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THN Friday Face Off: Luke On Whether Spielberg & Lucas Should Hang Up Their Beards

by Luke Ryan Baldock

This is the fourth debate of our monthly feature, entitled ‘THN Friday Face Off’. One Friday every month will see two THN titans of film knowledge duke it out over a pressing issue relating to our most beloved art form. Each film fanatic will argue from a different viewpoint on a particular subject, in a bid to persuade our exceptionally attractive readers, as well as his or her colleague, they should be deemed the winner.

Of course, there are no definitive right or wrong answers. However, we would love for you to get involved by sharing your opinion, and voting for whoever you think has argued their case in a more effective way. You can do this by commenting below, tweeting us via @thncom, or commenting on our Facebook page. Before doing so, we ask that you read the opposition’s stance on the matter here.

This month we ask whether Steven Spielberg and George Lucas continue to be pioneers of greatness, or is it time for them to hang up their beards?

They rose from the darkness. It was a time when Hollywood needed a hero. Not just any hero, but someone with innovation, confidence, and a firm grasp on both entertainment and business. But much like when waiting for a bus, a number of such men appeared at once. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and Francis Ford Coppola gave Hollywood a much needed kick up the backside. Their films took in huge amounts of money, entertained millions, and were even critically acclaimed. But as the years past, some of the old guard fell by the wayside. Coppola gave us JACK, and went back to more experimental but less successful cinema. De Palma stalled in the late 90s, early 00s, with a double whammy of SNAKE EYES and MISSION TO MARS, and hasn’t really has a hit since. Which leaves us with three, but over the last decade it seems as though two of them have become more and more detached from the world of exceptional cinema, with not only their films, but also their sanity coming into question. Here I’ll take a look at whether or not we need Spielberg and Lucas in the world of film.

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Nostalgia Goggles

It’s easy to defend two of the most successful and creative filmmakers to have ever lived, because they are, as was just mentioned, two of the most successful and creative filmmakers to have ever lived. Not only have they given us classic films which will be enjoyed by generations to come, but their films also changed the landscape of modern cinema. JAWS gave us the first true summer blockbuster, as the American public flocked to air-conditioned cinemas rather than the boiling hot beaches and STAR WARS highlighted the importance of marketing and merchandising. In a time before home video formats, Spielberg and Lucas films would play at the box office for extended stretches of time, and would always bring in the crowds.

But as Bob Dylan once said, here comes the story of the hurricane… I mean, The Times They Are A Changin’. Certainly nothing can erase these incredible films and experiences from our lives, even if Lucas is giving it his best shot, but if their recent output, comments, and business-warped minds are anything to go by, perhaps the world of cinema would be better off without them. We’ve already heard the sigh of relief when it was announced that the STAR WARS franchise would be handed over to somebody else, and the duo’s INDIANA JONES franchise was pretty much derailed and tarnished, thanks to a fourth instalment. No matter how much good they did for cinema in the 70s and 80s, is that reason enough to give them free reign in an industry which is craving a new approach?

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We can chart the fall of Spielberg and Lucas back to the late 90s. Inspired by new effects, techniques and the wonders of CGI, Lucas returned to his beloved intergalactic franchise to make a few tweaks and changes. The special editions were a chance to allow people such as myself, to experience STAR WARS on the big screen. Not only that, but owners of the VHS box-set needn’t feel short changed, as there was extra stuff inserted. It was cool, because it gave us something new without detracting too much from the original. Sure, Han shot second, but we can always pretend that didn’t happen and just refer back to the originals. But as time progressed Lucas started to make more changes, and the advent of the prequels spelled doom for the STAR WARS we knew and loved. With the arrival of DVD, Lucas announced the further tweaked special editions were now the only editions that would be released. He backtracked a little, finally releasing the originals on DVD, back in a lacklustre transfer. The original cuts are still not released on Blu-ray.

This action showed a complete disrespect for the fans. Who cared or even noticed that Ewoks couldn’t blink? Surely it was only Lucas kept awake by such miniscule details. Many may argue that STAR WARS is his creation and he can do as he pleases. Maybe so, but the only reason he has the means to make such changes is because of all the money he made off the fans in the first place. He would even convince his dear friend Steven Spielberg to revisit E.T. which saw guns changed to walkie-talkies, and words such as “penis” and “terrorist” dubbed over. Luckily, Spielberg realised his mistake and has never taken the original away from us, but what became clear is that these were two men becoming drunk with technological power. They had everything at their disposal and, like a kindergartener faced with a box of 48 different colour crayons, they intended to use every last one, whether it was necessary or not.

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Losing The Plot!

As the two have experimented with digital, 3D, motion capture, and so forth, it seems as though their films have lacked the most important aspects of all. Engaging stories, strong characters, and heart are all arguably absent from their output, with greater focus on those not-so-special effects. But it’s not only this lack of quality that has rattled me, but also their continued idea that they are in some way still relevant to the current cinematic climate and the future of it. Just this month saw the duo discuss some bizarre ideas concerning the future of cinemas, as well as a completely misguided attack on video games, despite clearly having no knowledge on the subject.

