Sunday, 14 November 2010

The People vs George Lucas

The other day I saw The People vs. George Lucas (2010), a both exceptionally conventional and unusual documentary. It's a film about George Lucas, Star Wars and the Star Wars franchise, but told through the perspective of the audience, or rather, the obsessed fans of the films. The conventional part is that it consists mainly of talking heads, with the filmmakers cutting from one head to another, the unusual part is that it is a collaborative effort, with the filmmakers first setting up a website and inviting people to share their views, encouraging them to send films, either of themselves talking about Lucas and Star Wars or their own film versions of Star Wars.

The film raises a couple of questions, and one of them is who has the rights to an art work, in this case a series of films. Another question is how George Lucas should be regarded today, as a genius or a corporate sell-out.

The questions are not easy to answer. On the one hand, Star Wars is Lucas's idea, his baby, and he has any right to do with the films what he sees fit. But on the other hand, he wouldn't be anything today if his films didn't have this massive, global fan base, and he should be both grateful to, and respectful of, them. The issue the fans have with him is partly that the later three films are not as good as the first three films. But this is a matter of personal opinions, and it's not really fair to be angry with someone because you don't think his films are good enough. (The anger felt by many is often times baffling, and has very little to do with Lucas or the films, but a lot to do with the fan mentality.)

The other charge against Lucas is that he is messing with the old films, re-editing them, putting in new stuff and removing other things, and digitally polishing them up. The argument from Lucas's perspective is that he had to compromise when making the old films, due to technical difficulties, economic concerns and lack of time, and that now when he has the money and the ability to make them exactly as he wanted them to be, why shouldn't he? The counter-argument from the fans is that it's a shame to tamper with them, because it won't be the same, it will not feel genuine any more. They're also upset with the fact that Lucas is suppressing the original versions, so that they are not available anywhere any more. It is even said that the original negatives has been destroyed. This is particularly what they find upsetting, and comparisons were made with for example Blade Runner (1982/1992) which has also been tampered with, and re-edited to be more like the director, Ridley Scott, originally wanted it to be. But the old versions are still available, even included in the DVD-releases of the new versions.

One thing to consider, and which was not mentioned in The People vs George Lucas at all, is that Lucas might have come up with the idea, and created the worlds which Star Wars consists of, but in the first series he had collaborators, including the script writers Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, and the directors Irvin Kershner (who is great) and Richard Marquand(who is less great), and neither of them were involved when Lucas made the later three films. Maybe that is one reason why they fall far short of the quality of the earlier ones. And maybe, as Lucas did grown old and became comfortable and more conservative, he forgot the warmth and wit that the earlier films had and the new ones desperately lacks.

Maybe a fact that needs to be acknowledged is that Lucas was perhaps never much of a director, but more of a visionary. But that's OK.

What was also discussed in the film were the four films about Indiana Jones, as part of the Lucas franchise. They are of course directed by Steven Spielberg, but Lucas came up with the concept and was executive producer, and he was involved in the whole process. This though, interestingly enough, was not mentioned in the film either. Neither was it mentioned that the first Indiana Jones-film, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), was also written by Lawrence Kasdan and that Philip Kaufman came up with the idea and the characters together with Lucas. But the point in The People vs. George Lucas, though, was that the last part, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), was a horrible film. That, as they say in South Park, Lucas and Spielberg raped Indiana Jones. I don't really understand this. There isn't much difference between the old and the new. They've always been rather silly, and occasionally borderline racist, but have had tremendous visual flair and inventiveness, and the last one is just as bad and as good as the previous ones in my humble opinion. When you begin, as some did in the film, to criticise the new one for being unrealistic, then it becomes laughable, because what were the previous ones if not mythical supernatural adventures, far removed from anything remotely realistic. Incidentally, in the Lucas oeuvre they fit in rather nicely, but they don't compare favourably to Spielberg's best films, as far as I'm concerned.

Here's a link to the originating website:

Leigh Brackett, it should be remembered, lend her wit to many of Howard Hawks's best films, and both Lawrence Kasdan and Philip Kaufman are great writer/directors in their own right as well.

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