Author: asymetriccreativity

Otomo Katsuhiro: Narrative in Four Frames

akirabannerThirty years ago AKIRA by Otomo Katushiro revolutionized western perceptions on what mature animation could be and placed, for a while, Anime’s more artistic and still commercial possibilities at the forefront. AKIRA showed many Americans that “cartoons” were not just an electronic babysitter to accompany sugary bowls of cereal on Saturday mornings. With each waning decade, the Anime landscape has changed with the times, consumer tastes, and marketing teams eager to exploit the saturated environment. While it is fair to say most Anime widely consumed cannot compare to the quality of AKIRA the film’s impact on the global market can still be felt. Instead of grumbling about those changing tastes and return to heavy juvenile themed Anime, I want to focus on the perfection of Otomo’s adaptation of his landmark Manga series of the same name. Specifically, I will analyze four frames from the film, a flashback of sorts, that achieves herculean results in both emotion and narrative with a short series of frames.

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Rather than detailing the plot, which is ably covered by other fans here, I want to focus on the above scene. I have laid them out on the page to mimic the revelatory movement of the camera point-of-view used by Otomo in the film. When I first saw the film it was, like many other Anime films of the time, bootlegged onto VHS. Seen before the domestic release, I can remember loving the mecha and character designs, the lifelike flow of action and a “really cool” science fiction story. As I aged and the movie became destination watching, the more I appreciated the beauty of the post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo story. More recently still, I found a revelation in four frames that absolutely floored and gutted me.

Kaneda (left) and Tetsuo (right) are childhood friends who grew up in a post-nuclear Tokyo. As the city rose from the rubble, teens like Kaneda and Tetsuo roam the streets in loose biker gangs battling it out over stakes in turf and machismo. Unlike most western narratives, rather than Kaneda being the thrust of the plot (as he is the prototypical rebellious lead) it is his timid lifelong friend that snatched by the powers of science run amok.

Tetsuo is the teen with the good, but not cool bike, he has a girl who likes him but he isn’t pursued by a gaggle of young ladies like Kaneda. Tetsuo is always coming in second, until fate intervenes and he becomes not just number one, but prime destroyer of the world being rebuilt. Transformed into something physically and psychologically monstrous, Kaneda does not become a monster. Rather, Otomo skillfully shows how the boy with the gifts of gods, is driven mad by those powers but  is still rooted by the naive, introspective little boy who first met his best friend on the playground. It is that playground, that place, that lifts the characters beyond one-dimensional clichés, into something transcendent and beautiful narratively.

In a glimpse into memory, Kaneda and Tetsuo share a moment of recollection of times long past. When they were both boys, content with chalk and macadam, rather than motorcycles and violence. The above frames perfectly capture the essence of both characters. How they retain those boyhood components into adulthood, yet how they are expressed within the story leads to dramatically different outcomes.

The beauty of what Otomo did in those four frames, panning down over the chalkboard art, is tell a story about two boys which magnifies the tragedy of their situation in the present. Kaneda, with the cool leather jacket and motorcycle, is consumed by sword-wielding giant robots, kaiju, tanks, bullet-trains, toppling buildings, and all manner of flame and action. Kaneda’s drawings exude a personality type that as an adult is chalked up to machismo and testosterone. Tetsuo, however, is so very different from his friend. His world of chalk is of families, meandering paths, floating math equations, bucolic homes by seas populated by cetaceans, and punctuations of trees and flowers. Kaneda is primed for future action, while Tetsuo pines for a family lost.

Rather than a bloated rehash or prequelic meander within the AKIRA framework, Otomo and his team perfectly capture of what is possible with visual storytelling. This is a form of exposition, looking back and filling in the blanks, but is no mere info-dump. It is a tour of the boys psyches, their dreams and fantasies. Kaneda, the man of action and hero in short pants. Kaneda is a dreamer, wistful in a world of flowers and family. They both end up in a gang together, but as displayed in the four frames they should never be remotely considered the same. Neither is a lost cause. Both dream. What Otomo does in those four frames is capture childhood by showing its simplicity as not inherent, but as contrast to the dangerous, ugly world which Kaneda and Tetsuo inhabit. For those reasons, I contend, Otomo finds storytelling perfection in four frames.

