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

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Feb 4, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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

    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!


    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)


    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.


    The Making of Stargate: Creating a whole new
    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


    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
    . 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
  2. MarcD

    MarcD Auditioning

    Aug 30, 2000
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    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.

  3. Jesse Blacklow

    Jesse Blacklow Cinematographer

    Oct 14, 2002
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    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 [​IMG].

    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.
  4. Joseph J.D

    Joseph J.D Cinematographer

    Dec 4, 2001
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    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.[​IMG] Can't wait!
  5. Joel Vardy

    Joel Vardy Supporting Actor

    Oct 20, 1998
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  6. Neil Joseph

    Neil Joseph Lead Actor

    Jan 16, 1998
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    Real Name:
    Neil Joseph
    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.
  7. Jordan_E

    Jordan_E Cinematographer

    Jan 3, 2002
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    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.
  8. Andy_Bu

    Andy_Bu Supporting Actor

    Jun 2, 2002
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    Thanx for the wonderful review Ron.

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

  9. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

    Sep 6, 1998
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  10. Dan Hitchman

    Dan Hitchman Cinematographer

    Jun 11, 1999
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    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.

  11. David_Jr

    David_Jr Supporting Actor

    Sep 20, 2000
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    Hancock, MA - The Berkshires
    Real Name:
    Mine's on order!![​IMG]
  12. ErichH

    ErichH Screenwriter

    Mar 1, 2001
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    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.
  13. David Coleman

    David Coleman Supporting Actor

    Jan 5, 2000
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    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. Ron-P

    Ron-P Producer

    Jul 25, 2000
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    Excellent! Thanks Ron. One of only 3 DVD's on my must-buy list for this month.

    Peace Out~[​IMG]
  15. Mark_TS

    Mark_TS Screenwriter

    Mar 23, 2000
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    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.
  16. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

    Oct 31, 1997
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    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 [​IMG] :p) ) that I'll buy this one because of the great video and audio (extras don't hurt either).
  17. Declan

    Declan Second Unit

    Aug 22, 2002
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    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.
  18. Lowell_B

    Lowell_B Second Unit

    Dec 3, 2001
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    Thanks for the comprehensive review Ron. Looks like I'll definately have to pick Stargate up, great news on the transfer/audio. [​IMG]

  19. Stephen Orr

    Stephen Orr Screenwriter

    Mar 14, 1999
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    On my list. Gotta have it, and love the TV show, too. Best Sci-Fi on TV!
  20. Mark Barnhill

    Mark Barnhill Stunt Coordinator

    Jan 13, 2003
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    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! [​IMG]

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