Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Star Wars Manifesto

Be forewarned, the first part of this post is fairly easy to follow, but the second half degenerates rather quickly into Star Wars Speak. It may be hard to grasp for the un-indoctrinated.

But before I tell you all why the new Star Wars movies are ALMOST as good as the old ones, let's back up a bit.

In 1993 a movie came out called "Being Human", it starred Robin Williams and featured him playing an every-man in 4 different stories set across 4 different periods of history. Starting in the age of the vikings, moving to ancient rome, then to the age of exploration and finally settling in the present day. The movie was a bit uneven, pretty much devoid of humor or heavy pathos - and yet it sticks with me to this day because of one scene in the final story.

In the present day Robin plays a divorced dad who has been in prison for awhile, he's recently been released and picks up his kids to spend time with them on the weekend for the first time in a long time. There are problems getting to know them again, a boy of about 8 or 9 and a sulky teenage daughter.

He takes them to the beach and things go poorly, a crappy amusement park on the board walk doesn't help elevate the mood. Finally, as the day ends, the kids - especially the daughter; see that the dad is really trying, and so they warm to him just a bit. As they sit around a hastily built beach fire, the dad and daughter roast hot dogs and chat quietly as the boy falls asleep. Things seem to be better, and Robin Williams character is relieved.

"Well, it looks like things are going to be okay..." he says. The daughter cocks an eyebrow and then she says something that has stuck to my brain almost every day of my life since.

"What do you mean things are going to be okay? This is it. This is as good as it gets."

And in that moment it dawns on him - that the moment he is in, the moment right...NOW.... with his daughter who had forsaken him, now smiling at him; NOW is the moment to cherish and recognize that for all we cling to the past and for all we treasure with the sentimental and the "ideal", there is truly nothing as great as a moment in the present that you can RECOGNIZE as great.

Things are not going to be "okay". Things are great. Right. Now.

And I guess I knew this all along, but it has never been articulated better for me than in this silly little movie; which to this day isn't even available on DVD.

Star Wars fans, those that are fans of the original trilogy only; which is probably the majority of all Star Wars fans; are stuck on May 25, 1977. And they are still waiting for things to be "okay".

They nervously cluck about the new shitty prequels. George Lucas is insane. George Lucas is a corporate tool, full of greed, and overwhelmed by the urge to make crappy kids films.

George Lucas raped my childhood.

This last hyperbole is the geek rallying cry for the anti-Lucas crowd of "fans" on the internet today.

Give me a wookie-sized break.

This kid at heart, this young boy in a 36 year old body, (who last night was dazzled by the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie by the way) is NOT waiting for things to be okay. This kid is enjoying the moment, and the movies that George Lucas has made for us and for himself.

I could wallow by the camp-fire at the beach, and bemoan how crappy things are, and how dismal movies are, and why oh why me Lord, and yada yada yada. Sorry, I've got bigger fish to fry, and some cool movies to go spend my hard earned cash on. Apparently, if you go by the numbers, so do legions of other Star Wars fans who happen to HATE the new movies. Bizarre? Yes.

I've asked myself, if I was like the "haters" in movie geekdom today, and genuinely despised Star Wars Episodes 1 through 3 or even held them as "beneath" the original trilogy; why in the holy F-word would I WASTE my time and money on going to see them, posting incoherent rants on the internet and complaining endlessly to other "fans" about how bad the movies suck?

Doesn't make much sense I know. About as much sense as the original trilogy worshippers reasons for disliking the new movies. There are three that stick out as particularly stupid.

1. I hate Jar-Jar Binks.

Okay, they have a point with this one.

But let's see, you have a movie with stunning light saber battles (light years beyond what is found in the original trilogy) a pod-race that is one of the great all time "asides" in geek movie history, a villain that is more bad-ass than Vader, gorgeous production design of fully realized and truly alien worlds (not just location work in Norway or Tunisia), and the compelling origins of a mythology that we all LOVE, with an open ending and the promise of much more to come - hampered only by wooden dialogue (like there wasn't any of that in the original trilogy) some bad acting (again, Mark Hamil that master thespian really could teach Natalie Portman a thing or two about acting) and about 38 minutes of screen time of a character that is the movie equivalent of finger-nails on a chalk-board.

