Digital Bits Editor Bill Hunt, who is, like, the dude when it comes to home theater stuff, posted his review of the Star Wars Blu-Rays today. Hunt sings the same refrain as so many others: While this set is far from what’s best in terms of current technology and many screw ups from the ’04 DVDs have carried over, it’s still the best Star Wars has looked since you paid to see it during Reagan’s presidency. Bill spilled an interesting/exclusive tidbit, however, while kvetching about the CGI revisions Lucasfilm whipped up for these Blu-Rays. To wit:
“For those of you who hate the past changes [to Star Wars] (and the new BD changes), believe me I get it. Let me just say, it could be a LOT worse. Sources well-positioned to know have told me that Lucas actually seriously considered replacing the puppet Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with the all-digital version, and even had tests conducted to see how it would look. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed…”
Emphasis added. It goes without saying that the “cooler heads” in this situation should be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Painting over Frank Oz’s superb puppetry would have been some cold, disrespectful shit. Just thinking about it makes me want to draw giant magic marker penises on every American Graffiti poster I can find.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE THAT, GEORGE LUCAS? IF I JUST DREW GIANT PENISES ALL OVER RON HOWARD’S CARTOONY FRECKLED FACE? YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO STOP ME, YOU COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE IN FRONT OF EVERY AMERICAN GRAFFITI POSTER AT ONCE.
Meanwhile, Howard the Duck is still atrocious, and Lucas does nothing to try and correct that.
Vadergate: Let’s Pretend To Be Outraged By The One Shot In Phantom Menace Where Yoda’s Still Not CGI
Episodes I-III from the controversial and forthcoming Star Wars Blu-Ray set leaked over Labor Day weekend, which proved not to be such a big deal because A) the prequel films aren’t as universally revered as the original Ewan McGregor-free trilogy and B) reviewers/savvy consumers began receiving physical copies of the set this week anyway. Long story short: Unexpected alterations have been made to the prequels as well, including various color shifts and bits of rerecorded dialogue. The most drastic update was actually revealed last month—Lucasfilm has finally replaced the dubious Yoda puppet they initially insisted on using in The Phantom Menace with a CGI Yoda akin to what was seen in Episodes II & III.
Strangely, I think I support this specific tinker. Lightening did not strike twice for Frank Oz and the Yoda puppet in 1999, and I know several people who were confused by the diminutive Jedi Master’s shabby appearance in that first prequel. “Does Yoda age in reverse?” they all asked me after witnessing Jake Lloyd interact with what looked like a green decaying Bette Davis. I had no answers, so I simply shrugged and turned back to the “F-Troop” marathon I busied myself with the week Phantom Menace came out.
Reports are mixed concerning how well the newly minted digital Yoda emotes, but he definitely looks like Yoda now and not some hairy turd that sprung to life from the briny depths of Chaka Khan’s toilet. Yessir, that’s definitely Yoda the Jedi Master in Episode I now…well, except for the one wide shot where he’s still obviously a child in an ill-fitting Halloween costume:
That’s it. I’m flushing my last box of C-3POs cereal down the toilet in protest. WE WERE PROMISED DIGITAL YODA 24/7.
Of course, there might be bigger controversy over the fact the exceedingly detailed HD picture Blu-Ray presents now allows audiences to see with startling clarity the absolute shit makeup job Phantom Menace’s effects crew did on Darth Maul’s horns. The one legitimately cool part of that movie now tainted by what appears to be small lumps of congealed black glue. I guess fans should just be glad they didn’t CGI a pair of Oakleys on him.
Being the strident Star Wars prequel rebuffer/existence denier that I am, I’m not too invested in whatever other monkeying has gone on in Episodes I, II, & III and don’t plan to report any further details unless something utterly cataclysmic turns up (read: accidental Sam Jackson boner shot, Jango Fett breakdance sequence).
So, if we’re gonna keep talking about this hot Star Wars Blu-Ray mess, we need to come up with a catchier name. I vote for Vadergate. Let me know how you feel about that, Wampa jockeys. Also acceptable: Lucasgate, Jedigate, the Krayt Dragon Rock n’ Roll Swindle.
Phil Tippett (pictured) is a special effects master who’s worked on such incredible pieces of cinema as Jurassic Park, RoboCop, and—ahem—the original Star Wars trilogy. On Wednesday morning, Movies.com spoke with Tippett, a guy who spent countless hours whipping up creatures and spaceships for George Lucas at the dawn of the ’80s, and asked his opinion of the Star Wars creator’s continued CGI brush-stroking over the years.
