FilmTalk 1: Water Cooler Moments

Film

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You Know, For Kids

It’s infantamalisation, says a friend. Remember when films were for grupps? We’re all teenagers now.

No, I say, it’s not as simple as that, it’s about the development of macro-demographics.

What are we arguing over? Why, the new Star Wars movie, of course. The film is heading toward its first global billion, but everyone on the ground seems to hate it. Let’s break that down; nine of my friends hated it, but they’re all adults. Kids seem happy, but then they like ‘The Emoji Movie’, fart jokes and covering dried pasta with sparkle dust.

So, the facts. George Lucas made ‘Star Wars’ in 1977 as a nostalgic homage to the Flash Gordon serials of his childhood. Watching them now, you wonder how astronauts coped with so much wool next to the skin, and how Jean Rogers managed with Buster Crabbe’s overbite.

I attended the world’s first screening of ‘Star Wars’ for the cast and crew because I was going to be marketing it, and I had a mate in the cast with a speaking part. He’d been advised not to take the job by his agent because the money was rubbish and it was shooting in Tunisia, where everyone said he would get sick. The production eventually offered him a percentage, and he never had to work again.

The second part, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, dumped the homages and told a dramatic story well. By now merchandising had proven massively successful, so the third film was peppered with cuddly toy characters. George Lucas’s always-shaky understanding of dramatic structure was exposed in the next three films, which were mostly like intergalactic episodes of ‘Yes, Minister’ with a few desperately misjudged action sequences thrown in. Now the demographic skewed young and older fans were regarded with the same contempt that’s showered upon adults who read Harry Potter and watch Dr Who.

Then we hit the double-ended demographic sweet spot that contains both new 7 year + fans and older viewers reliving their childhoods. What appears to have upset the latter group is that the latest film has plumped for the former audience bandwidth. You had your fun, the studio says to nostalgists, we’ve markets in India and China now and they’re all kids. Which, to my mind, is as it should be. DC tried existential angst and look where it got them. They just couldn’t find Marvel’s pleasure button.

Having said that, the SW prequel ‘Rogue One’ was actually ‘The Dambusters’ in drag and worked brilliantly – but it was a swan song for the original fans of the series, who are now left with a children’s show. As William Shatner said to his fans on SNL: ‘Get a life.’

When Dialogue Becomes Wallpaper

Now that action blockbusters are committee designed, pre-shot in CGI and grid-mapped so carefully that no actual acting can be allowed to poke through, the end result can be unintentionally hilarious. When the second unit green-screen stuff is added to the first unit’s plot scenes, disparities emerge that require ADR. Possibly the worst example I’ve come across is uttered by Chris Pine in ‘Wonder Woman’, which by the way is not remotely wonderful but entirely ersatz and apparently cobbled together from the trims of 1950s movies.

Pine and Wonder Woman leave Amazonia (somewhere tropical, so let’s presume it’s between the Antilles, Bali and Hawaii) in a tiny, teensy fishing boat. In the next shot they’ve sailed to Northern Europe, without food, warm clothing or navigational skills. The director must have realised that a line of dialogue was needed, and came up with this. (I’m paraphrasing from memory):

PINE: Phew, we were lucky that passing ship picked us up and shaved some time off our journey!

Frankly, that didn’t wallpaper over any cracks at all. It just fired off a Stinking Dialogue alert that proceeded to cause untold hilarity through the rest of the film. By the time poor old David Thewliss started ranting about vengeance and cataclysmic evil, we were off the charts and into Ed Wood territory.

When Full Disclosure Goes Wrong

Increasingly, cast and crew members are required to sign NDAs as studios protect their investments. So when ‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” lined up some sizeable guest names it was forbidden to reveal who they might be. It seemed fairly obvious to me that they would rope in a new character called Fernando just to get a song out of him.

All was revealed in the first trailer, which went live a couple of days ago. A boat arrives at the island of Taramasalata and an absurdly overdressed woman gets out. She’s garbed in Hollywood’s idea of sophistication; big hat, big glasses, foot-thick makeup. My God, I think, Liza Minelli’s had gender reassignment! But appropriate as that might seem, it’s not her. The glasses lower. I’m praying for Shirley Bassey. I get Cher.

Cher acts as if everyone has been waiting decades for this moment. Not quite so; according to industry sources, the test audience (yes, they have them for trailers) had not the faintest clue who she was. Welcome back Cher, you’ve been away for far too long.

11 comments on “FilmTalk 1: Water Cooler Moments”

  1. Ed says:

    As usual, you are quite witty. Thanks for the laughs.

  2. Adam says:

    My problem with the new Star Wars film was just how jarring the humour was, and how some phrases (“chrome dome”, “the cops”) took me right out of the film. I was also annoyed that just as the big villain was starting to get interesting, he was killed off with no backstory, reveal or consequences. Rogue One showed that with the right director that there was still legs in the franchise, but I’m not convinced that the main films are that special anymore. Even the special effects weren’t a patch on Blade Runner (my film of the year).

