“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!
My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?
Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.
Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne
There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.
Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.
Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will open in U.S. theaters on July 21st. It all began as a French comic book series. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. The science fiction comics series was entitled “Valérian and Laureline,” or just “Valérian,” created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. The first volume in a complete collected works was recently published by Cinebook. “Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is now available from Cinebook. You can also purchase it at Amazon right here.
“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1”
This deluxe edition includes various supplementary material related to the movie. It starts out with an exclusive interview with the film’s director, Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). He shares his childhood adoration for the Valerian comics. He dutifully awaited each new installment in Pilote magazine, just like all the other kids he knew. The Valerian comics, with their mix of classic science fiction and whimsical fantasy, helped to influence Star Wars. And perhaps, only now, has movie technology caught up to do justice to a Valerian movie.
Drawing by Jean-Claude Mézières of Star Wars meets Valerian
All you really need to know to enjoy the movie is that it’s like Star Wars but with a distinctively French flare. The main characters are a couple of special operatives, Valérian and Laureline, on a mission to save the world, or should I say, the universe! It is in reading the actual comics that a reader quickly picks up on that refreshing sense of irreverence that is Valerian. Keep in mind that director Luc Besson worked with Valerian artist Jean-Claude Mézières on “The Fifth Element.” Indeed, this is a very special case of a major motion picture and its comics source material working seamlessly together.
Now, consider the significance of the Valerian comics because, make no big mistake, Valerian set the stage for much that was to come. Valerian comics, in their day, were groundbreaking. There was nothing quite like it in its scope and influence. These comics hit France in the Sixties during a major time of transition: a post World War II culture seeking out fresh new entertainment. To get away from the gray and the drab, the two French creators of Valerian went west to the U.S. for a time to get recharged. In fact, their first work together originated in Salt Lake City, Utah!
Panel excerpt from Valerian
In the U.S., Mézières, the artist, and Christin, the writer, were enthralled with wide open spaces, colorful B-movies, and great promise for change, as demonstrated with the Civil Rights movement. They honed their skills. Mézières focused on such artistic talent as Giraud, Jijé, Franquin, and Mad magazine. Christin focused on science fiction writers like Asimov, Van Vogt, Vance, and Wyndham. And, together, they created Valerian.
This first volume of the collection contains books 1 and 2 of the series: The City of Shifting Waters – in its original two parts, 9 pages longer format – and The Empire of a Thousand Planets. It also includes book 0, Bad Dreams, translated into English for the first time: the very first adventures of our two heroes, published after City and retroactively numbered.
And to really get a sense of what’s in store with the Valerian movie, check out this particularly informative trailer below that goes into the vital connection to the original comics. Yes, Valerian is a big deal. Consider it as big as Star Wars:
“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is a 160-page full color hardcover suitable for all ages. Buy it on Amazon right here.
What if your favorite movie character had poor eyesight? Take Indiana Jones, for instance. What if his eyesight failed him right at that crucial moment when he is risking his life to plunder that golden idol? Not a pretty sight! Award-winning illustrator Wren McDonald has created a series of comics for Visian ICL.
Not a pretty sight for Luke Skywalker!
At Visian ICL, they take vision very seriously. Visian ICL believes that everyone deserves to see the world as vividly as possible – whether with glasses, contacts or more the advanced procedures which they offer. To learn more about Visian ICL, and see more Wren McDonald comics, go right here.
Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
I went to see “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” at the Seattle Cinerama Theatre just to make things even more special. Any Star Wars movie is a special event and this latest installment is no different. The big draw for me is the winning performance by Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, daughter of a great rebel hero who must prove that her father did not fall in league with the Empire. Her journey becomes more complicated as she runs into conflict with her handler, Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). Our story takes place in vintage Star Wars, just before 1977’s A New Hope. This movie opens the window further to show just what wonders still lie ahead with a Disney-owned Star Wars franchise.
