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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Those Spectacular Movies

In “The Power of Star Wars” Parts 1 and 2, I talked about how watching that particular movie in the cinema changed my life.  An activity that grew out of my love for Star Wars was attending conventions.  There were all kinds of conventions back then, just as there are today.  Some were primarily literary in nature.  Some focused more on Horror.  Some chiefly celebrated Star Trek.  But for me, the primary consideration for attending a convention was the movies they would show.

It’s hard for me to journey back in my mind and remember how I felt whenever I attended one of those media-based conventions.  Today, I’ve got many of my favorite TV shows, and oh-so-many movies, instantly at my fingertips via my DVD collection.  If those don’t suffice, I can turn on my 42” flatscreen TV, and watch any number of movies on more than a hundred channels.  But back in the late 1970s, science fiction and fantasy movies (sci-fi) were a more finite resource.  

My parents had two thirteen-inch Black-and-White TVs (with the old square-shaped screen) in our home.  My father swore that we would never have a color TV.  “They're bad for you,” he told me, whenever I would ask.  After “Star Wars” gave me an insatiable hunger for sci-fi, I talked my parents into letting me have one of the sets in my room.  Perhaps I complained about wanting to watch “Space 1999” when they were enjoying “The Lawrence Welk Show” until they caved in.  Maybe they just took pity on me.  At any rate, I would scan the TV listings for anything vaguely sci-fi on the six or so channels that we received, and hopefully it was scheduled for broadcast during a time period in which I could watch it.  Or, if it was scheduled for past my bedtime, I might have begged my parents to let me stay up.

Today, a filmmaker contracts special effects out to whichever company he believes can do the best job in the least time for the lowest price.  But before Star Wars and ILM, any director who wanted to make a sci-fi movie had to hire people individually, and hope that not only were they as good as they claimed, but that they could work well with him and their future coworkers.  There were special effects “wizards” like Douglas Trumbell and Ray Harryhausen, each of whom had their own unique style and capabilities.  If a moviemaker got one of them, he was fortunate.  But most of the time, producers hired what people they could afford, who would then conduct experiments in their laboratories, to see if they could realize the effects envisioned by the director.

Most of the time, they couldn’t.

Without ongoing effects houses, sci-fi movies were made less often.  Perhaps one or two might be released each year.  Certainly this would have been true of major studio productions.  Thus, there was a feeling that the catalogue of existing science fiction movies was limited.  If a person had the resources, and were sufficiently dedicated, he or she could see every sci-fi movie that had ever been made.  I don’t remember if I ever had such lofty ambitions, but I know that I wanted to see any sci-fi movie I could.  Thus, I looked forward to the major media conventions each year.  As soon as I arrived, I’d scan the programs and mark off all the movies that I had never seen.  Back then, all of them seemed unique in some way.  They might not have compared to “Star Wars,” but that didn’t matter.  Each presented a distinct vision of the writer and director.  Each displayed effects that people had worked hard to produce, many times using highly innovative techniques.  

Sometimes, I wonder what happened to that boy.  The one who hungered to see every sci-fi movie he could possibly see, instead of researching particular movies to determine which ones were truly worth his time.  The one who saw each one as special, instead of labeling it as derivative if the previews reminded him too much of another movie he’d seen.  

I seem to remember that he judged none of them too harshly. And that he loved them all.

When was the last time you really hungered to see a movie, not because it received great reviews or because your friends saw it as important, but merely because it represented a filmmaker's attempt to realize his unique vision?

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