A long, long time ago in a theater far, far away, I watched the first Star Wars movie and was enthralled. Not quite so long ago as that, in a movie theater just a few miles away, I watched the fourth Star Wars movie and was thoroughly unimpressed.
Why the different reaction? Two reasons: (1) George Lucas; (2) CGI.
Let's start with CGI.
Computerized artistry in films can be remarkable when applied with a deft hand and only when it is needed. CGI becomes problematic when it is used for no other reason than the producers can afford it. In the first three movies, the actors might have been acting against people in crazy masks and costumes, but at least they were acting. In the second set of films, the actors were largely delivering dialogue to imaginary creatures that would be added later by some guy at a computer, and their performances come off like they were delivering their lines to propped up brooms.
But the biggest problem, in my estimation, was George Lucas didn't understand why most people loved the original films. Somehow, somewhere, at some point between the 1970s and the 1990s, Lucas forgot how to make a movie that is fun to watch.
Visually stunning? Yes.
There was a swashbuckling, space pirate, nerdy machismo to the orginal films that was nowhere to be found in the prequels that followed. You couldn't help getting caught up in the action of the first three movies when everyone looked like they were having such a great time. The cast of the more recent movies all looked like they had volunteered for experimental proctological exams.
The same exact problem befell the last installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. It was loaded with CGI effects instead of the in-person stunts and complex sets we loved so much from the original films, and the actors were left dangling in the wind (or in the CGI trees with CGI monkeys) with crappy dialogue and wasted opportunities for developing their characters. I feared Harrison Ford had forgotten how to be interesting, but have since seen him in films in which he disproves this fear. Therefore, the fault must lie with Lucas and and his partner in crime Steven Spielberg. As one online reviewer wrote at the time: "George Lucas pooped on my childhood again."
So, when it was announced this week that Disney is buying Lucasfilms and the rights to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, among other holdings, I was thrilled. Oh, sure, the good folks at Disney have been responsbile fror some of the most notorious stinkers over the years, but with the influx of Pixar leadership the prospect of quality output is stronger than ever. And the sad truth is Disney really couldn't do any worse a job on the proposed new Star Wars movies than Lucas did on the last three.
© 2012 Mark Feggeler