Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy 30th Birthday, Lizzy Caplan!

My Favorite Fanart for June 2012

Daenerys Targaryen by Becca Whitaker

Aya by Mike Maihack

DeLorean Blast Off by Jordan Tabije

Don't Ride Angry by Lee Sargent

Cap Attack! by Oky-Space Ranger

Darn Dirty Grape Ape by Captain RibMan

Blade Runner by Timothy Anderson

Bronze Xeno by Alienbuilder

Samurai Fett by Clinton Felker

Hulk vs. Thor by Technodrome1

For the Honor of Pig Power by Amy Mebberson

Jinkies by Joe Eisma

Piano Duo for the Ages by Caanan Grall

Natalie by Jeff Victor

Turn Off by Augustinus

Beauty Salon by VVernacatola

Aliens Desk Lamp by Evil Robot Designs

Luke Racer by Jason Chalker

Hulkin' Dammit! by Graham Annable

The Kessel Run by Old Red Jalopy

Sally & Zero by Becca Whitaker

Grande Nerdalisque by Strange-1

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lego Batman 2 Update

I finished the first story in Lego Batman 2. After playing for a while as Superman, in the last couple of pieces of the story more character come into it: Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and the Flash. So much fun. The big bad of the next story is going to be Brainiac, looks like.

I only have two complaints about the game so far. First, it's nearly always raining in Gotham City, which makes it hard to look at sometimes. And second, sometimes the game is a little counter-intuitive in the bits when you're traveling from one location to another. Oh, and a third, it's also hard to find your way around in some of those sequences.

Still, I get to be Superman, and that means a lot. It just does. I'm a big nerd for Superman. Sometimes I just like to get him up in the air in Gotham City and fly around. When you do, John Williams's march from Superman plays, and just making the character fly around and hearing that music... damn, I could do that all by itself for a good 20 minutes. I almost have!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

MasterChef Observations

Nice to see Ultimate Douche go away already; if this were Hell's Kitchen, the producers would be bending over backwards trying to pull an Elise and keep him around until the very end. It's not that I don't understand the need to manufacture a villain on reality competition shows, it's just that Ryan wasn't any good at it. His bland "bwa-ha-ha" was so ineffectual and boring. Just another annoying kid who was overconfident in his talent. Meh. At least I don't have to hear him talk anymore. (Or hear Tanya cry about how kind and soulful he was, ouch. That was like the first scene of a date rape video. Yeah, hon, he's really a caring guy. He'll probably hold you until you fall asleep, keeping an eye on the clock all the while.)

If you're going to be slimy and sleazy, at least try to have a personality, dude.

Well, Ryan down. Next: Tali and his stupid fucking hat. Thank god we don't have to hear them talk about how awesome they are and how everyone else sucks. Deranged. No, Tali, everyone's just jealous of you and your talent. I'll bet Gordon weeps into his pillow at night because he can't make crab legs look like Freddy Krueger's hand rising from the bottom of a bowl. He just can't see how appetizing that is because he wants one of those super-cool mid-seventies low-rent pimp hats.

Other observations:

:: Monti yelling in Spanish was awesome. I have gone from not liking her to wanting to name my daughter after her. I don't know why, but setting her trifle on fire only makes me love her more.

:: Does molten lava cake really "terrify chefs across the world"? Because my local Domino's seems to have no problem churning them out.

:: So glad Felix didn't go home. And I hope she doesn't screw up that big again. Also, I really want a tiramisu now. Haven't had one of those in years, I think.

Separate Hell's Kitchen comment:

Hey, Little Steven, you can stop auditioning for The Sopranos now, it's been off the air a couple of years.

I just cannot stand this person. She vacillates wildly between being amazingly pronoid ("Everyone loves me, even an obviously-bored, straining-the-boundaries-of-being-polite Sugar Ray Leonard!") and amazingly paranoid ("Christine didn't want me to disrupt her rhythm by getting in her way, what a fucking bitch!"). And trying to steal meat from the Blue Team? Low. Really shitty.

