Tag Archives: Star Wars

My Golden Age of Movie Posters

Note: Click on all the images to see them full size.

If you love movies as much as I do, there’s a good chance that you love movie posters too. You probably have them on your walls, use one as your desktop wallpaper, and perhaps even collect movie posters like some people collect Picassos. I have a few myself, and why not? Some movie posters truly are works of art. Or at least, they used to be. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps I’ve got another case of that rose-tinted nostalgia-vision, but it seems that the hand-crafted movie poster has become an endangered species.

Growing up in the eighties, I spent my childhood in awe of the great movie poster illustrators, the artists whose work embellished the films I worshipped. I was a budding artist as well as a movie fanatic, and the eighties may have been the heyday of the movie poster artisan. It was, I see now, the perfect time for me to grow up in. Part of the excitement of any new movie, particularly those by the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, was that first glimpse of the new artwork by Drew Struzan or Richard Amsel. These were artists who created posters upon which their signature was redundant. You knew who had created it simply by the style of the illustrations. They were in a league of their own, and in my opinion will remain so.

Star Wars reinvigorated the movie poster, accentuating the concept of the one sheet as a collectible piece of artwork. That’s not to say movie posters weren’t collectibles before then but, as it did with so many other things, Star Wars set the bar a little higher. The movie poster was suddenly romantic and energetic again, and the best designs for Star Wars ably captured the film’s wonder, sweep and spectacle. The posters were not just promotional tools, but important artistic creations in their own right. Perhaps, the most famous is the image of heroic Luke Skywalker, complete with accentuated physique, holding his lightsaber aloft, with the giant head of Darth Vader in the stars behind him. Known as Style A, this was a poster design interpreted first by Tom Jung (who would create posters for all three of the original Star Wars trilogy) and then by The Brothers Hildebrandt, with dramatically differing styles.

Drew Struzan’s poster for the film, in collaboration with airbrush artist Charles White III, was a nostalgic piece harkening back to the Saturday morning serials upon which the movie was based. It has a torn poster on plywood effect that only came about because the original design had no room for the movie credits. The romantic design ethic continued with The Empire Strikes Back. Roger Kastel illustrated the classic poster for the Star Wars sequel (see below), having previously created the iconic image for Jaws. Again, it is an evocative illustration encompassing a montage of scenes and characters. The fantasy and romance pours from the poster and the colours beautifully reflect those of the movie. Tom Jung also created his own poster for the movie, featuring a striding Darth Vader holding out his hand, a pose reflecting the movie’s famous and oft-quoted line, ‘I am your father’.

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Richard Amstel produced two wonderful illustrations for Raiders of the Lost Ark, having earlier worked on the poster for Flash Gordon (above). The Indiana Jones series, a natural successor to the romantic nostalgia of Star Wars, followed suit in utilising great artists to render promotional materials. Amsel’s work on Raiders still ranks among my favourites of all time (see his alternative version at the top of this page). The beautifully realised image of Harrison Ford lifting out of the sandstone (a mix of watercolour, acrylic, airbrush and coloured pencils) is not only iconic, but sets the tone and setting of the film perfectly. Again, Drew Struzan was given the chance to create his own design for the film, for its 10th anniversary re-release. Sadly, Richard Amsel died in 1985, only 38 old. Struzan then became the go-to guy for the Indiana Jones movies, as well as many others connected with Spielberg and Lucas, such as the Back to the Future trilogy and the Star Wars prequels.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that there were many great artists working during this period. John Alvin created the famous poster for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial which portrays the fingers of the alien and Elliot touching. The idea paid homage to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (suggested by Spielberg). Alvin was also responsible for the paws emerging from a box for Gremlins and the original poster for Blade Runner. Bob Peak created the art for each Star Trek movie poster, throughout the eighties. They, and many more like them, are the reason why movie memorabilia from that period is among the most sought after.

These days things are different. The ease and speed at which a poster can be knocked together using Photoshop means beautifully hand-rendered movie posters are a far rarer beast. To the men signing the cheques, it’s far cheaper to hire someone to sew together a couple of head shots or do a photo montage on the computer. I understand it, this is a business after all, but there was something about those old posters that fired the imagination and stoked the sense of wonder as you awaited your first screening of the next celluloid dream. They produced the kind of artwork that cannot be achieved with a mouse and keyboard, any more than an Impressionist masterpiece can be. The industry no longer seems to need the artists the way it once did, and it is always sad when an art form becomes surplus to requirements.

