Saxon Bullock

Writer, Journalist, Copy-Editor and Proofreader

Tag: george lucas (page 1 of 2)

Schizopolitan: Episode 22 – Wars of the Stars (The Force Awakens Megachat)

star-wars-7-force-awakens-images-kylo-ren

SCHIZOPOLITAN! IT CALLS TO YOU! JUST LET IT IN!! The podcast of genial nerdy chat returns, as Saxon and Jehan finally take on the film that everybody can’t stop talking about. Yes, it’s the momentous arrival of Star Wars – The Force Awakens, and it’s time to finally talk about what this film is. How do new arrivals like Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron match up to old hands like Han Solo? Is the film a worthy continuation of the saga? What’s with all this ‘Mary-Sue’ business? Why exactly was Saxon reminded of Prometheus on his first viewing? And does JJ Abrams actually understand how big space is? ALL THESE QUESTIONS, AND MORE!!!

(Also, as fully explained on the episode, this is going to be the last podcast for quite a while. Schizopolitan is going into stasis, but will hopefully returning in the not-too-distant future…)

Enjoy the podcast (please let us know in the comments if you do)! And remember – you can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes! Share and Enjoy!

(The opening and closing music on the podcast is ‘Ouroboros’ by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Schizopolitan: The Podcast – Episode 3 – Doctor Who, Gotham and Star Wars: Rebels

Schizopolitan lives! After a hiatus longer than we wanted, Jehan and I have finally succeeded in recording another episode of joyful rambling about film, television, comics and everything else that takes our fancy. This week, I do a brisk half-time report on Season 8 of Doctor Who, looking at how Peter Capaldi is shaping up as the new Doctor, and then we’re on to tackling two new US TV shows. First up is Gotham, the new series that’s using a traditional cop-show format to do a massive prequel story for the Batman mythos, giving us a sprawling origin not only of Batman and stand-up cop Jim Gordon, but also virtually every villain you can think of. We look at the first two episodes of Gotham – its highs, its lows, and its tonal weirdness – while the other show we look at is Star Wars: Rebels, the entertaining new CGI animation that’s also the first onscreen Star Wars material released since George Lucas sold the franchise to Disney, and an interesting sign of what’s to come…

Enjoy the podcast (please let us know in the comments if you do), and stay tuned for more episodes and less lengthy hiatuses! And please remember – you can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes! Follow this link to subscribe – the first two episodes are already available, and episode 3 should be up there within the next couple of days…

(The opening and closing music on the podcast is ‘Ouroboros’ by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Wars Trek: Eight Thoughts on JJ Abrams directing ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’

JJ Abrams Star Wars Episode VII
1: I’m surprised that it’s actually happening. My first reaction to the rumours that JJ Abrams might be directing Star Wars: Episode VII was “That’s weird.” My second was “Didn’t he say he’d turned it down?” My third, eventually, was “I bet this is one of those rumours that turns out to be false.” Just occasionally, it seems the Internet can prove me wrong.

2: It’s a choice that’s simultaneously understandable, a little odd, and almost a little too obvious. Alongside Joss Whedon, Abrams was one of the first directors touted by fans for Star Wars, simply because of his 2009 Trek reboot, which almost immediately seemed to make him unlikely to do it. He’s proved himself able to handle a big, technically complex blockbuster with heavy levels of special effects. He’s also able to handle character well, something not every candidate could manage (Hello, Zack Snyder). The fact that the 2009 Star Trek reboot shared so much storytelling DNA with Star Wars makes this all feel like one of those fandom wish-fulfilment “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if ****** got to direct it?” dreams that’s somehow spilled out into reality. But he’s signed. It’s official.

3: The countdown begins now to the point where Disney announce a release date shift from 2015 to 2016. Abrams is still in post-production on Star Trek: Into Darkness, and then he’ll have major press commitments around the release. If the 2015 release is stuck to, that gives him just over two years for all the pre-production, shooting the film, and the post-production – for a blockbuster, that’s a pretty tight turnaround, and while they can be made to a tight schedule, the end results often aren’t pretty. Many blockbusters have been ruined by sticking to a release date over everything (often meaning that shooting starts without a script in place), but with so much riding on this, I’m pretty sure Disney aren’t going to force Abrams to rush what’s likely to be an epic production schedule (especially in terms of post-production and CGI effects work). I’d also lay bets on that being part of the deal – I doubt Abrams would have signed to do something like this if he didn’t also get the power to do it *right*.

4: He’s a fan. It’s one of the resons he quoted for originally turning it down, but Abrams is a dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fan, which means anyone worrying about Episode VII being slathered in lens-flare can probably relax. I’m sure it’ll look slick as hell, but I also suspect he’s going to stick a lot closer to the visual style of the original movies. Not being a fan of Trek before he hopped onboard the reboot meant he went about reviving the franchise in a very deliberate way (admittedly, one I didn’t always agree with), giving it a very new and fresh identity, with aspects of the classic version of Trek woven in. I suspect Abrams’s Star Wars will be a lot more faithful to what’s come before.

