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HTF REVIEW: "Stargate" Ultimate Edition (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)



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#1 of 63 Ronald Epstein

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Posted February 04 2003 - 12:58 AM

Posted Image

Stargate
Ultimate Edition







Studio: Artisan
Year: 1994
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 119 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: Spanish



Sealed and buried for all time
is the key to mankind's future.



Let me get this out of the way right now....only
35 days into a new year and I am here to proclaim
that this Ultimate Edition of Stargate
is the reference disc of the year! The problem is,
Artisan doesn't deserve this kind of praise
as they have proven themselves to be the worst studio
this DVD format has ever seen. Where do I begin in
talking about the complete mess of titles this studio
has released in the past few years? For every one
or two reference quality DVDs they release a year
(Twin Peaks, Terminator 2, Total Recall) they
release dozens more that look like complete crap, or
have some sort of defect (such as framing or subtitle
issues). Perhaps the biggest offender of the last
year was their re-release of The Quiet Man,
which they touted as a brand new transfer, but looked
absolutely horrible.

Let's also talk about the fact that more than
any other studio, Artisan recycles their
sparse library of "A" titles, putting out one Special
Edition after another of the same film. This is the
third release of Stargate to the DVD
format, and while I can forgive the first release,
there is absolutely no reason why their 1999 Special
Edition could not have been done correctly. It
almost seems that studio execs already knew they
could recycle this title yet another time by holding
back on an anamorphic release. If you still don't
think the studio is playing games with their product,
then you won't want to hear about yet another reissue --
Terminator 2 Extreme Edition, now in the works.
Wasn't the original release supposed to be the
Ultimate Edition?

Stargate opens in Giza Egypt. The year is
1928 and a group of archeologists have uncovered a
huge relic made of mineral, unlike any minerals found
on Earth. The archeologists are just stunned by the
discovery of this monstrous artifact that contains
bizarre markings across its front.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Jump ahead some 60 years later to present day where
Doctor Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is lecturing a
group of spectators on his own theory about the
Egyptian Pyramids. The spectators immediately pawn
him off as being some sort of kook, but the one
person who does show interest in his teachings is
an old lady, the daughter of the old archaeologist
of 1928, who desperately needs Jackson’s expertise
and offers him a job.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Jackson is brought to an underground military
installation in Colorado where he comes face-to-face
with the ultimate artifact. In his attempts to
translate the strange markings he discovers that
a that the ring like object (the Stargate) is a
door way to a distant place in the universe. Jackson
is eager to go through the Stargate, as it offers
him the opportunity for discovery. For Colonel Jack
O’Neil (Kurt Russell), however, the crossing through
the Stargate has an entirely different purpose as
his mission is to destroy the Stargate and its
potential threat to planet earth.

Posted ImagePosted Image

I never considered Stargate to be a great
sci-fi classic, though it certainly showed potential
in the first half of the film with its eerie
discovery whose significance is quite exciting.
So many questions run through the viewer's mind,
anticipating the wonders that await on the other
side. The problem is, the film quickly spirals
downward as we go through the Stargate only to
find another Earth like planet from which the
mythology and civilization of ancient Egypt sprang.
It is ruled by an advanced and vicious alien named
King Ra (Jaye Davidson) who uses humans as his slaves.
The last of his race, Ra has found that he can inhabit
a human body and live forever. The entire third act
of the film becomes complete drudgery as our heroes
and natives stage a huge revolt, trying to prevent
Ra from sending a nuclear device back to Earth
through the Stargate.


How is the transfer?


In a word...awesome! I have to admit that I sat
completely stunned as I watched this absolutely
superb transfer with its ultra-sharp images full
of fine detail and texture. It's just amazing to
see how vivid this transfer is, with colors that
are perfectly saturated and flesh tones that are
dead-on accurate. Black levels are also perfect
here. The moment you know you have reached transfer
nirvana is when you witness the desert scenes with
its golden colored sand against a bright blue sky.
These scenes look so absolutely smooth and perfect
that you would almost think you were watching
high definition. To be honest, this razor-sharp
transfer comes across so cleanly (no background
grain or noise whatsoever), it does come fairly
close to looking high-def.

