Stargate: 2 Disc Ultimate Edition (1994)
Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Roland Emmerich (Director) And Dean Devlin (Producer)
Alternative Version-Director's Cut Extended Version / Theatrical Version
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-The Making Of Stargate (26:07)
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer-2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:32)
|Year Of Production||1994|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Roland Emmerich|
Universal Pictures Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (128Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Invariably it seems that Region 4 gets the rough end of the stick when it comes to DVD Video releases, but even by that generalisation the situation regarding Stargate is a woeful example of how stiffed we sometimes get. So stiffed in fact that I would be willing to bet that most people who are interested in this film have long since picked up one of the multitude of versions that have been available from overseas for many, many years (I bought my first version in 1999). After all, there have been no less than four separate releases of the film on DVD in Region 1 (of which I can claim to owning two) along with a veritable armada of Region 2 releases (of which I can claim to owning but one). So having had to wait sooooooo long to finally get a Region 4 release, was it all worth it? Well you will have to read the review, won't you!
The basic premise of Stargate is simple enough and is a basic extension of an assortment of theories that have been espoused over the decades regarding Ancient Egypt. There is certainly something quite magical about the whole Ancient Egypt thing, not the least of which being the significant artistic, cultural and technological advances that were made during the period. Indeed, such advances that even today the sheer scope of what was achieved by the Ancient Egyptians inevitably raises questions of just how they did it all. Not so long ago I had the great fortune (by dint of borrowing an even bigger fortune) to visit Egypt for a holiday and finally see such famous landmarks of Ancient Egypt as the Great Pyramids at Giza, the awe-inspiring Temples at Karnak, the wondrous Luxor Temple, the amazing Valley Of The Kings, and perhaps the most incredible of all, the Temples of Ramses II and Nefertari at Abu Simbal (justifiably saved at great cost from the rising waters of Lake Nasser). To wander around the famed Cairo Museum, and I might add quite incredibly, to touch some of the treasures of the period simply added to the wonder of the incredible array of treasure that is found in Egypt. Yet through it all, one question kept on popping back into my mind - just how did the Ancient Egyptians do all this without mechanical aid? Interestingly this is no more highlighted than at the Great Pyramids of Giza, now nearly encroached by the ever expanding suburbs of Cairo, where the mastery of the construction of the pyramids is in sharp contrast to the slapdash nature of those encroaching suburbs. Another stark contrast is also seen further south at Aswan where the sheer brute force of the Russian-built High Dam is in very sharp contrast to the wonderful beauty of the Philae Temple that is located on the Nile below the High Dam (and just above the Old Dam).
So how did the Ancient Egyptians all those centuries ago manage to construct not just the odd magnificent edifice but a veritable treasure-trove of magnificence the likes of which can be found nowhere else in the world to this extent? How did these people over two thousand years ago manage to create structures from stone blocks carved so perfectly that they solidly rest together even today without the benefit of mortar? To see how perfect the joins are at (say) The Sphinx, where you literally cannot get a piece of cigarette paper into the gap between giant blocks of stone just beggars belief. This sort of incredible craftsmanship can be found nowhere in the world today on this scale. So, I repeat, just how did they do it?
Well, the theory goes that they did not - all these wondrous edifices were actually constructed by human slaves under the guidance of vastly superior aliens who happened upon our little blue planet at some point of time. Given the high achievement of the Ancient Egyptians and the obvious, significant decline in human craftsmanship over the past two millennium, there is just the odd suspicion of truth in the theory of alien influence. Soo.......
When an amazing discovery is made near Giza in 1928, just maybe the fanciful notion of alien influence might not be so far-fetched. With a young Catherine Langford (Viveca Lindfors) present with her father to witness the unearthing of a mysterious artefact from the sands of Giza, a chain of events is set in motion that will consume Catherine amongst others at a very personal level. Jump forward six decades or so and a much older Catherine Langford is still consumed by the mysterious artefact, but has been unable to unlock its secret. Cue the introduction of one Doctor Daniel Jackson (James Spader), an Egyptologist with an interesting theory - that the Ancient Egyptians did not build the Great Pyramids at Giza. Cue the inevitable backlash from academia as a result.
