The Breakfast Club

Director: John Hughes

1985

“But in 1984 writer-director John Hughes revolutionized the teen genre with Sixteen Candles, and followed it a year later with The Breakfast Club, a movie credited with finally showing teens as they really speak and think.” (711, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) You’d think that a film that rarely leaves the setting of the school library would be boring but it really isn’t and that’s mostly down tot he beauty of Hughes writing. Of course it was expertly delivered by the extremely talented young cast. I guess part of what makes The Breakfast Club so special is that the core cast (for the most part) were close enough to their characters ages to still have their own teenage experiences fresh in their minds. Nelson is the eldest and it comes across through Bender, who feels much older than the other kids. Once again you get the mention of Shermer – this time Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois.

“Much imitated in numerous films and TV series, this ultimate teen movie has never been bettered – be it because of its perfect timing, sharp performances, or the 1980s time-capsule soundtrack, featuring that classic Simple Minds song (written for the film) “Don’t You Forget About Me”. (711) My favourite imitation comes from Dawson’s Creek (Kevin Williamson, 1998 – 2003) … one of my guilty pleasures … where they dedicated an entire episode tot he Saturday detention style that is now so iconic thanks to The Breakfast Club. I think the reason I like it is the little nod towards The Mighty Ducks series (1992, 1994, 1996) that starred both Joshua Jackson and of course Emilio Estevez. There are references in everything, even if you don’t necessarily realize it at the time. For instance watching the film again today I realized that Bender’s escape through the ceiling tiles is echoed in the School Hard episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon, 1998)

The song is synonymous with the film. I can’t hear it without thinking of the film and have to resist the urge to do the fist punch! There’s a sense of completion or continuity having the film both open and close with the same song and the monologue.  I love the simplicity of the opening sequence – the monologue spoken over a montage of classic school images, especially those highlighting the snap assumptions made about the main characters … the brain, the jock, the basket case, the princess and the criminal. And the quote from Bowie which situated it very much within the period.

The parents certainly are pretty much absent, we see them at drop off and pick up, and aside from the janitor and Mr Vernon adults are also conspicuously absent from the film. Mr Vernon (Paul Gleason) while meant to be the authority figure is the subject of ridicule. A power-hungry but ultimately impotent man who relishes the control he thinks he wields over the adolescents in his charge. The dynamic between him and Bender is brilliant and one of my favourite aspects of the film.

Everyone has their favourite and the one they relate to the most out of our five core characters. My favourite is most definitely Bender, the archetypal bad boy. He totally drives the narrative of the film with his antagonistic personality. And his costume is now so iconic, a grunge look years before it was made mega popular by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Judd Nelson will always be known for this role. You see a more vulnerable side to Bender when he’s removed from the rest of the group. There are cracks in the tough guy mask he wears on a daily basis – suddenly you remember that he is still a kid albeit one on the verge of adulthood.

The tension between Bender and Andrew as they battle for the title of alpha male is delicious. As is the sexual tension that radiates between Claire and Bender which actually forms a rather tender relationship albeit an unconventional one. I’d like to think that I’m like Ally Sheedy’s Allison – the weird girl in the corner creating things and yet in reality the person that I was most like in school would be Brian the brain. I wasn’t such a goody-goody geek and I didn’t belong to any academic clubs but I got pretty good grades without having to really try.

Vernon really is clueless especially during their escape from the confines of the library. They spend hours competing against one another, especially Bender and Andrew, before actually beginning to realize that while they all look different and belong to different social groups they actually have things in common. It’s at this point that their barriers come down and some unlikely relationships begin to form. In the process they unite to subtly chip away at Vernon’s authority – a great source of amusement. The moment when they all share their detention stories is a quiet, poignant moment with lots of tears and home truths but also from all that comes understanding and acceptance.