:: Also, maybe for season 11 we could change the theme song or something? The Ohio Players' "Fire" is a song I've never once pictured anyone actually listening to on purpose. Not that it's bad, it's just... there. It's a cliche, frankly. And the line about how "the way you swerve and curve really wrecks my nerves" always sounds like "really wrecks my nads" to me. I don't know why, but that's all I can hear.

How about that title sequence this season, huh? Almost no one hides the fact that they think it's mainly bullshit. Not even Gordon. And watch that reveal of Gordon. Watch James. The way he walks over and spreads his hands with an unspoken "Ta-da!" and then just drops it. He can't even wait until he's out of camera range to show his annoyance with this whole indignity. It is hilarious. My favorite part of the opening.

Idris

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

WANDERLUST (2012)
Anyone else as bored with these new comedies as I am? Some interesting themes to explore about the American dream, but it pretty quickly devolves into overly familiar cartoon hippie stereotypes mined for stale comedy by an overly familiar group of comedians that I'm pretty tired of. They're trying to make each other laugh, and to hell with the plot, which is only arbitrarily given attention (and one character is suddenly made a villain for seemingly no reason other than to further the needs of the plot, anyway). Paul Rudd is effortlessly funny and charming, but the film is too cute and too in love with itself to work. **1/2

21 JUMP STREET (2012)
Surprisingly enjoyable action comedy manages to spoof action movies, the TV show it came from, and high school comedies, while still being all three of those things. I don't know how they pulled it off, but it's a fun movie that doesn't indulge itself too much at the expense of character integrity (though there are times). I like that the flick knows it's recycling a hoary old TV series and makes no attempt to hide it. There's an air of "Well, someone's going to do it, so let's just have a laugh with it." Consistently funny and entertaining, more so than the series ever was. ***1/2

(Note: I see now why Paramount would want to delay GI Joe: Retaliation for more Channing Tatum, who is charming and funny in this movie, very likable and genuine while the film smartly plays on his meathead persona. I still think it's a mistake, but I can see why Paramount would do it.)

WORLD WITHOUT END (1956)
A bunch of astronauts wind up in a time distortion and return to Earth in the 25th century, only to find a race of mutated cyclopes and an underground society of smart but gentle human beings. This being the 1950s, the manly astronauts have to teach mankind to be manly hunters and take the surface away from the "savages" already living there. Oh, and teach women to love, of course. Boring. *

TALL HOT BLONDE (2012)
Courteney Cox made this Lifetime movie based on a true story about a man whose obsession with a high school girl on the internet eventually drove him to murder. A little cliched and too full of tics, it nevertheless is a surprisingly well-directed and involving movie. Cox manages to pull you in to the drama and the depths of the main character's fantasy life, somehow making a guy sitting at a computer talking into the most dramatic thing in the world (the editor really helps, here, too). Not a great movie, but top tier for Lifetime (meaning better than I expected it would be as an actual movie and not as something fun to laugh at--though it is that, too). ***

ANONYMOUS (2011)
One of the worst, most poorly-made, poorly-acted, poorly-conceived... things... I've ever seen in my life. To call this a bad film would be to dignify it. Utterly nonsensical and frankly offensive. Zero stars.

My 10 Favorite Atari 2600 Games

Atari turns 40 today, and as I do with so many things, I'm celebrating it with a pointless, personal list of things I like. Funnily enough, I only recently was reunited with my old Atari 2600. I haven't checked to see if it still works or not, but just having it is a fun connection with that time in my life. I'd forgotten we even owned some of the games that are in there.

It's weird to think now that we only got the Atari when I was 6, and I think we really only played it until I was 8 or 9. I got really into text adventure games on my Dad's PC for a while, and then when I was 9 we got the Nintendo Entertainment System. As a result, I don't have a lot of incredibly strong memories based around Atari games, and some were honestly just too advanced for me at that age and I gave up on them--as a kid, I had some really hard problems focusing (which is why I kept failing math). Also, going through the list of Atari games now, there were a lot of Atari games that were incredibly crappy ports of superior arcade versions, so most of the Atari games I think of loving (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Centipede, Star Wars) were actually games I played over and over again at Showbiz Pizza.

