'Stargate': THR's 1994 Review

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Kurt Russell in 1994's 'Stargate'
A blast from the past in many ways, but it imaginatively employs the latest special effects technology to give audiences new thrills.

On Oct. 28, 1994, MGM unveiled sci-fi actioner Stargate in theaters, where it would go on to gross $196 million globally and later launch a TV franchise. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

Two adventure-filled hours of mind-blowing trips across the universe, sticky-tongued creatures, furious battles, giant flying pyramids, sandstorms and love among the hieroglyphs, Stargate is a blast from the past in many ways, but it imaginatively employs the latest special effects technology to give audiences new thrills. An entertaining throwback to mainstream adventure epics with a good mixture of traditional sci-fi elements and character-driven comedy, the MGM release delivers the goods.

The big-budget Stargate features an unusual cast and an original story penned by director Roland Emmerich and co-producer Dean Devlin, but it should overcome its underdog role and open well while generating stellar word-of-mouth.

Alas, more grisly star-driven competition arrives swiftly on its heels. International b.o. and post-theatrical markets, however, should easily propel Stargate into the winner's circle.

Owing a lot to past science fiction epics (Star Wars, Dune) and big-budget costumers of yesteryear (Spartacus, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Cleopatra), Stargate opens in Egypt in the 1920s, where archaeologists discover two large circular devices. In just this brief prologue, director Emmerich shows he has put the generic Universal Soldier behind him and risen to the occasion for a $55 million project he first dreamed of making more than a decade ago.

In the present day, the U.S. military and scientists strive to understand what the unearthed artifacts are used for, with the general assumption they are transportation devices. Enter shaggy-haired Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader), who swiftly deciphers hieroglyphs that activate the portal. Jackson and a reconnaissance team headed by a no-nonsense colonel (Kurt Russell) are sent through and whisked across the universe in a crowd-cheering effects sequence.

The adventurers' destination is the deserty climes of an earth-like planet inhabited by humans speaking ancient Egyptian, as well as Ra (Jaye Davidson), an alien in the body of a young man. The film takes a big risk employing a made-up language and subtitles for the planet's inhabitants, but manages it well. Less risky and leading to several nifty payoffs is the weird technology at the command of Ra and his henchmen.

Spader has a lot of fun with his role, and even gets to cozy up with a beautiful local (Israeli actress Mili Avital). Russell takes charge of the action scenes, while Davidson (in his first role since The Crying Game) looks great in his wild costumes. The latter's eyes sizzle when angry (courtesy of postproduction effects) and his Egyptian-language lines are filtered through electronics, giving his fairly one-note character that extra bit of menace.

From scenes with thousands of extras to spectacular scenery and architecture made possible through digital imaging, Stargate boasts excellent production values. Cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub puts the widescreen format to full use while having Holger Gross' terrific sets to work with. English composer David Arnold's meaty classical score helps keep the epic flowing smoothly. — David Hunter, originally published Oct. 24, 1994.