I’m not a hardcore Star Wars fan but even I could appreciate Peter Cushing back on the screen, digitally re-created, in order to reprise his role as the villain Grand Moff Tarkin. Most of the other CGI trickery was all Wookiee to me. But I did catch the vintage vibe here and there with cantina characters popping up and X-Wing fighter pilots back in action. George Lucas must have decided early on that his Rebel Alliance fighters were going to look more like average folks than hardened warriors. Any minute, you could expect your own grandmother to pop on the screen. In fact, one of the pilots does look to be someone’s grandmother.
The plot is pretty straightforward: earnest and lovely Jyn Erso must press on, save her dad, and save the rebellion. There’s a bunch of doublespeak in the interim and good-natured talk of believing in the force within you. There’s nothing really here with the iconic quality of a Yoda but that’s okay. We’re already treading on iconic vintage soil so that’s plenty. But there is one compelling addition in the form of the robot K-2SO brilliantly voice by Alan Tudyk.
The gang is all here.
Let me tell you a few things about K-2SO. He’s a big guy, bigger and brasher than C-3PO. I had a little girl seated next to me and she perked up every time that K-2SO acted up. He’s none too refined at times. Where C-3PO relied upon cunning, K-2SO is just as likely to rely upon brawn. In one scene, when a gatekeeper asks if he requires any help, K-2SO simply nods, raises his fist, and pounds the guy to death. It’s a pretty odd scene but easy enough in context to pass over. There’s a war on, you know. In fact, for one quick scene, we close in on ground forces that may as well be in Syria. Then we zap back into space for a bit and, ultimately, we see that everything does not rely just upon brawn but on Jyn Erso guiding the rebels back to a new sense of hope.
One spoiler, perhaps. You probably already know this. It won’t hurt anything really if you don’t but Carrie Fisher appears at the very end. It is a CGI version of her 19-year-old self and she claims victory for the rebellion and welcomes a new hope. That really touched me. The whole experience of seeing a Star Wars movie and in such a regal movie house brought home to me the still enduring power of cinema. With people consuming content is every conceivable way possible, it is reassuring that we can all be drawn back to a more basic and communal activity as going to the movies, to go and sit together to see the big event on the screen. It is not nearly the same powerful experience as it was for moviegoers in the heyday of the box office but it’s still something. It comes pretty darn close.
Kerry O’Quinn and Friends. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
Kerry O’Quinn is the co-creator and publisher of STARLOG, FANGORIA, CINEMAGIC, FUTURE LIFE, COMICS SCENE and more than a dozen other monthly newsstand magazines. Mr. O’Quinn is featured in an upcoming documentary on fandom, FROM THE BRIDGE, written and directed by Spencer F. Lee and hosted by George Takei. It was my pleasure to get a chance to interview Kerry. Here is someone who tapped into the world of fandom as if he were born to do so. O’Quinn and his partner Norman Jacobs got their start by creating and publishing a soap opera magazine in 1972. By 1976, they were ready to pursue publications aligned with their passions for genre cinema, television, and related pop culture.
Kerry O’Quinn, co-creator and publisher of STARLOG and FANGORIA
Starlog and Fangoria are the flagship publications from that golden era. Starlog was launched in 1976. Fangoria was launched in 1979 and continues in its great tradition of covering the horror scene. These are the prime publications, along with Cinemagic, that would go on to influence thousands of creative people including many of the most celebrated talents working today like J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. Before the internet, you got your in depth information on the entertainment industry from magazines. One cannot stress enough how significant Starlog and Fangoria were in their heyday.
Fangoria, Issue One, August 1979
Kerry O’Quinn would go on to celebrate the worlds of science fiction, horror, comic books, and fandom in various ways. Some of the most notable are his conventions that paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of Star Wars, the 20th anniversary of Star Trek, and the 20th anniversary of Starlog. It was during the 10th anniversary celebration of Star Wars that Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas would share a stage for the first and only time together. How was such a marvelous feat accomplished? Well, Kerry O’Quinn was friends with both of these legends. It was Kerry O’Quinn who landed an exclusive in depth interview with George Lucas that was so comprehensive that it spanned three issues of Starlog.
