The Force Binds the Universe Together … and Goes to Sleep?

I let the dust settle a bit on the teaser trailer for Star Wars – The Force Awakens that had fanboys and haters all geeked out over the weekend. I have watched the offering from the new Sith Lord of the Star Wars Universe and, as you might expect, if you read my previous thoughts on J.J. Abrams’ misuse of lens flares, I was going to be hard to impress. I was and still am. J.J. has his work cut out for him if this trailer is a sample of things to come.

Star Wars means more to me as a movie fan. I was never much of a Star Trek fan because Shatner’s overacting was obvious even to my kidself and Kirk was too much of an asshole that even Spock’s ears couldn’t save it for me – but I did like the phaser beams. (Maybe the effects are what today’s filmmakers are taking from their childhood memories). But Star Wars had a different feel to it. The universe of Luke Skywalker and company wasn’t antiseptic the way Star Trek seemed to be: the ships were dirty, the people seemed to be more than character cut-outs (although the stormtroopers could vie with the red shirts as to who were more useless and expendable), and the world just seemed to be more than a Hollywood casting call for stuntpeople and actors in hokey makeup. Star Trek, in all its incarnations started off as “exploring new worlds” and eventually devolved into some form of militaristic crapola while Star Wars made no such pretensions.

But the thing that made Star Wars such a financial success was ultimately the siren’s song of Lucas’ undoing: merchandising. It became rather apparent during the Return of the Jedi days that some things (cough, cough, Ewoks, cough, cough) existed only as things to be merchandised because they sucked as story elements. Star Wars has always been susceptible to the putting in “fanboy-cool” things that are really bad ideas, AT-AT’s, for example. As “cool” as the sheer size and threatening nature of those things may be, if you can fly, why would you design something so ridiculously inept? The Star Wars franchise has a lot of this type of faulty thinking running throughout it and I shudder to think what horrors are to come because of “cool” and merchandising.

The funny thing is that a fan video was put out that fooled some media outlets into believing it was the real release. After seeing the real thing, the similarities are a bit disconcerting. Maybe there have been too many productions, such as Troops, focusing on the stormtroopers in a Cops parody, that are made with enough professionalism in shooting and editing that someone can wade through the myriad of material available and cobble together a respectable fake because the real release looks like a fan film! The moment John Boyega popped up into frame, the feeling of yuk hit me because it looked amateurish, unpolished. And then there was Daisy Ridley riding what looked like a part from an old television set with an ability to suspend and propel itself even more improbable than Luke’s landspeeder or the pod racers. I won’t even comment on the rolling ball thing. A lightsaber springs to life in the dark – with a laser handguard? Folks who are deeply into Stars Wars lore probably have a name for these devices, but I have one, too: crap.

I did like the shot of the X-Wings flying over the water just to capture the sense of speed, but overall, the thing could have been spliced together from previous films and video game cut-scenes and held up just as well. Of course, in an obvious attempt to utilize the 3-D technology, the Millennium Falcon spins and whirls through the air because who can make a movie nowadays without bilking the public through the eyesore of 3-D? Afterwards, a couple of TIE fighters narrowly miss the Falcon and take a few shots which begs the question, if the TIE fighters were gunning for the Falcon anyway, why weren’t they shooting at it when it was helpless in its ridiculous aerobatics demonstration? Ah, but there I go infusing some sense into the discussion.

I guess the point of all this is that, sure, the teaser “teased” people and the hype builds – just as it did with the prequels. We don’t need to go through that again!

There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?
The dark side…  and the light.

Even for a trailer, that’s pretty stinky writing.  I’m not looking for more of the original, I just want something good and a hell of a lot better than the prequels!

And then there are the lens flares… oh, god… the lens flares…


Assumptions and the People Who Assume (A rant in 9/8)

You can assume this is a pipe… and you'd be wrong.  You may also assume that you are seeing letters and pictures and, again, you'd be wrong to characterize this little collection of pixels as anything more than 1's and 0's.

You can assume this is a pipe… and you’d be wrong. You’d also be wrong to characterize this little webpage as anything more than 1’s and 0’s.
© René Magritte Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

We’ve all heard it before:  “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.”  Gosh, how darn clever.  I had to get that out of the way and I will let you assess the validity of that statement for yourself.  As far as I’m concerned, when you assume, you make an ass out of you if you assume incorrectly and you may involve me.

So why am I playing with Trite Aphorisms People Are Sick of Hearing?  Because I’ve had the extreme displeasure to see some tired old rationalizations pop up recently and I’m amazed people still spew these things:  “We had George W. Bush for president thanks to Ralph Nader” and “3-D movies are not a gimmick because of Technicolor.”  Yeah, one is somewhat more serious than the other, but my Illogic and False Equivalency (IFE) meter doesn’t care about that.

