Stargate

(c) 1995 by Marion Zimmer Bradley

It goes without saying that, with all the new and improved movie visual technology, nearly everything can be done. (There are even people who believe that our landing on the moon was simply special effects.) I recently attended the movie "Stargate" with two members of my staff, Raul, who has a police background and studies military history, and Lisa, a language major who recently took a course in Egyptian religion. Both of them picked it apart for tiny flaws but enjoyed it nonetheless.

"Stargate" is visually very spectacular. Most of it is set on a planet on the other side of the universe (played by Yuma, Arizona). The plot is not particularly original; it revolves around that old standby: a mysterious artifact found in Egypt that has strange powers, in this case the ability to teleport material objects to a point far away in another galaxy. Naturally there is a Top-Secret Government program to send a party through that portal and explore what is on the other side. And of course there is a secret mission-within-a-mission ...

Once through the portal the exploration party finds a lost community of humans who have been brought from Earth to work in the mines for an Alien who is the Ancient Egyptian Sun God Ra. There they find romance, action, adventure, a banquet featuring something that looks like roast anteater and tastes like chicken (everything strange tastes like chicken), and, of course, a threat to Earth that must be dealt with.

The basic premise of the story is one I've seen a dozen times (Flash Gordon comes to mind, from out of the dim mists of my memory): one has merely to expose a people to the truth and the idea of freedom, and they will rise up in rebellion against their cruel masters. This concept appears with great frequency in American movies; perhaps we have a need to believe that our way of life is so wonderful that anyone given the choice would choose it -- or fight for it, as we did. In the two-hour span of a movie, these extremely sudden uprisings are not very credible, but after the movie I started thinking about this concept.

When I was a schoolgirl, my country was at war with Germany. Now I sell as many of my books there as I do in the United States, and I very much enjoy traveling there. Raul and Lisa, who are two decades younger than I, spent portions of their school days in air raid drills, preparing for possible bombing by the Soviet Union. Now the Soviet Union is no more, the Berlin Wall is rubble, and Germany is one country again.

Obviously one movie hero is not enough, but it does seem that, over time, exposure to the idea of freedom does have an effect.

The casting was in the most part good (though Raul remarked that Kurt Russell was rather young to be a Colonel). Jaye Davidson, who played the role of the Sun God Ra, was accurately (and eerily) effective. The costumes, body language, sets and background worked well in developing the Alien/Egyptian theme of the movie. An actual linguist was an advisor for the film, and I was told that the line about getting the vowels right was one that had real linguists laughing in approval. (Lisa certainly laughed hard enough.) I gather it is some sort of inside joke among academic linguists.

The action was fast and noisy, more so that I would have liked, but then I'm from an older generation accumstomed to a slower pace. The rest of the audience (young and male, from the sound of it) seemed to like it.

I am not sure I would advise that you see the film with companions like my staff -- it tends to impdede one's suspension of disbelief and ability simply to enjoy the film without analysis (and running comentary). Raul noted that the troops, all American GIs, were armed in the main with general issue German armament. He assured me that the H&K 93 and the MP5 (whatever those are...) are top-of-the-line weapons, so the intent may have been to show that the soldiers were an elite unit armed with the very best weapons available. I found one of the protagonists (a young scholar named Daniel, who seemed a combination of Indiana Jones and Dagwood Bumstead) to be a likable schlep. Lisa, however, noted that while such a scholar may safely be counted on to leave behind his head if it weren't already attached, he would not leave his stash of books and papers being buried in a sand dune while he went chasing off after a strange-looking beast in the middle of the desert. She also noted that the "Eye Of Ra" in the movie is really the "Eye Of Horus."

Even so, both Lisa and Raul seemed to enjoy the film, and even went to see it again. And it reminded me of the classic science fiction films of my youth (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, et al.) updated to the nineties. This movie is a good one of the Fantasy/Action-Adventure type, and should appeal to the devotees of that genre.


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