Gene Roddenberry meets George Lucas, 1987, the 10th anniversary of Star Wars
Over the years, Kerry O’Quinn has proven himself to be a man of many talents consistently exploring and creating new work. He has become an accomplished screenwriter with a number of projects including “Dragworms,” his unique take on zombies which is actually more character-driven than just blood and guts. What strikes me about Kerry O’Quinn is his energy and determination to pursue his dreams. I can relate to him on many levels. We’re both from Texas. We both love New York. We both juggle a number of passions: writing, drawing, acting, filmmaking. I think some people are just wired to need to do many things and will find ways to realize each goal over the course of a lifetime. That’s what is special about Kerry O’Quinn. That said, he’d be the first to say it is well within reach for everyone to follow their dreams. For more details on his remarkable life and his observations, check out his website here.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Kerry, I want to chat with you about fandom, and the upcoming documentary that you are featured in, “From the Bridge,” and cover as much as we can about your remarkable career. I want to begin by giving a shout out to your friend, Kurt Edward Larson. He conducted such a beautiful and heartfelt interview with you.
KERRY O’QUINN: Kurt and I have known each other for a long time and have a lot of fun things in common. Kurt is such a Star Wars fan–and, when he got married several years ago, I wondered about what to get him–a toaster? a blender? No, what he would want was a day at Skywalker Ranch. I arranged that. He and his wife had lunch there and got a tour of the ranch. So, he was in heaven!
I was talking to a buddy of mine about doing this interview and we got to speculating over the long lines for Star Wars on the very first day of release. We were just kids when it came out. I started to think about how Jaws had attracted long lines too a couple of years prior. From your special vantage point, Starlog was already on the scene having come out in 1976, would you share with us your take on the explosion of excitement over Star Wars in 1977?
It was phenomenal timing. My partner, Norm Jacobs, and I had launched Starlog magazine in 1976, the Bicentennial year. At that time, there was no science fiction that was alive and happening. It was all stuff from the past that was being consumed. You know, stuff from the 1950s, the movies made by George Pal. Those movies were popular with nerds like me. But they weren’t going to win any Academy Awards or get any mainstream cheers of any kind. It was considered trash, like daytime soap operas. Horror movies, stuff like that, was not taken seriously.
Starlog, Issue Seven, August 1977
When we started the magazine, there wasn’t anything like it like there is today. And we had great difficulty starting the magazine for that reason. But, lo and behold, the very next year Star Wars came out. All of a sudden, it made the cover of Time magazine, with exactly the same X-wing cover that we had for Starlog. So, suddenly science fiction was at least getting noticed by a mainstream audience all over the world. It has gone on to become an important part of the culture in the same way that Star Trek has. And in the same way that horror and superheroes have. It’s very trendy today to be a nerd. It wasn’t 40 years ago.
I remember when I first met George Lucas. He was telling me about having lunch one day at Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Boulevard. And it was right across the street from Mann’s Chinese Theatre. He said that he looked across and he saw lines of people. He asked what was going on. And a friend told him that it was his movie that was playing. It didn’t occur to George that huge lines were gathering along the sidewalk for his movie. He was delightfully surprised by the enormous fan reaction to his movie as all the rest of us were.
It was when Star Wars lit up the sky like it did that Starlog went from a quarterly to a monthly magazine. Indeed, we were already there. Starlog was the voice of science fiction. And George launched the science fiction that is very much alive and booming today.
That scene with the long lines, that’s in your interview with George Lucas.
For our Star Wars fifth anniversary issue, I had called to arrange an interview with George Lucas. He had turned down all the big magazines. I was told that he wasn’t doing any interviews but I begged and pleaded. George agreed. I flew out from New York to visit him. This was before he had build Skywalker Ranch. I did an lengthy interview with him in which he told me all kinds of wonderful tales. We were very comfortable talking with each other. We had many of the same values and things that excited us. We talked about everything from space to technology to classic cars. We talked for hours at that first interview. In fact, it turned out to be too much for one issue so I turned into three consecutive parts spanning three issues of Starlog. I believe it is the longest interview anyone has ever done with George Lucas.
Starlog, Issue One, August 1976
Share with us your insights on how Star Trek became a phenomena, after having struggled in the ratings when it was originally broadcast.