Jar-Jar Binks. "Meesa so stupid!"

Well, when it comes to which movie I prefer; the one with all of the above - or the movie that wraps up the entire trilogy on a planet of F-ING TEDDY BEARS! With a TEDDY BEAR PICNIC as the final scene, I have to think about it for, oh I don't know, about HALF-A-BLEEDING-SECOND and go with Phantom Menace over Return of the Jedi.

And Luke talking with Lea outside of the Teddy Bear Tree-House, sorry; that scene beats by far the very worst acting in all of the Prequel movies. Don't believe me? Well let's look at the number 2 complaint by the old-school haters.

2. The acting/writing is terrible.

"But I wanted to go to Toshi Station and pick up some power converters!"

That's really all there is to say.

But since we're here to ramble; let's just go over the actors side by side shall we?

Jake Lloyd is bad. So is Hayden Christiansen. Mark Hamil is worse. MUCH worse. Natalie Portman is serviceable (as an actor you filthy pig), Carrie Fisher is terrible - especially in Jedi. Ewan McGregor is damn good. Harrison Ford is better. Alec Guinness is a legend, yet in these movies he's not that much better than Ian McDiarmand (arguably, Ian is better).

And please don't forget that yes, though the original trilogy has Mr. Colt 45 himself - the new movies have Samuel Mother-F-ing Jackson. And Christopher Lee. The original trilogy has Wedge.

So, side by side; sorry there's no overwhelming favorite.

As for the writing; yes, I will concede that Empire is by far the strongest - in dialogue and in story-structure. But Return of the Jedi sinks far below the new movies - in outright laziness, sloppiness and silliness.

First, let's negate the passion and power of Empire Strikes Back - by resolving the Han Solo thing in oh, say, about 20 minutes. We'll go to the palace of puppets, put Lea in a bikini, and then have an awkward and contrived "rescue" plot push the reset button so we can remake the first movie on a planet of merchandise friendly teddy bears.

What. The. F.

Yeah, and Phantom Menace is a terrible movie. Wake up original trilogy slaves, you've been served.

3. Lucas is a meddler. Greedo doesn't shoot first!

And yes, this is an actual argument original trilogy sycophants actually use after the first two peter out. Never mind that it doesn't really have to do with the issue at hand (old movies vs. new movies) it, like "Haliburton", is the old stand-by catch phrase that is bandied about ignorantly when arguments they don't like won't go away quietly.

Lucas IS a meddler. These are his God Damn Movies.

He has provided hours of life altering, imagination firing, entertainment for the price of a movie ticket. He doesn't owe you, or me, or anyone anything in the first place, but the truth is - he has given so much of himself and his passion for these stories that he loves; and in return he gets spit in the face by the "fans".

If he wants to put Jar-Jar in a slave bikini or give Harrison Ford a mohawk in his next versions of the movie; that's his right. And it's my right as a fan to say "Well that sucks, I guess I won't buy it or COMPLAIN ENDLESSLY about it. I'll just MOVE ON, and enjoy the DVD's that I already own."

"Oh but wait!" They cry. "George never released the original movies on DVD." Wrong. He did last year.

"But wait!" They cry. "These are non-anamorphic and no surround sound! And there are garbage mattes on the effects shots!"

Guess what a-holes; the original movie was in Dolby 2.0. And the original print was 4:3 with a wide screen matte (letterbox). And yes Virginia; there were garbage mattes aplenty, not to mention blue screen aliasing and other "imperfections" in the original FX work. THAT was the movie.

And Lucas GAVE it to you! And you STILL COMPLAIN!!!! AAAAARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!

So what these self absorbed whiners are really saying isn't "Give us the original movie" they're saying "Give us what we want the original movie to be." Sanctimonious and self-serving you are. As Yoda would say.

