Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
They won’t let me anywhere near the Skywalker Ranch. I have no idea what they currently think of Grande Rojo these days, especially with Marin area reporters all rushing to erroneously try and link some punk criminal kid we’ve never heard of with Knowles or the site. But Lucasfilm loveseses them some Harry Lime. Oh, yes, they do.
And now, for the second time, they’ve made him part of their press day as they prepare to release a DVD version of one of the new STAR WARS films. Last year, they had him up to Skywalker Ranch, along with a number of other webmasters, and he wrote a great article you can read right here.
And now he’s back with a kick-ass report. If it’s just specs you’re looking for, there’s plenty of sites out there to rattle them off for you. A piece like this one is the reason I love to edit AICN... it’s a pure bit of fangasm, unfiltered and unadorned. Just like Nordling’s wonderful Bruce Campbell story last week, this was a joy to read and edit. Check it out...
I consider myself very fortunate.
It’s been over a full year since my two-day visit to Skywalker Ranch. I went there to cover the EPISODE I DVD release for Ain’t It Cool News. My participation in the event was either meant to be or a stroke of absolute luck. Whatever the case, it was a moment it my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. For those two days the doors of The Ranch opened wide for me, and I was given a rare glimpse into the place where STAR WARS becomes a reality.
While I was there, I saw George Lucas and even had the opportunity to ask him a question about his new STAR WARS film. This was a pretty big deal for me. George was the artist who originally opened my eyes to the possibilities of cinema. I’m referring to, of course, his original STAR WARS when I was seven. While I was growing up and being influenced by his movies, it seemed inconceivable that I would one day be in the same room with him, discussing the very topic that started it all.
Obviously this moment was not as monumental or significant for him as it apparently was for me.
But that’s cool. My STAR WARS experience is just that... my STAR WARS experience.
My question to him then was about what place he imagined future generations would have for his new STAR WARS venture. As I watched EPISODE I for the first time, and I was contemplating how startlingly revolutionary that particular model of the filmmaking process was, it seemd to me that one day, maybe a century down the road, this movie would appear to audiences of that day the way silent movies do to us. I asked him what he thought they might think.
GEORGE LUCAS: Well, I have no idea. I mean, obviously I won't be around so it won't make any difference, but at the same time I would guess that it’ll be thought of as the first chapter in a six-part movie. So, it'll be thought of really as STAR WARS, not as PHANTOM MENACE.
This got a laugh not just from Lucas, who seemed quite entertained by his dismissive reply, but from me as well. Although he was being honest, I wasn’t satisfied. I felt he dodged a serious question, so I continued:
HARRY LIME: I was thinking more as far as cinema history goes because it seems to have a very pioneering spirit about it. It kind of reminds me of the days of silent movie making, when people were trying to figure out how to make a movie for the first time.
Lucas patiently listened to my extension of the question and thought about it for a second. He came back with what I felt was a real attempt at answering the question. He still had no idea, but offered his perspective on the making of the STAR WARS movies and the evolution of filmmaking:
GL: Well, I don't know. I mean, when we made STAR WARS it was with a sort of pioneering spirit in its own way, too, but now it's sort of old hat. You know, people forget very quickly the technological advances that are made on each movie. I guess there are technological advances made all the time. It's a progression of the medium, especially in terms of being able to incorporate digital characters and sets and that sort of thing. It had been done before but not on this scale. And you know the next film will be more extreme and I assume that when I make the third one it'll be even more extreme.
It would have been nice if I had been given the time to ask him another question. It would have been great if I had been able to shake the man’s hand. It would have been fantastic if I had been able to have a real conversation with him about cinema.
None of this happened.
But still, as I mentioned before, I consider myself very fortunate.
Those who really know me are aware of the fact that I love THE PHANTOM MENACE. Moriarty once told the great Frank Darabont that I get evangelical when talking about the film. On the surface, the film is one of the finest artistic endeavors I’ve ever seen. I can look at any frame of that film and be blown away at the amount of detail and artistry going on. At its heart, I feel it’s actually an examination of innocence and deception. You might ask, “Even the stuff where Jar Jar steps in crap and gets farted on?” Dude... especially the stuff where Jar Jar steps in crap and gets farted on. I’m quite fond of Mr. Binks. I watched that butcher job called THE PHANTOM EDIT and thought it was pretty weak. In my opinion, when you cut Jar Jar, the film loses its balance.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES, on the other hand, is an examination of vulnerability and corruption. There’s a real crushing pain running through CLONES. It’s a sad film, and some of that sadness spills over into the other films, like an aftertaste you can’t shake. I was watching A NEW HOPE on DVD the other night and was amazed how much CLONES has affected it. In the scenes with Darth Vader, I see Hayden now. When I look at Vader’s skull-like black mask, I think of Hayden smiling. When we see Luke with his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru on Tatooine in their homestead, the ghosts of Anakin and Padme are around every corner. Shmi’s ghost is there, too. I can’t help but wonder if Lucas plans to digitally paint in the graves from EPISODE II here.
