Tag Archives: star wars

READY PLAYER ONE Drops 1st Trailer

By Tom Holste

Jul. 24, 2017

Over a year ago, I wrote an article about the upcoming film adaptation of the novel Ready Player One by Ernie Cline. To my surprise, it’s become the most “Liked” post I’ve made, and I’ve gotten more follows on my blog due to that than anything else!

For those unfamiliar with the source material, the novel is about a young man living in a future Earth where everything has deteriorated so much that the only escape is into a virtual reality “OASIS” where people can be whoever they want to be, and can have whatever they want to have, including their favorite pop culture icons. So, for instance, if you want to look like Batman and fly the Millennium Falcon, you can do that.

Cline’s novel is clever and fast-paced, but I figured with all the different intellectual properties from different companies mentioned, this film would be impossible to make. When Steven Spielberg stepped into the director’s chair, though, the film’s development really started to move forward. Spielberg is one of the few people in Hollywood that could make such a project happen; in fact, he already got multiple companies to work together for the animation extravaganza Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which he produced and Robert Zemeckis directed)That film met with such success and acclaim, it’s not surprising that studios would be willing to trust his instincts with this film as well.

(Also worth noting is that, when the novel came out, we hadn’t seen such universe-jumping franchises as The LEGO Movie or LEGO Dimensions yet, which is why I found such an onscreen mashup unlikely at the time.)

With such a high level of enthusiasm for the project, it’s only natural to share the first trailer for the film here:

A few random thoughts:

–While many different properties are indeed featured in the clips, naturally Warner Bros. put their properties front and center in the trailer. WB owns The Iron Giant, perhaps the licensed character that gets the most screen time in the trailer; DC Comics-owned characters (Harley Quinn and Deadshot) walk through one scene; and at another point Freddy Krueger (whose films were released through Warner-owned New Line Cinema) is also clearly visible.

There are cameos from the DeLorean from Back to the Future (Universal) and the van from The A-Team (Universal again, although Fox did the movie adaptation), but they’re basically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. (I’m not saying that the trailer doesn’t feature many non-Warner properties, just that these stood out to me more, and I actually had to go and look up articles to find out what was in the trailer.)

Non-Warner Bros. characters and stories may still feature heavily in the completed film; I recall that the 1983 MGM-owned WarGames featured significantly into the plot, and I believe that Voltron was present in the climax, as were some TIE Fighters. But it’s not surprising that the marketing focuses more on the in-house stuff.

Also, I expect that any non-Warner property that’s not absolutely essential to the plot (or anything that they couldn’t get the rights to) will get substituted with something else in the final film.

–Is it just me, or is it really weird to see Freddy Krueger in a Steven Spielberg movie? It’s not wrong or anything; it just seems odd for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.

–It’s been interesting to see the fairly recent shift in storytelling tastes. For a long time, crossovers within a company or on a TV network were common. There were a ton of Hanna-Barbera projects where Yogi Bear met up with Scooby-Doo and the Flintstones and other H-B characters; Magnum P.I. wound up on an episode of Murder, She Wrote; Paul Reiser’s character from Mad About You once showed up at the apartment of Kramer from Seinfeld; and so on.

As time went on, these crossovers began to feel more and more like lame cash grabs without much story justification. And so a lot of TV shows and movies only took place within their respective fictional universes, with creators going out of their way to define why other characters wouldn’t work within the consistency of the universe. (In an interview about the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie, screenwriter James Gunn said that Grape Ape shouldn’t be able to casually exist next to Scooby: “This Mystery Inc. might freak out if they saw Grape Ape and try to pull his head off, thinking it was a mask.”)

However, possibly due to the rise of social media, where we’re used to scrolling through our feed and seeing a Lord of the Rings meme followed by a SpongeBob meme, audiences seem ready to accept crossovers again, and if the reception to Cline’s novel — as well as the aforementioned LEGO productions — is any indication, the idea even gets them very excited.

–Since John Williams ran into scheduling conflicts, composer Alan Silvestri has stepped up to the plate. As much as I love Williams’ work, Silvestri is pretty exciting to have on board. Silvestri’s work includes Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and The Avengers. Since we know at least the DeLorean appears in the film, expect Silvestri to work in a reference to this and possibly other franchises in the music.