Now grasp what I'm saying. I roll my eyes when Greedo shoots first; I think the scene in Episode 4 with Han and the crappy digital Jabba has no reason to be in the movie, I could do without any number of "improvements" in the original trilogy, but guess what - the majority of them ARE improvements. The two biggest "alterations" make the movies immeasurably better.

The sound of the original trilogy has been revamped and redesigned pretty much from scratch - at the cost of millions upon millions of dollars out of Lucas' pocket to make the movies an audio experience that holds up to and surpasses most blockbuster films made today.

The digital work extends beyond the effects themselves, and into cleaning up the prints and making them "pop" like never before - including when they were originally released.

The movies, from a movie standpoint, are better than ever from top to bottom. I recognize this and don't let the few questionable choices Lucas has made, dampen my enthusiasm beyond a single shrug.

And so that's about it. Did you get the three prong assault on the original trilogy zombies?

Jar-Jar sucks, the Ewoks are far worse.

The acting and writing is bad - in ALL of the movies.

These are George Lucas' movies, NOT the fans' movies. (Very hard for the self-entitled crowd to swallow, but this applies to most Americans these days. You are not ENTITLED to anything, let alone to control the movies that someone else made.)

And yet, the funny punch-line to all of this, is that I actually prefer the original Trilogy. (Well, maybe not Return of the Jedi).

Empire Strikes Back is probably the most perfect sci-fi movie ever made; and if the other two old movies were of that caliber, then the OT morons would have at least a leg to stand on in their diatribes against Jar-Jar and baby Vader.

That said, the Original Trilogy will always be first in my heart; because it taps directly into the seven year old inside me; because I was there. Even though Return of the Jedi is ridiculous, sloppy and lazy; I still love it. I remember the thrill I got from a goofy teddy bear jumping on a speeder bike, or playing bongo drums on a storm troopers helmet. I still remember that Gawd awful Yub-Yub song (which thankfully Lucas removed, an improvement that rivals the sound and fx overhauls) and yet I loved it - and still love it.

But this is the sentimental. I am enraptured by the past true, but I am not hamstrung by it.

I recognize, that the GREAT moment is now. This is it. It doesn't, nor should it, get any better.

We can hold on to the sentimental, put it on a pedestal, hold it up so high that we have no hope for our current lives or the lives of our children. Or we can let it go, and wake up to what's happening.

This is it. Things aren't going to be okay. They are GREAT. Right. Now.

Monday, May 07, 2007

THE Genre

I could talk about movies for years. They are still, even with a family, a big part of my life. I also love films, but I'm absolutely crazy for movies.

Oh, you don't know the difference between a film and a movie?

Let me tell you how it is.

Films may win awards, praise from critics and explore the human condition. Films may be emotionally stirring or boring beyond words. They may be pretentious and irritating, they may be quiet and marvelous. Films may have naked people to represent an emotion. Films may have profanity, as long as it's true the characters. Films can portray the ugly and the beautiful. Films can put you to sleep quickly.

Films are truthful. Plenty of good stuff, LOTS of bad stuff.

Movies are in THX surround sound. Movies may have explosions and car chases. Movies take us someplace new. Movies are sometimes set in outer space, sometimes in an apocalyptic wasteland. Movies have a bombastic score. Movies have crane shots.

Movies tell a story. Plenty of good stuff, LOTS of bad stuff.

But I love the roller coaster, I love the MOVIES.

I want blockbusters, I want scope. I want explosions, bare breasts, gunfire, profanity laced diatribes, decapitations, last minute rescues, martial artistry, super heroes, elven warriors, and a bit of comic relief. But most of all it has to be spectacle AND heart. Spectacle without emotion is just empty pretty things. Heart without bombast, is just a film.