So, some people still choose to believe that Ralph Nader’s candidacy is responsible for Bush Beating Gore in 2000.  There are some studies floating around that refute that thinking, not only that a Nader-less election did not mean those votes cast for him would automatically go to Gore, but some may have gone to Bush! ( — don’t get used to this, I don’t like statistical reading and this isn’t a thesis!)  Above all, Nader is the convenient whipping-boy for these folks because he was the best known and garnered the largest amount of votes.  Yet there were other third-party candidates who pulled enough votes in Florida to turn the election to Gore.  Why aren’t they being accused?  And do the people who didn’t even bother to vote at all get a free pass?

To assume a left-leaner or a right-leaner is an automatic vote for a Democrat or a Republican is exactly what the supporters of the two-party monopoly of power want the public to think – and it’s wrong.  To think that a third party is not viable is true only to the extent to which that party garners support.  Third parties, as they exist now, tend to represent more extreme views of either side of the partisan spectrum, but if you want different goals pursued in Washington, you want a third party candidate because, as we can see, Washington excels in little else but the status quo.  I get a sense that today’s Washington politicians are lousy poker players: it’s not all or nothing with every issue; you can’t go “all-in” with every hand because eventually you will lose and lose everything.  There has to be nuance to governance and what we are getting is agendas – even agendas that are unpopular (30-round magazines, anyone?).  Aside from all of that, though, remember, an anti-slavery party got its start in 1854 to battle the Democrats and Whigs.  Any guess as to what that party was called?

The more trivial of my irritants is this continued bleating about how great 3-D movies are.  I believe the forum I was in had shifted its focus to trashing Avatar and 3-D.  Naturally, some twit pipes up and says, paraphrasing, “3-D is no different than using Technicolor in a movie.”  Well, the IFE went to 11 when I read that.  Since I refuse to register myself with Disqus, I didn’t reply, but the absolute falseness of that statement is staggering.  The implication – insofar as it pertains to my topic – is that this person assumes their little brain fart is correct!

I have seen Toy Story 3 and the last installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise in 3-D.  To say that I was underwhelmed doesn’t even begin to touch the dissatisfaction I have for spending $60 so my wife and I could see both those movies.  It wasn’t worth it.  So let me take this time to clue in the clueless:  3-D is an expensive gimmick in an industry that is only seeking to extract more money out of your wallet.  Period.  I will explain:

I create media, whether it is illustrations, cartoons, comics, video, etc. – and 3-D.  I know a lot about the movie industry and how these things get made.  I also get to work with people who work on some interesting things.  My old buddy Dave, works at a place where they do 3-D printing.  They also have a 3-D visual system that creates images used for training.  Some of these images are in a space called a “Cave” and 3-D images are projected to enable a viewer to walk around the object!  But it takes multiple projectors to achieve this; you know why?  Because it’s not really 3-D and neither is that movie you’re watching at the theater!  The best – and I mean the absolute best – that can ever be achieved with our current technology is what I call the “Viewmaster Effect”.  Sure, it looks like there’s some depth to it, but it is a manufactured illusion.  Even in the Cave, all you will ever see are 2-D projections on flat surfaces – there is no depth, there is no volume, there is no 3-D.

Apparently even Ridley Scott is the newest disciple of the 3-D craze in Hollywood, but ask him if his newest technological gimmick kept Prometheus from being a movie that many people despised?  Did 3-D make Avatar anything beyond a pretty visual over an unoriginal script that borrowed heavily from Pocahontas?  (Notice how I didn’t use the idiotic word “reimagining” there?)  I saw Prometheus.  I thought it was a good opening for a longer story, but I’m also glad that I didn’t spend the extra money for the 3-D version that the ticket girl was trying to push.  I have the regular version of Avatar on DVD (a format that is on borrowed time and worth another rant by itself) and I have watched it repeatedly.  I like the movie, despite the whole “Pocahontas” thing and I have never missed not seeing the 3-D version.  It’s about the story and the storytelling – not the visual gimmicks.  That’s the way it will always be; otherwise, there would never be any 3-D movies that failed at the box office and we all know that’s not true!

So, back to our twit and his “Technicolor”.  The plain truth should be rather obvious to him: we see in color, not in black and white.  Technicolor is the result of chemicals in the film-making process.  Through exposure to light and development of the film with the proper chemicals, the color is achieved.  This isn’t “you think you are seeing red, but it isn’t really red.”  To compare a color development process to a fabrication such as 3-D is absurdist to the point of willful ignorance.  This unoriginal argument smacks of deliberately not  wanting to see the forest for the trees.

