By Jonathan Alexandratos
In 1998, David Foster Wallace, in his “The (As It Were) Seminal Importance of Terminator 2” argued that Cameron’s sequel represented the prototypical film in cinema’s shift into the realm of “F/X porn.” Well, he was right. Except, now, that F/X porn has spread, like ivy up the brick wall of a very old building, and is on the verge of strangling popular cinema, as its econotropic leaves open to photosynthesize massive quantities of money into sugary scenes of meaningless explosions and stock characters and beaten-to-death, basic moral dilemmas and cheesecake lines like “Chill” and “I am the law!” and anything normally heard at your local neighborhood Wal*Mart but with a peppering of “motherfucker” or “bee-otch” or “shiiiiiiit” thrown in. This final nail in the coffin of innovative, popular, low-budget film has been driven in by Disney’s recent purchase of Lucasfilm.
It’s tragic, really. Star Wars (and the original two sequels that followed) represented the efforts of filmmakers working overtime, some for next-to-nothing in the way of salary, in a garage or basement, sanding down household gadgets to make them into X-wings or lightsabers or TIE fighters. These films so clearly spoke to archetypal mythology – an obvious lovechild of George Lucas’ friendship with Joseph Campbell. They were concerned with taking a story that the Native Americans knew, the Ancient Greeks knew, the Ancient Chinese knew (et many, many al.) and putting that tale onscreen, filtered through the lens of genre, more specifically sci-fi. It was a literary and social pursuit – more adaptation than creation. The arc of those initial three films in the Star Wars franchise seemed to be born out of concern: concern that, if the myths that have followed us through time are not transcribed onto the popular media of each era, we risk losing the universal connection that has always, whether widely-known or not, followed these myths through time.
George Lucas’ ‘90s-era concern with adding an alien frog to this scene, or an extra Cloud Car to that one, or scrubbing the walls of his films even cleaner than they originally were showed the start of a director/producer’s unfortunate interest in the postmodern superficiality of storytelling. The prequels that emerged on the heels of these “special” editions fully grounded Lucas in this mindset. From Episode I, II, and III, audiences were force-fed ridiculous, contrived plots that were designed not to build on the universal narrative of humanity, but:
1. Create the largest Return of Investment (ROI – something Wallace also indicates Cameron was chiefly concerned with in T2) by billing the biggest possible names and scripting shallow characters to fit whomever the star du jour might be to fill the role.
2. Use language that is basic to create a simple plot that can easily be translated into other languages and distributed throughout the world, again, to help sales (another quality Wallace attributes to T2).
3. Further Wallace’s Inverse Cost and Quality Law (ICQL) by showing yet another three (!) colossally-funded pictures that display immensely shitty artistic quality.
4. Console audiences that these films won’t seem too long because, after all, they’re just “episodes” (just like TV! Remember how much you love TV? Short, quick TV…), and they contain lots of pointless action sequences that ensure the movie just *flies* by because it, while feature-length, uses quick camera angle changes that jolt ad nearly infinitum and impose the illusion of a shorter film.
5. Give audiences episodes within these “Episodes” that are markable by their action sequences (Pod Racing, the Battle of Naboo, the Clone War) so that the thin bridges constructed to hold these masses together can basically be skipped. This is much in the same way that Hamlet can be made less daunting by boiling the whole thing down to six soliloquies. Except Hamlet is actually good.
6. Focus on the merchandise, merchandise, merchandise. Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi could let the mechanics of a particular starship fall second to story because there was less of a certainty, especially for the first installment, that any of these galactic vessels would make it into 1/30,435,342-scale plastic replicas with lights and sounds for the delight of children ages 3+.
And now Star Wars is in the hands of a corporation that has created a monopoly on the film industry that would make John D. Rockefeller charge, wild-eyed, up the steps of the Supreme Court yelling, “And you prosecuted *me*!?” It is in the hands of a corporation that not only has not read Campbell, but has not read [period]. It has seen only the material that informs its bottom line, all of which follows the Wallacian ICQL. Disney has promised to crap out new Star Wars sequels every couple of years starting in 2015. There are already rumors of the bankable names that will star. As we approach a date which the Mayans surely *meant* to put on their calendar, take a look at the above six items. I’ll be shocked if Disney does not digitally-enhance all of them so that they look their sanitized-best when put front-and-center of our new Made-for-Movie TV episodes.
In other words: we’re screwed.*
*Though, if you can get around the feeling that you’re being pretentious (a struggle I grapple with all the time, now), there are low-budget diamonds in the roughs of the $2.99 bins at your local, nameless, off-the-grid DVD/Blu-Ray distributors (and online). Immerse yourself, take risks, and you’ll be greatly rewarded.