Friday, May 25, 2007

20:07 (Tatooine)


"That malfunctioning little twerp... this is all his fault"
*
For my contribution to the 3oth Anniversary Star Wars Blog-a-Thon, I had intended to write about Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia. That won't surprise regular readers since I have read all of the woman's novels and am a card carrying actressexual to boot. But as is often the case in the past two months, I find I'm haunted by this random screengrab I pulled for my 20:07 series *

[
Edited to add: Unfortunately, as it turns out my DVD player or the DVD itself, a rented remastered copy of the 1977 film, has some sort of glitch. I can't get an accurate read of the time (it jumps from 3:32 at the end of the text crawl to 10:29 and the first glimpse of the spaceship, thus rendering the clock unreliable from then on -apologies, editor]

But anyway... If you're an irregular reader and just here for the 'thon, I'll fill you in: as an experiment in visual blogging, I've been stopping movies at a random point, the 20th minute and 7th second and posting the screenshot with dialogue. Sometimes this leads to revealing giggles and other times to fascinating meta-criticism. Occasionally the random image pulled makes me ponder the movie in a whole new way. And, though I couldn't get an accurate read on this Star Wars disc, this image I grabbed from my skipping disc is haunting me anyway. The more I tried to pull myself away to talk Princess/novelist, the more I found myself lost in this image of the desert vista on Tatooine.

The beauty of the image is this: there's next to nothing there. Its simplicity is vast. We've just witnessed one of the most exciting opening scenes in film history: a text crawl has informed us that we've arrived in the middle of a story! We've seen an outer space attack, a princess, an evil cloaked villain, and two droids narrowly escaping armed soldiers. And here we are marooned on a desert. George Lucas couldn't have chosen a smarter locale to toss a curious audience into. There is so much that's unknowable, even alien about a desert... and yet its a familiar and static image. There is no distraction. Your mind is then free to wander, to wonder, to fill in the possible details. There's nothing to look at and you want to see everything. What kind of creatures live on this planet? Is there only desert? How will these machines (C-3PO pictured and R2-D2 dissed) make their way in this world? What will become of the Princess's message, already embedded in the malfunctioning little twerp?

The simplicity here got me thinking about visual schemes in the entire Star Wars series. It isn't just the desert that's low key. The color palette is largely black (costumes, Vader, space) and white (costumes, Storm Troopers) with abundant beiges (costumes, endless sand) and grays (spaceships). The Empire Strikes Back is similarly muted in its color schemes. Instead of the desert we begin on an ice planet (also familiar yet alien and wondrous to the eye). Return of the Jedi adds a forest moon and with it more greens and browns. These fantastical worlds are really quite generously familiar and plain. It's our imagination, fully engaged, filling in the details of this galaxy far far away. We're intimately engaged in the mythology because we're helping to create it as we watch.

This desert image from the 20th minute of the first film solidifies for me this partially inchoate notion I've had about what went wrong between the first set of films (1977 to 1983) and the later ones (1999 to 2005). When we first return to Tatooine in The Phantom Menace it's still a desert but there's more detail. Technological advances fill every frame with ... stuff. The new worlds created are bizarre (who lives under water or on lava?) and the costumes are explosively colorful and odd. The second trilogy (Chapters 1 through 3) is so visually detailed as to be entirely cluttered and muddy. The audience's imagination has no work left to do. There's so much to look at that there's, metaphorically speaking, nothing to see. It's certainly alien but the humanity has gone right out of it.
*
* I use a VLC DVD Player on an iMac for my screenshots. All 20:07 images in the series are from this system (unless other wise noted from guest images) Not all DVD players match in their internal clocks.

17 comments:

adam k. said...

Good point about the cluttered visuals in the new series. I would argue that the other part of the problem is that the first film begins with literally nothing wrong and all at ease, hence all the clutter and lack of interesting emptiness. What's great about IV-VI is that the whole galaxy is being rebuilt from this place of broken nothingness. I think the "old times" are really better insinuated than revealed in all their glory. They're just inherently less interesting.

Fascinating how the past few years in American politics have mirrored the developments in Star Wars. Lucas really knew what he was doing. Does that mean the Clinton years are like the prequels? Hmm.

Oh and I meant to say, there's a bit of a typo. The new films ran from 1999-2005. You have the year as 2003.

AdamWaldowski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RBurton said...

Check out that krayt dragon skeleton. That is badass.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you have totally hit the nail on the head. And I would never have thought about it in that way if you hadn't pointed it out.

Sometimes I really miss going to movies with you. :-)

Linda

Anonymous said...

By the way, if you're looking for a Hitchcock I couldn't help noticing that Notorious had a nice shot at the 20:07 mark. Providing, of course, that our DVD players match up.

Deborah said...

I'm wondering how Hitchcock is "immune" and what makes you define a film as inappropriate for the series.

Burbanked said...

Perhaps I'm remembering this incorrectly, but isn't the dragon skeleton one of the CGI add-ons? I might be getting old, but I just watched SW in preparation for this blog-a-thon and I didn't remember the skeleton being there originally. I remembered it like you're saying, Nathaniel - stark and empty and desolate; a place that no two droids could possibly survive for long.

If Lucas did add the skeleton later, it's truly symptomatic of his overblown revisionist thinking: "There's just not enough in the frame here! Let's add some pointless and distracting junk!"

Culture Snob said...

I hate to be picky, but I don't think this comes at 20:07. Could you double-check?

Otherwise, a fantastic piece, and one that correctly notes the goodness of simplicity every now and again.

NATHANIEL R said...

it comes at exactly 20:07 on my dvd player as do all of the entries in the series.

i use a VLC player on my computer

crazycris said...

hehe! I love that scene! There's something just so "precious" about Threepio, he's out of place in the whole movie (except on the dais at the end of the movie when Han and Luke get medals; damn! I always get a lump in my throat in that scene... must be the music! ;o) ), he's the best comic relief one could imagine for the series!

Saw the movie again last night in honor of the anniversary and the blog-a-thon...

I seem to remember something being visible behind Threepio in the original movie edition, so I don't know if Lucas completely added in the Krayt dragon here, or if the image was just cleaned up. I'd have to go digging through old VHS to find it! :p

Culture Snob said...

On my DVD (special edition), 20:07 is C3P0 coming out of the oil bath. The image you captured is somewhere around the 11-minute mark. That's a pretty big discrepancy ... .

Woodstock said...

i first got excited about the star wars movies when the episode 1 was to be released. i read everything that was published about it and ran to the video place to rent the 1st trilogy, that wowed me in a way i never expected - it made me like and be addicted to the sci-fi genre for a while. but after the disappointments on the episode 1 and 2 [and at the time i didn't care to see episode 3] i kinda overlooked the star wars movies and how much i liked them. reading this made me want to revisit all of them.

NATHANIEL R said...

ok. something is wrong with my disc on this one. sorry about that. i can't get an accurate read on the time. there seems to be a 7 minute jump inbetween the text scroll and the planet hovering into view (which is always how star wars begins...)

weird. i shall edit the post.

Culture Snob said...

But it's a wonderful post. Forget that I even brought it up.

NATHANIEL R said...

edited to complain about my disc problems. I can't get an accurate time read on the movie, damn.

But my feelings on Tatooine still hold ;)

PhillyFan! said...

Get excited!

http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/movies/20080815_Animation_adds_little_to__Clone_.html

lib319 said...

I always thought Star Wars didn't work in an urban environment. Not epic in scale like a desert (sand or ice), and like you said, too much clutter.