Image: MGM

1994 was an interesting year in film. In June of 1994, Disney had set the industry on fire with the release of The Lion King which set the worldwide record ($768.6 million) for animated films for almost a decade and was the second highest-grossing film of all time (not adjusting for inflation) at release right behind Jurassic Park. This was a year that a great number of classic and cult classic films were released:

  • Forrest Gump
  • Interview with the Vampire
  • Lassie
  • Pulp Fiction
  • The Shawshank Redemption

Also released this year were a number of comedies ranging from old properties being renewed like The Flintstones, to a number of classic Disney comedies, to the year of Jim Carrey with the release of The Mask, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and Dumb and Dumber.

Box Office

Graphic: Paramount/CBS

1994 was not a massive year for sci-fi with only 6 significant releases and three of them were generic flicks that never really went anywhere. Stargate was one of the three movies that went on to expand or were already part of an existing franchise. It was following the previous month’s release of Timecop, a moderately successful sci-fi flick based on a three book comic series that would garner a short tv series and 2003 home video sequel after reaching #1 in the box office upon release. The month following Stargate’s release would see the release of Star Trek Generations, a film with the combined draw of both the original Star Trek cast as well as the crew from The Next Generation. By all accounts, Generations should have done exceedingly well considering the 30 million viewers who had tuned in to see The Next Generation’s series finale earlier that year.

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Stargate ended up being the surprise, sci-fi hit of the year grossing $196.6 million worldwide, a figure which was over 65% higher than Generations that would follow. This was far and above what was expected by industry experts of the time and even set the record for highest grossing film in October at the time. This despite mixed to poor critical reception with Roger Ebert giving the film a single star and current aggregate scores which float around 50%.

Production

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Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin got together to write the plot for Stargate. They had been working together for a number of years at this point, but with very little wide success. Their most known release to this point was Universal Soldier, a film which garnered a number of sequels over the years, but it underperformed in box offices and only barely made enough to cover its rather modest budget. Stargate came to be as a combination of separate ideas which each writer had come to on their own. Emmerich had the idea of a spaceship being buried underneath the pyramids in Egypt, while Devlin has a very loose idea of a sort of Arabian adventure set on another planet. These ideas came together to form the basis of Stargate: aliens had intervened in ancient Egypt which ultimately sets our team on their “Arabian” adventure.

Skaara and the young men of the uprising
Photo: MGM (Cirina Catania)

Interestingly enough, Stargate appears to be the first film to ever have its own website, though technically it was just a portion of MGM’s main site. That site is obviously no longer available some two decades later, but significantly broken archives can be found though they are not much to look at.

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There were many scenes during the movie which involved a large number of natives. Many of these scenes involved significant movement by many of these people, so extras were obviously hired. However, a number of scenes involved crowds of people who did not need to move. In order to stay within budget, for these scenes they would simply take stick figures and place cloth over them in the distance to give the appearance of crowds of people where there were none.

Kurt Russell and other cast members
Photo: MGM (Cirina Catania)

Much of the film was shot in the desert of Buttercup Valley just outside of Yuma, Arizona. According to Cirina Catania, a photographer on set during filming, most days the temperatures reached 120 degrees in the shade and there was no natural shade in the area. Extras, farmers and other people native to the area, were even having difficulty with the heat and there were many people who would collapse near daily. In order to maintain a natural look to the filming area, everyone was under strict orders not to leave the area and even when they left at the end of the day, they were only to leave via dune buggy shuttles. Despite this, Cirina notes that she never once heard the film’s main cast, including Kurt Russell and James Spader, ever complain.

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While the TV series takes place in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, the movie takes place at a fictional base named Creek Mountain. While the name was different, there are clear similarities to the real Cheyenne Mountain and the exterior shots are actually the same as what they used for Cheyenne Mountains shots in the movie WarGames.

Left: Creek Mountain from the film
Right: Cheyenne Mountain Complex from the TV series
Photo: MGM

Odd fact: apparently the ring itself was originally black. Once it was set up, they quickly realized it looked like a large, narrow tire. To remedy that, they go on to paint it what they considered silver, though on screen it appears as an almost stone color as it does not appear with much sheen but rather a very matte finish.

