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Saturday, 1 April 2017

Stargate: Director's Cut

Written by:Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin|Directed by:Roland Emmerich|Release Date:1994

Welcome to Ray Hardgrit's Sci-Fi Adventures, review number, uh, 70 I think. Wow, that's a lot higher than I thought it'd be, seeing as I took the last 6 weeks off. I should apologise for that by the way... but I won't. Because vanishing for months after a season finale is the most sci-fi thing in the world.

It's April 1st by the way, unless you're reading this in the future, which means that my little science fiction blog is a year old today! So this is basically the start of Sci-Fi Adventures Season Two, where the writing gets more confident, the ideas get less dumb, and the protagonist (me) grows a beard. Or maybe the production values will go to shit, the gimmicks will get more desperate, it'll end on clip show and then get cancelled.

I was trying to think of something special to watch for my season premiere, but then I remembered that I already announced my next review back in February, so instead I'm stuck watching the original 1994 Stargate movie! I'm saying it's the 'original' movie because it kicked the franchise off, and because I'm worried that someday Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin are finally going to get their sequel off the ground and we shall all bear witness to what the Stargate equivalent of Independence Day: Resurgence looks like. I'm not hyped.

I've only seen this film the once, back when it existed on its own without even a single spin-off series, and I don't remember being impressed. I don't remember disliking it either though. In fact I barely remember it at all, so I'm curious to rediscover what actually happens in this movie. Unfortunately I don't have the Blu-ray version, so I can't offer you the greatest of screencaps to go along with my commentary, but on the plus side I do have a cardboard DVD box that folds out into a pyramid! I'd show you a photo, but that means bending the flaps to slot it together and I don't really want to.

The following text will contain epic SPOILERS for the entirety of this movie, but I'm considering the TV series to be off-limits. Well I might mention some characters and drop terms like 'Jaffa' but nothing worse than that.


Hey, the movie has the same opening titles sequence as Stargate SG-1! Well there's different names coming up on screen obviously, but it's still a motion controlled shot panning across Ra's cross-eyed mask while David Arnold's fantastic theme plays. Right away this tells you exactly what you're going to get from this movie: great art design, fantastic music, and ancient Egyptian stuff.

Though it's got me curious about when opening credits started being phased out of movies, as the camera circles this fibreglass mask for almost three minutes before the film starts, and we're well into the 1990s at this point. I'm tempted to get my discs out and do some research, mostly because it'd be an excuse to put off writing about Stargate for another 6 weeks, but I've kind of got a deadline here.


NORTH AFRICAN DESERT
8000 B.C.


The film starts off in genuine Ancient Egypt, not Space Egypt, where a bunch of locals are woken up by a giant pyramid spaceship parking nearby.

There's tricks you can use when filming miniatures to make them look gigantic, but it seems that the folks who did this shot either didn't know them or they didn't work, because this looks kind of ass to me. There's plenty of detail on the ship but no sense of scale. Compare this to the ships coming down in Independence Day just two years later and the difference is incredible.

Independence Day (1996)
Or maybe I've got my rose-tinted VFX goggles on.

Anyway the tribe decides that the scary metal pyramid with lightning all over it probably something best observed from a distance and make their way elsewhere.

All except Jaye Davidson here, who ignores the wind blowing his village to pieces and walks right over to the ship. I guess he wanted to see what a blinding light looks like up close. His curiosity is rewarded with a ball of energy to the face, and now we're done with 8000 B.C.

I'm watching the Director's Cut DVD here with additionally scenes spliced in, and this is apparently one of them. The theatrical cut skips this entirely and instead starts in Giza, Egypt, in the year 1928.


GIZA, EGYPT
1928


Oh there you go, I've caught up with the theatrical version now, just in time for the EPIC REVEAL of an interesting metal ring being raised out of an archaeological dig site. And it is plenty epic, with this huge set, the dozens of extras, a massive stargate prop and a bloody choir singing the theme! This is starting to look like a proper movie now (though those guys way in the background are apparently just sticks with cloth on them). In fact I keep expecting to see Indiana Jones in the crowd, but this is taking place 8 years before Raiders of the Lost Ark.

We see a couple of archaeologist-looking folks drive up with a young girl in the car and she's immediately drawn to a gold amulet with an eye symbol on it lying in one of the piles of excavated artefacts on some tables nearby. So she swipes the thing and walks off with it!

Whoa, what happened to the picture quality all of a sudden? It hasn't been the greatest looking DVD I own at the best of times but this shot looks like it's from a VHS tape, it's terrible. And why are these subtitles burned into the video itself when the rest have been separate? I guess it must be one of the deleted scenes they edited back in, but that doesn't explain why it looks so bad.

This extra scene shows the archaeologists discovering something else buried underneath the mysterious ring: a fossil that looks like an Egyptian god. So that explains where one of them went at least.

Though I'm more interested in the mystery of why these people are so keen to lift this heavy ancient relic upright. It's lucky for them that it's an advanced piece of alien hardware made of a rare super-dense mineral, or else they may well have snapped the thing. Fun fact: the stargate prop was originally painted black, but it looked like a giant tire so they went with silver instead. Good choice in my opinion, though Stargate Universe would later pull off the black stargate look with style.


PRESENT DAY.


Now the movie's gone and jumped another 66 years or so to present day America. Well, present day in 1994 anyway. And hey it's James Spader, back when he wasn't an 8' killer robot.

The scene follows the girl from Giza, now a half-century older but recognisable from her eye amulet, as she goes to Dr. Daniel Jackson's symposium on Ancient Egypt. She arrives just in time to catch everyone else leaving, as they weren't overly impressed by his assertion that the Pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty didn't build the pyramids. He'd gotten a pretty big crowd in here though, so he was doing pretty well until he went all Fox Mulder on them.

Actually I was expecting Dr. Jackson to break out the 'ancient astronauts' theory here, but he doesn't. He never claims that aliens built the pyramids and if he was pressed to come up with a theory about who did, it'd probably be 'people with whips, massive massive whips'. He's just come to the conclusion that the pyramids must be older than people think they are, that's all.