Anyway, here are my 10 personal favorite Atari games.

10. Adventure
Honestly, I was never entirely sure what was going on in Adventure. Sometimes I think of Adventure and realize I'm confusing it with the original Legend of Zelda. I don't think I ever read the instructions for any of these games, to be honest. Impatient kid with focus problems.

9. Mario Brothers
Superior in the arcade version, yes, but still some weird fun in the home version. Little did I know that 30 years later I'd still be playing Mario games and loving them just as much as I did then.

8. Berzerk
Another game where I didn't really know what was happening but got caught up in the pace.

7. Q*Bert
Of all the games I had that were incredibly frustrating, this was the one I enjoyed. (We also had Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was so frustrating that I hated it to death.) The game called for finesse and the joystick kind of made that impossible.

6. Math Gran Prix
AKA the Game I Mention and No One Knows What I'm Talking About. I only ever played this with my sister and no one else, because it was dorky to like educational games. But I had a real problem with math as a kid, so my parents thought this might help, and for the most part it did (nothing really helped my problem being able to focus; not for a long time). The idea was that you had to answer math questions to move your car up a couple of spaces.

5. Joust
Also better in the arcade, I mostly just enjoyed this because it always became a total free-for-all with my friends. There was a high school kid up the block who had a LOT of games, and me and some friends used to go over there and play games in his finished basement (which also had a bar--can you imagine this set-up for a repressed memory happening in a suburban neighborhood today? and no, nothing happened... and no, I wouldn't let my kid do the same thing today). My friends and I would play rounds of Joust and totally just devolve into chaos.

4. Haunted House
The most fun game I never actually owned. I think I played this a lot at my friend Jeff's house.

3. Pitfall!
This game was what I (and many others, I'm sure) had been hoping for from the Raiders of the Lost Ark game. It could be frustrating, but I could sit and play this for a long time, trying to get further and further into it.

2. Asteroids
Another game it was easy to get lost in if you were fast enough. I loved sitting and playing this with my friends; we'd have tournaments, like everyone else, and it would just get bigger and bigger and bigger.

1. Combat
The game so basic it came with the machine (it's basically like Pong but with more versatility of movement). But I loved playing this and torturing my sister with it, and seeing just how many levels the whole thing was going to go through. This was just the most fun game I ever sat and played on the Atari 2600. And I played it a lot. Hell, I'd like to play it right now.

Thanks for the fun, Atari!

Mister Rogers Remixed

This is so nice. Reminds me of everything about this show that kept me rapt with attention when I was little.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Random Thoughts

:: I saw an article that announced Disney is working on a new version of The Muppet Show. And I'm a little sad that instead of getting excited about it, I just cynically thought "People on the internet are just going to complain about it no matter what the quality is." Sigh. The internet has ruined me. (I'm probably going to do a list, though, of fantasy Muppet Show hosts, though.)

:: Quick aside: are we ever going to just drop the -ugh on though? Seems like something that'll happen anyway as the language evolves. Also on through. When does it just become thru?

:: Mitt Romney went into a store on a campaign stop on Father's Day in Quakerstown, Pennsylvania, and was utterly amazed and fascinated by touchscreen technology. If he thinks that's amazing, wait until he finds out about voice activation. And motion control. This reminds me of the time when George W. Bush was completely mystified by a grocery store scanner. Real men of the people, these guys. Real easy to relate to.

:: Speaking of the Right, what was this whole controversy about with the Bush head in Game of Thrones? First I heard that the creators of the show joked on the commentary that a prop head looked like George W. Bush, and then everyone started saying it was a head of George W. Bush, and then Republicans got their oh-so-easily-bruised feelings hurt and started saying this was awful and blah blah blah and now they digitally altered it to this:
Thank Christ our national nightmare is over and now we can all let the healing begin! Come on, guys, stop making fun of Republicans! They're people, too, with thoughts (presumably) and feelings (it is claimed). What, just because they want to make life harder for women and minorities and immigrants and anyone who isn't a rich white male we have to treat them like monsters?

