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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Who's Storyline Is It Anyway?

In our first part of the Good Vs. Evil series. We're taking a look at how the Internet has influenced the entertainment industry. Sometimes I wonder, who is really in control of the machine as fanboys take to the web waves to blast or praise their favorite movie and television franchises. Is Hollywood listening? Should they?

evilConsider this. It's 1979 and you've seen Star Wars for the hundredth time. You hear that Lucasfilm is going to be dropping the next installment of the saga in a year and you've got opinions on what you think would make for a killer storyline. What do you do? Well, nothing. That's it. You are a lone crazy voice in a sea of fanboy nerdom. Of course you can write to Lucas and company and make a suggestion. You can even jump in a VW bus and drive to Marin County to try and storm the gates of the Skywalker Ranch. Somehow, I think you'd be shipped off to the Spice Mines of Kessel before you could plead your case. What you need is a communication tool that allows you to express your deepest, and often unwanted, opinions about all things Star Wars. Then, that tool needs to have the ability to reach out and be seen by millions of people, kind of like a newspaper but with better distribution. Hopefully, Lucas will see your thoughts and think, "You know what? This guy is right on the money. I'm scrapping the story for Empire Strikes Back and following this nerf herder's advice." Thank the maker there was no such tool in 1979.

Flash forward 20 years later and we've arrived at the weekend after the premiere of The Phantom Menace. That tool I was speaking of previously is now abuzz with flame and praise over the new Star Wars film. For the most part, a lot of the reviews were mixed and even Lucas chided American media for relying on Internet fan opinion. I won't get into a debate on what was wrong or right with the movie, but I will say that I believe Lucas gave up important emphasis on dialogue and story in favor of flashy and spectacular CGI to achieve what he felt he couldn't do in the original trilogy. The original movies are a phenomenon all their own and are probably one of the most quoted movies in history. That's not something you can readily say about the prequels. My own opinions aside, the film has been heavily criticized over just one character, Jar Jar Binks. The floppy eared Gungan made more of a stink than all the Ewoks combined with his slapstick prat falls and questionably derogatory ethnicity. Lucas states over and over that Jar Jar was a character for kids and that the movies, themselves are for kids. Us 30 year olds need to realize that the original movies, as well, were for kids, namely us. Unfortunately, Jar Jar was the scapegoat of a bigger issue.

Nonetheless, is it any wonder that Jar Jar saw less screen time and hardly any dialogue in the remaining two films? While Lucas doesn't readily admit bowing to fanboy ire, I don't think there is that many parsecs from rumor to truth in regards to Jar Jar's reduced role in the sequels. But the bigger issue is who owns the films? Is it the director, the studio, or the fans? Could we have had that much of an impact on decisions made for Attack of the Clones and The Revenge of the Sith? Possibly. What would have happened if the Internet would have existed in 1979? What kind of criticism would have Lucas faced from 30 year olds who live in their parents' basement, then? I mean look at the landscape. We had two big revelations that occurred in Empire and Jedi. The first and most devastating was that Vader was Luke's father. The other was Leia and Luke being related. Granted the latter had lesser of an impact, but still just as creepy considering their constant smooching the first two films. At one point, Luke is even relieved that Han Solo has little interest in Leia. The Internet could have totally changed the way both of those films were made just by having the ability to voice an opinion and then getting a million people to read it. While I will admit that reducing Jar Jar's presence in the prequel trilogy was a smart move, Lucas comes across as having his creative control and manhood reduced to a steaming pile of bantha poodoo. If Lucas had all of the stories planned out from the beginning and allowed just one criticism to change his course than his integrity was compromised and it has set a precedent for anyone to follow.

Another similar clash between director and fans occurred with the release of the original trilogy on home entertainment. Again, fans took to the Internet to beg and petition the release of the original films on DVD. Unfortunately, they got their wish. However, Lucas continually tweaked the films adding things he thought bugged him about the original films. The replacement of Jason Wingreen as the voice of Boba Fett with Temuera Morrison and Hayden Christensen's glowy image instead of Sebastian Shaw were just a few. Fans across the globe protested, held their breath, and stomped their feet in anger over the changes and demanded Lucas re-re-release the films in their original format. Now, what does that mean. By my count, in one way or another, the original trilogy has been released at least 6 times now, mostly with differences from the subtle to the substantial...Han shoots first, Greedo shoots first and Han awkwardly ducks, they shoot at the same time with Greedo milliseconds ahead and Han convincingly ducks, and finally you get both versions on the same DVD. Are you happy now? I personally own two VHS sets and the 2004 DVDs and I have no desire to buy anymore for the sake of one scene. But you see how fandom and the Internet has hurt Hollywood. The Internet has made Hollywood stand up and take notice but sometimes I feel that in a room full of shouting people, listening to loudest isn't always the best practice.