He walks away from this disaster into the pouring rain to discover that someone from the Air Force is waiting in a car for him. It's the woman with the necklace and she'd like him to translate some hieroglyphs for them. So now he's got a choice: either accept this call to action or... well there's nothing else much for him to do really as he's been rejected by his peers, evicted from his apartment and his grants have ran out. In fact you could say that there's nothing on Earth for him right now...

Meanwhile two other Air Force guys drive up to recruit protagonist #2, Colonel Jonathan 'Jack' O'Neil (with one 'l') and his awesome hair, played by the grunge version of Kurt Russell.

O'Neil's clearly depressed right now, and the fact that he's sitting alone in his son's bedroom, silently staring at photos with a gun in his hands gives a big clue as to why. The Air Force guys make it explicit for the audience, revealing that his kid accidentally shot himself. But they're to inform him that he's been reactivated so now he's been called to action as well.

So that's the movie versions of Jack O'Neil and Daniel Jackson introduced and recruited, but I honestly can't remember who they've got playing Samantha Carter. Oh duh, she was created for the series wasn't she?

Cut to a car arriving at the secret 'Military Installation' at Cheyenne Mountain!

Wait, Creek Mountain? What? That ain't right at all!

Stargate SG-1 sticks fairly close to its movie (closer than series like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer did at least), but they totally retconned this facility to being the considerably less fictional Cheyenne Mountain and even filmed their establishing shots on location at the actual entrance. Not that it makes a lot of difference.

Dr. Jackson takes a lift down into the research laboratory inside the converted nuclear missile silo and immediately sneezes into his arm due to his allergies. Then he gets to correcting a translation on a blackboard, despite the protests of the guy on the right who wrote it (played by comedy actor Richard Kind). Dude, this is the translation guy specifically hired to do the translating you couldn't do, so shut up and let him work would you! Before he decides to translate your cardigan instead.

Colonel O'Neil strolls in with his uniform on and reveals that they've already done radiocarbon tests and discovered that the tablets he's translating are over 10,000 years old, which is a fact so crazy that even Dr. Jackson would likely walk out of the symposium after hearing it, as that means they predate Egyptian culture! Not sure how carbon dating worked on something made of stone, but whatever.

All the hieroglyphs in the film are apparently as accurate as they could get them by the way, as they hired an Egyptologist, hopefully one better than cardigan guy. I wouldn't have a clue if they're all made up or not, but I'm glad the filmmakers did the research and went for realism when they could.


TWO WEEKS LATER


Dr. Jackson made a great first impression with the mountain folk, but the film skips to two weeks later to show he's come up with nothing useful since. Fortunately for the movie a chance encounter with a newspaper showing the constellation of Orion gives him the serendipitous insight he needs to get the plot moving again and soon he's in a meeting with the top brass.

We already know from the newspaper scene that the symbols on the stone tablets are constellations, but Jackson's gone a step further than that and figured out that if you draw lines between six of these constellations you get a destination in space, and the seventh is the point of origin. That's one hell of a leap in logic, considering that there was a list of constellations in that newspaper too (the horoscopes), but it impresses the folks in uniform. Or maybe not, it's hard to tell with this crowd.

It's clever how they've managed to turn an exposition dump into an awkward comedy scene, with Jackson nervously laughing at every word that makes it out of his mouth while everyone else glares at him in silence. O'Neil's there too, playing the role of the sinister smoking man in the background, and he silently nods to General West that it's cool to open the window shutter and show Jackson the even bigger secret they've been researching.

And so we get the EPIC REVEAL of the... hey movie, you've shown us the stargate already! You can't do an epic reveal of the same thing twice.

Though this time we see that they've got it set up and plugged into their computers, and they can even make the inner ring spin around. Somehow I'm getting the feeling here that they suspected that it was an intergalactic portal even before Jackson told them its name and gave them an address to dial. In fact it almost feels like they knew all the answers already and were just waiting for him to catch up. Almost.

There's still a bit of a problem here as the stargate doesn't seem to have the point of origin symbol on it, but Jackson immediately figures that one out too. Turns out that it is there, it's just drawn a little differently.

Not sure why he had to draw all over their monitor screen to demonstrate though; the guy needs to show more respect for their expensive equipment. Plus he should stop leaving coffee cups on the pipes in the corridor too, that's just messy.

Everything else is already good to go, so General West doesn't see any reason why they shouldn't just dial the address they've got right now. So the inner ring starts spinning, with the chevrons around the outside locking when they're lined up with the correct symbol.

Turns out that they've actually tried this before, as it doesn't take an Egyptologist to dial in the shapes written on a stone, but they've never been able to lock more than six symbols before because they didn't know what the final one was. Which is crazy.

I can understand it being hard to stumble across a correct address when there's something like 78 billion possible combinations, but when there's one symbol left that leaves with you just 39 possibilities. And 6 of the symbols have been locked already and are clearly not the point of origin, bringing that down to 33. So they seem a bit dumb for needing Jackson's help on this one, when anyone could've worked it out in an afternoon using trial and error. (Hint: start with the shape that looks the most like the seventh symbol etched into the stone).

With all seven symbols locked, a rippling watery portal forms across the gate and this stuff comes kawooshing out of it, before getting sucked back in. And portals in video games would never be the same again.

In the TV series that'd be the end of it, but the movie also has this backwards effect going on for a moment until the portal settles down. Lucky no one was standing there really, else they'd be all kinds of dead right now. It's probably not a good idea to walk into the portal from the back either, but fortunately it's pretty easy to tell which way around it goes (no spinning ring or symbols on the other side).

I was criticising the effects earlier for being terrible, but this portal still looks amazing to me. The movie came out after The Abyss and Jurassic Park so you might assume this effect is CGI, but nope they recorded splashes and swirling water from under the surface and then composited them in. Though when it settles down, the wormhole itself is digital.

The Air Force guys waste no time, getting the gate room filled with soldiers and preparing a robot probe to be sent inside (actually the JPL's real life HAZBOT III).

Man, they've even got a star map set up to track the probe's journey across space! They figured all this out from a sealed metal ring and couldn't work out the final symbol?

