Star Wars VII – The Characters without the Magic

GiantCowFilms posted this on Friday, December 18th 2015 at roughly 4 o'clock in the afternoon

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, is probably the most anticipated movie of all time. Following a set of three heart breaking failures at the hands of the once revered master creator, George Lucas, this film has to succeed. Hopes are high, and the trailers were well received; however, there are some good tip offs that this film still won’t capture the magic of the original trilogy. It won’t be a outright failure like the prequel films, loaded with bad action – probably it will be the best movie of 2014-2016 – but it won’t compare up to three of the most iconic films ever made, due to some poor stylistic choices.

The original Star Wars films were perfect films. prefect – not as in without a mistake (looking at you, storm troopers), but perfect in the sense that they had the magic. There was something right about those movies. They were dreams made real. The important word here is real. Previous science fiction & fantasy films were made to feel incredibly artificial. These B-movie style films, were extremely campy, designed for cheap entertainment. Featuring characters that appeared to be strait out of a comic book, sci-fi films of the sixties and seventies were made with little thought or artistic enterprise. This all changed when a small film with little hope for success came onto screens, Star Wars.

The concept behind Star Wars was to take classic story features, mostly sourced from mythology and folk tales, and then put a new action-adventure spin on them by setting it in space. This on its own is not entirely revolutionary. The revolution came from how Lucas chose to shoot Star Wars.

Rather then creating a surreal abstract slightly bizarre future like the science fiction films before Star Wars, Lucas wanted his film to feel more like a fantasy film set in the past, hence the iconic opening text “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. He choose to make a universe that is real, alive. This was manifested in every single production choice, production design, sound, cinematography – everything.

The idea was to make a very lived in world, What Kurosawa would call a maculate reality – you know I was very conscious of that when I made the movie I wanted to make a world that absolutely looked like it had been lived … it’s a real ship that has been lived in for a long time… I wanted to create a world that was lived in and had a sense of realism about it
 – George Lucas, DVD commentary

“George wanted what he called an organic sound track – that is he wanted the sounds in the film to sound natural. He wasn’t interested in what was the tradition with previous science fiction films which was to generate electronic sounds and synthesize sounds that would have an other-wordly quality. He wanted the sounds to have a worldly quality – that they would sound like real objects, real motors actual places – the doors would be rusty on the spaceships.” “The engines would sound like they were mistuned or backfire once in a while.” “He wanted a used universe”
 – Ben Burt – DVD commentary

It wasn’t that Star Wars was ahead of its time, which it was, so much is that it was done fundamentally right. Through accident as well as understanding (though considering the prequels, I’m thinking accident), George Lucas made the “perfect film” not only did it have strong characters and deep philosophical roots, but it was also unique on the surface level. It was believable and real. That is its secret sauce, as a fox executive noted in a telegram after watching a half completed rough cut of the film:

“They claim the picture has a look never see on the screen before and that is is so believable you never feel it is other than the present even though the location and equipment are space in the year 2000 plus”
“It is so realistic … that you really do become involved with and care about all of the characters.”
– Peter S. Meyrs. Tellegram

The new film, will have those same plot underpinnings, and will probably be, as a result, one of the best films made this year. However, a strong plot is not enough to make a film great. The prequels had a surprisingly strong plot, The issue was it was buried under other filmmaking disasters – bad acting, over focus on action, and a couple of unnecessary characters. This new film won’t suffer from the same mistakes, since the filmmakers fear for their lives, but it will have roughly the same general affliction. That is lack of the magic.

This time the mistake will be in the design and film style. Realism is one of the key pieces to the Star Wars magic, and the new film is showing a startling lack of it. The trailers which can actually be a very good judge of the film style, since every shot follows that style and extrapolating backwards is quite simple. All that is needed is a variety of shots from different scenes of the film. The biggest flaw is not use of CGI, which isn’t inherently bad, but from the mis-use of CGI and other simple things like shot composition, lighting and colors.

J.J. Abrams is largely to blame for these mistakes. He has this unbreakable need to place his film style, which is defined by doing everything bizarre and unconventional. At one point this style was cool and unique, but it wears old. Bringing to much attention to the camera, this style acts as a spoil to that all important realism. Dramatic angles have a home in the language of cinema, but Episode VII is not included. These “creative” stylizations distance the audience from the characters and stories in a subliminal way.

Here are several examples of these stylized shots

Telephoto-Disaster Color-Disaster-1 

They are in no way or respect believable or real. It doesn’t feel like you could be standing there in the same way the original film does. Instead Episode 7 is a landscape of digitally created colors shot in a bizarre perspective.

This is pretty unforgivable, but the final straw is this shot:

CGI-Falcon

It is plagued with something that has become prevalent recently in holly wood movies: I call it rubber action. This style was epitomized in the Hobbit films. It is when directors use CGI to create action scenes that defy physics especially regarding motion and durability. In this instance the falcon should not be surviving that impact with the snow or trees it should totally be smashed. One could argue it ought to explode true Star Wars style – on impact (seems unrealistic but it also feels natural, and considering what kind of generators and such are needed for hyperspace, probably isn’t totally implausable). The point is it definitely shouldn’t be bouncing like a rubber ball.

In the end the film should have been shot in the style of the original, without creative angles, shaky camera or other subliminally unrealistic creative choices.

J.J. Abrams has said in interviews again and again that he is avoiding CGI when possible and trying to build real sets. In the end though, “when possible” is meaning less, since its those impossible cases that are the real issue. CGI set extensions are harmless, invisible and have little impact. Nothing compared to the overkill coloration and cinematography of the final film. J.J. failed to get the realism that motivated him to avoid CGI.

All this being said, how much will it impact the film? This will depend largely on the viewer. Not everyone experiences movies in the same way. To some, a film is all about the characters, who they are, what they look like and what they say. They won’t notice the effects and action as much. Personally, the appearance and sound of a film is most important. Its what the shots look like defines how I perceive the scene. This is why J.J. style ruins the film for me. It has a fake and stylized look, which makes the film appear fake and stylized. Whether the film is enjoyable depends on how you will watch this film. I feel one thing is fairly certain though. The film could have been much better if the filmmakers had stuck with the look and feel of the originals – a tried and tested look, that was loved (subconsciously at least) by audiences all over the world.

The new Star Wars film will still be one the best of its style with a strong plot an engaging characters. But it wont be timeless in the same way as the first ones. It will still fall short of the magic.  However, there are still two other Star Wars films, and there is still new hope for the magic of the saga. Everyone wants a different experience from a film, and this film may be considered by some the best Star Wars film yet, but for me and others who expect the same as before, it won’t hold the magic.

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