WATCH THE SKIES: SCIENCE FICTION, THE 1950s AND US (2005)
Narr. by - Mark Hamill
Written & Dir. by - Richard Schickel
Featuring: Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott,
George Lucas, James Cameron
Pro. by - Richard Schickel, Tom Brown,
Doug Freeman, Melissa Roller
Ed. by - Bryan McKenzie
Music by - Casey Cohen
Total running time: 55 mins.
Film critic, journalist, cinema historian & documentarian Richard
Schickel queries four of the most successful genre film makers in history
(Steven Spielberg - E.T., JURASSIC PARK, Ridley Scott - ALIEN, BLADE
RUNNER, George Lucas - the STAR WARS sextet, and James Cameron - THE
TERMINATOR, AVATAR) as to how a handful of classic science fiction films
influenced them from childhood into their present day work. And not high
brow epics like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, mind you, but rather humble
1950s-era Saturday matinee / drive-in movie fodder such as THEM!,
FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, INVADERS FROM MARS,
DESTINATION MOON, ROCKETSHIP X-M and more. A grand ride through film
history for fanboys and general film buffs alike.
Watch The Skies (Pt. 1)
Pt. 2Pt. 3
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IN DEFENSE OF
Okay, we're set to engage in what to some is tantamount (or worse) to the defense of kiddie porn - were going to defend film maker George Lucas. And here you thought we at the Cottage had a modicum of self respect. But hey, hold on just a minute, 'cause you may find yourself understanding our "waayyyy out there" perspective. With the numerous brow beatings Lucas has been taking in recent days (some deserved; some certainly not) from many fans and media pundits for everything from the 3D re-jiggering of the STAR WARS films, to harsh comments he's shot back at disapproving fans (who's own comments were perhaps a bit harsh to begin with) we feel it's high time someone "put a few bricks on the other side of the scale" to help balance things a bit. In a nutshell? We look into the crystal ball of "things to come" and predict within the next five or so years Lucas will have another huge THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or Cameron-esque style TITANIC / AVATAR success on his hands with both audiences and critics.
Why? For the simple reasons the guy has balls of iron (or at least carbonite) as well as the creative courage to "follow his own gut" against the wave of popular opinion. This is the right stuff absolutely necessary of every great creator and/or creative endeavor - artistic or otherwise, but which is sadly lacking today. Take a look at the amount of re-makes, updates and "re-imaginings" on screen as well as the lack of creative chutzpah in today's music industry for proof.
Even Broadway has felt the creative and economic dearth (not "Darth") with it's now-becoming-irritating plethora of "films to plays" - begun nicely with THE LION KING and THE PRODUCERS, but now circling the drain with CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, SISTER ACT, THE ADDAMS FAMILY and many more.
It seems creative "rocks"(as in "a pair of ...") have become much too extravagant a liability in today's economy. And by "extravagant" we don't mean the dropping of senseless JOHN CARTER-like dollars on film projects. Hardly. We're talking the necessary adjunct to all art (even art as commerce) which is the concept of the "creative risk".Duncan
Jones' wonderfully minimalist 2009 sci fi "character study / chamber
piece" MOON was realized "on the financial cheap" of a $5 million budget, but with more imagination
to burn than many recent $100 million + "tentpole" franchise extravaganzas.
On location in Europe on RED TAILS
Many have accused Lucas himself of being one of the biggest offenders of "returning to the same well" one too many times. And has he misfired in recent years? Hell
yeah! (... that is with the exception in our opinion of REVENGE OF THE SITH
- one of the better STAR WARS films, and certainly the best of the
second trilogy). But we feel his recent RED TAILS signals a desire for change. A desire to "step outside the box" of expectations not only of what the public has placed upon him. But perhaps outside the realm of expectations Lucas' has imposed upon himself.
vast majority concur that RED TAILS, a
fictitious historical action/drama based on the inspirational true story
of America's first African American WWII Army Air Corp fighter
squadron, was more jingoistic (and even corny) than the subject matter
deserved. But the fact that the film maker / entrepreneur poured nearly
$100 million of his own money into such a personal project exemplifies
why we feel he's poised once again on the precipice of greatness. For
it is not just the "Hollywood production machine" in particular which
many believe to be comprised of (as Judi Dench's "M" in CASINO ROYALE
might say) "... a bunch of self-righteous, ass-covering prigs", but the world as we know in general.
RED TAILS (2012)
Take a look around; our daily existence is filled to the brim with cowards of every shape, size and career discipline. Y'know, those who talk and dream big, but when "the rubber hits the road" are far from willing to back up said verbal convictions with practical action - be it something as simple as confronting an employer with a legitimate concern, asking someone on a date, or expressing their opinion online ... without the protective cloak of an assumed internet "handle I.D". And there are certainly far fewer willing to pour their precious "gap" (that's "hard earned money" for those unfamiliar with our East Coast nomenclature) into those so-called convictions.
Directing Robert Duvall in THX: 1138 (1971)
From the beginning of his career Lucas would(perhaps at times foolishly) plow aheadagainst the opinions and advice of others (even perhaps at times arrogantly) in the creation of his truly original visions THX 1138, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - ALL of which were initially greeted with not only "disdain" by their attendant studio/distributors, but outright disgust.
In spite of this the films managed to succeed beyond wildest professional industry prognostications. Then in subsequent years, just as beIligerently-born LucasFilm projects (HOWARD THE DUCK and RADIOLAND MURDERS chief among them) would crash and burn miserably. It seemed for every successful WILLOW or TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM, Lucas would have a STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE or INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CYRSTAL SKULL ("Nuke the Fridge" anyone?) following close behind to "prove" to naysayers his initial creative success was but a fluke: a charge of which many to this day still proclaim, but to which we respond with a resounding "Are you f**king kidding!!!???"
