I saw this film when it first came out in theaters, and I’m not sure I would have believed you then if you told me that it would lead to one of the biggest science fiction franchise of all time. In full disclosure, I should mention that I’m not a fan of the franchise. I never really gave SG-1 or Atlantis a shot – I’ve never seen a full episode of either. I have seen a few episodes of SGU, which manages to combine some of the things that make me wary of Stargate in general with some of the worst traits of the Battlestar revival, like it’s grim and grinding misanthropy. I think I will give SG-1 a shot someday – I hear a lot of good things – but it might be a while.
This film also represents the rapid rise of Roland Emmerich as one of the new kings of science fiction blockbusters (though not particularly brainy ones). Emmerich’s style is very reminiscent of Steven Spielberg, and this film is at its best when it captures some of the sense of adventure and discovery in the Spielberg films its aping (the likes of Raiders and Close Encounters). Emphasis on “some” in that last sentence though. Emmerich is not Spielberg.
In the 1920s, archaeologists find a strange metal object with odd markings. Seventy years later, they still haven’t figured it out, but then they bring in brilliant Egyptologist and linguist Daniel Jackson (James Spader), who has some crazy theories about Egyptian history that, of course, turn out to be correct. Jackson renames the object a “stargate” and figures out how to use it in a couple of days. Then, the US military puts together an expedition through the stargate led by Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell). On the other side, they find some refugees from ancient Egypt who are still oppressed by aliens dressed as Egyptian gods. Typical Americans, O’Neil and Jackson try to convince these vaguely Arab people to enact a regime change, and many of them get killed in the process.
The film is short on explanation and details – much of the film is conducted in made-up languages – but the film has a solid concept, some very nice production design (especially the Egyptian god head-ornaments), and it’s generally pretty fun. The clichéd action scenes get a little tiresome, especially in the final act, but this film was quite a bit better than I remembered. It’s not a masterpiece of film, but it is what I’m coming to expect from Saturn winners: good effects and fun sf action.