Friday, May 04, 2012

Star Wars to Avengers

Today is Star Wars Day and the premier of the Avengers. Assuming that the Avengers meets expectations as a summer blockbuster, it will owe everything to Star Wars.

A couple of weeks ago TCM played Logan's Run. It was slow and a bit of boring. Even though it won a special effects Oscar, the effects were poor. They never worked well enough to reach suspension of disbelief. You knew that someone was triggering squibs when the guns fired, that there was someone inside Box, and that the big explosions were just superimposed fireballs.

Star Wars changed our expectations. Its effects were good. You accepted the droids. You never questioned the blasters or light sabers or the Death Star blowing up. You saw a hovercar and wondered how they did it.

When he started Star Wars, George Lukas expected that he could just call up a special effects company for what he needed. It turned out that such things didn't exist. Movies would establish their own effects unit then dissolve it when production ended.

So, he created one - Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). At first it was mainly Disney employees who were moonlighting. The saying was that working for Lukas was fun but you will never make a career out of it.

But Lukas didn't dissolve ILM. He kept it together and it became an industry force. Star Wars made so much money that every studio wanted to make an effect-laden money-maker. It didn't take long before there was more demand than ILM could handle so alternate effects companies sprung up.

And that led to superhero movies that didn't suck. Hopefully the Avengers will be one of those.

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