Our review of Stargate: 15th Anniversary Edition (Blu-Ray), published November 9th, 2009, is also available.
It will take you a million light years from home. But will it bring you back?
Artisan rehashes an old transfer and slaps on some extra content to create a worthy Stargate release on DVD.
Lets just say I'm a pretty big Stargate fan. I enjoyed the film and, later, the television series so much that I developed a web site based on the Stargate universe—and it has become quite successful. Therefore, I owe a lot to Stargate so I'll try to write the most unbiased review that I can for Artisan's release of the Stargate: Special Edition.
Before producers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich could pull off Independence Day they first had to prove to the big Hollywood studios that they were able to make a successful film. In 1994, Devlin and Emmerich released Stargate to the American public and took the country by surprise. There was very little pre-release buzz on the film (especially in comparison to the massive ad campaigns for future Devlin/Emmerich releases such as Independence Day and Godzilla), which opened in the fall of 1994 and became a surprise hit, eventually grossing $200 million worldwide—$72 million of which came from the United States.
Stargate was soon able to earn a spot in the hearts of all home theater enthusiasts as it became one of the first, and best, releases on the DVD format. Spreading the film out on two sides of a disc, Live Entertainment (now Artisan) released what was, for quite a while, one of the best reference discs for the DVD format. However, now two years later, the original Stargate DVD no longer holds up as well as it once did—with advances in DVD technology making "flipper" discs obsolete (except for those six hour epics, like The Stand). So the newly dubbed Artisan Entertainment steps back up to the plate with the film that made them a top studio in the early days of DVD.
The film itself revolves around an ancient Egyptian artifact, excavated in Giza during the 1920s. The American government takes possession of the mystical round object and soon begins experimenting to see how they can activate this device they have discovered. It is not until the present that the government enlists the help of Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), an eccentric Egyptologist, to unlock the mysteries of the artifact. Jackson soon dubs the artifact by its proper name, "Stargate," and is able to decipher the mysterious symbols located on the outside of the device. We soon learn that a combination of seven symbols on the Stargate dials into a portal somewhere else in the universe, and after careful consideration, the government decides to send a team through the gate to explore the other side. Unbeknownst to Jackson, Colonel Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell) is assigned to command the mission through the Stargate in light of his suicidal tendencies. After the death of his son, which O'Neil blames himself for, he is given the assignment to travel through the Stargate, track down any threats, and eliminate those threats by activating a bomb to destroy all hostile life forms and the Stargate itself. Unfortunately, once through the Stargate, Jackson cannot find the necessary information to open the Stargate again and return home, while leaving O'Neil behind to activate the bomb. To further complicate things, the exploratory team encounters a population of slaves on the other side of the Stargate, innocent people, who serve an being known as Ra, an alien who uses his advanced knowledge to control the entire population of his world, Abydos. Plans soon change as the team faces Ra and the choice of eliminating an Earth threatening alien or saving an entire population of human beings.
As far as I can tell, the 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen image on Stargate: Special Edition is the same as the transfer that was on the original DVD release of the film. Since the original Stargate video transfer was so well done, the transfer stills holds up today, now two years later. The transfer captures the beauty of desert landscapes almost flawlessly with rich orange and red tones. Flesh tones are displayed with great accuracy and the dominant color tones for each section of the film (blue and orange) come across clearly on this transfer. This time around the film is present on one side of a disc (preventing the annoying "flip over" maneuver). Also of note is the layer switch on the film, which is quite strategically placed. I can usually notice a layer switch instantly on my player; however, with this disc it was not until after the switch occurred that I said, "Did it just switch layers?" The switch is keenly placed at a dramatic pause that, with higher end players, is probably completely undetectable.
What truly set the original Stargate DVD apart from the rest of the pack was its stunning 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track. This track still remains one of my favorites in my DVD collection. Stargate has a wonderful epic soundtrack, composed by David Arnold, that is best heard in 5.1 surround sound. Toward the latter stages of the film, the action quickly picks up and the 5.1 track kicks into high gear. Flying gliders, gunfire, bombs, and explosions exploit the surround and bass features of Dolby Digital immensely—creating what is still today a great reference track for audio.
