first viewing. For already-established fans of Stargate, the “Ultimate Edition” is the way to go. I never saw the two prior DVD releases, but I know this one is the first to offer an anamorphic image. Since I heard those older discs looked pretty bad, the UE seems like the easy winner in that category. Add to that the fact that it includes both the theatrical and director’s cuts plus a passable smattering of supplements and I’d definitely advise all Stargate lovers to grab the new package. Even if you already own one of the old ones, the new set merits the upgrade.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.432 Stars Number of Votes: 81
8 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.