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4 items from 1997


Film review: 'Return of the Jedi'

14 March 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

When the film originally opened May 25, 1983, the newspaper ads for episode six of George Lucas' "Star Wars" saga had a boxed warning for moviegoers that read, "May be too intense for very young children."

Another appropriate warning might have read, "May be too infantile for mature fans of the first two films."

Fourteen years later, "Return of the Jedi" still rates as a huge disappointment, but it's a beloved classic for many and poised to seduce more young fans and harvest another boxoffice bounty as part of 20th Century Fox's phenomenal "Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition" rereleases.

In keeping with the retooled "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back", minor additions and improvements have been made to "Jedi", including expanded sequences in the lair of villain Jabba the Hutt.

Alas, it is this opening section of the film in both versions that departs from the darker tone of "Empire" and commences a safer plunge into nonhuman corniness.

Jabba is still an impressive lump of malevolence, but many of the new creatures and humorous elements are more silly than wondrous. Charismatic droids C-3PO and R2D2 are offered as gifts by full-blown Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to help earn the release of Han Solo (Harrison Ford).

In a scene reminiscent of the droids' capture by Jawas on Tatooine in the first film, the mechanical rebels are taken to a torture chamber, where other robots are seen suffering. Kids might giggle and squirm at the mock violence, but it's hard to forget that C-3PO was dismembered in the first two films and displayed no pain.

Recalling the first film's celebrated cantina scene, the "Jedi Rocks" musical number has been reworked to include more material with the green-skinned slave Oola (Femi Taylor), new character Yuzzum and new moves for the bizarre singer Sy Snootles. The new filmed and digitally created material is seamlessly interwoven, but the scene is still unbearably cute.

Unfortunately, there's much more to come, including the tiresome Ewoks, teddy bears with a "primitive" tribal culture and the belated ferocity of aroused villagers in a samurai movie. Once again, the younger the viewer, the more likely one is to respond uncritically to this gambit.

An overall problem with the series and this film in particular is perhaps a minor but impossible-to-avoid technicality. The eyes of most of the nonhuman creatures, including the co-pilot of Lando Calrissian Billy Dee Williams), are unconvincing.

Similarly, the grand themes of Luke's secret past and relationship to Darth Vader, Leia's emergence as another potential Jedi Knight, and the prescient emperor's manipulation of events are dealt with, but the storytelling so promisingly expanded in "Empire" actually devolves. We learn Vader's real name and find out what he looks like under that helmet, but the nature of the Force remains vague and simplistic.

There are still several exciting sequences, and the climactic space battle and assault on the new Death Star are visually splendid. Directed by Richard Marquand ("Jagged Edge") and filmed in widescreen by Alan Hume, "Return of the Jedi" features another rousing Oscar-nominated score by John Williams. But the film, like the music, seems more content with repeating successful elements of the first two "Star Wars" movies and not taking the risks that made its progenitors such major cinematic achievements.

RETURN OF THE JEDI: SPECIAL EDITION

20th Century Fox

A Lucasfilm Ltd. production

Director Richard Marquand

Producer Howard Kazanjian

Writers Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas

Executive producer George Lucas

Director of photography Alan Hume

Production designer Norman Reynolds

Music John Williams

Color/stereo

Cast:

Luke Skywalker Mark Hamill

Han Solo Harrison Ford

Princess Leia Carrie Fisher

Lando Calrissian Billy Dee Williams

Obi-Wan Kenobi Alec Guinness

C-3PO Anthony Daniels

R2D2 Kenny Baker

Chewbacca Peter Mayhew

Darth Vader David Prowse

Emperor Ian McDiarmid

Running time -- 133 minutes

MPAA rating: PG

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REVIEWS IN REVIEW:

25 February 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

DONNIE BRASCO

Sony Pictures Releasing

Being a wiseguy is not all fun and games -- offing people, squiring dames, wearing loud suits. Down in the grimy trenches it's actually unglamorous, and this well-wrought Mandalay Entertainment presentation captures the grunty insides of the Mob world.

Featuring splendidly muted performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, this decidedly nonglam glimpse inside Mobdom should hold its own in intelligent neighborhoods of discerning viewers.

Roiling with some well-rolled paradox and goombah-gutted irony, "Donnie Brasco" is a complex portrait of honor as well as a kind and sympathetic depiction of a man who is truly at the end of his rope. While his performance is not heaped with the bantam-sized swagger of other roles, Pacino nails down probably one of his most gifted portrayals. We feel for his character, a man who realizes that his number has come up (HR 2/21-23).