Naturally enough his theories catch the attention of Catherine and Daniel soon finds himself working on a secret government project that seems to be interested in deciphering the hieroglyphs on the cover stones found with the mysterious artefact. The foremost scholars of the day have of course wasted plenty of time on the task to no avail. The deciphering of those hieroglyphs is it seems the key to unlocking the mystery of the artefact and Daniel is the last hope at solving that riddle.
If the riddle does get solved, then there might be issues of national and international security to consider and so the obligatory military control of the project needs to be in place - and that is headed by Colonel Jack O'Neill (Kurt Russell), a man with a past and no future it seems. He is therefore eminently qualified to head the military side of things, as he obviously has nothing to lose. His introduction to the facility where the secret project is being handled is not without some issue but when (quite obviously) Daniel manages to solve the riddle and unlocks the key to the operation of the artefact - obviously a Stargate - his no nonsense approach might just be all that keeps his squad of men alive as they venture forth across the known universe...
...where they discover a planet dominated by servitude to the great god Ra (Jaye Davidson)... and the slaves are human. Once there, they have to get back...
Generally considered by critics at the time to be a rather lacklustre effort, Stargate was seen distinctly differently by the movie-going audience and became something of a mega-cult film and it has become a film that I am readily able to sit back and enjoy on a fairly regular basis (were I of course given the time to do so). It became so much of a cult classic that it spawned a very successful television series of course (Stargate SG-1) that has gone on to become one of the finest pieces of science fiction on television. Both the television spin-off and the film have gotten better with age. Which is not to say the film is anything approaching perfect - far from it. The story is an intriguing one, but frankly it is padded a little and the whole film could have done with some judicious pruning to remove stuff that simply does not move the film along - and that is just the theatrical version of the film. The extended version of the film starts with what is effectively a prologue showing the first contact of Ra with humans 8,000 years ago (repeated later in the film in part), which is even less useful in moving the film along...
That is perhaps the biggest problem the film faces and those judicious prunings could perhaps have removed ten to fifteen minutes of unnecessary stuff that would have really improved the film no end. The rest of what we have is on the whole pretty good - although we will make allowances for the creatures created for the film. The characters are quite believable, they are brought to life pretty well by the cast and the director gives the cast a wide ranging vista within which to work.
Stargate remains one of my favourite science fiction films of the 1990's (as evidenced I guess by the fact that I have it three times on DVD already) and is as enjoyable today as it was the first time I saw it on the big screen. The problems with the film are easily ignored as you get into the flow of the action and it is quite easy to understand why the film has developed a strong following. It might not be the ultimate popcorn flick but it really is one of those films where two hours of brain-off action is the stuff of great Saturday nights.
This two disc set contains two versions of the film. Disc One contains the extended Director's Cut of the film, whilst Disc Two contains the way more familiar theatrical version of the film. As indicated, the Director's Cut is no real improvement to the film and the bulk of the additional eight odd minutes of running time comes from the "Ra" prologue that sees the first encounter of Ra with the inhabitants of Earth, additional material at the discovery of the Stargate and additional material in the Stargate bunker involving that same additional material. The rest of the additional stuff comprises small extensions to existing scenes, none of which in my opinion really does much at all for the film.
There is obviously a degree of commonality in the transfers afforded the films and so they are considered as one transfer. It has to be said from the outset that there is little difference between the two transfers as far as I can see. The transfers are presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and they are 16x9 enhanced.
One immediate impression I have from the transfers is that they lack that really vivid colour that I recall from the Region 1 releases, which was not exactly what I expected. It may of course be a quirk of my imagination, but a brief check of the colours in comparison to the Region 1 Ultimate Edition would seem to support my initial impression. Aside from that impression, there really is nothing significant to be concerned about with this transfer. Grain is not much of an issue at all, and the transfer is generally very clear and very watchable. Sharpness is very good most of the time and there is little in the way of detail that is hidden in what is one of the better transfers I have seen recently in this regard (although to be fair this is a much more recent film than most that I have watched recently!). Most of the action takes place in bright sunshine so there is little concern about the quality of the shadow detail. There is nothing obvious in the way of low level noise.