  3. Ian Luck says:

    I detest all the new Star Wars movies, as it’s obvious that Disney intend to run the franchise into the ground. A new movie every year, perhaps two? You can’t keep up quality or even fan interest by doing that. A new Star Wars movie every two years or so, was a treat, something worth looking forwards to. Disney’s ditching of long established canonical details, from comics, novels, videogames, etc., is another bone of contention with long time fans. Judging by what I have seen, most of those novels, and hell, even comicbook stories were fresher and show far more innovation than the new movies – and remember, all the so called ‘expanded universe’ was passed fit for purpose by people at Lucasfilm. George Lucas created a universe where everyone had a name, a place of origin, and a backstory. He wanted it so that you could pick anyone you saw on screen, and make a story around them. Likewise, every spaceship, weapon, odd piece of equipment seen, had a name, a place of origin, a reason for existing. It made the whole feel real. Stories were written that went back thousands of years before the time of the first movie, adding to the rich tapestry of lore, and that satisfying “Oh!” moment when a name or event is mentioned in another book, when you get a reference. But Disney ditched all that in a corporate hissy fit, when they found out that this multi-billion dollar cash cow was not included in their deal with Lucasfilm. And yet, when it suits them, they use parts that drift by. ‘Kyber Crystals’ for example – obviously from the 1978 novel ‘Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye’, by Alan Dean Foster, where they are actually one large crystal, the story’s MacGuffin, the Kaiburr Crystal, which amplifies the Force, and can heal. I notice that the fan favourite ExU. character, Admiral Thrawn, from the novels by Timothy Zahn will be appearing in a movie, too. And then there’s ‘Rogue One’. Apart from the Darth Vader corridor sequence, showing us something new and awesome, the movie is redundant. We know they succeed, because of the whole raison d’ etre of ‘Episode Four’. If it had been about another mission of a similar nature that failed, but they all escaped, then it might have been interesting, but the fact that not one character had been named anywhere else, ever, and none are mentioned in any following movies, leads one to think, even before the movie is watched, that it doesn’t end well for the characters, and I was right. And that’s not even getting into the minefield that the Death Star had never fired it’s main weapon before it destroyed Alderaan. Which, as ane fule kno, WAS it’s inaugural target. It’s similar to the TV show ‘Enterprise’ having it’s crew encounter Ferengi and Borg, some 200 years before the crew of the Enterprise D encounter them DEFINITELY for the first time. So, new Star Wars. Not a fan. Maybe I’ve just grown out of it, and, as one of the many kids whose minds were blown by seeing clips of the original movie in 1977, and queued up at the cinema here in the UK in 1978 to watch it. And watch it. And watch it. And then live and breathe it for many years, that makes me feel rather sad.

  4. DC says:

    Hated both the new Star Wars films but I did enjoy Rogue One. I do not understand why those making big budget films cannot employ someone with enough nouse to read the script to look for the holes in the plot.

    Some in ROTJ aren’t so much holes as chasms.

    Blade Runner 2 is a class act.

  5. Wayne Mook says:

    As Admin said Rogue One is ‘The Dambusters’ and how many times have we seen war films when we knew the outcome, as for the Lucas master plan it’s lack of use of The Grand Moff Tarkin in the prequels showed how little he though of cannon. The 1st prequel was a mess that did it’s best to ruin Star Wars (16 years in the making, how did they keep up the quality in such a rushed time – and could there be a more redundant Star Wars story – wonder how it will all end up esp the Skywalker chappy.) long before Disney arrived, if any more proof was needed I give Jar Jar Binks and his reduction in status by Sith.

    The first Star Wars film is a kids film and Ewoks, Binks and all show they always are and will be.

    I wonder if we’ll ever see Darth Jar Jar.

    As for adult movies, most adults stopped going to the pics long ago, my parents went but later generations from the 80’s onwards seemed to tail off, and so those films stopped making money and therefore are not made. The crash of the 70’s carried on so ably into the 80’s by M. Thatcher was a killer in more ways than 1, esp for adult films. Her work of putting us in Europe is now being dismantled.

    The grand old blockbusters, historical & biblical epics were hardly high marks of acting and dialogue, Charlton Heston giving a hard stare doesn’t cover over the cracks, these films are hardly shown on TV now for good reason. Still he did go on to make 3 rather splendid SF films in the 70’s.

    Wayne.

  6. Denise Treadwell says:

    Where are you going next?

  7. admin says:

    Wayne, there are still fine adult films, as ‘Three Billboards’ proves. Others I liked this year were ‘Okja’, ‘Hannah Arendt’ and ‘The 13 Minutes’.

    Denise – nowhere. I had trips planned to Barcelona and Slovakia, but can’t fly until my eyes stabilise.

  8. Michelle says:

    Was Rogue One really “The Dambusters”? It had more of a “Dirty Dozen” feel for me.

  9. Wayne Mook says:

    Thanks for the films admin, hope the eyes heal soon.

    I know I did exaggerate but there do seem to be fewer films aimed at adults.

    Wayne.

  10. Denise Treadwell says:

    That is sad,, you will be able to go, but not now.
    I hate it when our bodies stop us from doing what we want.
    .

  11. Brit Ray says:

    Agree with Ian. We haven’t outgrown Star Wars . It’s just that the new films are all just excuses for noise and violence. Too bad the stunning technology doesn’t serve more interesting goal.

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