Struzan is still working, however rarely, and still producing immaculately hand-drawn posters. Hellboy was graced with his work along with, naturally, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. However, the golden age of he and his peers is long gone. At forty, I may grumble about my age, but I will always be grateful to have spent my formative years during the heyday of these unsung artistic giants. And I will always remember how I was just as influenced and inspired by the artistry they used to promote the movies as I was by the movies themselves. Thank you, guys.

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Drew Struzan’s website

A wonderful site dedicated to the work of Richard Amsel

Tom Jung’s page at IMP Awards

John Alvin’s website

 


15 Movie Questions Meme

This one has been doing the rounds for a while and I was finally caught, bagged and tagged by my good friend Custard over at Front Room Cinema. So, ever the dutiful taggee and Mememeister, here are my astounding and mildly amusing answers to 15 seemingly random movie questions.

Enjoy.

 

1. Movie you love with a passion

Raiders of the Lost Ark

For me, Spielberg’s first outing for Harrison Ford’s archaeologist and mercenary is one of the finest pieces of celluloid ever made. This is the reason why cinemas were invented. Some movies make us think, some movies teach us stuff and some movies just give us a ride. This one has a little bit of everything. Pure cinema, no pretensions. Perfect.

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2. Movie you vow to never watch

Anything with ‘Movie’ in the title

Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, etc. Dreadful, lame, unfunny spoofs churned out to make a quick buck without actually making anyone with a brain larger than a popcorn kernel laugh. Mel Brooks could spoof, Jerry Zucker could spoof but Jason Friedberg and his gang can kiss my pink ass. Kiss it!

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3. Movie that literally left you speechless

Antichrist

Hang on, was that Willem Dafoe’s….? Did Charlotte Gainsbourg just grab a pair of scissors and cut off her…? Did Willem Dafoe just…? Why’s that fox talking? I’ve seen horror movies and I’ve seen porn movies, but nothing quite prepares you for Lars von Trier’s bizarre mix of both, with added talking mammals. Don’t watch this with your mum.

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4. Movie you always recommend

Fight Club

I recommend some movies simply because they are great movies, but I recommend Fight Club because it’s a movie that has something very important to say and says it with David Fincher’s singularly brazen style. For anyone who lives and endures the myriad banalities of Western culture, watch Fight Club.

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5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie

George Clooney

Not only do I respect him as an actor who has managed to rise above the limitations of his good looks, and as a director and producer of great movies in his own right, but also because Clooney very rarely picks a bad project. He just seems to have the knack for picking interesting, challenging roles for himself.

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6. Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for

Jason Statham

Give me a break. How did this wooden, boring, zero-charisma, no-talent pudding with a phoney accent that is neither English nor American manage to get to where he is? I just don’t get it. He’s like a throwback to the action heroes of the 80s, before filmmakers realised that they were better when they could actually act.

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7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet

Christopher Walken

How could that ever be a boring meeting? It would be impossible. Walken is incapable of being boring. The guy is like a force of nature. We could talk about his amazing career, about all the movies I watched just because he was in it for five minutes (Gigli, for one) and when the conversation ran out, he could teach me some wicked dance steps.

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8. Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen. (Picture required!)

Tina Fey

Sure, there are plenty of good-looking actresses out there but sexy is a lot more than just that. Sexy is brains, beauty, talent and a great sense of humour and Tina Fey ticks all the right boxes. It also doesn’t hurt that she seems to be completely oblivious to her sexiness. And that’s also very sexy. It’s a sexy win/win!

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9) Dream cast

Star Wars Episode VII

Okay, so it’s a bit cheesy, it’s exceptionally geeky and it’s wholly unrealistic given that they all have a collective age of about 900 (the ones that are still alive, anyway), but how cool would it be to have the original Star Wars cast together again for a new episode? Huh? Can I get an Amen? No? You got a problem with old people or something?

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10) Favourite actor pairing

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

Okay, there are actors and then there are British RSC actors. It’s not really my style to blow the trumpet for Blighty but the truth is we really do produce some of the greatest thespians know to stage and screen and when X-Men director Bryan Singer decided to cast two of my favourites in a superhero movie (of all things), he was having a very inspired day. Hurrah and huzzah!

