247 – The Defence

"I know this is going to sound like a come-on, but have you ever thought about 3-3/4" modelling?"

My mate George is making a film. I’ve watched it–the film he’s currently making–so many times I feel like we’re close friends, good mates. When I watch it for the first time it’ll be like he’s put every daydream I’ve ever had up on screen; it’ll be amazing, and I’ll talk about it for weeks to all my mates who’ve also seen it, and also feel George is a good mate, the best mate, the mate who turns overturned logs into wicked BMX ramps and construction sites into adventure playgrounds. Our mate George will turn cinemas into places where dreams come true.Right now he’s making a film.

“It’s too slow,” he says. “It needs to be faster.” He’s directing the special effects blokes while they’re shooting a scene. They’re good at what they do but they’re used to doing it a certain way and that way isn’t good enough for George. He has a vision, you see, a picture in his head of exactly how things should be and right now, watching the rushes, they’re nowhere near fast enough to match what he sees when he closes his eyes.

He’s the director so they do as he says, and once they’re done shooting he watches the rushes again. “Better,” he says, “but next time, faster.”

“S’too bloody fast,” one of the blokes says to the others, but he waits ‘til George is out of earshot before he says it. George started their effects company because nobody else in the business was doing the kinds of things he wants: the kinds of things he sees. In time the bloke complaining and everyone agreeing with him will realise George was right all along. When the scene moves just fast enough, a kind of magic occurs. Years later some of them will work on another movie, that features the line “When this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour you’re gonna see some serious shit” They’ll nod in recognition when they hear it, as if they heard it years before.

George has almost finished the film. Some of the effects aren’t quite complete and John–my mate John–is still composing the music. Like the men from Industrial Light and Magic George asks too much from John, wanting him to produce a score unlike anything the cinema audience has ever heard; unlike ILM John understands and rises to the occasion. He’s still working on the score while some of Hollywood’s richest producers and brightest directors file into a screening room and watch the screen flicker to life.

The movie ends, the directors troop out. The producers are grumbling, looking worried. They didn’t get the movie but my mate Steven who’d watched the film with them, he gets it exactly.

“George,” he says on the way home from the studio. “You’re going to make a hundred million dollars with that movie.”

But even though he gets the movie, he gets the figure wrong: Star Wars will make much more than a hundred million dollars.

The movie comes out and George starts work on a sequel. Star Wars is going to be a trilogy, he’s decided–or maybe three trilogies that all take place inside the same continuity. It’s not going to be like James Bond or Godzilla: there won’t be nine films sharing characters but little else. However many films there are–and except for the two he’s working on even George doesn’t know many Star Wars films he’ll end up making–there will be one grand over-arcing story taking audiences to a galaxy far far away. He knows this much at least: its what he sees when he closes his eyes.

And he’s seen this for so long it’s like he’s seen it all his life. He watched black and white serials as a kid, with tin-can spaceships with sparklers for thrusters, where good guys fought bad guys and good always won. Everything was simpler then, thinks George, and when he watches Taxi Driver while in pre-production on Star Wars, even though it’s a good film he wonders what happened to proper heroes. You watch a movie like Taxi Driver and you’d think they were dead.

For all its spacey, high-tech vibe Star Wars is set long, long ago, when knights fought with swords and farm boys became heroes. It’s confusing for the movie’s financiers who want to know why a movie set so long ago features spaceships from the future, and even the kids who see it in their millions think it’s a futuristic film full of robots and lasers until one day, as if hit by a laser blast they realise the line right at the beginning that they’ve read a dozen times means something, and they too understand just what George sees at night, what he’s seen for so long.

George makes three films. He tries to get everything he sees down on screen, but as with those early ILM camera operators the art of film-making can’t keep up with him. Not everything that ends up on screen is quite to his taste. His movies have resurrected the visual effects industry: these days every film is a boys own adventure with crazy effects and a bombastic soundtrack. There are a dozen Star Wars movies made every year and even with their pioneering effects George’s films are starting to look dated. Every time he watches them he sees not monsters and space battles but puppets and matte-lines, and he wishes he could do something to realign the films with the images that haunt him still.