:: I guess the ACLU and the UN are talking about whether targeted drone strikes could be considered war crimes. They certainly do seem to be in violation of international law.

:: There's also a debate over whether the FDA should label genetically modified food. I don't even know what the debate is, honestly. Is this something that needs discussion? Of course it should be labeled. Everything on food should be labeled. I'm not one of those people protesting genetic modifications as "playing god" or some other science panic, but I think people have a right to know exactly where their food comes from and what's been done to it. I mean, we label things for nut allergies. This is the same thing. If people aren't comfortable eating it, they shouldn't have to.

:: It really bugs me when people write Spider-Man as Spiderman.

:: If Aaron Sorkin wrote The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

:: I like Rowan Kaiser's recaps of Veronica Mars and Babylon 5 on the AV Club website just fine, but it is possible to go a full entry without having to mention Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly. There's always the assumption online that BTVS is the high water mark of all television achievement, but some of us just think it was ridiculous and don't understand what you're referencing when you say that x episode of Veronica Mars is like X episode of Buffy. Seriously, both shows are about spunky little blondes, but that's about it. I don't have that same touchstone because I think Buffy sucks; I'd rather see you take it on its own merits.

:: There's a general outcry on Tumblr about CBS's upcoming Sherlock Holmes series Elementary. All of the Sherlock fans have gone off on a tear about how Elementary is just a rip-off and Sherlock is more faithful to Doyle and ABC have made Watson a woman to head off any of the gay internet shipping. And now there are people writing passionate defenses of Elementary and talking about how bad and unfaithful Sherlock is and how there have always been versions of Sherlock Holmes so obviously one has nothing to do with the other.

I have a couple of things to say here. First off, Elementary is only happening because Sherlock is so popular. Yes, there have always been TV and film versions of Sherlock Holmes, but it's not like someone at CBS magically got the idea to do a modern cop show version of Holmes all on his own. Sure, it's not a proprietary idea, but come on, you really think this just happened to occur at the same time? This is how TV gets made: one thing gets popular attention and other people do that thing. I'm not saying Elementary can't possibly be good because of it, I'm just saying it's probable that the success of one makes the other happen. The character's in the public domain, so why not?

Second, I don't think Sherlock is necessarily faithful to Doyle and I don't think it has to be. It seems in the spirit of Doyle to me; the characters are recognizably the characters from Doyle, though Lestrade seems a little more capable. It's an update, the characters are updated. They've really been nitpicking at this on Tumblr, and it's really annoying to see.

Third, Watson is clearly a woman in Elementary for three reasons. A, to head off teh gay. B, because that's the kind of thing that passes for creativity nowadays, to make a male character a woman for no real reason except different! And C, to open up the possibility of a hackneyed will-they-or-won't-they chemistry, because this is American TV and that's really all American TV has. I think the show Elementary is ripping off is more likely going to be Castle.

But fourth--and this is my real point, here--writing impassioned defenses of a show you haven't even watched yet is just really fucking stupid and annoying.

(Correction: I originally said Elementary was an ABC show, which is incorrect. Of course, because ABC already has Castle... The pitfalls of reactionary writing.)

UPDATE 2:06 PM:
Wait, so God loves you based on what cookie you eat? That doesn't sound very unconditional to me...

Dude, Oreo special editions taste the best because they're always so fresh and new. You are missing out on the best cheap cookies life has to offer because you can't see past your hate and discomfort. You're going to miss so many cool things. Hope your hate brings you the comfort you so desperately crave.

Jim & Frank

This is a beautifully charming short film by Tony Borden about the first moment Jim Henson met Frank Oz. I cannot tell you how much I'd really like to see another 90 or so minutes added to these 4.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Star Trek and the Problem with Fan Casting

It can be fun to come up with alternate casts for movies and television series--Becca and I do it for fun all the time--but it's not something I like to do with a ton of people or on the blog or anything. I think it can be easy to fall into the trap of casting someone similar to the original actor rather than making an interesting, out-of-left-field choice that seems more interesting for the actual character.

