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Return Of The Jedi (#110 of 5)

Summer of ‘88: Willow—Fantasy Departed

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Willow</em>—Fantasy Departed
Summer of ‘88: <em>Willow</em>—Fantasy Departed

One of the many residual effects of the massive success of the Star Wars trilogy was the boom of fantasy films that arrived in theaters in the mid-1980s. Movies such as Legend, Masters of the Universe, The NeverEnding Story, The Princess Bride, and others were all released within the span of a couple of years, and each to some degree featured sprawling sets, evocative atmospheres, and extensive use of prosthetics and puppets. These elements were staples of George Lucas’s storytelling, a quality that proved to be a strong companion to the Star Wars films’ grand visual and narrative design. It wasn’t long after the trilogy had wrapped that even Lucas himself had dipped into the bankable commercial lore of fantasy moviemaking when he produced Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth. His own contribution to the subgenre followed two years later at a time when fantasy appeared on the decline. With an original story by Lucas, Willow was met with widespread ambivalence upon its release. Retrospectively, however, the film’s graceless hybrid of Star Wars-style mythmaking and leftovers from the short-lived fantasy period in commercial cinema that Lucas inspired offers a pointed reflection and portrait of the filmmaker that has grown more compelling as the full trajectory of Lucas’s career has emerged in view.

Of course, Lucas didn’t direct Willow (we’ll get to that later), but the film bears his authorial stamp almost immediately at the outset. In fact, you don’t even need to see the trademark Lucasfilm logo to sense the filmmaker’s touch. The setting and storytelling influences may diverge from those of Star Wars, but the same propensity for merging age-old legends is evident. Instead of drawing from Joseph Campbell and Akira Kurosawa, Lucas and screenwriter Bob Dolman fold elements of the Grimm brothers and J.R.R. Tolkien into a nakedly bibilical framework. Take the prologue: Willow opens on the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), who orders the slaughter of all newborns for fear of a prophecy predicting the usurping of her power. But the blatant bibilical allusion doesn’t end there. Lucas and Dolman also add a dash of Moses for good measure, when a baby born in secret is placed into a basket and floated down a river. Then, after the baby is discovered by Hobbit-esque folk called Nelwyns, Willow shifts into Star Wars mode, slowing down to allow the larger world to develop.

15 Famous Movie Masters

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15 Famous Movie Masters
15 Famous Movie Masters

This weekend brings us our first big baity film of awards season, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a supposed Scientology allegory that truly explores crises erupting from a modern man’s lack of structure and authority. The faithfully well-composed film, which includes big, beefy performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, got us thinking about other masters who’ve passed across our movie screens, be them masters of a trade, a servant, or even a universe. You thought Dolph Lundgren, Meryl Streep, and Darth Sidious couldn’t co-habitate. You were wrong, Padawan.

Princess in Chains: Leia’s Jedi Bikini

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Princess in Chains: Leia’s Jedi Bikini
Princess in Chains: Leia’s Jedi Bikini

A contribution to Edward Copeland’s Star Wars blogathon.

Take a look at Princess Leia on the posters for Star Wars movies IV through VI. If you didn’t know better, you might think that the role had re-cast—and in a way it was. The original poster looks like pulp sci fi/fantasy novel book jacket: a futuristic yet retro illustration of an anonymous, muscular blond hero wielding a gleaming sword (or something) while a leggy heroine, cocks her hip (and a pistol) in the foreground. This galactic bombshell doesn’t look much like Carrie Fisher. Only the signature bagel-braids identify this heroine as Princess Leia. Her shredded low-cut frock looks nothing like the mostly practical and un-revealing costumes Leia favors throughout the series—with one glaring exception we see in Return of the Jedi.

Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 21, “Greatest Hits”

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Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 21, “Greatest Hits”
Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 21, “Greatest Hits”

Lost, as both a show and cultural phenomenon, is indebted to so many different sub-genres of popular fiction that it’s to be expected viewer enjoyment will fluctuate from week-to-week depending simply on which color of the spectrum it chooses to paint with. Most often herded into the “ghetto” of sci-fi/fantasy, I’ve always found the show most effective when it adhered closest to the premise established in its groundbreaking first season: a group of people from all over the globe, brought together on a deserted island, working together to survive in the face of hardship and unexplained phenomena. I’ve often ridiculed the characters on this show for their lack of depth, yet I still appreciate it when the show takes a step back and allows its cast to inhabit their surroundings and play within the group dynamic in a way that has nothing to do with evading a giant smoke monster, hurtling over supersonic force-fields, or conversing with Jacob the demigod-cum-ghost pirate. There have been recent high-points to be sure (most recently the Sun and Jin episode “D.O.C.” which had all the stiff-upper-lip heartache of an O. Henry story) but, by and large, sometimes it feels like the show has simply lost interest in the drama inherent in its own set-up.

Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown

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Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown
Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown

Author’s Note: Since the Steadicam discussion seems to be flowering into something more than an argument about a piece of equipment, rather than change the subject with a totally different post, I’ll stay the course. What follows is reprint of an article I wrote about the history and aesthetics of the Steadicam, built around an interview with the device’s creator, Garrett Brown. It was originally published in the Winter 2005 issue of Film Festival Reporter magazine, which is edited by my friend Scott Bayer, a journalist and filmmaker.

Garrett Brown might be the most influential filmmaker that the moviegoing public hasn’t heard of. Throughout his long career, the 62-year old Philadelphian has been a mostly behind-the-scenes presence in the industry, working as cinematographer, cameraman, inventor and teacher. Yet his impact has been as profound as that of any auteur, star or studio executive, thanks to his greatest invention: the Steadicam, a combination camera and body harness that merged the improvisational freedom of the handheld shot with the elegance of the dolly, and expanded the frontiers of cinema.

In the 30 years since the camera made its debut in director Hal Ashby’s Woody Guthrie biography Bound for Glory—in a still-dazzling shot that began atop a high crane, drifted to earth and then wove through a camp full of migrant workers—the Steadicam has become a star player in some of the most visually and dramatically memorable sequences of the past three decades, sequences that advance the narrative while subtly commenting on the meaning and uses of movie language.