When I was six years old I was in Reno with my mom and we were going to the movies. I wanted to see "The Rescuers" a Disney cartoon with mice. My mom, for whatever reason, couldn't bear the thought of sitting through another kid flick. But she'd heard about this new movie that was family friendly enough, and yet live action. I was disappointed, and even a little afraid that we would be seeing this "Star Wars". I'd seen the trailer on TV, frankly it looked like a horror movie. Big hairy sasquatch looking guy, intense gun battles, a snake wrapping itself around some guy in a pile of garbage. What was my mom thinking?

I remember to this day, clearly; sitting in that theater. As a giant Imperial Star Destroyer roared, yes roared, overhead. The theater shook and my eyes were as big as dinner plates. It was the greatest movie, ever. Ever. I wanted to see it again and again. I got the toys. All of them. It forever changed my life. That was what I wanted to do, in some way, be a part of that. THE genre. Movies. The bigger and badder, the better.

So as an adult I am peripherally involved; I do shoot and edit video. Using the same gear that the big boys do. I am happy in my work; and though I am 36,I still love the movies. I also enjoy films, but make no mistake, my heart and mind is where the mayhem is.

Many of my peers, especially in the self important world of cyberspace, do not, in fact love the movies.

There is a cynicism that permeates the "geek" culture now. A sort of jaded, non-plussed, "meh" attitude that is only occasionally abated. Everyone pines for the glory days of "genre" cinemas.

What they forget, is that movies in the late seventies (movies, not films) and early eighties, generally sucked.

Not only that, there were far FEWER "movies" than now. "Films" it could be argued, were more numerous and better than their modern day equivalents.

I can count on one hand the number of blockbuster movies that came out before Jurassic Park, that really hold up to today's quantity and quality of MOVIES. The Terminator and T2, Alien and Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard and the Road Warrior. Okay that's two hands.

Blade Runner is not only overrated, it kind of sucks. (And I am a HUGE Riddley Scott fan.) The Directors cut is fair - though it makes Matrix Revolutions look like a masterpiece. Blade Runner suffers too much from trying desperately to be a film. It's a movie. Twenty years later, it really needs to get over itself.

The Superman films, 1 & 2, are good. Not great. They are dated and slow. The heart is there, but the effects take me out of the moment one too many times. A blockbuster first and foremost must have heart, which these movies do; but it cannot fail in realism in the world it creates.

ET doesn't hold up. It's sweet, and it still makes me cry. But it's dated, and simplistic in parts. Don't get me wrong, as a film it succeeds brilliantly, but as a movie it falls behind it's peers.

Return of the Jedi is weaker than Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I'd put it on par with Phantom Menace. Sorry, that's just the way it is. I will be blogging soon my manifesto to put the Star Wars movies in perspective. Stay tuned.

Both Indiana Jones sequels are fun, but not great.

ALL of the Star Trek movies, were serviceable, and some (Wrath of Kahn) even had shades of greatness. But let's get real. They were never in the same ballpark as Empire Strikes Back. And I'm the biggest Trekkie you're ever gonna meet. Star Trek V. Need I say more?

And honestly, off the top of my head, that's all of the "good" movies that I can remember. I'm sure there were others, but really - when it comes to movies, the 80's were mostly filled with crap. Teen sex farces, bad Sci-Fi, and lots of experiments that are incredibly dated when you watch them now.

And then in 1993 there was Jurassic Park. The critics were lukewarm. They missed it. I knew immediately that it was a revolution. Suddenly, anything was possible. The young movie makers that had grown up watching Star Wars, now had the tools to make dreams reality.

We had crossed over; and "movies" entered a true golden age. Problem was, and is, the movie geeks, who began to crowd the internet with their "meh" and "worst movie ever" pabulum, were blinded by nostalgia. They have missed it completely.

Many decry the over use of Computer Generated Imagery, CGI; and they do have a point to some extent. Movies like "The Mummy Returns" and "Lost In Space" suffer greatly from an over dependence on it - though I would argue that they are hampered far more by pandering story structure and poor direction. But CGI, is undeniably an incredible tool - which when used properly and when integrated with practical elements, can tell a story like never before.