There are so many things that show off their different personalities especially when it comes to lunch. Claire has sushi (long before it hit the worldwide popularity it has today) showing her wealth, Bender typically has no lunch. Brian has a lovingly prepared, well-balanced and proper lunch while Allison has a typically bizarre lunch (Cap’n Crunch and sugar sandwich). And then there’s Andrew with enough food to feed all five of them, reflecting his athlete’s metabolism. It’s essentially a character study set within the context of high school and what better place to perform a character study then in a place where everyone has such fluid characters and personalities?

It may have been written in the 1980s and it is so very much a product of that time yet it has an enduring appeal to this day. It reminds us that everyone is going through the same type of things in high school and not to judge someone on how they look.  “No single film better epitomized the period, or has become more of a cult movie for teens, than The Breakfast Club, which not only made Hughes a name to watch […] but also brought together a skilled group of young actors (as did Francis Coppola’s The Outsiders two years before) that the media dubbed the “Brat Pack”. (711) The Breakfast Club is without a doubt my all time favourite John Hughes movie. I love everything about it! It’s one of those films where everything comes together and the result is genius.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Director: John Hughes

1986

Despite not being around in the 1980s I am well versed in and have an immense love of John Hughes teen movies. Having said that I’m not much of a fan of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I personally think that it is one of the weaker films in his impressive oeuvre. I wonder though if this has anything to do with the fact that I am not a teenage boy and as Joanna Berry says “every male adolescent’s dream – and every parent’s nightmare – comes true on screen in writer-director John Hughes’s teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, as the film’s hero (Matthew Broderick) does all the things in just one day that most us don’t have the nerve to do in a lifetime.” (731, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I just don’t particularly get the film or really connect with any of the characters.

Hughes takes an unusual viewpoint with Ferris spending a large portion of time talking directly to the camera and thus the audience. I find Broderick to be smug and cocky rather than charming as most people do. There’s something about him that puts me on edge. Ferris uses his friends, bending them to his way of thinking through his domineering personality. I don’t find it funny in the slightest and think it’s actually really overblown and fantastical. At least his other film (with the exception of Weird Science, 1985 of course) are more believable.

“Like previous Hughes movies such as The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty In Pink (1986), and Sixteen Candles (1984), adults here don’t understand the teenagers in their care.” (731) The adults while “[…] just bystanders” (731) are also a great source of mockery. The teachers have supremely monotonous voices; no wonder their classes are sat there in a stupor. The near misses and the vendetta between Ed Rooney (Jeffery Jones) and Ferris do keep the film interesting and moving along. Jennifer Grey is so different as Ferris’ put out sister Jeanie to her role as the nice, eternally optimistic Baby in Dirty Dancing (1987, Emile Ardelino) She’s really quite acerbic and snotty here – the only one completely unaffected by Ferris’ charm.

Pretty much the only thing I like about the film is the extremely sweet ride Cameron’s dad has that is purloined by Ferris for his day of debauchery. I have to give it to him the whole ‘Twist and Shout’ scene is pretty epic but then I love that song! The is an unexpected cameo from Charlie Sheen as a junkie (prophetic much?!) There is a precursor to Broderick’s role as Inspector Gadget (Inspector Gadget, 1999, David Kellog) when Ferris is impersonating Sloane’s dad, with the whole trench coat and fedora. And there is another nod towards Shermer (this time it’s the police department) – the fictional town that appears in every John Hughes movie.

 

Blade Runner

Director: Ridley Scott

1982

“One of the real reasons Blade Runner has had such a cult following is the existence of more than one version of the film.” (678, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) The version I was watching is the Final Cut I think but what differences there are I would not be able to tell you, never having seen the original.

From one of Harrison Ford‘s cult performances (Han Solo) to another, Deckard. Boy he really racked up the cult roles in the 80s didn’t he? What with leading roles in Star Wars (1977, 1980, 1983), Indiana Jones (1981, 1984, 1989, 2008) and of course the subject of this posting, Blade Runner. Although from the sounds of things it was not an altogether pleasant experience for him, “Ford has rarely commented on the movie since its initial release, only remarking that it was the toughest movie he has ever worked on.” (678) Once again Ford plays the reluctant hero with a roguish air to his character. He’s a man of few words as Deckard.