Case in point is Jill Pantozzi's recent list on the Mary Sue about who she'd cast in a Star Trek: The Next Generation reboot. The list got a bit of attention last week, and it's an interesting list to start some discussion with, but I also--and I don't mean this to be a criticism of a talented online writer and a great site--felt it was pretty unimaginative.

Starting where she starts and going on.

1. Tom Hiddleston as Data
This is pretty much what sparked her list. This photoshopped image was going around on Tumblr last week, and it's a really well-made image, but it's also one of thousands of images of Tom Hiddleston flying around. It's amazing how being on a social network can alter your perception of the world: for a guy I've only seen in two movies, I am profoundly tired of Tom Hiddleston. Nothing against the guy, and he was excellent as Loki, but I'm putting him over in the same category with the Benedict Cumberbatches and the Matt Smiths as guys who I think are good in that one role I've seen them in but really need to see more of before I start fawning over them.

Anyway, Tom Hiddleston would be an okay Data, I suppose, though the character has become something of a cliche and would need to be played differently to be interesting, I think. For some reason, the first actor I thought of was James Kyson Lee, who played Ando on Heroes. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because Ando always seemed so sincere.

2. Ed Gathegi as Geordi LaForge
Geordi's another character I always thought was potentially interesting but who just became kind of toothless and boring. I only know Ed Gathegi from X-Men: First Class, which I guess he was okay in. He plays the Brother Who Dies First to Show You How Deadly the Situation Really Is, so it's not like he has much screen time. I'd like to see Geordi played a little... not rowdier, necessarily, but more like a guy just out of college who has something to prove but who's still a little immature. I think that would humanize the guy a little more, because Geordi too often came across as cool and remote. So a guy a little younger than LeVar Burton was when he came onto the show.

Here's a question: can you get away with casting a white actor in this role? Does it matter? Should it matter? I really don't know, myself. I only ask because I thought Brando Eaton from the heinous Secret Life of the American Teenager might be interesting, if only because I still hope he's going to be in something good. (I saw him on a Lifetime movie over the weekend, and he's probably capable of better.) Maybe in this version, Data and Geordi will finally take the next step, if you catch my meaning.

3. Richard Madden as Commander Riker
I guess because he has a beard? I don't know, a lot of her choices are influenced by what she's watching on current TV series, which is another way the list is not very interesting. Richard Madden is doing a nice job on Game of Thrones, but I'm not really convinced he'd be a very interesting or dynamic Riker. My choice in the role is easily Idris Elba. There's your sex appeal and your capable commander all in one. That guy is the total package. (Frankly, Elba would be a great Captain Kirk, too.)

4. Michelle Dockery as Deanna Troi
I've never seen Downton Abbey, so maybe she's great, but I still feel like this choice is basically "Dark-haired British actress as dark-haired British actress." Troi is a character I'm fairly ambivalent about--probably because the only really interesting thing the writers could apparently think of for her was to get mentally raped over and over again. Ick.

I'd pick Lizzy Caplan, because I think she's interesting and there are layers to her (for a while she was the sole interesting aspect of True Blood). She's not really age-appropriate for Elba, but they'd be pretty hot together.

5. Ewan McGregor as Miles O'Brien
I assume with someone like McGregor in the role it would be more than two and a half seasons of standing around in the transporter room waiting for someone to show up? I see O'Brien as such a non-entity until about season 5, honestly, but I guess in a reboot there'd be more room to do something with him.

I don't know... Paul Bettany, maybe? Give him a break from doing science fiction movies that are so bad even Nicolas Cage doesn't show up in them? The guy's a capable actor when he has good material. Did you ever see The Reckoning? Magnificent flick.

6. Idris Elba as Worf
Large black man for large black man, I guess. You want to take sexy Idris Elba and cover him with all of that makeup? I say thee nay! (And anyway, Elba is my Riker.)

