Thursday, April 4, 2013

REVIEW: Stargate

Director: Roland Emmerich
Year 1994

Stargate is a wonderfully imaginative science fiction film that is brimming with adventure and packed with awe-inspiring moments. Featuring a heavy dose of genre mixing, this wild romp blends the mind-bending aspects of a sci-fi film with the grandiose tendencies of a full blown ancient biblical epic. Relishing in its boldness, the film thrusts the viewer into a world that is beyond comprehension, where humankind's past catches up to its present, and in the most outstanding of ways. Lost in an entrancing display of Egyptian ancient culture, Stargate manages to bridge the gap between fact and fiction in its cinematic world, allowing for the far-fetched proceedings to envelope the viewer, while producing an adventure film that is truly remarkable and overtly thrilling in every way possible. With its spectacular cast, lavish production value and vivid world, Stargate is a must for any science fiction fan.

In the year 1928 in Giza, Egypt, a team of archeologists, led by Professor Langford, uncover an ancient device that is beyond human knowledge and skill. Flash-forward 66 years later, and Langford's daughter Catherine is still struggling to discover the secrets behind this ancient and illusive relic. Enter Dr. Daniel Jackson, an Egyptologist who is ridiculed for believing that there is more to the ancient Egyptian civilization than meets the eye. Jackson is invited to a secret underground research facility, by the request of Catherine Langford, in hopes that his knowledge on the subject of Egyptian Hieroglyphics could possibly help solve this almost ten thousand year old mystery. After some studying of the device, Jackson and crew come to the startling realization that this machine, named the Stargate, is actually an interstellar transporter able to project beings across the cosmos to unknown distant planets. Though frightened and intrigued at the prospect of traveling to another world, a team is gathered comprised of a military squad led by hard-nosed Col. Jonathan O'Neil and the discoverer of the ancient device's use, Dr. Daniel Jackson. What they find on the other side of the Stargate is beyond comprehension and infinitely astounding.

James Spader takes on the role of Dr. Daniel Jackson, the inquisitive and often awkward Egyptologist. Spader's take on the character is wholly endearing as he injects a great deal of likeability into the off-kilter bookworm role. Often type-cast as an asshole throughout his career, which he pulls off so well, it's nice to see him play a sympathetic role, one which allows him to show a more playful and innocent side. In Stargate, he is one of the central elements of this film that makes it so damn enjoyable. His quick witted comments and observations are hilarious, and even though the movie tends to stay on a serious track, Spader is allowed the space and time to interject some rather entertaining and funny moments into the mix. As a leading man, Spader does a damn fine job and his unorthodox approach to acting is what makes him so engaging and fun to watch.

Of course a great deal of Spader's success at entertaining the audience is the fact that the chemistry between himself and his co-star Kurt Russell is exceptional and genuine. In very basic terms, their relationship is something of an odd couple scenario, where Spader is goofy, uncoordinated, and an intellectual, while Kurt Russell's character, Col. Jonathan O'Neil, is something of a hard-ass. He's jaded from the death of his son and because of that he is grim, determined, and overall rather suicidal. Pitting these two contrasting characters together is bound to make for some interesting results, but Spader and Russell really go above and beyond the norm in flushing out their roles and collaborating with each other in the most genuine and watchable of ways. In the end, what Stargate gives us is a film with two outstanding lead roles who equally carry the weight of the story on their shoulders, resulting in a cinematic duo that without a doubt make this movie thoroughly enjoyable.

As stories go, Stargate is pretty far out there, yet when viewed in the context and rules that this cinematic vision sets up, it feels natural and believable. I especially enjoyed the correlations between ancient Egypt and Erich von Daniken's work in his book Chariots of the Gods. I've always been fascinated by both Egyptian culture and Daniken's theories, and to see both being represented in this compelling and entertaining blockbuster of a flick is simply pure joy for this cinema lover. In case you are unaware of Chariots of the Gods, it basically summarizes that our ancient ancestors were visited by aliens, dubbed ancient astronauts, in the long forgotten past and that they had a hand in developing our society. This concept ways heavily on the proceedings in Stargate, as we are thrust onto another world, much like Earth, and given the facts that indeed a mysterious race visited our planet ages ago and had a presence in ancient Egypt. The connections are uncommonly profound, but these ideas never bog down the pace and fun of the film, rather it enhances the world that these character live in, making for a solid action film that has something more meaningful to say behind its grandeur and spectacle.

Speaking of grandiose spectacles, this film has a tremendously ambitious visual design that threads its way through every aspect of its production. From the fabulous and sprawling locations to the larger than life man-made sets that were constructed to bring this movie to life, you really get a sense that these ancient civilizations are real and functional. The temple pyramid structure and the walled city are especially impressive as both locations use an ingenious mixture of constructed sets and computer graphics to make them a cinematic reality. The same wizardry was done to realize the alien spaceship as both practical and computer generated effects were morphed to provide the ships most unusual pyramidal style and futuristic mechanisms. To top it off, the film's set design, wardrobe, and attention to detail is impeccable, giving the production a rich visual flare that sets it apart from other science fiction outings of its time. It's the blending of Egyptian architecture and culture with that of alien tech that really make this film a feast for the eyes and mind. With such an elaborate world to depict, Roland Emmerich and company did a spectacular job in bringing it all together and making it coexist so beautifully, while still managing to allow the fun and epic adventure tone to shine through in abundance.

Stargate is without a doubt an underrated gem, whose ambitious nature and profound ideas seemed to pass over the public with little to no fanfare. The combination of ancient Egyptian culture and ancient alien astronauts is definitely something that I'm always interested to see portrayed in films, but sadly it didn't seem to hook too many people when it came out. It's a shame too because the scale of this film is enormous and the intimate levels that it is able to delve into while still maintaining its larger than life atmosphere is genuinely astounding and ultimately thrilling.

James Spader and Kurt Russell, along with the rest of this diverse and exceptionally acted cast, do a tremendous job in bringing the validity to the world, which is essential to an epic like this. The scale and construction that was needed in order to tell this tale in such a grand manner must have been a huge undertaking, and thankfully their hard work can be seen in every frame of this film. From the dense and ancient walled city of the slaves, to the iconic pyramid temple, to the impressive presence of the alien craft, the production value of this film is off the charts and really should be celebrated. If you are in need of a film that is entertaining, funny, passionate, thrilling, romantic, action packed, and a whole hell of a lot of fun, then look no further than Stargate. This is one.....

Hi everyone! Enjoy the show!

Spader you beautiful bastard!

I don't think it knows how to hi-five buddy.

This is how Kurt Russell rolls.

All this land used to be owned by Old Man Peabody.

Nice fucking model/cgi hybrid! Really, I love it!

Tastes like chicken, but looks like shit.

Shit! Here come those alien creeps!

Spader has one weakness.... Boobs.

Pretty sweet art man.

Stop or my Spader will shoot.

I hate Egyptian aliens. Shit... there's one right behind me isn't there?

I'm taking my best-friend necklace back! That's cold Ra... that's cold.

Your going down birdman!

What's up my slave bitches!

Ra, you stylish bastard you!

Spader... action star! Who knew?

Prepare to shit your pants!

What the hell are you all looking at?

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