Year: 1994

Production: Le Studio Canal+ / Centropolis / Carolco

Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, Alexis Cruz

Screenwriter: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin

119 minutes; Color

Enormous production values, in seamless special effects and an old-fashioned deployment of vast sets and armies of extras, are here harnessed in the service of an amazingly ramshackle script that recycles pulpy chunks of the lesser sf stories of the 1930s and the lost world romances of Rider Haggard. Surprisingly it almost works.

A large alien artifact is discovered in Egypt in 1928. Years later, archeologist Spader works out that if the giant circle is aligned properly, the thing serves as a gateway to another part of the universe. A military team led by traumatized Marine Russell is dispatched to an alien desert world settled by apparent ancient Egyptians and ruled tyrannically by Ra (Davidson), a possessed pharaonic version of Ming the Merciless.

The "heart-warming" business of Russell making friends with a desert urchin who replaces his dead son is extremely tiresome, but the equally cliche relationship of the eager Spader and a local girl is a more acceptable evocation of the native romances of Hollywood sarong epics. Davidson, a limited performer who has miraculously found another part only he could play, swans about in Egyptian frocks and a computer-generated shapeshifting head-dress, emergeing from a Dr Phibes-style hi-tech resuscitating sarcophagus to add a welcome note of Edgar Rice Burroughs-ish camp to the surprisingly stolid desert rebellion plot. There is a smug element of unattractive patronizing as slaves whipped up against their masters act like every American administration's fantasy of a grateful Third World populace begging for military aid and presumably capable of abandoning the system which is all they've ever known for a simulation of parliamentary democracy. The triteness of it all is such that Spader's decision to stay behind with his native girl prompts less romantic admiration than wonderment that anyone would volunteer to spend the rest of his life on a planet without dentists.

Director Emmerich's recent work is Independence Day (1996). and Godzilla (1998).

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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