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STARGATE:  ULTIMATE EDITION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors
Director: Roland Emmerich
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Artisan
Features: See Review
Length: 119 Minutes (Both Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut)
Release Date: February 18, 2003

“We’ve opened the doorway to a world we know nothing about.”

Film *** (Both Versions)

If there was ever a movie that epitomizes style over substance, Stargate is indeed such a movie. About every scene in the movie is laced with visual wonder that you’re immediately dazzled from the start, and can forgive its B movie plot, which mixes in ancient Egyptian folklore with spaceships and aliens from space. Not that the story is god-awful or anything. For a movie of this kind, it’s somewhat passable, but lets just say it might not be the most inspired story to grace the planet earth. At any rate, the movie is nothing short of hugely entertaining, with awesome special effects to boot. Even back in 1994, special effects hadn’t even really begun to turn the movie industry upside down. For a movie that wasn’t directed by Steven Spielberg, the effects are quite astonishing. For director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin, it was perhaps the right step before proceeding to their goldmine blockbuster, Independence Day.

 The movie opens in late 20s Egypt, where a circular, uniquely looking artifact has been discovered. Although its secret power is unknown, it will lead present day Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader) to a quite an amazing discovery. Jackson is tracked down by the government to help decode inscriptions that are engraved in tiles on the artifact, which is known as the “stargate”. Jackson, having studied Egypt for years, has never seen anything like this, and his ability to decode the inscriptions will help unlock the stargate, where its true power will finally be witnessed.

Now that the door has been unlocked, Jackson must accompany a military team, led by Col. Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell) to enter the stargate in order to observe its capabilities. Once they pass through the door, they are instantly transported, in a fantastic effects sequence, to what can very be much considered the far side of the known universe, even though it does resemble ancient Egypt (don’t ask). There’s one minor problem facing them, which is that even though Jackson succeeded in unlocking the stargate, he doesn’t quite know how to get him and O’Neil’s men back to Earth. There were six symbols decoded to unlock it, but a seventh symbol is needed in order to transport them back.

As the men find themselves stuck on the other side of the universe, they befriend what appears to be a race of Egyptian race, who introduce the men to their civilization. It is also discovered that this race is being used as slaves of the Ra (Jaye Davidson), who is both an Egyptian Sun God and an alien lifeforce. Ra is conquering planets by way of the stargate, and is using the people of this planet to construct a ship for him. The people turn to O’Neil and Jackson, hoping that they will assist in forming a rebellion against Ra.

Stargate is one of the many science fiction movies that couldn’t have existed without Star Wars, but the entertainment value of the movie is incredibly high. You simply have to appreciate the production value, which helped to create some truly astonishing visuals. The cinematography, particularly in the scenes set in Egypt, are a treat for the eyes. I have always been fond of the last thirty minutes of the movie, which is a stunning sequence of simultaneous action that gets the pulses running, just like George Lucas does when applies the same technique to the climax of each of the Star Wars films.

Kurt Russell and James Spader are in good form. Russell has always been a credible action movie star, so it goes without saying that he fits the part of Col. O’Neil very well. As for Spader, this is one of the very few times you will see him play a normally sane person, as he is known for his frequent outings in much more creepier roles. Seeing him in the role of the smarter, yet geekier, man was a nice change of pace for him.

Bottom of line is this, and I’ve stuck to this opinion ever since I first saw this movie in the theaters, Stargate purely qualifies as a solid piece of entertainment, just as long as you don’t expect anything thought provoking. This is top-flight style over substance cinema at its most glorious. The fury and strength of the effects work is bound to stun anyone who watches it.

Video:
Director’s Cut **1/2
Theatrical ****

This 2 disc release from Artisan proves once again that you never know what to expect in terms of quality. In this case, the Theatrical Cut (Disc 2) wins the contest easily. The picture quality is absolutely stunning, and being that this is the first time that Stargate is being presented in an anamorphic presentation makes for a much needed bonus. The image is nonstop sharpness and crispness, boasting exuberant colorization in addition. The Director’s Cut (Disc 1) pales by comparison only because it seems that not as much clarity is displayed like in the aforementioned version. It doesn’t stay like that for the entire movie, but I did notice it frequently. Overall, it just felt like something was lacking from this version.

Audio:
Director’s Cut ***
Theatrical ****

The same can be said for the audio department, where once again the Theatrical version exceeds in quality. The blasting 5.1 mix brings the adventure value of the movie completely to life. Everything from dialogue to the mind blowing effects sequences, like the stargate transport, to David Arnold’s memorable and rousing score, to the elaborate action set pieces add up to knockout sound quality. On the Director’s Cut, the sound performance is there, but it felt like the extra boom that was provided in the theatrical was lacking. A DTS 6.1 track is also included on both discs. I bet that sound mix puts all the others to a quick shame.

Features ***1/2

Artisan has dug up some out of this world extras to upgrade to this new Ultimate Edition, which is actually very satisfying since the disc is introduced at a budget price. Disc 1 contains a commentary by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, as well as a well done featurette titled “Is There a Stargate?” Disc 2 contains another featurette, simply called “The Making of Stargate”, which covers all the behind the scenes endeavors, and two trailers for the movie.

Summary:

A 2-Disc set at just under $20? Artisan has created a first in this case with this Ultimate Edition release of this high octane, visually stunning sci-fi adventure.