Running time: 1h 56min
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich
Starring Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson
Stargate was a hugely successful 1994 sci-fi/action/adventure blockbuster that spawned multiple television shows and launched director Roland Emmerich’s career in Hollywood into high orbit. I used to love Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007), the first and most successful series based on the film, but while I liked the original Stargate movie just fine when I was younger, I was never really that into it. And now, having rewatched it in 2021, after more than 20 years since I saw it, I can confidently say that the movie holds up only partly, and whatever liking I had to it has faded. Stargate is a big, dumb movie aimed at young boys, and I have outgrown it.
What does Stargate consist of? The film has action, adventure, ancient Egyptian themed aliens, mystery, military stuff & guns, awkward comedy, and a tacked-on romance (of course). This is mostly stuff that would appeal to a young male audience. The film is also exceedingly stupid. But maybe I should not bash it too hard – it is smarter than something like Transformers, or some of Emmerich’s other products. But then again, that is not exactly a high bar. If you can turn your brain off while watching, you might have a good time, which, obviously, is not a problem for most kids. There is an alien, domesticated animal with gas (you have to have hilarious fart jokes), general stupidity, overall implausibility, and plenty of eye-rolling moments. Speaking of eye-rolling, amplified by these times of The Rona, I should mention the hilarious lack of precautions taken, and overall lack of concern about bacteria or viruses on an alien planet – though this is not as glaringly offensive as it is in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012), since Stargate does not pretend to be smart.
One of the more hilarious, albeit small issues I have with the film is the constant and obnoxiously loud reload sounds of the guns. In the final action-packed scenes of the film one can hear the sounds of guns being reloaded in situations where it makes absolutely no sense at all. I swear there was at least one instance where a reload sound was inserted after a small interval during which there was not even any shooting. This might be something that does not even bother most viewers, if they even notice it. But it is really telling of the laziness involved in the making of the film. But perhaps back in 1994 those sounds were just really cool and totally awesome, and no one cared.
Another complaint I have is how Dr. Jackson, the genius Egyptologist, is in a very short span of time able to learn the language used by the enslaved humans of the alien planet. Apparently, the language is based on some ancient Egyptian dialect or something, so that makes it all plausible I guess. By the end of the film he is fluent and able to effortlessly communicate with the natives. Well, at least the natives did not automatically speak English like in the tv-shows. There are many, many other things I could complain about, but that would be overkill. Ultimately, the film is aimed at kids – perhaps I should not be nit-picking it apart like this. But I am not feeling generous today, I am not a kid anymore, and Stargate did not win me over sufficiently in any respect to earn leniency.
Obviously, Stargate is not something one should watch and expect high art. In case the reader is not aware of director/writer Roland Emmerich’s filmography, I will give a brief overview here. After Stargate’s success he moved on to make such cerebral indie arthouse films as Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), The Patriot (2000), and The Day After Tomorrow (2004). He has made a very successful career in Hollywood making big, dumb movies that make tons of money. If you as a moviegoer (if indeed that term can be used anymore these days) are into that sort of thing, then all the power to you. Everyone is allowed to like dumb stuff, though I would hope that they acknowledge its dumbness. I used to love Independence Day as a kid, and I remember being entertained by The Patriot. Both films are enjoyable but stupid – or at least I thought so when I saw them years ago; I am not sure I could tolerate them anymore. Godzilla, on the other hand, was utter garbage even back then, and I never bothered to watch The Day After Tomorrow or Emmerich’s other disaster movies. In fact, unless I were sufficiently intoxicated, I do not think that I would enjoy any of his films anymore. The most recent movie of his that I decided to check out was Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), the sequel to his perhaps biggest hit. Resurgence is a film so dumb, uninspired, lazy, and cynically cash-grabby, that I am certain watching it damaged my poor brain far more than the alcohol I consumed during the process.
But let us get back to Stargate. The cast and their performances range from acceptable to very good. The actors do, for the most part, a fine job with what they have to work with, but the script is garbage, and thus even Kurt Russell and James Spader are pretty uninteresting. Russell is sort of just there as generic tough military man with nothing to lose or live for anymore. Spader plays the awkward nerd who unlocks the secrets of the stargate. Both become heroes by the end – who could have known. Jaye Davidson has a small but iconic role as the alien/Egyptian god Ra. There is just something about how he looks and how he carries himself that is other-worldly and androgynous, making him a perfect fit for the role. The word to use to describe the characters – with the possible exception of Ra – is clichéd. Stereotypical 90’s nerd stuff with Spader’s Dr. Daniel Jackson, strong silent military man stuff with Russell’s Colonel Jack O’Neil, and so on. The actors are alright, but the script and direction reduce them to uninteresting, predictable caricatures that are unenjoyable to watch. This seems to be a trend in Emmerich’s films, but at least in Independence Day Jeff Goldblum (and to a lesser extent Will Smith) transcends the material with their charisma. Here only Jaye Davidson manages this extraordinary feat, and his screen time is limited.
So, to conclude this rant: Stargate is a mediocre film that holds up only partly. The script is the biggest culprit. The other aspects of filmmaking are mostly competent, but also suffer at times from laziness. The special effects look pretty good for 1994, and Jaye Davidson’s performance as the immortal Ra is excellent. And I should point out that the general idea of the film – ancient aliens being the gods of the ancient world, travel between galaxies through gates etc., is great, but the execution is sorely lacking – some of the alien designs do look good, however. The movie accomplished its goals of entertaining young boys and making lots and lots of money. It just does not appeal to me anymore. Perhaps I have grown too old and too cynical. Despite this, I can understand why someone, especially if they saw this as a kid and loved it then, would disagree with my harsh judgement. But it is what it is – I was not amused or entertained. If you can shut off your brain for the duration of the film, you might like or even love Stargate.
Rating: 5.0 / 10
Times I had seen this film prior to this viewing: 1
Would I want to rewatch this film? Probably not
Images from the motion picture Stargate: