It was a fucking glorious day last weekend when I discovered Stargate had made its way onto Netflix. The 90s science fiction film that proceeded the television series is something of a cult classic starring the fabulous Kurt Russell and James Spader. I couldn’t wait to watch it. When it came out in the mid-90s, Stargate was pulled apart by critics. Some of the reviews are fucking brutal. None more so than the late Roger Ebert’s one star review. In fact the film remained on his list of worst ever movies for the rest of his life. Even before you watch it that’s quite a reputation. Any film that creates so much hatred from critics inevitably goes on to be a fan favourite. It made a shitload when it opened in cinemas and has become a confirmed cult classic. It’s nowhere near being a great movie but it does make great viewing. So much so that its welcome arrival on Netflix prompted me to abandon plans to discuss JJ Abrams’ Star Trek for this Throwback Thursday and, instead, allow me to spend some time convincing you all to give this one a shot.
Stargate differs slightly from the world we became familiar with in the television series but the basics are the same. There’s a fucking massive circle thing that magically transports people between Earth and a number of new worlds. It doesn’t exactly make sense but what kind of sci-fi doesn’t require you to suspend your disbelief at least a bit? The film introduces us to the mysterious stargate when Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is brought in to translate some hieroglyphs that a team of so-called experts have failed to figure out for a good few years. In a matter of minutes Jackson has figured out the translation and managed to figure out the code needed to travel through space. It’s a bunch of convoluted nonsense about constellations and symbols but you don’t really need to focus on that. All that matters is the mysterious circle thing works now.
Jackson and a team of soldiers, lead by the emotionally damaged Colonel Jack O’Neill (Kurt Russell), enter the stargate and travel to a weird dessert planet where reading and writing are outlawed. The group are, inevitably, split up and whilst the main cast meet with the locals the others are left to be captured in creepy pyramid. The locals live like Ancient Egyptians and have a very simple existence. They are fascinated by the visitors’ “modern” technology. Turns out, the planet is ruled over by the evil alien/God Ra who has enslaved everyone and has a magic machine that can bring people back to life. Seems weird that a group of people ruled over by an alien being can still be so amazed by a simple lighter but it’s better that we all ignore that.
Unfortunately, Colonel O’Neill brought a back-up plan in the form of a fucking huge bomb in case things went sour. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that the evil alien has got his hands on that bomb and is planning on blowing up mankind. Our heroes must band together with the oppressed masses to stop this evil menace. There’s also some stuff about romance, dealing with the loss of a child, and a lot of random coincidences that keep the story moving along.
Now this isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire but there is something fantastic about the story. The first half hour or so that sets up the stargate may be ridiculous but its certainly engaging. The film loses momentum slightly once Ra joins the party but what it lacks in coherence it certainly makes up for with explosions and fighting. Ra isn’t exactly the most imposing of evil figures but it doesn’t matter. After all, this is a film that is made by the performances of Spader and Russell. Despite the fact that this film is an undeniable piece of shit the two actors perform admirably in their roles. Most of the time they are forced to say some of the most ridiculous lines in the history of cinema but they do so as if they were speaking Shakespeare. It’s amazing.
Stargate is a fucking mess of a film that has been put together using plots and devices stolen from countless other films. It steals from the likes of Spielberg, George Lucas and every B movie sci-fi flick out there. It’s silly, illogical, and far too long. However, as with all films of this kind, there is something magical about it. The two leads elevate it to a level way above the one it deserves and the special effects, for the time at least, are something. Yes, you can’t take it too seriously or think to hard about the plot but you will go along with it. This film has such a steadfast belief in what it’s doing that you don’t really want to shatter its delusion about itself. Ultimately, it’s better to just go along with the madness.