Stargate: 15th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (1st January 2010).
The Film

As hard as it may be to believe, “Stargate” celebrates the 15th anniversary of its theatrical debut in 2009. Who would have thought that, all these years later, a film from the same guys, (Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin) who, two years earlier in 1992 wrote (and the former, directed) the deplorable “Universal Soldier" (1992), would go on to spawn, at my last count, three live action television series, two spin-off direct-to-DVD movies, an animated series, numerous comic books and, undoubtedly, hundred upon hundreds of hours of fan fiction, along with who knows what else. The film and following franchise has permeated the very zeitgeist of the modern sci-fi action genre, and it all started with a moderate budget, and a script that no one really expected to do, at least financially, as well as it did. One of the last films released by Carolco Pictures, “Stargate” grossed nearly $200 million dollars worldwide, far surpassing even the most liberal of box office estimates, and might have saved the company had they not subsequently funded two of biggest flops of the ‘90s, Paul Verhoeven’s disastrous “Showgirls” (1995) and Renny Harlin’s buccaneer bomb “Cutthroat Island” (1995).

Today, “Stargate” sits atop most “best” lists for ‘90s sci-fi, and remains one of the most fondly remembered and respected entries into the genre by the regular movie going public. Emmerich and Devlin’s success with “Stargate,” in my opinion the only truly satisfying piece of work that they have yet to produce, would allow them to unleash an unfortunate amount of increasingly terrible big budget action blockbusters in the coming years, including the barely passable “Independence Day” (1996) and the absolutely god-awful “Godzilla” (1998) and for that I cannot say that “Stargate” doesn’t deserve at least a lashing or two, as I would rather live in a world were Emmerich’s later works never existed. But, despite the passing of fifteen years, and the regrettable notion that it was this film that, in a way, green lit no less than six crimes against cinema, “Stargate” still remains a fun, not exactly mindless, sci-fi action-adventure that I rather enjoy watching.

The premise is deceptively simple. For those who don’t know (“hey, how’s that rock you live under treating you”), “Stargate” is a film about a device that enables its user to teleport, across space, instantaneously. It’s the stuff of grand science fiction, and although the premise is not altogether original, and the film never fully realizes it’s potential, the basic idea allows for near limitless possibilities, of exploration in all sorts of locations and situations. The ability of the Stargate to put characters essentially whenever, and wherever one can imagine is likely the reason that the film, and the franchise it spawned, has such a large following. It provides the type of imaginative, enthralling adventure that viewers look for in television and film, and thus, it’s a successful product.

After a short prologue in the Egyptian desert, set in 1928, in which diggers uncover a massive, mysterious device (the Stargate) buried among the ruins of the Pyramids of Giza, we’re introduced to Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader). Jackson is a man with no plan, hell bent on proving his unconventional theory that the Pyramids of Egypt were not in fact built by the people said to have built them, at a time that predates conventional belief. Evicted from his apartment, a laughing stock in his academic field, Jackson’s life suddenly becomes a bit less bleak when an old woman, whose father originally found the Stargate, named Catherine (Viveca Lindfors) invites him to a military base in Colorado in order to get his interpretation of an “artifact.” Meanwhile, the Government, believing that the country may be in danger if Catherine, Daniel and their team succeed in opening the Stargate, brings in an elite group of soldiers, headed by recently reactivated Colonel Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell), who is still troubled by the untimely death of his son. After a bit of nonsensical techno-babble and some unimportant scenes with Daniel deciphering hieroglyphs on the device itself, the mystery of the Stargate is revealed and quickly (and I mean really quickly), Jackson, O’Neil and a group of soldiers are transported via wormhole to a desert-covered planet, located clear across the known universe. Once there they realize that not only are they not going to be able to get back as easily as they had hoped, but that the planet is occupied by a group of humanoids which bear a striking resemblance, both in physical appearance and culture, to the Egyptians of almost 5000 years ago on Earth.

The films villain, a puzzling God-Alien named Ra (“The Crying Game’s” (1992) Jaye Davidson in his second and, so far, last role on the big screen), is rather non-threatening, mostly offering just cold sneers and moody expressions, oh and a deep, deep voice, but with the help of his army of mythic creatures (men in masks of Horus, Anubis, and a few other Ancient Egpytian deities), he is able to oppress the people of this desert, were they mine for a powerful mineral. The film also gives Jackson an unneeded and woefully obligatory love interest, Sha’uri (Mili Avital), and O’Neil a stand-in for his dead son (Alexis Cruz), with whom he’s able to work out a few of his bigger issues.