“Scott’s superb mix of twenty-first-century sci-fi and 1940s detective film noir makes for a stunning dystopia, while Ford, as the man sent to “retire” (that is, execute) human-looking androids who have come to Earth in search of their maker, may not have liked to “stand around and give some focus to Ridley’s sets”, as he told a journalist in 1991, but his bemusement works perfectly with the storyline.” (678) Having seen how useful a storytelling device the subtitles were at the top of the Star Wars films Scott employs them in Blade Runner, providing the necessary back story neatly and concisely. There’s a fusion between East and West. Scott employs an almost exclusively blue colour palette creating some interesting shadows and lighting options. Having said that the Tyrell Corporation shuns the blue palette and is very much infused with golden light. The building screams of Egyptian or Mayan architecture. It certainly lends to the idea that one of the underlying themes of the film is religion with Tyrell in the God position. Certainly a grandeur to it.

There are obvious elements of the film noir genre neatly spliced neatly into the sci-fi nature of the film. Dark, heavy shadows; extremes of light and shadow; Rachel cast as the femme fatale and possibly a Replicant albeit an incredibly advanced one. And then of course Deckard is the detective thrown into a bizarre sequence of events. His outfit even resembles that of the classic noir male leads in his trench coat. Tortured soul with regret in his past. It’s a fairly slow-moving plot – more along the line of a film noir than a sci-fi movie. The constant downpour of ran creates a depressing feel that sits perfectly with the dystopic nature of the film. It must have been grueling filming in those conditions for days on end.

Rutger Hauer is majorly creepy as Roy Batty. The whole concept of the Replicants is that they are almost indistinguishable from humans and yet there is something so off about Batty. But it could be argued (and undoubtably has at some point) that there are humans that have something off about them, something in the make up of their character that is outside the norm. He is excellent as Batty however. While he is most definitely the villain of the piece his motivation is trying to find a way of extending his life (Replicants have a very limited lifespan) He becomes increasingly insane and delusional as his body begins to rapidly deteriorate even while fighting Deckard. Deckard’s interactions with both Rachel and Batty begin to alter his view on the Replicants. Despite the violence leading up to his death Batty’s end is surprisingly peaceful. He just sort of shuts down – it’s a strikingly beautiful sequence. 

Blade Runner remains one of the most beautifully art-directed and visually stunning science-fiction movies ever made.” (678) It is beautifully shot with a real arty feel to it. I particularly love the eye. Eyes seem to be a feature throughout the film. Monitoring the dilation of the pupils is a key tool in identifying Replicants. There are elements about Blade Runner that really freak me out, especially any of the scenes in J.F. Sebastian’s place which is full of mannequins; but then I have a major thing about mannequins moving independently. It’s one of the most visually stunning and atmospheric sci-fi films I have ever watched with such a distinctive style.

I think films that unsettle you and make you questions things like Blade Runner (and more recently Inception, Christopher Nolan, 2010) are sort of predisposed to garner a cult following. Multiple viewing offer both answers and new questions resulting in the film always remaining fresh. Scott leaves the story open-ended leaving the audience to wonder what happens next.

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi

 Director: Richard Marquand

1983

“Executive producer Lucas […] and director Richard Marquand introduce a new race of teddy-bear-like creatures, the Ewoks, to entertain younger members of the audience.” (691, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You DieEpisode VI is probably my favourite and it does indeed have to do with the Ewoks. They certainly entertained me when I was first introduced to the films as a youngster and they remain just as adorable now as they were then.

