Stargate

Stargate. Metro Goldwyn-Mayer 1994.

Before watching the movie:

I can probably count on one hand the number of episodes of Stargate: SG-1 I’ve seen, and still have room for the number of episodes of Stargate: Andromeda and Stargate Universe. I think there are two other series now? It was the Star franchise I cared least about.

So Stargate and the Stargates have always been a thing that the show has expected viewers to know about in everything I’ve seen. I’m interested in seeing how the concept is introduced for the very first time, from the very beginning.

After watching the movie:

Doctor Daniel Jackson, linguist and Egyptologist, is approached to translate hieroglyphs found at a dig in 1928 and now being studied by the US Air Force. When Jackson does translate it and finds it refers to the sealing of a “star gate”, the project team reveals to him that they have also been studying a stargate found on the same dig. It seems to require seven symbols to be aligned on its ring, but they don’t know what the seventh symbol is. Jackson is able to quickly deduce it, and when they enter the full sequence, the stargate opens a wormhole to a desert planet. A team of soldiers, led by Col. O’Neil and accompanied by Jackson, enter the gate and soon meet a tribe of humans who work as slaves mining the same alien ore the stargate is made of. Eventually, Jackson is able to deduce that they are speaking a modern dialect of Ancient Egyptian, and learns the language with the help of Sha’uri, the chieftain’s daughter, presented to him as a gift. Jackson learns that millennia ago, an alien named Ra from a dying race discovered that he could inhabit a human body to live forever, and enslaved the Egyptians to expand his power. And now Ra has returned to the planet and found that humans from Earth have brought a nuclear bomb.

I never saw the first episode of SG-1, but I did see the first episode of Universe, which begins with, “oh well, we all know about Stargates, but we found one that needs one more symbol than we’ve ever seen before, let’s figure out what sequence we need to dial in”. And I thought that they elided over the “finding, studying, and building the computer interface for the Stargate” part because of the “we all know about Stargates” part, but this movie, which is the inception of the concept, starts with a Stargate that was discovered seventy years ago, ready to open as soon as somebody figures out what the last symbol is. I want to know more about the process of studying it, figuring out how to interface with it and what it does without successfully using it for decades. It’s probably not worth a whole movie or even more than an episode or two of a television show, but it seems like a critical part of the world that’s just been left out because it’s not the shooty adventure part.

I thought that Kurt Russell would be the lead. He’s the biggest name, he’s most prominent in the promotional material, and he’s the commander of the team and the character is often the principal character of the TV series. However, I found him playing the grim, hypercautious military man type that’s difficult to trust, haunted by a past that it took a long time for me to figure out how it was relevant to the current events, and as a result I didn’t really see him as a major player until the third act. This is entirely Daniel Jackson’s story until suddenly O’Neil has a fistfight over control of the bomb during the climax.

I can see why this works much better as a series than a standalone movie. The plot here is a pretty stock story of our heroes finding themselves in a strange land where things have gone wrong and upending everything in the process of getting home, with a heavy dose of “aliens are responsible for every great accomplishment of nonwestern civilization”. It feels like something out of a pulp novel, and probably owes a lot to A Princess of Mars specifically (though my familiarity with that story comes from a parody anthology and trailers for John Carter). People hated when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull switched from “vaguely religious magic” to “ancient alien magical technology”, but I could definitely see a very similar movie coming out of Dr. Jones stumbling across a way to use ancient alien technology to open a door to another world.

I have to agree with what seems to be the consensus. This is not a great movie, but it led to better things. Though I do really like Spader’s Jackson. It doesn’t have enough time to build its own mythology and yet it also takes too long to get to what it wants to be.

One thought on “Stargate

  1. Valerie May 10, 2019 / 2:41 pm

    “And I thought that they elided over the ‘finding, studying, and building the computer interface for the Stargate’ part . . . I want to know more about the process of studying it, figuring out how to interface with it and what it does without successfully using it for decades.”
    This reminds me of the review i just read of the new Tolkien movie. The reviewer thought it was great, but wanted to see more of the man and his writing process, or in other words, the studying part.
    i suspect that movie makers don’t think anyone will be interested in huge parts of their movie just watching people study!

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