Duane Byrge

CONVERSATION WITH THE BEAST

Santa Monica Pictures

The screenwriting debut of German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl is inauspicious, but he has directed one of the most courageous and interesting films of recent times.

"Conversation With the Beast", is about a man in present-day Berlin who claims to be Adolf Hitler and convinces an American historian -- who is Jewish -- to interview him. Hitler has miraculously survived the end of the war, possibly through dark magical powers he claims to have. Now more than 100 years old, he wants the world to know he is still around.

Mueller-Stahl as a director is surprisingly adept, and the camera work by Gerard Vandenberg is excellent, though the entire film is held in depressingly dark tones. The only thing not up to par, sadly, is Mueller-Stahl's script (HR 2/20).

Eric Hansen

BOOTY CALL

Sony Pictures Releasing

In the hallowed tradition of quest movies comes "Booty Call". While Indiana Jones may have quested for the Lost Ark and Jason quested for the Golden Fleece, Bunz and Rushon quest for a latex condom. Given the fine and foxy ladies they're on a mission for, modern-day urban audiences might consider Bunz and Rushon's quest much more important than the mere retrieval of religious arcana.

Unabashedly crude and lewd, "Booty Call" is, especially in its first 45 minutes, a hoot. A strong dose of sexual slapstick lathered up with safe-sex strictures, "Booty" sashays as a first-rate farce (HR 2/24).

Duane Byrge

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

20th Century Fox

Episode five of the "Star Wars" saga, "The Empire Strikes Back", is unquestionably the best installment of Fox's science fiction trilogy. Director Irvin Kershner's 1980 sequel to George Lucas' 1977 boxoffice powerhouse is beautifully crafted, intelligently scripted and holds up very well.

Indeed, there were not many missteps in its original incarnation. Although there are no major new scenes, "Empire" nonetheless benefits from minor additions and tinkering by Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic (new views of Cloud City are breathtaking), as well as the improved and remastered soundtrack (HR 2/21-23).

David Hunter

Other reviews

Also reviewed last week were the films "Twin Town" (HR 2/19), "He Liu" (2/20), "L'Appartement" (2/20), "The Whales" (2/21-23), "Lucie Aubrac" (2/24) and "Der Unfisch" (2/24).

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Film review: 'Empire Strikes Back'

21 February 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Episode five of the "Star Wars" saga (grandly designed as nine films), "The Empire Strikes Back" is unquestionably the best installment of 20th Century Fox's science fiction trilogy and arguably the crowning achievement of the fantasy-adventure genre reinvented in the 1970s and '80s by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Destined for boxoffice glory in its rerelease as part of the hugely successful "Stars Wars Trilogy Special Edition," director Irvin Kershner's 1980 sequel to Lucas' 1977 boxoffice powerhouse is beautifully crafted, intelligently scripted and holds up very well.

Indeed, there were not many missteps in its original incarnation. Although there are no major new scenes, "Empire" nonetheless benefits from minor additions and tinkering by Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic (new views of the Cloud City are breathtaking), as well as the improved and remastered soundtrack.

From one of John Williams' finest scores to Norman Reynolds' excellent production design (both were nominated for Academy Awards) to its Oscar-winning sound and special effects, "Empire" continues the "Star Wars" story with an action-packed space opera that has the far-from-invulnerable rebel heroes barely surviving several new clashes with the oppressive Empire.

A major element of "Empire" that's an improvement on "Star Wars" is the film's overall visual scheme. From the superb work of cinematographer Peter Suschitzky ("Mars Attacks!") to the more attractive costuming and hair styles, "Empire" presents a more consistently compelling and wondrous array of planets, space battles and exotic interiors, not to mention many creatures and nonhuman characters, including a lovable and useful pair of robots (Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker), the growly Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the diminutive sage Yoda (Frank Oz).

Based on Lucas' original story, the script by science-fiction writer Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan incorporates the first film's sometimes goofy characters but keeps the humor to a minimum. Hiding on Hoth, a remote and icy planet, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) are a team on the verge of breaking up.

Jedi Knight-in-training Luke gets a message from the specter of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), while Han has plans to pay off his debts. Enter again merciless Darth Vader (David Prowse, with James Earl Jones' voice), obsessed with finding Luke. Hoth is assaulted and the trio is split up.

One terrific thrill follows another. Han and Leia in the Millennium Falcon zip through an asteroid field, Luke crashes a speeder into the snow and an X-wing fighter into the swamps of a jungle planet. The viewer is taken for quite a ride, but the characterizations and plot developments are also richly satisfying.