There is a darker feel to this final installment; the enemy are regrouping and rebuilding their most formidable weapon, the Death Star. And of course Luke has changed in part due to the loss of his hand at the hand (no pun intended!) of his recently discovered father, none other than Darth Vader himself. “Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), an eager young Jedi trainee in the first installment, is now a brooding warrior (hence the black clothing).” (691) I mean encounters like that would darken any mood and Luke treads the very thin line between good and evil. After all as Yoda, in his infinite wisdom, says “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, 1999, George Lucas)

R2 s a fearless little droid always entering dangerous situations without hesitation, usually leaving a worrisome C-3PO following along in his wake. The work of the Rebellion takes somewhat of a back seat here, especially in the first half when the focus is most definitely on reuniting our main trio. A journey that provides us with one of the most iconic images in cinema history – one that is still lusted over by men of all ages to this day (and even I can appreciate the beauty of it) and that is of course Leia in that gold bikini.

Jabba the Hut is still as repulsive as he was when we first encountered him in Episode IV. You really feel the absence of Han Solo in the first part of the film. Aside from a hologram of Luke it is nearly 20 minutes before we see any of the main human protagonists. But the wait is worth it to witness the reunion of Han and Leia. The first big set piece is the trio’s (plus Chewie and the droids of course) escape from Jabba’s sail boat. Made all the more impressive by Han’s blindness … a side effect from the time spent in carbonite. It’s really the first time we see Luke really flex his Jedi muscles as it were, and it turns out he’s a bit of a bad ass! Once again Leia proves just how capable she is by strangling the repulsive Jabba – no mean feat considering their sizes.

Yoda’s passing is actually pretty upsetting and yet he looks so peaceful at the end. Of course it must be remembered that just because he died it does not mean he is gone. We finally learn the true connection between Luke and Leia (if you hadn’t already worked it out by then). Watching the films again with all the knowledge I now have … both from the original trilogy but also the prequels … I find it hard to recall what it must have felt lk to find out that first time but I guess it was a fairly shocking reveal much in the same way the Vader reveal was in Episode V.

The speed of the action picks up in this final installment certainly when compared to Episode IV and Episode V. We move fairly swiftly from the fight of Tattooine to the battle (one of them anyway) on Endor. The flight through the wooded landscape of Endor is most definitely a precursor to the pod racing in Episode I. Dynamic piece of filmmaking with camera angles that immerse you in the action. The baby Ewoks are cuteness overload! The Ewoks have a strong tribal nature and an awesome living arrangement having created a treehouse city, more evidence they were created for the entertainment of children. Who didn’t want a treehouse when they were younger?

While the Rebellion is trying to bring down the Death Star (again!) Luke is on a mission to redeem his father and break the hold the Dark side has over him. The Emperor has a much more forceful presence in this final installment. Although a withered old man he is incredibly powerful evidenced in the deference that Vader shows him. His power is never really explained. He is voyeuristic, watching impotently from the sidelines; for the most part anyway. The scenes with the Emperor are dark, menacing and imposing with low light, heavy shadows and sharp angular sets.

Nothing ever seems to go smoothly for the Rebellion but then the films would be pretty boring if it did. Things look particularly bad for the Rebellion is this film – more so than at any other time in the saga. The deaths of the Ewoks are particularly moving due to their childlike stature.

Vader comes through in the end at enormous cost. As with the spiritual belief that no one truly leaves us even in death there is the belief that no-one is ever truly lost to the Dark side. There is good in everyone it just has to be found and fought for. Vader redeems himself by saving his son and at the same time ridding the universe of the Emperor’s tyranny. Montage of celebrations across different planets with a possible hint of the Gungans? It’s an immense conclusion with the destruction of the Death Star, imploding while Lando races to escape in the Millennium Falcon.