It did indeed struggle. In fact, after the first two years, NBC had cancelled the series. And an amazing lady by the name of Bjo Trimble and her husband, John, did something that, at the time, was phenomenal. This was back in the mid-’60s. They organized a letter writing campaign to NBC by fans that generated more than a million letters. A TV network had never received that kind of reaction to the cancellation of a show–and they were stunned by it. Don’t forget that this is before the internet. Fans contacted each other back then with mimeographed newsletters mailed to each other. And then, ten years after the first broadcast of Star Trek, there was Starlog maganzine and fans could communicate with each other through our letters forum–as well as at conventions.
Bjo had gotten a television network to renew a cancelled series. That had never happened before. What Bjo did was allow for a third season of Star Trek. However, NBC scheduled it on Friday nights, which is a dead zone for shows. So, NBC cancelled it for the second time. Everybody seemed to think science fiction was dead. But it was very much alive within this hidden fan culture. And the documentary that my friend, Spencer, is putting together covers how this fan base has grown in the last 40 years. It went from this invisible, almost ashamed, audience to what it has become today when you have 150,000 people show up at Comic-Con in San Diego each year in July. And the biggest movies today are superhero, science fiction, and horror, everything that our magazines were all about.
Star Trek is right at the root of that response, at the heart of it. Gene Roddenberry created a concept of the future that was positive and inspiring: rationality, science, and the better values of human nature would prevail. Star Trek not only inspired the original audience that tuned in for its three-year run. In syndication, Star Trek reached around the world with its universal concept that the human race can be better. Gene deserves everybody’s praise as Star Trek is one of the most inspiring things to be created in any genre. Sometimes science fiction warns us of things that we need to be careful about. And sometimes science fiction shows us that things are within our control, we can make it better, and gives us hope for the future.
I’m thinking of how Star Trek was ahead of its time and so it made sense that it would struggle in the ratings. The same is true for The Twilight Zone. Both of these shows have a lot in common. The primary thing is that they both have subtext. There was social commentary in the guise of fantasy and science fiction, very much ahead of its time–now, we take that for granted, don’t we?
We do but we still need it since we don’t have a lot of it. Even with the science fiction that we have today, with all the dazzling special effects that we didn’t have back in the ’60s. Visually, science fiction today is dazzling, uncontrollable, and amazing. Back then, the effects were kind of clunky, rubber monsters and the like, but nobody cared because–and this is certainly true about The Twilight Zone–the story talked about the issues, important values, and principles.
Science fiction does not show us the day-to-day reality but something that may exist in the future, something that could and that ought to exist. That is the noblest undertaking of art and science fiction is the best at doing that. Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry are hugely important and we featured them in the early issues of Starlog. At that time, there wasn’t any science fiction, like we know today, so for the first few years most of the content in Starlog was looking at things from the past in terms of movies and television.
Cinemagic, Issue 20, June 1983
You were commenting on the past but then, at some point, you were not only commenting but you were part of the industry. There’s the whole how-to aspect from Cinemagic. There was quite the evolution as you became part of the scene.
Exactly. When we began Starlog, we included everything even those things that were very loosely considered science fiction. And that included horror, and articles on special effects, and Hollywood technology workshops, all the way to NASA and the space program. As we evolved, we discovered that we had many different audiences reading our magazine. Some of these people wanted to be filmmakers. They wanted to make these movies that they loved. Therefore, we branched off and created the magazine, Cinemagic which taught young filmmakers the techniques of production and special effects. We had a short film contest each year. We gave out prizes and trophies at a big theater in New York with celebrities to present awards. Some of these award winners are working in Hollywood today.
A lot of folks, like J.J. Abrams and Robert Rodriguez were inspired by Cinemagic. Steven Spielberg, at one time, said that Cinemagic was his favorite magazine, the only magazine promoting the future of the film industry to young people who were unsure if they could recreate the amazing things that they adored on the screen.
