The best modern sci-fi thriller/adventures such as “Total Recall”, “Alien” and “Predator” were films with great simple concepts that took effective story ideas and executed them with style and atmosphere. The film efforts of filmmakers Roland Emmerich & Dean Devlin however only got it half right. ID4, Godzilla and Stargate were films which on paper were great ‘high concept’ stories and admittedly Emmerich certainly has a flair for direction with good control of both pace and visuals.
Devlin though, whilst he had a good hand on basic stories, is sadly not much of a writer and that’s demonstrated with this 1994 sci-fi effort which has some good ideas, but never reached its full potential until it was turned into a TV spin-off. “Stargate: SG-1” has just finished its sixth season and like DS9, Babylon 5 and Buffy it is a solid show with interesting writing and complicated plot threads all intertwining together along with a far more enjoyable cast interacting with each other (in fact like Buffy it was Seasons 2, 3 & 5 which were its strengths).
This film, despite its bigger budget, starts off well with some great scenes in a military base and James Spader delivering one of his career best performances as the nerdy but loveable Dr. Daniel Jackson. As the ‘brains’ of the group, Spader gives his character a welcome sense of credibility and eccentricity – far better than Russell’s monosyllabic Col. Jack O’Neill who despite a severe haircut lacks the gravitas and personality of the far less talkative but more striking work as Snake Plissken in John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York”. Jaye Davidson has a strong presence as the evil and androgynous looking God Ra.
Sadly after its strong first act, the film devolves into what is for the most part a bad Mad Max/Lawrence of Arabia clone which falls into cliched shoot-outs and dull action scenes which void the building sense of mystery and wonder. FX wise the Stargate ‘water’ style tunnel itself is still a great idea nearly ten years on, and the glider/pyramid visuals still look excellent.
The production design of the various costumes and sets is beautiful and elaborate (as shown in the still superb opening credits sequence) and the score is nice and epic enough for the material on display. Its such a shame that so many of the ideas whilst looking great, are wasted on a cliched and empty story. Its great that this set up the superior series to follow, and whilst certain sequences still hold up effectively its not the masterpiece it wants to be.