“They’re shit,” Phil responded, damning all of Lucasfilm’s digital scribbling since 1997 as unnecessary. A not unexpected reaction from the co-genius behind Empire Strikes Back’s still-impressive Imperial Walkers. Tippett, who won an Oscar for his work on Return of the Jedi, also shared a behind-the-scenes story from that film which will surely not garner Georgie Boy any more cool points:
“[Industrial Light & Magic] had a little room where you could get chips and drinks and I was getting something. George and Richard Marquand, [Return of the Jedi’s] director, came in and Richard was saying, ‘George, I don’t totally get where we need to go with this picture.’ And George said, ‘Well, did you see Benji?’ ‘No George, I didn’t see Benji. ‘Well, what we’re doing now is kind of like a cross between Benji and what we did on Empire Strikes Back.'”
Ewok haters: You have a new enemy.
Star Wars Celebration V was held this past weekend in my old home base of Orlando, FL. Part of me wanted to fly down there and check it out because some of my friends were going, but then I remembered I’d have to pay something like $60 or $70 just to stand in endless lines with hundreds of Lucas Kool-Aid drinkers so I could hear someone like Anthony Daniels talk about what the “Droids” cartoon meant to him personally. Not too keen on that notion, I decided to stay in NYC and celebrate by watching the original Star Wars movies when they came on Spike TV Saturday, flinching every time some of that post-1997 CGI bull honkey flashed onscreen (“Jedi Rocks” still feels like a shower in Louie Anderson’s ball sweat).
The big news to come out of Celebration V is that the Star Wars saga is arriving on Blu-ray next year. Of course Lucasfilm is only putting the 2004 “Extra” Special Editions of the o.g. trilogy on these discs, because it would cost too much to find copies of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi without all that shit they started adding in the late ’90s and restore them all digital-like just to appease a few hundred / thousand / gazillion die-hard fans. Seriously, that’s what they said. I guess we didn’t buy enough merchandise, guys. If we had all bought that one extra Stormtrooper figure back in the day, maybe George could afford to release the versions of the movies we fell in love with.
Orthodox SW fans might be enticed to purchase these Blu-rays anyway, as they’ll allegedly feature oodles of never-before-seen bonus materials. Yeah, we’ve heard that before plenty of times, but Lucas stepped to the plate at Celebration with the following deleted scene from Return of the Jedi in which Luke is seen constructing his lightsaber:
Pretty bad-ass, right? Well, some people don’t think so. In fact, some bitter Chewbacca jockeys instantly decried this footage as fake, nothing more than a quick scene cobbled together with computers and stand-in actors to give the fan boys a boner and move more Blu-ray units.
Is it possible? Is George Lucas that much of a dickhead? Certainly! Thirteen years ago he took three of the greatest movies of all-time and started making significant digital alterations. We now live in a Star Wars world where Jabba the Hutt left his dais to visit Docking Bay 94, the Ewoks never sang their immortal “Yub Yub” song, and Darth Vader’s ghost is a teenager. Lucas has proven he’s not above fucking shit up just for the sake of fucking shit up.
However, previous instances of bullshittery do not alone prove this newly released footage is fake. I’m hard-pressed to spot one instance in those fifty-six seconds that makes me say, “Ah HA! Trickery is afoot!” The film stock looks a little too clean and clear to be some throwaway shit from 1983, but they may have spruced it up a bit for the Blu-ray release. That’s definitely Mark Hamill and his cleft-ass chin. Doesn’t seem to be any CGI junk there (Mark personally confirmed this reel was legit, apparently, before it was unveiled at Celebration; what motivation would Hamill have to lie?). Besides, aren’t we looking at a YouTube clip of a video of a video? I imagine it might look a little better first generation.
I love a good conspiracy as much as the next nerf herder, and I’m all about adding more fuel to the Lucas-hating funeral pyre, but I don’t think this clip is worth going to war over. Still, I’ll do the world a favor and hit up my intel on the inside of Lucasfilm and see what they get back to me with RE: fake-ass Jedi shit. Grumpy Rappoccio may not be the greatest janitor in the world, but he was right about Howard the Duck coming to DVD!
