We all have those movies from our youth, the ones we remember almost too fondly to rewatch as an adult. Well, after suddenly coming down with a low-grade fever last week, I decided to pound two doses of Dayquil and turn on Stargate.
When the movie starts, it feels comfortably familiar. There’s Egypt. There’s archaeology. There’s an amulet. There’s some portal-shaped object likely planted by aliens. I think, as a kid, I loved this movie because it was Indiana Jones plus aliens but not in a bad way. This assumption actually held up as I watched the movie. Then, the cold medicine really started to kick in.
There’s a guy with glasses… ehh, it’s James Spader.
There’s some military presence... yes, it’s the Air Force.
There’s a mysterious proposition... it must be aliens.
There’s a sad, square-jawed man sitting in a child’s bedroom holding a handgun... oh shit, it’s Kurt Russell, and he’s been reactivated.
From here on out, I start to remember Stargate and the nerdy historical wonders that made me love it as a kid. James Spader’s character is some sort of vagrant academic, more well-versed in early Egyptian linguistics than the government’s best experts. He translates some tablets, then before you know it—BOOM—some watery wormhole opens up to take a team of paramilitaries and the dweeb across of the universe.
It’s tough to remember what really happened on the other side of the universe, I thought while watching. Stargate was only the beginning of a whole sci-fi franchise that included a TV series and more sequels based on the TV series. Never saw any of those, but I did eat a cheeseburger while I was looking them up on Wikipedia during the boring part of the Stargate movie.
The Old Testament analogy occurred to me around the time I gave up on my chili cheese fries. The paramilitary dweeb crew was about to walk through the Stargate, but the Egyptian themes and a vague memory of no bug-like aliens in this movie made me remember some vague Biblical reference in this plot. With bedtime approaching and the itching anxiety that the Dayquil would keep me awake, I popped a Nyquil.
The Earthling team walks through the Stargate and find themselves on a foreign planet that looks, suspiciously, a lot like Egypt. They actually land inside of a pyramid almost identical to those at Giza, so it’s a lot like Egypt. They walk out into the sand, breathing the perfectly Earth-like air, and I’m pretty sure this is Egypt.
And then—I’ll be honest, the Nyquil was probably a bad idea—the movie has a lot of spooky music and dark scenery. Then, the Earthlings find an alien race: humans!
It turns out this planet that the Earthlings find is some sort of weird slave mine. James Spader and friends approach the mining village, and when it seems like they’re going to get beaten up, the amulet James Spader brought from Egypt earns him a royal welcome. James takes a liking to one of the slave girls who also happens to be the daughter of the chief figure. They all eat some weird food. I’m forgetting where I spotted the Christ reference.
Well then maybe it’s not so Biblical. Actually, the plot of Stargate is pretty much the history of the New World, a bubbling mid-90s analogy for colonialism and its complications that spans from the moment the foreigners land on uncharted shores to the victory of independence. The watery Stargate itself is obviously a metaphor for the Atlantic Ocean, while technology-enabled Earthlings represent an outnumbered group of European explorers. Spader’s character is even named “Jackson,” an allusion that only made sense in my drugged up mind.
Think about it: the Earthlings sit with the natives for a Thanksgiving-like welcome dinner involving a baked vermin that tastes like chicken. Then the ruling natives show up—in fantastical fashion, I might add—as their pyramid-shaped spaceship engulfs the Giza ripoff and starts killing the peaceful natives. This more advanced society must be the true Conquistadors, the ones who’d enslaved an entire race of dark-skinned people to mine for precious metals. Spader (a.k.a. Jackson) seems to be some sort of John Smith character who picks a side and a native lady and tries to help. Kurt Russell is just Kurt Russell: a guy with a flat top and a rifle who’s tough but fair. If I had to pick his historical counterpart, I’d probably pick George Washington.
Oh, and by the way, the leader of the Conquistadors is literally Ra, the Egyptian sun-god who is actually a little green man that’s chosen to live in a human body because human bodies are “so easy to repair.” His eyes light up when he gets emotional, and he sleeps in a sweet ass coffin that injects him with everlasting life. Obviously, Ra is the Pharaoh who won’t let his people go, and he’s still pissed that his old slave colony on Earth very much wanted to go and rebelled against him. So that Old Testament reference holds up after all. Confused yet? That’s what makes this movie good.
Any good science fiction movie strikes a delicate balance between innovation and tribute. Stargate pays tribute to both America and the Bible, while throwing in the badass twist of an immortal human-alien hybrid with bodyguards armed with lasers. You can suspend disbelief long enough to forget that the science of how the Stargate effortlessly blasts people across the universe but realize that aliens are just like us. They are us! This is also the plot of the popular film Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey.
Once alien-human god Ra lands on the slave planet in Stargate, I experience a moment of clarity. This movie is a fable of American ingenuity. Like seven American soldiers led by Kurt Russell and this goggle-eyed dweeb James Spader manage to win over an entire population of enslaved natives, only to fend off a much better funded and somewhat divine clan of extraterrestrial Conquistadors. It’s almost like a propaganda thriller commemorating our swift victory in Operation Desert Storm, except it’s not. Or is it? Hard to discern the truth, when you’ve overdosed on cold medicine. Believe me.
Without spoiling the ending, let me just say that the Americans win, and there’s a nuke involved. Kurt Russell, redeemed and seemingly no longer suicidal, returns home to win some stars on his lapel. James Spader stays behind to start a family with his alien wife and presumably teach the illiterate slave colony how to read and write. And the old lady back on Earth who gave him the amulet that saved the day, she’s probably fine.
Of course, the lingering question is, what happens to the Stargate. Kurt Russell was supposed to destroy the on Earth when he returned home, but this obviously didn’t happen. Otherwise, how would Hollywood spin-off the franchise into a confusing TV series and several bad sequels?
Forgive me if you’re a Stargate fanatic, and don’t trust this interpretation. It was fueled by a low-grade fever. If you’re not a Stargate fanatic, however, you should become one. That movie has layers!
You should rewatch it regardless. I’m not sure if I’d recommend overthinking any minute of this epic sci-fi adventure. You might end up conjuring some crazy ideas about the ‘90s—and in my case, the legacy of your youth—but you might just have fun, too. I know I did.