Set the "Way-Back" Machine for 2011, Sherman...
The proposition was simple: Univarn (creator of the excellent site "A Life in Equinox," —sadly shuttered since his last post in 2014, but, still, check it out) proposed a blog-a-thon whose theme was so compelling I couldn't resist. Called "The Greater Good Blogathon," its intention was simple...and devious:
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to forever alter the course of cinema as we know it. You have the opportunity to wipe one film from the history books entirely. Our unique time-blending technology has created a wormhole through which you can simply delete the existence of any film ever made. However, you should not underestimate the sheer power that comes along with such a decision. Even the tiniest of ripples could mutate our understanding of cinema as we know it. So, what will you do? What careers will you make or break in the process? The time for your decision is at hand.
WHEN: SUNDAY JULY 24, 2011
WHERE: YOUR BLOG (and mine)
WHAT TO POST?
1.The Movie You Destroyed
2.Your Intended Outcome
3.The Actual Result
Wow.The Power. Heady. Intoxicating.There are any number of films I wish never existed (and that I never experienced—I once had a rating category called "Waste of Time" that I used too frequently). But this is for The Greater Good. Sacrifices must be made. I could choose a Bad Film, an Unnecessary Remake or Sequel, but what good would that do? This isn't about selfishness and my needs, the idea is to help Cinema and maybe Society At Large.* My choice came immediately to mind, and only solidified there (like a tumor) after two weeks.
And here's the perverse part: it's a move I like, even love. "Why would you DO that?" asked an acquaintance. Because a lot of people love it, too. Probably too much. And its influence has so pervaded our culture that it has practically become a religion—I guarantee there is a place in San Diego (a wretched hive of scum and villainy) this weekend where the devotees are speaking in tongues, poor, poor devils. The elimination of this one film will take out an entire film series and the constant griping of the sub-set of humanity.
For the greater good, it must go. Executioner, bring out the film cans:
Star Wars or Episode IV: A New Hope. Whatever it's called, it has to go.
Look, I really do love this film as I've written about ("Star Wars and Me"). And my choice to eliminate it has nothing to do with the prequels that everyone is so upset about.** No, I'm eliminating Star Wars, despite my love for it. Think of all the changes eliminating this one film might engender. Movies (their economics and the way they are marketed), as we know them now would be completely different.
Think of it a moment. Take away Star Wars and its enormous success and it would completely alter the movie landscape of today, for there would be none of those things that the first movie caused that we accept as commonplace today. No guaranteed sequels (and, more importantly, no three-quels). No prequels. No Holiday special. No knock-offs, animated or otherwise. No merchandising. No toys for every major release and tie-in 7-11 cups. No (sadly) symphonic film score renaissance. No Battle Beyond the Stars. No The Last Starfighter. No Special Editions. No 3-D conversions.
No fan-boy culture (things would be a lot quieter). No comic book movies (the success of Star Wars inspired the Salkinds to make the first Superman film). No Star Trek films, maybe (Star Wars convinced Paramount to abandon the "Star Trek: Phase II" series and make films instead). There would be no mega-blockbusters, unless they were going for Oscar recognition. There would be a general leveling of the playing field, and more films will have a literary basis (rather than be movie pastiches). Lucas' career without Star Wars more closely resembles Steven Spielberg's, not dependent on maintaining the successful Star Wars franchise—he makes Apocalypse Now (with John Milius' original, more interesting ending) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (although this time starring Tom Selleck, the outline having already been written by Lucas and Philip Kaufman) as well as some interesting collaborative efforts, some still with Spielberg, some with his mentor, Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola, not making Apocalypse, does not go so heavily into debt and makes a more divergent group of films, including his Tucker: the Man and His Dream.
No ILM, although the digital revolution and CGI will probably happen anyway, but the film industry's obsession with effects-laden science-fiction and fantasy films will depend on some other success. James Cameron will still get into films (inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey), but his career-model will not be based on Lucas.' Captain Eo is never made, but E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial might be. Ray Harryhausen has a longer career. Lawrence Kasdan still works. Pixar does not exist without Lucas' establishment of it, but one suspects that John Lasseter would still be in the film industry.
More importantly, the studios would have more of a stranglehold over their movie product and the distribution of it, and the ones who have control over the industry are the producers, not the production companies of entrepreneurial directors.
As far as The Big Picture, though, the situation that screenwriter William Goldman described in "Adventures in the Screen Trade" would still exist: "Nobody Knows Anything." Funding what the public wants would be only a little less predictable without the Star Wars success to show them the way.
* Man, you can tell I'm being pretentious—even if facetiously—when I use too many Capital Letters.
** Roger Ebert has an interesting thing to say about Episode I: The Phantom Menace. He opines that if Episode 1 was actually the first one released, he wrote when the film was released "'The Phantom Menace' would be hailed as a visionary breakthrough. But this is the fourth movie of the famous series, and we think we know the territory." True, I think. How many fan-boys have shown the films in Episode order to their children (if...uh...they have children), only to have them say that "A New Hope sucks, Dad. I hate these kids with the dumb hair!" So many things drive a wedge between parent and child. Star Wars probably isn't any different.