When EPISODE II was about to hit theaters, my sanity was beginning to slip. Word from inside Lucasfilm was that EPISODE II was so good that true STAR WARS fans were going to crap their pants when they saw it. Well, I’m a gigantic STAR WARS fan, so I knew that I was going to require a diaper of some kind for the first showing.
The fans that felt let down by EPISODE I weren’t as easily convinced as I was. I kept reassuring all my friends who were in this boat that there’s no possible way Lucas could drop the ball on this one. I told them that he had to understand that if fans felt let down by EPISODE II, they would surely turn their back on the series. It’s hard for me to believe they would, but it’s probably true.
Every time I preached this sermon, though, there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I might be wrong. It whispered that EPISODE II was going to be just like EPISODE I. Deep down, I secretly entertained the notion that Lucas had possibly lost his way, but prayed it wasn’t so.
Opening night of EPISODE II is a night I’ll never forget. Just like the opening night three years ago for EPISODE I, Moriarty and I and a bunch of our friends gathered together to experience the new STAR WARS in a communal ceremony. I remember that Moriarty was pissed that he had been lied to about the exhibition format of the film. When he purchased the tickets several days earlier, the manager at the box office assured him that the performance we would be seeing was indeed digitally projected. The night of the screening, we learned that it was not.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: I am shocked how many stories seem to contain the phrase, “I remember that Moriarty was pissed.” Shocked and aghast, I tell you. It’s unfair! In fact... I’m pissed. Oh... wait...]
I wasn’t upset, though. I was just happy the wait was over.
My first reaction to Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of the twenty-year-old Anakin was one of concern. His performance is very particular, and not at all what I expected. Outside the bar, when Anakin and Obi-Wan are questioning the wounded assassin Zam Wesell, I cringed when Hayden demands, “TELL US NOW!” When Anakin professes his love for Padme by the light of the fireplace while they’re on Naboo, my worries became more extreme. Two scenes gave me hope, though... the scene in the meadow by the waterfalls on Naboo, and the scene in the Tusken camp on Tatooine. In the meadow, I got chills as Anakin described how he thought their system of government would work best. Padme is tragic as the idealistic liberal who has no clue what’s about to befall her. She says that his plan is too much like a dictatorship, and Anakin replies, “Well, if it works.” Her dazed reaction is moving and Anakin’s smile, which breaks the tension, is one of the best moments in the film.
When Anakin finds his mother on Tatooine, Hayden really started to click for me in the role. He’s great in that scene. There’s an extraordinary moment where he looks down at his mother’s body, then looks back up. I suggest that it’s our first look at Darth Vader, even though Anakin isn’t aware of it yet. It reminds me a lot of the moment in A NEW HOPE when Luke Skywalker returns to his home only to find it in flames. As he walks up, he’s the innocent Luke we met a couple reels earlier. After he sees the smoldering remains of his aunt and uncle, Luke looks away, and when he looks back up, we see that there’s been a dramatic change in him. He’s the Luke we’ll follow in EMPIRE and JEDI.
When Anakin goes out to confront the Tusken Raiders, the look on his face reminds me of the look on Luke’s face right after he strikes down Darth Vader in JEDI... our only glimpse at “Darth Luke.” Overall, Hayden’s performance is damn good. It actually adds more dimensions to Mark Hamill’s performance. Thanks to our look at Anakin as a young man, I’m finally able to see that Luke’s path between good and evil was more precarious than I had originally thought. I’ve seen CLONES about twenty-five times now and think Hayden is the right choice for Anakin. In fact, George couldn’t have made a better choice this time out. Throughout the documentaries on the DVD, Lucas is seen making quick creative choices based solely on impulse. We see him make choices in the early stages of production that make it intact to the final product years later. With every decision, he seems certain of what he’s doing. We get to see this in particular when he’s crafting Yoda’s performance with Rob Coleman and his team of animators.
Oh, yeah. Pardon my French, but digital Yoda is the shit. The first close-up shot of Yoda where he turns his head to look at Palpatine, in the second scene of the film, made me wish I had actually worn that diaper. The one thing I truly despise about EPISODE I (and keep in mind that I’m one of that film’s biggest advocates you’ll ever meet) is that damn Yoda puppet. It sucks. He looks stoned. It doesn’t even look like Yoda, for crying out load. The only good thing about it is the fact that Frank Oz has his hand stuck up in there. For the sake of continuity, part of me hopes that Lucas will replace evil puppet Yoda with ass-kicking digital Yoda.