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Story

Raising the stargate
Screenshot: MGM (Stargate 1994)

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The story of Stargate starts in the deserts of Giza, Egypt. The year is 1928 and Professor Paul Langford is conducting an excavation of the area. The excavation team had found a set of cover stones which they assumed meant they had found a previously unknown tomb. Underneath them they instead found a large, metallic ring at which point they bring the Professor over to examine the stone and see the ring. While the Professor examines the stones, we see his daughter, Catherine, examining the smaller antiquities which they had discovered. A necklace in particular takes her interest and when called by her father to come along, she take the necklace with her. As they top the area of the dig site and walk around tents established around it, we see the workers raising the ring upright to form an arch.

Cut to 1994 where Dr. Daniel Jackson is giving a presentation regarding the pyramids of Egypt. He posits that the pyramids were in fact built by aliens and used as a sort of landing pad for their ships. Those in attendance are either bored by his presentation or outright mocking him, one of them jesting that perhaps the pyramids were built by the people of Atlantis. One person however is not so dismissive, Catherine Langford. She recruits him to join her with the US Air Force in order to decode certain hieroglyphs.

Photo: MGM (Cirina Catania)

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Dr. Jackson travels with Catherine to Colorado’s fictional military base, Creek Mountain. Once there, they meet up with the recently reactivated Colonel Jack O’Neil. Col O’Neil is dealing with the recent death of his son. He was killed in an accident involving O’Neil’s sidearm. The resulting guilt combined with the resentment his wife had for him due to the incident had caused a split with his wife.

Dr. Jackson takes the next couple weeks to study the cover stones which were found in Giza. Jackson eventually comes to the conclusion that the unknown symbols on the stones are not in fact hieroglyphs, but actually constellations which when combined give a location within space. This combined with a correction he made to the translation of the hieroglyphs, he determines that there should be another artifact called a “stargate” and that it could be used to travel to another planet.

At this point, Major General W. O. West introduces Dr. Jackson to the artifact that was found with cover stones. Based on conversations, it seems they had tried many combinations of the prominent symbols which made up the location listed on the stones, but had not determined that a seventh symbol was needed or what symbol it would be. After a quick look at each of the symbols on the now revealed stargate, Jackson quickly recognizes which symbol they are to use as the point of origin: a decidedly pyramid shaped symbol.

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The top brass quickly decide to attempt to dial the address with the new point of origin. As the dialing process continues, the complex begins to shake and only increases in intensity as they approach the seventh symbol. When the seventh chevron is locked, a massive wave of water-like energy bursts from the center of the gate and settles into a vertical pool of shimmering water. The immediately bring in a probe to send through the newly opened portal to get a glimpse of what is on the other side. In a matter of seconds, the probe travels to a completely different galaxy. In the words of Catherine, “on the other side of the known universe”. The gate is only open for a short time before it shuts down and they lose their connection to the probe.

Kawoosh
GIF: MGM (Stargate 1994)

They take this opportunity to review the footage taken by the probe. In doing so, they quickly realize there will be a problem with sending anyone through the portal. This is because the symbols on the other gate are different from the symbols on the Earth gate, presumably because they are intended to be constellations as seen from this new planet. While General West is ready to scrub the mission and put the program to bed, Dr. Jackson quickly volunteers to go along with the team in order to decipher the symbols so that they can dial home. General West questions whether he truly believes he can do it and Jackson quickly responds that he’s positive.

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Dr. Jackson begins packing reference books for use in deciphering the other symbols. Catherine approaches him and hands him the necklace she had pocketed back in Giza. Jackson attempts to refuse, but Catherine insists that Jackson keep it for luck. She insists that Jackson bring it back to her.