The original conflict between Jackson, a man of science and knowledge, and O’Neil, a man of duty, honor and above all else, charged with protecting his country, is about the deepest dramatic tension in the film, so, admittedly, “Stargate” isn’t an overly complex film, and we’re definitely not talking a cinematic work of art. But, at the same time, I wouldn’t say “Stargate” is a completely brainless film, even if it is best viewed as a fun romp. The dark undertones of O’Neil’s back-story, that his son accidentally shot himself (and subsequently died) with O’Neil’s own gun when no one was looking, and thus he holds himself responsible, and wishes to kill himself, gives the film a bit more depth than one would really expect from a production like this. The suicide subplot is downplayed, and like so much else in the film, eventually forgotten for the more entertaining “big dumb action” portion of the film, but nonetheless, it’s worth mentioning. “Stargate” also has a pretty firm grasp on the science fiction genre. Even if at the end of the day it’s more popcorn fodder than anything else, Emmerich and Devlin supply a generally convincing, somewhat unique universe for the franchise to exist in, and both men interweave homage after homage from older sci-fi epics into the film, giving the picture a nice sense of cinematic awareness.

Fifteen years on, “Stargate” has aged, but not always for the worse. Yes, the special effects are definitely not nearly as impressive as they once were, but they are also not, in most cases, as horribly dated as they could be. And the film, quite extraordinarily, hasn’t faded away into obscurity, unlike so many other sci-fi films of the mid-to-late-1990's (ahem… “The Puppet Masters” (1994) and “The Thirteenth Floor” (1999), among others) and that certainly accounts for something. What that “something” is? I don’t have the slightest clue, but facts are facts, and the truth is, truly bad films just don’t have the kind of legs that “Stargate” does and so, it must be fairly good (or at the very least, an extremely enjoyable) movie. Perhaps it’s both Russell and Spader, who provide different, but equally satisfying portrayals of their respective characters which make the film so fun to watch, even after all these years. Maybe it’s the sense of grand adventure, or, even, just the story. Then again, and this is probably the case, it could be the culmination of all three that makes “Stargate” work.

Regardless, as I said in my review of the “Stargate: Atlantis – Fans Choice” (2004-2009) disc a few weeks back, I have fond memories of the night my Mom brought home a VHS copy of “Stargate” from Blockbuster for us kids on a sleepover movie night during a birthday party when I was younger, and since that time the original motion picture has remained a guilty pleasure of mine, which I watch quite often, even to this day. Emmerich’s “Stargate” is the perfect lazy Sunday afternoon type of movie, something to watch, just because it’s fun and because it allows you to escape for a few hours. It’s not a masterpiece or a work of art, but it is entertaining and not all together unintelligent. Fifteen years on, “Stargate” is still a recommended addition to just about anyone’s video library.

Video

Despite being reissued numerous times on home video, “Stargate” has never really had a proper transfer to home video. The original DVD was minted for a poor quality LaserDisc master and was marred by some pretty wicked compression issues and a general lack of detail (even for standard definition). Even more troubling is the fact that it wasn’t until the 3rd release of the film, with the "Ultimate Edition" in 2004, that fans were finally given a 16x9-enhanced anamorphic image. The topping to the crap-hill that the older home video releases make up is that, until (and including) the first Blu-ray release in 2006, Lionsgate (or Artisan, depending on the timeframe) continually reused a disgusting contrast boosted master, minted sometime in the late 90's. To put it simply, “Stargate” has always looked like crap on home video; at least, that’s to say it did, until this new Blu-ray.

