Why the Stargate movie still holds up 15 years later

It's probably been 15 years since I last saw Stargate, although it's no particular fault of the film's; indeed, it's director Roland Emmerich's earliest movies as a mainstream Hollywood filmmaker that have enjoyed the most longevity, or at least audience affection. (In comparison to Independence Day or even Universal Soldier, it's hard to imagine that 10,000 B.C. will be remembered as fondly, if at all.)

But in retrospect, Stargate seems like the right idea at the right time: combining scientific theory with swashbuckling action, the film continues to be a crowd pleaser even today, which is why its new 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray offers a welcome reintroduction to the film's populist charms, complete with plenty of new bonus content.

Not perhaps unlike the original Lethal Weapon, Stargate isn't shackled but certainly seeded with tragedy that threatens to undermine its otherwise featherweight touch: James Spader's character's professional ostracism notwithstanding, Kurt Russell's general is tormented by the accidental death of his son, and when we first meet him he's sitting on a bed with a gun, apparently contemplating suicide (or at the very least reconsidering a career in the military).

But it's these two against-type performances that fortify the film's oddball appeal: Spader's wincing smile, so often used as a deliverer of condescension, now registers each larger-than-life revelation with goofy acceptance, while Russell's steely wildness has been molded into melancholy pragmatism, providing the fantastic escapism of the plot with a palpable emotional reality.

That said, the movie is a fairly perfect combination of light touches and genuine intensity; for every moment of banana-peel humor, there's a suspenseful showdown, and vice versa. As a pastiche of David Lean-style epics, familiar science fiction texts, mystical mumbo-jumbo, and breezy action, Stargate really gratifies in the most generalized way possible, which is precisely why it continues to resonate, spawning an entire universe of mythology and storytelling that spans TV series, comic books, and video games.

While the film has been released a few times on DVD, the new Blu-ray betters its predecessors primarily with bonus content, since the presentation of the film itself often leaves much to be desired. In particular, there's a remarkable amount of flicker in many of the images on screen, which is something that, color quality or grain detail aside, should be absent in high definition. Unfortunately, this doesn't even refer to the effects shots, which are notoriously susceptible to visual deterioration since older films required multiple passes on the same source material to achieve a specific effect; rather, even in dialogue scenes there's a faintness and that flicker of digital information that suggests the transfer was prepared for standard rather than high-definition presentation.

That said, the remainder of the extras are fully satisfying: the disc features both the theatrical cut and an extended edition that was released a few years ago, as well as a commentary track with Emmerich and writer-producer Dean Devlin, an interactive trivia challenge, a picture-in-picture presentation that provides interview footage and production images, a three-part documentary about the film's making, legacy and impact, and a new gag reel. Actually, to be fair, the gag reel isn't particularly satisfying; rather than compiling flubs or mistakes, its' one extended take where members of the cast and crew wreak havoc on set, and while it's kind of fun, so little of it works (a guy with a chainsaw fails to chop Emmerich's director's chair in half) that it's more a waste of time than a filler of it.

Otherwise, the documentaries detail the way in which Emmerich and Devlin were still largely unknown quantities in Hollywood when they started on the film, how they modeled it on so many of the films and franchises that inspired them, and then how they translated that into something that eventually became a sleeper hit upon its release in 1994. While there are no particularly shocking revelations to be found, the majority of the information is presented briskly and proves entertaining even to a casual fan of the film.

The rest of the extras are essential the same as in previous editions, including a "making of" documentary and a featurette entitled "Is There A Stargate?" But ultimately the only shortcoming of this collection of content is the presentation of the film itself—although to be fair, it's hardly prohibitive for folks who might be buying the movie for the first time, and otherwise looks okay in terms of clarity and cleanliness.

Overall, however, Stargate 15th Anniversary Special Edition is an engaging collection based on the strength of the film's story and the substance of the bonus content, even if the way it's presented sometimes leaves something to be desired.

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