Posted Image

Since buying my new Outlaw 950/770 combo, I have
been awaiting the arrival of a disc that would really
test the limits of what my system can do. Trust
me when I say that this new 6.1 DTS mix (on a 5.1
setup) is nothing short of spectacular. As with
most DTS tracks, sound is wide-open here not
sounding the least compressed. From the opening
credits underlined with David Arnold's magnificent
score, the sounds of creaks and choral whispers
embrace the viewer with 360-degree audio. This
sound mix is so exceptionally crisp, detailed and
well balanced that sounds seem to naturally flow
across the listening area. The rears exhaustively
support the film's effects that range from various
weather elements to military PA announcements in
the background. Some of my favorite audio moments
include the initial "revving" up of the Stargate and
the initial walk-through that results in a tremendous
(but way too short) wormhole audio sequence. LFE
response is quite good, never becoming overpowering.
Every little nuance has been dramatically brought out
in this mix, making Stargate one helluva
memorable audio experience.

This transfer is reference quality all the way, baby!

Once again I'll go into my usual fit over the
fact that Artisan has not provided English subtitles
for the hearing impaired, although there is closed
captioning. There are Spanish subtitles available,
and oddly, my player defaulted to turning them on
during initial playback.


Special Features


Artisan has released their umpteenth effort of
this film in a 2-disc Ultimate Edition that
contains both the original theatrical cut and the
Director's cut that contains about 9 minutes of
additional footage. This additional footage mainly
appears during the film's opening where we see a
alien craft visiting us 8000 years B.C. Later,
there is some additional footage of Spader exploring
Ra's palace and private bathe chamber. All of this
footage is seamlessly edited back in the film.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Disc One contains the Director's Cut
of the film with your choice of 6.1 DTS-EX Digital
Discrete Surround or 5.1 Dolby-EX Digital Surround
audio.

A full-length commentary features Director
Roland Emmerich and Producer Dean Devlin. This is
the exact same commentary that appeared on the 1999
release. I sampled this commentary for the very first
time and found it to be quite lively for the fact
that both men seem to be enjoying their time here
pointing out all the various camera shots and effects
tricks done in many of the scenes. I was just on
a sort of "high" listening to them describe how they
shot the film's opening desert scene in Egypt with
its added CGI and stick people in the background.
Roland describes the difficulties of shooting in
the desert with a 150-man crew -- especially when
you are trying to make the sand look new without
footprints. Another problem was that many of the
crew members were passing out in the heat simply
because they were forgetting to drink fluid. We
learn how great it was to have kids and Kurt
Russell on the same set, as both really worked well
together. What often didn't work quite as well,
were the transporter rings, which became the biggest
headache for the filmmakers. Listen and you'll
learn why. You'll also learn how grinding stone
produced some of the film's best rumbling effect
sounds. Though Roland wishes that technology was
available back in 1994 to make believable digital
extras, he was quite happy with the results he got
using live actors. Just a great commentary here!

Posted Image

Also featured on this first disc is the featurette,
Is there a Stargate? which examines the
"what if?" question. Meet Erich Von Daniken. He
has traveled the world visiting some of the most
mysterious places known to man. He has a particular
interest in the great pyramids of Egypt, wondering
how such an engineering marvel was possible in
ancient times. Studying ancient art, Daniken
discovered strange drawings that suggest that we
may have been visited by alien creatures. This
led to the publishing of Chariots of the Gods,
a book that suggests we are surrounded by evidence
of alien visitation. This featurette certainly
gives some interesting supportive argument that
these great ruins (and those in Mexico and other
countries) could actually hold secrets to such
visitations. It is also suggested that these visitors
will ultimately return.
(length: approx. 11 minutes)

Posted Image

Disc Two contains the Theatrical Cut
of the film with your choice of 6.1 DTS-EX Digital
Discrete Surround or 5.1 Dolby-EX Digital Surround
audio. Surprisingly, audio commentary is not
featured on this disc.