Frankly, this new "15th Anniversary Edition" proves that Lionsgate can do a catalogue title right (as hard as that may be to believe, it’s true). Completely remastered from the original 35mm film elements, “Stargate” looks as good (if not better) than it did when being projected in theaters a decade and a half ago. The contrast boosting, which resulted in crushed blacks, over-cooked whites and clipped details, from discs of old? Gone. The film has its original, much darker palate restored. I’ll admit to thinking that the picture was perhaps too dark on occasion, but that’s probably because I’m so used to the ultra-bright DVD's. This new color timing returns the film to an intended, a far less harsh aesthetic, which looks so much better than I could have possibly imagined. It wasn’t until this new disc that I realized just how completely awful the older discs really are. Need more proof that this new disc an improvement? Well, how about the nasty edge enhancement that infected every previous home video edition, is it still there? Nope. At least mostly it isn’t. A few tiny scenes show a bit of haloing, but as the few times I noticed the ringing where during scenes that involved optical composites, I think the effect may be inherent to the original photography. And what about DNR? Quite surprisingly (and I say because of the “Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Skynet Edition” (1991) debacle), not over used, if it was used at all. The image is clean, but not grain scrubbed. Detail remains impressive (if occasionally a little soft) and the picture appears to reflect the original photography without alteration, which is especially true now that brightness and colors are back to more natural levels. Grain is mild, but film-like; it doesn’t appear blocky or noisy, and gives a nice filmic texture to the presentation that one doesn’t usually see on catalogue titles.

This new transfer, encoded here in 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, and spread across a dual layer BD-50, is a stellar improvement when compared to the older single layered MPEG-2 encoded high-def release from 2006. Macro blocking is kept to a minimum (essentially being eradicated) and the image has slightly more information on the sides of the frame, due to the fact that the new master correctly preserves the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (the original Blu-ray was closer to 2.35:1). The new disc is impressive, particularly in the early scenes with the exterior of temple right after the team travels through the gate; the detail in the brickwork is exquisite in this scene, finely rendered and sharp even in medium and long shorts. Colors are crisp and pure, but admittedly a little subdued as the film has a muted color palette; the film does turn occasionally a bit dark and blue tinted but that’s intentional and not a fault of the disc itself. Really, this is a very nice looking disc that I’m happy to have in my collection.

And yet, as impressed as I was with this disc, I can’t in good conscience give it an “A” (even with a minus). The disc looks excellent; it’s much, much better than the original Blu-ray release, that’s for sure, and it definitely makes waste of the even older DVD editions. This new “Stargate” is a fine catalogue remaster, looking far better than (probably) any non-new title from Lionsgate ever has, at least in relation to the source material. It’s a damn revelation compared to a few other fan favorites that the distributor has released in 1080p (again I turn to “Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Skynet Edition”). But, the film still isn’t what I would consider the cream of the crop when it comes to high-definition greatness. Sure, “Stargate” is close to being a top tier transfer, and accurately represents Emmerich’s vision, but it’s just a little too flawed to be an example of perfection. On one side, lingering halo artifacts and some (rather mild) print damage knock down the rating a bit. On the other side, the source is just a bit underwhelming to ever provide stunning visuals one-hundred-percent of the time. Due to the way the film was shot, some scenes appear that are softer than the rest of the film, or, in opposition to that statement, there are other scenes which are a bit grittier than the norm. The sand storm sequence is intentionally murky, and certain other scenes are filled with smoke, softening up things quite a bit. The transfer has no real issue with the misty smoke, or the gritty footage, but these moments do keep this from being the end all, be all. “Stargate” has always suffered from a murky, grainy softness in the darker scenes, so I don’t really fault the Blu-ray itself. Just, I don’t think “Stargate” is what people would consider conventionally attractive, and rightfully so.

On the bright side, unlike previous versions before this, the integration of the extended (and alternate) scenes into the "Extended Cut" is finally, truly seamless. Unlike before, were the quality differed greatly and it was obvious that a extended scene had just been spliced in, be it due to thicker grain, slightly different coloring or more aggressive damage, this new version, no matter the cut, looks equally good.

What really matters is that, even if it’s not exactly perfect, this new high-definition release of “Stargate” is a big enough upgrade that fans (and even casual viewers) should snatch this up without hesitation. I for one am happy to finally have a version of the film that resembles the original vision of the director and his DP; especially one that actually looks like film, and remains (mostly) free of unneeded alteration.