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11) Favourite movie setting

New York

It’s magical but commonplace, grubby but pristine, antique but brand new. It can be an equally comfortable home to the most whimsical fairytales and the bleakest horrors. Six million movie sets rolled into one. Few places on Earth are as versatile as The Big Apple. And I’ve still never been there.

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12) Favourite decade for movies

The 80s

It’s probably got very little to do with the level of quality, although this decade delivered some of the best movies ever made. But this was the decade I grew up in, and the decade where my love of cinema truly blossomed. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Terminator and the peerless The Breakfast Club. This was the decade when cinema got its imagination back.

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13) Chick flick or action movie?

You’re a troublemaker

I’m not falling into your nefarious trap, my friend. You can try to sow the seeds of despair and drive a wedge between the sexes with your loaded questions but you will not succeed! Evenings can be comfortably arranged to accommodate one of each, right? Yes, I am the bringer of harmony. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called big, fat couch potatoes.

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14) Hero, villain or anti-hero?

Villain (and enjoying it)

It’s a tough one, this one, but ultimately there’s something irresistible to me about the irredeemable bad guy who takes genuine pleasure in his work. Hannibal Lecter, The Joker, Richard III, or any villain played by Gene Hackman. They make being evil seem far more appealing than the sober, brooding heroes make being good.

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15) Black and white or colour?

Dumbass Question

Do me a favour. I am neither pompous enough to say I prefer black & white movies nor pedestrian enough to say I prefer colour movies. What kind of person dismisses a movie because of the colour it is? That’s like celluloid racism. Are you encouraging celluloid racism? Shame on you with your silly question.

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Top Ten: Movie Fight Scenes

Violence is a funny thing. Few of us actually enjoy participating in it, but most of us will at some point thoroughly enjoy watching it in a movie. Ah, the magical catharsis of cinema!

The movies are replete with scenes of battle. Fight scenes are the meat and potatoes of the action genre, and most thrillers will either end on one or throw a couple in somewhere. Picking only ten was always going to leave this list with a whole heap of contenders unfairly cast aside, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and write fifty of these bastards.

So here are my favourite ten. For the sake of making the choice easier, I’ve left out battle scenes between entire armies. Perhaps another time. Please feel free to add your own top ten, if you have one, or simply chastise me for omitting your single favourite. Maybe we can settle it outside.

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10. John Smith v Jane Smith

Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)

After five (or six) years of a slowly stagnating marriage, John and Jane Smith discover that not only are they both secret super-assassins, apparently using the marriage as cover, but they are also each others’ next target. Possibly the most contrived set-up in this top ten, but who cares? The resulting gun-play, fist-fight and kitchen utensil carnage as the Smiths (the couple, not the popular 80s band) do bloody battle in their big, suburban house is great fun.

Probably Jennifer Aniston’s favourite movie scene ever, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie convincingly beat the crap out of each other. I wonder if they’re like this in front of the kids.

And the winner is: There’s make-up sex. Everyone’s a winner with make-up sex!

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9. Channel 4 News Team v Evening News Team v Channel 2 News Team v Public News Team v Spanish Language News Team

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy ( 2004)

Legendary news anchor Ron Burgundy and his team are out on the town, on their way to cheer themselves up by shopping for suits, when they find themselves confronted by several rival teams, all looking to take each other down. In the world of syndicated news broadcasting it’s best to be armed. Clubs, chains, machetes, hand grenades and even tridents can be the divide between life and death. Just don’t touch the hair or the face.

Featuring more cameo appearances than an entire season of Saturday Night Live, the news team street fight proves that even clueless, musky-smelling morons can be heroes.

And the winner is: Burgundy and his Channel 4 News Team are gonna straight up murder your ass.

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8. King Arthur v The Black Knight

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

During his noble quest for the Holy Grail King Arthur encounters the dread Black Knight, guarding a bridge (or a small plank of wood over a pathetic stream). Refusing to allow the King past, a mighty battle ensues. Well, mighty-ish. Actually, it’s just silly.

Arthur severs the Knight’s arms, only to be told that it’s just a scratch as the undeterred Knight then resorts to kicking the King’s ankles. Even having both his legs lobbed off doesn’t dampen this warrior’s ire and Arthur eventually gives up and leaves the wriggling torso of his foe behind, crossing the plank to cries of, ‘Come back here you yellow bastard! I’ll bite your legs off!’

