How Old is Star Wars?

Star Wars is 39 years old this year. Looking back on Star Wars from now is like being in 1977 and looking back at films made in 1938. Thats films like The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn or James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces. Those are the only films from that year I can recall ever seeing, and back in 1977, those films seemed so old.

Looking back now at Star Wars, it’s hard to feel its really as old as those films seemed to me back then when I was eleven years old. Back then I even thought those great 1950s sci fi movies that I loved were old- films like Forbidden Planet, made in 1956. But in 1977 that was ‘only’ 21 years before. Thats the equivalent of looking back today on films released in 1995- films like Toy Story and Apollo 13 and Heat. Those films don’t feel very old (indeed something like Heat feels like it might have been made only yesterday). But maybe they do seem so old to eleven year old kids watching The Force Awakens now (I wouldn’t recommend that an eleven-year old kid watch Heat but you know what I mean).

This is a pretty scary game. Blade Runner is 34 years old this year, the equivalent of being in 1982 and looking back at films made in 1948. Thats films like Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, or John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre starring Humphrey Bogart. I’d say the former is pretty timeless but the latter a bit old-school compared to Ridley Scott’s film. But compared to films made now, Blade Runner doesn’t feel ‘old-school’ at all, not to me.

Or The Abyss, from 1989. That’s 27 years ago. That’s like being in 1989 looking back at films from 1962, such as the first James Bond film, Dr.No, and David Lean’s magnificent Lawrence of Arabia, or Burt Lancaster in The Birdman of Alcataz. Great films, but in 1989, they felt pretty old. The Abyss doesn’t feel that old now though, hell, I remember watching it at the cinema like it was only a few years ago, not decades ago.

2001: A Space Odyssey is 48 years old, which is the equivalent of having your mind blown by Kubrick’s masterpiece in 1968 and looking back at films made in 1920. Can’t say I’ve ever seen any of those films from 1920, although I’ve certainly read about some of them, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde starring John Barrymore. Of course they were silents and in black and white, a lifetime away from the widescreen glory of 2001‘s feast for the eyes and ears. But maybe to youngsters today, 2001 feels just as old and dated when compared to the films they have now with their virtual worlds and CGI characters.

Anyway, I was just thinking about Star Wars closing in on its 40th Anniversary and wondering what 39 years really means. But its led to all this other rambling about movies and it’s freaking me out. So I’ll stop now before I feel as old as I really am.

Fifty Great films: 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001bContrary to the Love Conquers All message that festers Chris Nolan’s Interstellar, the message of Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent 2001: A Space Odyssey is rather more profound, albeit rather harder to define. Indeed, even after all these decades people are still arguing about it, and as I have  re-watched it over the years I still find myself changing my mind about what the film means. Sometimes I think the Monolith is an Alien artifact and 2001 a story of aliens shaping our evolution- other times the Monolith is God and 2001 is a bold religious movie disguised as science fiction. The films very strength is the vagueness that some find so infuriating. One thing I am certain of however, we will never see a science fiction film ever so serious and ambitious ever again- something only further cemented by the recent release of Interstellar. Its not that Interstellar is particularly bad, its just films in general- the scope and ambition of films now falls far below what Kubrick was attempting back then.

Sobering thought though- discussing Interstellar with my friends at work who saw it with me, I compared the film with 2001 and was surprised that they hadn’t seen 2001 at all. Well, I dread to think what this generation would think of 2001‘s glacial pace and obscure plot- films over the decades have gotten faster and simpler, and 2001 is clearly the very antithesis of what the consensus of a ‘good’ film is these days, so I hesitated to recommend it. Would my work colleagues have even gotten past the Dawn of Man sequence? Likely not. Yet some of them clearly felt Interstellar was a great science fiction film.  Hades in a handbasket.

2001 of course is not a film for everyone and had its many detractors even when it was first released in 1968. I can’t imagine what the impact of the film was back then, what it must have been like back then seeing it  for the first time. Nearest thing I can imagine is Star Wars in 1977 or Blade Runner in 1982. Maybe Gravity last year? Alas, these days its more about what a film shows (the technology used, cgi /3D/Imax etc.) than what a film says. 2001 had such a lot to say about our history, our future, the dehumanisation inherent in technology. 2001 was the first truly serious science fiction film with A-list credentials/production values- science fiction was generally the domain of the b-movie before then. I know there are exceptions to that but it was an attempt at real science rather than, say, Forbidden Planet‘s fantasy. 2001 remains the grandest vision of any science fiction film, almost fifty years after it release.