The colours are definitely a little less vivid than I recall but at least there is a degree of consistency here that makes up for that lack of vividness. Skin tones are very well handled and quite natural. Blacks could certainly have done with being a little deeper most of the time but is a minor issue only in this brightly lit film.
There are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although some minor loss in resolution in some of the movement is noted, as is some slight pixelisation that might be an issue on larger screens. The major issue with the transfer is aliasing, which whilst relatively mild most of the time nonetheless aggregates into something that by the end of the film is quite hard to ignore. There is some cross colouration at times and general shimmer is also to be found in items such as the shadecloth used at the base camp. There is not a whole heap in the way of film artefacts and most of them are relatively minor efforts that are barely noticed in the flow of the film.
Both discs in the set are RSDL formatted: the layer change on Disc One is very obviously seen at 70:23, whilst the layer change on Disc Two is equally obviously at 64:49. The fact that the changes are obvious to me is worrying as my system generally handles layer changes very well. So if your system is not a great handler of layer changes, these are going to be disruptive.
The DVD is disappointingly devoid of subtitle options. This really is not acceptable but I am guessing that it was decided not to offer them as there are non-selectable subtitles for some of the foreign dialogue included in the film. I say some as there are certainly times when even the foreign languages don't get any subtitles at all. The font used is not your average, boring Arial effort either and makes a refreshing change.
It should be noted on Disc One that there is a picture break-up at 95:05 - hopefully this is just a rogue instance on the sample disc used for the review and not indicative of a problem in production discs. It should also be noted that there are only 16 chapters to each film, which given the two hour length seems to be a little inadequate.
There are three soundtracks on the DVD, being the default English dts 5.1 soundtrack, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. VERY annoyingly, you cannot change soundtracks on the fly and have to return to the menu to select the audio. I listened to the dts soundtrack in its entirety, heavily sampled chunks of the Dolby Digital soundtrack and as much of the Audio Commentary as I could before falling asleep. It is a pity that we do not get full bitrate transfers for the two formats but I suppose that means we can still look forward to the Truly Truly Ultimate Edition...
The dialogue comes up reasonably well in the transfer and is relatively easy to understand, with just the odd point here and there where you either have to listen carefully or else curse the lack of subtitles. There does not appear to be any audio sync issues in the transfer.
The original score comes from David Arnold and, just as Dean and Roland go on about in their commentary, it really is a very good piece of work. Very effective in supporting the film, it features a few great themes that are used frequently throughout the film. This is one of those occasions where an isolated music score would have gone down a treat in my view. But then again there is that Truly Truly Ultimate Edition to come...
No, that rumbling that is shaking your home theatre room to pieces is not actually Ra's spaceship descending on your house. But it does sure sound like it! One cannot fail to be impressed by the bass work in the dts soundtrack in the opening prologue to the film, and it simply does not let up from there. But don't get the idea that the dts soundtrack is an all out in-your-ears assault, for there is some surprisingly effective surround channel work when it is needed. However, let's concentrate a little on the negatives first, and foremost amongst them is that I could never really shake the feeling that there was something just a little "off" in the sound. I am guessing that it is a combination of a lack of absolute definition in the soundtrack combined with just a hint of muddiness that may well be a reflection of the fact that this is not a full bitrate soundtrack. The sound seems to just lack a little bit of space which, when coupled with the copious amounts of bass information, just ends up not being as good as I wished this would be. Still, even with my poor hearing at the moment, you have to be impressed with some of the surround encoding here, especially the use of the rear channels during the battle sequences. You really get an all-around encompassing feel, whilst still having some foci to pinpoint on - such as gunfire or Ra's winged fighters.
