Thursday, August 26, 2010

Second Time Around

One of the only things I've ever won on the radio was tickets to see the re-release of Star Wars, back in 1997, when ol' George Lucas decided to remind us all that the original in his space saga was just the beginning of his camp-fest, with three more cheesy prequels on the horizon. I was in that minority, back then, of movie fans who had not yet seen any Star Wars films. As a kid in the eighties, I had t-shirts, lunch boxes, and video games all tied to the Star Wars universe but I had never seen any of the original films. So when I won tickets to see the first one on the big screen, I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew at the time was Dark Vader was voice by James Earl Jones.

I remember not being too terribly excited to see the film as I walked into the megaplex that day. I took my father and my cousin along with me, neither of whom were Star Wars fans either. As I sat there in the theater and watched the film, trying hard to not snicker at the dated special effects, what mainly dominated my thoughts was one simple notion: I was glad that I was watching this film in a movie theater and not at home on my un-HDTV.

Now I'll say this upfront for all you Star Wars fanatics: Star Wars in a revolutionary film that practically single-handedly created the big budget, special effects extravaganza film genre and it deserves its place in cinema history. But in my opinion, the original Star Wars is one of those films that dates itself and continues, throughout the film, to draw attention to this fact. When you break it down, the actual story at the core of Star Wars is simplistic and extremely predictable; the film was a success at it's initial release not because of it's original storytelling but because it was ambitious in pushing the limits of what grand special effects could do for a simple story. Lucas has balls, that's no doubt, but when watched in hindsight, none but the hardest cored fan can resist from admitting that Star Wars looks almost laughable to today's standards. The cinematic technology hadn't caught up to Lucas's vision yet but he did the best he could with what he had to work with. That he did this was admirable but doesn't necessary make for an enjoyable watching experience today. A film should bring you to the brink of reality and allow you to lose yourself into the world of the film. I'm sure that was possible watching Star Wars in 1977 but despite it's innovation, it was all too obvious in 1997 that the light sabers looked like flat neon sticks.

But the thing about these technological misgivings was that sitting in the theater that day watching Star Wars for the first time...I didn't care about that. I didn't care that the explosions looked stupid or that Darth Vader looked dorky. It was a cinematic experience, enhanced by the dark room of the theater, the booming sound system and the cheers of the other audience members who were clearly Star Wars fans. For me, the lights of the big screen and ambiance of the theater made Star Wars what it couldn't be on the standard definition television screens of the enjoyable cinematic experience.

This enjoyment could have only happened in the theater; if I had watched Star Wars for the first time at home, I might not have understood what all the fuss was about. But going to the theater and actually seeing the film as it was intended to be seen made all the difference. This is why I am a huge advocate for seeing a film in a movie theater, when possible. Screw rising tickets prices, lackluster service at the concession stand or sticky theater floors...if a film you missed is being released at the theater and it's a film you wanted to see, then you should make every effort to see it in its intended format.

I often go to Saturday midnight movies at a local theater in Dallas that show a range of different films from years past. I took my girlfriend to see Pulp Fiction one night at this theaters and initially she didn't understand why I would spend money on a movie that I owned at home. But as we enjoyed the movie splashed on the big screen, listening to the killer soundtrack through loud theater speakers and sitting next to several Pulp Fiction fans in the theater who were enjoying the film just as much as I was, I hope she realized that it wasn't about simply watching a movie.

It was about experiencing a movie.

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