Monday, May 28, 2018

Fewer Parsecs than Desired

There's a lot of speculating going on about Solo's disappointing performance, falling about two hundred million below the 300 million expectation for Memorial Day weekend and flopping in China. I don't blame Ron Howard. Rogue One had reshoots with a different director and that didn't hurt its performance. I do think it was a mistake to release a Star Wars film just a few months after Last Jedi. I don't think that's the whole problem but I think if Solo had been released in December a lot of people used to seeing Star Wars movies around then would've gone just as a Christmas tradition at this point. It's going to be kind of sad not having a Star Wars movie this Christmas.

It's easy to see how Disney could make this mistake--it's normal for them to release Marvel movies only a few months apart. Marvel movies have a little more flexibility in premise, though. Even if they are becoming increasingly similar, there's still a very different feel in Spider-Man: Homecoming set in New York and Black Panther being set in Wakanda, even if Wakanda was in fact Atlanta. Star Wars movies could go for greater scope in locations but Solo's trailers don't give that impression. Corellia in the trailers looks basically like Coruscent, and then it looks like there's a snow planet and a desert planet. Corellia comes off as being a lot more interesting in the movie but I can understand why people wouldn't get that impression from the trailer.

Trailers have gotten really bad over the past ten years, I don't blame filmmakers for getting increasingly frustrated with them. Whether they're cramming in so many spoilers they're basically synopses or they completely mislead the audience in terms of tone or they lean on a rapidly tiresome gimmick--like the currently popular one where punches and smacks are edited together to make a little song--trailers are all kinds of lame. But one thing trailers generally still give an accurate impression of is a film's visuals. If you compare Rogue One's trailer with Solo's, it's not hard to see why people might have been more intrigued by Rogue One.

I've already said how much I prefer the cinematography in Rogue One. Rogue One also, of course, had the distinction of being only the second Star Wars film out from Disney and one of the things Force Awakens and Rogue One had in common was to put old, familiar Imperial ships and gear into an intriguing new visual context. The Force Awakens trailers had ruined Imperial Walkers and Star Destroyers on a desert planet while Rogue One simply went for lighting them differently. In both cases, there's a clean, austere quality to the visuals that presents these familiar objects in a different way. When watching the Rogue One trailer, you get the sense of something big and serious happening that recontextualises the familiar. In the Solo trailers, there's a sense of the now too familiar visual noise--Guardians of the Galaxy without quite as much humour.

It didn't surprise me to learn that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Solo's original directors, had been aiming for a more tongue in cheek tone. In such a context, naturally they wouldn't have been as interested in expending their creativity on visuals. Given the fact that they were three weeks away from completing filming when Ron Howard stepped in, I don't think Howard can be blamed for the locations and much of the film's visual homogeneity. But I hope Disney takes the right lesson from this.

Maybe people are taking it for granted now but the Star Wars movies always presented distinct and powerful visuals, each one has at least a few things that distinguishes it from the others. Rian Johnson understood that when he made that salt planet in Last Jedi. The prequels each look distinct and beautiful despite all the cgi--Amidala's costumes are weird and gorgeous in Phantom Menace; Kamino in Attack of the Clones has that eerie antiseptic look; Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith looks different than in the previous two films with more sunsets, visually reflecting the sun setting on the Republic; A New Hope has the strange little hooded figures in the desert landscape; Empire Strikes Back has Peter Suschitzky's dark, wet cinematography; Return of the Jedi had Jabba's palace.

There's nothing like any of these things in Solo, which makes sense if the film was originally intended to be more of a parody. In a parody, of course the point is to recreate familiar visuals as much as possible; that's what makes it funny when characters start to act goofy.

My hope is that Disney doesn't blame any of the deviations I really liked--like the fact that the story is played for smaller stakes than the whole galaxy or that it lacks Force user characters. If Star Wars is going to get to the point where it can support more than one movie a year, those are avenues the stories really need to explore.

Twitter Sonnet #1118

Horizons fill with fatless frosting cups.
A monochrome consumed a cloud for lunch.
The larval head on ties complacent sups.
Some fingers sprout in sev'ral random bunch.
A glowing jug retires in the oak.
Accounted spice a trade occurred to shave.
A settled deal consumed the village folk.
An acre's purse commands the knight and knave.
A forest turtle rules the highest branch.
To glamour bent a dreaming candle flame.
Arranged on olive hills the shadows blanch.
For weaving light the motions merge the name.
The instant shape of cars appeared in cheese.
The dairy traffic locked the road with keys.

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