Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 317: Stargate (1994 ) - Rank 3/5


My general impression of the film can best be summed up by a moment that occurred between myself and "Stargate" about halfway in. After the American military has entered Egypt-land, they are treated to a banquet by Erick Avari and his Avarians. A strange, roasted creature, which looks like a parasite that might have been passed by Jabba the Hutt, is laid before James Spader (who is more schtick than man in the film). Colonel Snake Plissken, I mean Colonel O'Neil (Kurt Russell) glances warily at the dish and makes a derisive remark. Dr. Jackson (Spader) samples it and chews, thoughtfully. He's then asked how it tastes. At this point, already a tad weary of Spader's rigmarole, said aloud to the television screen, "I swear to God, he's better not say, 'It's tastes like chicken.' "

"It tastes like chicken!"

"Mother fucker!!!"

It's not like I pictured anything overly original from a production with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin at the helm. Emmerich has an exploitative nature about his filmmaking which I can't help but tip my hat to. I see him as filling the niche that Irwin Allen left behind (the role of a director that makes disaster films starring a collection of Hollywood names all for the sake of dough-ray-me). And Devlin falls more in line with Bert I. Gordon, because the two have a passion for big creatures. But watching this first collaboration between the two left me feeling a little disappointed. I can attribute my sense of emptiness to three possible reasons.

1. It was their first collaboration, ergo, they were "playing it safe." The film is terribly formulaic, but unlike the formulaic "Independence Day," that formula isn't pushed to the very limits of logic. "Stargate" is simply a modest action film, made before the era where Emmerich learned that "blowing up the whole, goddamned world" = "awesome as shit." I watched it expecting outlandish (though spaceship pyramids are a tad excessive), but was treated to a small battle in an isolated desert. An analogy I can draw is: imagine how subdued "Star Wars" would have seemed if it had been concentrated only at Mos Eisley instead of across an entire galaxy (actually, you don't have to imagine too hard. It's called "Phantom Menace").

2. I want James Spader to die. Sure, the expert, controversial scientist, whose life works are readily dismissed as "Poppycock" by his peers, saving the day is tried and true as Jeff Goldblum and Dennis Quaid would demonstrate in later Emmerich films with tongue-in-cheek glee. But Dr. Daniels is a little too good, solving problems in a matter of hours that teams of scientists have been pondering for years. He has allergies too, so if you find a character sneezing at the most inopportune times, you'll love his character. They could have casted somebody, anybody, in place of Spader and I would have been happier. Jesus, even French Stewart was tolerable next to Spader (and the casting of Stewart worked out pretty well, for since most shots were in the sun-scorched desert, it gave the obnoxious character actor a reason to be squinting all the time).

3. I didn't see this film as a teenager. Emmerich's schlock is designed for the juvenile mind. I think my love for "Independence Day" is largely due to the fact that I caught it when I was fifteen (and that movie was, for lack of a better word, the shit that summer). Sadly, I was into Egyptology in my younger adolescent years, so this would have struck me just right. But seeing it after knowing how delightfully outlandish Emmerich can be, it just seems very subdued on the whole.

But make no mistake, I really do hate James Spader...

Watch the Trailer

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