When I was sixteen, I wrote a review of Stargate for my school newspaper and I gave it four stars. Out of four. Since watching it for the first time since then–though I might have seen it on VHS pan and scanned, which isn’t the same film, Emmerich does use his whole frame–I’m not experiencing the embarrassment I thought I would. Sure, it’s probably atrociously written, but whatever… This review came out in a pre-Enlightenment period–maybe I was just applying the film quality qualifications others instilled in me (such as the unapproachable goodness of John Woo, Robert Rodriguez, and True Romance) and, (while Stargate is certainly better than most of those films just through lack of insult, I wouldn’t have known it then) by comparison, I came to the conclusion it must be a film of great import. This theory is a bunch of malarkey–sixteen year-olds simply are not reasoning readers yet–but it would at least pass the buck to some degree.
The 1980s had their share of science fiction/fantasy films, but as time passed (and Dune proved just not anyone could do it), they became lower budget and foreign-funded until they practically disappeared. Carolco put together Stargate, so it probably did have a lot of foreign money in it, but special effects had changed by the time Stargate came along… there was CG. Stargate hardly uses it, but, at the time, morphing was still big. Watching the film, I realized Stargate is one of the most influential films of the last twenty years. It’s content-less adventure (albeit, without the pop culture references now a cornerstone of blockbusters–thanks to Pulp Fiction of all things), it’s a blockbuster without integrity. Before Stargate, with the exception of Rocky IV, blockbusters tended to have some integrity. Stargate wasn’t even a blockbuster, but it was the prototype for the blockbusters immediately following–when Spielberg, in a sense, lost the blockbuster. The film’s legacy–and it does have one–is integrity-free CG. Computer generation imagery would not be a special special effect, it would be mundane. This legacy didn’t play out immediately (Dragonheart failed, for instance), but by 1996 and 1997, it was in full effect–and it’s produced absolutely nothing of value.
Again, Stargate isn’t too bad. It’s so bland–though one can amuse oneself by recognizing the Spielberg “homages,” there are plenty from Raiders of the Lost Ark–it just passes the time. Emmerich’s direction is okay. The film is very pretty and his shot composition is fine, uninteresting but fine. While the writing is incredibly stupid, since Devlin and Emmerich hadn’t yet hit the big time, it’s not offensive. I rented it because I’ve been watching Spader so much on “Boston Legal” I was curious and he’s fine. I’d forgotten Kurt Russell was in it (I think Stargate actually relaunched his brief mid-1990s film career, Kurt Russell has a lot of career relaunches). He’s awful when he’s supposed to be mourning (his son died playing with one of his guns, which I think Devlin probably lifted from “Beverly Hills, 90210”), but there are moments when he can’t help smiling. He’s good in those moments and he and Spader actually have a couple good scenes together. John Diehl shows up, getting more lines than usual. I won’t even discuss Jaye Davidson, though Emmerich and Devlin did always interestingly cast and miscast. For example, French Stewart is in Stargate. As a soldier no less.
Stargate isn’t worth getting virulent about. I suppose in recognizing its terrible aftereffects, one could easily rant (and I do realize I talked about the film for one paragraph of four–there’s just not enough in the movie to talk about it’s so shallow). Hollywood rarely produces–anymore–free dumb movies. Today (and immediately following Stargate practically) dumb movies come at a cost–the realization of sitting through the dumb movie and feeling stupid for it. In fact, I think film audiences have passed through that phase and now, they no longer expect to engage with filmic narratives… nor do they particularly want such engagement. As it works out, Stargate is, by default, a lot better tripe than today’s tripe.
Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Derek Brechin and Michael J. Duthie; music by David Arnold; production designer, Holger Gross; produced by Devlin, Oliver Eberle and Joel B. Michaels; released by Carolco Pictures.
Starring Kurt Russell (Col. Jack O’Neil), James Spader (Dr. Daniel Jackson), Viveca Lindfors (Catherine Langford, Ph.D.), Alexis Cruz (Skaara), Mili Avital (Sha’uri), Leon Rippy (General West), John Diehl (Lieutenant Kawalsky), Carlos Lauchu (Anubis), Djimon Hounsou (Horus), Erick Avari (‘Good Father’ Kasuf), French Stewart (Lieutenant Ferretti), Gianin Loffler (Nabeh) and Jaye Davidson (Ra).