5: He’s capable of being an amazing director, but Abrams has yet to make a film I’ve wholeheartedly loved. Mission: Impossible III is great fun, but light as a feather and essentially plays as a feature-length episode of Alias (Abrams’s hilariously convoluted female-led TV spy-saga) with Tom Cruise as a lead, a blockbuster budget, and fewer over-the-top costumes and wigs. Star Trek is great fun, but has a plot that shatters into pieces if you so much as breathe on it, and also sacrifices a bit *too* much of Trek’s sense of intellectual SF adventure in favour of wham-bam action and STUFF! BLOWING! UP! Super 8 is frustratingly close to being an outstanding movie – when it’s being a homage to the Amblin movies that Abrams grew up with, it’s heartfelt, beautifully played and genuinely moving. However, when it veers left into Stephen King territory, it ends up drowning out the quieter (and stronger) emotional content in favour of horror-movie shocks, an alien that’s both an evil chomp-monster and a misunderstood tragic figure, and even more STUFF! BLOWING! UP! It’s especially frustrating when Abrams’s television work has almost always been stunning – especially the pilot episode of ‘Lost’, which still stands up as an awesome and adventurous piece of television. I’m hoping that maybe taking on Star Wars will make Abrams push that little bit further, and produce something that really does pay off the talent and storytelling I saw in all those jaw-dropping early episodes of Alias.

6: Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Cowboys and Aliens, Star Trek) are not writing this film, and I can’t begin to describe how happy this makes me – especially as they seemed joined at the hip with Abrams. Other people are worried at the idea that Damon Lindelof may get involved thanks to his Abrams connection, a worry mainly rooted in him getting lots of the blame for people’s disappointment with Prometheus – but (a) most of the blame for Prometheus’s undeniable flaws have to be piled at Ridley Scott’s door, and (b) screenwriter Michael Arndt is already at work, and if whatever he’s done is presumably good enough to play into changing Abrams’s mind, I’m hopeful that we may be in good hands. (And whatever happens, any of the screenwriters will have to work very hard to best some of the insanely creaky writing in the prequels).

7: Thanks to a rumour that directorial contender Matthew Vaughan would have cast Chloe Moretz in a pivotal role, it’s very possible that there’s a significant role for a young female lead. If Abrams isn’t on the phone to his Super 8 star Elle Fanning right now, then the man’s a fool…

8: Ultimately, I can live with JJ Abrams directing Star Wars, but it doesn’t fill me with an immense surge of excitement either. We’ll get a damn efficient crowd-pleasing SF blockbuster, and I can almost guarantee there’ll be a sense of character and life back in the celluloid Star Wars universe that hasn’t been there for a while, but there’s still no guarantees that it’s going to be anything other than a pretty SF blockbuster with kick-ass setpieces. Abrams is unlikely to serve up a turkey, but he isn’t the bold and interesting or left-field choice they could have gone for, and he isn’t a director with an approach I would absolutely love to see tackle a Star Wars movie. (I know it’s a foolish dream and it’s ultra-unlikely to happen, but a Star Wars film directed by David Fincher would send my inner geek into meltdown). But I do think Abrams is a solid choice, and there’s potential for greatness there (as well as the potential for it all to go a bit wrong, as well). Whatever happens, despite previous disappointments, the prospect of new Star Wars movies still has me intrigued. For now, there’s life in the old Saga yet…

Video: Star Wars Uncut

Once again, the Internet and the fans give me a reason to care about Star Wars again. One of those crazy projects that seems completely demented until you see the final product and realise that yes, people actually did this, Star Wars Uncut is a crowd-sourced version of the entire original 1977 film that takes a Be Kind Rewind ‘swedeing’ lo-fi approach to expressing love for the classic SF adventure, and did it by inviting fans to remake the film however they liked. The only rule? Each group of amateur remakers only got to tackle 15 seconds of the original movie. The result is a barking made patchwork-quilt of live-action, animation, glove-puppets and the truly unexpected that all holds together a lot better than you might think. Two hours of sheer Star Wars nuttiness awaits…

Movie News: Oops, He Did It Again – Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray, “NOOOOOO!” and the ever-changing mind of George Lucas…

Star Wars The Complete Saga Blu Ray Cover George Lucas 2011

He almost had me. I was wavering. I’ve recently bought a Blu-Ray player, and despite my better nature, I was finding myself looking at the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray and thinking “Hmm… maybe.” It’s not like I didn’t know what I’d be getting – I knew there’d be no sign of the treasured original versions of the classic trilogy (still only available as non-anamorphic DVDs, mastered from the 1993 Laserdisc Editions), and that it’d essentially be giving us spangly High-Def versions of the prequels and the 2004 DVD versions of the original trilogy (complete with the less-than-welcome addition of Hayden Christensen’s mug edited into the final sequence of Return of the Jedi). After all, there couldn’t be anything left for Lucas to tamper with, could there?

Yes, there could.