A few years ago, I wrote a book of humorous essays revolving around Star Wars fan culture entitled Star Wars Ruined My Life. I came really close to getting the thing into book stores, but every interested publisher was upset I wasn’t already some famous dingus from the movies, TV, or the Internet. They all told me to go “build an audience” and come back when I was a profitable commodity. Instead, I bought a gun and tried to shoot the President.
No, I’m kidding. I tried to “build an audience” by not leaving my house and eating ice cream all day, but that didn’t work. Fast forward to 6/25/09. Michael Jackson dies, and I remember that one chapter in Star Wars Ruined My Life extensively covered Jacko’s 3-D EPCOT attraction Captain EO (1986). You all remember that one. It had singing, dancing, puppets, and Anjelica Huston. On the whole, far more entertaining than that crap inside the giant golf ball OR Ellen’s Energy Adventure.
Like Star Wars, but with more squealing and crotch-grabbing.
Captain EO was produced by George Lucas, who at the same time was burdened with the task of creating a separate Disney attraction based on his blockbuster Star Wars movies. Obviously EO, directed by George’s buddy Francis Ford Coppola, was of higher priority. That fact was punctuated sharply when the lackluster Star Wars ride, Star Tours, finally debuted at MGM Studios in 1987. The five minute zip around space with C-3PO, R2-D2, and some robot voiced by Pee Wee Herman was less exciting than some of the bathrooms in the park.
So I wrote this chapter that directly blamed the King of Pop for the suckiness of Star Tours. The whole EO project was his idea in the first place; since he was the almighty MJ, all he had to do was call a few people and that was enough to make everything else on the entire planet secondary. The original text I cobbled together makes it clear just how ridiculous Michael Jackson’s Seventeen Minute Intergalactic Third Tier Muppet Freak-Out was in terms of time and money:
Captain EO was one of the most expensive movies ever made, at one million dollars per minute of film. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, especially when you consider the fact that 1997’s Titanic cost about 12 jillion dollars per nanosecond, but in 1986 seventeen million dollars was a lot of money. The highest-grossing movie of that year, Top Gun, was budgeted at $15 million, and they used real fighter jets and aircraft carriers in that one. Captain EO cost two million dollars more, and the majority of the cast was foam rubber. Plus, Captain EO was ninety-three minutes shorter than Top Gun! It was the 1980s, though, a time when money was thrown around like Styrofoam packing material, especially by people like Michael Jackson.”
Aw, he did the same shit in “Thriller.”
Indeed, Captain EO was pricey. Yet, it was all up there on the screen, and the thing must have been popular. Disney didn’t remove EO from their parks entirely until 1997, long after MJ’s career had imploded and most people were afraid of leaving the guy alone with minors. That has to speak to the film’s quality, right? Tourists won’t put up with any ol’ kind of 3-D puppet-related crap, no matter HOW good that icy seventeen minutes of air conditioning feels. Then again, Disney replaced Captain EO with Honey, I Shrunk The Audience, a show based on a decade-old Rick Moranis franchise. Maybe they have no idea what they’re doing down there (and maybe all tourists are complete heat-exhausted idiots).
But I digress. I interviewed a handful of people who actually worked on EO for this chapter, but only one managed to provide me with the strange, funny, and sometimes sad background stories I craved as a gossip-hungry member of John Q. Public. That person was Terri Hardin, a Hollywood costume builder/sculptor who not only created creatures for EO but also portrayed two of its characters—Idy and Ody—and did stunts for Anjelica Huston. I didn’t include much of what Terri said in the original chapter because it didn’t seem all that relevant, but now her stories/insights prove to be most interesting (because, you know, Michael Jackson just died). Here now, some selected quotes from Terri about the Captain EO experience.
On working with Coppola:
“He always wears Bermuda shorts. He is so casual that the first time I met him I did not recognize him. This was good, because I handled myself well, instead of [acting like] a blubbering fan.
“Coppola had us improv. There I was, acting with Angelica Huston and Michael Jackson. In one scene we did, Angelica was the boss of a camp, Michael was the camp counselor, and we were the spoiled children. Francis [went] to Angelica and whispered, ‘you are going to fire Michael.’ And to Michael, he whispered, ‘You must get these kids to behave.’ And to the rest of us, the children, we were told not to behave under any circumstances.
“Well, Michael kept asking us to behave, and we just kept being brats. Then Angelica storms in, grabs Michael by the shirt, and literally lifts him off his feet and says, ‘You insignificant little worm – YOU’RE FIRED!’ She then throws him across the room. We rehearsed in large studio and the floors were slick; Michael slid a long way on his butt, and shuttered in fear. Real fear. After that, he would not go near Angelica. He was very frighted of her.”
