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Stargate: Ultimate Edition

What a difference a decade makes. For fans of Erich Van Daniken's space-aliens-built-the-pyramids theory, it wasn't hard to feel extremely disappointed when the film Stargate wasted this rich treasure-trove of story possibilities and instead turned out to be yet another testosterone-filled action movie. But since the film's release in 1994, a lot of movies have been made that are much, much worse. And interestingly, several of these ghastly monstrosities were created by the very team who wrote and directed Stargate — Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. Yes, the same guys who made Independence Day and Godzilla (Emmerich somehow avoided being associated with Devlin's Eight Legged Freaks, for what that's worth). And looking back at Stargate after all this time, you know what? It's really good. Really, really good. Is it just because there have been so many crappy movies — like ID4 — made since then? Kurt Russell (always a plus) stars as suicidal soldier Col. Jack O'Neill, who blames himself for the death of his son. James Spader co-stars as nerdy professor Daniel Jackson, who accepts an offer to decode some heiroglyphics and finds himself stepping through the stargate into another world. On the desert planet that they visit, O'Neill, Jackson, and their team of army guys (which includes, believe it or not, French Stewart) find they have to battle the Egyptian sun god Ra (The Crying Game's Jaye Davidson) to save themselves and the future of earth.

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The direction is pure, grade-A, 100-percent imitation Spielberg, from the Raiders of the Lost Ark desert sequences to the sounds-like-John-Williams score by David Arnold. But at least Emmerich was copying good Spielberg in Stargate. And yes, the film devolves into a whole lot of people running around and screaming and shooting each other at the end. But knowing that there are seasons and seasons of more Stargate adventures on the superb TV series Stargate SG-1 somehow lessens the disappointment that there isn't more meat to the story here. Frankly, given the sorry state of action films in recent years, Stargate looks better and better — a rare film that doesn't just hold up with time, it's actually been improved by it. This isn't the first DVD release of Stargate, and though the phrase "Ultimate Edition" indicates otherwise, it may not be the last. This Artisan release is significant because the film is (finally) presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), and the "Director's Cut" has a whopping seven more minutes of extra scenes. If you're casually watching the film, it may be tough to figure out where the new footage is (there are no asterisks in the scene menus or anything to indicate where new footage is inserted) but the quality of the reinserted scenes is noticeably inferior to the rest of the film's transfer. One panorama of the desert has a lot of dust and speckles; other new scenes have colors (particularly fleshtones) different from the scenes that come immediately before and after. They're subtle problems however, and certainly don't stand out so badly that it ruins the viewing experience. Overall, the transfer is amazingly good; the audio, in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS is exceptional, as well. Disc One offers the 128-minute "Director's Cut" of the film and a commentary by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich which previously appeared on an earlier Laserdisc. No matter what you think of these two hackmasters, the commentary is a lot of fun: The pair point out every instance where they cut corners due to their very tight budget and are lavish with their praise, particularly for director of photography Karl Walter Lindenlaub and for Kurt Russell, who Devlin repeatedly calls "underrated," saying that he can "do so much with so little." Also on this disc is the new featurette "Is There a Stargate?," a 12-minute exploration of Erich Von Daniken's now-familiar hypothesis that the pyramids were built by aliens, as put forth in his book "Chariots of the Gods." It's an interesting overview of the subject if you've never heard of this stuff before, but it's so short that it only really whets the appetite for more. Disc Two has the original 121-minute theatrical release of the film, plus the 23-minute behind-the-scenes "The Making of Stargate: Creating a Whole New World"; the featurette covers everything from early sketches of the stargate, how the special effects were done and model work to discussions of the rigors of filming in the desert and then even more stuff about the special effects. Effects supervisor Jeff Okun gets a lot of time here, and there's interviews with production designer Holser Greg, location manager Ken Fix, and effects designer Patrick Tatopoulos. There's a lot to see here, but it's frustrating that neither director Emmerich nor any of the cast members are interviewed. There's also two trailers for the film (one international, one domestic), cast-and-crew notes, production notes, and a 10-page booklet. Keep-case with paperboard slipcover.
—Dawn Taylor

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