While speaking at the University of Southern California, Spielberg and Lucas discussed how cinema is heading the way of Broadway, where films will stay in cinemas for longer periods of time and charge a lot more. As Spielberg stated:

You’re going to end up with fewer theaters, bigger theaters with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies will cost 50 bucks or 100 or 150 bucks, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game. It’ll be an expensive thing… [The movies] will sit in the theaters for a year, like a Broadway show does. That will be called the ‘movie’ business.

Now I’m aware the man may have been using hyperbole here, but it shows he seems to misunderstand what cinema is and how live productions work. Cinema is an easy escape for the masses and it always has been. We also have the ability to experience home entertainment, which is a much more preferable alternative to many viewers. We’re not talking about cinema crumbling because it’s not bringing in the money, we’re talking about an influx of crappy films that we don’t want to see on the big screen because of the high cost of going to the cinema. Give the world a decent film and it will respond in kind. I saw THE DARK KNIGHT six times at the cinema, whereas THE DARK KNIGHT RISES only got the one viewing. This is because I just couldn’t justify returning to the cinema to payout for a film I felt wasn’t that great. But then I wouldn’t be averse to renting the film to give it a second chance on DVD, for a smaller fee.

If Hollywood continues to churn out gigantically budgeted nonsense that nobody asked for, such as BATTLESHIP, then what does the industry expect is going to happen? Bigger and better doesn’t equate to justifying higher prices. Moreover, Broadway shows are different every time you see them and the actors are working every single performance. It’s their skills and dedication you’re paying for, and they run for such a long period of time because it’s the only way to experience the magic. It’s doubtful I’m going to invite people round my flat for a live performance of a show, and if I did I would expect to pay through the nose.

What was most telling about the bearded brethrens turn at the University of Southern California was how egotistical and confused they came across. On talking about their films LINCOLN and RED TAILS finding it difficult to achieve financing/bombing at the box office respectively, Lucas said:

We’re talking Lincoln and Red Tails – we barely got them into theatres. You’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movie into a theater!

That sounds as though Lucas feels he is entitled to put anything he damn well pleases onto the big screen. Did it ever occur to him that we didn’t want films about the Tuskegee Airmen or Abraham Lincoln? Or perhaps that they just weren’t – SHOCK HORROR – that very good? Spielberg then went on to reminisce about how E.T. was in cinemas for 16 months. Perhaps that was because VHS wasn’t as common in peoples’ homes back in 1982. Let’s not forget that there are plenty of films out there making a mountain of money. THE PURGE managed to make back over ten times its budget on its first weekend of release. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK only just left US cinemas this month, clocking in a respectable 29 weeks, despite being released on DVD and Blu-ray months back. It’s not a case of there being a lack of demand, but a case of giving us stuff nobody wants.

If their self-entitled spewing of cinematic future wasn’t enough, the two further highlighted their expiration dates having passed by denouncing the emotional impact and storytelling capabilities of video games. Spielberg proclaimed:

The second you get the controller something turns off in the heart and it becomes a sport.

I still remember the joy of freeing Epona in THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME, which is probably a few steps up from wishing that horse dead in WAR HORSE. Want to talk about something turning off your heart? How about sentimental melodramatic nonsense? Now I have no doubt that if Spielberg has ever picked up a controller he may have felt this way. But why is he giving us an opinion on something outside his medium? Because he has recently allied himself with Microsoft, which allows him to plug certain aspects of the Xbox One, mainly the Kinect camera, as Spielberg believes controller-less games are the future. I’m no dedicated gamer, but even I know that these two were talking out of their behinds. Whether they’ve accepted money or are invested in the companies themselves, they’re emulating their current attitudes to film. Spielberg and Lucas no longer care what the audience want; they’re going to tell you what you want, which seems to be the sad case with big budget cinema at the moment. You, the audience, want 3D, you want motion-capture, and you want 48 frames per second, whether they’re used correctly or not.

This isn’t a case of fearing progress. It’s a case of fearing the influence of two men who are no longer great storytellers, but great businessmen. There would be no shame in them taking a step back and working hard on engaging stories. There’s a reason why Martin Scorsese can be considered as a separate entity to the two bosom buddies. When Scorsese used 3D for HUGO, he wasn’t trying to sell the product, when he gives us a new film, he isn’t forcing his ideals concerning technology onto us. Modern pioneers such as Christopher Nolan are utilising the likes of IMAX without speaking to us as if we are mindless robots. Who can forget the moment when one of the RESIDENT EVIL sequels (who’s keeping count?) bragged about using the same cameras as AVATAR? Probably a lot of people actually, because nobody cared. I used to enjoy hearing Spielberg and Lucas talk about their films, but these days it seems as though they are merely trying to remain relevant by voicing opinions, which is a sure fire way of just highlighting your own irrelevance.

I guess all I need to do is point you in the direction of a young George Lucas. He truly was the chosen one that turned to the dark side. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Please do tell us what you think, but first, be sure to read the counter-argument, which can be found here.

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