“I’m on Planet ‘X’ lookin’ for a dweeb who wears green fatigues.” — Jack O’Neil
Stargate is an odd sort of film that defies classification. It aimed to be a blockbuster sci-fi movie, but flew wide of the mark and ended up becoming a cult hit despite its flaws. Four spin-off television series down the road, it’s the poor man’s Star Trek, with all the trappings of a cult hit and few of the sparks of intellectual science fiction that gave Star Trek more credibility. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, who two years after Stargate went on to helm the epitome of big dumb summer sci-fi with Independence Day, have always insisted that they had a trilogy in mind (because every science fiction story ever devised has to be told in three parts, it’s an immutable law of storytelling). So after over a decade of television series, rumors have gradually surfaced that Emmerich and Devlin want to make their second two films. There are no details of any kind yet, nor any explanation for whether they will adapt their original plot to dovetail with several hundred television episodes and made-for-SyFy films or whether they’ll follow Bryan Singer down the easier route of just pretending the television series never happened while relying on the success of the series to drive interest and ticket sales.
The film is anchored by the idea that the Egyptian pyramids were actually built by aliens, aliens who in the distant past left the Earth for some unknown reason. In an archaeological excavation in Egypt, a device dubbed the “stargate” is found buried under rubble. Naturally the American military secretly takes the gate and throws a billion dollars of research at it, as they do with all mysterious archaeological finds. Disgraced scientist Daniel Jackson (James Spader, who is quoted as being intrigued by the script’s awfulness) is brought in to figure out the stargate since it confirms his wacky theories so he must know what to do. Kurt Russell plays Colonel Jack O’Neil with none of the self-deprecating sarcasm that Richard Dean Anderson brought to the role in the television series, essentially grunting his way through the macho half of the soldier/scientist odd-couple. The gate opens, a team is sent through to explore, and is promptly stranded when they realize that they don’t have any way to dial back home. They find a world reminiscent of a grade school crack addict’s idea of ancient Egypt, in which illiterate stone agers worship Egyptian techno gods who have nothing better to do with starships, transporters and ray guns than force said stone agers to work in mines for ten thousand years.
Stargate is like the “Simpsons” episode in which it is revealed that Mr. Burns has every disease known to man, and that the diseases clutter up the system so much that none of them can get through the door in order to actually make him sick. Stargate has so many problems that trip over each other continuously that it makes for an oddly enjoyable flick. The continuous over use of special effects, rolled into constantly erupting symphonies of classical music (another sci-fi rule: classical music makes your film classier), that punctuate almost random conjugations of plot points combine into something far more enjoyable than the individual components. I think it resonates, probably entirely accidentally, because the joyous hodge podge of inanities is lifted straight from a ten year old’s stream of consciousness while playing with mismatched toys (“and then the pyramid blasts off, bkkkkkkkooooowww!!! And the G.I. Joe shoots the alien!”).
One could spend six pages snarking through the script just about line by line, but it becomes tedious and repetitive since every element of the film invokes the precise same line of complaint: “if an alien had that technology, why would it be doing that?” The characters are just descriptions of motivation painted onto mannequins. I couldn’t help thinking while rewatching it, that Stargate is just about the perfect mirror image of District 9. The former shows the basic outline of alien contact, suffering and miscommunication, whereas the latter actually cuts at the heart behind it.
All told it makes for a film that is far more entertaining than it should be, especially when alchemically enhanced in the middle of the night, when suggestions that aliens visited ancient Egypt gain a certain shiny appeal.
“Give my regards to King Tut, asshole.” — Jack O’Neil
Steven Lloyd Wilson is the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. He is a hopeless romantic who can be found wandering San Diego’s strip malls and suburbs looking for his mislaid soul and waiting for the revolution to come. Burning Violin is still published weekly on Wednesdays at www.burningviolin.com, along with assorted fiction and other ramblings.