In 1927, a young girl named Catherine Langford visits an archaeological expedition overseen by her father. She is intrigued by a necklace bearing the eye of Ra, but soon is caught up in the much larger discovery – a set of cover stones, and an enormous metal ring covered in previously unseen symbols. Decades later, Catherine contacts Daniel Jackson, an archaeologist whose contention that the Great Pyramid was not built by the Fourth Dynasty has discredited him in academic circles. She offers him a translation job and a chance to prove his theories. At the same time, a pair of Air Force officers inform retired Colonel Jack O’Neil, distraught since the accidental death of his young son, that he has been reactivated.
Daniel arrives at an underground military base in Colorado. Catherine introducers him to a team that has been trying to translate the cover stones found in Giza. Daniel corrects the partial translation of the outer ring, which mentions Ra and something called a Stargate. But the inner set of symbols is like nothing he’s seen before. O’Neil enters the room and announces that the project is now under his supervision, much to Catherine’s surprise. After two weeks, Daniel is no closer to translating the other symbols, until a glance at a newspaper photo suggests that everyone has been looking down the wrong path from the start.
General West and other Air Force officials convene to hear Daniel’s explanation, although the general appears skeptical – Catherine’s team has been working on this for two years with no success. Daniel explains that the symbols refer to star constellations, which in turn are used as coordinates to plot a course through space. The first six symbols identify a point in space. The seventh identifies a point of origin that connects with the destination. That’s not too far off from the team’s theory, as Daniel learns when West orders that he be shown the device – the ring that was discovered with the cover stones in Giza. It is actually a dial with a rotating inner ring, covered in symbols. The inner ring can be turned to encode the chevrons on the outer ring, but the Air Force had been unable to identify the seventh symbol to complete the dialing process. Daniel recognizes one of the symbols on the dial as resembling the seventh symbol on the cover stones. This time the dialing process is complete. With a burst of energy, the device – the Stargate – opens a wormhole through space. A remote probe sent through the shimmering portal confirms the existence of a parallel Stargate on a world in another galaxy.
The probe also reveals that the other Stargate has a different set of symbols than the one on Earth. West thinks this nixes any chance of sending a reconnaissance team through the gate, since there would be no way to bring the team back. But Daniel is convinced that he can translate the stones on the other side and reopen the gate, so West authorizes him to join O’Neil’s team. Catherine offers him the necklace she found in Giza as a good luck token. With a bit of trepidation, he walks through the open gate and dematerializes. He reappears, slightly disoriented, inside a pyramid on the planet Abydos. But he finds no corresponding cover stones – without which, he can not figure out the combination for Earth. The officers on the recon team are considerably less than thrilled at this news and accuse Daniel of lying to them. Daniel insists that with a little exploration, they’ll find the information they need.
When a domesticated animal called a mastidge appears, Daniel gets his opportunity for exploration – the creature drags him through the desert to a group of peasant laborers from the city of Nagada. Daniel can not quite make out their spoken language, and they have no form of written communication. But his necklace convinces the group’s leader that he is a representative of Ra, so they escort him, O’Neil, and two other soldiers to Nagada for a welcoming feast. Daniel’s attempts to communicate prove fruitless, especially when he tries to use the sand to show the people the symbol that represents Earth. A sandstorm traps the visitors in the city. Kasuf, the peasants’ leader, offers his daughter Sha’uri to Daniel, while a young boy named Skaara begins to emulate O’Neil. Daniel refuses Sha’uri’s hesitant advances, but is able to achieve a rapport with her. She indicates that she knows where the symbol Daniel has drawn can be found, and brings him to an underground complex of tunnels covered in glyphs. Daniel realizes that the Nagadans’ language is similar to that of ancient Egypt, but the pronunciations differ from what he has known. Sha’uri quickly teaches him the correct way of speaking, and they begin to communicate. The symbols on the wall, meanwhile, tell the history of Abydos.
Thousands of years ago, a dying alien discovered a world full of young life – Earth. The alien possessed the body of a boy and, calling himself Ra, ruled Egypt. He used the Stargate to bring humans to Abydos in order to mine the mineral that comprised the gate. When his subjects on Earth rebelled and overthrew him, Ra retreated through the Stargate to Abydos, and forbade his subjects there from reading or writing. Eventually, the gate on Earth was buried.
In the present, O’Neil and the other officers join Daniel in the tunnels. Lieutenant Kowalksy finds a stone with the coordinates for Earth, but the symbol for the point of origin is still missing. Worse, when the group returns to the pyramid, they find the officers who had been left at base camp missing and soon come under attack by warriors with elaborate headdresses and staffs that fire some kind of energy projectile. O’Neil rushes to the gate room, looking for a particular piece of equipment he brought with him, but finds the case in question empty. The team is soon captured, and Daniel and O’Neil are brought before Ra himself. Ra wonders why they have come, especially bearing powerful weapons. He shows them an atomic bomb his troops found in the pyramid, which surprises Daniel but not O’Neil. The colonel attempts to steal a weapon and escape, but in the ensuing fight, Daniel is shot and killed.
O’Neil is thrown into a cell with the other surviving officers. Ra uses his sarcophagus to repair and revive Daniel. He is concerned that the necklace might have some of his followers confused. So he intends to demonstrate that he is the one true ruler by ordering Daniel to shoot the officers in front of the Nagadans. If Daniel refuses, Ra will kill them anyway – along with everyone who has ever seen them. And then Ra will send the bomb back through the gate, amplified with enough of the alien mineral to multiply its devastation considerably.
At the assembly, Skaara signals to Daniel that he and his fellow youths are armed. Daniel stages a diversion that allows most of them to escape, and during the celebration of their victory he is able to figure out the seventh symbol. They can dial the Stargate and go home. But before they can, they have to stop Ra from doing it first.
written by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich
directed by Roland Emmerich
music by David Arnold
Cast: Kurt Russell (Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil), James Spader (Dr. Daniel Jackson), Jaye Davidson (Ra), Viveca Lindfors (Catherine), Alexis Cruz (Skaara), Mili Avital (Sha’uri), Leon Rippy (General W. O. West), Carlos Lauchu (Anubis), Djimon (Horus), Erick Avari (Kasuf), French Stewart (Lieutenant Feretti), Gianin Loffler (Nabeh), Christopher John Fields (Lieutenant Freeman), Derek Webster (Lieutenant Brown), Jack Moore (Lieutenant Reilly), Steve Giannelli (Lieutenant Porro), David Pressman (Assistant Lieutenant), Scott Smith (Officer), Cecil Hoffman (Sarah O’Neil), Rae Allen (Barbara Shore), Richard Kind (Gary Meyers), John Storey (Mitch), Lee Taylor-Allan (Jenny), George Gray (Technician), Kelly Vint (Young Catherine), Erik Holland (Professor Langford), Nick Wilder (Foreman Taylor), Sayed Badreya (Arabic Interpreter), Michael Concepcion (Horus #1), Jerry Gilmore, Michel Jean-Phillipe, Dialy N’Daiye, Gladys Holland (Professor), Robert Ackerman (Companion), Kieron Lee (Masked Ra), Dax Biagas (Young Ra), Frank Welker (Voice of the Mastadge)
LogBook entry by Dave Thomer