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(Special Edition)

I've always considered STARGATE ($30) something of an underrated science fiction movie. Sure, the film has its core audience and did pretty good box-office. However, STARGATE didnít permeate the mass consciousness the way STAR WARS did because its mixture of Egyptian mythology and powerful alien beings requires just a bit more thought than the average sci-fi shoot 'em up. STARGATE takes the speculation that an alien race was responsible for building the pyramids and runs with it, developing a completely entertaining story around that possibility. The film opens in Egypt with the discovery of an ancient artifact on an archeological dig in 1928. STARGATE then flashes forward to present day, where we encounter Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), an Egyptologist who can't quite get anyone to believe his theories that the pyramids were built by someone other than the ancient Egyptians. With his government grants having run out, Jackson finds himself with limited options, that is until a mysterious woman (Viveca Lindfors) offers him a job translating some ancient hieroglyphics.

When Jackson arrives at military installation to begin work, he discovers that the job is more complex than he expected. Sure, translating the hieroglyphics proves rudimentary. However, Jacksonís real challenge comes when he has to decipher the secrets of an artifact, dubbed the Stargate, which was unearthed from the Giza plateau back in 1928. Through a stroke of luck, Jackson finds to key that activates the Stargate, opening a portal to planet on the other side of the universe. STARGATE also stars Kurt Russell as Colonel Jack O'Neil, the commander of the military survey mission through the Stargate. When Jackson, O'Neil and the survey team emerge on the other side of the Stargate, they find something completely unexpected- a slave population descended from human beings abducted from Earth thousands of years ago. While exploring their surroundings, Jackson and OíNeil also discover a malevolent alien known as Ra (Jaye Davidson), who poses a threat to the humans on both sides of the Stargate. The cast of STARGATE also features Alexis Cruz, Mili Avital, Leon Rippy, John Diehl, Carlos Lauchu, Djimon Hounsou, Erick Avari, French Stewart, Gianin Loffler, Christopher John Fields and Richard Kind.

Artisan Home Entertainment has made STARGATE available on DVD as a "Special Edition" that includes nine additional minutes of footage not contained in the theatrical version. While the additional footage is great, I am disappointed that Artisan did not go all the way with the 2.35:1 wide screen presentation. Instead of generating a new anamorphic enhanced transfer, Artisan utilized the existing Laserdisc master for the longer version of STARGATE, which was created a couple of years ago. Because of this decision, STARGATE doesn't reach its full potential on DVD. Had Artisan gone that extra mile, they could have killed two birds with one stone. With a new high definition transfer of STARGATE, Artisan could have down converted it to create a superior looking 16:9 enhanced DVD, plus they would have had a hi-def transfer in reserve for future applications (broadcast, cable, satellite and various home formats). As it stands, STARGATE looks quite good, but lacks the snap of the very best 16:9 enhanced transfers. On a 4:3 display, sharpness and detail are quite evident, with the bright daylight desert scenes looking especially good. Darker scenes are usually well rendered, although shadow detail could have been a bit better in places. Color reproduction on this DVD is excellent. There are plenty of vivid warm hues that are perfectly recreated, plus the cold blues and greens look really good. Flesh tone appear very natural, especially the darker complexions of the desert dwellers. Blacks have good definition and the contrast is relatively smooth. The use of dual layer technology disguises all traces of compression artifacts. Additionally, the use of seamless branching allows both the special longer version and the theatrical cut of STARGATE to be presented on the same dual layered side of a DVD.

STARGATE has a terrific Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that will give one's sound system a real workout. The mix is very active and takes full advantage of the discrete nature of the Dolby Digital format for precise placement of sound effects. Spilt surrounds are well utilized, enhancing many of special effects sequences. Dialogue reproduction is usually very clean and intelligible, plus the soundtrack boasts a very solid bottom end. Composer David Arnold created a superb score for STARGATE, and the mix truly enhances his terrific work. The interactive menus are very well designed, with full motion video, animation, music and sound. Through the menus one can access the standard scene selection feature, as well as choosing which version of STARGATE they wish to view. The DVDís supplements are also accessible through the menus. Fans of STARGATE will want to listen to the running audio commentary with director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin. Their talk is enjoyable and provides a good deal of insight into the production. Other supplements include a theatrical trailer, a theatrical teaser, production notes, plus cast and crew biographies/filmographies.

STARGATE is a big, grand science fiction movie that is truly a whole lot of fun. The cinematography, production design and the special effects give STARGATE the potential to be a demonstration quality disc. Had the DVD been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays, this would have been the perfect movie for anyone wishing to demo a new wide screen television. Hopefully someday, STARGATE will reach its full potential on DVD.





DVD reviews are Copyright © 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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