There’s another part of me, though, that fears this replacement, even though evil puppet Yoda bares only a vague resemblance to the original, classic Yoda. When I asked Oz about digital puppets taking over, he admitted that he rarely does puppet work these days. “It’s weird,” he explained, “but I haven’t done my characters, except for Yoda of course, that I always do, for a couple of years now...” Knowing that it’s highly unlikely that Lucas will ask Oz to put the puppet back on for EPISODE III, I have to wonder if it’s a good thing to erase the final Oz performance of the Jedi Master.
For years I’ve said that Lucas should put Christopher Lee in a STAR WARS movie. It’s always seemed like a natural casting idea to me. In the first film, Lucas used Peter Cushing, who was fantastic as Tarkin. All the actors from the classic British horror films of the 50’s and 60’s would have been ideal candidates for any role in the STAR WARS universe. I also maintain that if Lucas had not been able to get Cushing, Donald Pleasence (who he worked with in THX 1138) would have been marvelous in the Tarkin role. When I first heard the news about Lee, I was ecstatic. This was my first indication that Lucas was on the right track. From the moment the mysterious Count Dooku appears on screen, which is about halfway through the film, Lee is magnetic. Even in that first scene, while Obi-Wan in spying on him and we only get glimpses of the Count, his unmistakable presence is awesome.
The scene in which Dooku comes to speak to Obi-Wan in his cell is definitely one of the best scenes in any of the films. It’s adult in tone and contrasts all of the Jar Jar Binks antics from EPISODE I. After watching the performance dozens of times now, I can’t think of another actor who would have been more perfect for the part. The only other actor who might have come close to pulling the role off is Connery. Lee, who hasn’t been given the chance to shine in a long time, is a much better fit, though. Because of the recent opportunities George Lucas and Peter Jackson have given him, Lee has returned to pop culture consciousness. It’s startling how quickly the masses will forget you when you’re not in front of them every minute to remind them that you’re still alive. I’m very happy that Christopher Lee is now suddenly being treated with the respect he’s deserved for many years.
My favorite new character in the STAR WARS universe is a Jedi Knight named Bultar Swan, a little Asian robohoney. She looks strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark. She’s a Jedi of few words... no words, actually. She’s quick with a lightsaber, but her fate following the battle on Geonosis, the beginning of the Clone War, is uncertain at this point. I hope she made it out in one piece. All of this is cool, but the real reason I like is because she’s got a great name. When I’m in Los Angeles incognito, I often travel under the alias Scott Swan. I’ve always loved the name Swan and it’s nice to see that Lucas likes it, too.
After the great experience I had last year at Skywalker Ranch for EPISODE I on DVD, a day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t wondered if I would be invited back for EPISODE II. I asked Moriarty if he thought it would be in the cards for me. He didn’t think so. He told me that they probably weren’t going to be doing it again, especially so close to last year’s junket.
I accepted this. I also thought it was pretty improbable that they’d even want me to come back. After all, who am I? I’m not Harry Knowles and I’m not Professor Moriarty. When I went to the EPISODE I event at The Ranch, I felt that I was the substitute. Still, as far as substitutes go, I think you can do a lot worse than me. I believe that I’m the biggest STAR WARS fan out of all the Ain’t It Cool News geeks. At least, I’m the biggest fan who will own up to it. As a good friend of mine once said, “STAR WARS is cool, but unless you’re Rick McCallum, it won’t get you laid.”
When it comes to STAR WARS, I’m very passionate. I’m not sure where it comes from or why these movies in particular decided to sink their hooks into me. Maybe I met it halfway. Who knows? I’ve joked with my buddy Hungus, who’s also an enormous fan, that when we’re old and stuck in a retirement home, all we’ll need to be happy is a TV and copies of the STAR WARS movies. It’s a joke, but I’m in no way kidding. There are very few things in my life that have provided me with a constant source of entertainment and happiness.
I’ve also joked that STAR WARS is somewhat religious for me. I definitely watch it religiously. STAR TREK has already clearly crossed that line, and it’s only a matter of time before STAR WARS does, too. For some people, it already has. The potential future of STAR WARS as a religion is entirely up to the followers who will keep it alive and adapt it into that context over the next several centuries. This is a scenario that Lucas finds very disturbing, from what I’ve witnessed. In a great interview with Bill Moyers, Lucas makes it absolutely clear that STAR WARS is no surrogate for religious conviction. My feeling is that Lucas is emphatic about this point because he knows it’s inevitable. Lucas possibly feels the need to go on the record concerning his feelings since he’s the man responsible for starting it all. He’s basically telling the future “Church of the Jedi” that he’s not a prophet and that the whole idea scares the Bejesus out of him.
A couple weeks ago, when I had forgotten all about EPISODE II on DVD, I opened my email box and was meet with wonderful a surprise. It was the invitation to the EPISODE II DVD press day. Wizard! Instead of being held again at Skywalker Ranch, though, it was to be at the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts on the USC campus. Although it’s no Skywalker Ranch, it is the country’s first and only fully digital training center. The Robert Zemeckis Center is part of the USC School of Cinema and was started by the Academy Award winning filmmaker. I was a little disappointed that I would not be going to The Ranch this time, but as long as I was going to be able to meet some of the key artists involved in the making of EPISODE II and take home an advance copy of the DVD, I wasn’t about to complain.