“Where’s that little shit Prince? I wanna throw him around, too.”
On working with MJ:
“Working with Michael was quite interesting. So many people loved this guy in ’85. Not like today, where he is labeled as a freak. He had the mind of a twelve year old then, and I used to talk to him as I would a young boy. He loved to have grape fights in the morning. He would have a crate of grapes sent to his trailer every day just for this purpose.
“Michael also loved to play jokes on me, as I can be very gullible. His favorite was the rattlesnake egg joke. This is the one where you approach someone and tell them that you have just gotten some rattlesnake eggs sent to you and you hand your chosen victim the envelope. When they open it, there is a bobby pin with a rubber band and it makes a rattling sound and scares the crap out of your victim. I was always the victim. Michael would pull this prank again and again on me. As far as dancing or music, though, he was the master. Never had I seen such raw talent.
“[And he] could remember you name, no matter who you were. Once you had met him, he could call you by name from then on. Think of all the folks who have crossed his path. Amazing!”
On the kids from SpaceCamp being total dicks:
“On one occasion, the kids from that production walked over to Michael’s trailer and when he did not come out, they grabbed hold of it and began to shake it violently. Chucky, a security guard lent to Michael by Stevie Wonder, had to literally pull these assholes off the trailer. And these are supposed to be professionals.”
Every single one of these kids is an epic douchebag.
On Anjelica Huston’s star trip:
“When I first met Anjelica, she was an angry, demanding woman. She insisted she play the queen as well as the witch, and the girl who was to play the princess originally and be a love interest for Capt. EO was fired. You see, Angelica was up for an Academy Award, and the Disney folks really wanted her in the film.
“I thought that she could not really be this angry. So each day, I would open her trailer, say, ‘Morning, Angelica!’ and slam the door. I did this for about three days before she demanded I step inside. When she asked me what my problem was, I told her that I knew she could not be as angry as she seemed and that I felt she needed a smiling good morning to cheer her up. She laughed and we were friends from that day forward.
“It was Angelica who suggested me to stunt double her for the flying sequences as she would not do those.”
Interesting stuff, and nothing too freaky. Grape fights, LOL—way to waste food, you rich asshole. Guess that’s where all that money went. I wonder what Anjelica Huston has to say about her Captain EO experience. Would she own up to being such a mega-bitch at the start of the production? I don’t know, I’ve never even met her!
Just for the record, Terri also mentioned that no less than Sophia Loren and Babs Streisand were calling MJ on a daily basis during EO’s production and leaving him breathy, lovey-dovey messages. Also, Tony Cox (the little person from Bad Santa) played Hooter in EO, and there was apparently an incident one day where Cox almost passed out from heat exhaustion and no one did anything until Terri picked up Hooter’s head and threw it across the floor out of anger/disgust.
Lotta throwin’ on that movie! I guess that’s just how people communicate on film sets.
Another interesting note to end on: the kids from SpaceCamp got a karmic kick in the ass when their stupid little movie was forced to come out shortly after the Challenger explosion. The shuttle malfunction that befell Lea Thompson and wee Leaf Phoenix in the film was almost identical to the one that blew up the real rocket ship in January of 1986, claiming seven lives; moviegoers trying to forget the disaster stayed away in droves. So fuck you, Larry B. Scott and Kelly Preston, for fucking with Michael Jackson’s trailer!
Hey folks, you’re going to love this. Recently I was antiquing in rural Pennsylvania when I came across an unparalleled gem: a two hundred page transcript of a 1994 story conference George Lucas held concerning the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. I plunked down two wooden nickels and a rabbit’s foot for this treasure, a real bargain when you consider what story conference transcripts normally go for.
I’d like to share a few passages with you now from this incredible document that are of particular interest. Just so you know, the participants in this Algonquin round table included George Lucas (G), an unidentified Lucasfilm underling (U), and Loretta R, a cleaning lady who just happened to wander into the conference room (L). Man oh man, Loretta was an IDEA MACHINE. I can’t believe she didn’t get credit on the final print.
Talk about a fascinating read. It’s amazing to pore over the conception stages of such a terrible fucking movie. Enjoy these snippets. If the feedback is positive, I’ll post the whole thing later.