–The movie looks visually stunning, and I actually probably would be excited for this film based on the story alone even if it wasn’t this huge mashup (although that is a huge selling point for me). And that really is the best way to go: The movie needs to function as a satisfying story in and of itself, or eventually the novelty will wear off.

Anyway, this first trailer is a rousing success!

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Disney Seeks More Fortune and Glory with INDY V

By Tom Holste

Mar. 15, 2016

First of all, hello and welcome to all of my new readers! Thank you for the likes and the follows over the past few weeks.

So here’s the latest bit of interesting movie industry news: It looks like Disney is finally moving forward with a new Indiana Jones film. This would be the fifth in the series.

There’s been talk of speculation of another Indy film pretty much since the last one came out in 2008. Rumors intensified after Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, but for the time being, the Mouse House only seemed interested in Star Wars.

But having gotten their first major victory under their belts — The Force Awakens wowed the critics and shattered box-office records — the magic makers at Disney seem keen on trying their hand at Lucasfilm’s other big franchise.

Bob Iger expressed his continuing interest in making another Indiana Jones movie back in December, but it was vague and noncommittal. What makes this latest announcement so newsworthy is that Disney has gone so far as to announce a date: Jul. 19, 2019. Both the series star Harrison Ford and director Steven Spielberg have also officially been confirmed. This time, it seems, Disney means business.

In the press release from Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios: “Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history, and we can’t wait to bring him back to the screen in 2019 … It’s rare to have such a perfect combination of director, producers, actor and role, and we couldn’t be more excited to embark on this adventure with Harrison and Steven.”

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Note two names that weren’t mentioned: George Lucas and Shia LeBouf.

Frankly, I was surprised that the franchise didn’t start over with a new actor. After Crystal Skull, I thought maybe a fresh start was best. Don’t get me wrong: I never want to live in a world where Raiders of the Lost Ark is no longer canon. But Casino Royale so wonderfully gave us a new take on James Bond, I wondered if a new actor and director could enliven this franchise the same way.

After all, both Ford and Spielberg seemed bored during the last installment. Perhaps, though, that was because they were unhappy with the flying saucer storyline they were forced to go with at Lucas’ insistence. Maybe this time, they can make the story they wanted to make last time.

Speaking of the story, it’s interesting that there’s no mention of a screenwriter yet. One would think that everyone wouldn’t be moving forward if there wasn’t an idea already in mind. Perhaps they have an idea but don’t want to spill any secrets yet, for fear of someone beating them to the punch (as in the ridiculous game of one-upmanship going on between the makers of Batman v. Superman and Civil War).

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“Our movie has a BILLION superheroes in it.” “Oh, yeah? Well, OUR movie has a MILLION KAJILLION superheroes in it!”

Or perhaps there was simply a gap in Ford’s and Spielberg’s schedule, and they decided this was their chance to redeem their names, and the next step is to figure out what exactly it is that they want to do.

I’m using a bit of over-dramatic wording to make my point, but to be fair, Crystal Skull isn’t an outright bad film. There are funny moments and a lot of action scenes that work. It’s just not really a great film, especially not in comparison with the others. I don’t even blame George Lucas for wanting to try a little something different with the flying saucers angle. For me (and for a lot of others), the whole thing just didn’t fully gel.

I have to say that it’s strange that the story will now have to be set in the late 1960s . I feel like the 1930s setting of the earlier films made the movies seem more distant and exotic, and made the fantastical endings seem more plausible. But the late 1960s are just a few years before I was born! That doesn’t seem as distant or exotic. Then again, maybe that has more to say about my age than it does about the original time and setting.

So I’m trying to keep an open mind. After the last installment, I didn’t think we needed any more, at least not from the original team. But then Harrison Ford was arguably the best thing about The Force Awakens. So maybe there’s more cinematic treasure to be mined from Ford and Spielberg after all.

 

READY PLAYER ONE Won’t Be Ready Until 2018

By Tom Holste

Feb. 10, 2016

Box Office Mojo has reported that Warner Bros. is moving the release date of the Steven Spielberg movie Ready Player One from December 1, 2017 to March 30, 2018. This move comes in the wake of Disney moving Star Wars Episode VIII from May 26, 2017 to the December date previously occupied by the Spielberg film.

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(Darth Vader voice) “Even your high-profile Spielberg movie is insignificant compared to the power of a STAR WARS sequel.”

