(UPDATE: I got a bit carried away due to being passionate about the issue and this became really long. I apologize for this, and hope that at least a few people make it all the way through.)
So George Lucas has recently declared that the blockbuster is dead. What he is neglecting to point out is that it was him that killed it. Sure, it isn't entirely his fault that the blockbuster died, he did have a little help from those Wachowski wackjobs, Roland Emmerich and the double-threat of Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay, but it was at least partially his fault. You really can't deny that people were repeatedly disappointed by the sheer suckiness of movies they've looked forward to -- some for more than two decades. People are finally realizing that making a film bigger, shinier and explodeyer does not in fact make it better. In most cases, it actually makes it worse.
George also doesn't point out that he actually created the blockbuster (with considerable help from Steven Spielberg) way back in 1977, dooming us to years and years and years of shitty movies. See, it was Star Wars and Jaws that caught people's attentions, and began making money at a rapid pace. Hollywood beancounters began to take notice, and suddenly they were pushing for even more bigger, shinier, explodeyer movies of increasingly crappier substance. Then along came megaplexes, overpriced concessions, product tie-ins, action figures, etc, thus cheapening the art form of movie making, and turning it into one big commercial.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Star Wars (and to a larger extent, Jaws) a great deal. They are very entertaining. Are they deserving of such fanfare from a technical standpoint? Not really. See, the brilliance in Jaws only came to be when the stupid rubber shark broke down, forcing them to shoot most of the movie without ever seeing the shark, thus accidentally exploiting one of the most misunderstood principles of movie making: the imagination of the moviegoers is a more powerful thing than latex and miniatures. Star Wars contains nothing new; nearly every aspect of the movie is cribbed from Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials1, with a bit of classic literature thrown in for good measure2. Upon seeing the "finished3" work of Episodes IV-VI, you might get the impression that there was some really subtle planning going on, allowing things to tie together in masterful execution, but you'd be wrong. No matter what you may have heard George say in the past, he did not write Episodes 1-6 (or 1-9, depending on when you heard George say it) and plan it all out before creating Star Wars, he went and made sequels after the unexpected success of his stand-alone original movie. The studio, Kenner Toys, and the gigantic friggin' boat-loads of money occupying George's living room helped make that decision an easy one, and he's been frequently lying about it (inconsistently) ever since.
What does all this have to do with blockbusters? Well, with the increasing presence of blockbuster movies occupying more and more of the (ever expanding) movie theaters, it became harder and harder to make movies that actually consist of substance. How frequently have there been One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nests, Cool Hand Lukes, Guess Who's Coming to Dinners (OK, so there was another one of those recently, but it helps make my case. Frickin trash.) and the like after the release of Star Wars? Sure it has happened, but it is no comparison to the pre-Star Wars era. Without question cinema has been hurt by these blockbusters, despite Hollywood making tons of money off them. George is right to point out that things are changing, and it's really about time. Finally we are starting to see excellent movies, with excellent reviews making plenty of money -- without a single action-figure, lunchbox, breakfast cereal4 or Burger King tie-in.
DISCLAIMER: In no way should a reader think that I am bashing on Star Wars, because I am not. I like them, especially Empire. I just don't like what they've helped do to the medium of cinema. It is OK to like Star Wars; I like them, and so should you. I'm just hoping you can realize the negative impact they've contributed to, and realize that action figures do not a good film make. Also, I hope you recognize that some really great movies don't have explosions or big stars or expensive CG pets, and that in many cases, they're better than the ones that do.
Explosions are pretty cool though.
1: Upon the release of the original Battlestar Galactica series, George and his cronies took legal action accusing them of stealing many aspects of Star Wars illegally. The Battlestar folk simply filed their own lawsuit, pointing out that every thing the Lucas people claimed was stolen was in fact originally stolen from Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon, and miscellaneous other sci-fi serials from a bygone era, to which the Lucas folk had no reply, other than dropping the suit.
2: This is most evident in the whole 'overcoming the sins of the father' motif that encompassed the Vader/Luke relationship. This was not present in Star Wars until they were forced to come up with plot elements for the sequels. Note Luke making out with Leia.
3: Finished is a terrible word to use, as every subsequent re-release on every single medium has been different in some way than the prior. These movies are constantly evolving, and will probably never truly be "finished." This is a strong argument for why none of the movies are truly deserving of a Best Picture award; if it truly was a best picture, why the need to keep going back and changing things?
4: Brokebacki-O's would be pretty awesome though. "I just can't quit.. eating a balanced breakfast."
The author lives in Vancouver, Washington, USA with his girlfriend and a menagerie of cats, rats, fish, birds, guinea pigs and robots.
Among other inanities, he strives to use investigative techniques to work young starlet breasts into every aspect of rational discourse -- focusing on the discourse, thus making it not perverted. Also, has recently begun a career as "Internet hairstylist."
He can be contacted via email and Jabber IM at 'email@example.com'. He likes to be contacted.
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