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Fallen Kingdom: Yup, I walked out.

crapassicparkI had the displeasure of seeing Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom last week. I fully admit I saw it merely because the northeast was in the midst of a harsh heatwave that meant the AC in the house needed some alone time. So I went to the theater and chose Fallen Kingdom. Mistake number one. Mistake number two? Thinking I could turn all parts of my brain, save pulmonary functions, in order to watch the newest installment of the din-franchise as mindless entertainment. Yeah, that lasted about three or four minutes. Almost immediately I found basic flaws not only in the plot and character motivation, but some pretty unimaginative film making. What pushed me to the brink and ultimately grumbling out of the theater, was the immensely flawed moral and ethical decision making by the characters. When there was ethical decisions. In a way, the film wants to be an indictment of  neo-liberal economics. However, the fact the movie was made at all, on the heels of a bad predecessor, with every indication the producers will keep dino-ing into the future, the film itself was a gross example of neo-liberal economics. Truly, the only ethical strand fully articulated in Fallen Kingdom were those of the greedy badguys. Their motivations and propulsive force within the film was clear. What moved the heroes of the film? Well it depends where and when you were asked? I don’t mean evolution of beliefs, that’s logical, instead the characters wavered back-and-forth between positions that suggested ethics but were nothing more than a poor screenplay piecemealed together, like the dinosaurs themselves, to create the illusion of drama. Time and again the film chose increasingly stupid choices for its characters. Doorways were ignored. Sprinklers magically didn’t exist, and the nature of nature was patently dismissed. The climax of the film, for me and the moment I walked out, came in two parts. First was Bryce Dallas-Howard’s articulation that dinosaurs were still a myth to her even though there were fossils and evidence. They only became “real” when you could seem them perambulating on some exclusive island. This is bizarrely anti-science. That single line encapsulated the problem with the new crop of Jurassic Park films- they are pseudo-science-creationism. The final straw was a chance at a moral play, akin to a black-box-theater, where the leads could have debated the fate of the dinosaurs with the ticking-timebomb backdrop. Instead, the decision whether the dinosaurs should live or die was made through turned backs, and an atrocious plot-device regarding cloning. The film pretends to be something its not. It is a not an indictment of neo-liberalism, it embodies neo-liberalism’s worse elements. It is not science meddling in nature, it uses the “logic” of Creationism to create disbelief or wonder. And finally, the film fails by spectacularly ignoring the concept of utilitarianism- the right or best action is the one that promotes the most utility or happiness in a group. Rather than looking at the giant beasts, panicked and dying, placed in a world which they no longer belonged, a character made a decision based on them and them alone. It was the inverse of utilitarian thinking. What magnified the final decision was the collection of dinosaurs, who through five movies demonstrated their destructive and deadly power, were viewed as benign…including rapacious carnivores. Yes, there wasn’t a strange moral debate over veggie-saurus vs meat-eaters. Instead the dinosaurs of every shape and size, benign and deadly, were released in a selfish act that forsakes the rest of the world. Maybe this could be a view of who or what could or should be called an invasive species?

But…nah…its about CG dinosaurs and cheap thrills.

Then again, it’s just a movie.

What Solo Gets Right Other Star Wars Get Wrong: Silk + Polyester + Suede = Galaxy Far Far Away

clarkesoloNow, this may seem silly or so obvious it is irrelevant as to why there are a number of us legacy fans (yuck) that just can’t get into the new Star Wars films. Social media likes to make fun of us, call us names (boo-hoo, right?), but I have put some thought into what it is for me, and me specifically, that disconnects from the newest crop of Star Wars movies: costume and material.

I love pretty much every aspect of film making but my first love was special effects. Now, however, with an aged eye and life-experience one of the key aspect to making a film authentic to its source is the material which its costumes are made of.

In the recent Ron Howard helmed Solo, there was a bit of a fresh retro-breeze floating through the film. There was suede, silk, satin-lining, and rayon. There were v-necks, capes, bloused billowy trousers, and pant suits. These costumes were confined mostly to the main characters of the film, with a few extras sprinkled throughout.

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Why are these styles of costumes and material important? Well, despite what the late Star Wars costume designer John Mollo said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, there were “vestiges of the 70’s” in those films.

Star Wars: A New Hope was chock full of costume material that rivets it to the 1970s. Aunt Beru’s denim smock and polyester butterfly collar is the best example.

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The heroic trio of Leia, Luke, and Han were bedecked in polyester, cotton, and suedes.

