The Cinema of George Lucas
by Marcus Hearn
published by Harry N. Abrams Books
304 pages, 2005
Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum
I didn't like Star Wars. There. I said it. I didn't like it until the second time I saw it, sometime after The Empire Strikes Back. And then I loved it. I couldn't get enough of it. I was hooked. I have been, ever since. Now, as I (and much of the rest of the world) await the new Star Wars film, May just can't get here fast enough. But until then, there will no doubt be an inundation of all manner of Star Wars stuff, and among the first is the incredible new book, The Cinema of George Lucas.
Now, technically, this isn't a Star Wars book, although -- let's be honest with ourselves -- Star Wars intel is the big reason to buy the thing. The Cinema of George Lucas traces the life and career of the filmmaker from his early days as a kid in Modesto, California, to the trials of making his first film, THX-1138, and then the bigger trials of filming his second, American Graffiti, and the even bigger trials of filming his third, Star Wars. After which would come the Star Wars sequels, the Indiana Jones trilogy (there's a fourth on the way), the Indiana Jones TV series and other movies, some brilliant, some instantly forgettable (Howard The Duck, anyone?)
But this book, while it chronicles the creative life of a filmmaker, is also an up-close-and-personal look at the man behind the camera.
With text that's at once cogent and completely hypnotic, Marcus Hearn all but gets inside Lucas' head, revealing motivations, frustrations and the ever-present sense of striving for more. The book is filled with behind-the-scenes photographs, poster art and even shooting schedules for many of the films.
What might have come across as a puff piece or as a lightweight coffee table book is instead nothing less than a treatise on Lucas' work, first as a scrappy kid itching to make films, later as an entrepreneur and, later still, as a man determined to return to his roots as an independent filmmaker; he funds the Star Wars films and much of everything he does out of his own pocket, making him the most successful independent filmmaker of all time.
The book is enriched with interviews with those closest to the man: staff members, other filmmakers, colleagues of every variety, up and down the credit list of any number of his films. I wonder if there's any stone Hearn left unturned; he seems to have been granted extraordinarily rare access.
To me, Lucas had a strange sort of narrow vision. What I mean is, he didn't intend to change film making. All he wanted to do was make his films his way. In recent years, he's gone back and altered the original Star Wars films, which many fans had a problem with. Lucas, however, was frank in his reasoning: He wanted to complete the films as he originally envisioned them. Finally technology had caught up with that vision. Seemed (and seems) reasonable to me.
The thing is, they're his films, even though we all think they belong to us. That's another piece of his unique magic. He makes films for himself, but he also makes them for us, and we take them as the gifts they are, hungrily, because in a wonderful sense they are about us.
What The Cinema of George Lucas hammers home in a most eloquent manner (that is, by not hammering it home at all) is the fact that movies today would not be what they are -- or made the way they are -- without Lucas, without the creation of Lucasfilm and the film making and sound technologies he pioneered. Without him, we would not have Pixar or its films, such as Toy Story, The Incredibles and so many others in between. We would not have The Lord of the Rings, for so much of those films is dependent upon effects technologies created by Lucas and his team (and used to such staggering effect by director Peter Jackson's outfit in New Zealand). We would not have the photorealistic dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. We would not have the digital magic that made Forrest Gump what it was. We would not have had The Matrix. We would have none of the subtle effects that bring otherwise effect-free films to life. I could go on and on.
The point is, what I think of as Lucas's narrow vision broadened all on its own -- because his imagination fired that of countless other filmmakers. How many people in Hollywood can say that (even if they wanted to)? Cast against Steven Spielberg -- another inspirational filmmaker -- who grew up inside Hollywood's studios, Lucas grew up outside those hallowed backlots and soundstages. Over time, he didn't so much force his way in as make those inside force their way out.
Perhaps, beyond the dinos and the spaceships and the little nuances and enhancements we never even notice, the greatest special effect of all is that Hollywood came to see that Lucas' way was quite often a better way. Not just for visionary filmmakers, but also for their films and for those of us, out in the dark, who are awed by their power. | March 2005
Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse. He and his family live in Lawrenceville, NJ, and he is Creative Director/Copy for a pharmaceutical ad agency in Philadelphia.