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MOVIE REVIEW : Davidson Out of This World in 'Stargate'

October 28, 1994|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

According to "Stargate," the great ancient Egyptian civilization that gave us the pyramids actually began on another planet--the planet Abydos, millions of light-years from Earth. The film mainlines our fascination with that ancient culture by making its achievements--quite literally--otherworldly.

Now if only the rest of the film weren't so earthbound.

Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is a brainy, controversial Egyptologist hired for a top-secret military project translating the hieroglyphics on a giant, mysterious stone uncovered in 1928 in Giza, Egypt. This he does lickety-split. His conclusion: The stone is a giant ring--a portal--into another dimension. So, of course, when a time-traveling team headed up by the ramrod, disconsolate Col. Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell) decides to pass through that portal, Daniel is on board.

The planet Abydos, with its desert-scapes and pachydermlike creatures and fur-cloaked denizens, seems to have been colonized by aliens from--Hollywood. There's a lot of "Star Wars" on this orb, as well as portals to everything from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "The Man Who Would be King." (Of course, "Star Wars" wasn't exactly created from whole loincloth either.) Pretty soon we're mired in the usual science versus military squabbles, with Daniel doing his decoding thing in order to get the militia returned to Earth before the malevolent, godlike Ra, played by Jaye Davidson, incinerates them all.

All this nonsense is made intermittently enjoyable because of the Saturday-afternoon serial quality of the storytelling (which is full of holes). Director Roland Emmerich, who also co-wrote the script with Dean Devlin, doesn't take the mumbo-jumbo terribly seriously, although he doesn't pull the film through the portals of camp either. He respects the pop junkiness of the project. Even the tackiness of the sets and effects--despite a budget upward of $60 million--seems partly intentional. It's "Flash Gordon" with computerized whammies.

Spader is surprisingly funny and resilient as the Egyptologist who feels more at home on Abydos than he ever did on Earth. He fits into the planet's slave-like culture and becomes its crusader. He finds himself by losing himself in the solar system--not a bad way to go these days. O'Neil, who is recovering from the accidental death of his son, has a buzz-cut and a cold stare; Russell is such a muscle-man tough-guy that he practically effaces himself.

The real hoot here is Jaye Davidson's Ra, with his hermaphrodite airs and flouncy Space-Age get-ups. Davidson's voice was apparently electronically altered to sound lower and boomier: He's like a fey Darth Vader, and he seems entranced by the Garbo-esque rapture of it all.

Without Davidson "Stargate" might seem clunky and routine, but he gives it a weirdo charge. It may be a lousy movie, but it's a more enjoyably lousy movie than most.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for sci-fi violence. Times guidelines: It includes some graphic violence involving space guns.

'Stargate'

Kurt Russell: Col. Jack O'Neil Jaye Davidson: Ra James Spader: Dr. Daniel Jackson Viveca Lindfors: Catherine An MGM release of a Mario Kassar presentation of a Studio Canal Plus/Centropolis production in association with Carolco Pictures. Director Roland Emmerich. Producers Joel Michaels, Oliver Eberle, Dean Devlin. Executive producer Mario Kassar. Screenplay by Emmerich, Devlin. Cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub. Editors Michael Duthie, Derek Brechin. Costumes Joseph Porro. Music David Arnold. Production design Holger Gross. Running time: 2 hours.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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