Tuesday, April 29, 2008

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 75: Stargate (1994)

Who would have guessed that a relatively-unsuccessful genre film released during the Christmas holiday of 1994 would evolve into one of the most popular sci-fi TV franchises of the new millennium? I'm speaking, of course, about Stargate (1994). The big-budget film, -- which starred Kurt Russell, James Spader and Jaye Davidson (the She Male from The Crying Game ) -- was only a modest success during its original theatrical run...but it has now spawned how many TV series? Three? (SG-1, Atlantis...and the errh, other one...).

Total disclosure: I'm not much of a Stargate fan, mostly because I'm turned off by the overtly militaristic aspects and trappings of the franchise (I tend to tune out when I see machine guns in futuristic science fiction productions...), but in honesty I haven't really watched any of the series with anything approaching regularity so I'm not a fair judge. As far as I know, I'm missing out, but after just casual acquaintance with the TV franchise, I don't think it's my cup of tea.

Still, I rather enjoyed the 1994 feature film, if only because the bar was set so low. Stargate received terrible reviews, and I had no expectations when I saw it. The film was...fun, and so I had fun with it. I always enjoy the opportunity to watch Kurt Russell beat the crap out of hulking Egyptians. It's just a thing with me, I guess...

Now, back to these Hasbro toys: they bombed! The box art work implored would-be buyers to "Travel through the STARGATE and discover a distant galaxy where a doorway to adventure unlocks the mysteries of another world!" But not many kids wanted to take up the toys on that genuinely intriguing offer. These guys went to clearance FAST.

Today, you can acquire most of the small three-inch figures pretty cheaply, and I purchased my whole collection of figures and vehicles for under fifteen dollars, I think, from Kay-Bee. Again, honesty dictates I make mention of the fact that the toys are not particularly well-made, sturdy or very attractive (which differentiates them from their impressive competition over at Playmates). But I do have distinct memories of seeing these toys in stores in the mid-1990s and thinking how cool it was to own an action figure of either Kurt Russell or James Spader. Which reminds me: why no Boston Legal action figures yet? But that's another post...

Among the Stargate toys released by Hasbro were an "all terrain cruiser" (replete with "shooting alien blaster!") that Kurt Russell could pilot. I get a kick out of the box art work, in which Russell is driving this military dune-buggy with one hand while simultaneously firing an uzi with the other hand (and wearing a beret!) This cruiser also came complete with two communication antennas, roll bars (w/missile launcher), an "armor-plated body," and a "video cam recorder." It also had "all-terrain sand dune tires," in case you wondered.

Another interesting Stargate toy was the Mastadge, an alien "beast of burden" (like a cross between a camel and a woolly mammoth.) This happy-go-lucky guy came complete with a "shooting catapult launcher."

Also, this toy was equipped with a "removable shepherd's saddle" and a "customized mastadge transport sled." Got that? A card on the back of the box provided more mega-Mastadgy-type data, informing us that Mastadges "serve the villagers of Nagada," and that they are "loyal animals capable of withstanding the brutal sandstorms of planet Abydos. They can each reach speeds of up to 35 mph over the planet's desert landscape, making them an excellent form of transportation."

A third toy was the "winged glider" (which I don't own, alas...) but which was sold with "firing missile launchers."

In toto, Hasbro produced eight action figures to go with these toys: Archaeologist Daniel Jackson (Spader), Colonel O'Neil (Russell), Ra (Ruler of Abydos), Palace Guard Horus, Anubis, Attack Pilot Horus, Lt. Kawalsky and Skaara. I don't remember the movie well enough to even tell you who Skaara is. Sorry!

Also, on the back of the toy boxes were these funny little questions which could only be answered if you decoded the hieroglyphs. One such question: "In which country are the pyramids located?" Young buyers were enticed to "collect all 8 figure cards to complete the hieroglyphic alphabet."

Between SeaQuest DSV and Stargate, I'm working really hard here to generate some 1990s toy nostalgia. So work with me, all right? Anyone spend their hard-earned cash on these toys back in the day? Anyone begin a life-long devotion to Stargate by playing with these?


  1. Howard Margolin12:46 PM

    John, if memory serves, Skaara was the young brother of Shaare, the Abydosian woman with whom Daniel Jackson fell in love. Skaara became very close (in a father-son way) with Jack O'Neil, which helped Jack get over the pre-movie death of his own son. The actor who played Skaara reprised the role on Stargate SG-1, and the character ended up being a host for a Goa'uld symbiote. There was a running subplot for some time in which they tried to free Skaara from the symbiote.

  2. Hey Howard!

    Thanks for the memory refresher! I remember him in the movie (now, thanks to you...) but only have a passing familiarity with the TV series...