And the winner is: Arthur, of course, although the Black Knight is having none of it. ‘Let’s call it a draw’. Loony.

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7. Ripley v Alien Queen

Alien (1987)

A classic bitch-fight and one of those David and Goliath moments when you know you should put your money on the smallest. Having escaped and nuked the planet LV421, with all its nasty little xenomorphs, Ripley returns to her ship to find a very pissed Queen has hitched a ride and is looking for a rumble. Never one to shy away from an invitation, Ripley grabs a mechanical power loader and gets busy.

Limited by the effects of the time, much of the action is seen only at head height, but it’s still one if the coolest, and most original, brawls in cinema.

And the winner is: I’ll give you three guesses, and since there’s only two participants, if it takes you three guesses you’re a moron.

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6. Léon v Half the NYPD

Léon (1994)

Having seriously pissed off both the Mafia and a corrupt New York cop in his quest to avenge the murder of 12-year-old Mathilda’s entire family, hitman Léon and the girl find themselves besieged in a hotel room with half the city’s police force trying to find a way in. Luc Besson’s perfectly choreographed scene sees the wily Italian allow a group of officers into the room, only to shut the door behind them and take them all out, unseen.

When the door reopens, the next group of hapless cops find themselves face-to-face with the slippery assassin, as he hangs upside down in the doorway. Inspired!

And the winner is: In this particular round, Léon. But give the guy a break, there’s a lot of people out there.

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5. Neo and Trinity v A Small Army

The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves may not be the greatest actor in the world, but at least he looks good running in slow motion with a machine gun. And Neo and Trinity may have stupid names, and rarely crack a smile, but when it comes to tearing up a building lobby full of security guards and a SWAT team, they don’t even have to take off their cumbersome long coats or remove their sunglasses indoors. Oh, to be so cool.

With lots of slow-motion gunfire, running up walls and picking up M16 rifles while performing cartwheels, this was one of the most refreshingly executed fight scenes for years.

And the winner is: Never underestimate people who dress only in black. Neo and Trinity don’t even get a scratch on their sunglasses.

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4. George Nada v Frank Armitage

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s last great movie contains a strong contender for the longest fist-fight (outside of a boxing ring) in any movie. Ever.

After discovering that the American elite are all aliens in disguise, controlling a docile population with consumerism and subliminal messages, Nada is understandably keen to share his revelation with someone. Unfortunately, the aliens can only be seen with special sunglasses and George’s co-worker Frank isn’t feeling particularly co-operative. Cue a hilarious, brutal, six-minute brawl in a back alley as George and Frank bludgeon each other to bloody pulps.

And the winner is: Let’s just say Frank ends up wearing the damn glasses.

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3. Indiana Jones v Big Nazi Guy

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

He’s already been through the mill and has a gruelling truck chase to come, but first our intrepid archaeologist has to deal with the imposing Nazi mechanic who stands between him and the Ark-carrying plane. Tired, dusty and visibly fed-up with throwing punches, Jones proceeds to get the shit kicked out of him.

Clearly not a student of Eastern combat philosophy, Jones is a brawler and has no qualms about using wrenches and a little arm-biting in an attempt to overcome the German behemoth. All to no avail. Not even a sudden flurry of professorial jaw-socking is going to slow down this Teutonic brute.

And the winner is: Indiana Jones, with no small help from a whirring propeller blade. Look out, behind yo…never mind.

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2. Yu Shu Lien v Jen Yu

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s sumptuous epic features a whole bunch of fantastic fight scenes, but the greatest is the lengthy dust-up between Michelle Yeoh’s noble Yu Shu Lien and Zhang Ziyi’s angry young Jen Yu. Jen is armed with the indestructible sword, Green Destiny, and Shu Lien breaks an insane array of different weapons against the sword in an attempt to defeat the petulant child.

The breathtaking scene is so beautifully choreographed it’s more akin to a dance than a battle. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than watching two graceful women locked in passionate combat. Or is that just me? Whoops.

And the winner is: Jen does a runner eventually, so we’ll give it to Shu Lien by default. Yay!