Director/Writer Wes Craven, from “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986)
I was curious about the overlap between Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. There does not seem to have been a rivalry between you and Forry Ackerman. Famous Monsters began in 1958. Fangoria began in 1979. You have Forrest J Ackerman, the founder and editor of Famous Monsters, in your film, “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors,” which I must say is an outstanding documentary on fandom in its own right.
What can you tell us about Forrest J Ackerman? What did you learn from him?
He was obviously the precursor to all of our magazines. He did something very daring in his day: to do a magazine about monsters! What kind of freaks are interested in something like that? Well, it turned out that there was quite a few. Again, these people were all in the closet, so to speak. They bought the magazine but they didn’t have any social status whatsoever. They were outcasts. They were unusual. That was me. That was a lot of people. Our magazine brought people out of the closet. I met Forry many years ago, at a convention, and immediately we had a lot in common. We became friends and we remained friends, it makes me sad to talk about it…I was with him just a few days before he died. He was still in good spirits and still telling me jokes.
From “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986) segment with Forrest J Ackerman
Forry was such an important person in my world and he became a very dear friend. I actually went over to his old home out here in L.A. years ago, which was called the Ackermansion. And it was a museum of props and artwork and all kinds of things that he collected from these strange movies that no one gave enough credit to but that he knew that it was an important part of the culture that should be saved and preserved. And there still is no permanent museum for that sort of thing. And I’m hoping that, in the near future, there will finally be a museum that recognizes and preserves science fiction, horror, superheroes, fantasy, all of the films that are now way out of the closet–and a part of mainstream culture, not just in the U.S. but world-wide.
Kerry, there are so many things we can talk about. Ayn Rand. Cannabis. More about Star Wars. There’s your book on how to chase stars, chase your dreams.
Yes, “Reach For The Stars.” It’s a book that has a lot of practical advice on how to make your distant dreams come true.
I also have to touch on your project with HBO which may still find its way back to them. It’s a Twilight Zone type of show called, “Future Tales.” Boy, that would be some show!
I agree, it would be. And it’s still a good idea. I haven’t been able to sell it to the Syfy channel even though that ought to be just the sort of show they would be interested in. I enlisted 45 of the world’s greatest science fiction writers (including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison), we signed agreements, that they would create a story or that we could use an existing story as the basis for one of our episodes. It was an anthology series all about the world of tomorrow. When HBO had me develop it, we were calling it “Future Tales.” Now, I’m calling it, “Exploring Tomorrow.”
I love that.
Me too. Who isn’t interested in tomorrow?
Exactly! You know, Kerry, I’m over the moon. We share so many connections. I’m a cartoonist.
Yes, and I love New York.
And I can see your early interest in cartooning probably having to do with being able to control the whole production and allowing your vision to run free.
That also carried over into animation. In New York, years ago, I was so impressed with Disney and his multiplane animation that created three-dimensional pictures. I got a bunch of plumbing pipes and I built my own multiplane animation stand in my apartment in New York. At the time, my dream was to create a little film that was so damn good that I’d send it out to Disney and he’d have me come out to work for him. That was my dream: to work for Walt Disney! Now, it never did happen and I clearly changed my mind since then but I did produce a few short films on that animation stand. I still love animation, and illustration–that was my original career. I’ve done so many things since then that I have a resume that looks like I’m schizophrenic.
Well, I wish you and Spencer the very best with “From the Bridge.” I’m excited about it and I’m sure it will find a wide audience.
It’s going to be very popular with the fan community–because it’s all about them. And the power that they have grown to hold in the last few decades.
I interviewed George Clayton Johnson a number of times–a science fiction writer and big supporter of fans–and he always brought up people power. In the end, it is the fans who matter the most.
Absolutely. I’m going to do a panel at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo (newly renamed Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con) here in L.A. next month with Bjo and John Trimble and my friend, Tom DeSanto, who produced X-Men and Transformers, and we’re going to talk about fandom. That’s what it’s all about.
Well, very beautiful. Thank you so much, Kerry.
You’re very welcome, Henry. I always enjoy talking about what I enjoy most of all.
Here is the podcast interview to listen to. Just click below and enjoy:
Check in with Kerry O’Quinn at his website here. If you are in Los Angeles on October 28-30, come see Kerry and enjoy some pop culture fun at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con. You can find details on that right here.
