Thursday, 23 April 2009

Icons #6 George Lucas

Thirty years ago George Lucas was seen as a film making genius.  How that star as waned.  

It's hard to imagine how one man could tarnish his own image so much, and in turn tarnish the brand, that he'd done so much to build in the 1970's and 80's.

The original Star Wars trilogy defined cinema for a generation.  I don't remember one kid, when I was growing up, that didn't like it.  There can't have been many kids that didn't have some kind of Star Wars related toy.  What Lucas did was create a science fiction film that felt like a period piece.  Everything looked lived in, looked real, and looked believable.  Sure you go back to them now and there's some ropey effects, but generally they still hold up.  Way before the digital age everything had to be built.  So sets were constructed, model space ships put together from scratch, life size versions of the space ships sat on life like sound stages.  This was a labour of love for Lucas.   People go on about Star Wars in reverential terms and some are just beyond geek about the first three films.  That spoils it in someways for those of us that loved them for what they were, classic adventure stories that tapped into the something in all of us.  That one man believed so passionately in his story, that he poured everything he had into those brilliant first three films only helped to increase the mythos surrounding them.

Sure he didn't direct the second two movies but do you think he just wrote them and handed over the scripts.  No he'd have been on set every day making sure his vision came to life.

Lucas made the error of saying that the first three films were actually parts four to six of a nine part series.  Fans clamored for more.  We wanted more Star Wars.  Demanded it.

The trouble was that Lucas had, quite literally poured so much of himself into the first three that there wasn't anything left.

Sure he'd been involved in the Indie films, another bonafide trilogy classic, but with Spielberg at his side he couldn't go wrong, and once again the digital effects had not really arrived.  Although surely they couldn't ruin an Indie film with special effects... could they?  But I digress.

Ten years ago Lucas released The Phantom Menace.  It was rubbish.

I remember the hype that had built and built for two years once it had been announced that Lucas was going to make the first three films.  I remember sitting in the cinema on the day of release.  I remember trying so hard to love it.  I remember convincing myself that it was brilliant, because how could it not be?  It was Star Wars.

The best bit of those memories is the opening sequence, the homage to the first film as the Jedi ship glides over the camera.  But now, looking back, it's a pretty awful film, with no pacing and way too much politics.  There is one brilliant lightsabre battle with possibly the best bit of Star Wars music ever created by John Williams.  But the rest Lucas got horribly wrong.  From the casting of young Anakin, to the technically brilliant, but terribly irritating Jar Jar Binks, to a dreadful script, it's a movie that never get going.  And the digital effects are everywhere.  So much so that whole segments look like a cartoon.  Lucas' error was that in relying on digital effects he made his film look less believable than the original trilogy.  And it got worse with number two.

It's just about a better film.  Considerably less Jar Jar, and no young Anankin Skywalker.  Haden Christiansen's 'Anakin' falls for Natalie Portman's 'Padme', but it's about the most unbelievable romance ever.  Lucas just couldn't write a love story.  But he had in the first three between Leia and Han.  Weird.  There are no moments that really stand out though.  It's a bit of a romp really.  Even the droids (R2D2 and C3PO) are a bit rubbish.  R2 flying, brilliant George.  Thanks for that.  But the effects dominate it.  Why build a set when you can just create one on a computer eh?  Because they look more life like George... 

The third film did what it had to do, by linking up with episode four.  Every possible loose end is tied up.  To the point where the last twenty minutes feels like a rush to sort that all out.  It is a better movie than the first two but it still lacks a soul.  Yoda fights the Emperor and for me that's about the only bit that pays any credence to the original series' spirit.  And it has the best use of digital effects.  Yoda looks right.  Fights hard and loses, and looks suitably dejected.  It's the best bit of acting in the newer films.  And he's a computer construct.  Mind you the script left most of the other actors and actresses pretty hamstrung.

Way to go George.

Then came the fourth Indiana Jones film last year.  Spielberg and Lucas back together after many many years of trying to find a suitable script.  And it's awful, because Lucas wanted Aliens.  Ok so they're not Aliens, settle down fanboys, but they may as well be.

So George Lucas, I used to think you were a God.  You've proved you aren't.  Over and over again for the last ten years.

Just for the record though, the Original Trilogy are up there for me in my top ten, yep even Jedi and the Ewoks, and always will be.

This weeks post is dedicated to @jmb252.