Spectacle or enigma? “2001: A Space Odyssey” is the monolith of science fiction films, sealing Kubrick’s legacy as cinema’s master.
...because if you haven’t seen the original Star Wars – or any of the now seven episodes, for that matter – you probably just arrived from a galaxy far, far away. Influenced by Akira Kurosawa's samurai films, swashbuckling Flash Gordon sci-fi serials and comparative mythology, George Lucas’s first film launched the space saga that still captivates audiences to this day. Originally a low-budget genre movie, the film’s groundbreaking effects used only miniature models, blue screens and high-speed cameras. In fact, the first movie had such a B-movie status that Fox gladly signed over all merchandising and franchise rights to Lucas, a move that ultimately made the director billions upon billions of dollars.
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The special effects of the first Star Wars film still hold up to this day, an especially impressive achievement considering the film’s budget of less than $15 million. However, Lucas and his team stood on the shoulders of giants when bringing the director’s vision to life. Almost a decade earlier, Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey" pioneered groundbreaking outer space effects that paved the way for believable science fiction films. The effects combine miniatures and models with blue screens and high speed cameras, with very few if any computer graphics. In fact, the “computer effects” of the first Star Wars film, such as the targeting screens in the Millennium Falcon, today feel like the most out-of-date feature in the original trilogy. And speaking of trilogies, if you ever want to feel the wrath of fanboys, ask Star Wars purists how they feel about the CGI in the prequel movies as opposed to the “old-fashioned” effects of Lucas’s original.
From a storytelling perspective, Lucas combined a diverse set of influences into a unique, compelling narrative. As a young boy, Lucas had always enjoyed the science fiction serials of Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers, which gave him the idea to do a space adventure. In film school, Lucas admired Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films, so much so that his original draft for Star Wars essentially reworked Kurosawa’s "The Hidden Fortress" in outer space. He also drew on westerns and World War II air force films, transferring elements of these genres into the film’s fictional universe. Lucas looked to his intellectual interests, such as anthropology and the comparative mythology of Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Most of all, Lucas realized that he was trying to build a mythological saga for a new generation. For this reason, he also cites J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” as a major influence, though clearly one of many.
Although he was still primarily a filmmaker when he directed Star Wars, Lucas’s business instincts turned his little science fiction film into a multi-billion dollar industry. When negotiating with 20th Century Fox in 1975, Lucas cut his directing fee by $500,000 in exchange for things Fox regarded as nearly worthless: ownership of the film's merchandising and all sequel rights. This move ultimately cost the studio billions, and conversely, made George Lucas into a billionaire himself. While not everyone wants to run a business empire (and then sell it to Disney), one of Lucas’s main goals was to make more films. Many people thought it was crazy to let Darth Vader, the film’s main villain, survive at the end of the first film; Lucas, however, knew that the sequels would revolve heavily around Vader’s character. When the film became a monster hit, the merchandise and tie-ins were also a natural conclusion. By believing in his own story, Lucas signed one of the shrewdest business deals of all time.
In his original idea for Star Wars, part of what George Lucas wanted to show were dogfighting sequences in outer space. To convey those ideas to others who were helping him achieve his vision, Lucas used actual World War II gun camera footage and cut it together to show how he wanted it done. In fact, before those space battle sequences were completed, the gun camera footage was added into the rough cut that he showed to friends and family, as a place holder.
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