On Jar Jar:
G — The thing with this is, we want to make a very painful character. We want him to be extremely clumsy with everything he does, as is the Don Knotts character or the Andy Dick character. Mr. Furley and the spazz from “Newsradio” were very bad at what they did. They had the dropsies with everything. They were falling all over themselves. They were very unprofessional. They were incredible wastes of space.
U — Like Skippy from “Family Ties.”
G — Yes, like Skippy from “Family Ties.” He’s a real yutz. Just annoying the hell out of you. And that is the key to the whole thing. That’s something you don’t see that much anymore.
L — Do you have a name for this thing?
G — I do for our #1 cash cow.
U — I hate this, but go ahead.
G — Shut the fuck up! Who asked you? Who makes the money around here? Anyway, Jar Jar Bronks. It has to be unique. It’s a character. Very galactic square. He was born underwater.
L — What do people call him? Jar Jar?
G — That’s what I was thinking. Or “Bronks.” Or “Totally Awesome Character That’s Gonna Pay For My Kid’s Retirement.” [Laughs] Anyway, he’s so annoying that people are trying to kill him as soon as he arrives or maybe even before he arrives. As soon as he gets there, there are Jedis popping out of walls, all these slimy characters are following him, all that stuff that happens in space to people everyone hates.
On Darth Maul:
G — He’s the guy who’s been all around the universe. He’s a soldier of fortune. He is also painted all red and black and has totally bad-ass horns. Kids love that stuff. Maul is an archeologist of pain and an anthropologist of fear. A Ph.D in evil. He’s a doctor of lightsabering, he’s a college professor with a death wish. The thing is, though, he got involved in being Palpatine’s bitch. Sort of being his male handmaiden. And it became a very lucrative profession so he, rather than be some rogue Jack Burton-type, he became sort of a contract employee for this prissy old Sith guy. And that’s why he wears those parachute pants. Because he’s forced to.
G — I think basically he’s very ignorant about everything. Maybe he thinks that most adults are just full of shit, and that he’s going to be totally awesome no matter what he does anyway. Better that he mouths off to impress people he barely knows. That’s the key also. He knows how to completely not ingratiate himself with anyone. He knows what’s important – totally wizard pods and yelling all the time. He knows to go in there like a bull in a china shop and destroy everyone’s patience.
On the beginnings of the Anakin/Padme romance:
G — I was thinking that she crash lands on Tatooine and meet this female slave with a really annoying kid – Anakin. She could have known this little bitch when he was just a kid. Had an affair with him when he was eight.
L — And she was ninteen.
G — In the next movie, she hasn’t seen him in twelve years. Now he’s all hunky and young adult. She looks the same age, though. It’s a real strange relationship.
U — He had better be real hunky to justify the ickiness.
G — Fuck you! He’s twenty-something, and he knew her ten years ago when he was ten or whatever and she was way older. It’s like a hot babysitter situation that actually pays off. It would be amusing to make him slightly young at the time.
L — And promiscuous. He came onto her.
G — Ten is right on the edge. I know it’s an outrageous idea, but it is interesting. Once he’s sixteen or seventeen it’s not interesting anymore.
U — Man, you sound like Michael Jackson.
On the Jedi rat tail hairstyles:
L – What if it’s a hairstyle we hate, a hairstyle the audience can’t stand? It’s always on our hero and no one likes it very much, like a mullet.
G — A Flock of Seagulls cut would be a perfect thing.
U — What hairstyle don’t people like?
G — A rat tail.
U — Oh yeah, a real nasty rat tail, braided and shit.
G — It doesn’t have to be braided.
L — Obi Wan could have two or three of them.
U — That’s a pretty brave fashion statement.
G — He’s a fucking Jedi, he doesn’t care what people think. He can make you forget he even has a rat tail.
On the deleted bantha chase sequence:
G — What can Jar Jar chase them with? What if he jumps on a bantha?
L — I love it. It’s a great idea. There’s never been a bantha chase before.
U — Is this bantha going to chase a pod racer?
L — You know how fast a bantha can run? Not only that, he can jump over jawas and things. It could be a funny chase that ends in tragedy. You’re laughing your head off and suddenly, “My God, that bantha’s dead.”
U — We still have the big fight at the end to do. And now we have a bantha chase.
G — We’ve added another million dollars.
U — So? You make that on your way to the crapper every morning.
On the ending:
G — If you follow classic dramatic plotting, that’s what is going to happen. You kill the only interesting character, and you create as much malaise after that as you possibly can.