Conjuring a lost classic: William Friedkin’s Sorcerer resurrected

For many moviegoers in 1977, it was the most anticipated movie of the summer. Coming as it did from an up-and-coming and internationally renowned wunderkind director whose penchant for verisimilitude marked a radical break with typical Hollywood studio filmmaking, it was undoubtedly destined for greatness. Loaded with action and exceptional special effects, a cast of relative unknowns, and based on the director’s previous hit, the response was expected to be phenomenal. It was not Star Wars, and when it was released only a week after Lucas’ little science-fiction space adventure, William Friedkin’s critically maligned Sorcerer, a remake of Henri Clouzot’s classic French film The Wages of Fear (1955), was out of the zeitgeist faster than the prints were out of the theatres.

The original poster for Sorcerer (1977)

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“Are you a good flick or a bad flick?”: The Waste of Arguing for Goodness

In 1983 Siskel and Ebert got into a frivolous argument with fellow critic John Simon, then film critic for the National Review and Drama Critic for New York Magazine, over whether Return of the Jedi is a great film or not. I include this piece because it displays the profound emptiness associated with a profession that wastes its time classifying films according to prescriptive judgments. It also reveals that these issues with which we contend in contemporary popular criticism are not so isolated. Though I am undoubtedly on the side of Siskel and Ebert in arguing the technical and affective merits of the original Star Wars trilogy, notice how both sides lapse into strings of non sequiturs when asked if the film is great. The reporter asks “Is this film good?” To which Ebert replies “it excited me, it made me laugh, it made me thrilled, and that’s what a movie like this is for.” I agree with him completely, but this gets us no closer to answering the original question, precisely because the original question is a useless question. Not a good or bad question, but a useless one. Nothing can be made of it. It’s the work of youtube viewer satisfaction tallies, not the issue of prolonged study (though the results could then be tabulated to form the basis of some anthropological observations about cultural responses to art, yet this work would be an abstraction from the original product in question: the film).

The real valuable statements are found precisely in Ebert’s response to the movie. The question “what did this movie do” provokes a more solid and valuable answer than “is this movie good or bad.” Ebert’s remarks are a useful foundation for exploring the film further, while ostensibly acknowledging its intent as an affective rather than intellectual piece of pop art. How did it excite Ebert, and what tools did it employ to do so? How did it thrill him? Arguing whether a movie being thrilling or not thrilling is good or bad is a useless debate. Continue reading

A Meaningful Murder in Star Wars Episode III

You’d be forgiven for thinking the original trilogy was a bit too coincidental, given that the whole Galaxy is ruled over by this one bad guy, and the only people who can bring down his Empire are his unwitting children. But Lucas wanted to keep things as a family affair, and it’s notable that rather than roll our eyes at the absurd improbability that Luke Skywalker would happen to find almost the only eligible human female in the galaxy just to discover she is, in fact, his sister (which actually makes some sense given the first condition), we instead accept all these coincidences as a matter of destiny. Part of the interest in Lucas’ original trilogy was precisely this appeal to myth and fantasy. His intent was, in his own words, a space opera, a science-fantasy in which destiny was the primary theme.

It seems though that Lucas ran out of things to say about this theme by the time he got around to finally making his new trilogy. Continue reading

How to Make Midi-chlorians work in Star Wars (AKA The Anakin Clone Method)

The piece suggests how to make midi-chlorians work (besides cutting them completely) starting with one tiny little change in numbers that could have drastically altered the entire Star Wars franchise. (Portions of this discussion appeared in a previous video analysis, and based on the ensuing discussion and feedback, I’ve decided to expand my conclusion somewhat and provide it separately here.) Continue reading

How Star Wars Episode II Could Have Saved Everything

Full disclosure, this post was inspired by Belated Media’s fantastic video, “What if Star Wars: Episode 1 was good?” If you haven’t already seen it, it has about 1.2 million views (so you’re probably the only one). Go check it out. After mine, before mine, whatever. Just watch both (or neither).

Ok, so I have this killer headline “How Star Wars Episode II could’ve saved everything”. What follows are my thoughts on how a few changes to the story and structure of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones could have salvaged the film, the prequel trilogy, and even re-invigorated the Star Wars franchise. (No small feat, I realize.)

I think it’s fair to say at this time that the prequel trilogy falls short not only for fans of the series, but for casual moviegoers as well, people who don’t know the difference between an AT-AT and an AT-ST walker, couldn’t care less about midi-chlorians and whose eyes glaze over when you mention Han shoots first. But it didn’t need to be this way. There are a few but significant changes in the structure and story of Episode II that could’ve transformed the Star Wars into the most ambitious saga to ever grace the cinema screens–instead of one really great trilogy, followed by a not so great trilogy, and ending with serious hope for the future (no pressure J.J.). People have already mentioned ways of cutting the movie to make it better—removing the droid factory scene on Geonosis, removing much of the coliseum battle, but there’s a larger, more fundamental problem with the movie, a giant missed opportunity, that no amount of trimming can fix. Continue reading