This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spielberg and Lucas: Then and Now


My recent review of War of the Worlds prompted me to take my own look at how its director Steven Spielberg and his friend George Lucas are both wrongfully blamed for creating the blockbuster mentality that Hollywood in currently engulfed in, as well as how they both hold up today as artists.

If my review sounded like I have Spielberg-bias, well, so be it. Along with Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, Spielberg is probably the only director who came onto the scene in the 1970s who basically still commands the same respect today.

One reason for this is that, unlike Lucas, Spielberg still respects the people who brought him the cachet he now enjoys. For example, even before he publicly apologized for unnecessarily tampering with his classic E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Spielberg ensured that the original version of that movie would be available for the public. Heck, he even apologized for his part in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). In the documentary The People vs. George Lucas (2010), film critic Rafik Djoumi commented that the disdain for Crystal Skull was more directed at Indy creator Lucas, rather than Spielberg.

Indeed, before Crystal Skull, Spielberg made his great, controversial drama Munich (2005), which scored him his sixth Oscar nomination as Best Director. Since Crystal Skull, Spielberg has gone on to direct War Horse (2011), The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and, most importantly, Lincoln (2012), which earned him another Oscar nomination for directing. At the same time, fan disdain towards Lucas continues due, in large part, to his stubborn refusal to allow the original versions of the original Star Wars trilogy to be available on blu-ray.

One of my colleagues recently posted an interesting article about how the success of Spielberg's Jaws(1975), which deservedly became a classic and a big moneymaker in spite of the incredible difficulty Spielberg and company had in making it, told Hollywood that summertime was the best time to put out the big budget escapist films. Star Wars took that even further by saying that films with special effects were certain to bring in the cash, regardless of the story.

A previous article on the same blog made an interesting comment regarding an article in GQ magazine a few years earlier. It stated that Top Gun (1986) may actually deserve the blame that some unfairly put on Jaws and Star Wars in terms of how movies are not only made but marketed. The trailer for that film basically tells the whole story and watching the music videos for the film's songs such as Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away is pretty much the same as watching the film itself since the scenes in those videos are the same as those in the movie itself.

What's interesting, though, is how Spielberg and Lucas went off on separate paths once Jaws and Star Wars came out. The making of both movies proved quite the ordeal for their respective directors. Spielberg, though, would go on to direct a number of great films after Jaws, starting with the science fiction drama Close Encounters of the Third Kind(1977). But his reputation as a escapist filmmaker probably emerged during the 1980s when he directed the first three Indiana Jones films and E.T., as well as produced such films as Poltergeist(1982), Gremlins(1984), The Goonies(1985), Back to the Future(1985) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit(1988), as well as the anthology series Amazing Stories (Spielberg directed a few episodes of that show). This perception may have cost him Oscar nominations for directing both The Color Purple(1985) and Empire of the Sun(1987). Happily, Spielberg would get Oscar gold for both Schindler's List(1993) and Saving Private Ryan(1998).

In contrast, Lucas would swear off sitting in the director's chair for over two decades after Star Wars, although he was very much involved with making both The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). He would continue to score by producing the Indy films, as well as Labyrinth (1986). But Jurassic Park (1993) would bring him back into the directing fold when he saw the great work his company, Industrial Light and Magic, had done for that film.

As a result, Lucas decided to direct all three Star Wars prequels himself. I don't need to remind anyone of how disappointing they all turned out to be. However, the seeds of disappointment were probably sewn in 1997, two years before the release of the first prequel The Phantom Menace. Star Wars turned 20 that year and Lucas decided to commemorate the occasion by not only re-releasing the movie, but by adding certain CGI-tweaks to the movie, which resulted in the Special Edition. These changes included the now-infamous way Han Solo shooting Greedo was redone.

But even this 1997 re-release wasn't the definitive edition of the original trilogy, according to Lucas. When the films hit DVD in 2004, there were even more changes, such as Jabba looking even more ridiculous than in the 1997 edition, and, even worse, inserting Hayden Christensen into the end of Jedi. Yet, Lucas still wasn't done because when the movies hit blu-ray in 2011, there were (yep!) more changes, such as Vader suddenly giving the patented Star Wars "NOOOO!" before he tosses the Emperor down that shaft.

I've made peace with the fact that the prequels were disappointing (I am still a Star Wars fan but have never purchased the prequels on DVD) and I'm also fine with the unnecessary changes George claims were always in his head when making the original films. All I, and others ask is that the original versions of the first trilogy be available on blu-ray in a nice pristine state (I must confess, though, I'm happy with the 2006 DVD versions, even though I can understand why some fans are not). Now that Disney owns Star Wars, maybe they can be talked into doing this.

Many were understandably upset when we heard that walkie-talkies were going to replace guns for the climax of E.T.. However, as far as I know, there was never a petition for Spielberg to restore the original version of the film because he had already announced that it would be available on DVD. In contrast, Lucas has repeatedly stated that the updated original version of the original Star Wars trilogy is the ONLY version and, shockingly, that it would cost too much money and time to release versions of the original theatrical cuts.

The fact that anything is too expensive for George just makes me laugh. When Red Tails (2012), which Lucas produced, was released, he announced, not for the first time, that he was going to retire from making movies like Star Wars and focus on smaller films.

It's ironic that we have yet to see any of these smaller films, while Spielberg has made a number of non-blockbuster movies.

Hence, I'm always looking forward to seeing the next Spielberg movie in the cinema, but go into a new Lucas picture with reservations. For his part, Spielberg defends Lucas and his rights to change the Star Wars films. I can't entirely disagree with that stance since they are friends and the movies do belong to Lucas. It is noteworthy, though, that Spielberg has basically moved on from the success he achieved in the 1970s, whereas Lucas is virtually milking his own 1970s success for all he can.

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