In comparison, the Dolby Digital soundtrack is relatively wimpish. Whilst it still has plenty of bass information to get the house rocking, it simply is not on a par with the superior dts soundtrack. Given that the Dolby Digital soundtrack exhibits similar traits with respect to slight congestion and muddiness, I would be willing to bet that the problem I have with the soundtracks is pretty much inherent in the original recording. The more you listen to Dolby Digital soundtracks like this, the more you come to appreciate the inherently "better" dts sound. Good but just not as good. Both soundtracks are free of any blemishes and are remarkably consistent throughout.
|Surround Channel Use|
Given that the Region 4 release is following so long after the Region 1 and Region 2 releases, it would be hoped that we have the bulk of the extras available from the various releases worldwide. Well, with the opportunity to make the definitive version of the film on DVD, Universal Pictures Home Video look like they chose not to.
Pretty much identical on both discs, which is to be expected as it saves a lot of cost, they are actually quite cool. There is a fairly decent length introduction to the main menu whilst the menus themselves are not too shabby with very decent audio and animation enhancement. Inevitably the Stargate is the unifying theme but overall pretty good stuff.
The most substantial of the available extras obviously, this unfortunately ends up being something rather boring to listen to. That is not to say that they don't provide some interesting background information to the film but rather that the presentation itself is rather "straight". They sound as if they are disinterested voice actors just reading lines off a script. Okay, I know that I hate these things anyway but I would have thought that for a film that Roland Emmerich had planned for so long, in quite extensive detail, they would have been a whole lot more enthusiastic than they are here.
A fairly typical example of the genre, it ends up being perhaps more appetiser than I would like rather than being main meal. Plenty of material from the shooting of the film is presented here, and it is reasonably interesting in a general sense, but really something far more meatier could be well imagined. The presentation is Full Frame, not 16x9 enhanced and with some very ordinary Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It does not come with any subtitles. Technically it is no better and no worse than one would normally expect of such efforts, other than the sound which is not the best and transferred at a rather low level: you will need to crank this way up past your normal listening levels to be able to understand what is being said.
Seemingly offering a quick version of the film through the storyboards, I would be half tempted to suggest that these weren't the original storyboards: the drawing is way too polished and has a real finished look to it. Nothing that exciting and by failing to concentrate on one scene in toto (with a comparison to the finished film), the effect loses a lot of its impact in my view.
Split into four distinct sections - Colour Pictures (32, 2 per page), Black and White Pictures (42, 1 per page), Props and Set Design (38, 2 per page) and Designs (46, 1 per page) - there are no annotations to any of the stills. Again nothing to get overly excited about.
Billed as bios in the menu, they simply are not. A bio requires biographical information and all we get here are fairly complete listings of the films in which Roland Emmerich, Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Mili Avital, David Arnold and Dean Devlin have been involved in.
Coming across as a lengthy EPK-style effort, one immediate problem that confronts the viewer is that the d*** thing is very, very dark - so much so that most of the extracts from the film itself border on being virtually unwatchable. You certainly will not be able to see much in those excerpts unless you really brighten up your display parameters.. It does tend to be a little less serious than the other featurette but equally there is a degree of overlap in the material and after watching the first featurette this one really becomes majorly superfluous. The presentation is Full Frame, not 16x9 enhanced and comes with decent Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It does not come with any subtitles. Given the darkness of the presentation, this is very disappointing.
Your typical two and a half minute trailer noted for the fact that it is not 16x9 enhanced for those of us with widescreen displays... The technical quality of the 2.35:1 presentation is a little ropey - it has some issue with being rather "digital" looking - and the sound is average.
Well, at least they did not lie - we do get posters... all two of them!
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Oh boy! Where do we start?
