In the late 70s and early 80s one of the most influential artists on me (before I discovered Picasso, Dali and Vallejo) was a man named Ralph McQuarrie. Most people have heard of George Lucas and have the false belief that he had the “vision” to create the look and feel of the Star Wars Universe. George wrote the stories, but left the look and feel of practically the entire thing to a true visionary named Ralph.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of such a visionary artist and such a humble man,” George Lucas said in a statement. “Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars. His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this.'”
“In many ways, he was a generous father to a conceptual art revolution that was born of his artwork, and which seized the imaginations of thousands and propelled them into the film industry. In that way, we will all be benefiting from his oeuvre for generations to come,” Lucas said.
“Beyond that, I will always remember him as a kind and patient, and wonderfully talented, friend and collaborator.” -George Lucas
For the past 20 or so years, movies for the most part, have sucked. Let’s be honest – when was the last time you went to a movie that made you feel like E.T. did, or Goonies did? Would you consider Battle: Los Angelsa rightful successor toClose Encounters of the Third Kind? Did Deep Blue or Sharktopus connect on the level of Jaws? No, no and no! To say movies have sucked isn’t to say there went some gems in there, but for me growing up in the eighties I expect a certain look and feel – message and delivery to the action packed summer block buster.
Today’s Hollywood has fallen into an abyss of bad writing (thoughtless and vapid) and relies too heavily on special effects to carry a film for two hours. It seems lately that if it’s not a sequel or a remake it must be a reboot. Really? REBOOT? Are these franchises written by sentient computers now? Are we so unwilling to embrace new ideas that we are content to re-fry these old beans? Hollywood has spent the better part of the last 5-10 years trying desperately to convince us that “this is what America wants” – And you know what? By purchasing tickets to this drivel we encourage them to continue feeding this crap to us.
I don’t want to watch crap anymore.
Sometimes you can’t tell its crap until you’re done watching it. It appears the real talent in Hollywood lies in the select group of editors that produce film trailers. How many times did you get sucked into a movie based on the awesomeness of the trailer? Can you say (aptly named) Sucker Punch?[For the record, I actually liked Sucker Punch]. You roll the dice and hope beyond hope the movie is at least as good as the trailer leads you to believe it can be. Sometimes it’s the opposite and the trailers are awful and the movie is great, but that’s a rarity. In the worst cases the film’s producers elect not to screen the movie for critics ahead of release. This should be a sign that they would prefer that the opening weekend suck your hard-earned cash out before you get a chance to know if its a steaming pile of fail. Would you go sign a lease on a new car without a test drive? Buy a house over the internet, sight unseen? Marry a Russian mail order bride? No, me either. Buyer beware.
J.J. Abrams’ work makes me feel like I have a kindred soul out there in Hollywood DOING IT RIGHT. Doing what I would do if I was in his shoes. Sure, not everything he touches turns to gold (Undercovers anyone?) but for the most part I like what he’s doing.
His ongoing relationship with Steven Spielberg speaks to me on a level that I cannot disregard. When a man seeks out the mentorship of a truly proficient and beloved director, embraces the knowledge acquired and blends it with his own vision to produce timely, topical and truly entertaining films I simply must applaud the effort. For if not for love of the craft then cynical Hollywood would surely wear him down as it has so many others. He has vision and delivers it more and more with each film.
What about Super 8?
Now that I have finished lashing Hollywood and stroking J.J. Abrams, I can get to the SPOILER FREE review of Super 8. This film avoids all but one of the potential pitfalls of modern movie making; that is to say it is nearly perfect. It delivers on every level you want it to. You get to know and care about the characters – played by a fine cast of people you probably don’t know. Elle Fanning is a standout as the daughter of a self-loathing steel worker who agrees to be in the Super 8 movie the ‘boys’ are filming; her natural talent in front of the camera shocks the boys as it does the audience. This film within a film premise serves as the vehicle to explain the group’s relation to the train crash that precedes the strange goings-on in town.
The feeling of this late seventies (’79) setting is superbly handled. Every detail of set, costume and style is exactly as it should be. The attribute that really sells the period, however is that classic Spielberg camera placement, lens usage and focus. All those things are not going to make sense to a few of you, but subconsciously you know it when you see it. It just feels like it was filmed in the seventies or eighties. So yes, nostalgia does play a part in the feeling you get from this film, and that’s not a bad thing when its done right – and this time it’s done right.
So why isn’t it a perfect film? Well to be fair the first half is, and the second half has a few troubles. The first half delves deep into these kids lives and really delivers a story that makes us feel for them, and care what happens to them. Then the action starts, and that trap of delivering action – even in this retro “don’t show too much too soon” style there is still a lot going on to look at, and bit less “how is it affecting and relating to these kids.” In other words, this great build up of sentimentality towards these kids and the course they choose – the events are unfolding and where do they fit in? I think the plot falls apart just a little in the last act. Sort of like Stephen King’s stories do; great until the end and the pay off is a bit underwhelming. You want more for these kids, and that sadly, is not delivered to satisfactory levels. The other issue is that the special effects are great. By that I mean you’ve spent 60 minutes transporting me to 1979 with visuals, language, styles and camera work, and now that you’ve revealed the ‘secret’ I’m back in 2011 because I know this is CGI. This is not a dig, or complaint – I understand that 1979 monster technology would be a detriment to this film, and it IS 2011 and we DO use CGI to great effect. This, sadly, is a trap that cannot be avoided, and that’s just a shame – but I give it a pass because I surely would have done it the same way.
In all, Super 8 will most definitely find its way into the hearts of millions of 30-40 somethings, if not entice a new breed of tweens & teens to ask their folks “Can we watch that Goonies movie?” I highly recommend you see this film. Do not miss it. It is, so far, my favorite film of the year, and oddly enough the last favorite I had was J.J.Abrams’ Star Trek, so I see a pattern forming here – Don’t be late to the party!