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Tag Archive: Dennis Muren


Review by C.J. Bunce

At long last Star Wars fans have a single volume of behind-the-scenes gold that includes more than the original trilogy and the prequels.  Writer Mark Salisbury returns with his next pop culture book, The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens.  This is the first book to include coverage of all ten Star Wars films, and it’s the first book that digs into the creature makers and makeup artistry of all the Star Wars movies–a creature effects companion to those comprehensive books reviewed previously here at borg.com chronicling the costume and prop sides of Star Wars productions: Dressing a Galaxy, Sculpting a Galaxy, and Star Wars Costumes.

How many movie franchises can claim visual effects over four decades incorporating all levels of monster making: animatronics, puppetry, practical effects, costuming, CGI, sculpts, animal actors, prosthetics and makeups, stop-motion animation, and motion capture creations–sometimes all in a single film?  The book spans it all: Jawas, Tauntauns, Jabba the Hutt, Yoda, Chewbacca, the Rancor, Ewoks, Watto, Jar Jar, Darth Maul, Rathtars, Maz Kanata, Porgs, Crystal Foxes, Proxima, Rio Durrant, and so many background aliens from the Tatooine cantina, Jabba’s palace, Maz’s castle, the Pod Race, Kamino, Geonosia, and Scarif.  More complex characters from the franchise get the most coverage, with less coverage from Revenge of the Sith and Solo.

Readers will learn about and meet a variety of artists and creators of these creatures and aliens, with interviews and examples of the work of Stuart Freeborn, Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Jon Berg, Ben Burtt, Fred Pearl, Frank Oz, Kathryn Mullen, Lorne Peterson, Nick Dudman, Rob Coleman, John Coppinger, Tom St. Amand, Richard Edlund, Ken Ralston, Kit West, Nilo Rodis-Jamero, Doug Chiang, Dave Elsey, Neal Scanlan, Luke Fisher, Ben Morris, Darek Arnold, some of the actors who performed costumes characters, and visionaries George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, and Gareth Edwards.  Select concept art is included from Ralph McQuarrie, John Mollo, Iain McCaig, Terryl Whitlatch, Jake Lunt Davies, and others, and readers will learn Doug Chiang’s five rules of concept design.

Keeping with the fun new trend of incorporating three-dimensional, interactive elements into non-fiction books, Abrams has included foldout flaps, accordion pages, and color tipped-in booklets of sketches, photographs, and stages of the creative process.  The book comes from Abrams’ Young Readers imprint, however, the in-depth information and rare or never-before-published photographs and sketches will appeal to all ages of Star Wars fans.

Take a look inside some preview pages of The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars: Creatures & Aliens:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the film that got away.  I was lucky to have been taken to every great sci-fi classic and Spielberg film from Jaws forward, but multiple Star Wars viewings probably nudged out my chance to see this one back in 1977.  Close Encounters didn’t arrive in theaters until the Christmas season that year and it would likely have generated some nightmares as I was only about a year older than the boy co-star of the film–so it was probably a good thing.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind is back in theaters this week to celebrate its 40th anniversary.  Watching it for the first time on the big screen was like filling in a last brick in the wall.  It’s a satisfying re-watch, and every time you screen a classic in the theater again you learn something new.  The film is being preceded this week by a behind-the-scenes featurette, including an interview with Steven Spielberg and excerpts from the home movies he routinely films as he directs his movies.  It also contains a clip of each iconic scene in the film, so those who haven’t seen the film and want to view it for the first time may want to duck out for popcorn during the previews.  Close Encounters is screening only for a few more days, so no matter how many times you have seen it, it’s time to go back again.  Nothing beats a classic, especially a Spielberg film, on the big screen.

You might find Close Encounters’ pacing to stand out as a bit slow.  Movies today need to be action-packed to grab viewers.  The elements the viewer needs to know are laid out methodically, and yet the film is not told in normal storytelling fashion.  Richard Dreyfuss’s innocent everyman Roy Neary is not your normal protagonist.  Every bit the victim here, he also may be more like a lottery winner, selected to do what many dream of.  He asks for none of the personal invasion he encounters–ripped from his family and job, this uncontrollable compulsion arrives, pursuing him with only a realization that whatever this vision is about it’s somehow important.  From the film’s abrupt start it feels very avant-garde, a bit like modern independent filmmaking, with its back and forth explanation of a communication project in progress spliced with a utility worker who experiences a strange event.  Sequences of real world end-to-end conversations that other directors might have edited to more quickly get to the point also illustrate unusual directing decisions.  Only in what doubles as a horror movie sequence–basically a child abduction–do we get a clear realization of aliens as one possible antagonist of the film.  And when the movie really kicks in at Devil’s Tower the audience can see the international marriage of scientists and military is possibly another villain.  Or is there a villain at all?  Many scenes suggest dissonance itself is the culprit–all the barriers to clear communication that get in the way–the ongoing, pounding barrage of multiple interpreters in a single conversation, air traffic control operators speaking at once, Neary’s wife played by Teri Garr and her kids all talking or screaming or beating toys to pieces, Roy’s co-workers on the radio all speaking at once, a room full of scientists babbling at each other as they try to interpret these six repeated numbers beings sent to them from outer space, aliens playing rapid tones against humans doing the same.  And the sound of all the toys turning on at once, the toys of little Barry (Cary Guffey) that wake up his mom Jillian, played by Oscar nominee Melinda Dillon, forcing her to join the story as a victim along with Roy.  Then the resolution of conflict only arrives as the aliens and humans finally reach clarity with the tonal communication between them in the film’s climactic encounter.  In the preview to the film, Spielberg mentions Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket’s crooning “when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are” as his inspiration–what the film is all about.  That familiar Disney motif is certainly present thanks to John Williams’ beautiful score.  Maybe Roy is his own enemy–unable to break away from the influence of these beings?  Or by following this calling does he rescue himself from a family that doesn’t understand or listen to him, and a mundane job and neighborhood of zombie-like suburbanites who always seem to be watching him?

Whatever the through line of the story is intended to be, the film is sweeping and enormous in scope, addressing subjects everyone can get sucked into: telepathy, conspiracy theories, all the UFO theories (from cattle mutilations to Area 51 to alien abductions and flying saucers), and unexplained phenomena (from missing people to the curious fascination of aliens with rummaging through refrigerators).  It’s all there in this suspenseful package, all from this brilliant young filmmaker who said he and his cast just couldn’t wait to show everyone this great thing they had created.  Hints at so many films are contained here that you could wonder if Spielberg starts generating every subsequent project idea by first watching Close Encounters:  We see the young child’s parents terrified in their home by some strange force in Poltergeist as Jillian tries to prevent the aliens from breaking into her home.  We see the quiet standing crowd at night waiting at the foot of Devil’s Tower for something good or bad to happen filmed similar to the soldiers waiting as the Ark is opened at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And it’s almost a surprise to realize the mother ship at the end of Close Encounters is not the ship from E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, another giant, flying, lit-up Christmas tree-house transporting that curious little botanist who would arrive only five years later.

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