Friday, October 08, 2004

Wineblogging: California Pinot Noir
Got together tonight with the Ring Bearer for a long-needed dinner and gripe session, polished off with a viewing of Star Wars: Episode IV on glorious DVD. For the menu, we had massive 2 lb. porterhouses, a quarter pound of scallops each, and a couple of side dishes that meekly begged for attention upon the plate.

The wine was a 2001 Villa Mt. Eden Pinot Noir. There was a pleasant bit of black cherry and blackberry flavors, though without the jam. I had chilled it before hand, but in my opinion it tasted best about ten degrees below room temperature. (It's difficult to get a proper "cellar temperature" for a wine without the appropriate climate controlled room. I'm happy to improvise, and find that reds benefit from a bit of refrigeration, as room temperature here in the south can be a bit warmer than that of Europe.) Low acid, low tannins, and good longeviety.

This was an easily drinkable wine, and a good accompaniment for the steak.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Movieblogging: Star Wars Trilogy
I waited two weeks to get it... I had no rushing desire to run out and grab the Star Wars Trilogy DVD set on opening day. Given the controversy over the edits made to the films, I think we were spared the news reports of greasy-haired introverts camping out for weeks in order to get the discs a few hours before everyone else. Before I get to the DVDs, let me back up a bit, and talk about Star Wars and me...

I was born in 1976, and Star Wars came out in 1977. I didn't see it then, but did see The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 at the drive-in, which was enough to get me interested in the toys. (My best friend at the time was a kid one year older who lived across the street, and had almost every figure made during the 80s, plus a lot of the ships and playsets, so I spent a lot of time over there.) In 1981, Star Wars was re-released in the theaters, where I saw it for the first time. In 1982, we got cable and had HBO for a while. At the time, they didn't have a huge library of movies to show, and on weekday afternoons there was always a good chance that Star Wars would be playing, which meant that I saw it dozens of times while playing Legos, chewing on my baseball mitt, and engaging in other wholesome activites. So when Return of the Jedi came around, my friends and I were in full frenzy mode about seeing it, trying to deduce what might happen in the film from the scenes painted on lunchboxes and the figures newly arriving on shelves. That one was a lot of fun, and probably the first movie I ever looked forward to seeing.

Fast forward a few years... Eventually, you grow up a bit and look for other pursuits, and it also appeared as though the franchise was dead for good. Oh, there were always rumors that there would be nine movies in total, with prequel and sequel trilogies, but most of us didn't get too excited about that. I stayed interested in science fiction, reading a lot but never getting into the Star Wars books or comics. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation came out, so I spent almost a decade following the various Trek series and books pretty faithfully. (I stopped short of owning any Trek clothing or publicly disclosing said interest. I knew guys who wore their uniforms to school occasionally or would wear Spock ears in public, so I had some good cautionary examples.)

During this span of time, the USA Network would occasionally blow an entire Saturday's worth of programming by showing the Star Wars trilogy, which I sat through once or twice. Cut up with commercials, on the small screen, edited a bit, and run from multi-generation copies, the movies lost a lot of their luster. So it was pretty exciting when the "Special Edition" versions of the movies were released in 1997.

At the time, I was living with a die-hard Star Wars geek from way back. A bit older, he'd seen the first one in the theater, and hadn't stopped thinking about it since. He still bought the toys and figures as an adult, obsessed over details, could damned near quote the entire scripts from memory, and even owned an ILM jacket. When the new movies came out, we were there on opening night of each. Those were a lot of fun, simply because of the retro cool factor and the excitement of seeing them on the big screen again. (I remember one uber-nerd in the audience who brought a suitcase with him, which turned out to be full of figures. As each character appeared on screen, he'd hold up the corresponding figure, either to show off or to allow his precious to watch itself on screen.) My roommate bought the three movies on VHS, but moved out before I was subjected to round-the-clock marathons.

(I'll skip over the prequel trilogy for now; that's a whole other story, but I will note that I've been warming up to Attack of the Clones after multiple viewings.)

So the long, roundabout story here is that until the past two days, I hadn't seen the original trilogy in seven years, which is a good bit of time upon which to forget a lot of details and look at everything with fresh eyes. The set as a whole looks great. There's been a lot of adjustments to color, saturation, and contrast, which makes a big difference. (And I've seen it played on huge widescreen TVs--wow.) Music sounds good, and will probably kick serious ass on a surround sound system. The menus are simple and there's no trailers or annoyances beyond the copyright warning. Each movie also features a commentary track from Lucas, which I'll get around to one of these days. I'd also forgotten how much pulp fun there was in these--they match nicely with the Indiana Jones flicks, in which the actors joke around and actually act like human beings, unlike the prequels, in which every character has to act and speak like a monk or nun, unless it's a bizarre digital creation. Weird things jump out from seeing all three in quick sequence, like the idea that lightsabers are mainly used for chopping off hands, or that you can become a general in the rebellion pretty quickly. But I leave that kind of thing to the fanboys.

And now for the individual movies:

Star Wars: A New Hope
This one stands out the most from the other movies that have followed. If you look at this alongside Attack of the Clones, you wouldn't believe they were made by the same person. Direction, lighting, camera angles, all of that is wildly different. (It even looks primitive in places compared to Episodes V and VI, but here I'm entirely referring to interior shots of people.) Because of this the newly inserted digital scenes and effects (from the 1997 edition) and retouching (2004) really stand out. Glaringly so. One nice thing is that if these things bug you, you can just skip right past with the scene buttons on the DVD remote. Have it in hand if you're a purist. There are also a few scenes without any background score or ambient sound effects--the silence is deafening, but in a good way.

The Empire Strikes Back
I think this one has had the least done to it--aside from some of the good touches like cleaning up special effects errors, the only scene that stood out for me was a shot of Cloud City that was CGI, but that looked nice enough and wasn't jarring. All of the Hoth scenes look spectacular, and the white balancing to avoid video problems is perfect.

Return of the Jedi
Even though this was the most hated installment for diehard fans before The Phantom Menace came out, it holds a special place in my heart for the reasons listed above. The Ewoks don't bother me--if anything, C-3PO's simplified storytelling of the events of the previous movies really touched upon the heart of Joseph Campbell. And it was a nice adaptation of the western heroes among jungle savages archetype used in loads of pulp fiction, except without any racial baggage. (Imagine if the movie had been made in the 50s; the Ewoks would have been played by loincloth-wearing blacks, and would be considered an embarassment to modern eyes.) As for the new scenes... I admit that I had to skip past the jazz and dance number at the beginning in Jabba's Palace. For the scene at the end with the ghost of Hayden Christensen, I think that will have to be evaluated after Episode III. And the final scenes of celebrations on different planets look nice, but don't add much. (Warning: you can't hear it, but if you have English subtitles on when Naboo is shown, the text says "Wesa free!") The rest of the changes are mostly cosmetic, and don't get in the way too badly.

Overall, I'm glad I got it. It looks nice on the bookcase, particularly on the shelf that also contains the Indiana Jones and Back to the Future trilogies, as well as 2/3 of the Lord of the Rings extended editions.

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