universe has expanded so rapidly since 1997, what with three TV series, three additional movies, and even an animated show, that it's possible to overlook the big bang that started it all. This Blu-ray release of director Roland Emmerich's 1994 Stargate
theatrical film should help remedy that, especially as it's accompanied by a raft of bonus material. Emmerich and Dean Devlin, his co-screenwriter, envisioned a sci-fi epic with a working title of "Lawrence of Arabia" in Outer Space
--an apt description for a big-budget project that, while sometimes burdened with some silly plot details, never fails to impress. As the film begins, archaeologists in Egypt discover the ancient stargate in 1928--yet it isn't until many decades later that the disheveled but brilliant Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), a linguistics expert, figures out that this ancient doorway between worlds can transport humans to the far side of the universe in a matter of seconds. The discovery soon becomes a top-secret military operation, with Colonel Jack O'Neill (Kurt Russell, in a far more serious portrayal than the insouciant character played by Richard Dean Anderson in the Stargate SG-1
television series) leading a mission that lands him, Jackson, and a group of soldiers on a desert planet where a primitive race lives under the heavy hand of Ra (Jaye Davidson, fresh off an Oscar-nominated performance in The Crying Game
), an omnipotent Egyptian god who's kept himself alive through the millennia by inhabiting a human body. The visitors get along fine with the peaceful villagers (indeed, Jackson falls in love with one of them), but Ra and his minions are a different story, especially once Ra realizes that O'Neill intends to destroy the stargate, thus prohibiting any further travel to Earth. In the end, despite the story's lofty pretensions (it's suggested that the bad guys visited here some 10,000 years earlier--so might we all be descended from aliens?), lots of stuff gets blown up, and our heroes… well, suffice to say that there aren't a lot of surprises, which is by no means a bad thing.
Stargate is an impressive technical achievement; the sets are magnificent, the effects are convincing (especially since it was made at a time when computer-generated imagery was in an embryonic stage), and the distant planet's inhabitants even speak a version of ancient Egyptian. All of that is explained in the better and more recent of two making-of featurettes contained in the bonus material. Other extras include an unrated, extended (by about eight minutes) cut of the film; featurettes examining the possibility of a real stargate and other pseudo-science; a gag reel; a trivia contest; audio commentary by Emmerich and Devlin; and an interesting picture-in-picture "ultimate knowledge" option in which various experts discuss the production's Egyptian iconography and other details. --Sam Graham