Just like last year, the event started with a sound and picture test of the DVD. Jim Ward, the Vice President of Marketing for Lucasfilm, was our host for the day again. We were taken into a room with him where a few of the good folks from THX had set up a dandy home theater system. It consisted of a 30 inch widescreen digital monitor and a Dolby 5:1 EX THX certified sound system. He played a couple of scenes for us. First up, the speeder chase through Coruscant. Next was the appearance of the Clonetroopers in the arena on Geonosis. The movie was great in the theater as a film print, but was even better when projected from a digital source.
On DVD, it’s the first live-action movie to be shot digitally and then transferred from a digital print directly onto the DVD. The sound is indeed magnificent when played on this kind of set up. One interesting aspect of the sound design of the disc is the fact that there’s no Dolby 2:0 track. The reason for this, I believe, is because they decided to consolidate the separate DVD pressings for Spanish and French language tracks onto just one DVD. On this DVD, there’s an English 5:1, Spanish 2:0, French 2:0, and a 2:0 commentary track. I assume there’s no room for an English 2:0 track. Like a lot of people, I have yet to make the purchase of one of those 5:1 Dolby “Theater in a box” set ups. I plan to get one very soon, though. But as for now all I have are the right and left channels of the TV. When the 5:1 track of this DVD is played on this kind of set up, I notice that the dialogue track sounds a little muted and some of the sound effects seem to be missing. I noticed this a lot during the lightsaber duel at the end of the film. I’m guessing that Lucasfilm thinks that if you’re too cheap or too stupid to own a decent sound system, you’re probably not discriminating enough to notice or care about a few flaws. This kind of bothered me, but maybe it’s just the push I need to go out and buy that new sound system I’ve been salivating over.
After the THX demonstration, we were given a tour of the Zemeckis Center. I got a little jealous as I watched one of the students cutting his DV film on an Avid. I wish this kind of technology had been available to me when I was a student. Moriarty and I had to shoot our student movies on VHS and edit them VCR to VCR. We had fun, but it would have been a lot cooler if we had used these tools. Not only do the students have DV cameras and Avids to work with, but they also have a large green screen stage and the ability to do computer-generated backgrounds. When I was a student, we had a small blue screen and a sucky Chroma Key effect.
And we were happy, damn it!
We were then brought into the Ron Howard Theater for a screening of some of the added value material found on disc 2. I was a little disappointed when I learned that we were not seeing the director’s cut of GRAND THEFT AUTO, but I quickly got over it. Jim Ward continued as our host, and I settled in the back row of the theater.
As the presentation got under way, the last few people entered the room. I looked over and realized that they were Rob Coleman, Van Ling, Frank Oz, and Rick McCallum. They came in and sat in my row right next to me. Van Ling and Rick McCallum were both at last year’s event, so I wasn’t too excited by them. Frank Oz, though... that’s a Muppet of a different color. Frank is one of the earliest influences of mine. George Lucas is the biggest, but Frank Oz and the late Jim Henson were the first. When I was a kid, I had an Muppet of Frank’s character Animal (which I still have, actually). It remains to this day my favorite childhood toy. For me, it really wasn’t a toy. It was a creative tool. At a certain age, I took it with me everywhere I went. I even performed shows with it in elementary school. As Frank sat down in the seat right next to me, I was very much in awe. I couldn’t help but reflect on the artistry this man has brought to my life. And now, here he was, sitting right next to me.
This 2-disc DVD set is packed with a collection of terrific extras that any true STAR WARS will be happy with. I’m sure there’s tons of stuff Lucas isn’t giving right now, but that’s cool. I’d rather get some now and some later, rather than all of it at once. This way we continue to have something to look forward to. This new DVD set shares many similarities to the set for EPISODE I. It’s basically a clone of that set, all the way down to packaging. Van Ling explained, “I think the issue here was we really wanted to be consistent, the same way STAR WARS always starts off the same way. The fact that it’s familiar is hopefully not breeding contempt, but breeds some comfort.”
Aside from the lack of a Dolby 2:0 English track, the only other difference that’s apparent is the fact that there’s no Jon Shenk documentary. His documentary THE BEGINNING is one of the real appeals of the EPISODE I DVD. When I showed my DVD at an advance screening for my friends last year, everyone thought Shenk’s film was the highlight of the disc. It’s an amazingly effortless looking document about the entire filmmaking process of THE PHANTOM MENACE. On the DVD for EPISODE II there are three documentaries that detail different aspects of the making of ATTACK OF THE CLONES. We were told that Shenk was brought in to supervise the editing of these documentaries.