“The stars meanwhile are never eclipsed by cuddly muppets and impressive special effects, and skillfully bring Lucas’s version of intergalactic good-versus-evil to a close.” (691)

Now the ending of my copy of Episode VI differs from the original release as it is a remastered version done after the release of the prequels. As a result the appearance of Luke’s 3 Jedi companions as been altered so that his father, Anakin, is portrayed by Hayden Christensen as opposed to Sebastian Shaw who played him in the original. Watching the original trilogy again has made me want to watch prequels again (despite them being considered inferior films) and has made me question how Disney could possibly take the story further with the planned Episodes VII, VIII and IX.

 

Stars Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Director: Irvin Kerschner

1980

This has been playing on a loop at work for the last two weeks so you’d think I’d be bored with it now but I haven’t actually had the chance to watch the entire thing. The story picks up right where we left off in Episode IV and yet it can be viewed as a stand-alone film too thanks to the nifty scrolling subtitles at the start.

There’s a marked difference in Luke Skywalker or rather in Mark Hamill’s appearance following a horrific car accident between shooting the films. His skill as a Jedi has progressed since A New Hope (1977, George Lucas) yet he’s nowhere near complete in his training. And thank goodness because if he were then we would never have met Yoda who is lets face it made of epic ness!! His journey to Dagobah and Yoda is guided by Obi-Wan (even in death he is still to guide Luke) despite being dead obi wan is not gone and makes a number of appearances. Luke is still a bit of a petulant child although as he progresses towards becoming a Jedi knight he grows up effectively.

“Episode V as more personality: Romance blossoms in the lead trio, and strong new characters appear (like Billy Dee Williams’s dashing scoundrel Lando Calrissian), all of them safely in the sure hands of the studio workhorse Irvin Kerschner.” (662, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Leia and Han are still bickering but it’s very clearly the early stages of their relationship forming. Some sort of misguided competition between Luke and Han for Leia’s affection – the true nature of Leia and Luke’s relationship is still unknown at this point.

Speaking of bickering C-3PO and R2-D2 are still like a married old couple, something that comes across even though R2 speaks in beeps and squeaks rather than actual words. “Charming comic interplay for the scene-stealing androids C-3PO ad R2-D2, and ever weirder alien creatures wowed audiences the world over.” (662). I love how even though characters like R2 and Chewbacca don’t speak in conventional terms you can still understand them and the gist of what they’re saying. They are some of my favourite characters and have been since childhood when I first watched Star Wars. It’s always quite upsetting when R2 and C-3PO are separated. Chewie becomes oddly protective of 3PO – rescuing him from a junk pile and rebuilding him.

While Han is still somewhat of a rogue smuggler he is beginning to change his ways – on the verge of leaving the Rebellion he instead goes to find Luke in the wilderness of the unforgiving ice planet Hoth, and all without the prospect of a reward. He’s forming many more meaningful relationships rather than being the somewhat lone wolf with only Chewie for company. And he tends to stick around more, despite all his talk (and there’s a fair bit of it!) of leaving. He condemns Lando for selling them out – something he himself would have done just a short while ago.

Darth Vader still cuts a menacing figure now hell-bent on finding and destroying Luke, and of course the Rebellion as a whole. Leia goes from strength to strength; she is still the driving force behind the Rebellion, even giving the briefing to the troops before the first land battle seen in the trilogy. And what an epic battle it is, Lucas is not just limited to creating spectacular battles in the heart of space. Although of course it must be remembered that it’s not Lucas holding the reins this time but Irvin Kerschner. You can see the difference by only just. This installment feels tighter than A New Hope and indeed all those directed by Lucas himself. As much as I’m willing to admit that Lucas is a cinematic genius I’m of the opinion that he is a much better producer than director. He is an incredible storyteller, that cannot be denied, and yet sometimes his execution just doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Angela Errigo says “one-liners became catchphrases”(662) and she’s not wrong, most of them coming from Han Solo (who else?!) like “Never tell me the odds”, “Can it furball” and of course the “I love you; I know” exchange between Han and Leia.