Lucas' cinematic universe will never be confused with the serious science fiction of the Frank Herbert/Arthur C. Clarke variety, but in "Empire" there are many imaginative elements to the action -- and the interaction of humans and technology -- that are quite sophisticated for mainstream filmmaking.

Director Kershner proved to be the perfect choice to realize the somewhat darker thrust of "Empire", with its emphasis on Luke's struggle to resist Vader and the "dark side" of the Force.

A film without the usual upbeat payoff, "Empire" instead offers the brilliantly executed fight between Vader and Luke in the Cloud City's reactor shaft. Along with the capture of Han Solo and the unexpected help of his pal Lando Calrissian Billy Dee Williams), revelations about Luke's father and hints of Leia's Jedi abilities give one plenty to chew on while waiting for next month's rerelease of "Return of the Jedi".

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

20th Century Fox

A Lucasfilm Ltd. production

Director Irvin Kershner

Producer Gary Kurtz

Writers Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan

Executive producer George Lucas

Music John Williams

Director of photography Peter Suschitzky

Production designer Norman Reynolds

Editor Paul Hirsch

Costume designer John Mollo

Sound Ben Burtt

Color/stereo

Cast:

Luke Skywalker Mark Hamill

Han Solo Harrison Ford

Princess Leia Carrie Fisher

Lando Calrissian Billy Dee Williams

Obi-Wan Kenobi Alec Guinness

C-3PO Anthony Daniels

R2D2 Kenny Baker

Chewbacca Peter Mayhew

Darth Vader David Prowse

Running time -- 127 minutes

MPAA rating: PG

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Film review: 'Star Wars' "Star Wars" was originally reviewed on May 20, 1977. A "special edition" of the film opens wide today.

31 January 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

"Star Wars", a Lucasfilm for 20th Century Fox, will undoubtedly emerge as one of the true classics in the genre of science fiction-fantasy films. In any event, it will thrill audiences of all ages for a long time to come.

The film, written and directed by George Lucas and produced by Gary Kurtz, is magnificent in scope, but the script and the engaging performances also add an effective human element to the totally believable technological aspects. Lucas combines excellent comedy and drama and progresses it with exciting action in tremendously effective space battles.

Likable heroes on noble missions and despicable villains capable of the most dastardly deeds are all wrapped up in some of the most spectacular special effects to illuminate a motion picture screen.

The story is set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," where the evil Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) rules the Galactic Empire from his Death Star, an enormous artificial planet manned by Imperial Storm Troopers.

Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), one of the leaders of the rebel forces, gets hold of the plans for the Death Star, which reveal its one weak point. When she is captured, she sends these charts on to Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi (Alec Guinness), the last of the Jedi Knights, who were once the guardians of peace and justice and who drew their power from the "Force", a mystical energy field composed of all living matter.

Kenobi enlists Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), whose father had also been a Jedi Knight and who has inherited the "Force", and together with Han Solo (Harrison Ford), a smug and cynical space smuggler whose ship and services they entice with promises of great riches, they go off to save the princess and the galaxy.

Cushing and Guinness are outstanding in their roles, and Fisher, Hamill and Ford all create personable characterizations, full of youthful energy and desires, who are capable or rising to heroic deeds despite their charming immaturity, which also adds fun and identification. Much of the comedy relief is provided by a nagging, pessimistic robot (Anthony Daniels) and a self-propelled computer (Kenny Baker), who are two of the most adorable characters ever to enliven a film.

David Prowse is commanding as Lord Darth Vader, a Jedi Knight who has sold his soul to evil, and Peter Mayhew is amusing as Chewbacca, a simian (right out of "Planet of the Apes") who is Solo's first mate. Credit for the success of the unique characters should go to special production and mechanical effects supervisors John Stears, costume designer John Mollo (whose futuristic designs are superb) and makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn.

The technical credits are extraordinary, although they are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that everyone involved should be extremely proud of this enormous achievement. Special mention, however, must be made of John Barry's fantastic production design, Gilbert Taylor's awe-inspiring photography, John Dykstra's special photographic effects supervision (which makes imaginative use of laser beams and other technological devices) and Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew's perfectly paced editing.

John Williams has composed a rich, luxuriant score that engulfs the ear as performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. The Dolby sound is also a major asset in that it is sparkling clear and, in the battle sequences, achieves an enveloping, thunderous pitch without hint of distortion.

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4 items from 1997


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