Posted ImagePosted Image

The Making of Stargate: Creating a whole new
world
is a brand new featurette that includes
never-before-seen, behind-the-scenes video and
archival photographs and interviews with design
and production team members. One of the most
interesting things we learn right from the start
is that the original design of the Stargate was
pyramid shaped. The fact that this relic needed
some sort of dialing effect led to it being ring
shaped. In fact, this ring became a highly
complicated technical piece of equipment thanks
to its elaborate design that allowed the outer
ring to move while the inner remained stable.
Visual Effects Supervisor Jeff Okun shows us how
a large water tank was used to create one of the
most amazing effects to come out of the Stargate.
We are taken to Yuma, Arizona and its sand dunes
that provided the perfect locale for the distant
planet our heroes travel to. It was so hot during
the long Summer shoot that the entire crew was
drinking an average of 5 gallons of water per day
and never going to the bathroom as all of it was
sweated out. So how do you shoot in the desert,
making it seem pristine by covering up footprint
tracks? You'll learn how they did it. The most
spectacular set that was built for this movie was
the entrance to Ra's pyramid, which spanned 90
feet and had a 125-foot ramp. We also learn how
horses were transformed into the hairy creatures
that dominate the planet. One of my favorite parts
of this featurette was learning how the effects
team designed Ra's spaceship and the difficulties
involved in making it all seem real on film. It's
also interesting to learn the difficulties in hiring
a huge cast of extras to storm across a hot desert
and hoping those extras will return to work the
following day. Though the filmmakers tried to
duplicate the extras using miniature sets and figures,
nothing came close to using the real thing. This
is a pretty neat featurette that tries to cram in
as much information about every aspect of the
production as possible, using a good amount of
footage that has never been seen before.
(length: approx. 23 minutes)

The film's original theatrical trailer
and international trailer are included here
as well as extensive cast and crew filmographies.
Production Notes give insight into Roland
Emmerich who had worked on his story about aliens
visiting pyramids for nearly 10 years before he
joined Dean Devlin's film company and found financing
for the fifty-five million dollar production.

I should not fail to mention that inside the DVD
cover resides a 10-page Collector's Booklet
that gives extensive coverage on the effects as
well as interior and exterior location shoots.


Final Thoughts

Posted Image

Aside from a transfer that is nothing short of
amazing, the extras are sort of sparse when you
consider that this to be a 2-disc Ultimate
Edition
. Aside from the commentary, there is
less than 40 minutes of new material to browse
through. Still, this DVD stands squarely on the
merits of its breathtaking reference quality
anamorphic transfer.

Like most all of you who already own the 1999 release
that should have been done correctly the
first time, I hate having to be in the position to
buy yet another release -- especially from a studio
like Artisan. The only saving grace is that
this 2-disc set is available on-line for under $15,
and I hear some places selling it for close to $11.
There is also a mail-in certificate that allows
owners of the current Stargate DVD to save $5 on
the upgrade. At these prices you can easily suck up
your pride and make a purchase.


Release Date: February 18, 2003


All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 63 MarcD

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Posted February 04 2003 - 01:06 AM

Excellent review.
I'm glad I held off buying any of the older versions. Will be looking forward to this one & only 2 weeks away.

Marc

#3 of 63 Jesse Blacklow

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Posted February 04 2003 - 01:11 AM

Ron, you are awesome. The only problem now is that the rest of us have to wait two weeks. It must be so hard to be a industry "insider." Free DVDs, an entire thriving forum, the connections. If it gets to be too much for you, just let me know Posted Image.

Just out of curiousity, what is the packaging like? I seem to remember hearing about a limited edition gold foil box, but the pictures all seem to have a golden-looking box. Thanks for the review, I can't wait for this to get to me.
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#4 of 63 Joseph J.D

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Posted February 04 2003 - 01:20 AM

Great review Ron! I can't wait to get this title....it's one of my favourite sci-fi films. I traded away the original flipper disc (which I received free when I originally bought my player) last summer in anticipation for this version. It has a place reserved next to my SG1 boxsets.Posted Image Can't wait!
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#5 of 63 Joel Vardy

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Posted February 04 2003 - 01:34 AM

Quote:
Perhaps the biggest offender of the last year was their re-release of The Quiet Man, which they touted as a brand new transfer, but looked absolutely horrible.


Ron, I'm glad to hear that someone else thought this release to be poor quality. I thought maybe my equipment was starting to fail me Posted Image . Too bad since I really enjoyed this film.

Great news about the new Startgate release. Glad I held back till now. It will be definitely difficult to refrain from plunging in with this kind of praise from you.

Joel

#6 of 63 Neil Joseph

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Posted February 04 2003 - 01:41 AM

I always remember the first time I saw this film. I enjoyed it so much and I remember is being the cause of debate for weeks afterward regarding its theories. Anyway, I will be glad to finally have this back in my collection. The previous 2 releases were among the worst transfers that I have ever witnessed on DVD and the edge enhancement made it unwatchable, no wonder I sold it off. Thanks for the review Ron.
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#7 of 63 Jordan_E

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Posted February 04 2003 - 02:22 AM

Thanks Ron! Your reviews always seem to topple me over to the 'gotta get' side when concerning discs I already have, although replacing the dreaded flipper of Stargate was basically a done deal anyway.
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#8 of 63 Andy_Bu

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Posted February 04 2003 - 03:16 AM

Thanx for the wonderful review Ron.