“I started writing when I was eleven. I didn’t start writing at age eleven because I thought I was going to become a movie director. I did it because I enjoyed it. I fed off the movies I was watching and the comic books I was reading.”
–Spencer F. Lee, writer/director of FROM THE BRIDGE
FROM THE BRIDGE is a documentary that looks at the career of Kerry O’Quinn, one of the leading figures in fandom, and explores in depth the rich and exciting world of science fiction, comic books, and horror–and the fans who love it. At this point, those fans include a vast number. But it wasn’t always that evident. With this new documentary, due out in 2017, writer/director Spencer F. Lee shares with you his childhood passion that has blossomed into a deep understanding of some of today’s leading forms of entertainment.
FROM THE BRIDGE, directed and written by Spencer F. Lee, executive producers George Noe and Spencer F. Lee, produced by Philip Nelson, and hosted on-screen by George Takei, is a feature film documentary that tells the story of how fans worldwide have “come out of geekdom’s closet” in the last 40 years, largely nurtured and encouraged by Kerry O’Quinn. Having the opportunity to interview both Spencer F. Lee as well as Kerry O’Quinn, I’ve come away with a great appreciation for what this film will mean to an audience. The film features interviews with Stan Lee, Bryan Singer, Gene Simmons, Joe Dante, Nichelle Nichols, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Fuller, Rod Roddenberry, Howard Roffman and many more.
The full podcast interview with Spencer F. Lee is right below. Just click the link:
Up next is my interview with Kerry O’Quinn, co-founder of such landmark magazines as Starlog and Fangoria.
Irving Thalberg was the sort of person who cherished creative integrity. He was known as “The Boy Wonder” in Hollywood for his youthful looks and his uncanny ability to gather together the best scripts, the best talent, and the best means of production. During his time as the studio head at MGM, he gave the world such all-time classics as “Grand Hotel” (1932), “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), and “The Good Earth” (1937). It was a different time, to be sure: a certain level of quality was expected and valued by the general public. Imagine if Mr. Thalberg were alive today to witness the movie franchise overload we have all come to accept: endless superhero movies, endless sequels many times over and over.
It has gotten to a point where, as Matthew Jacobs writes in a wonderful piece for The Huffington Post, that the best days of major motion pictures seem to be far behind us. Well, truly worthwhile movies have become less and less the norm. At the start of the history of cinema, you could say there was a general higher standard of culture. People, as a whole, were better educated, were more well-read, and there was a greater common knowledge to share. That has been on a steady decline. However, it was within relative recent memory that big budget arthouse movies were still embraced in Hollywood. That brings us to my weekend recommendation. Go See DE PALMA (in select theaters starting June 10th), a new documentary by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, brought to you by A24 Films.
BLOW OUT – French Poster by Michel Landi
DE PALMA explores the work of one of the most interesting directors and screenwriters. Brian De Palma is associated with the American New Wave or “New Hollywood.” The films being made during this golden age of the ’60s and ’70s were innovative, cerebral, and subversive. The big deal was that the big studios were financing them! Today, you’d refer to this sort of filmmaking as “indie low-budget.” But, back then, being anti-establishment was the zeitgeist, baby! A certain level of the unconventional was expected and valued by the general public. Quality was indeed a high priority, the highest priority!
You can say that the original “Star Wars” (1977) is what got us on the wrong track. Because of the crazy success of that movie, studios became fixated with creating more and more movie events. It has taken a while, but the end result is now firmly in place: an endless cavalcade of movie events where quality is a low priority, if at all.
All this begs the question: What is it exactly that the general public expects and values today? Well, it’s a whole new ballgame with all sorts of media. But do we really want to say goodbye to thoughtful big budget movies and leave all the best production to perpetually satisfy the franchise machine? J.J. Abrams is great. But we could do so much more, right? I mean, we can do more if we think of big studio entertainment as having some obligation to create quality work for a mass audience. Is that sort of thinking just too 20th century? Or will the franchise bubble burst? Will the general public continue to steadily reject the endless franchise output? Well, the bubble still has a ways to go before it bursts. For now, spread the word on quality movies and support quality movies.