2001vhs

I first saw 2001 on the BBC over one Christmas- 1979 or possibly 1980, I can’t remember which- and I remember John Brosnan writing afterwards in Starburst magazine vehemently condemning the BBC’s treatment of the film’s original widescreen format. It didn’t get any better on home video, Brosnan no doubt later venting further wrath with the films’ treatment on VHS. Anybody else reading this own a copy of the film on VHS pictured here? It was back  in the very earliest days of video sell-through. I don’t recall if it was a retailer exclusive in Woolworths, but that’s where I had my copy from- there were loads of old catalogue films (John Wayne films mostly) . It was,as usual for those days,  a horrible pan and scan version with fuzzy  colours (a travesty when you consider the work that went into the film, its framing and cinematography), but it was still a remarkable thing back then being able to own a personal copy of a film, particularly one like 2001.  But yeah, it sure was ugly. A reminder of how spoiled we are now with the excellent version on Blu-ray we have now.

A Fireside Chat: Ghost’s A-Z Part Four

Ghost-In-The-Shell-2.0-BoxG is for… GHOST IN THE SHELL 2.0. The natural question that springs to mind is, did we really need the 2.0? I’m referring to the fact that when released on Blu-ray a few years back, it was trumpeted as a remix version- remastered with added 3D-CGI, colour-balancing re-done, new cast recording in 6.1…  the list of enhancements (and I choose that word carefully, considering the subject of the film itself)  is long. Its another example of film-makers returning to their work, drawn in by the seductive allure of new technologies available to polish the original.

Its something all too common these days, probably due to it being easier to do as things go increasingly digital. George Lucas was one of the pioneers of this with his Special Editions of the original STAR WARS trilogy and THX:1138. Well, I won’t go on about any of that, except to say that Lucas evidently could see what was coming. I remember a time when films were finished and done, and never tinkered with afterwards. No-one would have ever dreamed of re-shooting the fx of the original KING KONG or FORBIDDEN PLANET, or converting 2D films into 3D. Technology has now made it too easy.

Regarding that 2D to 3D thing, James Cameron, perhaps the biggest exponent of 3D, has often decried sub-standard 3D films and championed films designed to be filmed and projected in 3D, and yet he converted his own 2D movie TITANIC into 3D. I don’t get it, surely TITANIC was never designed or shot with 3D in mind? And if it’s 2D photography, staging and set design works so well in 3D, what does that say of 3D movies having to be specifically designed and shot for 3D to be a success? Or maybe, gosh, its about the money. Yeah, well, that’s what I think 3D was all about. Art my ass.

Remastered/remixed/enhanced/3D conversions. Its a bit of a minefield out there. As if all the remakes and reboots were not bad enough, even the original films themselves are messed about with. My own old fave, BLADE RUNNER is not immune, although, considering how broken/unfinished the 1982 version was (really, the messed-up condition of PROMETHEUS is nothing compared to all the f–k ups and plot-holes in the original BR) then I guess the Final Cut was really a blessing. Maybe it can be argued that BR needed it. But not all films do. GITS was a perfectly fine Japanese anime, prescient and increasingly relevant. The new version means it looks shinier, but it isn’t necessarily a better film. And who’s to say this version is really definitive, and that there’s not a version 3.0 or 4.0 somewhere in the future? That’s the real crux of the argument; when does it end? Lucasfilm commenced converting the STAR WARS films to 3D ( a project quite possibly canned since), but who is to say that later versions of the films won’t have further changes to fx shots, dialogue etc?

THE-HOBBIT-AN-UNEXPECTED-JOURNEY-PosterH is for… THE HOBBIT. Well, while I’m on the subject of tinkering, since THE HOBBIT trilogy (Trilogy! Did PJ ever consider just shooting the book as it was, minus all that Appendices stuff?) is being shot in 3D, and there is an inevitable six-film box-set on the cards for Blu-ray or download in the future, is it likely the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy will be converted from 2D to 3D like TITANIC was, in order to match the HOBBIT movies? What’s that going to be for the hardcore fans, what with 2D/Theatrical/Extended/3D versions…  double/triple/quadruple-dip? And what’s the odds of a full, six-film 3D set coming after the original 2D LOTR is issued with the three HOBBIT films first, you know, just to milk it that extra bit? Crikey. Someone could plan their entire career path marketing these films over and over again over the course of the years and the changing formats.  I guess its true, films never die, they just keep on coming back in different editions on different formats.

Damn it. You knew where you stood with the original KING KONG and FORBIDDEN PLANET.