Does anyone have a link to a explanation of the differences between the directors cut and theatrical version?

Andy

#9 of 63 Jay Mitchosky

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Posted February 04 2003 - 03:28 AM

Quote:
The previous 2 releases were among the worst transfers that I have ever witnessed on DVD and the edge enhancement made it unwatchable...
Neil, you beat me to it. Unwatchable was exactly my comment. Include the DTS laserdisc on that list as well. I'm happy they finally got it right. Although I can't understand why they wasted so much space including a separate theatrical cut instead of just branching the extra scenes for the D.C. Posted Image
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#10 of 63 Dan Hitchman

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Posted February 04 2003 - 04:36 AM

I don't know how those scenes were added back, but sometimes seamless branching just does not work. Perhaps that's why it wasn't used. Also, many players choke up on this technology.

I've got an Outlaw 950 pre-amp too Ron! After a replacement of an early run unit (a little on the hissy side) I find this to be a great little processor for the money. I can't wait to fire up the DTS-ES Discrete 6.1 track.

Do you not have back surround speakers yet? Get some quickly, because you really are missing out.

I agree that Emmerich and Devlin had a potentially great adventure story somewhere buried in there, but chopped the hell out of it (looks like they threw the negatives in a Cuisinart blender), and didn't have the talent to see what could have been done with the story. I would love to see the original, almost 3 hour cut come out someday. Perhaps it would help.

If I can find it for around 12 bucks or so, I'll pick this one up.

Dan

#11 of 63 David_Jr

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Posted February 04 2003 - 04:38 AM

Mine's on order!!Posted Image
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#12 of 63 ErichH

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Posted February 04 2003 - 05:17 AM

Thanks Ron - The screen shots look great!
I've always had a soft spot for this film, and the new transfer is enough for me.
I just love the set design inside the ship.
Eric

#13 of 63 David Coleman

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Posted February 04 2003 - 05:20 AM

I was gonna get this one before but now Ron's review has heightened my excitement for this!! Can't wait till the 18th!

#14 of 63 Ron-P

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Posted February 04 2003 - 05:44 AM

Excellent! Thanks Ron. One of only 3 DVD's on my must-buy list for this month.


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#15 of 63 Mark_TS

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Posted February 04 2003 - 06:04 AM

Thanks for the review Ron...

...I just wish they had finished their intended trilogy for the film.
----
Trivia: true of false?- I read somewhere that a grad student of Egyptology had sent Devlin and Emmerich a draft for the story years before the film and they 'rejected' it. After the film came out, they had to settle with the fellow out of court, as he had a date stamped original.
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#16 of 63 Carlo Medina

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Posted February 04 2003 - 06:09 AM

I agree with most everything in your post Ron (about the disappointment with Artisan's overall treatment of DVD and how it took 3 times to get this one right).

However I'm such a Stargate junkie (the movie, not MacGuyverGate SG1 Posted Image :P) ) that I'll buy this one because of the great video and audio (extras don't hurt either).

#17 of 63 Declan

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Posted February 04 2003 - 06:12 AM

This has been out in the UK for over 18months or so.......

but I dont know weather it has all the features (or even if it is a 2 disc set). Although it does have DTS, it is anamorphic, has the theatrical and Dir cuts and commentry as well. But I'm not too sure of the rest of the features. Been a good few years since i saw this as well.
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#18 of 63 Lowell_B

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Posted February 04 2003 - 06:18 AM

Thanks for the comprehensive review Ron. Looks like I'll definately have to pick Stargate up, great news on the transfer/audio. Posted Image

Lowell

#19 of 63 Stephen Orr

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Posted February 04 2003 - 07:06 AM

On my list. Gotta have it, and love the TV show, too. Best Sci-Fi on TV!

#20 of 63 Mark Barnhill

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Posted February 04 2003 - 07:26 AM

Thanks Ron, Looks like another one I'll have to get. I agree the previous release was unwatchable. It will be nice to have this film back in my "watchable" collection! Posted Image
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