The Austin Chronicle


Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring James Spader, Kurt Russell, Jaye Davidson.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., Nov. 4, 1994

When genres collide. Ridley Scott fused the science fiction movie with film noir in Blade Runner. James Cameron fused the science fiction movie with the war movie in Aliens. In this genre-bending era, it was only a matter of time before someone would fuse the science fiction movie with the desert tribe movie and the slave uprising movie and the war movie. Are we richer for it? Well…. Roland Emmerich hasn't bettered us as a culture with Stargate, but he hasn't corrupted us, either. What he has done is pretty much what Hollywood's done with sci-fi since Forbidden Planet riffed on The Tempest: Taken a solid story from another form and refinished it with a rocketship or robot (or android or replicant). Maybe feeling the more genres the merrier, Emmerich's taken several tales -- Close Encounters, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, Battleground -- and tried to stitch them into a star-spanning epic. Spader is an Egyptologist who cracks the riddle of an object found in the Mideast: It's a portal to a planet galaxies away. Russell is the military jock who leads an expedition through the gate, where they find a primitive race enslaved by an alien playing the Egyptian god Ra, and our guys not only fight to return to Earth but spur a native revolt and introduce the aliens to automatic weapons. And there's a love story. And Russell dealing with his son's death. Emmerich tries to keep too many balls in space and the Force is not with him. He rushes through the Earthers bonding with the aliens and the build-up to the revolt, trying to get by on wobbly clichés. (The fighters are closing in on the kid. Run, kid! Boom! Shot of the kid's helmet rolling away.) And most of it is treated way too gravely. Russell does a dour Sgt. Rock, and Jaye Davidson makes Ra Ming the Mirthless. While Spader's absent-minded prof might be annoying elsewhere, its humor is refreshing here. That, David Arnold's stallion-cresting-the-dune score, and the spectacular design work, which has a love affair with all things Egyptian, keep Stargate watchable. But next time, Mr. Emmerich, only two genres per customer.

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