Two things were announced yesterday: Ben Affleck will be the new Batman and Dan Mindel will be the Director of Photographer for Star Wars VII. This one is about the second one.
The announcement of Dan Mindel was accompanied with the information that the movie would be shot on 35mm. That is: film. Alright: history lesson. Attack of the Clones was known for being one of the first films shot entirely on digital. It was different, and coupled with its groundbreaking use of CGI, a harbinger of what digital filmmaking and effects could be. It was a big deal, and rightly so.
Then Revenge of the Sith came out a couple years later and time enough passed for the prequels to settle in. And, well, they aren’t so bad, but they aren’t that great. Least nowhere near the quality of the Holy Trilogy (that is, the originals). There was this distinct feeling of style or substance. Where the originals placed a strong emphasis on characters and their story at the heart of an epic conflict, well, the prequels were more caught up in the flash of the conflict. Much of the blame for this has fallen squarely on George Lucas’ shoulders and his love affair with CGI and green screen.
A month ago, Kathleen Kennedy, producer of Episode VII, said that they were taking their cues from the originals. That they want to capture the feel of the originals, find what made them work, they want to go after real locations (think Luke actually crawling through the snow in Norway instead of Anakin miming his way through a digital droid factory). Not only that, but story and characters are key for them. They want to make this work, they want to do right; to the point where they don’t want to film on digital.
Now, I think digital’s great. It’s a cool format, it’s allowed a cheap way for people without studios/money/training (read: me) try our hands at filmmaking. There’s nothing wrong with digital. Guillermo del Toro, a self-professed huge fan of using film, used digital for Pacific Rim on account of it simply working better for what he was aiming to achieve. There’s a time and place for digital and film, but we’re at the point where the two are almost indistinguishable. Unless you’re a super film nerd, in which case I apologize for making such a sweeping and obviously inaccurate statement.
All that said, what’s the big deal about J.J. Abrams and Mindel deciding to film with film instead of going digital? After all it was Star Wars itself that pioneered digital filmmaking, isn’t it? What’s the big deal?
It’s symbolic. The prequels leave a poor taste in many fans’ mouth, not solely for being less-than-amazing movies, but for being bad Star Wars movies. They lost that feel of adventure and lived-in science fiction that made the Holy Trilogy so great. They were flawed and are usually excluded from Star Wars marathons (or at least from mine). Abrams and crew want to distance themselves from them and instead hew closer to the ones we know and love. They’re making the sequels, a continuation of A New Hope, Empire, and Jedi, not a follow up to the prequels. Thus far the actions by Abrams and the others have been to reassure us.
Some of the original cast will be back, there will be a focus on story and characters, they’re going to aiming for practical locations, heck, they’re filming on 35mm film. They’re telling us that, in the inverse of 2009’s Star Trek, this won’t be the Star Wars we saw ten years ago; this is gonna be our fathers’ Star Wars. They’re working for our trust.
Now I just hope they use miniatures. Those are the best.