Tag Archives: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Face Off: James Bond and Star Wars

Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

Every single time a Star Wars movie comes to theaters, a James Bond adventure always accompanies it within a year of release. That’s a weird bit of trivia, no? Two of the most gigantic franchises of all time, both in popularity and in cold hard box-office revenue, and the jaunts through a galaxy far, far away are always paired with some good old British womanizing. I smell a conspiracy. Maybe old Bond is just insecure about his lack of Force-wielding prowess and feels the need to release a movie every time a new Star Wars flick hits cinemas.

Regardless, it gives us an opportunity — nay, begs us — to revisit those years and the state of the respective franchises. With the trend continuing this year upon the release of Spectre and The Force Awakens, let’s zip back almost four decades ago to the beginning of the phenomenon.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and A New Hope (1977)

SHLM and NH

A brief look at the weekly box office number-ones throughout 1977 betrays what you’d expect: Star Wars absolutely dominated, reclaiming the top spot again and again weeks after the original release. Great films like SorcererBobby Deerfield, and Cross of Iron have since been relegated to obscurity in the looming shadow of A New Hope. And The Spy Who Loved Me? It’s not even in the Top 10 highest-grossing Bond films (and yet Octopussy is, somehow).

And still The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the better entires in the long-standing franchise, certainly one of the better outings for Roger Moore’s 007. After the idiocy of Live and Let Die and the beautiful weirdness of The Man with the Golden Gun, Moore’s Bond got relatively straightforward in a collaboration with the Russians against the maniacal Karl Stromberg and his trusty metal-toothed henchman. It seemed like Moore’s Bond was finally coming into his own, like the franchise was on its feet again after a long string of so-so spy shindigs. To this day it’s one of the most revered Moore outings.

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Willow (1988)

When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 the primary news item was very definitely Star Wars and the announcement of a new expansion on the galaxy far, far away. The Force Awakens comes this December, but talk is already turning to Indiana Jones, another Lucasfilm franchise, and the possibility of continuing that as well (because distilling Raiders into Crystal Skull wasn’t enough). What’s next? THX 1138Howard the Duck? Radioland Murders? Perhaps even an original idea? Probably none of those for a few years, while Wars and Jones get the attention they deserve. Eventually, though, they’ll probably remake Willow.

Starring Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, Willow is a fantasy epic set in what seems to be a mystical land of fairies, witches, warriors and little magicians. Willow Ufgood is our unlikely hero, tasked with the safe passage of a prophesied infant through the dangerous lands outside the borders of his home. He seems like a simpleton, a mere farmer, but there’s a lot more to Willow than meets the eye. Importantly, despite the evil tyranny he encounters in his quest, Willow remains one of the most endlessly optimistic characters in all of fantasy cinema. This made Ron Howard the perfect director at the time to handle Willow’s journey, as his previous Cocoon was similarly steeped in magic and optimism. Davis is instantly iconic as Willow. Meanwhile, Val Kilmer plays a drunk version of Aragorn.

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Gung Ho (1986)

So…is Gung Ho racist, or what? To be sure, far less sympathetic portraits of the Japanese have cropped up in American cinema over the years. This certainly isn’t the not-so-subtle Neimoidian race of The Phantom Menace or the not-even-attempting-to-be-subtle Mr. Yunioshi of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. At the very least Gung Ho is free of that kind of blatant disregard for cultural sensitivity that makes one wonder, with no shortage of slaps to one’s forehead, how the hell some things get greenlighted at all.

But there is a sneaking suspicion that there’s a cultural illiteracy afoot in Gung Ho, if not a straight-up cultural disregard, and that might be just as bad. Director Ron Howard cast Michael Keaton as the actor rose to fame following Johnny Dangerously and Howard’s own Night Shift, and there’s little blame to place on Keaton here. He’s the lovable doofus that he usually is. Gung Ho sees Keaton’s everyman Hunt Stevenson fighting to save his little Rust Belt town after a Japanese automobile company takes over the local factory. An army of managerial types swoops in from Tokyo and sets about “correcting” the carefree business practices of the American worker. Culture clash certainly ensues — we’re just not sure it’s the kind of clash that Howard and Co. intended.

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has no shortage of detractors. Whenever a beloved film or film series receives a new treatment or installment, most people – myself included – are bound to vocalize their qualms. We said why can’t they leave well enough alone? We said why does everything have to be CGI? With the fourth Indy flick, we said a whole bunch of stuff that shouldn’t be reprinted. So yeah: Crystal Skull is the weakest Indiana Jones for a few reasons. But let’s find something nice to say about it for a change, shall we?

Harrison Ford returns to one of his most famous characters after a quarter-century hiatus (he appeared in one or two movies in the meantime) and most of the old crew returns with him: Steven Spielberg directs from a story by George Lucas, composer John Williams scores the film, and Karen Allen revives the role of Marion Ravenwood. Cate Blanchett plays (ahem, overplays) the primary antagonist Dr. Irina Spalko, and the best things about her are her hair and her name. Among the other new additions to the Indy legend is the consistent use of CGI, which was used sparingly in the first three adventure films in favor of practical effects. It feels at times as if somebody wanted to cram as many CG shots into this thing as possible, and many of those instances are very unfortunately unconvincing. Also: aliens.

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