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Which leads me back to original costume designer John Mollo who was quoted as saying, “As you see, the costumes from Star Wars are really not so much costumes as a bit of plumbing and general automobile engineering” (via Obit The Telegraph December 2017). Mollo also said of his creation of Vader, ” I had to go to three departments:
the ecclesiastical department for a robe, the modern department for a motorcycle suit and the military department for a [Second World War] German helmet and gas mask. We cobbled it all together and there was Darth Vader.” (Obit)

And that is where the newest Star Wars films miss the boat- they rely on copying or mimicking the look of the original films, but never really standing on their own. Never truly cobbling together from different departments or decades. More often than not, the director, producers and costumers rely on the prescribed “star Wars” costuming template all the while forgetting that the universe they cloth was ” plumbing…and…automobile engineering.”

(All images are copyright of their owners. Their non-commercial use here is for illustrative purposes only.)

Blade Runner 2049: Digital Obviousness vs Analog Ambiguity

AtariThis weekend saw the release of a sequel gestating for over 30 years. Blade Runner 2049, helmed by Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve, and starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford attempts to return to the rich visual world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. What made the original so unique was its germination from Phillip K Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep and blossom into an obtuse and discrete film about slavery, violence, and the nature of humanity. It wore these badges not as a tagline dreamed up by a studio, but rather the interpretive richness that emerged from close examination of the film in all of its iterations. Yes, there has been much ink and argument over the nature of Rick Deckard’s humanity, one of the “low hanging fruits” of movie fandom in the ensuing decades. Now, Villeneuve’s project shifts the story forward 30 years, into a world of climate change and a global data blackout that essentially rebooted technological history.

Where Scott’s flawed original left massive holes for questions and copious room for interpretion of every comment, whisper, flash of light or shadow, Blade Runner 2049 instead chooses a decidedly less obtuse address to the viewer. This film, lavishly illuminated and shadowed in digital splendor contrasting Scott’s noir blizzard of in-camera effects, lets the viewer know immediately the nature of Gosling’s character (human or replicant) and hint at a “miracle” that is plainly obvious a connection to the original film. The world of 2049 is a strange juxtaposition of digital effects clarity but world poor. It appears the Soviet Union still exists, along with a nod to Atari, but is the film in a Chinese Century too? While I detest an encyclopedic opening scroll to back story the film, 2049 could have easily benefited from a microdose of context. Sure, there was a brief on the world post-Tyrell, but as with many retrofied movies the future of yesterday is drawn in lines looking backward and foreward, with little time in the present. 2049 however spends most of its time in today and a polished tomorrow, that doesn’t quite sync with the original.

2049‘s script relies on CGI bumpers of a rain-soaked L.A. hidden behind a massive Pacific Ocean rampart, many topless holograms, and updated computer fx “Spinners.” Between these clipped images designed to soak and immerse, a fairly pedestrian who-done-it emerges without a real sense of connection to the world they inhabit. If there was something earth shattering hidden, how about a glimpse into the world about to be shattered? No visits to noodle stands or wanderings through a seedy bar.

Perhaps the film intended to also be a rumination on the role of women in our world, instead Blade Runner 2049‘s female characters are relegated to teary memories of perfection, prostitutes,  plotting brutal killers, or disposable vessels of reproduction. The men get to be maniacal for sure, but also heroic and selfless. Thus underlying the film is the view women as sex objects and irrelevant to a bigger story on the nature of life. It is men that make the big decisions and the women mere subordinates. The sole antithetical beacon to this generalization is actor Robin Wright who is calm, calculating, and determined, but ultimately sidelined.

Blade Runner 2049 is essentially a polished, well produced fan-fiction. It rests in the bosom of hundreds of blog posts, fanzine articles, and many Mountain Dew and Dorito fueled late-night arguments. It is not a bad movie, nor disrespectful of the original which was never truly mastered despite several “cuts,” but rather a movie that sought to plumb the depth that emerged from decades of fan speculations and combine it with decades of existential papers and studies about the nature of machine intelligence and consciousness. Not heavy-handed in its desire for credibility, unlike the lauded but thinly veiled “vodka robot” film Ex Machina, 2049 chose obvious language but never so much to fully appreciate what is being contemplated or said. Where the original implied, infuriating many, 2049 instead explains in a way that feels much of the conversation’s context was left on the script writers floor. Considering the movie clocked in at nearly three hours, there was immense room for beautiful speculation, instead it quickly did “touch and go’s” on several subjects in order to return to the plot most saw the film for- what happened to Deckard and Rachael.

