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From the original flipper disc released in the early days of DVD to the Special Edition, Ultimate Edition, and even an upcoming Optimum Resolution Edition, the movie Stargate has had many more releases than anyone would have anticipated. Well Stargate fans, it is time to make room on your DVD shelf for yet one more release; the Blu-ray edition. Boasting a fine transfer (mostly) and nice sounding audio, this should keep fans of the film contented. (Until the next release at least, that I imagine would be in about two years.)
On the off chance you've never seen the movie or either of the two successful series that it spawned, here's a brief recap: Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is an expert in ancient Egypt who has translated many hieroglyphs and come up with an interesting theory: That the ancient Egyptian culture was visited by aliens. This "Chariots of the Gods" like hypothesis gets him laughed out of conferences before anyone can even look at his evidence. That is until a mysterious person presents herself and says that she believes his story. He's taken to a top secret military base set deep in the depths of the Earth, and there he is shown the Stargate; a huge metallic circle discovered in Egypt of unknown origin and purpose.
Making more progress in minutes than the research team investigating the device has made in a year, Dr. Jackson eventually discovers the devices function: It is a gateway to the stars. Dialing a certain sequence of characters on the rim of the circle opens up a wormhole to another planet light years distant from Earth.
The military puts together a team to investigate this other world that is led by Colonel Jack O'Neill (Kurt Russell). Along with Dr. Jackson, the team travels through the Stargate where they discover another culture much like ancient Egyptians as well as a living ancient God.
This is a decent SF film. It has a nice basic plot, some good action sequences, and is generally enjoyable. There are some plot holes (Dr. Jackson knows what the ancient Egyptian language sounded like? How? It hasn't been spoken for millennia) and some silly parts (they just assume they'll be able to get back??) but the narrative rolls by so quickly that it's easy to look past those.
The acting is a bit wooden across the board, but I've always thought it was meant to be. There's no real character development, everyone is a caricature but they play their part with gusto. Russell is a great gruff army officer with ghosts in his past and Spader plays a head-in-the-clouds academics admirably.
Co-writer/director Roland Emmerich also does a good job on this film, his best work to date. (His follow up projects, Independence Day and Godzilla, went successively down hill from here.) He keeps the tension high for most of the film and has the plot advance as a nice clip so people don't have time to dwell on the movie's weaknesses. Overall a good, though not great film, that's a lot of fun to watch with a large bowl of popcorn.
This Blu-ray disc features the extended version of this film which is nine minutes longer than the theatrical version. The extra footage doesn't really add much to the film, but it doesn't mar the viewing experience either. I can't get too excited about it one way or the other.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this.
It's sad to say, but when I pop in a Blu-ray disc for the first time my expectations aren't very high. After the first wave of titles and their less than stellar appearance, I'm always surprised when a disc looks good. This disc surprised me.
Stargate is encoded with the MPEG-2 codec for 1080p playback and the 2.35:1 image looks very good. I wish I had a copy of the Optimum Resolution standard definition disc on hand to compare it with, but it hasn't been released yet. I do have the Ultimate Edition however (shouldn't that be the last one?? What's better than 'ultimate'?) and the HD disc looks better. Fine details have more definition and small objects are clearer. The sand on the desert world, for example, has more texture. The colors are fine, with the bright outdoors scenes looking particularly impressive. There is a fair amount of 'pop' to the picture too, which really enhances the film.
Unfortunately there are some problems with the video too. While most of it looks good the extra scenes that were added are inferior to the rest of the movie. It's not hard to tell when a new scene was slipped in because that footage isn't as clean and sharp. These added parts have a bit of dirt, and though it doesn't ruin the presentation the disc would have looked better had they stuck with the theatrical release and included the other nine minutes in the bonus section.
Overall this was a nice looking movie. There wasn't the excessive grain that has plagued the formats early releases and digital defects such as blocking and aliasing are absent. It looks like they are finally getting the hang of mastering films for Blu-ray.
This movie comes with Dolby Digital EX Surround and DTS-HD High Resolution audio tracks. I've always thought that the soundtrack added a lot to this film, and this Blu-ray disc sounds just great. The full soundstage is used to very good effect, especially when people are going through the Stargate. The *swhoosh* of being transported across the galaxy is multi-layered and very active. The sound emerges from all corners of the room and really plants the viewer right in the middle of the action. This effect seems even more engaging on this disc than it has on previous releases.
It's not only the large sound effects that work well though, the more minor sounds come through nice and strong too. The crunch of soldiers walking across the alien sand, the sounds of the marketplace and the 'humphs' from Dr. Jackson's seminar are all distinct and clear. This is a nice sounding disc, especially when you take into account the fact that the movie was made in 1994.
The only extra included on this disc is a commentary track by creators Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. This is the same track that has appeared on previous releases, and it's worth listening to if you're a fan of the movie. The two manage to fill the time relating behind the scenes anecdotes, problems with the production, and other minutia about the film.
While I've never considered this a great movie, Stargate is a solid, fun, SF adventure. (It gets extra points for spawning a pair of excellent TV shows too.) This Blu-ray presentation of the film looks and sounds very good. Though the extra scenes that were added in this extended version are a bit lower in quality, that is not a reason to pass on this HD edition. This disc gets a strong recommendation.