Back in 1928, an Egyptian expedition of archeologists uncovered a curious set of relics which appeared to be some kind of ancient machinery, although its purpose was obscure. As far as they could work out it had something to do with the stars, but progress was not far enough ahead until the nineties for any kind of use for it. However, now rebel Egyptologist Dr Daniel Jackson (James Spader) has been contacted by Catherine Langford (Viveca Lindfors) whose father found the relics, to apply his knowledge to them - could a breakthrough be far behind?
Stargate was one of a few attempts by the writer-producer-director team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin to create their own science fiction classics in the manner of the blockbusters from the seventies and eighties: Steven Spielberg was an obvious influence what with all their emphasis on the awe and majesty of their fantastical plots. In effect, this turned out to be a pretty big hit due to moviegoers responding to the duo's endeavours, sympathising with their drive to fashion imaginative entertainment on a large scale, so much so that it spawned one of the longest-running sci-fi television series in American history.
Which if nothing else provided work for ex-Farscape cast members when their show was cancelled. Meanwhile, at the source of the franchise was a heavy dose of the Erich von Danikens, as the whole ancient astronaut theory was put into play to provide the premise, but the trouble was that watching it now you found yourself waiting around for the characters to catch onto what you already knew thanks to your familiarity with the concept. Even back then Stargate seemed awfully slow, not so much stately as sluggish, especially when all the good bits had been given away in the trailer.
For a film that would so strive for its own self-importance, what could have been a light, fresh space adventure tended to plod, no matter how meticulous the detail to bring it to life was, and the design was very impressive indeed. Joining Daniel on his journey through the portal were a bunch of soldiers led by Colonel O'Neill (a restrained Kurt Russell), who has just suffered a personal tragedy so doesn't too much mind if he ends up dead on this excursion. His troops act like school bullies towards the nerd hero Daniel, particularly when he lands them on an alien world but does not know how to bring them back, just one of the mixed messages the film portrayed.
Mixed because it was in two minds about being gung ho: first the intellectual is victimised due to his ideas being so far ahead of his abilities, but by the end he is militarised to the extent that he firing off guns at the bad guys. Those bad guys are your basic space alien types led by Crying Game star Jaye Davidson, reputedly appearing with great reluctance but an extremely healthy paycheque (he never made another feature after those two), a local whose body was taken over by the alien and uses a bodyguard of young children for a spot of uneasiness. Daniel is treated like some kind of holy man, even a god, by the enslaved natives, and manages to get married to Mili Avatal into the bargain. Of course, the action which follows is very much a part of the traditional space opera, but rather throws away O'Neill's misgivings about giving these innocents weapons for a revolution: half measures don't succeed too well in this atmosphere. Music by David Arnold, which starts off sounding marvelous until you notice it's the same tune repeated to a tiresome degree.