Stargate, Blu-ray (1994)

by | May 12, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Stargate, Blu-ray (1994)

Starring: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors
Studio: Carolco Pictures/Lionsgate
Video: 2.45:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, 1080p HD
Audio: DTS 5.1 HD ES Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Audio
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Commentary track by Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin
Length: 128 min.
Rating: **** [except big goof; see below]

Surely one of the major sci-fi epics, Stargate combined the lure of outer space/aliens adventure with the mysteries of ancient Egyptian culture – a very clever mix.  So clever that it’s spawned a series of successful video spin-offs that is following in the tradition of Star Trek – Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis.

OK, in a scarab, here’s the plot: Spader is a less-than-successful Egyptology professor with theories about the ancient culture which cause a hall full of experts to leave when he explains them. He is hired by an older woman scientist who was present when her father discovered the original stargate artifact in an Egyptian dig in 1928. It has now been installed in a secret underground military installation with a staff of scientists who have been attempting to get it to do its thing. A military presence is also there in case the stargate does work due to its possible and unknown dangers.

The professor’s job is to correctly translate the hieroglyphics on the stargate. He does, and a supposedly reconnaissance expedition which includes him and the Colonel played by Kurt Russell enters – to be whirled to the far side of the universe and a desert planet with a pyramid and a second Egyptian building. The populace are slaves to the alien who abducted them from Earth and rules as the Sun God Ra. They toil in a mine to bring out the special mineral from which the stargate was made. The soldier and professor must battle the powerful Ra and his minions, lead the populace in a insurrection to gain their freedom, and eventually get the expedition back to Earth. Will they do it?

This was one DVD for which I had the last released standard version as well as the Blu-ray to compare. First, the standard one was the Director’s Cut and had two separate discs – the second disc being the edited-down theatrical version (who would want to see that?). It did have an extra that was unfortunately missing from the Blu-ray (in spite of the greatly-expanded capacity of Blu-ray vs. standard CD). It’s a featurette on Edward Van Dahneken – the Swiss author of Chariots of the Gods – and delves into his theories about aliens having visited the earth in the distant past and left behind indications such as the great pyramids and the Nazca lines.

I compared several scenes between the two formats. In a long shot of a procession along the Nile, the camels and people were indistinct in the standard DVD.  The Blu-ray provided details on both and aided them in standing out from the background.  In another long shot of the village of the workers on the planet, the buildings had a rather smooth surface and the hundreds of people in front of them were just blurs in a fog of yellowish dust or sand on the standard DVD. The Blu-ray gave sharp delineation to all the figures and made them stand out strongly from the haze, and showed an impression of some texture on the buildings. However, I doubt frankly if the improvement in resolution would be noticed by most viewers if the screen were any smaller than about 42 inches – whether progressive or interlaced. (My Samsung is 56 inches.)

A huge goof was made by the programmers of the Blu-ray menus, and they were good enough to put their name on the case so I can castigate them by name: Metamenu Technology. On the desert planet, the professor speaks a dialect of ancient Egyptian to both the natives and directly to the alien as Ra. The alien answers back in the same language, in a larger-than-life electronic sort of voice (to indicate it is just using this human body it got on Earth thousands of years ago). The latter exchange went on at length and there were no subtitles.  At first I thought this was a thoughtful ploy which I’d seen in another recent film – the director wanted you to figure out the sense of the exchange just from the faces and body language. But then I remembered that on the standard DVD subtitles had appeared for this section. And it reveals information absolutely vital to the plot.

The bottom line is that the only way you can access the English subtitles for the Egyptian dialog portions is to bring up the so-called “interactive” menu (which covers the upper portion of the screen all the way across) and select Subtitles On. When you do, you are stuck with English subtitles for all the English dialog as well.  Thank you very much, I’m not hard of hearing and don’t need that! What were the navigation programmers thinking? Didn’t they try out their own work?

– John Sunier

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