Another issue with the film was the casting of actors too well-known. In Blade Runner, Ford was the “name” with Hauer and Young in support. Gosling, in the sequel, stands alongside Ford and Leto. It is in the casting of “names” where the film stumbles. The original film utilized veteran character actor Joe Turkel as Tyrell, a mad scientist who lives in shadows and hides behind window pane-sized, thick eye glasses, Leto is blatant to Turkel’s subtlety. And perhaps that is the best explanation for the difference and critique of Blade Runner 2049– the new iteration is shiny and clean, loud, and obvious. The original was shadowed, grimy, analog, and subtle.

The Gothic Kaiju: Daimajin

DaimajinNestled in a mountainside an idol awaited supplicants. Hewn from stone and isolated from the village below, the idol’s only constant companion was the sound of a towering waterfall crashing below. Prayers from acolytes were few and arose only when he moved the earth. This is the world of 1966’s Daimajin. Premiering at a time when Godzilla was the king of the Japanese box office, Daimajin was period drama punctuated by 40 foot-tall rampaging god. In the process of telling its kaiju climaxing tale, Daimajin however serves as perhaps the only example of gothic film making in the kaiju tradition.

The film’s gothic style comes through its use of lighting, music, and shot composition. Daimajin’s gothic aesthetic accentuates and builds the tension and mood in the absence of the rampaging god, known as Arakatsuma. Rumblings in the earth, attributed to the disgruntled god, draw villagers and scorn from the otherwise benevolent leader. Framed through his reassurance of his panicked children, the leader explains their god will protect them from the old god shaking the earth. Villagers, however, do not share this opinion as they rush to perform rituals to appease the occulted god.

Reenacting fabled battles of good against evil in costumes of wood and straw, the villagers pray and gesticulate under firelight and the supervision of a black toothed priestess. This scene echoes the rituals and rites performed in folk horror films in the British tradition. Daimajin does not frame these rituals as strange or farcical, but as deeply important to the spiritual and physical survival of a fading Japan. One example of the change happening to the village is the presence of soldiers bearing muskets. Where only gods could hurl bolts and strike men down, now men could do the same. While subtle and often overlooked, the matchlock muskets of the soldiers is contrasted to the weathered, faceless idol nestled into the mountainside. Dressed in archaic armor, the idol is symbolic of old Japan. Its armor, dating back 800 years of a style long since vanished, in an age of muskets is a visual reminder to the view of the ancient ways contiguous to the bedrock of Japan. The armored god repels the volley of musket fire, further signifying the resilience and invulnerability of old Japan and its gods.

 

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The gothic filmmaking of Daimajin, directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, rumbles to life with the use of smoke and vivid lighting designed to evoke the otherworldly or supernatural. The film starts with a pan through  fog shrouded forest and even a howling wolf. Mist engulfs the village, syphoning away any color. A coup overthrows the village old leadership to be replaced with a sadistic, if caricaturish, despot who vows to kill the protector god. When the despot sends a cadre up to destroy the mountain idol, the stone avatar for the god, Yasuda relies on crumbling miniatures and moving sets swirling with smoke and accentuated by flashes of green and white light. A chasm swallows soldiers in a final burst of strange green light, only to draw tight as the maw of the earth. Yasuda’s further use of smoke pierced by a knife-like column of white light creates a visual cue that registers with filmgoers of the western religious tradition as well. Preceding the attempt to kill the mountain god by driving an iron spike through the idol’s forehead, the despot kills the village priestess. Each sword strike weakens her further, but not before she utters a curse upon him. Here Yasuda dramatically and overtly changes the lighting in theater style, dropping background light to pitch dark and isolating the minions, despot and dying priestess in a faded indirect light. This keeps the viewer physically in the space, but psychologically ripped away into a shadow world that shows the supernatural is merely a cursed breath away.

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Yasuda’s use of tones of grey in the color film, as well as smart camera work continue to create unsettling feelings in the viewer well before the arrival of the demon god. Sense of dread and uncanny pervade the first two-thirds of the film to eventually give way to an angry god astride an unfaithful world. Released from his mountain keep, the kami lays waste to the village crushing and hurling vassals and soldiers alike. In one startling moment, as the despot attempts to flee the rampaging god, he looks out of a home to see a man being crushed into and through a wall by the massive green patina hand of Arakatsuma. Pulling free the iron stake still lodged in his head Arakatsuma impales the tyrant to a crucifix-like piece of wreckage.

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Aesthetically, Daimajin lives in the world of gothic cinema found in the 60s heyday of the Hammer films and not normally associated with Japanese kaiju films of the period. Some may complain about the story pace or lack of destruction by the green hued armored humanoid. I contend the pace is particularly well suited and even mature for a “monster movie” often dismissed by western viewers. The creeping horror well known in gothic cinema in Europe is equally present in Daimajin and deserves a place in the pantheon of classic gothic film making.