Back in the gate room, soldiers are packing supplies on the ramp to the gate. In a corridor to the side, O’Neil gives the soldiers one last chance to say anything before shipping out...to which Jackson promptly responds with a sneeze. Shortly after, the side access doors open and the team steps into the gate room where they look at the gate in awe before driving the supply vehicle through the gate ahead of them. O’Neil steps through cautiously and is followed slowly by the rest of his team. Daniel is the last to step through and he takes the time to take in the moment before he too steps through the gate and we are shown a scene which would be repeated or replicated many times over the next 17 years in some form or fashion.

GIF: MGM (Stargate 1994)

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Arriving on the other side of the gate, the team is thrown from the gate covered in frost and disoriented. They appear to be in some sort of chamber, but it is unlit and it is unclear what their situation is. They proceed forward and find a sort of hatch in the ceiling and a doorway which leads to a more open room with some windows. At the other end of the room is an exterior doorway which shows a view of an alien desert. Once outside, they look up and behind to see an impressive exterior to the temple and pyramid as well as three planets and/or moons.

O’Neil gets a preliminary report from his team and then tells the team to pack it up and be prepped to return through the gate within the hour. Some members of his team question the way he phrased the order as it seemed he did not intend to return with them. O’Neil ignores their questions and proceeds to instruct Dr. Jackson to begin work on getting this gate operational. Dr. Jackson explains that he cannot activate the gate given the lack of knowledge as he expected the tablets to be near the gate. This upsets a number of the soldiers who confront Dr. Jackson, but O’Neil steps in to break it up.

The team sets up camp just outside the pyramid. Meanwhile, O’Neil is setting up some sort of device within the pyramid. Outside, the rest of the team continues to lightly harass Dr. Jackson by throwing his bag at him. The bag opens and some of his things blow away revealing tracks in the sand which he follows to some sort of domesticated alien creature. While assuring O’Neil that it was safe, he slaps it on its side and it starts off entangling his leg and dragging him through the desert.

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I wouldn’t touch that
GIF: MGM (Stargate 1994)

O’Neil and his team eventually catch up to Dr. Jackson who had just been awakened by being licked by this large alien creature. Over the next dune, they discover a primitive people of Egyptian origins. Upon seeing the necklace which Catherine Langford had given to Daniel, the people bowed down in fear and worship as they interpreted the Eye of Ra as a sign these men were messengers of the gods. They take the team to their city in order to weather an incoming storm while the team who had remained at the pyramid are forced to retreat into the interior due to the sandstorm.

In the makeshift city, the team are treated to all the luxuries afforded such a primitive people. O’Neil begins bonding with the young men of the camp, specifically the elder’s son, Skaara. Skaara is very intrigued by O’Neil’s cigarette lighter and O’Neil decides to give it to him as a gift. Meanwhile, Jackson is unwittingly married to the elder’s daughter, Sha’uri, which leads to some confusion for the timid Dr. Jackson. Uncomfortable with his new bride, he has her take him to some additional ruins. Once there, he learns that the being posing as Ra is in fact a parasitic life form which possessed the body of a human and has lived for thousands of years. He is also able to decipher the return address to Earth...except for the point of origin as it had been broken off.

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The Divine Imposter, Ra
Screenshot: MGM (Stargate 1994)

Believing they were stranded, they returned to the pyramid to regroup. While they had been gone to the city, Ra’s vessel had landed on the pyramid and taken the team which had stayed behind captive. When O’Neil and his team arrived back at the pyramid, they were taken captive by Ra. Ra brings O’Neil and Dr. Jackson before him and reveals that he knows that the device O’Neil had brought with him was a nuclear device. Dr. Jackson is shocked to learn that this was O’Neil’s plan all along: discover if there was a threat on the other side of the gate and detonate the nuclear device to destroy the gate if necessary...effectively a suicide mission.

O’Neil attempts to attack Ra out of desperation, but as a result of the struggle, Dr. Jackson was shot and killed. His death would be short lived though as Ra placed him within his Sarcophagus, a device with impressive healing capabilities. Ra explains to Dr. Jackson that he intends to take the bomb brought by O’Neil and send it back to Earth, though with the additional of the mineral which the gate is made of, naquadah, which would amplify the explosion some 100 times. He then insists that Jackson execute O’Neil and his team in front of the people in order to validate his standing as their “god”, otherwise he will kill every last human on the planet.