With the new film come new creatures, planets and characters. Gone is the hot, dusty desert landscape of Tatooine from A New Hope and instead we are treated to the ice planet Hoth and the swampy, jungle like Dagobah, (home of the infamous Yoda!) and the cloud city where Lando resides.

Yoda is amazing! He’s such a well-rounded character, which is remarkable considering he is a puppet. We are so lucky to have had the talent like Frank Oz around to bring life to such an iconic figure. Like Errigo says he is “a wizened puppet sage performed with startling expressiveness and exasperation by Muppeteer Frank “Miss Piggy” Oz.” (662) I actually prefer the puppet Yoda to the more high-tech computer generated version in the prequels (which I have said before but it bears repeating). He has such a unique way of speaking – one oft imitated and impersonated.

Along with new Jedi characters in the form of Yoda we are also introduced to the puppet master behind Vader, known as the Emperor (it all makes sense once you’ve watched the prequels). It’s an interesting point that everyone refers to Luke’s father in the past tense especially considering what is revealed at the climax of the film.

Boba Fett is yet another epic character in a world jam-packed with hugely iconic characters that tend to transcend the films. He also has an interesting back-story unveiled in the prequels.

You start seeing the “Star Wars” cuts and wipes where Lucas has employed all the different styles of cutting techniques, ones that we were steered away from during my degree. The whole idea of cutting and editing in general is to be unobtrusive. Instead Lucas draws attention to the editing and cutting process, and it’s very much a part of the new cinematic style he gifted to the world of filmmaking.

Sound is of great importance in the Star Wars films. Where would the films have been without the instantly recognizable breathing of Vader as well as the iconic sound track? Not to mention the unique sound of the light sabers – everyone automatically makes the noise when playing with one!

The carbonite process is horrible to watch and yet creates one of the most recognizable images from the entire franchise. It’s all red lights and puffs of smoke, creating a menacing or rather foreboding atmosphere. Lando does indeed redeem himself for his betrayal of Han and Leia and becomes part of the ever-growing Rebellion, spearheading the rescue mission for Han.

Finally Luke and Vader face off against one another, despite Luke not completing his training with Yoda. Elements of their fight are reflected in the prequels … Mace Windu being sucked out a window very similar to the one Luke falls through and Yoda tearing things off the wall with the force to aid in a fight. And the biggest similarity is the loss of the hand. The father inflicts the same wound on the son. It’s such an epic climax to the film with the big reveal and one of the most famous lines in cinema history “Luke I am your father“. And then you get the connection between Leia and Luke – a hint of what their true relationship is, if you’re good at piecing bits of information together that is.

The Empire Strikes Back sets the scene for the conclusion of the trilogy – The Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand) and at the same time manages to avoid being the filler film in a trilogy.

 

Star Wars IV A New Hope

  Director: George Lucas

1977

Star Wars has been in the news a lot lately what with Lucas selling to Disney and all. Also I spent all of last week watching Episode V on loop at work (the joys of working in a toy shop at half-term with a Star Wars themed week!!) so I finally thought I’d watch them properly – the original trilogy, the good films, anyway. “Lucas also created a mythology that has been embraced by young and old alike.” (617, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) We’ve had dads in the store who are more interested in playing with the light sabers than the kids are! It amazes me that kids born 30 years after the first film know who Yoda, Luke SkywalkerDarth Vader, C3PO, R2D2 and Chewbacca are, along with all the newer characters of course. It’s a film, well a trilogy, that really has spanned the decades and generations and is still as fresh as it was on its initial release. Now I’m of the opinion that the prequels (I, II, and III) aren’t all that terrible. They don’t have that special quality the original trilogy has but aside from the quite frankly disastrous decision to create Jar Jar Binks they’re not too bad – Ewan McGregor is excellent as a young Obi-Wan, doing a remarkable job of filling the awesome shoes of Sir Alec Guinness! And they complete the story – you finally discover how such a sweet kid like Ankin became the big bad of the universe. But enough about the prequels and on to the main event.