The fact that Warner Bros. moved the date of their movie away from Star Wars is not surprising at all. The fact that they moved it to March does say a lot about the current trend in big-ticket movies away from traditional dates.

Previously, big movies were only released in the summer or around the holidays. Spring and fall used to be seasons for studios to release movies that might have a harder time finding an audience (sci-fi films without big-name actors, or quirky comedies from overseas). But Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (also by Warner Bros.) is being released in March, and now Ready Player One — based on a best-selling book that’s loaded with nostalgia and geek references, and directed by probably the most famous filmmaker living today — is also getting a spring release. Neither of these movies sound like they would have a hard time attracting an audience. 

What this move seems to reveal is that release dates are becoming less important overall to studios than they used to be. The prevailing thought used to be that people who might not care that much about something like Batman would still take a chance on his new movie if it was released during a vacation season when people head to the theater without much thought beforehand as to what they want to see. While the hardcore fans can almost always be counted on to show up for their favorite franchise, the people who don’t think that much about it can’t be expected to show up if it’s not convenient for them.

But now the rules are changing. While no one wants to open against Star Wars, the playing field is pretty much wide open otherwise. Batman is such a big property that Warner Bros. knows that they could release the movie on a cold Tuesday afternoon in February, and audiences will sell out the theaters in advance.

To put it another way, if you’re excited about Batman v. Superman, the fact that it’s not being released in June is not going to stop you from seeing it. And if you’re not interested, releasing the movie at a different time is not going to convince you otherwise.

Brief FORCE AWAKENS Review; Spoil the Movie, I Will Not

By Tom Holste

Jan. 2, 2016

Most of my friends know what a huge Star Wars fan I am, so it won’t be a surprise to most of them that I saw the movie on the Friday that it opened.

After seeing the film, I realized that I needed to immediately see it again (although I probably won’t be able to until home video). The first time, I was holding my breath without realizing it. Would the filmmakers be able to pull it off? Yes, they would. It wasn’t until the end credits were rolling that I could finally relax enough to say, “Yes. This is a quality movie. It’s no longer embarrassing to be a Star Wars fan.”

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The filmmakers missed an opportunity to name this film RISE OF THE MIDICHLORIANS.

Despite my own repeated statements before the release that the movie wouldn’t be able to make me feel like I was 8 years old again, some part of me still hoped it would. But at the end of the day, it’s just a movie, albeit a very entertaining one.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are both great in their roles, and the droid BB-8 is cute without being cloying. Harrison Ford is this movie’s MVP, though. He brings such fun and energy to the role of Han Solo, it’s like the character has never been gone. Watching him was my favorite part of this film.

However, I was surprised at how much more somber the movie was than I was expecting. I thought that this would be a lighthearted romp along the lines of the original 1977 movie, or even along the lines of JJ Abrams’ two Star Trek films. But this is the first part of a trilogy, and our characters have to be in some pretty sad, dark places in order for the story to have somewhere to go. If there’s no conflict for the characters, there would be no reason for them to be in this movie.

I was also surprised because I was expecting answers to a lot of my questions from the previews, but instead, I find myself with even more questions. Again, this makes sense. The filmmakers already know that they have 3 films with which to tell their story. It wouldn’t work to tell us everything right up front. Where would the trilogy go from there?

One more concern I had, which seems to be echoed by a lot of other people, is that there was an over-reliance on ideas seen in the other movies. Since Lucasfilm had previously announced that the Expanded Universe (the various Star Wars novels, comics, video games, etc.) were no longer canon, I thought that they intended to go in a bold, fresh new direction that couldn’t be accomplished with the old continuity. Instead, the filmmakers puzzlingly decided to do a retread of what we’ve already seen, and tell a story where many of the previous tales didn’t need to be jettisoned.

In short, what I came to the theater to see was familiar characters in new situations. What I instead got was (mostly) new characters in familiar situations.

Having said all of that, my teenage stepson came out of the theater totally energized. He had never had the chance to see any Star Wars movie in a theater before, and it blew him away. He declared that The Force Awakens was not only his favorite Star Wars movie, but also his favorite movie ever, period!

I think that was the ultimate goal of the filmmakers: to show modern kids what it was like to watch Star Wars for the first time in a theater, and to create a new generation of fans. Those concerns trumped all others for the filmmakers, and they seem to have succeeded admirably.