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Ra along with Jackson return to the planet and have the team lined up before them. Jackson, apparently with full intent to go through with the execution to save the inhabitants of the planet, notices that Skaara and the young men from the city had armed themselves with the guns left behind. Jackson takes this opportunity to instigate an uprising and turn the staff weapon upon Ra. In the chaos, O’Neil and Jackson along with the team and the youth all retreat into the desert.

Photo: MGM (Cirina Catania)

In that relative safety, they regroup and the young men celebrate. Jackson meanwhile notices that Skaara was sketching the events of the day and saw a symbol which he realizes is the point of origin that they needed to dial home. With this new source of hope, O’Neil and his team begin preparations for a seize of the temple in an attempt to return home. The team and the youth make a strike on the temple where O’Neil arms the bomb for seven minutes during which they either dial home or stop Ra.

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As Ra’s forces attack, Sha’uri is shot by one of the staff weapons and Dr. Jackson decides to take her to Ra’s ship via transportation rings in order to heal her in the Sarcophagus. After she is healed, her and Jackson return to the pyramid where O’Neil attempts to disarm the bomb, but it has been tampered with and as a result cannot be disarmed.

Outside, Ra’s forces had pinned down the team, but the city elder had lead the people to continue the uprising that the team had started. Realizing that an uprising had begun, Ra had his ship take off from the pyramid in an attempt to leave and likely decimate the planet from orbit. O’Neil and Dr. Jackson however realized that if they could not disarm the bomb, they could instead use the transportation rings to send the bomb to Ra’s ship and destroy him instead. Shortly after the bomb was sent, a bright flash was seen in the sky as the ship was destroyed and the people of Abydos were now free.

Daniel Jackson and his new home
Screenshot: MGM (Stargate 1994)

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Some time later, Dr. Jackson had managed to dial Earth from Abydos and the team was preparing to head back to Earth. While the team starting heading back through the gate, O’Neil talks to Dr. Jackson. Jackson tells O’Neil that he’s decided to stay with his new wife Sha’uri rather than return to Earth. As O’Neil is leaving, Dr. Jackson hands the necklace Catherine had given him over to Jack. He tells him to tell her that it brought him luck to which O’Neil agrees. O’Neil steps through the gate and returns home.

Future Plans

The ending of the original film ends on a note that I would not necessarily consider a cliffhanger, but it certainly feels like a stopping point more than an end. It turns out, that was actually rather intentional. The original plan for the Stargate franchise was for it to be a trilogy of movies, likely taking place on other planets and with different historical context besides Egyptian. These plans were ultimately unused, though they did attempt to reboot the movie trilogy in recent years.

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Instead, MGM ultimately opted to create a television series developed by Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin have long been adamant that Stargate SG-1 and its other spin-offs are not what they intended with the original movie. It is hard to argue with the creators to be sure, but the legacy of the Stargate fandom speaks for itself.

Closing

While this story recap was still quite lengthy, it still did not go into details regarding aspects of the world or technology involved. Rest assured however that I will eventually get into these details after I have completed brief (relatively speaking) recaps of the three television series over the coming weeks. I will go in depth with significant technologies of the series as well as people, races, and locations, so if you are interested in learning more about the major players and factors in the Stargate universe, stay tuned!

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  • Have you ever seen the Stargate film before?
  • Did you see it first or the TV series?
  • What do you think about the film? At release? Today?
  • Who was your favorite character in the film? Did they change significantly in the TV series?
  • Are you starting a binge watch/re-watch of the Stargate series?

Take to the comments to answer some or all of these questions or just share your thoughts on the film or this article/series of articles.

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RadzPrower

RadzPrower is a Georgia native with an interest in video games, science fiction, and comic books. He is a software engineer, but enjoys writing in his spare time. For a more in-depth bio, read here.