There is something special about the opening credits (much like those of the Harry Potter series) when you see those unique scrolling subtitles disappearing up the screen coupled with the iconic music you know you’re about to embark upon an epic journey. And what a clever and neat way to provide the necessary back story. The cult phenomenon surrounding Star Wars continues to increase over the years rather than diminishing – and it’s one that reaches an incredibly varied group of people, not just nerds and geeks. And to think that like Joanna Berry says, “Star Wars could have turned out a bit silly.” (616)

“Lucas had much bigger ideas.” (616) It’s hard to watch A New Hope without thinking about just how iconic everything has become – Darth Vader’s unique breathing, Leia’s hairstyle, the Stormtroopers, Chewbacca’s whine, R2D2 and C3PO bickering like an old married couple, and the list goes on. I so want to be a Stormtrooper – their costumes are amazing!! And it’s all pervaded our everyday life especially the Jedi’s (an inordinate number of people put Jedi as their religion on the latest census don’t you know!)

“Writer-director George Lucas’s film was not expected to be a success. A “sci-fi Western” with a virtually unknown principal cast (Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher), studio bosses were so convinced the movie would flop that they happily gave Lucas the merchandising rights to any Star Wars products for free.” (616) I bet they will regret that decision for the rest of their lives considering just how popular the franchise is and has been all these long years later, with no signs of stopping.

Harrison Ford is perfect as Han Solo with this air of sex appeal surrounding him. There is this wonderful cockiness about Ford’s Solo. He’s very much the self-assured bad boy which makes him the favourite. And it’s the role (along with the impeccable Indiana Jones of course!) that really launched him to blockbuster star status where he has remained all these years. Princess Leia provides a wonderfully strong, capable and feisty role-model for any girl. She is the driving force behind the rebellion and very much an equal to any of the male characters. It’s the defining role for Carrie Fisher, her career never again reaching the success of Leia. I love the relationship between Han and Leia. They are so persnickety with each other that you know there is only one outcome for them.

The combination of Dave Prowse‘s physical performance and James Earl Jones’ vocal performance create a menacing foe, right up there with all the truly great cinematic villains.  R2D2 is such an adorable and tenacious little droid played perfectly by the oft overlooked Kenny Baker. I never really liked Luke Skywalker all that much – he always came across as a petulant child, certainly in A New Hope. And like Carrie Fisher Star Wars is the shining moment of Mark Hamill’s career, one unable to survive following the conclusion of the trilogy. Sir Alec Guinness is magnanimous as Obi-Wan Kenobi, taking on the key role of Luke’s guide on his coming of age journey.

The sets are exquisite and all the tricks Lucas employs to create this out-of-this-world and yet entirely believable universe are outstanding especially when you think about the fact the first film was made in the 1970s. “A couple of decades before computer-generated images could be used to create fantastical worlds and distant planets, Lucas, using incredibly detailed models, clever photography, and well chosen locations […] tells the story of another universe.” (616-617) I have to admit that the prequels actually appear less real or rather less tactile due to their over reliance on computer generated imagery. It’s such an intricately created universe with innumerable species, creatures and vehicles … and it all ties together seamlessly. Light sabers are an awesome feat of imagination and just like Obi-Wan says “an elegant weapon” even if they are deadly. Everybody wants one and if they say they don’t then they’re just flat-out lying!!

The soundtrack is glorious ad one that’s imbedded deep within my brain (along with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter) It’s the sort of thing you find yourself humming without even realizing you’re doing it. So much of the Star Wars universe has become shorthand for any number of things and appears in popular cinema, television and even adverts to this day. There are numerous references in The Big Bang Theory (2007-, Chuck Lorre), my favourite being Sheldon’s resemblance to C3PO, and one of the best moments in Paul (2011, Greg Mottola) where the red neck band are actually playing the Cantina band number from Mos Eisley. It’s become so much a part of everyday life that May 4th is widely regarded as Star Wars day … “May the 4th be with you!” The destruction of the Death Star is most definitely the set piece of the film and has influenced many films in the decades following its release – most noticeably for me in Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich) … but then I’ve watched it recently so it’s fresh in my mind.