There’s “State of the Art: The Previsualization of Episode II,” which is all about the animatics process and how scenes are shaped and perfected long before an actor ever sets foot on the stage. There’s also “Films Are Not Released; They Escape,” a look into the process of sound creation and design with Ben Burtt and his team.
The real treat for me, though, is a documentary called “From Puppets To Pixels,” which details the laborious birth of digital Yoda, among other characters. It’s an honest glimpse into the job of a CG character animator. It’s kind of scary, actually. I’ve always felt that you have to be a very special person to be an animator. I know a couple animators well and they’re... how shall I say... different. The passage in the documentary where the animators are trying to nail the last shot of Yoda in the film is particularly cruel. George makes the animators do it over so many times that the animators label the shot “The Widow Maker,” and they are visibly shaken every time they have to go before the man with their recent progress. It’s in this sequence where Rob Coleman orders the animator of this scene “front and center” while Lucas inspects the work. Coleman explains that he wants to “share the love.”
There’s a really cool section, though, where Rob Coleman presents an animation test reel to George to illustrate the possibilities of an all-digital Yoda. This was before George had made up his mind to go this path with the character. The test Coleman and his team put together was a collection of scenes from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in which they replaced the Oz puppet with a CG version of the Jedi Master. It’s frightening how close to perfect they got it on such an early test. George watched closely and nodded as he admitted, “Very good. Fantastic.”
In a scene later in the documentary, George is examining photos of Yoda from EMPIRE and from EPISODE I. He puts forth his theory as to why people weren’t as happy with the Yoda from EPISODE I. “They made him better, but people don’t like that,” he explained. “They want him to look like he did in the first film.” This is exactly what I believe George thinks about the fan disapproval over EPISODE I as a whole. I bet he feels that it’s a better film than the classics and that why it’s mostly despised.
In addition to these documentaries, there are the expected theatrical trailers, TV spots, web documentaries, three featurettes, and the music video “Beyond The Stars.” There’s also a collection of eight deleted scenes. Unlike the last DVD, there’s one deleted scene that is a true deleted scene, which was completed then cut from the film. It’s the scene where Obi-Wan visits the Analysis Droids to discover the origin of the poison dart. The rest of the scenes were cut before completion of the film then added to the supplementary disc as added value material. The deleted scenes in this collection are very good but are primarily about character. There are no action scenes, so if you’re one of those fans expecting to see Dooku fighting Yoda with two lightsabers, you can forget it. You’re going to be just as disappointed as the day you discovered that there was no extended scene of Darth Maul fighting Qui-Gon on Tatooine. There’s also no Yoda in any of the deleted scenes. It’s mainly the human characters in dialogue sequences. My personal favorite touches in any of these scenes include Mas Amedda’s freaky tongue in the senate and Lott Dod’s impatient cry, “Get on with it!” in the trail of Anakin and Padme on Geonosis. I only hope that more deleted scenes will follow in future editions of these films.
Of all the deleted scenes, I think my favorite is the one set at Padme’s parents home on Naboo. In the scene, Anakin is introduced to Padme’s parents and sister. Everyone I show the sequence to says that Anakin has a hint of mischief in his eye when he meets the sister, Sola, played by Claudia Karvan. Maybe James Earl Jones should have done a voice-over here: “Sista... so, you have a twin sista...” The end of the scene has a very haunting touch. In the kitchen, during the infamous dish washing scene, Padme’s mother and sister push Padme’s buttons by insisting that Anakin has feelings for Padme. She shrugs off the idea, claiming that their relationship is strictly green screen... I mean, professional. Padme looks out the window at Anakin, turns away because of a private thought, and then has no choice but to look at him again. Also, for those of you who are fans of Padme’s white outfit on Geonosis, her outfit in this scene surely will not disappoint you. I’ve watched it several times and it just keeps getting better.
If you thought the deleted scenes which were incorporated into the film on disc one of the DVD for EPISODE I was really cool, you might feel a little let down this time. Very few new elements were added into the film, and the one significant addition is sadly a little clumsy. Strangely, none of the deleted scene material from disc 2 was incorporated. One slight additions is Padme grunting a more appropriate, pained “uh-uh” instead of an unfazed “yes” when a clonetrooper asks her if she’s alright after a pretty big fall out of the gunship.
The other is a short dialogue between Anakin and Padme in the Lars garage following Anakin’s return from the Tusken slaughter. The material in this addition is okay, but my problem with its incorporation is the altered music track. The way the scene played originally was perfect. The Emperor’s theme played while Anakin told her what happened. Then, as Anakin breaks down in tears and Padme soothes him, the music mellows out. In the new version, the moment had to be extended for a few seconds longer, so the music had to be extended, too. This new edited part of the sequence is jarring and out of place as far as I’m concerned. We cut back to the Emperor’s theme again, and then cut back to the soothing music. This is just a bad choice. It’s almost as bad as the harsh music edit in the Special Edition of EMPIRE to include Vader’s shuttle arriving at the Star Destroyer, which is for some reason an unused clip from JEDI... like we weren’t going to notice.