Or maybe they haven't worked it out so well, as their computers claim that the probe's ended up in the Kalium Galaxy, and that seems like bullshit to me for two reasons: first, there's no way that glass map's big enough to span multiple galaxies, and second, the coordinates were determined using the position of six constellations, and all the stars in those constellations are in our galaxy. Then again constellations aren't actual objects, they're shapes formed when you look at stars from a distance, so using them as 3D reference points is a bit weird anyway.

The probe starts sending back data revealing that the planet it's on isn't just safe for humans, it's a pretty close match to Earth. They do a bit of 'freeze and enhance' on the video footage and discover that it came out of another gate on the other side, one with different symbols on it. In the TV series gates from different galaxies do have different glyphs like this, but this particular stargate gets retconned to being one of the closest in our galaxy and given a standard set of shapes.

General West seems to think that the alternate symbol set has just ruined their hopes of sending a team over, but it seems irrelevant to me as they don't know their own address either way. Jackson on the other hand believes that if they send him over he can figure out how to get them back and O'Neil... thinks he's full of shit, but is willing to go along with it anyway. Right after a deleted scene where he goes over to look at that fossil they found under the stargate.

Plus necklace woman gives Jackson her necklace to keep hold of; that seems like something worth mentioning.

Oh damn, the portal has reflections in the movie! This is a really really nice effect.

O'Neil leads a full team through the stargate loaded with boxes of gear, but Jackson hangs around for a moment to play around with portal. So we learn that he can stick his hand into it and pull it back out again without ending up with a cauterised stump. Then he sticks his whole head into it, which we see from the inside of the wormhole! The effect is actually footage of the actor pulling his head out of a tank of water played backwards, which is downright genius.

So that means that half an hour into this two hour movie we finally get to leap into the stargate ourselves and see all the rubbish lens flares! Though I saw it once already on the DVD menu.

I've never been a fan of this effect to be honest. It's got some character to it, but as wormhole rides go it's barely in my top 10. And even that's just because I can't think of more than, like... 4 right now.

Anyway Jackson eventually falls out the other side all frosted up and finds O'Neil's team exploring the structure they've ended up in.

Which leads to another EPIC REVEAL that they arrived inside a big-ass pyramid under an alien sky with three moons. Okay that one was worth the epic reveal music.

Everything below the pyramid in this shot is actually real, as the crew went out into the blazing hot Yuma Desert and built an entrance in the sand seven stories tall, and then they got the actors out there to film scenes in front of it. I keep wishing I could tilt the camera down a little though so that they're not standing on the bottom edge of the frame.

Unfortunately the filmmakers went and sabotaged their awesome shot with those moons up there. I knew there was something up just by glancing at them, so I checked and yep that's the same image of a moon repeated three times. In fact it's our moon repeated three times, which makes it even worse! I get that they wanted an otherworldly vista to make it clear that our heroes hadn't time-travelled to Ancient Egypt, but that's just rubbish.

The Air Force team get their suspiciously sci-fi looking equipment set up to scan the perimeter and O'Neil tells Jackson to get the stargate ready for a return trip, but... he can't. There's no obvious buttons anywhere he can press to make the thing work, but that's not actually the problem he's having. He just can't find the stone tablet showing the seven symbols they need to dial Earth!

One of O'Neil's men is a bit upset about potentially being stranded for the rest of his life in another galaxy and shoves Jackson to the ground, pointing out that he never mentioned anything about needing to find anything before they left. Which is a fair point.

Turns out that he's called Kawalsky, so I finally get a name for one of these people! And the guy to his left is... I don't actually know, but I recognise him as being French Stewart from Third Rock from the Sun. Some movies would've set up the team a little during the 20 minutes we spent in the base before they left for the mission, but the film has only really cared about Jackson and O'Neil so far. Mostly Jackson.

Though I have been introduced to a lot of the film crew, thanks to those mirrored sunglasses the actors are wearing.

They're really not hard to spot either. It's like I'm watching the 'making of' documentary at the same time as the movie. It's a shame I haven't got the Blu-ray as I could've gotten a better look at what the crew were up to. Also, this picture's giving me flashbacks to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for some reason.

It's pretty amazing that no one caught that this was happening and did something about it, but I guess it was hard enough just getting the shots filmed in that heat, when they no doubt had other bullshit to deal with. Like wiping footprints out of the sand for instance and keeping people from passing out.

O'Neil heads off to the pyramid's gate room on his own and begins assembling something in secret. In fact he hides it when Kawalsky comes in, so that's not a good sign. It doesn't say 'nuclear bomb' on it, but it's got a digital timer on it and I'm fairly sure it's not an alarm clock. Meanwhile the others have set up a camp outside.

Someone calls French Stewart's character Feretti, so now I've got two names, and Feretti helps demoralise them just a little more by explaining that an active stargate is one way only. So unless one of them is secretly a radio wave, no one's getting back home through a wormhole opened from Earth.

Then Feretti throws one of Jackson's suitcases at him for sitting on his ass instead of working to get them home. But Jackson's a smart guy and genre savvy enough to know that he isn't going to solve this problem until he makes a chance discovery that gives him inspiration.

And guess what, the books land near some footprints in the sand! So he goes off to investigate and finds an alien creature eating a bush. He offers it some of his chocolate bar and it seems they're going to be friends, but then it gets spooked and bolts. Fortunately Jackson's foot gets caught in a rope, so he's able to give chase by getting dragged around the desert on his ass.

Jackson ultimately survives his ordeal, partially because half the shots were actually of a dog in costume dragging a puppet (I honestly couldn't tell), and the creature wakes him up by licking his face with his gross slimy tongue. James Spader really suffered for this movie.

The creature is called a mastadge, though I'm not sure that's ever said in dialogue, and they've done well with it I think because it looks great. Well, it looks very believable anyway.  I'm a bit bothered though by the fact that when we see it walking around it's played by a horse in costume, because man that animal must have been hot.

O'Neil and two of the others soon catch up and when they look over the dune they get another EPIC REVEAL of a massive mining operation with hundreds of locals up on ladders chipping away at the cliffs. This film's all about the reveals and extras. And sand. Though in this particular shot it seems like those guys in the lines have actually been painted on.

