Intermission: Disney buys Lucasfilm

About ninety minutes ago my Twitter-feed exploded. This time the reason wasn’t some gaff Romney made or a hurricane blasting the east coast of the United States (which is obviously terrible). No, it was something completely different… something I had been expecting in some way, shape or form for the last few months. The news was that George Lucas had announced he sold his beloved Lucasfilm and all of its properties to the Walt Disney Company, a move I applaud, but I am getting ahead of myself. Every since the beginning of June I have been waiting for an announcement of this magnitude.

On May 31 George Lucas announced he was planning his retirement from Lucasfilm. I exhaled a sigh of relief when I heard that news. While I love the guy for what he has achieved, I am also of the opinion that George Lucas’ presence and influence on Star Wars was becoming more of a burden than a boon on the development of new Star Wars properties. His sensibilities didn’t seem to grow along with his audience. I know his primary audience would always be kids, but he didn’t seem to grasp the notion that a large part of that same audience are people like me… people who grew up with Star Wars, love it to death and want a little more from it than just cartoons and poop jokes. We begrudgingly accepted everything Lucas threw at us over the years, including the prequels, and stuck with it all because we love the property. So the news that Lucas would be stepping down was good, but also sad news to me.

A day later Lucasfilm issued a press release that none other than Kathleen Kennedy would be joining Lucasfilm to oversee the production of new material in the coming years as a co-chairman. That news made me perform back-flips when I heard it. Red flags went up in my head, because this is the person who was the producer of some of the biggest and most successful blockbusters ever made, most notably her work with Steven Spielberg throughout the years. This told me Lucasfilm was serious about the future of Star Wars and all the other properties they have in their vault. I knew something was up, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to pull this successful movie producer away from her own company. She was going to inject some true blockbuster sensibility into Lucasfilm, a company that has always been extremely proud of its independence.

Come to think of it… her relationship with Steven Spielberg might even make a collaboration with him a possibility for a new Star Wars movie, hmmmm…

I was expecting some sort of announcement about the future of Star Wars in Orlando at Star Wars Celebration VI. But nothing surfaced that could make the entire Convention Center rocks on its very foundation. Maybe that was for the best, because news of this magnitude would have blown the roof off the Orange County Convention Center. Would have been cool, though.

Now, am I happy Disney has bought Lucasfilm? My initial reaction is a huge YES. We have witnessed what Disney did to Marvel. They backed Marvel every step of the way while they were assembling the biggest blockbuster event of 2012 and Disney continued to support Pixar after they acquired John Lassiter’s company (although I must admit Brave was a little too Disney for my Pixar). Both these acquisitions were met with extreme reluctance on the part of the fans. The outcome, however, strengthens my belief that Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm can be a really good thing for us fans.

Fun fact is that Lucasfilm and Pixar are now back together again.

Disney has always been open to their companies operating more or less on an autonomous basis. Sure, there will be some notes exchanged and merchandising will be rampant, but we are used to that. The main thing is that the person who is going to make these new installments is going to have the freedom to create new and hopefully slightly more mature adventures than we have seen so far. Disney has already announced a new movie for 2015 and Bob Iger has stated that the possibilities for television are also very good.

Another factor is of course money. For years we have been hearing that new Star Wars projects weren’t possible because the funding couldn’t be completed. Money is one of Disney’s lesser problems, so that excuse should be off the table now.

The only thing us fans can hope for is that smart people are going to be selected to produce and direct these movies. People who realize that acting and story are just as much a part of making a movie as having brilliant visual effects. Maybe then we can start to put the whole prequel mess behind us. For now, let the rampant speculation commence and let us rejoice that the future of Star Wars seems to be in good hands.

May the Force be with us all


141-143: Indiana Jones Trilogy

Recently I had the good fortune to watch the Indiana Jones Trilogy on the big screen. AMC was hosting a nationwide event in honor of the blu-ray release of the Indiana Jones movies. This was an opportunity I could not pass up. I have seen each of these movies numerous times on vhs and dvd, but I had never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom on the big screen. The Last Crusade I did, however, see in the theater when it came out, but only once. Now, with updated visual and sound quality I must admit that these movies have stood the test of time perfectly.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

I absolutely adore Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is one of those movies that I can pop into my player and just having running in the background while seeing the images in my head. I am just about as familiar with the visuals of the Indiana Jones movies as I am with the visuals of Star Wars. Spielberg made a movie that is unrelenting in its pace and a constant rollercoaster of fun. Raiders was based on the serial films that were the norm around the second world war. Films that George Lucas and Spielberg obviously hold very dear. Logic wasn’t always paramount in these films as long as the action and suspense were good all other bets were off. The same goes for Raiders. There are numerous moments that I can point at that would drag this movie down into a quagmire of nitpicking, but that is not what this movie is about. Raiders just wants you to have a good time at the movies and if you get something deeper from it than that is nice for you, but certainly not the intention. Raiders is made with such competence and confidence that any detractors just don’t matter much anymore. This is a timeless classic.