I’d love to know if DE PALMA is showing in your city. And, if you can, let me know if you went to see it. For now, it is not showing anywhere in Seattle but that should change soon. I prefer to see something special like this in an actual theater (so 20th century of me) but I might catch it On Demand or some such venue. By whatever means, I will see it and post about it.
Extras on the set of “Star Wars,” 1976 from the documentary, “Elstree 1976”
I was an extra in a big movie and it was no fun at all. I got a lot of face time with the director but, since he chose to only speak in German, we never spoke, even when I tried to ask him a simple question. He just stared at me as I steadily baked in the sun. The only time he dropped his refusal to speak in English was when I had inadvertently left the set. Someone came over to tell me to get back into costume and report to the set. And that’s when the director let me have it, in English, “No one, but no one, walks off my set!” Now, he’s talking to me, in an abusive tone no less! So, I would not recommend being an extra. However, what if that movie was really something else? What if it was 1976 and you were one of the lucky bunch of extras on the set of “Star Wars”? That is the subject of a new documentary, “Elstree 1976.” And, if you’re wondering, Elstree Studios are commonly known to all Brits as that entertainment studio that can be relied upon for something good on the telly. In fact, as far as these extras knew, the sci-fi adventure flick they were a part of was assumed to be some sort of TV movie.
Filmmaker Jon Spira does a great job of having you get to know these individuals who would go on to be part of cinema history. We have ten portraits and each person is a gem with wonderful bits of observations. I especially like Paul, a classically trained Shakespearian actor. He recounts how he was led into this giant warehouse where he was left alone with a magnificent looking aircraft, which turned out to be the Millennium Falcon. Paul walked around it and noticed a man sitting off to one corner. He approached the man and asked if he knew where he might get some coffee. The man offered to get him some. Paul got his coffee and thanked the man. Then he asked his new friend if he might know where he could find the director, George Lucas. The man nodded and admitted that he was George Lucas. Paul got to experience the greatest possible experience any extra could ever dream of!
If you enjoy DVD bonus features, then think of this documentary as the ultimate in extras–on the subject of extras. This is for the Star Wars fan who thought he’d seen it all. No one in this film will bowl you over with their star power and that’s the point of this film. These are just nice everyday people who just happened to have a small role to play in the biggest blockbuster movie of them all. What is truly compelling about this film are the individual portraits. You’re going to like this especially if you like the Up Series, the Granada Television series that’s been following the lives of fourteen British children since 1964. Yes, the whole endeavor does ring a bit bittersweet but it’s also quite fascinating. And it’s Star Wars we’re talking about, so that adds another level of quirk to the whole thing.
ELSTREE 1976 has a US theatrical run as of May 6th in select cities including Los Angeles and New York City. For the full list of theaters and ticket information, go here. This movie will be available on DVD on June 28th via MVD Entertainment Group. The DVD can be pre-ordered now at the MVD Shop or on Amazon. You can also find ELSTREE 1976 on iTunes right here.
With perfect nods to everything from “Star Wars” to “Blade Runner,” but with its own distinctive style, “Empress” looks like a comic book headed for the big screen, and it is. Read here. Yes, this comic will be a movie. Someday, all comics will be turned into movies. Anyway, do enjoy it now since good comics help make everything better.
Mark Millar is one of those exceptional creators. He brings to mind Ed Brubaker, someone at home with writing everything from Captain America to his own work, like Criminal. Both Millar and Brubaker have contributed significantly to the Captain America canon. As for Millar’s own original work, there’s a whole universe of it. Ever hear of “Kick-Ass”? Miller has worked on so many titles it would make your head spin. That said, “Empress” feels fresh and fun, like a very special project should.