Hey I just realised that they've got a proper 4-man stargate SG team going now, with O'Neil, Jackson, Kawalsky and... I'm not actually sure the other guy's been given a name yet. Oh hang on I just rewatched the last scene with subtitles on and O'Neil calls him 'Brown'.

Team SG-0 go down for a chat and discover that these aliens are actually all humans! But this is the one planet in the universe where they don't all speak English so Jackson has to make first contact and try to communicate with them.

He gets as far as "Hi" when one of them spots the eye symbol on his necklace and apparently yells out something like "Everyone grovel!" because in five seconds there's a couple of thousand people kneeling in the sand.

This eye on Jackson's amulet is a real symbol by the way. It's the Eye of, uh... Thoth I think, formerly a moon god, which is the mirror image of the Eye of Horus (aka. the Wadjet Eye), which was associated with the sun god Ra. Or something like that. I tried to look it up, but Egyptian mythology's so convoluted and bizarre that it was like I'd ended up on a comic book wiki by mistake.

The grovelling gives O'Neil the opportunity to walk over and accidentally scare a kid away by trying to be friendly, and it gives Brown a chance to scan the stuff they're mining with his high-tech sci-fi toy that seems like it belongs in a different movie. Turns out that it's the same material as the Stargate, so that's interesting.

The kid soon returns with their leader and now Jackson can have a proper chat with someone. Well he gives him a 5th Avenue bar anyway and that seems to go down well.

I checked Wikipedia and it turns out that 5th Avenue bars are made of a combination of peanut butter crunch layers coated with chocolate... which means that they're a real thing, and the filmmakers have managed to find an opportunity for product placement on an alien world in another galaxy. Gotta give them points for their ingenuity.

So the leader takes them all to their town. Not just the group, but every single one of his people. You can see them in lines snaking off into the horizon behind them.

Seems like one hell of a commute they've got. Might be shorter if they'd walk in a straight line, but I'm sure they've got a good reason for weaving around the dunes like that.

It's been just six minutes since the last EPIC REVEAL but I think they've earned this next one, as we get to see that their town is actually more like a massive city.

A massive orange city in the middle of the orange desert. These folks haven't done badly for themselves though considering that I haven't seen any farmland or rivers around.

Once our heroes get inside there's some more bowing and they reveal a giant symbol... of an eye. It's the same symbol they saw around Jackson's neck, which he identifies as being the Eye of Ra, so he realises that they must think that the sun god Ra sent them here.

Then the locals lock the giant gates and trap them inside! Soon O'Neil and the others are waving guns and taking hostages and there's a little bit of tension building up. But the kid from earlier, Skaara, bravely pulls O'Neil away to show him that they're protecting the city from an approaching sandstorm, so our heroes apologise for misinterpreting their intentions and everyone's happy again!

The theatrical cut skips this brief moment of drama, but I appreciate how having it here breaks up the scenes of characters looking confused. Plus it explains why they're stuck here for the night and shows the locals what their guns do.

Oh, plus we also see that Feretti and the others have taken shelter from the storm inside the pyramid, so the movie hasn't forgotten about them.

Now we've got a bit of a Temple of Doom dinner scene going on as the locals present their visitors with a gross looking feast, and it turns out that Jackson's the one adventurous enough to try eating it first. "Tastes like chicken" he claims, and then starts to wave his elbows and make chicken sounds for no reason, with the elder looking back at him bemused and unimpressed, like a high ranking Air Force officer at a stargate briefing.

I don't generally like watching scenes of characters with different languages trying to communicate because I find them a bit cringeworthy and this is the most cringeworthy scene yet. But things get a bit more sinister when Jackson tries writing in the sand instead and learns that they really don't like that. Seems like writing is forbidden here, which isn't typically a good sign.

But the elder immediately distracts them from the subject by getting Jackson wrapped in a robe and sending him off to a room to get his hands and feet washed.

Then one of the women from the mines earlier comes in and slowly begins to disrobe in front of him, and she doesn't look too keen about it. Jackson just sits there with his mouth hanging open for a while until he gets his wits back and tries to lead her back outside nicely. But the elder's waiting outside and he seems a bit concerned that Jackson's not happy with their offering, so he smiles and thanks the guy, then brings her back inside.

This works out though as he's able to get her name (Sha'uri) and discovers that she knows the point of origin symbol for Earth. He tried to illustrate his journey from the pyramid in the sand on the floor and she misunderstood, thinking it was more forbidden writing... then corrected it. So much sand in this place.

He manages to ask her where she saw the symbol and she agrees to take him there, so he's making some actual progress now!

Feretti and the others left behind at the gate aren't doing so well though, as that giant spaceship from the prologue decides to use their pyramid as a landing platform and comes down right over their heads. I'm sure they've recycled some of the shots in this sequence from earlier, and they still look terrible, but the thing looks much better from a distance.

I wondered briefly if the ship coming down was what caused that super sandstorm earlier, but then I realised that if that were the case then it must've been landing for hours by this point.

So we're one hour into the movie now and it's taken the next big turn, finally introducing the antagonist. Seems weird for a sci-fi epic to go so long without conflict, but it's definitely turned up now and Feretti's men are ready for it.

Well they were on alert anyway; turns out that they weren't quite ready for a ninja to stalk them from the shadows and take them out one by one.

Wait, that's not a ninja, that's a Jaffa from the SG-1 series! Except not quite as this guy's entirely human instead of just mostly human. Plus his animatronic head's a lot more elaborate.

So that fossil at the start of the film was actually of one of these guys' helmets. Though we don't know that at this point as they haven't opened their masks yet.

Whoa Jack, what are you even doing? He's letting Skaara light up one of his smokes, even though he can't tell him how unhealthy and addictive they are! Though the kid starts to get an idea when he begins choking on it and O'Neil decides to put his own out too.

I suppose it's hard to argue that it'll do the guy any harm when there aren't enough cigarettes in this galaxy for him to start a habit. And the kid's no stranger to fire so I'm sure he won't do anything dumb with the lighter. But O'Neil absolutely freaks out when the guy touches his submachine gun, which reminds us that he's still very much not over his son accidentally shooting himself. Though if he's so concerned about gun safety he should maybe stop waving the thing around one-handed with his finger on the trigger.