The next part of the presentation was the Q&A with the creative guests who helped bring EPISODE II to life. First up, just like last year, was Van Ling, the producer of the DVD. In my piece about EPISODE I last year, I reported that Van seemed a bit on the chilly side. This time, though, Van seemed warm and comfortable with the room. Van was in charge of creating all the animated menus that have made the first two STAR WARS DVDs so distinct. The question I had is one that I’ve been wondering about ever since I got my hands on the EPISODE I DVD.
HARRY LIME: The DVDs for EPISODE I and EPISODE II both start with the STAR WARS logo filled with images from the film. Was this idea inspired by the Manga Star Wars comic books, by any chance, which begin exactly the same way?
I don’t know if anybody else has made this connection. The concept of this image is so specific that I was sure Ling had been inspired by it. I was surprised by the answer.
VAN LING: Actually, it wasn’t. That just felt right. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought about that... thought about that idea. I think that we started doing that on Episode I, and we wanted to carry that through. But if it follows a Manga tradition, I’d be, you know, I’d be proud to be a part of it.
Rick McCallum was next up. Rick is the ultimate producer. I have the feeling he could sell anything to anybody. In my EPISODE I review, I said of McCallum, “This guy can sure talk and make you excited about whatever it is he’s up to. It’s little wonder Lucas has this guy at his side.” I wasn’t surprised to see that this description remains just as true as it did one year ago. It was as if no time had passed since I last saw him. He was in full-on McCallum mode. Jim Ward urged us to keep our questions on topic as McCallum took his seat.
RICK MCCALLUM: That’s right. No INDY 4, please.
A question was asked about the digital age of filmmaking versus the old fashioned way of filmmaking employed during the days of the original STAR WARS trilogy. McCallum was asked if he misses the old days, and he responded with a mouthful...
RM: No, in fact it’s everything repugnant to me and the kind of movies that we make because it is so difficult; it’s such a painful, arbitrary process. That’s one of the reasons why we were really wanted to push the technology. I mean again, it’s only a tool. It doesn’t make the film any better it just makes your work flow easier. And our work flow is so archaic... it’s not that I don’t love film, I love it, in fact I don’t have any issue about how people capture their images whether it’s on film or digitally. But the pipeline for us, if you put it in perspective, is that we shoot about 60 days which is relatively low on a big feature like this, we have to do a minimum of 38 set ups a day to collect about 2,200 to 2,400 shots. Each one of those shots end up in the movie is about three seconds long.
So you can see that there are about 2,200 shots that actually end up in a 2-hour and 15 minute movie, and each one of those is an effects shot. Now a really big visual effects film, I mean from another studio would be a show that has maybe 400 shots in it. 500 is considered out of this world. And we have to do it for the same amount of money because it is our money. You know everything is financed in-house, and we have to be so disciplined, so specific about what each shot is and one of the things that you’ll see today, or see when you see the DVD is that previsualization actually goes into how that helps us actually manage the film in this cost efficient way. We have to have about between 40-50 minutes worth of the film completed before we even start shooting.
And one of the ways that we do that instead of having a large crew of 100, 120 people shooting, what we do is we have this two or three or four guys working in the Animatics Department in the beginning. George actually spends three, four months editing that material. And what’ll happen is he’ll come out with an outline for a sequence. And then you know we’ll do a little storyboard of it. Then we’ll give it to the animatic guys, they’ll pump out maybe between five and 10 shots a day. And those are like little pieces of film. And they’re very specific. You’ll see George going through, he said “I need a wide shot of the arena, and then I need a close-up and a two shot of this.” And the guys will start to make it.
And we’ll go down to a little garage area that we have with a green screen, use a consumer video camera, shoot ourselves or the assistant editors and do the mock you know dialogue between the sequence. And we start to build that. And they become real pieces of time. They’re really specific images that are edited together over weeks and months to create a sequence.
So that helps us go out and shoot exactly what it is we know, it helps us communicate to the actors and everybody else exactly what it is we’re trying to achieve, and it’s part of a process of this digital pipeline that we’ve created that makes work much easier, allows us to try and even attempt what is at each juncture almost an impossible feat, and allows us to do it in the most cost efficient way. So the pipeline is a big deal for us. It’s a real breakthrough.
And I think a lot of filmmakers who enjoy this technology, and again whether they shoot on film or video doesn’t matter, will start to be able to use it and there’ll be benefits. And it’s not different than like using a word processor. You cut and paste and change only this is a visual process that allows you to do that, not effortlessly but certainly with a lot more degree of freedom and control over the work that you’re doing. God, I’m long winded. Jesus, that was such a simple question. Sorry.