The battle between Vader and Obi-Wan has always been an epic one (good vs evil; light vs dark) but for me it’s taken on a whole new meaning since watching the prequels and thus having the knowledge of the history behind the two characters. There is an intense spirituality within Star Wars most obviously evidenced in the Jedi religion and the belief in the Force. I particularly like the idea that no one truly leaves you even in death. It’s a powerful thing to believe in.

“In giving the world Star Wars, Lucas succeeded in making much more than just a movie (one that would eventually get its own exhibit at the Smithsonian, no less); he made a world, a new style of cinema, and an unforgettable outer space opera that has been many times imitated but never bettered. And you never can see the strings.” (617)

 

 

E. T. The Extra Terrestrial

Director: Steven Spielberg

1982

“A sci-fi adventure for the whole family, this was Spielberg’s homage to childhood.” (676, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I always forget how much I enjoy E.T. I came home last night from a long day at work and actually got stupidly excited when I realized it was on! I know, I know but Joanna Berry sums it up wonderfully when she says “E. T. works as a delightful adventure that appeals to the child in all of us, also delivering enough sentimental moments to have the hardest viewer reduced to a blubbering mess before the credits end.” (676) The film captures the willingness to believe that we all have as a child but gradually lose as we grow up unless you have that special ability to retain it like Spielberg.

E. T. has such an inquisitive and peaceful nature – he’s left behind because he is exploring – a rare thing to see in alien movies. You can certainly see where Pixar got their inspiration for Wall-e (2008, Andrew Stanton) … they look similar, produce the same sort of noises and gently collect a plant sample. And of course the Reece’s Pieces moment is replicated in another Pixar film, Monsters Inc. (2001, Pete Doctor) with Boo. My best friend is deathly afraid of E. T. (which has provided some hilarious moments I can tell you) and I can’t understand it. I’ve always found him adorable which ultimately makes the film so sad.

The relationship between Elliot and E. T. is incredibly touching and most definitely the heart of the film. They develop a symbiotic relationship – their health and well-being mimic each other resulting in some of the most upsetting scenes in the entire film. The government men are menacing but not overly so. It’s more like they become the thing trying to split Elliot and E. T. up. They’re faceless as well for the most part and move slowly and methodically all of which adds to the sense of unease that surrounds them. The scenes with the scientists have the sound muted – a representation of the deteriorating health of Elliot and E. T. but also the way all the protective barriers muffle everything.

“Thomas – as the lucky boy whose imaginary friend is actually real – virtually carries the film on his own small shoulders, while Robert MacNaughton (as older brother Michael) and seven-year-old Drew Barrymore give terrific turns as the initially hesitant siblings won over by E. T.’s considerable charm.” (676) The cast are excellent especially the kids – they all give such strong performances in their own way. Drew Barrymore is so talented even as a seven-year-old. And she is still instantly recognizable. Drew’s reaction to E. T.’s death is as opposite to Elliot’s as can be and yet equally as intensely moving. Her’s is a quiet and disbelieving grief as opposed to Elliot’s heartbreaking anguished cries.

So many iconic images come from E. T. not least the silhouette on the moon but also the afore-mentioned trail of Reece’s Pieces and E. T. dressed as a ghost for Halloween (I love his instant connection with the kid dressed as Yoda and the fact he connects that as home). Drunk E. T. is hysterically funny and I think it’s my favourite moment throughout. The special effects are excellent and cleverly done. I particularly like when E. T. is levitating the parts for his machine. The music is provided by John Williams – once again at an impeccable standard. you can hear elements that will go on to become the iconic title music for the Harry Potter series.