So, again, it was a very entertaining movie and I had a really good time. But I immediately wanted to see it again because I had some different (and perhaps somewhat unrealistic) expectations of the movie going in. I want to see it again with revised expectations, and I think I’ll enjoy the movie even more then.

STAR WARS and the Art of Managing Expectations

By Tom Holste

Aug. 5, 2015

Coming this Christmas (Dec. 18, to be precise), a little, obscure independent film is going to be released, even though you haven’t heard of it. It’s called Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Luke_and_R2

“Star Wars Episode VII” will finally tell us whether or not Luke ever got to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.

I’m kidding, of course. Probably every man, woman and child in America, as well as most of the rest of the world, has heard about the upcoming Star Wars movie. Indeed, there might be people in Third World countries who have heard of The Force Awakens. The return of classic movie characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia – characters who many of us grew up with – is creating a fever pitch of excitement. This may be the most highly-anticipated movie of all time. It certainly is for me.

And that’s why I’m now trying to do everything in my power to make myself less excited for the film.

The last time I was this excited for a film was before the release of the first of three Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace. I was a bit excited after that for the next couple of films in the series, hoping that the series would recover and return to form, but I was a bit more wary each time. Nothing matched my excitement for the first prequel  – and nothing matched the extreme letdown that I felt.

While I believe that my criticisms against the more recent films are valid, I’ve come to realize that it would have been impossible for anyone to make a movie that fulfilled all my wildest dreams. I wanted movies that would affect me in the same way that the originals did, but I was no longer the same person that I was the first time around.

In the first place, I was a child when the originals were released. And children don’t really “watch” movies so much as they experience them as important life events. I wasn’t analyzing the script or the acting or the filmmaker’s choice of camera angles. The original Star Wars movies happened to me the same way that “going to preschool for the first time” happened to me. By the time I saw Phantom Menace, I was no longer that person. I was someone who could note that Ewan MacGregor did a mostly good Alec Guiness impression and that George Lucas was really pushing “You assume too much” to be the next big catchphrase like “I have a bad feeling about this.” (It didn’t happen.)

While I like the analytical person I’ve become, and it would be unhealthy to try and stay in the same emotional and mental place for all of one’s life, part of me really wants the new films to make me an 8-year-old kid again – and that’s something that the new movies can never do, because I’m not a kid. I’m an adult with responsibilities and concerns, among them figuring out how to take a family of four to see the movie in December without breaking the bank. The best that any movie can do is entertain its audience. It can’t take away all the years that happened in between installments.

Secondly, the original 1977 movie was a surprise. Released at a time when no one expected outer-space films to do well, comprised of a largely unknown cast, it was expected to sink into obscurity. But then word of mouth got around and people found out that it was a really fun film. Sci-fi films of the era tended to be (in the eyes of many) boring, pretentious and overlong. No one had ever seen a sci-fi film that had so much humor and heart, or that moved at such an incredible pace.

The Force Awakens cannot surprise us like that. It comes after nearly 40 years of other filmmakers trying to make films exactly like Star Wars to duplicate its success.  Not only that, but we now have certain expectations of this specific film series created by all the other films. Perhaps the trickiest part for the filmmakers will be knowing how much to echo things that have already happened so that it feels like a Star Wars film without hearing complaints about the story being clichéd or the filmmakers giving in to manipulative “fan service.” There’s very little way that The Force Awakens can take us off guard the way the original Star Wars movie did.

Indeed, the only way that Awakens really could take us off guard is if it showed itself willing to shake up the status quo. There have been rumors of one of the characters from the original trilogy dying, or another character possibly having switched sides to fight with the bad guys. If either (or both) of these things happen, that would be the gutsiest thing that the filmmakers could do – and it would probably also be the point met with the most negativity.

Han_and_Chewie

Don’t call it a comeback. Chewie’s been here for years.

Lucasfilm already has a cautionary tale like this under its belt. In the late ‘90s, fearing that the Star Wars books had become too safe and predictable, the publishing team decided to shake things up by having Chewbacca heroically die saving Han and Leia’s kids. On paper, it’s a smart move dramatically, and it freed up writers from having to deal with a character that didn’t work very well in prose (“Chewbacca growled angrily,” “Chewbacca moaned softly,” etc.). But the fan reaction was livid and never-ending.