The rumours have been flying around for the last couple of weeks – and while it looks like we’re not going to have full confirmation until the release in a week-and-a-half as to whether or not there are any other ‘surprises’ in store, there are a handful of big changes that we already know about. For a start, there has been some audio ‘tinkering’ – some of that is just remixing the original audio, punching up a few elements (and getting right a couple of music-mixing issues that affected the 2004 DVDs, especially the original Star Wars). There’s one major visual change – to Episode I: The Phantom Menace, where the puppet of Yoda has been replaced with a CGI version of the character:

This isn’t exactly surprising, and actually looks pretty good – it’s probably a mark of how little general Star Wars fandom actually cares about The Phantom Menace that nobody seems particularly upset about it (that, and the fact that the Phantom Menace puppet was weak, and somehow looked less convincing than the one used in Empire 19 years previously). If that was the only change, I don’t think anyone would be worked up right now.

It isn’t.

There are a handful of smaller changes to the original trilogy – like the new and utterly ridiculous sound that Ben Kenobi makes to scare off the Sandpeople before his first appearence, the door to Jabba’s Palace which is now three times the size (and very fake-looking), and the slightly unsettling fact that the Ewoks in Jedi now have CG-created blinking eyes (which really doesn’t make them look any less like dwarfs in furry costumes than they did before) – but then there’s the big one. Lucas has decided to have a play around with one of the key scenes of the whole original trilogy – the final moments of the Emperor, where Palpatine is on the verge of killing Luke, and Vader finally turns away from the Dark Side. I can remember watching that scene in the cinema in 1983, aged 9, completely riveted by what I was watching, and the surge of amazement as what seemed absolutely impossible – Vader suddenly becoming a good guy – happened. It’s one of the finest moments of the trilogy – a trio of films that, while the whole Star Wars franchise has lost an awful lot of its lustre in the past decade, still stand as fantastic works of popcorn cinema. And at no point in the last twenty-eight years did I think that scene would be improved by adding a ludicrously over-dramatic scream of “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” from Vader.

Well, thank goodness that George Lucas is on hand to prove me wrong:

Words fail me. They really do.

I can see the thinking behind it – connecting Vader’s final moments with the Emperor to his first moment with the Emperor back at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – except that the completely daft Frankenstein-stagger and scream of “NOOOOOOO!!!” in that film is widely regarded as one of the few moments where the otherwise fairly good Episode III (and about the only of the prequels to be artistically valid as a movie) is genuinely, diabolically awful. The thinking may be plain, but the execution of it, and the fact that Lucas is once again going back in to a film that was finished in 1983 and going “It’s okay guys – just one more change…”, and mucking around with such a critical section of the original Trilogy… it’s breathtaking. It really is. The level of clueless arrogance it takes to do this, and not in any way provide an alternate version of the movie, beggars belief. It’s not even as if I care about Star Wars that much any more, and I’m still kind of speechless.

The sad thing is that there’s no reason whatsoever for this. Multiple film versions are a fact of home entertainment life – the recent Alien Anthology Blu-Ray is a masterclass in presenting differing editions of films, while the granddaddy of them all is the 2007 Blade Runner special edition, which gave us every single version of the film available (a newly tinkered one, and the originals). Hell, if the Star Wars Blu-Rays just had the 1997 versions of the Special Editions versus the newly tinkered versions, that’d be a start – or an option to switch to the original, less-tinkered with audio. But that’s not the way Lucas rolls.

I’m a little sad. I’m a little vexxed. But, most of all, I’m glad I knew in advance so I can save myself some money. I’m sure 97% of Star Wars: The Complete Saga will look gorgeous on Blu-Ray, but I’d rather not have to mentally edit the terrible, terrible 3% out of my brain while I watch them. I’ll stick with the DVDs, thanks very much, and the sad fact that while it gave me some very good times in my formative years, Star Wars really doesn’t mean that much to me anymore.

So thanks, Lucas. Thanks a bunch.

(EDIT: There’s an interesting article over at Entertainment Weekly which makes some good points (even if it also overdoes the ‘kids are stupid, and anything aimed at them is generally rather silly and infantile’ theme) especially that while the Star Wars films are great works of popcorn cinema, they ain’t perfect. It’s okay to enjoy the hell out of them, but it’s also okay to grow up, realise their deficiencies, and that there are much better films out there. I think it says a lot that Empire is still widely counted as the best of the bunch, when it seems that the pulpy energy and vitality in Empire was a happy accident that Lucas made damn sure wouldn’t happen again (I have a major fondness for Jedi, but you can already see some of the flatness and woodenness that bedevilled the prequels creeping in in multiple sequences). It’s mainly as a film lover that this tweaking annoys me – as I said, if Lucas just made the originals (or as close to the originals as we can get) available, he could fuck about with new editions to his heart’s content and I wouldn’t mind in the slightest. The original Star Wars (none of this ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ nonsense) is a significant work of American cinema, and the fact that the director has gone psychotically out of his way over the last twenty years to prevent anyone from seeing it in its original form… well, it’s rather sad. But I’m not really raging about this. I think my days of raging over Star Wars are well and truly over.)

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