I'd like to see a younger take on Worf, because it makes some of the frustration he's always expressing a little more palatable. I love it when they play up Klingon tradition and ritual, and Worf's exploration into his Klingon culture would play better if it was also his entry into manhood. I like that idea; the exploration and anger seem more natural. Of course, the guy I pick, Robbie Jones, is actually 34, so what do I know? He played Lewis on Hellcats and I think he'd be really good here. I'd love to see Jones more.

7. Bryce Dallas Howard as Dr. Crusher
Red-haired woman for red-haired woman, I suppose. Plus, Howard seems really young for it, though she also casts a younger boy for Wesley in the next entry. Though, honestly, I would pick a red-haired woman for the role, too, if only because I thought maybe Diane Lane would be good. I just love Diane Lane, is all. Wait, is Diane Lane a redhead? Why do I think of her as one? The Outsiders, probably.

8. Chandler Riggs as Wesley Crusher
I can't really say; apparently he's on The Walking Dead, which I don't watch, so I don't have an opinion on the casting. Obviously it's not who I'd pick, but only because I'm not familiar with him. I'd maybe pick Kodi Smit-McPhee just because I liked him in Let Me In. He's 15, it's a good age to start.

9. Julia Stiles as Tasha Yar
Julia Stiles always seems to me like Hollywood's fifth choice for anything. She's okay, but that's about it. I'm throwing in Aly Michalka because she's tough and she looks like she could really fuck someone up. And you knew I'd sneak a Disney person in there somewhere, right? Also, I want my Tasha Yar/Worf romance. Which is a Hellcats reunion, which is fine, because did you ever watch Aly Michalka and Robbie Jones together on that show? Two very, very sexy people.

10. Wanda Sykes as Guinan
This is basically like casting Whoopi Goldberg again, only with someone much less interesting. (Hey, Whoopi was talented once!) And why cast another comedienne, anyway? It's not like the role calls for comedy. I'm going to come out of nowhere and cast Shohreh Agdhashloo just because I always find her voice as soothing as a purring cat. And she's a hell of an actress, if there's a call for that this go-round.

11. Billy Boyd as Lt. Barclay
Interesting choice to cast this character onto the show, as well, but is thinning hair a prerequisite? It just seems like too much of the criteria here is that the new actor resemble the original actor in some superficial way. Ummm... Martin Starr. Let's bring the awkward for real.

12. John Barrowman as Q
I have absolutely no problem with this and would not change anything.

13. Christopher Eccleston as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard
Actually, I do like this choice. See, it's not always unimaginative to cast a similar actor to the original--certainly I did it with Aly Michalka and a number of others--but too often it can be. And I'm not, by the way, defending my choices as being any more interesting than any of the choices she made. I don't really think any of my choices are that interesting, although I do think Idris Elba should do more science fiction. I can't get that out of my head now.

Hmm... I started off meaning to talk about the idea of fan casting, and just ended up fan casting. Oh, well. I'm a fan.

Two last choices: Gabrielle Union as Ensign Ro and Wil Wheaton in a bit of stunt-casting as the Traveler.

Anyway, that's something I'd probably watch. If it didn't suck.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Song of the Week: "Heartaches"

I came across this the other day and, since I've spent the last couple of days talking about my birthday and the Hulk and Star Wars--wow, do I especially feel like a kid in June and early July--I figured the Rock-Afire Explosion would be good on a Sunday morning. Or maybe I need therapy, one or the other.

The Making of Star Wars

Five years later, I finally got around to reading JW Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film.

These are the kinds of books I always liked to get lost in when I was in high school. I couldn't carry them around at school to read between classes because they were big coffee table books, so I'd sit and read them at home for hours, usually sitting on my bedroom floor with the book propped up, eating a peanut butter sandwich and dreaming about one day being a special effects technician or a puppeteer. Since high school was awful for me, a surprising amount of my best memories of the period were of getting lost in Jim Henson: The Works or George Lucas: The Creative Impulse or especially Thomas G. Smith's Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects, which I must have read four or five times.