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1. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn v Darth Maul

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

This is what we turned up for. The single greatest lightsaber fight in the entire franchise. Having sat through two hours of trade disputes, Natalie Portman’s clown make-up, petulant little Anakin’s feeble attempts to endear himself to us, and Jar Jar Bloody Binks, die hard Star Wars fans were treated to this triple-header between Jedi and Sith.

Horny badass Darth Maul takes on two Jedi with the aid of his indescribably cool double-ended sabre. The glowy blades whirl around like the original trilogy’s fight scenes on fast forward. This was the moment when cool got a little bit cooler. Magic!

And the winner is: Having dispatched Jedi Master Qui-Gon, Darth Maul gets his ass handed to him by a mere apprentice. Fail!

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A Long Time Ago, In a Cinema Not Too Far Away…

Note: I wanted to post something to celebrate International Star Wars Day, but I’ve been way too busy. So I’m cheating a bit. This is something I wrote a year ago, which some of you may have missed. Enjoy.

 

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

And so it began, a generation lost in space. Our eyes were wide in wonder, our mouths were fixed in grins of joy, and our parents’ wallets did open up and spew forth dollars and pounds unto the profit margin of Saint George of Lucas. The age of Star Wars was upon us. Love it or loathe it, in 1977 Star Wars changed cinema forever, heralding the return of wonder and spectacle after a decade of dark, introverted American movies.

Here are some of the things that I love about Star Wars. And one thing that I really don’t.

Lightsabers

The weapon of choice for all Jedi knights, and without the doubt the single coolest weapon ever devised. Ever. Forget swords, forget pulse rifles, forget Uzi 9mm’s and forget Adamantium claws. This is cinema’s greatest contribution to iconic arsenal. They’re powerful, graceful, mobile, and they come in a range of colours. Who cares if they’re impossible? Who cares that you’d be more likely to cut your own legs off with it, than uphold galactic justice? They are just so damn cool. Who hasn’t, at one point or another, swung their clasped hands around and made ‘shwum mmmm shwum’ noises? Huh? Come on, admit it. Every little boy from 1977 onwards wanted one (myself included), and most men too (myself included). Christmas ‘77 probably holds the record for the highest number of household breakages, as millions of kids swung their plastic lightsabers around with gleeful abandon.

The lightsaber battles were pretty much the highlight of the three prequels. Having had to settle for the rather clunking battles of the original trilogy, which in contrast sort of resembled the fights you had with your mates when you stumbled upon a couple of long twigs, the prequels offered us fast, frenetic duels which fully utilised the fact that lightsabers were not made of wrought iron and could be swung around quickly. And Darth Maul had a double-ended lightsaber! Double the geekgasm!

Let’s face it, from a Freudian standpoint the lightsaber could be considered the ultimate in phallic symbolism, with the added bonus that this particular throbbing length between your hands lights up, comes in different colours, and makes ‘shwum’ noises. And they’re all the same length, which saves a lot of discomfort. All except Yoda’s, of course, which is smaller. But give the guy a break, he’s three feet tall.

Come on, admit it. They turn you on.

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Star Wars Figures

There was movie merchandising before Star Wars came along, but it was this franchise that really turned it into the multi-million dollar industry it has become. George Lucas was canny enough to have the merchandising rights and profits written into his contract for the first movie, thus generating the huge piles of cash that he probably sleeps on every night, smiling the smile of the smug.

Still, in helping Lucas accumulate his bedding, we were able to spend our childhoods recreating all our favourite scenes, with 3” replicas of the characters, major and minor, from the movies. Well, at least some of the scenes. Obviously this excluded scenes that involved sitting down, since they had no knee joints. I mean, they could sit with their legs straight out, lying down wasn’t a problem, and they could goose-step, but it has to be said that the original figures weren’t exactly ‘fully poseable’. But did we care? Nah. I remember how excited I was to get my very first figure, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi. Old Ben came with a lightsaber which slid out of his arm, and a stiff plastic robe which made sitting him down, with legs straight out, even more difficult to accomplish. I spent hours making a cardboard version of the Cantina on Tatooine, only for most of the characters to repeatedly fall off their chairs. Trust me to recreate the one scene in the movie that involved sitting down and little else. Didn’t really think that one through.

Oh, but the thrill of separating that little plastic container from the card backing, and handling the 3” Han Solo (who looked even less like Harrison Ford than I did) for the first time. Oh, but the agony of realising that, a mere week after getting him, you’d already lost his little gun. Oh, but the sniggering amusement of putting Han Solo and Princess Leia into all manner of amorous positions. Damn those unbending knees!