Temple of Doom

I have always liked Temple of Doom more than most people. My first introduction with the movie was actually in a video store when I saw the iconic poster of Indiana Jones standing in that backlit doorway with the machete in his hand. I was immediately intrigued. By that time I had not seen Raiders of the Lost Ark yet. Temple of Doom was my introduction into the world of Indiana Jones and I loved every minute of it. The fun opening sequence, the disturbing dinner scene, the bug-filled corridor, the horrifying sacrificial ceremony (trying to find an uncensored copy back then was pretty hard), and ultimately the spectacular mining cart race to top things off. This movie was filled to the brim with breathtaking sequences that I couldn’t get enough of. I wore out my pirated VHS copy several times (this was before there was a retail version).

With this screening of Temple of Doom I started to read up on the history of this installment and I was amazed at how much sense that made. Temple of Doom is much more dark than its two counterparts because both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were going through some difficult patches in their lives when it came to their women. They used Temple of Doom to vent some of their frustrations. This explains the unrelenting misogynistic tone of the movie. In contrast to Marion Ravenwood in Raiders, who was a strong female character, Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott is nothing but a dumb whining mess who is useful for nothing more than humiliation and well… human sacrifice. Her constant screaming and whining also makes Willie the most annoying character.

What struck me as remarkable was the state of the visual effects in Temple of Doom and then mainly the compositing of the matte paintings that were used to enhance real environments. Before this screening I had only seen Temple of Doom on the small screen and on that format this isn’t as noticeable (I checked my dvd copy, but the quality wasn’t good enough to prove my point). Now, with a pristine copy blown up on a huge screen, the mistakes were clear to see. Just about every matte painting shot shifted and showed clearly the line between real and painting. It was jarring to witness. It shows the haste with which Temple of Doom was made at Industrial Light and Magic. They were up to their necks in other projects and I believe Temple of Doom suffered for it. But I must say that Temple of Doom was a lot of fun to watch on the big screen.

The Last Crusade

The Last Crusade is certainly the most heartfelt of the trilogy. The inclusion of Sean Connery as Henry Jones was a stroke of genius. He has the same swashbuckling charm as Indiana and he can handle himself, in his own manner, in tough situations. Combine that with the return of the über-evil Nazis, the actual Holy Grail, fantastic chase sequences and you have a brilliant combination of action, adventure and drama. The only thing that didn’t hold up so well for me was the comedy. This is often a bit on the nose and cheap. I understand that this is part of the genre, but it just didn’t strike me as funny as I used to experience it. The comedy seemed to be must better handled in Raiders than in The Last Crusade. It felt like Spielberg and Lucas weren’t as sure about what they had here as they did with Raiders, so they added more comedy of a lower common denominator.

With that said, the rest of The Last Crusade is fantastic. The relationship between Indiana and his dad is great and feels like a real father-son relationship. They bicker constantly, but in the end they come through for each other in a very heartwarming way. Elsa, played by Allison Doody, may not be the most dynamic of the three Indiana-ladies, but at least she is a step up from that whiny brat Willie. The villains are great as well. On the one hand there is Julian Glover as Donovan, the conniving self-centered rich man, who wants nothing more than eternal life. He is fantastic and deliciously evil. The other bad guy is everything one wants in an evil Nazi in the form of General Vogel, played by Michael Byrne, complete with whip.

But, as in Temple of Doom, I must add that I found the visual effects to not hold up at all on the big screen. The dogfight sequence looked terrible, as did several other composited shots throughout the movie. The best sequences were still the practical ones, like the train chase and the tank battle. Great stuff. When looking at the state of visual effects in these last two Indiana Jones movies, I must say that I am surprised that the Star Wars have held up so well over the years. That is something we have to thanks George Lucas for, because in addition to tinkering with the visual effects, he also went back to fix a lot of errors in the visual effects department. If only they would have done this with the Indy movies. But, hey, who knows with these guys.

Ultimately, it is really hard to pick a favorite among these three masterful action adventures. Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s sheer kinetic force, Temple of Doom‘s unrelenting darkness and The Last Crusade‘s character development make these movies each their own, while simultaneously very much belonging to the same universe. If I had to choose I would go with Raiders, but I’ll watch any of the other two any time of the day. All in all I had a great time watching these movies on the big screen and experiencing it with so many other enthusiastic fans of the trilogy.