I suppose that the most logical comparison for this Region 4 release is the original two disc Region 1 Ultimate Edition put out by Artisan. You should note that this is no longer available and the Ultimate Edition currently available is a single disc release. The original two disc Ultimate Edition (which was available for an RRP of USD20) contains, aside from both versions of the film:
The currently available single disc Region 1 Ultimate Edition (which was available for an RRP of USD15) contains just the Director's Cut of the film plus:
The latter is the version that I have. The obvious differences to the Region 4 release are the two 16x9 enhanced trailers as opposed to our single not-16x9 enhanced effort and the featurette "Is There A Stargate?", which features an interview with Erich Von Daniken, author of the controversial book Chariots Of The Gods, plus not forgetting that dts 6.1 soundtrack instead of our 5.1 and (in the case of the original release) that second featurette, which is different to those contained on the Region 4 release. Sure we gain two other featurettes, but on the whole the original Region 1 Ultimate Edition is the preference, with the single disc version only for those who like the Director's Cut (which counts me out even though this is the one I ended up with...). From a technical point of view, there is not much between the Region 4 and Region 1 release.
If you own either of the original Region 1 releases - the first was a flipper and had just the Theatrical Cut of the film (this is the version I have), whilst the second was a Special Edition and had both versions of the film and the audio commentary - then they are well and truly superseded by the Region 4 version. For starters, those Region 1 release were not 16x9 enhanced and looked rather poor (aliasing and shimmering were constant problems) and did not have dts soundtracks. So if you have either of those two versions, you need to replace them with this Region 4 release.
Turning to the Region 2 (United Kingdom) releases, the original effort from Pioneer was at least 16x9 enhanced even though it was very pricey at GBP20. It was supplanted by another version, equally pricey, from Artisan that retained the 16x9 enhancement but lost the pointless MPEG 5.1 soundtrack. I have this version and it is no better than the original Region 1 release in many ways, and worse in others as it lacked any extras. This version was itself supplanted by a Director's Cut version from Momentum which brought the additional dts 5.1 soundtrack and some extras along with some subtitle options. Much better looking and pretty much on a par with the new Region 4 release (I have seen this although don't own it), except for the fact that it only has the Director's Cut of the film (and of course the extras were a little underwhelming). Initial pressings came in a rather nifty limited edition digipak.
If you want to look at other Region 2 releases, they all seem to be fairly similar to the Momentum release. If we turn to other regions, there is a Special Edition version available from Region 2 (Japan) which requires a modest mortgage to acquire. From the descriptions found it may contain a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack but is otherwise reasonably similar to the original Region 1 two disc Ultimate Edition (including the dts 6.1 soundtrack). There is a much cheaper Deluxe Edition available which sounds like a single disc release of the theatrical version of the film with the two seven channel soundtracks, but no extras. For completeness sake, there was an earlier release from Pioneer that featured six channel soundtracks in Dolby Digital and dts, but this is now hard to get (and even then is way more expensive than the Special Edition).
Region 3 tossed up a Special Edition of the film from Korea that offers little different to, or more importantly anything better than, what was available in Regions 1 and 2.
So basically everything boils down to two releases. The best release yet appears to be the original Region 1 Ultimate Edition on the strength of a dts 6.1 soundtrack and better extras, although still perhaps not of a quality and quantity to really make it an Ultimate Edition. If you have this release, consider yourself lucky and there is no reason to be tossing it away quite yet. However, since that release is now out of print it would seem that this new Region 4 release will go to the top of the pile of available discs - although the RPI is a serious deterrent to purchasing, given that we have awaited this release for five long years... If you own any of the original Region 1 and Region 2 releases, then you really need to consider upgrading to this Region 4 release however.
Stargate is one of those films that truly makes for a great night's mindless action entertainment, albeit more solidly based on a very interesting supposition than most of the films that would qualify in a similar manner. Not the greatest at anything it does, and certainly the theatrical cut could have borne a little more pruning, the presentation on Region 4 DVD Video can be similarly characterised. Sure there could have been a bit more quality in the mastering but only the most supercritical would find any significant block to two hours of enjoyment. At least I can now throw out the earlier releases of the film that I have on DVD Video.
|DVD||Denon DVD-1600, using RGB output|
|Display||Loewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|