UMD Movie Review: Stargate

Providing some light summer fun, this Roland Emmerich piece is one that opened up his career (along with Universal Soldier a few years prior) for other projects, including the butchering of Godzilla in 1998. Stargate, unlike his later films, has flashes of brilliance sprinkled throughout. It's a nice easy ride that doesn't stop to explain much, instead focusing on the rapid pacing and special effects.

Now over 10 years old, the CG used in many scenes is obviously dated. It doesn't interact with the cast well at all, and a few past money shots don't work as they used to. The effects, including the miniatures, are fine. They give the film a sense of scale in combination with the full sized sets.

There's little time spent trying to explain things. The audience knows just enough to understand that the crew that ventures through the Egyptian Stargate can only go back the way they came. There's no time to explain how or why it actually works. It's not necessarily important either, as you're caught up in the humor or dramatic sequences that mesh well.

Kurt Russell leads the military charge, building a character that ends up going nowhere. His past is briefly introduced and them seemingly dropped until it's needed again. It's a wasted subplot. Eric Avari, playing the role of leader of the slaves, is one of the film's brightest spots, pulling both dramatic and comedic duties. James Spader leads as the quirky, nervous Egyptian history scientist and is in fine form.

Stargate ends up being one of those movies you sit and back and instantly know it's an American summer film. The style, direction, fantastic adventurous score, and special effects ensure that. There's nothing wrong with this either, providing quick escapist entertainment for the entire running time. It's not a sci-fi masterpiece, but a memorable ride that's better than most big budget sci-fi films. (**** out of *****)

Presented properly in 2.35:1 widescreen, this UMD transfer has some hurdles. Compression is the major problem given the film's heavy use of blues and solid backdrops. It's hard not to see right through to the moving blocks in the background that shouldn't be there. Otherwise, the bright, brilliant colors are a nice compliment to the steady black levels. Fine detail on both clothes and faces is stunning even when there's an excessive amount of print damage. (***)

One of the few UMDs to use a Dolby Headphone track, this is the way to hear the film. Though obviously not a true surround sound solution, it's impressive how the mix tries to turn it into one. Things that occur in the back speakers on the DVD have a slightly faded sound to them, and actually come across as something happening in the distance. It creates a sharp contrast to the action in the front and tricks the ears into believing it's not coming from the same direction. Oddly, the left-to-right movement is captured better in the standard English 2.0 track. Otherwise, the impressive bass makes the headphone track the best choice here. (****)

The extra feature (yes, singular) is not listed on the back of the case. It's a 23-minute making of piece taken from the special edition DVD. Though a bit promotional in nature, there are some excellent explanations of the biggest special effects sequences, including some design sketches and shots that didn't work (and were obviously dropped). Roland Emmerich doesn't make an appearance, and neither does anyone on the cast. (**)

Though the movie pulled in a healthy $100 million worldwide, it's probably done better on TV. The multiple (and excellent) incarnations on the Sci-Fi Channel ensure this film will stay in people's minds. They're a nice continuation of the ideas that started here, and essential if you enjoy this.

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