Next up were the two men chiefly responsible for Yoda in EPISODE II: Rob Coleman, the Animation Director for the film, and Frank Oz, the “original creator” of Yoda. I assume that Lucasfilm dubbed Oz with title because they may have felt like they have taken something away from Oz by replacing him with a digital puppet. Frank Oz wasn’t so willing to accept this title, though...
FRANK OZ: No... what happened was I was doing a Muppet movie and Gary Kurtz came to Jim Henson. We were in LA doing the movie, and Jim recommended me. So I remember that Jim and Gary were in the trailer and I saw these designs... I’ve done characters in the past that take a long time. They take a long time to really get into my soul. And for some reason I just clicked on Yoda. I don’t know why. I just did. So in any case, that was the first time that I saw the idea of Yoda. Then of course I went over to London eventually and I’m very pleased that people say I’m the creator. But actually it’s not really true. I mean, I’m a creator on a solid bedrock of people who make Yoda, Stewart Freeborn at that time and now Rob, people who write for Yoda, George at that time and Larry Kasdan... you can’t do this in a vacuum. So, I’m very pleased that people call me the creator but I sure as hell can’t do it alone. I don’t want to take too much more time really. Rob is the guy here, you know?
RC: Well, I have the great opportunity of standing on this man’s shoulders. Which of course is incredibly daunting when you first start thinking about it. If I go back to the end of EPISODE I, I was more amazed that I was still alive after doing the animation. I was the Animation Director on EPISODE I as well, and survived the experience and then survived the appreciation for Jar-Jar after that.
So I was kind of wondering whether I would work again, but George reassured me that there was a great number of people out there that loved my work and that he in fact did want me to come back for EPISODE II so I was happy. And then he started talking to me about Yoda. And at that point it wasn’t clear to me whether Yoda was going to be some of Frank’s work puppeteering it and then our work in computer graphics for the fight sequence, which I didn’t know about. George has a tendency of not giving you the whole story because he doesn’t want you to faint straight away. So I didn’t find out about the fight until June the 28th of the year 2000, which is the day I received the script, which is three days before we started shooting. And I remember trying to talk to him about it and I wasn’t able to talk to him about the fight, which kept me up for... I don’t think I slept for the first three weeks after reading that I had to do a fight with Yoda.
So I was very excited between EPISODE I and EPISODE II, specifically to show George that we could produce an acting Yoda. And you got to see a little stint of that in that documentary which I was very happy to see that it was on the disc because it gives an insight to the fans of what we go through when we’re trying to deal with creative problems and deal with a character as important as Yoda. To me as a fan of the film in 1980 when I went to see it, Yoda was the most important character to me from that day forward and to now. You know, fast forward those 20 years and actually be able to help bring the next version of Yoda was a real honor for me.
Josh from TheForce.net asked a question I would have liked to ask about the possibility of a Best Supporting Oscar Nomination for their work as Yoda.
RC: George actually told me when the movie [EMPIRE] came out that he tried to have Frank nominated in 1980 for Best Supporting Actor.
FO: I know that... yeah, it was very nice.
RC: And I think there was one of the online, one of the web magazines or one of the critiques or reviews from the film actually suggested that Frank and I go up together. I don’t think it’ll ever happen, but it’s nice that they think of us that way.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: For the record, Rob, that was me who suggested that in my review of the film, and it should happen. Even if it doesn’t, it should.]
Then I put a question to them about the possibility of computer-generated puppets taking jobs away from real-life puppets. I thought this question, and the examples I used in it, was rather fitting since Frank Oz provided voices for both films and hasn’t acted with puppets in many years, with the exception on Yoda in EPISODE I three years ago.
HL: Considering the success and popularity of computer-generated characters in films like ATTACK OF THE CLONES and MONSTERS, INC., what do you think the future holds for the art of physical puppetry?
HL: Both of you.
Frank got a real serious look on his face that became more serious as he thought about it and answered.
FO: I don’t think there’s any kind of a competition. I know it’s weird but I haven’t done my characters, except for Yoda of course, that I always do, for a couple of years now... oddly enough. I did the directing and my four children, you know. I decided I’ve really got to pay attention... to my kids before they grow up and I’ve had opportunities at directing. But my feeling is that just like the old saw about will digital take over humans? That’s crap, you know? Each has its own place. And the same thing with puppetry and the stuff in MONSTERS, INC. Each has its own place. Each can do something that the other cannot. And there’s value in each one.
RC: I agree with that, absolutely. I mean, I think they can absolutely co-exist. I have a four and a half year old son who watches animation, watches puppetry, watches Sesame Street, watches MONSTERS, INC., and he just loves it all. And I’m sure that all the kids, if you actually polled a bunch of kids, some of the puppetry has a different kind of raw energy to it that the animation doesn’t go for, it isn’t in it’s sort of library or in it’s genre and I think you’ll find that both will continue to move on.