Peak Star Wars

Since the debut in 1977 the franchise Star Wars has maintained a flowing current through our ever changing popular culture landscape. Unlike Star Trek which ebbed into near oblivion several times since its television debut in the 1960s, Star Wars held on as a memory of longtime fans. Its characters spread throughout the globe with Yoda and the Force two of the elements quick on the tongue of even the most facile devotee.

Then something happened. The franchise that perfected the art of tie-ins, toys, and merchandising exploded again brighter and louder than the two Death Stars detonating combined. It came before the Disney buy-out, when the Lucas-helmed Episodes I, II, and III. Since then, and re-energized by the empire of the mouse, Star Wars has become pervasive, ever expanding, and omnipresent. As a life-long Star Wars fan I never thought I’d say this…we’ve reach peak Star Wars and I am jumping off the bandwagon.

I saw Rogue One a few weeks after its opening. That alone is unheard of for this fan of the Rebellion as every other film in the franchise, in my recollection, I saw on opening weekend. Why didn’t I leap aboard Rogue One? Many reasons. The election wore me out, school has been demanding, and most importantly, I realized I was burned out by all consuming Star Wars.

Rogue One was a serviceable film. Not terrible, but not great. Its flaws were mostly aesthetic, in my opinion. While set in the weeks preceding A New Hope, Rogue One felt strangely discontinuous. The film’s directorial style, guided by the talented Gareth Edwards the man responsible for the solid indie sci-fi film Monsters, was uninspired and akin to 21st century cable film-making. It was supposed to be within and emulate a movie made in the 1970s, in a universe crafted with 1970s hairstyles and costume materials, with gear and guns from World War I and World War II. Rogue One had none of those elements or feelings. What Rogue One lacked was ‘texture.’ It lacked the texture of the time its universe was created, the weapons were plastic, not real steel, the costuming was canvas and leather, not nylon and plastic. The hairstyles were 21st century, not coifs squarely in the heart of the disco-era.

This command to direct a “period” film with modern touches, textures, and aesthetics alienated this old timer. It is tricky to direct a film like Rogue One. It won’t be great film making but it also won’t be good enough for the old school fans, such as me. Ultimately, I do not fault Rogue One or its director. Instead I criticize the business that has turned something that was somehow both cult and successful into a product that has become so bland, at times derivative, that it lacks the energy and innocence. Star Wars was George Lucas homage to Hidden Fortress. Star Wars was space opera. Star Wars was a western in space.

Star Wars today, all of its sequels and ‘Star Wars Stories’, is a machine without inspiration or texture. It sits on a mountain of toys and diffused financial interests. It is less about entertainment and more about capital. Movie-making is a business, full stop. I get it. But what has happened to a film franchise known for its kit-bashed aesthetic and boot strap ethics? It panders to fans who refuse to leave the past behind. It regurgitates the same basic story over and over. It i a franchise which has lost its energy and has confused the bottom-line with genuine entertainment.

A copy of a copy looses its vibrancy and its texture. Rogue One, as Star Wars goes, has lost its texture.

 

 

 

The Numinous and Fiery Redemption of David Ayer’s El Diablo

diabloActor Jay Hernandez told Entertainment Weekly he’d recently contemplated leaving acting. His work in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad however should show Hollywood the actor needs more roles. The actor’s talent, explored in the character El Diablo, was overshadowed by the portrayals of gum-snapping criminal Harley Quinn and verbose machismo of Deadshot. When the emotional weight needed to be hoisted and shown to the world, Hernandez more than ably demonstrated the dark redemption of the sublime.

Without spoiling the character’s precise motivations, Diablo articulates his burden of pyrokinesis to his squad mates in a pivotal barroom scene. Since his introduction early in the film, the tattooed former gang-banger possesses a heaviness to heart. Refusing to wield his flame throwing powers for anyone or any cause, for a portion of the film he remains a silent spectator. Ayer and Hernandez seem to have synced perfectly in order to bring this character to life. Diablo’s language is philosophical and spiritual, but not uplifting or sin cleansing. The character is burdened by an evil gift, bestowed to him by the devil, that is inescapable and an emotional flare up away.