With Empress, Miller is riffing on Star Wars and doing it in the House of Marvel Comics (Icon Comics), no less. That’s pretty cool. This is no mere rip-off of Star Wars but the similarities are unmistakable–it is a distant future/past; a lovely woman of noble birth must return to her home; she is on the run with a madcap crew; a funny little droid holds the keys to their escape. But no complaints here. Millar did a similar thing with Batman a few years ago to great effect. Basically, he has the uncanny ability of taking very familiar material and giving it a new set of wings. For instance, in this story, the stand-in for R2-D2 is called, Ship, and it can zap itself, and those near it, to other worlds. Nice wrinkle to a familiar story.
Switching bodies is probably never a good idea and Miller creates here a new wrinkle to that premise. I like the scene with the Quez, a blue mellow race of creatures. We see them here advertising a body swap where they will have one of their reps inhabit your body and engage in vigorous exercise while you get to lounge and pig out in their body. That’s a different level of borrowing. It’s a very clever nod to Robert Sheckley’s hilarious sci-fi classic novel, “Mindswap.” Bravo.
And getting back to the Mark Miller universe at-large, be sure to check out “Jupiter’s Legacy Vol. 2 #1” on sale June 29th, published by Image Comics. “Empress #2,” published by Icon, is available as of May 4th. For more details, visit Icon right here.
And so it begins, a Disney Star Wars movie. Disney had its share of false starts when it started venturing away from such titles as “Superdad” and “The Apple Dumpling Gang” to its first PG-rated movie, a sci-fi action flick no less, the box office flop that was 1979’s “The Black Hole.” At the time, it was deemed too expensive for Disney to use some Star Wars magic and rent equipment from George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic. Of course, all that was a long time ago. After the Disney buyout of Lucas to the tune of $4.05 billion, would Disney gain some real Star Wars cred? The goal seems to be met.
This Star Wars movie had to be better than the last three installments and it had to harken back to that something special from the original, without kowtowing to it. Were the Egyptian pyramids this intimidating to build? Yes, I think so. When I read Lev Grossman wax on about Star Wars in Time magazine, it felt like he was describing something too big to fail. When I saw the Star Wars special edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live, I saw in J.J. Abrams one relieved dude. The major players from the cast were there with Mr. Abrams. And they too looked relieved, after having carried a mighty weight upon their shoulders. They had all survived an enterprise involving enough money to bankroll a number of countries’ annual budgets.
Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
This movie was designed to not disappoint anyone. And, if you believe the speculation from diehard fans, the opening line says it all, “This will begin to make things right.” The opening line is recited by Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) at the prospect of finding a gone missing Luke Skywalker. But, as core fans will tell you, it sure sounds like a coded message related to fans’ distaste for the Star Wars prequels. This is something that Abrams certainly took to heart.
Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
There is no doubt that the shadow of the Star Wars legend looms larger than life here. An answer to R2-D2. Check. An answer to Han Solo. Check. An answer to Yoda. Check. And so on down the line to the Mos Eisley Cantina and Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder. The sense of urgency to get it right is ferociously palpable. It is directed into every single scene by J.J. Abrams. Abrams wrote the final script with original trilogy writer Lawrence Kasdan. The two best new additions to the franchise: John Boyega as Finn, a runaway deserter; and Daisy Ridley as Rey, a reluctant new hero in touch with The Force.
In simpler times: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford
Star Wars was never true science fiction. It was fantasy and, more to the point, a comment on fantasy. At its core, Star Wars was a quirky tribute by George Lucas, a nostalgic look back to Buck Rogers and action-packed pulp fiction. It was a nostalgia for childhood entertainment that was then reconfigured into something even more enchanting. By the time that the original trilogy was completed, George Lucas was done. So, it’s hard to really blame him for the direction he took with the prequels which was as far removed from the original source as possible. It was simply too early to get all nostalgic over something that was nostalgic to begin with. And, anyway, Harrison Ford would never have reprised his role at that point. More time would need to pass which brings us to what amounts to this fun revisit.
But how often can you successfully tap into nostalgia with a franchise like Star Wars? As the James Bond franchise has learned, it all needs to be measured out in proper doses. For now, it looks like a new trilogy has been mapped out that holds on to what made Star Wars worthwhile to begin with. In the end, at its best, Star Wars was an eccentric notion by an eccentric guy named George Lucas. It’s now a franchise designed to not disappoint anyone.