The Making of Star Wars is the first book I've read about George Lucas and his film in many, many years. As I've documented here, I've had a troubled relationship with Star Wars over the years, in large part because of my difficult and frankly terrible experiences with internet fandom. It's been nice in the past few years to reconnect with the giant that dominated my childhood, bringing in memories of my attempts to make stop motion films with my Return of the Jedi action figures or playing Star Wars out in the woods with my friends--we used sticks for guns and lightsabers and pretend our bikes were Imperial Speeder Bikes, like a thousand other kids in the suburbs.

The book itself is fantastic. It really is the definitive story of the film, from conception to premiere and pop culture phenomenon, without presenting the film's eventual success as a fait accompli, or becoming self-important about fan mythology. It offers some different perspectives because the author is able to go through the Lucasfilm archives and pull out old progress reports, memos, interviews and George Lucas's notes. Like I said, I've read a lot about the making of Star Wars in my life, but here are some things that struck me while I was reading it:

:: There's been a lot of debate over the years as to whether there is any political allegory in Star Wars. It's interesting to look at Lucas's handwritten notes now and see that the Vietnam War shades were there from the very beginning; he compares the Rebellion explicitly to North Vietnam, characterizes an early character's journey as "like a Green Beret who realizes wrong of Empire," and says that "the Empire is like America ten years from now" with a corrupt, corporate-backed leadership and people on the brink of either accepting fascism or fighting an armed revolution. So... yes, there's a political allegory in Star Wars.

:: Famously, nearly every studio passed on the film and Fox was able to lock down George Lucas before American Graffiti was released and became one of the most successful films of all time up to that point. What I never thought about was that Fox had less fear about a science fiction movie because they were still making Planet of the Apes movies and making money off of them. They saw science fiction as profitable.

:: I'd heard many times about Lucas being influenced by the writings of Joseph Campbell and Bruno Bettelheim, but I didn't realize Carlos Castaneda was an influence. It makes sense, of course, but it just made me idly wonder how Castaneda is regarded now. I remember when I worked at Barnes & Noble in Oakbrook Terrace and we did a pretty brisk business in his books, but I haven't heard his name for years.

:: Very interesting to see George Lucas already talking about sequels in late 1975, including the promise that we'll learn who Darth Vader is at the end of the second movie (a movie he also says will focus on Princess Leia's feelings for the "Clark Gable-like" Han Solo). I wonder if Lucas had in mind what he eventually revealed. He also mentions that "someday I want to do the backstory of Kenobi as a young man--a story of the Jedi and how the Emperor eventually takes over," a story he describes in 1975 as "impossible to do, but fun to think about."

:: I actually did not know that Rick Baker and Ron Cobb worked on Star Wars. How did I not know that?

:: Nice to see Alec Guinness was at one point enthusiastic about the film. (Also, as an aside, I don't like how many people we see in the book who have to qualify their enjoyment of the film with lines like "Well, the dialogue is childish" and "It's not that sophisticated." These are quotes from 1977. I don't always cotton to those kinds of comments, because they scream "I'm afraid of being judged because I liked something that was on a level children could enjoy.")

:: I knew Luke Starkiller became Luke Skywalker, but I had never before heard George Lucas's explanation that he came to feel the name "Starkiller" had "Manson Family connotations." Yikes!

:: There's a lot of wonderful technical and technological information in this film which makes me excited... Man, if I'd been born 10 years earlier and could have gotten into physical special effects... It's always exciting to me, too, to hear stories about how things had to be compromised because of physical, financial, or time constraints. I think there's a lot of true creativity that asserts itself by accident. One of my favorite instances in the making of Star Wars is the switch to bluescreen. Lucas had originally wanted to do the backgrounds as front projection, which always looks hokey as hell to me. Bluescreen is so much better and creates a much better illusion.