Pure magic!

My legs are killing me.

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Stormtroopers

In Episode IV, having discovered a group of slaughtered Jawas, Ben Kenobi sagely advises Luke that ‘only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise’. Luke then rushes home to find his elderly, adoptive parents have also been slaughtered. Truly, we imagine, these soldiers of the Empire are fearsome warriors. Truly, the universe must tremble before them. Except that, for the next six hours of the saga, they can’t seem to hit a damn thing, including a seven foot wookie standing about 10 yards away. Apparently, Imperial Stormtroopers are great if you want kids in hoods or a couple of geriatrics murdered, but once they have to kill moving targets and major characters, the soldiers of the Empire may as well have their helmets on backwards. Witness an entire platoon of these bozos getting their asses kicked by a bunch of teddy bears with rocks. Fail!

But we love them. We love them because, despite being utterly rubbish, they look so cool. From a design point of view, the Stormtroopers are classic. Like much of the design elements in Star Wars, they’ve endured so well without looking dated. They have kind of angry eyes, with a bit of a frown, and a sad little mouth that makes them look a bit lost. You just want to give them a hug, and tell them that it will all be okay, one day they’ll be able to hit a barn door with their eyes open. And there are variations on the theme, too. You have the black Tie Fighter pilots who can’t hit other ships, or the Biker Scouts who like to crash into trees, or the Snow Troopers who let the good guys get away. Again. Bless.

You lookin’ at me? I can’t tell.

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Yoda

Somewhere there is a parallel universe where logic prevails, and a three-foot, olive-green, big-eared creature with a speech impediment, who is older than your Nan, isn’t the coolest character ever. In this universe, however, Yoda is King. Having seen this cool little Muppet for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back, fans waited twenty-two years for the chance to actually see Yoda opening a can of whup-ass on someone. When he did, we weren’t sure whether to gasp in awe or laugh, as he leapt around like the Tasmanian Devil on acid. Still, he was the only Jedi who could unclip his lightsaber just by holding his hand out. Awesome!

Simply put, Yoda is the best of both worlds; he’s as wise as the ages and he could kick your ass without breaking a sweat. The interesting thing about him, though, is that, unlike Han Solo or Mace Windu, no-one really wants to be Yoda, they just want to know Yoda. People want Yoda to be there when things go wrong. Bad day at work? Talk to Yoda. He’ll say something extremely wise, backwards, and you’ll feel better. That gang of kids on the block giving you trouble? No problem. Introduce them to Yoda. He’ll say something wise, backwards, and then kick all their asses. Twice. The perfect friend, he is.

Okay, so he failed spectacularly to see the Emperor’s machinations until it was too late, then royally screwed up when charged with kicking the one ass that would have made all the difference, before sodding off to a big swamp and hiding for twenty years. Details, mere details. If that was your Nan, you’d forgive her.

Lookin’ at me, are you? The only one here, I am.

 

Used Future and Design Classics

One thing that stood out about Star Wars was the ‘used future’ aesthetic which Lucas wanted to bring to the movies. Up until then, science fiction movies and visions of the future were pretty shiny and spanking. Spaceships were usually pristine, well kept and whiter than white. People wore clean, pressed jumpsuits or walked around half naked, with clean, pressed bodies. Then Star Wars came along and dragged the future (or technically the past) through the dirt. Hi-tech suddenly looked beat up. Here we had a vision of technologically advanced societies that were ‘lived in’. The clothes were crumpled, the droids were a little rusted, and the Millennium Falcon looked like a flying student’s bed-sit. It suddenly made the far-fetched seem everyday.

There were even little references in the script of Star Wars which hinted at technological advances as matters of everyday conversation. Disappointed at the amount of cash he gets for his Landspeeder, Luke turns to Ben and says, ‘Since the XP-38 came out, they’re just not in demand’. Ben clearly couldn’t care less. Probably still uses Windows ’95. Your powers are weak, old man.

The Star Wars movies, or at least the original three, are littered with enduring, influential designs. The Millennium Falcon was singular in that it was the first spaceship (that I’d ever seen) which was not completely symmetrical. It had its cockpit, not in the centre, but sticking out of one side. Unique! You may not find this particularly interesting, but I have distinct memories of studying the design and being totally blown away by that element alone. Yes, I was a strange child.