For those of you wondering where Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is in all this, I did not stay for that sorry excuse for an Indiana Jones movie. I was not going let the great experience of watching the trilogy be soiled by that flick. I was however surprised to see how many people did stay to watch that fourth movie. I’ve seen it once and it was bad, really bad. For me there are only three Indiana Jones movies and nothing is going to change that, maybe the next installment can convince me, but until then there is only the trilogy.

> IMDb – Raiders of the Lost Ark
> IMDb – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
> IMDb – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

039: Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D

I know, I know… I promised to not talk about a movie twice during 2012, but this is different. This is Star Wars in 3D. I will not rehash my thoughts on the movie, you can read those here. What I do want to talk about is the experience of watching Star Wars in 3D.

I must say that seeing the Lucasfilm logo and subsequently the Star Wars logo in 3D is very cool. It makes me want to fast forward to 2015 for A New Hope in 3D, because seeing the crawl (I don’t read it anymore) from Episode I is anything but spectacular. The babble about trade franchises just makes my heart sink and the next two hours become a chore. The wooden acting and stilted dialogue don’t change a bit with the addition of 3D.

A surprising fact is that a lot of the scenes are in soft focus. This makes you think that the transfer from the 1999 print didn’t fare so well. I have to check the blu-ray to see if that is also this blurry. It occurred the most when live-action performances were pulled apart from their non-live-action backgrounds. These backgrounds also often showed their true nature as artificial additions to the Star Wars universe. It was not a pretty sight.

I am afraid that The Phantom Menace didn’t stand the test of time really well. The animations of the CGI characters look too rubbery and don’t convince as well as they did thirteen years ago. 3D hasn’t changed my position on The Phantom Menace and I didn’t think it would. I just wanted my kid to experience Star Wars on the big screen and he loved it.

013: Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace

> IMDb

023: Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

I was feeling a little bit under the weather and just needed some comfort food for my eyes. So I popped in Return of the Jedi on blu-ray. When I was young this was always my favorite of the Star Wars movies. Probably because I did not fully grasp the gravity of The Empire Strikes Back, which now by far is my favorite.

I just love everything that is going on in this sixth installment (or third, whichever way you want to look at it) in the series. First the impressive arrival of Darth Vader on the new Death Star, then all the dealings in Jabba’s Palace and the Sarlacc Pit, the demise of Yoda and the subsequent battles on Endor and in space, and the climax between Vader and Luke. Awesome. I remember watching these at a friend’s house and then replaying the scenes with our toys. Great memories.

Back to the movie. I can see the faults with this episode. Sometimes the writing is off and the acting can be stilted, but we are expected to just forgive these in favor of the whole movie. And what do you know? I do exactly that. I even forgive the movie when it kills off Boba Fett way too quickly and that’s saying a lot.

It is of course impossible to not address the changes made to Jedi when I say I watched the blu-ray version. I don’t have a problem with the giant door at Jabba’s Palace, the added Dug, Wicket’s blinking or Han’s thawing. I have on the other hand a huge problem with Darth Vader yelling “Noooooooo.” like he did in Revenge of the Sith. It sounds fake, it feels terribly out of place and it is downright awful. I dislike this so much that I turn off the sound to not hear it. Yes, it is that bad.

With that said, I can conclude that I still love Return of the Jedi after all these years, and I can not think of a set of movies I have seen more times in my life than the original Star Wars movies. I can’t wait to (hopefully) see it in the theaters again in 2017, whether in 3D or otherwise.

> IMDb

013: Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I have seen this movie countless times and to be honest I do not really know why. It is badly acted, clumsily written and just an embarrassment to the Star Wars Saga. Still, I wanted my 4-year old to experience Star Wars from the beginning (chronologically, let’s not get into that)… and he loved it.

Of course he did not understand anything that was being said and the complexities of the story flew over his head, but he loved the visuals and I have never seen him sit still for 2+ hours, mesmerized. Now I know I can take him to the theater next month to experience The Phantom Menace in 3D.

(Personally I prefer the fan-edited versions to the theatrical (or Lucas’ enhanced versions.) I recent years several fan editors have been tinkering with the sage, which resulted in better flowing movies, with less annoying mistakes. But that is for another discussion.)

This movie is now almost thirteen years old and I have to say you don’t notice it. The visual effects are of such a high quality that 99% of the movie could compete with movies made today. I am therefore very curious what The Phantom Menace will look like in 3D.

039: Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D

> IMDb