So George restores the films. It’s not cheap, and it’s probably unwise–after all, who wants to see dusty old movies even after they’ve been spruced up? As it turns out, lots of people do: the world falls in love with Star Wars all over again and George rakes in the cash, satisfied if only for the moment.

There’s a new monster on the movie scene that looks like a dinosaur and lives inside a computer. George watches Jurassic Park, watches a Tyrannosaurus Rex gobble Star Wars matte-lines and all, and wonders:

What if computers could see what I see? What if computers could dream what I dream?

Unhappy with his films–lumbering dinosaurs as they are–he doctors them using the latest technology. Mos Eisley becomes the busy hive it was always meant to be. Bespin gets vehicles flying past its windows that befit a true city in the clouds. He’d always intended for Jabba the Hutt to appear earlier in the trilogy; now he has the ability to put him into the first film, and does so.

With every addition he comes maddeningly closer to realising his original vision. He’s worked with so many people over the years, some of whom helped him move closer to it, some of whom moved him further away and some who had ideas of how Star Wars looked, sounded or felt that he hadn’t thought of before but once they’d told, him he knew they could see it too; he can no longer imagine Star Wars as it might have been without their help.

But there are other things he sees that haven’t made it to the screen. He dreams of another princess and another knight with a robot hand, and wakes knowing the time has come: there will be a new Star Wars film.

Making more Star Wars so many years later is a problem. There are inconsistencies that plague him alongside all the expected problems of making a modern movie, and all the while the technology he set in motion decades before is rolling out of control. By the time the first of the new films is finished it looks dated next to CG blockbusters released in the same year. The next film–which embraces CG in a way George has never done before–is compared by critics to a video game. George remembers video games: he remembers the Star Wars arcade game and the graphics were built from lines like a matchstick White House. Video games have evolved too, and are troubling the home entertainment industry. DVDs replace VHS cassettes. The Internet’s on the rise. People download the Phantom Menace trailer in record numbers; George films Attack of the Clones entirely with digital cameras and still the images don’t match up.

He finishes the sixth and final Star Wars film and fiddles with the entire series, trying to iron out inconsistencies and turn six films made over thirty years into a single cohesive experience. He’ll release them on DVD and still be dissatisfied, wanting to edit and re-edit them until he gets it right.

George’s friends don’t like him anymore. They want their film back the way it was, the way they remember it–but George isn’t done yet. There’s always a better way of framing a scene; there’s always a better transition or sound effect, or an effect he can make better if only he can get what’s in his head down on film, damn it, if only the images would match up.

There’s always a better dream to dream.

Being prone to altering my own stuff I know exactly how George feels and that’s why he’s still my friend. I realise Star Wars means more to most of you than it does to me and I know all you want from George is the film you remember. Imagine what it must be like for him, remembering a movie  that never got made, taunted by images he tried and failed to capture in films that will never be good enough.

I don’t blame him for ‘tampering’ with Star Wars–after all, they are his movies. If he was a painter still painting a portrait thirty-five years later we’d say he was tortured. I don’t think he revisits his films to deliberately piss off fans–or do anything other than try to make his definitive vision of Star Wars. Maybe he’s become so driven in this pursuit–in making the images match–like a sentence become too familiar the films have lost their meaning.

But the meaning’s still there, oh yes. Even if he hasn’t found it yet, George can see it.

I know I’m making excuses for a man rich beyond our wildest dreams–its hard to feel sympathy for a billionaire–but as an artist, yeah, I can see what he’s getting at.

So the next time you complain about George raping your memories cut him a little slack and remember who gave them to you in the first place. You might not like him much these days but once, long ago George showed you the stars. He turned sticks into lightsabers and playgrounds into space battles, and he pedalled alongside you towards the best ramp in the woods.

You pedal hard, your heart thumping. The world streams behind in ribbons; you’re approaching hyperspeed and with only seconds left before you hit the log. Suddenly you’re scared; you reach for the brake but as you do your mate George says something, like Obi Wan Kenobi telling Luke to use the Force. “Faster,” he says, laughing. “You need to go faster.”

You pedal faster, leave the ramp . . . and fly.

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