The taps leak, the TV doesn’t work too well, and there’s a bit of damp, but we’re allowed to have parties!

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But then there was…

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Oh dear Lord, where to even begin with this one. How about a little background? In 1978, the year following the release of Star Wars, CBS aired the two hour long Star Wars Holiday Special. George Lucas had no involvement in its production, but it did feature all the lead characters from the movie. It revolved around Chewbacca’s attempts to return to his home world, Kashyyyk, to celebrate Life Day with his family. Along the way, various guest stars made appearances, there was an animated adventure, and kids were glued to their TVs. Mostly, as it turned out, in abject horror.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is bad. No, it really is bad. It is not even bad in a way that is enjoyable. It’s the worst kind of bad. It is awful. It has never been aired again, never been officially released, and George Lucas won’t even talk about it. It’s that bad. Not funny bad, not bad in any way that could be considered endearing, just really fucking bad.

We open on a clip, from the original movie, of the Millennium Falcon being pursued by two Imperial Cruisers. Cut inside the Falcon to find Han Solo (Harrison Ford, who spends his time in this looking like he’d rather be anywhere but here) and Chewbacca sitting in the cockpit. Or rather, a rubbish TV studio mock-up of the cockpit. In fact, I think Han Solo is sitting on an office chair!

Then we get to meet Chewbacca’s family. Yep, Chewie likes to work abroad, and within five minutes it’s pretty clear why. There’s his wife Mallatobuck (Malla), happily pottering around in the kitchen, his father Attichitcuk (Itchy), sitting in an armchair grouching, and his son Lumpawarrump (Lumpy), running around annoying everyone. After about 10 minutes of watching these characters grunt and growl at each other, with no subtitles and no clue what they are saying, you start to wonder if there isn’t something better you could be doing with your time. Like, say, picking bits of fluff from the carpet and eating them.

Don’t worry, Harrison. There really are better things to come.

And it gets worse. So much worse. Wait until you see the rest of the returning cast. Having just recovered from a car accident, and reconstructive surgery to his face, Mark Hamill was forced to wear extensive make-up, and what looks suspiciously like a wig. So, when the shaggy family contact Luke Skywalker on a screen, they find Hamill doing a passable impersonation of Mia Farrow. It’s shocking, to say the least. And Carrie Fisher’s appearances as Princess Leia are even more jaw dropping. Clearly high as a kite at the time, she can barely walk and wears a fixed, hazy smile that must have frightened most of the viewing kids.

Mark auditions for Rosemary’s Baby 2 and Carrie is still singing five hours after everyone has gone home.

Slotted into all this fun and games are a series of ‘entertaining’ variety acts. We have Art Carney as a trader, helping out the Chewie clan. Bea Arthur sings a shit song in the cantina which seemingly last for hours. Harvey Korman presents a cookery show, in drag. And, in one of the most unintentionally disturbing scenes, Diahann Carroll turns up as some holographic singer, and apparently gets Grandpa Itchy off.

Then, when you think it can’t get any worse, Carrie Fisher, still floating on the ceiling, sings the Star Wars theme. Yep, someone wrote lyrics; terrible, awful lyrics, and Carrie Fisher sings them. It’s at this point that you have to remind yourself that you’re nearly at the end, and there’s no need to open up your veins and end your suffering.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is like nothing else you’ll ever see. And you have to see it to believe it. That the franchise survived this train wreck is surely a testament to its enduring magic.

George Lucas, having viewed the Holiday Special once too often.

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The Celluloid Zombie Guide to Becoming a Movie Snob – Part One

So, you enjoy movies, watch them regularly and feel ready to take the next step. That’s right, you don’t just want to be a movie buff, you want to be a movie snob. You’ve seen those shiny boys and girls, hanging outside the local multiplex, spouting on about Kurosawa or Mise-en-scène and you’ve thought to yourself, ‘I have no idea what they’re talking about but it sounds impressive. I want to be in that gang!’

My good friend, you have come to the right place. In two parts, Celluloid Zombie is going to impart great wisdom upon you and teach you how to blag, bluff and manipulate your way to Movie Snob Supremacy.

