Stargate: Special Edition Review

Colin Polonowski has reviewed the Region 1 DVD release of Stargate: Special Edition

When I first read about Stargate back in the mists of time, I thought it really could be my kind of film. It took new age Egypt theories and science fiction and stuck them together. There’s never been a shortage of ‘Aliens helped to build the Pyramids’ claims, but this was the first time a Hollywood movie had attempted to explore the idea.

Then, I discovered that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were involved and my expectations dropped right off the scale!

Opening with the discovery of the ‘Stargate’ on the Giza Plateau in 1928, we’re quickly thrust in to the nineties where the US government has taken the artefact and is trying to determine it’s purpose. Calling in Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (Spader) with his ‘way-out’ theories as to the origins of the Pyramids, they hope he’ll be able decode the symbols covering the device and find out just what it does.

Where the US government failed, Jackson succeeds and the ‘Stargate’ is activated opening a gateway to a distant planet in a distant galaxy. This is obviously a pretty big military issue, so in comes Colonel Jack O’Neil (Russell) to take control of the situation and to ensure that if any threat to Earth’s security exists the Stargate is closed forever.

Arriving on a desert planet, Jackson, O’Neil and a bunch of US soldiers set about finding out why the gateway exists and who built it – of course, being a film things aren’t going to go to plan and after the discovery of a human slave colony and the arrival of some big alien baddies things get nasty… It turns out that the Egyptian Sun God, Ra was in fact a dying alien who took a human body as a host so as to live forever – but he’s not exactly the nicest person in the universe. Cue lots of fighting and explosions and the deterioration of what could have been an intriguing story.

The DVD features both the theatrical cut and a second ‘special edition’ version incorporating nine minutes of additional footage – unfortunately instead of realising some of the potential it just manages to bog things down more. Revelations later in the film are reduced to the nature of some of the additional footage. If you’ve seen the theatrical cut then, it’s worth watching this to see what was cut out – but I personally don’t think any of this new footage adds to the film.

Technically, the DVD is little more than functional. The worst aspect, by FAR, is the picture quality – not only is it non-anamorphic NTSC, it suffers quite badly with various defects. It doesn’t really look any better than the laserdisc release and there’s a hell of a lot of shimmering.

Jumping between chapters emphasises the instability of the picture and some scene changes are far from smooth with odd on-screen picture fluctuations. It looks like a result of the digital encoding to me – but I haven’t seen anything quite like it before now.

The soundtrack is another matter entirely – there is good use made of all five speakers and the sub gets a good hammering. The music score in particular sounds outstanding in 5.1 channels and I’d go as far as saying this is up there with the best.

Onto the extras now! The main extra has to be the commentary track by Emmerich and Devlin – considering the fact that I’ve been less than impressed with any of their films, the commentary isn’t that bad and throws up some interesting bits of information. They appear to have a particular distaste of the TV series – which is odd considering that at times (most of the time) it’s better than the film ever was. The commentary is only accessible when watching the special edition version of the film. I just wish Emmerich would stop saying ‘like’ after every other word!

The production notes and cast & crew information is the standard DVD fare. The booklet is worth a quick glance but you’ll put it to the side fairly quickly and there isn’t a lot in there.

Finally we have both teaser and theatrical trailers – ’nuff said!

So, the disc is a mixed bag – much like the film. I quite like Stargate myself and while it’s not really outstanding in any respect, it does help pass the time on a wet Sunday afternoon! The additional features offered by this DVD don’t really add a lot to the experience.

Colin Polonowski

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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