Month: January 2016

VICE: Phil Tippett’s My Life in Monsters

In the pantheon of VFX greats, Phil Tippett is one of the last man standing greats in the industry. I grew up knowing his work intimately and by a briefest glance. His work on all of the Star Wars, RoboCop, Dragon Slayer and beyond inspired my own creativity and imagination. His honesty in the following mini-doc is eye opening and refreshing.

 

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens- An Asymmetric View

I grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy. Saw A New Hope in theaters at age six. Loved it then. Love it now. The implied backstory, cryptic references to long ago wars and blitzkrieg Empire, heroes with strange names and a menagerie of magnificent creatures all made Star Wars perfect for kids, adolescents or teens; as well as sci-fi devotee adults. I grew older, my science fiction palate diversified and expanded, but I always had a soft spot for those first three Episodes and their associated action figures and toy ships.

I saw the prequels with some excitement, but not ecstasy. I was never charmed by them, often put off by wooden dialogue, stiff acting, and mind-numbing CGI. To me, they exist, but as ill-conceived experiments rather than fully formed exercises in film making. I was also a little ‘old’ and busy with professional life to embrace The Clone Wars animated series, the Star Wars touchstone for the 25-and-under crowd. All of this leads me to The Force Awakens.

Filled with anticipatory glee and goosebumps, I awaited the pre-Christmas release with bated breath. I saw it. I liked it. Didn’t love it. I felt the magic was gone. Understandable, it can’t recapture the alchemy of big screen science fiction’s effect on a 6-year-old’s brain. Surely, though, a skilled film making team could induce chills and thrills reminiscent of those heady days of 1977? Maybe lighting cues, camera filters, score triggers, or the nuanced details of in-camera traditional FX could tease out the warm comfort of days gone by? Think of a favorite Christmas song and how it immerses you in the smells, coziness, and bliss of an amalgamated holiday gone by. You are not attempting recreation a specific moment in time, but rather a pleasant echo or whiff of scents which create a WHOLE picture of a broad timeline.

It is there where my issue with what Star Wars, especially The Force Awakens, has become and where it falls short. Instead of crafting a symphony of sights and sounds that create a new story with colors and sensations of the old pallet, TFA instead attempts to repeat rather coldly a nostalgia. This is never a good thing. Nostalgia can cripple creativity. Instead of working through the toolbox you go back to the same components time and time again in a subconscious, or planned, attempt at recreating a moment gone by. When modern viewers watched TFA they wanted, nay, demanded answers and immediate backstories to every conceivable question about the film. A cool ancillary character is clamored over and consumed, cries for more require immediate satiation online. Main character shortcomings or directorial/production weaknesses are explained away or ignored. This is storytelling by 1,000 pin pricks. Each bleeding a little more life away from the story.

When a Stormtrooper engages Finn in hand to hand combat within hours and days complete backstories are cobbled together by official sources. This starkly differs from almost EVERYTHING that made A New Hope special. Clone Wars? No explanation. Hints and suggestions, backhanded comments about extinct religions and outdated weapons are views from the outside in. The examples of unexplained, but interwoven, backstories fill every corner of the original trilogy. Some are slowly expounded upon. Others hover in the background. These are often passed over by fans and critics, who understand the universe with hindsight. Why then can’t we approach the coming movies in the franchise with the same template. Does it have to exist in Wookieepedia before or immediately after? Can’t off-handed remarks or hints be left to breath a moment or two? Yes we know the Force inside and out. But why must we have in one movie answers to everything that happened in the previous 30 years? The better demand is not for answers to old questions, but wonder about what did the Force become or turn into? No, instead we pound the keyboards and want to know about why Luke was barely in the film, despite being the focal point of the opening scroll. Perhaps Captain Phasma will become this generation’s Boba Fett, fleshed out in movies to come? But the marketing build up resulted in ballistic expectations for the chrome clad trooper. Instead of a stoic bad-ass, we got a wooden, three scene character who succumbs to the simplest tactical bait. Perhaps the most simplistic and angry demand is the one levied on director JJ Abrams on his handling of R2-D2. The fact that R2 is relegated to a dusty corner and awakens at the post-climax is considered a massive plot hole. Why MUST we know or understand why the loyal droid is in stasis? Why can’t we wonder, speculate and dream about his state? Instead fans consider it an indictment of the director’s storytelling ability and a plot hole. I liked this handling, felt sorry for R2 and left wanting more. That is what episodic storytelling does best. Unless every nuance or shiny object is explained, apparently we are to view it as a failure.

We have 30 years of history to tell in these new Star Wars movies and we have a generation more of new discoveries to make. We cannot live in the past in an attempt to recreate nostalgia as at its heart nostalgia is subjective, a personal observation made in a single moment in time and space. A painters pallet is dollops of colors, each selectively daubed to suggest a scene. The whole is new, but echoes the old. Pursuit of the old to clone it anew only creates muddled mutations that never stand the test of time. And remember, nostalgia is defined as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.”