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Ed Driscoll

Disappointed in the Cooking of the Duck Meat

January 2nd, 2011 - 9:41 pm

Everybody’s already linked to Mike Stoklasa’s awesome deconstruction of Revenge of the Sith, the last of the Star Wars prequels, so we might as well jump on the bandwagon as well. Particularly since we linked to the first round in late 2009. As I wrote back then:

Let’s flesh-out the logical explanation for the prequels’ woes proffered in the YouTube series’ last segment. In the 1970s, Lucas had only directed two features before Star Wars, and only one of those (American Graffiti) was a hit, and was spending time with an awesome coterie of fellow movie brats, including Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, and even, back when Hollywood still allowed such a rare beast, a token conservative, John Milius. They provided crucial input on the first drafts of the Star Wars scripts, which were just about as incomprehensible, in their dialogue, their characters and their motivation, and their plotting, as The Phantom Menace. Plus Lucas had to convince a skeptical 20th Century Fox why they should part with 10 million dollars — a fair chunk of money for a movie in the mid-1970s.

Flash-forward to the mid-1990s. Lucas is a zillionaire, who could either self-fund his movies, or get on the phone with 20th Century Fox and almost instantly be handed a blank check and final cut for a film that’s as bankable as any ever made. There’s nobody on his staff to say no, or to argue that the emperor’s script has no warp power.

In short, Lucas got to live out young Orson Welles’ wildest dreams.

As Allahpundit noted on New Year’s Eve at Hot Air, in the last of the three clips, there’s an interesting comparison between Lucas and Welles. Which makes sense of a few levels — they both achieved their success at relatively young ages, and both produced awesome early films that they spent the rest of their careers chasing — and never being able to live up to.

We don’t think of Citizen Kane as a special effects movie, and yet it truly was. Welles pushed Linwood Dunn, the inventor of the optical printer, who was also the head of RKO’s special effects department, to use that device — think of it as the celluloid precursor to Adobe’s After Effects, as a story telling device. Decades before directors such as Francis Ford Coppola began to use the layering of shots in to create impressionist collages for Apocalypse Now, Welles used the optical printer to create seamless dissolves between scenes, and to seamlessly composite live action, miniatures and matte paintings to produce images that would have otherwise been impossible on the medium-sized budget RKO had given him. But unlike Lucas, Welles had a solid story written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, his veteran Mercury Theater ensemble cast, and years of theater training as the foundation of his film. Or as Stoklasa says in part three of his video, “Welles used extensive special effects to tell his story, and Lucas used his story to extensively tell special effects.”

And that, as an elderly little green man might say, is why he fails. Along with a host of other flaws that Lucas hoped would be rendered invisible by quick pacing and blow-out action scenes. But if you don’t care about the characters, the action scenes become simply the latest chapter for the ILM demo reel. Which they don’t need these days to get the gig.

(Incidentally, language alert; oh and things gets rather scatological near the end of the second clip.)

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