Perhaps the best articulation of Diablo’s eventual embrace of his power comes from Rudolf Otto’s numinous and mysterium tremendum et fascinans.The numinous is Otto’s interaction with a deity that is closely identified with mystery, fear, and awe. Through this fearful interaction with a god or even a strange physical manifestation can a character like Diablo experience the dread that eventually manifests itself as an almost ecstasy. Diablo, in a particularly Hollywood way, rises to the occasion by embracing the power welling inside him. He transcends his physical form into a being of mythic fire. This act by Diablo comes when he understands his sins and gift are connected, are one and inextricable. How can a figure not seeking redemption ultimately find it? In Ayer’s Diablo, the fire inside is rekindled by grief and anger. Fire equals sin. Fire equals the terrible gift. Fire however could produce redemption.

Diablo finds redemption even when he does not ask for it or seek it. His grief is a chain that anchors him to the world of the fire within. By using the power that led him into despair Diablo melts the Earthly chain that binds him to the physical world of grief, desire, and pain. Embracing the power of the numinous Ayer’s Diablo becomes a savior without asking for forgiveness.

 

Star Wars Movies Need to be Period Pieces

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The costumes! The weapons! The Hair!

To me when I think of Star Wars I think special effects, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and sideburns. What? Let me explain.

I finally got around to re-watching The Force Awakens last week. I found it fairly entertaining the first time, but during the second viewing I was a little bored. I am not sure why and it is not a wholesale indictment of the film, my disliking it. There was something off. Perhaps it was the vague whiff of rehash of a New Hope. Or maybe I couldn’t ignore the echoing howls from fans demanding a romance between characters. No offense folks, but I paid to see a Space Opera not a Soap Opera.

However I realized between the first and second watching of The Force Awakens there is a certain amount of aesthetic authenticity missing in this nascent cinema go-around. Yes, The Force Awakens looked sort of like Star Wars IV, V, VI in costumes, but the blasters were a weird mix of cheap plastic feather-light Nerf props and weird 21st century video-game plasma melee weapons. The new Stormtroopers looked like an advance generation of the classic design, so that worked. Same for the new X-Wings and pilot jumpsuits. Then what was off, aesthetically? Everything. Yes, I know The Force Awakens takes place some 30 years after Jedi and only Rogue One and the other spin-offs take place in the same time frame as the “original” trio. Let me explain.

First off, this is not an indictment of lens flare or director choice color pallets; nor a complaint about casting or even the basic plot. My beef is the original Star Wars movies- New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi- weren’t movies conjured from a galaxy far, far away. No, they were creations of aesthetics of the 1970s and very early 1980s. This is vitally important to understanding why for some of us, the new films seem a little off and we can’t put our finger on why. Go back and watch the Star Wars prequels. For all their issues, they are films that look kind of like Star Wars but not really. They crib from the design sheet of the original trilogy but lack the production/costume/makeup/hair continuity to them. Stylistically it would make sense to have pushed the aesthetic to the dawn of the space age, say the early 1960s. Instead they look like late 1990s movies.

But back to aesthetics, let me show you.

Via starwarsscreencaps.com

The above image of Luke and Aunt Beru is vintage 1970s. Hair especially. Clothes, like Beru’s wide collar farmer print shirt and denim smock, are products of costume designs of the 1970s. Now, remember, its about aesthetics.

                                                     Via NotShallow.org

Above is a classic denim ad from a department store catalog. Bits and pieces of these everyday clothes could have easily been thrown on working class extras at Mos Eisley or blue milk farmers.

via Starwarsscreencaps.com

Here, in the infamous scene where we see Vader encounter skeptical techno-crats, the style of the Star Wars universe is directly influenced by the aesthetic of the 1970s. Gloss black table, probably plastic, and the single piece chairs are the sleek yet dated decor of four decades ago. They work because they are objects out of time. Also, notice the hair again. By example, here is a 1970s coffee table.

       Via Panomo.com

Very Star Wars like, no?

via Starwarsscreencaps.com

Finally, the Cantina. This is 1970s barroom at its most glorious. Plastic race-track top, padded bumpers and a kit-bashed appearance that made a New Hope so different. It was design in a messy way. It was the original shabby-chic. One part production design, one part budgetary constraints.

So, my point is this…if you want to make a aesthetically authentic, therefore subconsciously pleasing Star Wars film without having to slavishly meet the needs of fandom, production and costume design the movie as if you were making a film in the 1970s or even early 1980s, about a story set in a distant time. Think coarse polyester and rotary phones, think American Hustle or Studio 54; and expunge touchscreens or cellphones from your creativity memory. Future Star Wars movies need to aesthetically echo the time the universe was originally created, not just mirror a design philosophy in perpetuity. A copy of a copy gets dull with each pass.

 

 

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.

 

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.”