 

Lesson 1 – Know Your Directors

Take any movie, and an accomplished Movie Snob will usually be able to reel off the credits like last week’s shopping list. For the Snob, it’s not enough to be able to remember the title of a film (something that is often beyond the casual viewer), they have to be able to tell you who was in it, who wrote it, who scored it and, of course, who directed it. All with an air of insufferable smugness (see more advanced lessons).

This skill can take many years of total immersion in the field, and an equal amount of years of total exclusion from the real world, so the trainee Movie Snob should simply look to acquire a good working knowledge of directors as a solid grounding. And this means all directors. It’s simply not enough to know that Spielberg directed E.T. or Hitchcock directed Psycho. That’s like calling yourself a music expert because you know who sang Heartbreak Hotel.

Acquaint yourself with names like François Truffaut, John Ford, Frank Capra and Akira Kurosawa. Wikipedia will probably give you enough nuggets to bluff your way if you can’t be bothered to actually watch the movies. And remember, don’t forget those titles!

 

Lesson 2 – Use Some French Words

No Movie Snob’s arsenal is complete without a barrage of pretentious and mostly unnecessary French. Learn these words and phrases and then sprinkle them liberally in your conversations about cinema to demonstrate just how worldly and cosmopolitan you really are:

Oeuvre
The stuff that a director/actor/whatever has done.
Example: ‘Are you familiar with Capra’s oeuvre at all?’

Rite de Passage
The journey someone goes through to go from being one thing to another thing. Usually applied to teen stories.
Example: ‘16 Candles is an engaging rite de passage story’ (even if it’s not).

Mise-en-scène
What a scene has in it. The visual landscape of a scene or its components.
Example: ‘Hitchcock uses his mise-en-scène to denote the fragmented nature of Norman Bates’.

Dénouement
What happens at the end.
Example: ‘Sinking ships turn me on so I only watched Titanic for its dénouement’.

 

Lesson 3 – Stay for the Closing Credits

A true Movie Snob never, I repeat NEVER, gets up to leave the cinema during the movie’s credits. They remain seated until the lights turn on and the usher ambles in to sweep up the discarded popcorn kernels and half-eaten nachos. The truly dedicated may even still be there when the next lot come in.

To the Movie Snob, leaving as the credits roll is a heinous act of gross disrespect to all the Grips, Best Boys and Assistant Third-Unit Director’s Assistants who have worked tirelessly to bring you your latest celluloid fix and ask only that you remain seated for a few more minutes so you can see their name roll slowly up the screen in sans serif, white text. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you hold your bladder a little longer? It’s all me, me, me with you, isn’t it?

In addition, it is also important to adopt a series of disapproving noises and looks to aim at those inferior individuals who do choose to vacate the premises prematurely. Tut-tutting, heavy sighs, and exasperated shakes of the head are all excellent methods for communicating your disgust. Until the target of your disdain turns around and looks at you, of course. Then it’s time to start actually looking at the credits. Avoid eye-contact. The last thing you want to do is explain your disapproval to some 280 pound guy who’s desperate for the toilet and just forked out a small fortune to watch a shit movie.

 

Lesson 4 – Cultivate the Correct Shit-List

It is vital as a Movie Snob that you navigate the treacherous minefield of acceptable taste while in public. Sure, you can enjoy Bad Boys II in private, but some pleasures must be kept under wraps if you are to be taken seriously as one of the elite. So, from this moment on, you no longer publicly endorse the following:

The Wayan Brothers
Ben Affleck (the actor)
Paul W.S. Anderson
Michael Bay
Star Wars Episodes I-III

However, you are actively encouraged to publicly endorse the following:

The Coen Brothers
Ben Affleck (the director)
Paul Thomas Anderson
Michael Mann
Star Wars Episodes IV-VI

 

Lesson 5 – Learn to Read Subtitles

Repeat the mantra after me; ‘subtitles are my friend, subtitles are my friend’. It is no longer acceptable to say things like, ‘I can’t read and watch at the same time’ or ‘they go too quickly’. Never again can you wait for the US remake, just so you’ll have the luxury of being able to take your eyes off the screen for more than five seconds without missing vital plot points. Fix your gaze screenwards and do not deviate until the final credits are rolling. And watch those too, remember.

If you are to become one of the anointed, you must embrace movies that don’t come with American accents, product placement and uplifting dénouements. It’s time to venture into foreign lands.

 

Come back later for part two of my pointless post! Or not.

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