George Lucas is currently busy traveling across the country as part of his it’s-okay-to-see-me-as-a-human-being tour, which is actually a brilliant PR move, but we’ll get to that later. First, a bit of pointless minutiae about Indy 4. A few years back, the internet quickly swooped on “nuke the fridge” as an easy shorthand for everything that was wrong with Indy 4, even though that scene wasn’t even the tenth dumbest that happened in that movie. Previously, Spielberg had said it was his idea, telling Empire “Blame me. Don’t blame George. That was my silly idea.” Now, in a lengthy NY Times profile, George Lucas says the idea was his, and I believe him, because slug people aren’t capable of guile:
When I told Lucas that Spielberg had accepted the blame for nuking the fridge, he looked stunned. “It’s not true,” he said. “He’s trying to protect me.”
In fact, it was Spielberg who “didn’t believe” the scene. In response to Spielberg’s fears, Lucas put together a whole nuking-the-fridge dossier. It was about six inches thick, he indicated with his hands. Lucas said that if the refrigerator were lead-lined, and if Indy didn’t break his neck when the fridge crashed to earth, and if he were able to get the door open, he could, in fact, survive. “The odds of surviving that refrigerator — from a lot of scientists — are about 50-50,” Lucas said.
Was there also a dossier about using a snake for a rope? About surviving six trips down a waterfall in a row? About Shia Labeouf being able to lead an army of monkeys through the trees? Let’s not split hairs, that whole movie was really dumb. But back to the George Lucas world tour. He’s been busy painting himself as an old-fashioned romantic, too naive for this mean, modern world, but determined to keep up the fight for the downtrodden. It’s hard not to admit that he’s been partially successful.
Lucas’s films are relentlessly — and to some, maddeningly — old-fashioned and naïve. “If it’s a popcorn movie,” Lucas told me, “it needs a lot of corn.”
“I’m retiring,” Lucas said. “I’m moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of stuff.”
Lucas has decided to devote the rest of his life to what cineastes in the 1970s used to call personal films. They’ll be small in scope, esoteric in subject and screened mostly in art houses. They’ll be like the experimental movies Lucas made in the 1960s, around the time he was at U.S.C. film school, when he recorded clouds moving over the desert and made a movie based on an E. E. Cummings poem.
Good. Great. Why didn’t he do that ten years ago? But… then there this parenthetical a few paragraphs later:
(All six “Star Wars” films will return to theaters in 3-D, beginning in February.)
If you take him at face value, he sounds great, as long as you ignore big chunks of the rest of the article. He almost succeeds at garnering sympathy for all the fanboy-bashings he gets, as long as you aren’t paying attention too closely.
“I think there are a lot more important things in the world” than feuds with fanboys, Lucas says with a kind of weary diffidence. But then he gets serious, even a little wounded. Lucas explains that his first major features — “THX 1138” and “American Graffiti” — were forcibly re-edited by the studios. Those were wrenching experiences he has compared to someone keying your car (he loves cars) or chopping a finger off one of your children (he has three and loves them too). Afterward, Lucas set out to gain financial independence so the final cut would forever be his. “If the movie doesn’t work,” he vowed, “it’s going to be my fault.”
When fanboys wailed, Lucas did not just hear the scream of young Jedis; he heard something like the voice of the studio. The dumb, uncomprehending voice in his Socratic dialogues — a voice telling him how to make a blockbuster. “On the Internet, all those same guys that are complaining I made a change are completely changing the movie,” Lucas says, referring to fans who, like the dreaded studios, have done their own forcible re-edits. “I’m saying: ‘Fine. But my movie, with my name on it, that says I did it, needs to be the way I want it.’ ”
Lucas seized control of his movies from the studios only to discover that the fanboys could still give him script notes. “Why would I make any more,” Lucas says of the “Star Wars” movies, “when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”
Waaah, I hated it when studios re-cut my movies. This from the guy who went back and added dialog (“NOOOO!”) to Empire Strikes Back, a film he didn’t write or direct. Sucks when people do that, doesn’t it, George?
Meanwhile, he comes off best when he’s painting himself as the civil rights hero who got Red Tails made even though no one wanted it, and seems to have everyone convinced.
For a model, Lucas studied flag-waving World War II films like Nicholas Ray’s “Flying Leathernecks,” which starred John Wayne. “We made movies like this during the war, and everybody just loved them,” he said. “I said, ‘There’s no reason why that idealism, that kind of naïveté, can’t still exist.’ ” But Lucas wanted naïveté on his own terms. He slipped into a kind of Socratic conversation with an imaginary studio head.
“They say, Now, who are you making this for?”
“I’m making it for black teenagers.”
“And you’re doing it as a throwback movie? You’re not going to do it as a hip, happening-now, music-video kind of movie?”
“No, that’s not a smart thing to do. There’s not really going to be a lot of swearing in it. There’s probably not going to be a huge amount of blood in it. Nobody’s head’s going to get blown off.”
“And you’re going to be very patriotic — you’re making a black movie that’s patriotic?”
“They have a right to have their history just like anybody else does,” Lucas said. “And they have a right to have it kind of Hollywood-ized and aggrandized and made corny and wonderful just like anybody else does. Even if that’s not the fashion right now.”
He even hired Boondocks writer Aaron MacGruder for Red Tails re-writes, a guy who basically called Jar Jar Binks Stepin Fetchit.
As McGruder put it, “One of the last things I said to George was: ‘This movie kind of represents the last barrier of equality for the black fighting man. We’ve never had the John Wayne treatment.’ ”
Now, I’m not going to say George Lucas didn’t have good intentions, but it’s obnoxious to read a five-page New York Times spread on Red Tails without a single mention of The Tuskeegee Airmen, a patriotic war movie about the Tuskeegee Airmen written by two black guys. What, because it was an HBO movie it doesn’t count? I realize “breaking the last barrier of equality” sounds a lot better than “basically remaking an HBO movie with a bigger budget and releasing it in theaters,” but that still doesn’t make it true. And that’s sort of the George Lucas problem in a nutshell. Even when he does something good he feels compelled to ladle big spoonfuls of bullshit all over it.
[Read the Full NYTimes Profile]