Thursday, 20 December 2012

Leigh Brackett and the Unknown Empire

Guest post by John Rivers

As speculation grows over the story lines of three new Star Wars movies (THREE. NEW. STAR WARS. MOVIES!) and people scrutinise what Michael Arndt, Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg will deliver, I thought it would be great to take a look at the scripting behind the original trilogy. However, as luck would have it, I found that I had arrived at a collection of Leigh Brackett stories in my reading list. It was Brackett who delivered the first screenplay of The Empire Strikes Back.

Brackett was a science-fiction author and screenplay writer who had enjoyed writing genre material from a young age and had broken into screenwriting through the success of her detective novel No Good from a Corpse in 1944. She therefore found herself being able to write the SF and fantasy stories she loved as well as work on movies. During the mid-forties, Brackett struck up friendships with other authors such as Edmond Hamilton (whom she later married) and Ray Bradbury. Brackett talked about Sundays being spent at the beach with her friends and reading each others' work. In 1946 Brackett had begun a story entitled "Lorelei of the Red Mist" when she was called on by Howard Hawks to work on the screenplay of The Big Sleep, a job she shared with William Faulkner, an alcoholic who would disappear drunk for days. Bradbury meanwhile stepped in and finished "Lorelei of the Red Mist".

By the late 70s Brackett had continued to write both prose fiction and screenplays before being approached by George Lucas to write the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas had the story planned out (albeit, different to the one we know), and invited Brackett to write the first draft. Her experience in pulp SF and screenwriting clearly impressed Lucas as, being the best person for the job. Remarkably then, almost none of Brackett's work makes it to the finished movie.

The reasons for this are clearer if we look at the screenplay Brackett delivered. Overall this feels like a slower movie than the Empire that we know. There's a sense of urgency that the Kasdan screenplay has, lacking in Brackett's version. For a start it takes the Empire a fair while to get to the Ice Planet the Rebels are hiding on. Snow creatures are attempting to undermine the Rebel base (literally) before the Imperial Navy makes an appearance. Otherwise the overall structure is there - the Rebels flee, Luke flies to a Bog Planet, Leia and Han evade the Empire in an asteroid field, meanwhile Darth Vader broods in his castle - that's right, his castle and they all meet up on a city in the clouds called Hoth. Luke and Vader fight and Luke learns nothing about his true parentage. The revelation at the end of Empire only came about in later script meetings between Lucas, Kasdan and Gary Kurtz.

The screenplay also has intriguing details about the characters that never happen in the Star Wars universe as we know it. Han Solo has a stepfather called Ovan Merekal (though Han claims he's not his stepfather), who controls the biggest transport guild in the galaxy. Leia is desperate to bring Merekal into the Alliance and at the end of the script Han is dispatched to persuade Merekal to join them. It takes the death of Lando's foster dad Bahiri to persuade Lando to go back on his deal with Vader. Also interesting is Leia wondering if Lando is a clone, you know, from the Clone Wars. Finally, Yoda is called Minch and he's grumpy.

It's a glimpse of a Star Wars that never was and as much as I enjoy Brackett's writing, Kasdan's screenplay has more pace, the stakes feel higher. In fact I'd go as far to say that Splinter of the Mind's Eye would have made a better movie than Brackett's Empire. Luckily things turned out a different way.

Meanwhile it's worth reading Brackett's short stories. They are fantastic explorations of the ancient civilisations of Mars and Venus, full of magic and wonder. The guys are tough and some of the women are tougher, but they have a genuine sense of adventure which is great to read. In fact, given that Brackett's stories feature grave robber-come-archaeologist types one wonders if she was an influence in Lucas's creation of Indiana Jones? He definitely feels like a Brackett creation!

The collection I read was the Fantasy Masterworks edition of The Sea-Kings of Mars. It's quite pricey to buy as a secondhand paperback, but a rewarding experience.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Willow arrives on Blu-ray disc in March

Willow bows on Blu-ray disc in March with a new digital transfer overseen by Lucasfilm.