After the Q&A, we all went into another room for a special performance of Patrick T. Gorman’s STAR WARS TRILOGY IN 30 MINUTES. This is exactly what it sounds like. Gorman and a team of dedicated young actors do the entire original trilogy in memorable highlights in thirty minutes. I liked it a lot, even though it reminds me too much of the Brady Bunch stageplay and a couple other similar plays that were for some reason really popular in the early ‘90’s. I think they were popular because they didn’t require you to think while you were watching them. All you had to do was sit there and think, “Oh, yeah... I remember that.” I usually can’t stand stage plays that rely purely on the audiences’ knowledge of a popular TV show or movie and get by with very little original invention. The invention here is the extremely low-tech approach. The props are all household objects. The actors really put their hearts in it and make the absurd approach funny and believable.
Of the actors, I have a couple of favorites. One of these standouts was Steve Josephson, who played C-3PO and Yoda. It must have been a real charge for him to do his Yoda, which was very good, in front of Frank Oz, who seemed to get a real kick out of it. Another standout was Michael Cornacchi, who gave an energetic performance as Admiral Ackbar and a memorable turn as Jabba the Hutt by laying on stage dressed only in a green thong and a blanket wrapped around his legs.
He is truly a brave man.
The real focal point for me, though, was Princess Leia’s boobs, played by Maia Peters’s boobs. I’m not trying to embarrass her, keep in mind. I just needed to emphasize how amazing her breasts are. I was riveted by them for the entire performance. Her acting isn’t bad, either. She’s got Carrie Fisher pretty much down to a science. Although I wonder if she’s ever made a geek’s Princess Leia fantasy come true, I would never ask because I am a gentleman first and foremost. A five-week limited engagement of the play begins on Friday, October 25 (press opening) at the Coronet Theatre Upstairs, located at 368 N. Las Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood. The performance schedule is Friday and Saturday at 10:30 pm, and will run until November 23, 2002. Tickets are $15 and can purchased at the box office or by calling (310) 657-7377. Seriously, check it out and tell them that I sent you.
After the play we were all treated to some chow. Even Oz and McCallum were present. While we were eating I watched as numerous people approached Oz and asked him to sign various Yoda material. The thing that amazed me was how generous Oz is with fans. He had no problem with anyone approaching him and asking for a minute of his time. This made me feel really good about the day. I never had the privilege to meet Jim Henson, but I hope this is how he was, too.
As I was leaving the press event, I stopped to tell Jeanne Cole of Lucasfilm how much I loved the movie. She seemed tolerant of me when I told her that I could barely wait to write about the DVD, but got a perplexed look on her face when I exclaimed, “See you next time for the EPISODE III DVD.”
I was in my car driving home from USC when I gave my buddy Frosty Skywalker a call. When he picked up on the other end, I said in a dry monotone voice, “The eagle... has landed.” He asked me if I was sure I had the DVD. I was looking right at it and told him so. Let me tell you a little about Frosty. This man has more STAR WARS action figures than Toys R Us. He also possesses one of the finest televisions I’ve ever seen in a private residence. Last year, upon returning from Skywalker Ranch, I took the EPISODE I DVD to his house for a screening. We called everyone we knew and invited them over to squeeze into his living room for the special event. Even though we were packed in like sardines, no one complained. A few people heckled the movie, but the spirit of the occasion was mostly pure.
This time it was different, though. EPISODE II has a much better reputation among fans. Frosty and I invited over basically the same group, and he was concerned that maybe Lucasfilm wasn’t going to give me a review copy this time. I assured him that everything was a go and that the following night, the Fetts would be in attendance.
Much to my amazement, the group at the screening remained respectful for almost the entire first hour. Somewhere around the forty-five minute mark they started heckling a little bit during an Anakin-Padme scene. I guess that was to be expected. But then they got reverential and quiet again before too long.
This was the exact polar opposite of the EPISODE I screening we did. For that one, the group seemed to never shut up. The remarks got so bad, I almost cried. Really. At the start of this screening, I begged the group not to go too hard on the film, but it seems that there was no need for the plea. During a short break near the middle of the film, I was stunned by an impromptu discussion that erupted. It was a serious debate over the meanings of certain events in the last two films, the agendas of the characters, and the prospect that Lucas just might pull this whole thing off after all. It was invigorating and confirmed my love of STAR WARS in a big way.
In the end, I’ve concluded that this film is the collective sigh of relief heard around the galaxy. Thanks to this film, I’m genuinely looking forward to the next episode. George got this film right in the places he desperately needed to. He’s given hope to the fans that assumed all was lost, and he’s brought back the possibility that EPISODE III will be the greatest experience of our lives.
I, for one, am preparing my diaper.
And with that, Harry Lime slinked away into the sewers and the shadows once more.