Roland Emmerich | Stargate
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Roland Emmerich is a Hollywood film director.
Soldiers, Scientists and the Hero
Emmerich's science fiction spectacular Stargate (1994)
reiterates and develops themes and characters from his last two
movies, Moon 44 (1990) and Universal Soldier (1992).
Emmerich has been deeply interested in exploring varieties of
masculinity. In all three films, there are two main types of male
characters. One group is more intellectual: in the last two films,
these have been "scientists". The other is more macho
and brutish; in the two last films these have been "soldiers".
There is also a hero, who has been trained to be part of the more
aggressive, "soldier" group, but who is trying to rediscover
his feelings, and make connections with other human beings. This
is the character played by Michael Pare in Moon 44, Jean-Claude
Van Damme in Universal Soldier, and Kurt Russell in Stargate.
This character is one of positive ambiguity; he is trying to escape
from or broaden predefined roles, and develop into a better human
Emmerich clearly has a lot of sympathy with the soldiers. He likes
their competence, and their flair for male bonding, and above
all, their machismo. The soldiers are always played by musclemen.
Even the leads are very well built, but they are always part of
a larger group of musclemen, perhaps a dozen. Being part of a
team of macho males is very important, although the relationship
is often ambiguous and fraught with danger.
Emmerich is clearly impressed with the scientists' technical abilities.
He is less impressed with their developing weapons of destruction,
and their willing subservience to dictators and authoritative
and oppressive regimes of all kinds.
The relations between the
scientists and the soldiers in all three films is full of difficulty.
In the first two films it is murderous, with the director-endorsed
killing of a bullying macho convict by a smaller, scientific one
a memorable highlight of Moon 44. But in Stargate
a new ability for the two groups to cooperate and learn from each
other is developed. This is clearly an interesting new development.
Only time will tell if it is a permanent feature of Emmerich's
world view, or a one-picture phenomenon.
Also, for the first time
there is a hero among the scientists, a character with leading
man status in the film: the scientist played by James Spader.
Despite some satire and some comic relief, Spader's character
is one of a genuine hero. Spader is one of my favorite actors,
and here he has one of his best film roles in years. It is also
good to see Emmerich getting a chance to work with some real actors
in Stargate, after years among the muscle men.
Uniforms: Image and Technology
Emmerich especially likes the soldiers' uniforms, and places a
great deal of emphasis on these in the films. Many seem to be
custom designed by the inventive Costume Designer Joseph A. Porro:
a key scene toward the beginning shows two Air Force officers
trying to recruit a scientist; both men are in perfect, absolutely
identical Air Force dress uniforms. The men look like twins, or
rather robots. (In Universal Soldier, the soldiers are
robots: special, technically altered men.) Both men clearly have
the power and might of an entire institution behind them: the
US. Air Force. Later, Kurt Russell will wear an absolutely identical
Air Force uniform. He too will be completely spit and polish,
with identical grooming, military hair style, perfectly tied tie,
and so on: a projection of the ideal Air Force image of macho
robot. But in his case, we will know there is more. Underneath
the image of competence and military precision, we know there
is a deeply troubled man on the verge of an emotional breakdown.
It adds tremendous irony to the military look.
- In Universal Soldier, the men have special combat armor
that emphasizes their chests; there are paired polygonal protrusions
on each chest that suggest geometrical versions of pecs. These
are probably the coolest military uniforms in recent films.
- In Moon 44, the tougher group of convicts wear, as part of
their uniform, skin tight Army green T shirts.
Emmerich's attitude to the "scientists" is filled
with ambiguity. For one thing, Emmerich, and his characters, are
clearly enamored of high tech. Even in the case of his soldiers'
uniforms, there is an emphasis on high technology:
Unlike other recent filmmakers, Emmerich was not interested in the (officer
and) gentlemanly US. Navy or in the discipline-oriented US. Marine
Corps. Such male stars as Richard Gere, Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner,
and Alec Baldwin have had some of their biggest hits wearing the uniforms
of US. Naval Officers. All of these actors are major romantic leads.
By contrast, the Marine Corps uniforms worn onscreen by action heroes such as
Michael Pare, Clint Eastwood, Fred Dyer, and Michael Dudikoff and Stephen
James lead to adventure and male bonding, not to romance or marriage.
The TV show Magnum, P.I. continued this dichotomy: the marriageable
romantic lead Tom Selleck was a former US. Naval Lieutenant, while
his working class buddies used to be US. Marine Sergeants. Frequent
flashbacks showed them all in uniform.
- One effect of the geometrical nature of the Universal Soldier
uniforms is to emphasize visually the high tech nature of their abilities.
The geometrical quality seems to be a visual indicator of advanced
- Similarly, when Emmerich finally choose a branch of
the US. Armed Forces to display in Stargate, it was the
US. Air Force, the branch most closely associated with high technology.
Emmerich also broke new ground, for him, in Stargate by
including an evil, androgynous villain, played memorably by Jaye
Davidson, no less. It is not surprising that to the macho-oriented
Emmerich, androgyny appears evil. I suspect, however, that Emmerich
is at a stage of just beginning to "digest" androgyny,
and that it will reappear in his films in more sympathetic forms
in the future. Both the Kurt Russell and James Spader characters
had some androgynous characteristics in the film, and more, I
suspect, will follow. Also, villainous characters are often used
to embody "forbidden" impulses, things the director
and his audience find appealing, but which are currently taboo.
Eventually, the director and the culture often find socially acceptable
ways to enact these feelings. Activities once confined to the
villains become part of the hero's behavior.
All in all, Emmerich is deeply interested in "gender",
that subject of current academic obsession. Emmerich has a very
different take on the subject than many academicians, but a
worthwhile one, none the less.