Journey to the far corners of your imagination with Willow, for the first time ever on stunning Blu-ray! Written and produced by George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, the film tells a timeless fantasy tale in which heroes come in all sizes...and adventure is the greatest magic of all. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the unforgettable classic has been fully digitally restored and debuts on Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack March 12, 2013 from Lucasfilm Ltd. and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

When young Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis; Harry Potter franchise) finds an abandoned baby girl, he learns she is destined to end the reign of the wicked Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh; “Upstairs, Downstairs”). In order to protect the child, Willow must team up with a rogue swordsman (Val Kilmer; Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) and overcome the forces of darkness in the ultimate battle of good versus evil!

The Willow Blu-ray and DVD include a dazzling array of extras with never-before-seen exclusive content such as deleted scenes with remarks from Ron Howard, a personal video diary of Warwick Davis, matte paintings and much more. In addition, look out for Ron Howard’s new introduction for the original 1988 featurette “The Making of an Adventure,” as well as special effect legend Dennis Muren’s new intro to his piece, “From Morf to Morphing: The Dawn of Digital Filmmaking.”

Special Features
WILLOW is presented in widescreen with 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio (Lossless). Special features include:
● NEW Willow: Deleted Scenes with Ron Howard
● NEW Willow: An Unlikely Hero Personal Video Diary of Warwick Davis
● The Making of an Adventure with an all new introduction from Ron Howard
● From Morf to Morphing with an all new introduction from Dennis Muren
● Matte Paintings
● Easter Egg

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness channels The Dark Knight

The teaser poster for Star Trek Into Darkness suggests JJ Abrams is channelling Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy for the first sequel to his franchise reboot! The subsequent teaser trailer reaffirms this. What do you think?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Skyfall smashes UK box office record in 40 days

Skyfall succeeded where Avengers Assemble, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises failed: getting me into a multiplex for the first time since David Fincher's remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which coincidentally starred Daniel Craig.

Skyfall is a masterclass in shadow play set against lyrical bombast! Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig pay spectacular homage to a 50-year legacy.

London, 5th December – Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment are delighted to announce that Skyfall has made history in the UK and become the highest grossing film of all time. Skyfall has now taken a staggering £94,277,612 at the UK box office in just 40 days on release, making box office history and overtaking the record previously held by Avatar which had a lifetime gross of £94,025, 632 million during 11 months on release in UK cinemas.

SKYFALL, the 23rd James Bond adventure, continuing the longest running and most successful franchise in film history, opened in 587 cinemas across the UK and Ireland on Friday 26th October, and is still on general release. In response to this fantastic news, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said “We’re overwhelmed with gratitude to the cinema-going audiences in the UK who have made Skyfall the highest grossing film of all time. We are very proud of this film and thank everybody, especially Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes, who have contributed to its success.”

“I am incredibly proud of the amazing heights to which this film continues to soar and wish to again congratulate all involved on reaching such a tremendous milestone,” said Gary Barber, Chairman and CEO, MGM.

Peter Taylor, Managing Director, Sony Pictures Releasing UK also commented “We are delighted that cinemagoers have so enthusiastically embraced Skyfall in such an incredible way. It seems particularly fitting in 2012 that the latest James Bond adventure should become the highest grossing movie ever marking the fiftieth anniversary of one of our truly iconic cultural characters in record breaking style.”

Daniel Craig is back as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in SKYFALL™, the 23rd adventure in the longest-running film franchise of all time. In SKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. The film is from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Directed by Sam Mendes. Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Legend Ends

“The Dark Knight Rises” is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download.

In the epic conclusion to filmmaker Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy, Gotham City is threatened by the masked terrorist Bane, forcing Batman to return from an eight-year absence and fight for his city one more time.

Leading an all-star international cast, Oscar® winner Christian Bale ("The Fighter") again plays the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. "The Dark Knight Rises" also stars Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle; Tom Hardy as Bane; Oscar® winner Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose") as Miranda Tate; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. Returning to the main cast, Oscar® winner Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules") plays Alfred; Gary Oldman is Commissioner Gordon; and Oscar® winner Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby") reprises the role of Lucius Fox.

It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act.

But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.

I missed Christopher Nolan's tech noir opus at the cinema, but the 35mm/IMAX hybrid print on Blu-ray disc is reference material.