Lucas is a perfectionist and I'll give him that buy nothing is more fickle than a fan boy with a grudge and an Internet connection. However, sometimes Hollywood gets off path and has to be shown the way back to the light. Unfortunately, sometimes it wastes good amounts of story and takes a few months to correct. My argument for the Internet's influence on Hollywood is a little show called LOST. Much akin to Star Wars in reference and reverence, LOST has made a hole in the ozone layer out of a smoke monster when it comes to mythology and fandom. The producers have taken the original idea which was not much different than say Gilligan's Island and turned into a mind blowing, time warping, Dharma loving, Other hating, Rube Goldberg device. But somewhere along the lines of season 3, they strayed from the path and got lost in the jungle when they attempted to introduce two new characters into the mix. Nikki and Paulo were pretty much Cousin Oliver, Sam McKinney, Andy Keaton, Ashley Johnson, and Luke Bower all rolled into one and made very, very pretty. The idea was to have the red shirts of the survivors have a chance to have their stories told. Season 1 had Leslie Arzt, but he blew up. They also had Scott and Steve, but Scott was killed....or was it Steve? Anyway, it was established pretty quickly that Nikki and Paulo were disliked among the fan base and once again, the Internet lit up with ire over their focus and demanded they be killed or kidnapped by The Others. Oddly enough, one of the characters, Sawyer, breaks the fourth wall and continually asks, "Who the hell are Nina and Pablo?"

Again, the producers took note and quickly wrapped up everything related to their story and buried them alive, quite literally. Was the Internet to blame? I believe rightly so. The audience has become fickle with television and unless we are given good, compelling drama, we're going to switch over to a show that will give it to us, like American Idol. I wonder if David Archuleta's Dad will withhold water this week? Maybe Paula will critique a performance from next season, before it has aired. You want to talk about time travel. I can't wait!

Shows like LOST and Heroes have been on the radar for fan based anger and it seems that when lightning strikes and the planets align, you walk a thin line between brilliance and banal. One wrong move and the smoke monster will take shape as a 30 year old Comicon virgin and smite your ass. There is no room for betrayal, especially in a year when there is a shortened season due to a writer's strike. Next year, I think there ought to be an audience strike as some shows have become less than stellar. Heroes delivered a one, two, Nikki/Jessica punch in its first season but again, the inclusion of, what I deemed the Wonder Twins, in the form of a cute sibling couple dominated the second season and caused a lot of fan fracas. We only got half satisfaction as Alejandro was killed by Sylar....but his brain was left intact.....pity. While the Internet might not have had as much impact on the decision to off one half of the duo, the overall season was considered sub par compared to the first one and the Internet probably gave the producers a lot of insight on how to please the audience. Let's hope Season 3 is less talked about in a negative light.
The Internet is evil.
"I find your lack of faith in my ability to make a good movie disturbing."

Overall, the Internet has no place telling Hollywood what to do. It's too volatile and unregulated a medium to have that much power. I won't name names, but a couple of Internet celebs with the initials of PH and HK have degraded an informative medium into a place for masturbatory fan-tasies and pissing matches with no real credibility to back it up. Anyone with an opinion and a blog can spread their own agenda and unfortunately, it has become easier to gain fame on the Internet than it is in real life. Has Lucas lost his coconuts? Absolutely. I say that and I love the guy. I think he's a visionary and a genius. But when it comes to continually screwing with your own movies and causing all of us to shell out more money for a super expanded definitive director's edition. I have to draw the line. I understand that you had little technology to really work with in the 70's So little that you pretty much had to invent the equipment and techniques yourself and that makes you a pioneer. But in terms of sidestepping a story and dialogue for the sake of CGI imagery, you are the Robert Oppenheimer of the film industry. You created something that is truly extraordinary but now it has the power to destroy cinema and film by placing more emphasis on what you can create from nothing versus what you can create with the tools you have.

That being said, ravenous fan based anger is no lesser an evil. If you have a beef with something like Han shooting first or Jar Jar existing, go make your own film and become a filmmaker. I know, I know. I just recently reviewed and highly criticized Cloverfield but it wasn't like I was asking the producers to change anything for a re release or trying to influence the sequel. I was just voicing my opinion. There was no agenda.....OK, I did have an agenda. I wanted people to read my review and then stay to read other posts. But I'm not evil. I'm just a little misunderstood.

Case closed. In terms of Hollywood influence, the Internet is Eeeeevillll!

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