Oh damn I forgot to mention O'Neil's hair! He's had it hidden under his beret most of the time, but here I finally get a chance to show it off. You can tell he's Air Force as it's flat enough to land a plane on.

So Skaara goes to hang with his friends instead. All 300 of them. Hey it's him from that Babylon 5 episode I just watched, Chrysalis! You know what fire is you doofus, don't act surprised when Skaara's new lighter burns you.

O'Neil comes over and tries to ask Skaara's friends if they've seen Jackson, but they keep mimicking everything he does and it's annoying. Every time someone does something around here, whether it's bowing, sneezing, or pretending to be a chicken, it always becomes a group activity. This is not how you play charades.

But they eventually get the message and Skaara has the idea to use a mastadge like a bloodhound to track Jackson down from the scent on his jacket.

They find Jackson and Sha'uri down in some catacombs decorated with the writing that they're forbidden to know, and it turns out that she doesn't just know how to read these hieroglyphs, she can pronounce them too. Jackson was already fluent in the written language, so now that he can has the pronunciations for the words that's all he needs to communicate. He can finally talk to these people!

He can also read their history off the walls, so now it's time for a massive exposition dump, illustrated with clips from the prologue.

"A traveller from distant stars escaped from a dying world looking for a way to extend his own life. His body decaying and weak, he couldn't prevent his own demise. Apparently his whole species was becoming extinct. So he travelled or searched the galaxies, looking for a way to cheat death. He came to a world rich with life where he encountered a primitive race. Humans. A species which, with all his powers and knowledge, he could maintain indefinitely. He realised, within a human body he had a chance for a new life." 
So 10,000 years ago the traveller, Ra, found that young boy from the prologue, took him and possessed his body like a parasite. Which is exactly how the Goa'uld in the TV series operate, with one slight difference: they're worm creatures while this guy seems to look more like one of those Grey aliens with the big heads. Though aliens like this do show up in the series, so maybe he's actually worm possessing one of them.

Ra declared himself ruler of Earth then set up the stargate to bring thousands of people over to this planet to mine the mineral he uses for his technology so that he can sustain his eternal life. So a portal to another galaxy is no problem, but building and rigging up automated mining equipment is beyond him and his tiny crew. The Egyptians buried their gate to stop him coming back so he decided to outlaw reading and writing here because he didn't want people to remember the truth and get ideas. But they just wrote it all down anyway and didn't tell him. Wait... how would the humans here know what happened to the other gate?

Anyway they didn't just find walls of exposition, as it turns out that the stone tablet with the address to Earth is here too! Unfortunately the seventh symbol has broken off and worn away so now our heroes have no hope of ever making it back home. C'mon guys, there's just 33 possibilities for what it is and it's the point of origin glyph so putting the wrong one in won't even open a wormhole to the wrong planet. And if there's any doubt, when you get the gate activated write "Is this the right planet?" on a bit of paper, throw it through, let the wormhole close and wait a bit.

There's no point in them sticking around the city any more, so Jackson leaves an unhappy Sha'uri behind and the team returns to the pyramid to find that someone's gone and put another pyramid on top. No EPIC REVEAL music this time though, as it's less awe inspiring and more pants filling.

Skaara and his friends secretly trailed them here, so they're around to see them charge into the pyramid and get attacked by the not-Jaffa, with Brown getting a staff weapon blast to the gut, and Kawalsky getting thrown into a wall. We only get to see glimpses though, as the film's still hiding what these guys really look like to keep the suspense.

The filmmakers did well when they came up with these staff weapons as they're exactly the kind of thing you'd expect high-tech aliens disguised as Ancient Egyptians to use. They're not entirely practical, but they're flashy and you wouldn't want to get shot in the chest by one. Plus if you see one on the TV you instantly know that you're watching Stargate.

O'Neil and Jackson manage to be the only ones to avoid being taken down thanks to their protagonist privileges, and they make it all the way back to the gate room. O'Neil gets Jackson to defend the exit while he activates his mysterious secret device. But alas it's already gone.

And then this guy just appears within a set of rings that dropped from the ceiling. See, that's how you do a transporter without it looking like you're copying Star Trek!

So our heroes put their guns down and surrender.

They're taken up in the rings to the pyramid above, which then starts opening up. I've no idea why I'm watching the sides of a pyramid sitting on another pyramid fold away to reveal another pyramid inside, but hey it's Ra's spaceship, he can do whatever makes him happy.

This is a much more convincing effect than the shots of it landing and it turns out that there's a good reason for that: this time they've used CGI. I'm not saying that computer effects are better than models, especially back in 1994, but it seems that PCs are pretty good at pyramids.

These retractable Batmobile armour helmets look a bit ropey though. And why does Ra's mask fold up into his head? Does he not need all that space in there to house his brain?

So there you go, that's the first in-story appearance of the mask that's in the title sequence of half the run of Stargate SG-1, even though the character isn't.

We're about two thirds of the way through the movie now and our heroes are finally meeting the main villain face to face in his lair! And he's got a very nice lair too; there's some great production design here. He's also got O'Neil's nuclear bomb.

O'Neil decides that's a bit unfair, so he goes and takes one of their weapons, knocks the owner down with a left hook, and starts blasting away with it. It takes him just a second to find the trigger on the weird alien staff blaster thing, I'm very impressed.

You'd expect him to be lying dead in about half a heartbeat, seeing as there's still four other guards in the room with weapons in their hands, but it all goes surprisingly well... until Jackson has to dive in the way to save him from a staff blast. So I guess the main protagonist is dead now; it's all on you O'Neil!

But O'Neil can't finish off Ra because he hides behind a wall of children... his only weakness! It's a very low-tech shield, but it gets the job done, and O'Neil's knocked out.

O'Neil's dropped into a cell flooded up to his armpits for no good reason, where he's reunited with Kawalsky, Feretti and another guy that I think is called Freeman. No Brown though, so I guess he's dead. Meanwhile Skaara and the other local kids have discovered their camp and a whole bunch of guns to play with, but they put them back and race back to their city when they see two of Ra's Death Gliders launching from the pyramid ship.

The folks back home close the city gates, but that doesn't do much good when the alien space fighters fly overhead perform strafing runs on them.