After being bought by Disney, one of the rules established by Lucasfilm is that there would be a new canon, and that none of the earlier events portrayed in the books or comics had actually happened anymore. Sure enough, the trailer released in April shows Chewbacca alive and well. But how much suspense can there be in a story if certain beloved characters are always safe? The very thing needed to make the audience react with the same shock that they had when they saw Ben Kenobi get killed in the original film is probably the very thing they can’t do for fear of ticking off the audience.

So the new movies can’t make us kids again, and they probably can’t surprise us in the way the others did. But they could still possibly be very good movies. And I need to prepare myself for the fact that this is the most I can reasonably expect from them.

If the film is the best it could possibly be, it could be like Toy Story 3, which revived a beloved franchise many years after the original movies, and did so to great success and acclaim. It was the biggest box-office hit of the year and it won an Oscar for Best Animated Movie. (I was thrilled when Michael Arndt, who wrote Toy Story 3, was brought on board for Ep. VII, and a bit worried that he was removed after writing the first draft.) If the film is as bad as it could possibly be, it could be like The Phantom Menace, a boring slog that’s illogical beyond even reasonable suspension of disbelief, with terrible dialogue and rotten acting (although the excellent director JJ Abrams has never created anything as bad as that).

But there’s also the possibility that it could be middle of the road, like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Needlessly Long Title. The acting, dialogue and pacing were much better than Phantom Menace, but there were time-wasting subplots, needless politicizing, and new supporting characters that failed to resonate. And this was made by many of the same people who had done the original movies.

LawrenceKasdan

Can Lawrence Kasdan save the STAR WARS franchise? Difficult to say. Always in motion is the future.

So, on the one hand, I’m excited that Lawrence Kasdan is on board for the new movies. Kasdan wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark) but was absent from the prequels – and it shows. Kasdan seems to be the one largely responsible for giving the original trilogy characters much greater depth and complexity than they originally had, while expanding the mythology and fleshing out the universe. Yes, he was building off of Lucas’ ideas, but Lucas seems to work best when collaborating with others, like Walt Disney. Lucas suffers when trying to do everything on his own.

(In Lucas’ defense, he did ask Kasdan, as well as Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, to be involved in all the prequels, but they all turned him down, subscribing to the auteur film theory that says that the movies would be better if Lucas did everything himself. If ever a series of movies existed to smash the auteur theory to pieces, it was the prequels.)

So, as I said, I’m excited that Kasdan is involved. But I’m also a little nervous that he might actually be the weak link in the chain. Just as Lucas and Spielberg didn’t have enough distance and perspective to make Star Wars and Indiana Jones what they needed to be again, perhaps Kasdan has the same problem. He also hasn’t had a non-Star Wars critical or commercial success in years. Fanboys have been endlessly complaining about the choice of Abrams as director, but I think Kasdan might actually be the bigger wild card.

At any rate, having huge expectations has never worked for any movie-going experience that I can personally recall, or that I’ve seen in others. Being a huge fan of the Narnia book series did not make me more receptive to the recent films; it made me more frustrated about the changes. Guardians of the Galaxy was so heavily hyped for me that by the time I saw it, my initial reaction was: “Yeah, so what?” (I’ve since warmed up to it.)

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A plus of this movie that it is absolutely 100% Jar Jar Binks-free.

Conversely, I spent a year hearing horror stories of how bad Amazing Spider-Man 2 was, but when I finally saw it, I was actually pleasantly surprised. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s the only Spidey film so far to really capture the character’s sense of humor, a much-needed trait for us to like the character when he reverts to whiny Peter Parker. There were perhaps too many villains, but there was a point to each of the villain subplots that actually affected the characters and stories as a whole. And the death of a major character near the end of the film – which I had been told was handled laughably – was actually portrayed with great poignancy.

The difference between ASM2 and the other films I mentioned? I went in with rock-bottom expectations for ASM2. I had stratospheric high hopes for the others – and those hopes were crushed, as they only could be.

So I’m allowing myself to be excited for various things about the new movies, but I’m trying (some days without much success) to avoid getting myself too excited. The only way I can really enjoy The Force Awakens is if I don’t pin all my hopes and dreams on it. It’s a movie – no more and no less. Expecting anything else is just a path to the Dark Side.