:: It's very interesting seeing in the progress reports and interviews with his producers, lawyers, etc. what Lucas's approach to the look of the film was. Executives at Fox were very upset about Lucas spending so much money on sets and not lingering over them, but that was intentional. He wanted the film to feel like a documentary, with dirty sets, unclean costumes, and beat up equipment. The idea--and I honestly had never even thought about how much this adds to the film--was that it would look more real and less like a movie, as though you were observing real life somewhere, and obviously that's a big part of what made the film and the experience of seeing it what it is. Star Wars, more than any science fiction film (particularly of its time) looks like a real place. That's what the location shooting in Tunisia was all about--grit and realism. I just never consciously realized it before, but that's an essential component of what makes the movie work on a believable level. It impresses me all the more.

:: The fan myth (or, I guess, anti-fan myth) that Brian DePalma was "brave enough" to "tell George Lucas to his face that his movie was shit" is put in a more realistic perspective here, with Steven Spielberg describing DePalma as caustic and occasionally over-the-top, and Lucas dismissing it as brutal honesty about the film's structure and whether the audience knew what was going on instead of the confrontation it's been characterized as. I didn't know DePalma helped write the opening narrative text.

:: One of the sections at the end of the book is a series of quotes pulled from interviews George Lucas gave in 1977 about expanding the universe of the film through books and comics and other ancillaries. He was coming up with ideas and explanations for things writers might explore, and in doing so he approaches ideas that later became canon, including that C-3P0 was rebuilt by a young boy working for a junk dealer, and that Vader led the way in killing the Jedi in order to consolidate the Emperor's power. He also explains the Force as "a perception of the reality that exists around us" that, when understood, can be used as extrasensory powers. He even mentions the dreaded m-word: "It is said that certain creatures are born with a higher awareness of the Force than humans. Their brains are different; they have more midi-chlorians in their cells."

:: I hadn't realized just how badly 20th Century Fox jerked George Lucas around on preproduction time, principal photography time, money for special effects, and even Lucas's contract itself. I've read many times that George Lucas financed preproduction and the development of Industrial Light & Magic with some of his own money, I just never realized the extent of that was so extreme. Given the story of what he goes through here, I'm amazed he didn't just collapse at the end of it.

That last part is kind of sad, I think, in light of his recent announcement that he's going to retire and just focus on making the kinds of small, experimental films he made in college. And that all comes down to how appalled I am by the way internet fandom strengthens fan entitlement and turns it into one demanding voice. It made me a bit sad to see Lucas say just a couple of weeks ago: "Why would I want to make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?" Reading once again about what he put himself through at every stage of production just to get this movie made and released--a movie he remained humble about and said over and over again that he was profoundly disappointed in--just makes fan entitlement seem more than ever like ingratitude. I do get tired of the people who want Star Wars to be what they demand and not what its author intends. These people haven't risked financial and professional ruin, even seen their health deteriorate, simply to tell the story they want to tell. George Lucas did, and for that he's rewarded with constant gripes about Gungans and midichlorians. (And billions of dollars, of course.) He went through hell and when he came out through the other side, he ended up changing the way films are made--and I mean technologically, not thematically. The physical process of filmmaking was altered forever.

George Lucas owes me nothing, Han shooting first or not. Would it be nice if I had a choice of which version I wanted to watch on DVD? Sure. But I'm not owed that. I, however, kind of feel like I should watch Star Wars again today. After what George put himself through, it feels like the least I can do.

:: Also, I like how Lucas spread the profits around, giving percentage points or pieces of points to a lot of the key people who worked on the movie. He says in the book that the people who worked so hard on Star Wars deserved to share in its financial success. Classy guy.

:: In the end, I really like Rinzler's assertion that Star Wars was the culmination of a trilogy about George Lucas's youth and his realization of his place in the world, starting with THX 1138 (which I've still never seen), continuing through American Graffiti, and completing its theme in Star Wars. I think that explains a lot about why Star Wars feels so much like a film unto itself and less like part of a series.

What a terrific book. It's really strengthened my appreciation for Star Wars and put certain aspects into a perspective I didn't really have before. Now I have to go to the library and get his book The Making of The Empire Strikes Back. Oh, and I see he's got a book about the Indiana Jones movies to tide me over until the book about Jedi comes out next year.

Sunday Hottie 386

DREAMA WALKER