Audio

For this 15th Anniversary re-release, “Stargate” gets a brand new English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz/24-bit) track, a significant increase in quality and clarity when compared to all versions before it. Although this Blu-ray isn’t the first time “Stargate” has hit high-definition home video, it is the first time that the film has done so with a full Lossless sound mix (at least on US shores). For a film from 1994, it really does sound excellent. The clear standout is composer David Arnold’s sweeping, majestic score, which makes full use of the sound field, enveloping the viewer with crisp and clean tones. Another high point is the “passing through the Stargate” sequence; although impressive in other versions before it, the new lossless mix takes the moment to a whole new level, offering unique effects passing through all 8 channels, including some rumbling bass and quite a bit of surround action. Dialogue, as well as most ambient effects, is delivered clearly and with the expected clarity of a DTS Master Audio mix, staying confined within the original 5.1 soundscape. One would think then that the addition of the extra two channels that Lionsgate has provided would be overkill and rarely used, but, no, they get nice score bleed and remain relatively active primarily with music, and in a few key sequences, such as the Stargate passing, the full 7.1 contains decent use of ambient effects.

A French dub is also included, encoded as a Dolby Digital 5.1 track (incorrectly labeled as 2.0 on the packaging). Subtitles are offered in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Arriving on home video for what has to be the 70th time (in reality, I believe this Blu-ray marks the 6th time “Stargate” has been reissued on US shores) this new “15th Anniversary” release carries over all of the important extras from previous editions of the film, including multiple featurettes, an audio commentary with the writer and director, two versions the film and a variety of trailers. For this new disc Lionsgate has also created a few new featurettes, cobbled together an interactive trivia game and compiled a "BonusView" picture-in-Picture video commentary track, as well as unearthed an unseen gag reel. Video-based material is presented in a mix of standard definition and high-definition (detailed below):

ORIGINAL DVD FEATURES:

Two versions of the film. Although both the "Theatrical" and "Extended Cut" versions of “Stargate” have been available before in various releases and re-issues, this Blu-ray marks the first time that the two cuts have been seamlessly branched on disc. Unlike previous DVD's, which offered separate discs, allowing subsequent pressings to drop the "Theatrical Cut" (as was the case with the "Ultimate Edition" release), this Blu-ray, unless completely re-authored, will stand to contain both versions until the whole "15th Anniversary Edition" goes out of print. The differences between the two cuts are minor, including a few utterances of changed dialogue, and a few scenes that are longer in the "Extended Cut." A full run down of the differences can be found on IMDB (here). In actuality, the different cuts are mostly similar and the addition of 9 minutes to the "Extended Cut" doesn’t drastically alter the tone of the film.

Available only on the "Extended Cut" of the film, and, for some reason, not listed in the supplements menu or the audio set up screen of the actual disc (one must use the audio button on their remote to enable it) is an audio commentary with director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter/producer Dean Devlin. Most fans won’t be strangers to this commentary, in which Devlin and Emmerich talk about which scenes are “new” (and why they were cut from the film in the first place), discuss certain technical aspects of the film, like the use of dissolves, models, matte paintings and the mild use of, at the time of production, “new” CG technology. They share on set anecdotes, and genuinely offer insightful comments on the script, characters and the film overall. This is an excellent commentary with both participants overflowing with information; the onslaught of dialogue from the two is free flowing, but measured and always worth listening to.

“The Making of Stargate” is the longest featurette here, created for the "Ultimate Edition" DVD half a decade ago. This is a methodical piece, discussing the Stargate, Ra and his Temple, among other aspects seen in the film, via newly recorded (circa 2004) interviews, old on-set talks with the actors (circa 1994), as well as film clips and, very infrequently, real behind-the-scenes footage of various sets being built, and the like. The fact that this is the most in-depth video-based supplement on the disc makes me a bit sad and is further proof that a new, hour-or-longer documentary needs to be shot. This featurette runs 23 minutes 33 seconds. Presented in 16x9-enhanced standard definition.

“Is There a Stargate,” the other featurette that was ported over from the 2004 "Ultimate Edition" DVD, isn’t so much concerned with “Stargate” as a film, but rather, discusses whether aliens could have traveled to Earth thousands of years ago and influenced ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians. Erich von Däniken, author of “Chariots of the Gods” offers his thoughts on the myth behind the construction of the pyramids, among other things. 12 minutes 11 seconds. Presented in window-boxed 480i standard definition.

And finally, the film’s theatrical trailer, in what looks to be 480p upconverted to 1080p, rounds off the extras. 2 minutes 38 seconds.