It's just a shame that the miniature shots are still kind of bad. I mean this is sub-Space Precinct quality model work here at times, because even they were able to hide the strings.

Skaara gets back home to find carnage in the streets and Sha'uri cradling one of the victims, and for the first time there's subtitles to let us know what they're saying! The movie's turned around to the point where we're seeing things from their perspective. I guess now that Jackson's learned their language and we've gotten to know them, we're allowed to understand them as well.

Back on Ra's ship we learn that Jackson's alive! He was healed by the sarcophagus Ra has used to stay young for the last 10 millennia.

The mean old alien has been blessed with eternal youth but not an abundance of brain cells as he's left Jackson entirely unguarded in the heart of his lair. Well except for a slave standing there, holding a cat. I guess Ra must put his pet in the sarcophagus too, which means that this is most ancient and evil cat in all existence. There's a Terry Pratchett quote that comes to mind: "In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this." Well this cat was there. Also I'm starting to think that Ra is actually a Bond villain.

Jackson goes wandering around the empty throne room for a bit, just to slow the pacing down, and discovers Ra getting out of the bath, surrounded by his disturbingly underdressed child slaves.

Those few minutes his spent studying the secret history catacombs has given Jackson the ability to converse with Ra fluently in his own tongue, so he has a chat about his evil plan. Turns out he's decided to dial the gate back to Earth and send their bomb back to them, with enough of the mineral to magnify the explosion by 100 times! Bit strange why he can't use his own high-tech alien weapon instead, but it's better than leaving a nuclear weapon lying around on the floor I suppose. Also he's totally a Bond villain.

This probably wouldn't do as much damage as he thinks it will, seeing as it's not a huge bomb and it'd be going off beneath a mountain, but it'd certainly kill all those nice supporting characters from act one... unless they've gone home. Anyway it's still a bad bad thing that should be avoided if at all possible.

Damn movie, you think you've got enough extras there?

Turns out that Ra has been relatively nice to Jackson, bringing him back from the dead and all, because he's under the impression that he's been running a con on his workers, using the Eye of Ra amulet to pretend to be Ra. Which is only 30% true!

So Ra's taken his jewellery back and invited a whole bunch of people up to the pyramid so that he can order Jackson to murder the other visitors and re-establish his authority. Like the giant pyramid spaceship and the mask wasn't enough of a clue to who the real Ra is. These people have seen him make chicken noises at dinner, they know he's not a god.

Jackson is handed a staff weapon and pointed in the direction of O'Neil and the others, and things look bleak. But then Skaara gets his attention from the crowd with his shiny lighter and subtly indicates that he and his friends are currently armed with MP5s. Sha'uri got them organised and taught them their history so they could fight back and save Jackson.

Seems a bit suspect perhaps that they've managed to get the submachine guns loaded and worked out how to turn the safety off all on their own, but they're smart kids who like playing with things and copying people. Plus everyone just assumes that Jackson can fire an alien staff weapon with no instructions. And it turns out that he can, as he whips around and blasts one of Ra's guards, leading Sha'uri's resistance to begin firing wildly into the air! Maybe this would've been a good time to kill the sun god himself, but this was enough to cause the chaos they need to get away. Well everyone except poor Freeman.

Then there's a pointless scene of Jackson and O'Neil get lost in a sandstorm, but they're found and brought to some caves where the rest of the rebels are hanging out.

O'Neil's still got that weird hang up about untrained kids playing with loaded machine guns though, so he takes their weapons off them and yells for a bit about how pointless this all is. Then at Jackson's insistence he also mentions that he may have been ordered to set off a nuke to destroy the stargate if he found any signs of danger. He didn't tell the others because they were all supposed to return home long before it went off... this was a suicide mission for him alone.

Meanwhile back on the pyramid ship, Ra's a bit upset that people keep taking his staff weapons and shooting his dudes and even less pleased that they've escaped, so he uses a bit of hand jewellery to fry a henchman's mind.

Over in the caves, the rebels are working through their issues a bit more constructively, as Jackson learns about O'Neil's dead son and gives him a pep talk, then discovers that the others are under the impression that he's married to Sha'uri. You know how it goes, you can't make first contact with a foreign culture without someone accidentally getting married. There wasn't even a ceremony this time though, they just assigned him a spouse even though he clearly couldn't understand what was going on!

So now Jackson has to deal with the fact that he's got a smoking hot wife who loves him, but believes that he doesn't want her. They can actually talk now and work this out, but Jackson manages to get the message across with a single kiss. Man, he really is the hero of this story isn't he? I remembered him being more like the sidekick to O'Neil.

And in the next scene he has a bit more of that serendipitous insight when he sees Skaara drawing a picture of their heroic escape on the cave wall.

Earlier Sha'uri corrected his drawing of the pyramid to show the point of origin symbol for Earth, and here he realises that Skaara's drawing of the same place is basically the point of origin symbol for this planet: a pyramid with three moons!

So now they just have to return to the pyramid, retake the gate room, stop the nuke from reaching Creek Mountain, and end Ra's threat to Earth and they're free to go back home! But they've got less than 20 minutes of movie left to pull it off.

Step 1: Kill one of the 'gods' in front of the miners to prove their mortality and debunk their mythology. As soon as the helmet's off and they can see that it's just an ordinary bloke underneath they're less inclined to grovel.

Step 2: Take the next mineral shipment to Ra in disguise and just walk right inside the pyramid. He's not going to send the bomb to Earth until he gets the mineral he needs to amplify the explosion.

This part doesn't go quite so smoothly though, as when the first group of rebels carries their cargo into the pyramid, Ra's henchmen pull their hoods down and expose their identities.

So O'Neil and Jackson whip out guns and start taking them down! Skaara, Kawalsky and Feretti are still outside with the rest of the caravan, and when they hear the gunfire they run up to help so they rush up to the entrance, but a door comes down in front of them. Plus a not-Jaffa henchman fires a blast through the gap before it closes, knocking them all back and giving O'Neil the impression that he just shot all his friends.

The film doesn't get melodramatic about O'Neil's reaction to this, he doesn't yell 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!' or anything, but he does step right out of cover and blast the guy in the gut with a stolen staff weapon.