But, then again, I may be making an assumption.

Comic-Book Science Needs A Vacation.

Oh, great!  J.J. Abrams is going to be the new director of the next Star Wars  movie.  I suppose that’s not so bad considering what Lucas did to the franchise with each successive sequel, making the plots more and more implausible and confusing and kid-friendly.  Merchandising!  Don’t forget the merchandising!

But now we get the guy who has made anamorphic lens flares the auto-tune of the movie industry and overused the effect like it was the payoff in a bukkake film.  So, let’s add that to the movie franchise that already has committed the comic-book science sin of the “Praxis Effect” explosions of the Death Star and Alderaan, the impossibility of destroying these objects in a single shot, notwithstanding.  And who got this special effects bull crap started?  That’s right, Star Trek.

Lens flares are unavoidable so long as you are looking through a camera lens.  But this is a pretty good approximation of what you would see if you were floating around.

Lens flares are unavoidable so long as you are looking through a camera lens. But this is a pretty good approximation of what you would see if you were floating around.  © NASA – Oh, who the hell cares because if NASA did it, I already own this through tax dollars!

Bad, J.J.!  Bad!  Unless everything in the universe is finagled by anamorphic lens, you will never, ever see this!

Bad, J.J.! Bad! Unless everything in the universe is finagled by anamorphic lenses, you will never, ever see this!

Um, how about this?  Kind of has that "Star Trek: Nemesis" look, doesn't it?  Still bull crap.

Um, how about this? Kind of has that “Star Trek: Nemesis” look, doesn’t it?                           Nope, still bull crap.


So, welcome, J.J. Abrams, to the movie franchise where science fiction and space fantasy are treated as interchangeable terms and the aphorism “monkeys like shiny objects” is more than just a moviemaking process, it’s a way of life!

George, George, You Really Weren’t Up To the Job In the First Place, Were You?

Yeah, I know, I’m not covering any new territory here.  George Lucas, for better or worse, has been one of the most important figures in moviemaking in the past fifty years and has been praised and vilified accordingly.  Over the many missteps that Lucas made over his career concerning his most important work, the Stars Wars franchise, the one that stuck out the most to me was that the excellent parody video, The Star Wars That I Used To Know, actually made Darth Vader a sympathetic figure, something that would be much preferable than what we were left with in Anakin being a short-sighted dimwit.

I know, without a doubt, that I could have done a much better character development with Anakin than was done in The Phantom Menace.  When the best plot line in your movie is a pod-race, it may be beneficial for creating excitement (aka merchandising), but it doesn’t make a “character examination” very character-driven, now does it?  Anakin should have been a bad seed from the beginning – not necessarily a mean kid and certainly not evil, but a manipulator, selfish, someone who is not likable.  Now I know what you’re thinking: “a main character who is not likable is not much of a step-up from a non-character-driven character examination and not a recipe for a successful movie.”  And that is where I say you would be wrong!  This is Darth Vader we are talking about!  This is the character who did not really have any sort of contrition for his life of evil, but still got the ol’ Free Pass from The Force at the end of Return of the Jedi.  So don’t talk to me about believability or that a bad guy can’t carry a movie.  What we got in the end was forced, dumb, and confused.

For all the wooden acting, the clothes-changing pretentiousness of Padme, the horrific attempt at comedy relief in the CG person of Jar-Jar Binks, the utter nonsense of the Clone War, one of the worst-named characters in the Star Wars universe in the person of who-the-hell-is-he? Count Dooku, the ridiculous concept of General Grievous (another bad name), the “prequels” could have been good, but Lucas was seduced by the dark side of moviemaking: special effects.  If you don’t have a solid story, you have jack.  Lucas surrounded himself with people who couldn’t work up the nerve to tell Lucas to go take a leap off the Golden Gate Bridge and take his bad ideas with him.

So why did I take the time to vent about things others have already covered ad nauseam?  Because when I see something as brilliantly done as The Star Wars That I Used To Know, I am reminded that something so important to the most important movie franchise in my lifetime was mishandled and my complaint is valid and shared.  Is it an important issue?  On the surface, no.  But if you think not learning from the Greek tragedies of real life could be a problem, if you think that people who worship money over all else are a problem, if you think people who revel in power without restraint are a problem, then, yes, this is an important issue.  George Lucas only screwed his movie franchise, there are others out there who are under the same delusions who would do much worse.  Are you really prepared to see the next sequel to Trickle Down?