A few ancient text based supplements from older DVD editions didn’t make the transition to high-def. Not a huge loss, the older text offered cast bios and production notes; all information that is easily found on IMDB or via interviews on this disc.

BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVES:

Kicking things off is “Stargate: Ultimate Knowledge,” available on the "Extended Cut" only, a picture-in-picture video commentary track with comments from history professors, “Chariots of the Gods” author Erich von Däniken and the film’s cast and crew, including both Emmerich and Devlin. Topics run the gamut, covering Egyptian history, scientific facts and theories, and, finally, offering in-depth discussion on making the film. The track is a bit sporadic, with a few long gaps of nothingness, but nonetheless it’s informative and well produced. Although much of this track is stitched together from material that is included elsewhere on the disc in standalone form (i.e., in featurettes), some newly shot footage is also included, making this a nice addition to the overall supplemental package, and not something to be missed. This feature requires a Profile 1.1 enabled “BonusView” equipped blu-ray player for playback.

The trio of new featurettes produced exclusively for the "15th Anniversary" Blu-ray are found under a menu marked “Stargate: History Made.” Chopped up from a larger piece, these featurettes fill in some of the gaps left by the previous DVD extras, but don’t fully do the film complete justice. Perhaps one day a true (read: feature-length) documentary will appear on one of the inevitable reissues, but as it is, this is decent stuff. Each featurette runs under or around 10 minutes and covers the conception of “Stargate,” the production of the film, and it’s impact on the sci-fi genre. Best viewed as a single piece using the available “Play All” option, this new material is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p high-definition. The individual featurettes are discussed below:

- “Deciphering The Gate: Casting and Conceptualization” has director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter/producer Dean Devlin discussing the origins of the project, the fluctuating budget (exploding from a respectable $25 million to an extravagant [for 1994] $55 million) and how they landed star Kurt Russell. 7 minutes 50 seconds.

- Next, the bluntly titled “Opening the Gate: the Making of the Movie” is, you guessed it, a piece that focuses on the actual shooting of the film and the complications that arose due to the location being used (heat exhaustion, dust storms, etc). Devlin and Emmerich also discuss the importance of having an Egyptologist on set, which was especially handy when it came to the use of language in the film, and the difficulties that they faced after having erected a massive alien Egypt in the middle of the Arizona desert. 10 minutes 10 seconds.

- And finally, the new featurettes finish off with “Passing Through the Gate: The Legacy” which has Devlin and others discussing the various spin-off TV shows and comics that have appeared in the time since the feature film first debuted. Also touched upon are the various conventions, which have grown out of the dedicated fan base, and the auction of many of the original props seen in the film. 4 minutes 29 seconds.

“Master of the Stargate” is an interactive trivia game. Up to 4 players can test their knowledge of the film and the “Stargate” universe by answering questions in this Java-based quiz, set against a minimized version of the film. It’s fun for a few minutes but I honestly didn’t feel like sitting through the whole film playing this game.

A gag reel, which, for some reason is only now appearing on home video, is included. Although this is new to disc, it’s an old window-boxed 4x3 standard definition feature that was very obviously produced during the original production. 3 minutes 15 seconds.

Also included are a few bonus trailers, all encoded in HD, which appear before the menu. Annoyingly the “top menu” command is disabled and one must use the “skip” button to move through the trailers one by one. Previews include:

- “Hulk vs.” on DVD and Blu-ray. 3 minutes 37 seconds.
- “The Spirit” on DVD and Blu-ray. 2 minutes 11 seconds.
- “Forbidden Kingdom” on DVD and Blu-ray. 2 minutes 7 seconds.
- “Battle for Terra” on DVD and Blu-ray. 3 minutes 12 seconds.

Lionsgate has included their standard bookmarking feature on this disc.

Packaging

Lionsgate offers up “Stargate: 15th Anniversary Edition” pressed onto a Dual Layer BD-50, and housed in a standard blue Elite style keepcase, with an attractive (textured) outer slipcover. Both the "Theatrical" and "Extended Cuts" of the film are included on one disc, via seamless branching. Rather amusingly, the front artwork subtitles the film as “Stargate: The Movie” and plasters phrases like “the original” and “the one that started it all” in variously places on the back of the cover.

The disc is verified to be region free.

Overall

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.