The others outside might well get killed yet though, as those Death Gliders fly out again and start strafing them.

Fortunately Death Gliders can't aim for shit and Kawalsky gets his team behind the carts of super dense mineral as it's the closest thing they have to cover.

These are CGI Gliders in this particular shot I think, though I'm sure there's lots of model shots too. One thing I do like about the model work in this is that they actually filmed the miniatures out in the desert, so the lighting is spot on perfect.

Eventually though the Gliders do get a shot on target and they blow up the guy from that episode of Babylon 5, leaving just his helmet rolling out of the smoke. So that's sad.

Meanwhile O'Neil, Jackson and Sha'uri have made it to the gate room (again), and O'Neil decides it'd be a great idea to activate the nuke (again). No one mentions anything about the range on that thing but I'm going to assume he knows it won't kill all the inhabitants of that city nearby. Though he must be counting on it killing Ra, because the guy's got a spaceship and he doesn't need that gate to threaten the Earth.

Sha'uri turns out to be terrible at guarding doors though, as a henchman walks right in and shoots her dead. So he just went and volunteered to be the third person Dr. Daniel Jackson guns down in this film.

But just then those teleporter rings come down from the ceiling (again) and Jackson makes a snap decision to carry Sha'uri's body inside. I can't think of many teleporters in sci-fi that swap objects at the source and destination, but fortunately he guesses right and finds himself alone and unarmed in the middle of Ra's throne room, right next to the healing sarcophagus! And he doesn't even have to press any buttons to activate it.

O'Neil on the other hand finds his friend replaced with the angry henchman he punched on the ship earlier. So they're having a fight scene now.

But in a surprise twist it turns out that Ra was in his own throne room on that ship that rarely ever leaves. He catches Jackson trying to escape through the rings with Sha'uri and uses the mind scrambler on him!

So now the rebels outside are pinned down and out of ammo, Jackson's getting his brain liquefied, O'Neil's getting his ass kicked and the bomb timer is still ticking down. Everywhere you go the heroes are at the lowest point and things are looking bleak. It's all getting a bit Return of the Jedi.

And then the really good bit happens, where O'Neil pins the henchman under the rings and activates them with his wrist thing while quipping "Give my regards to King Tut!" So his head beams up while Jackson and Sha'uri beam down. Don't remember ever seeing that happen on Star Trek. Oh and Jackson grabs his Eye of Ra necklace back before he escapes, because... because fuck him, that's why.

This henchman actually has a name by the way. I don't think it's ever mentioned in dialogue, but if you know anything about Egyptian mythology (unlike me) you can tell from his mask that he's playing the role of Anubis, god of the dead. And now he's a head. An entirely different Anubis appears in the TV series, but that's not necessarily a retcon; two people can pretend to be the same god.

So Jackson, O'Neil and Sha'uri are now all safe in the gate room. Well, as safe as you can be when you're right next to a nuclear device with 1 minute 30 seconds left on the timer. Those rebels outside are still totally screwed though.

But then a thousand people come charging over the hills to kick ass and save them, led by the friendly elder! Everyone's rising up against Ra now. It's like a replay of the rebellion on Earth (even down to Ra losing his amulet!)

The henchmen easily outgun them but they made the mistake of parking their Gliders and getting out to execute the surrendering rebels and two men can't take on a thousand no matter how swank their sticks are.

So Ra switches to plan B, and makes a run for it in his spaceship, with guest visual effects provided by Ed Wood. Maybe.

Ra had the sense to make it so that no one can deactivate the bomb, or else the people at Creek Mountain would've been able to walk over and switch it off, so now O'Neil and Jackson have to come up with a way to get rid of it. Well Sha'uri's there too, but the chances of her doing anything else in this story seems slim.

Fortunately for everyone in the blast radius our two protagonists have an idea. In fact they both have the same idea simultaneously, showing that their adventures have brought them to the point where they're on the same page now.

And so they beam the bomb up to Ra's ship with the rings, blowing it to pieces with that two dimensional Praxis effect explosion that was so popular in the 90s.

There it is in Stargate, and Star Trek VI, and Star Wars Special Edition! I'm sure there's another obvious one I'm missing but this is all I could think of off the top of my head.

We also get a shot of Ra burning to death in his alien form, just to make it clear that he really was an alien, and he really is dead now. Though wasn't he supposed to be a parasite?

The thing is, remember that scene earlier where O'Neil went to shoot Ra, but was blocked by a wall of child slaves? Those guys were still on that ship. Our heroes just nuked a whole bunch of kids and a cat! Though I guess it was either our guys or his guys, and there's a thousand or so people down on the planet that are very happy to not be radioactive dust right now.

In fact when O'Neil steps outside the child soldiers all salute and he grins. He's learned an important lesson from all this: that sometimes it's okay to let kids play with guns!

Things are getting a bit morally weird at this point in the movie, though it's hard to see a bunch of people rising up to successfully free themselves from back-breaking slavery to a pampered parasitic asshole as anything but a good thing. Sure they're still living in the sand and wearing rags, but now they can write things, and maybe get an expedition set up to go find a river or something.

This planet has an atmosphere almost identical to Earth's, so that means that there's something producing oxygen out there. It can't all be barren lifeless desert. Don't believe Star Wars' lies!

Cut to them all standing in the gate room, with the stargate already active. I guess they're not even going to hint at what Jackson did to dial the thing without a computer.

So Feretti and Kawalsky leave through the gate (off screen, to save money) and O'Neil's right behind them, but Jackson decides to stay behind with Sha'uri. They'll surely never make a long running TV series out of this, so there's really no reason for him to go back with the others. He lost his apartment, all his academic peers think he's a joke, and who even cares about good food, toilets and clean running water when all that stuff happens off screen either way?

Jackson hands O'Neil the Eye of Ra amulet to give back, then there's one last look at the wormhole effect and it's over. You never get to see if O'Neil, Feretti and Kawalsky made it home. Unless you watch the TV series, then you do.

Hah, it actually ends with "THE END"! I guess it's a nod to the adventure movies that the filmmakers were inspired by, but I was half-expecting them to follow this with a question mark and an evil laugh.