Akira Kurosawa takes a break from filming KAGEMUSHA (1980) as his
film's producers, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, visit the set.
We've always felt within the creative mind, the rebellious (and yes, at times arrogant) sensibility bouncing about within that mind is it's greatest attribute. Subsequently the same "attribute" will often in other scenarios prove to be the greatest fault, hindrance, and occasionally self-destructive undoing of the same artist. One of the great creative ironies is how the drive to "follow one's own artistic impulse" has to be the overwhelming drive; and cannot always simply be "turned on" in one or two instances, then "turned off" at other times at will, such as when a group of people (who have usually themselves never creatively put anything on the line) deem it necessary. And here's the kicker ... even if that group of people at that time and in a particular instance happen to be right.
CLONE's young Padawan (Jedi trainee) Ashoka Tano:
beloved by the new generation of STAR WARS fans.
It may sting a bit, but take a look. In Lucas' being so creatively (and yes - sometimes self-delusionally) stubborn (I mean, c'mon George, Han really did shoot first!) he actually has managed, to the surprise and consternation of many, to create a new generation of younger fans who actually find more to enjoy and personally relate within the second trilogy of STAR WARS films, the CLONE WARS animated TV series, and even in (gulp!) that damned Jar Jar Binks himself, than in anything of the original films to which we old schoolers doggedly (and dogmatically) cling. Talk about the sacrilege of the young!
At any rate, as such we find Lucas to be no better or worse than other legendary film makers who had an equal percentage of career "hits" and (self absorbed?) "misses". Stack his filmography up against the likes of Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, Spike Lee, Francis Ford Coppola; or even Welles and Preminger, and you find their record of critical, popular and financial "pros" and "cons" to be for the most consistent with Lucas' own. Like most of those aforementioned, it is Lucas' insistence on stubbornly "pursuing his vision" we find to be his most valuable and endearing (if sometimes off-putting) predilection. The man is willing to literally put his own money where his mouth is. And with RED TAILS said personal money amounted to $100 million.
RED TAILS "dime novel" poster by SGT. ROCK's Joe Kubert
We think putting up that kind of dough to back one's artistic belief entitles the creator to do what he damned well pleases. Of course the audience may or may not agree with the finished result; and with RED TAILS many came away not as impressed as they'd hoped. But in an industry where it's increasingly commonplace for an artist to "subtly" (via social media such as Twitter) distance themselves from a film when the "first whiffs of failure" waft into the air, Lucas' refusal to do so is admirable. He even stood behind HOWARD THE DUCK and RADIOLAND MURDERS when NO one else would.
It's that kind of creative integrity which has not only made huge successes of his "off shoot" businesses: Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, the Avid Film Editor (formerly the EditDroid), and even Pixar Animation (begun as a computer graphics division of ILM, then sold), but the same kind which we believe will lead to another mega-smash within the next few years. In the opinions of some RED TAILS is the latest example of George Lucas' stubborn fall from creative grace. To us, the film (for better and worse) is the latest example of a creative daring which commands respect. When the mega-smash eventually does happen, take a look back at this page and remember you heard it here first.
CEJ - April 2012
Lucas, Director Anthony Hemingway (seated left) and the cast of RED TAILS
clown in the White House theater before a Presidential screening in January 2012.
GEORGE LUCAS AND THE CAST OF "RED TAILS" (2012)
Featuring: George Lucas, Rick McCullum, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Ne-Yo,
Method Man, Gerald McCraney, Bryan Cranston / Total running time: 21 mins.
2012 Theatrical Trailer
An avid student of history in general and WW2 era history in particular (evidenced obviously by the STAR WARS and
INDIANA JONES films), writer / producer / director George Lucas initially
became familiar with America's first all black combat squadron,
The Tuskegee Airmen (nicknamed "Red Tails" because of the crimson paint design on their aircraft stabilizer fins) in 1988 from his friend, acclaimed aviation photographer George Hall.
the time to do a 3hr. epic on the subject, his first
attempt featured a screenplay by Kevin Sullivan (HOW STELLA GOT HER
GROOVE BACK) under the direction of Thomas Carter (ST.
ELSEWHERE, HILL STREET BLUES). Failing to take flight at
that time Lucas would persist over the years, at one point in
discussions with Samuel L. Jackson to direct and / or star in the film.
When his pet project finally did go before the cameras in 2009, it
would feature a screenplay by John Ridley (THREE KING), rewrites by Aaron MacGruder (THE BOONDOCKS), and direction by
Anthony Hemingway (CSI, THE WIRE).
Footing RED TAILS' $58 million budget (plus another $35 mill. for
distribution) from his own pocket, Lucas, along with producing partner Rick
McCullum, left nothing to chance, including the selection of the film's
ensemble cast. It would include Nate Parker, David Oleyowo, Ne-Yo,
Elijah Kelley, Tristan Wilds, Kevin Phillips, Method Man, Marcus Paulk,
Michael P. Jordan, Bryan Cranston, Gerald McRaney, and Cuba Gooding Jr.
& Terrence Howard as respectively, Red Tails commanding officers Major Emanuel
Stance and Col. A.J. Bullard.
1943 War Bonds poster
In GEORGE LUCAS AND THE
CAST OF RED TAILS we're treated to behind the scenes footage from
the action / drama, commentary by cast and crew, and even a
special on-set visit by surviving
members of the real life Tuskegee Airmen squadron. Immediately following is a (somewhat) controversial appearance by Lucas on THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART (1/9/12) days before RED TAIL's theatrical debut, as well as an excerpt from the 1/22/12 "Lucas Interview" episode of OPRAH'S NEXT CHAPTER the weekend of the film's release.
"Lucas & The Cast of RED TAILS" - Pt. 1
George Lucas: "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART (1/9/12)