One Thing I Love Today: Laurent Bouzereau’s ‘The Force Awakens’ documentary

04.04.16 11 months ago

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One Thing I Love Today is a daily column dedicated to putting a spotlight on some pop culture item worth your attention. After all, there's enough snark out there. Why not start every day with one quick shotgun blast of positivity?

There”s a moment about 40 minutes into the hour-long documentary on the Blu-ray release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens where Gwendoline Christie talks about her first time onboard the Millennium Falcon, and she mentions being as “sixes and sevens” as she walked through. “And then they introduce me to Harrison Ford,” she says, bursting into a big full-bodied laugh. She”s so incredibly charming, such a strikingly lovely woman, and yet this behind-the-scenes moment is the first time I think I”ve ever really seen that side of her onscreen. If you”re a filmmaker, please watch the documentary and take note of how winning Christie is and then find roles for her that spotlight that. You”ll win, the audience will win, and Christie will win. Nothing wrong with that.

In general, Laurent Bourzereau has done a very good job of capturing the process involved in meeting the enormous challenge of bringing this universe back to life. Secrets Of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey is at its best when it simply lets the cast and the crew talk. They clearly had access to everyone and throughout the entire process, and the most interesting moments are when we get to see people actually working. Whether it”s an audition or the table read or a design meeting or a rehearsal, the most interesting things here, and the things that fans of the film are going to treasure, are the things that capture actual moments of creation.

As a fan of JW Rinzler”s exhaustive and remarkable books about the making of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of The Jedi, what I love most those books are the ways they almost operate on a forensic level. How long have we heard the easy explanation “It was an improv” when it comes to Han Solo”s “I know” in The Empire Strikes Back? Rinzler”s book offers up the far more complicated and interesting version, showing how Carrie Fisher, Irvin Kershner, and Harrison Ford all discussed the scene and that beat and worked together to find the best possible version. It wasn”t just some casually tossed-off line by Ford. It was a carefully crafted moment.

The documentary runs about an hour-ten, and there are several other short documentary pull-outs as well, with a grand total of just under two hours worth of content. My favorite moments are oddly parallel to my favorite moments in the actual movie, involving the generational passing of the torch. When Kathleen Kennedy picked JJ Abrams to make the film, she was not only picking the enormously successful TV mogul and feature director but also the young man she met when he was just a student prize-winner working in Super 8, inspired by the films she had helped make.

One thing that”s clear watching these people work on this film, everything was discussed at length. There are no casual choices and no accidents. They may not have spelled everything out in detail in the finished film, but rest assured, if you have a question, they have an answer. One of the things that I think is clear from the language used by Lawrence Kasdan, Abrams, and even Adam Driver is that Kylo Ren is not playing a long con on Snoke, and that his murder of Han Solo was indeed his final step towards embracing the Dark Side fully. It”s interesting to see how much of the story and how many character ideas were inspired by the art department, and there”s a real sense of symbiosis back and forth. Abrams wasn”t above building an entire history around a drawing he took a special liking to while developing things, and it feels like Kylo Ren came out of this conversation about how they couldn”t have a masked villain in a world where Darth Vader existed and not have that new character be aware of Vader. It feels like they went into the film working from a very intuitive place, not with a game plan. Many of the choices they made were made in reaction to the three films that largely define Star Wars for most people, and more than a refutation of the prequels, it feels like The Force Awakens team just plain ignored the existence of those films altogether.

There are lots of things I wish this covered, and on a film like this I could watch four hours of behind-the-scenes footage easily. I could watch a half-hour just on the way they made Unkar Plutt”s disgusting face, for example. In the short piece about the various creatures that Neil Scanlon”s team was responsible for bringing to life, they show how the character was shot one way on location in Abu Dhabi, shot in close-up as a make-up on the stages at Pinewood, and then augmented with CGI around the mouth and eyes for the final composited shots in the film. They whip past it, and I feel like there are plenty of places where I”d like to see more information, more details. That”s just a function of how much time Bouzereau has to tell his story, and I wonder if there are many films where any studio is willing to pay to really put together a comprehensive behind-the-scenes record again. There”s a certain degree of hubris involved in putting together something like what they did with all three Lord Of The Rings films, but if any film justifies that, it would be the return of Star Wars. I would have loved to hear them talk about the decision to reach back to Ralph McQuarrie”s original work so specifically. I would have loved to have seen a feature just about the relationship between Ford and Daisy Ridley. There is some lovely stuff where Ford talks about just how much he loves the young cast, and there”s a sincere delight that he expresses when he talks about them.

It would have also been nice to hear them talk about the tightrope walk between nostalgia and innovation. They show just how much work went into trying to get certain details right on things that came back, like R2-D2 or Chewbacca. I love a quote near the end of the Chewbacca footage, where they show person after person reacting to the sight of the character on-set. “I think we”ve worn the suit out faster than we imagined because any time anyone meets him, they want a hug.” It”s a feeling that is undeniably pleasurable, but The Force Awakens works because it does more than just lean on that familiar charge. Still, if you feel like you missed a goodbye between Chewie and Han, just watch what happens when they call wrap on Harrison Ford on the film. It would take a harder-hearted Star Wars fan than me to go unmoved by the moment.

The real strength of Bouzereau”s documentary is in the way they found the right moments to include here, and at its best, the film communicates the pure giddy drunken high that everyone working on the film seemed to share at the idea that they had become the custodians of one of the most beloved properties of all time.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is available now on digital download, and on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow.

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