CONCLUSION

Stargate is a movie about a heroic group of Westerners who come to a primitive civilization, introduce them to chocolate and cigarettes, and then end 10,000 years of oppression in a couple of days by debunking their religion and supplying military hardware to the local rebels. Then everyone lives happily ever after, except the ones that are dead.

Actually to be honest I kind of like how the story plays out, as it's not Jackson who teaches them their lost history, it's Sha'uri, who somehow knew about the catacombs all along and didn't tell anyone. Plus she organises the rebellion to rescue him, and Skaara's friends find and teach themselves how to operate the guns without anyone's help. It's a damn miracle none of them accidentally shot someone, seeing how one of them managed to burn themselves with a lighter even though they knew full well what fire was, but these guys were well on their way to liberating themselves even before the four surviving heroes unmasked a henchman to reveal the con.

The story's split into three parts, with the first half an hour being about getting the stargate working, the middle being about the team stumbling upon the locals and trying to communicate, and the last third being an action movie about our heroes fighting off Ra and his henchmen. Personally I'm more into watching scientists figure things out or watching action heroes shoot people than I am in watching awkward interactions between strangers trying to cross a language barrier, so for me the second act was the weakest, but I have to admit that I liked the movie overall. In fact it grew on me a little more every time that I rewatched a scene to take notes. Of course it's possible that it just drags less when I'm occupied, but I've also gotten to know the characters, and I can appreciate their reactions and interactions more now. I've even learned most of their names!

Daniel Jackson's really the star of this film by the way. It's about the smart, capable and brave Egyptologist conquering his allergies and realising that living a life of adventure in the desert with a hot wife is way more fun than being ridiculed at symposiums. He strides into the unknown with enthusiasm, tries all the strange food, gives chocolate to weird animals, confronts the villain in his lair and shoots a lot of people. Jack O'Neil on the other hand is a bit too sinister and miserable to take the lead hero role, but he's less dour than I expected and he has some nice scenes with Skaara. Not sure about that story arc of his though, where he learns that maybe giving guns to kids isn't so bad and recovers from suicidal depression by killing a bunch of aliens and then nuking a spaceship full of child slaves. Especially as this is a pretty lightweight and fun movie for the most part.

It could've really been weighed down with its exposition and mythology but it manages to use it as a strength instead. In fact the film loves setting up scenes where a character has to communicate information to someone and then letting the actors bring the comedy, whether it's Jackson briefing a room full of Air Force officers and scribbling on monitor screens, or O'Neil playing charades with Skaara's crew. Personally I prefer the Stargate SG-1 approach to language, where everyone in all galaxies can speak English, and I could've done without all the scenes of a hundred silent extras all acting in unison as if they've got a hive-mind, but they do get some mileage out of having the folks on the other side of the gate speak Ancient Egyptian. Especially as they commit to it 100%, with the poor actors having to deliver lines in a dead tongue. All their lines.

It doesn't work for everyone, as Mili Avital as Sha'uri mostly looks unhappy throughout her scenes and I can believe that Jaye Davidson had zero interest in playing Ra. But Alexis Cruz as Skaara did well I thought and Erick Avari is great as the bewildered elder Kasuf, who's meeting strangers for maybe the first time in his life and trying to do what he can to make them happy without inadvertently pissing off Ra or getting shot.

But what really makes the movie work for me, is that soundtrack constantly assuring me that everything I'm watching is very dramatic and awe inspiring and that I should care very much about this latest shot of hundreds of extras (or mannequins) in the sand. David Arnold did good. Plus it helps that the movie looks pretty good too, when it's not filling the screen with b-movie model effects or three identical moons. It's a film about a lot of people hiking through the barren desert from the pyramid to the mines to the city to the pyramid, to the mines, and to be honest it's all starting to blur together in my head, but the music and visuals really elevate it. Even if it is very orange.

Stargate was a huge hit in its day, due in part to it being the closest thing to Star Wars since... wow, Return of the Jedi 11 years earlier, and it spawned an epic TV franchise rivalling Star Trek. But critically it got a bit of a kicking and I can see where the reviews are coming from. The film's got issues and far too much sand. But I find easier to forgive its clichés now that it's an older movie, as that's where clichés belong, and while this is never going to be one of my all-time favourites, I think that from now on I'm going to remember this as being... a film that I can remember. And one that I enjoyed.



COMING SOON
Last year I started a new site on April 1st and left people wondering if it was for real, this year I'm bringing it back on April 1st. It's like I never learn or something.

But Stargate will (eventually) return with Stargate SG-1's pilot episode Children of the Gods, and next on Sci-Fi Adventures you can expect words about Babylon 5's season 2 premiere Points of Departure!

I'm not doing Stargate SG-1 as an ongoing thing though, just making that clear. Please don't get any hopes up. Leave a comment!

6 comments:

  1. I saw this a couple of years ago for the first time since it came out and I was surprised at how... I won't say funny, because it's not, but how jokey it is. My memory of the film before that was that it was a lot more serious.

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    1. I was surprised by most of it, as all I remembered from the film was Jackson drawing on a monitor screen and O'Neil saying "Give my regards to King Tut!" then using the rings to simultaneously save Dan and Sha'uri while decapitating a henchman. Except I didn't remember she was called Sha'uri either.

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  2. I remember seeing this back in the 90s, probably on TV with commercials in the middle of it. It might have been the editing, but I remember feeling a little lost sometimes. It's also possibly because of the language issue, that I was having to work harder to keep up with who was doing what, and there are more characters in this film than I'm comfortable with.

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    1. Yeah, it doesn't help that we're supposed to be as confused as the characters are at first. I think that's why I grew to like the film more as I rewatched scenes and took notes, as I wasn't lost any more.

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  3. Came to steal a HD screencap, stayed for the review. I'm about to dive into Bill McCay's Stargate novels continuing where the film left off, can't say I'm feeling massively positive.

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    1. Sorry about the crappy DVD quality screencaps, but I'm making do with what I've got. I've never read the Stargate novels myself but I clicked around a few sites and user reviews didn't seem to hate them, so you might be surprised. You're probably wise not to get your hopes up though.

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