Pre-CGI, the movies made were but a training ground for what we have now, filled with a small amount of genius work (Cameron, Lucas, Spielberg) but mostly stuffed with cheese (Ladyhawk, Ice Pirates, Legend, Willow, etc.).

Now, was and is the time to see the best of the best. We are witnessing a murderer's row of movies.

A murderer's row.

And it's happening. Right, NOW!



The Lord of the Rings Trilogy flat out blows away the most of the best of the "golden age". Star Wars may be the exception.

The Matrix Trilogy, especially the first movie, puts Blade Runner to shame.

The Harry Potter Movies are incredible in their scope, effects work and heart. Nothing remotely that good and consistent could have sprung out of the 80's. Especially not four, soon to be seven, films.

Comic Book movies are for the most part fantastic. Spider Man is great, as is the X-Men series. I'd say Daredevil was a stinker. But even Hulk and Fantastic Four were better "superhero movies" than all but the first Superman movie. And oh yeah, comic book movies in the 80's, oh yeah, that's right, compared to now - THERE WEREN'T ANY!!!

Pirates of the Frikkin' Caribbean. Sweet Jesus, point me to a movie in the 80's (a MOVIE) that even comes close to kicking it's butt. The sequel was just as good. Critics, and old people (meaning people in their 30's) hated it, the rest of us loved it, and showed our love with our hard earned cash. Dead Man's chest is number 6 on the all time US gross list.

The Chronicles of Narnia. The rest of the series to follow. Beautiful and Brilliant.

All of the Pixar movies. Don't deny the influence of 80's films on these, just recognize that the stories and effects are now done much better.

300. Revolutionary. Extraordinary. (WAKE UP OLD MOVIE GEEKS!!! WAAAKEE UPPPP!!!!!)

Sleepy Hollow. Big Fish. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From the master Burton. Ed Wood is more of a film, but still great.

Gladiator. Kingdom of Heaven.

The Bourne Identity and Supremacy.

Casino Royale. The best James Bond movie since, well, ever.

Forrest Gump. Contact. Castaway.

The Sixth Sense.

Children of Men and Apocalypto. My absolute favorite "movies" last year. The former does lean heavily into the "film" category - but only because it's effects are so seamless. The latter (despite the director being a racist nut-job) is one of the most inspired "movies" I've ever seen. (Though heavy on the violence and gore.)

There are more great ones I'm forgetting I'm sure. But the point is, I didn't even have to think too hard to come up with many GREAT "movies" post-Jurassic Park - that ALL stand up and even exceed the best of movies in the 80's.

Granted there are lots of other movies today, a majority in fact, that are just plain good, mediocre, or even lousy. (Elektra anyone?) But I'd say I'm fine with that. I'd much rather have a decent "Ghost Rider" than time and energy spent on another flick with the effects quality of say "Dragon Slayer" or "Dark Crystal" (Wow did both of those movies suck. They, sucked.)

Even with the looming threat of the next Die Hard sequel being cut down to a PG-13 (an awful, awful, awful, awful idea) I know it will likely be way better than parts 2 or 3. I hate the whole PG-13 concept; movies should go for the throat, every time (that's what made the 80's movies that were great, GREAT) but I can live with it as long as we get Lord of the Rings and Pirates level of quality on occasion.

Again, in case you forgot the whole first part of this lengthy diatribe, I'm talking about "movies" not "films". Frankly, I don't have enough interest in films to be able to tell you if films today stand up to those made 20 years ago. But if you're talking movies, guess what? For this grown-up who will always be a kid at heart, it ain't even close muchachos. Movies today, flat out rock.

Stay tuned for my manifesto on why the Star Wars Prequels are just as good as the original trilogy.

Oh yeah, one other thing.

Can't wait till' Shrek 3 comes out. Sorry, I love the Shrek movies. And so do the rest of us idiots. Take solace in the fact that Shrek 2 has passed ET in domestic gross. Probably because it's a better "movie".