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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

STAR WARS (1977)

And now it's a heartbreaker. Between dissing George Lucas for his recent pet project (RED TAILS/’12) and the current buzz over Disney acquiring rights to the STAR WARS series (and all related properties?), it seemed right to check-up on the original, last seen here during its original engagement. (Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . at Grauman’s Chinese!) LucasFilm took so much grief over the tweaking done to the film on its last theatrical release (refined F/X, reinforced saber light and a pointless new scene for Jabba the Hutt with some repeated dialogue from Hans Solo) that a recent DVD issued both the massaged print and the original cut which is a few minutes shorter. So, after all this time and all those copycat Sci-Fi/effects-heavy fantasy pics, how does it look and play? Pretty gosh darn wonderful. And in either version. (Lucas hasn’t exactly played fair with the two prints, giving the latest incarnation a spiffy polish and the expected ‘enhanced for 16X9 screens’ feature for optimum picture quality. The original, a bit blasted here and there, gets no such boost, but looks well enough, anyway.) Oddly, both prints have synch problems in the first reel. You can’t tell at first since there’s make up and masks hiding so many mouths out there, but when Princess Leia shows up, the synch is an annoying two or three frames off. (Sloppy, sloppy 20th/Fox.) No matter, the thrill remains, as does the wit, speed, fun, sense of imagination, beauty and quick-time storytelling which is, if anything, stronger than you recall. What a relief after the encrusted mythology, effects for the sake of effects, grandiosity and toy-selling priorities that soon submerged the original larky spirit of this grand adventure. And, heavens to Betsy, what marvelous perfs! Well, except for Carrie Fisher who comes off as a bit of a lummox. That odd Mid-Atlantic accent and the white outfit; was Lucas aiming for a sort of Olivia de Havilland/Maid Marian thing? Well, never mind, everything else is just super. Most especially Alec Guinness, who needs only to open his mouth, or to contemplate the scene, and you feel honored to be in the presence. And, while it’s always fun to spot the ‘inspirations’ (read rip-offs) by John Williams in his scores (his latest, LINCOLN, takes more than a fair share out of the sound world of Aaron Copland’s famous A LINCOLN PORTRAIT), who remembers the nods in here toward Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING in the early desert scenes, in addition to the well-known nips of Korngold & Tchaikovsky? And all that precision editing, the kind that brings a rush with simple cuts when Han Solo makes his ‘surprise’ return to the action. It sets up some naughty giggles when Lucas goes all Leni Riefenstahl TRIUMPH OF THE WILL for his triumphal ending. NOTE: Started watching to check on differences between the two editions, then just couldn’t stop. It’s really a wonderful pic.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Please note this post’s title, not Episode IV: A NEW HOPE Episode IV, but simply STAR WARS. The way Lucas spins his own legend, I’m surprised he never found a way to layer Hans Solo onto all the original posters after the fact.

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