As for extra content, the Stargate: Special Edition disc contains nine additional minutes of footage from the film, originally cut from the theatrical version. It is, in fact, these additional scenes that give the disc its "special edition" title—the film was released on VHS and laserdisc two years ago with this footage and the "special edition" title. I say this merely because, more recently, DVD consumers expect a lot out of "special edition" discs—which Stargate: Special Edition does not quite deliver. Cut footage from the film includes a new opening and several minor additions to scenes throughout the film. These scenes help to clear up a few issues but really do not add anything ground-shaking to the film itself.
I usually don't mention the scene selection screens on DVDs, but for Stargate: Special Edition I must. First of all, with the original DVD release, the scene selections only dropped you to a few general areas in the film (i.e., you could not access every single chapter stop from the screen). This time around Artisan has added a plethora of chapter stops (54 altogether) along with special sections indicating added footage from the special edition. If you're not a fan of the special edition footage, you can choose to watch the theatrical version of the film, instead of the special edition, from the disc's main menu.
The disc also contains a newly recorded commentary track from Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. I'm not sure if this track was on the special edition release of Stargate on laserdisc, but it seems quite recent as Devlin and Emmerich discuss Godzilla and the Stargate TV series. So, if I were to venture a guess, I'd say that Artisan went out and recorded a new commentary track for this disc, and it's always nice to know they put the effort in to do this. Rounding out the extra content are the supplements from the original DVD release—two theatrical trailers, production notes, as well as cast and crew bios.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said before, Stargate: Special Edition is not quite a special edition as they have become known today. It is the additional footage that makes the disc a "special edition" not really all of its content. In addition to the commentary and the added footage it would be nice to have a featurette, special effects presentations, or some production art (which I have seen on CD-ROM releases related to Stargate) on this disc. Regardless, it's still better than the original Stargate DVD.
The commentary track from Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich has some good insights but it also gets quite annoying. Why? Roland Emmerich. Now I realize Mr. Emmerich is German, and English is not his native language, but it sounds like you're listening to a foreign exchange student influenced by Americans by spending a bit too much time at the galleria. Every sentence that comes out of Mr. Emmerich's mouth will contain at least one, if not all, of the following words: "like," "you know," and "kinda." Example: "Like you know, Stargate was kinda like, my favorite, you know, film to kinda work on. And it was like, kinda fun, you know." My favorite part of the commentary is when Roland Emmerich forgets the name of the character that Kurt Russell plays in the film and Dean Devlin steps in to help him out. I found that kind of odd seeing how this is a film Roland Emmerich has said to have been working on since he was in film school, and he can't even remember the main character's name. You think I'm exaggerating, but just listen to the commentary.
Reusing the old Stargate transfer would not bother me too much if the transfer was anamorphic, but alas, it is not. The transfer, during the first portion of the film, is quite grainy while it handles the blues and grays of the Stargate military complex. The quality of the added footage is also slightly below the level of the rest of the film. You can visibly notice the difference quality of the two transfers right before the new opening to the film. For a split second, when the transfer switches to the new scene, the image on-screen (of a sarcophagus) goes from bright and rich to dull and washed out. This is the most visible difference in quality on the disc and, for the most part, you can hardly tell the differences, but they are there. In coming years I feel that this transfer will become dated and, yet another, special edition release of the film is inevitable.
Containing additional footage, a commentary track, and the ability to watch the film without flipping over the disc makes Stargate: Special Edition worth the extra $5 it costs over the original DVD release. For Stargate fans, this disc is a must, but those who do not really enjoy the film, and already have Stargate as a DVD reference disc, you're better off sticking with the older version of the film because, transfer-wise, the new release does not offer anything new.
Both film and disc acquitted. At this rate Artisan will release a new Stargate disc every two years—but I'm a big enough fan to keep on buying them.
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