Thursday, September 8, 2016

Best Star Wars tie-in books

Since the late 1970s, so many Star Wars movie tie-ins have been published that they’d fill a Star Destroyer’s cargo hold. From novelizations of the screenplays to comic books, radio dramatizations, and even parodies, the publishing industry has given Star Wars fans different means to explore George Lucas’s original six-film space fantasy saga and Star Wars: The Force Awakens over the past 39 years.

With less than five months to go before the premiere of Disney/Lucasfilm’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, let’s explore the brightest shining stars of the Star Wars literary tie-in universe:

  1. Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, George Lucas (ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster. Published by Del Rey in December 1976 with cover art by conceptual artist, Foster’s adaptation of Lucas’s fourth draft of the Star Wars screenplay gave the world its first peek of that galaxy far, far away. The novel sold moderately well before the film opened in May 1977. After Star Wars became a box office hit, the novel (with a new cover by John Berkey) was a runaway best-seller and has been reissued in various editions

  1. The Art of Star Wars, Carol Titleman (editor): Originally published in 1979, this trade paperback was the first book to contain Lucas’s complete screenplay for Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope. As the title implies, The Art of Star Wars is a treasure trove of poster art, production paintings, poster art, publicity photos, and costume designs from the first film of the Star Wars saga

  1. Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, Laurent Bouzerau: Ballantine’s Del Rey Books imprint published the screenplays to Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi in a single volume to coincide with the trilogy’s 1997 Special Edition theatrical re-release. Bouzerau, a filmmaker who specializes in “making of” documentaries for laser discs, DVDs, and Blu-rays, dissects each script and describes how the movies evolved from story treatments to final shooting drafts.

  1. The Complete Star Wars Trilogy - The Original Radio Dramas, Brian Daley: Produced between 1981 and 1996, National Public Radio and Highbridge Audio’s audio adaptations of Star Wars; A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are among the most popular (and unusual) tie-ins to Lucas’s classic film trilogy. The late Brian Daley’s scripts delved deeper into the films’ backstories and gave the characters more depth and subtle nuances.
  1. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: Star Wars - Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, and The Jedi Doth Return, Ian Doescher: Between 2013 and 2014, Star Wars fan and Shakespeare lover Ian Doescher took a page from the parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and created a mashup of the works of George Lucas and the legendary Bard of Avon. Written in iambic pentameter and following the conventions of Shakespearean drama, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series is a unique and worthy tie-in. A year later, Doescher  completed his reimagined version of Lucas’s universe with a Shakespearean version of  the Prequel Trilogy; Quirk Books published William Shakespeare’s The Phantom Menace: Star Wars Part the First in April 2015, The Clone Army Attacketh: Star Wars Part the Second in July, and The Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge in November.

  1.  Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, and Matthew Stover: This omnibus edition collects all three novelizations of Star Wars: Episodes I-III. Published in time for Star Wars’ 30th Anniversary in May 2007, The Prequel Trilogy chronicles the tragic rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, a slave boy from Tatooine who trains to be a Jedi Knight, only to be seduced by the dark side of the Force and transformed into the Sith Lord known as Darth Vader.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

'Jaws 2' movie review

Jaws 2 (1978)
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Written by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler, based on characters created by Peter Benchley
Starring: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Mark Gilpin. Ann Dusenberry

Martin Brody: But I'm telling you, and I'm telling everybody at this table that that's a shark! And I know what a shark looks like, because I've seen one up close. And you'd better do something about this one, because I don't intend to go through that hell again!

With the phenomenal success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws - with its $260 million domestic gross ($470 million worldwide), it’s not surprising that Universal Studios commissioned a sequel while the blockbuster was still in its record-setting theatrical run. Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, who didn’t want their competition to make Jaws 2,  egan developing a follow-up story as early as the fall of 1975.

Zanuck and Brown also wanted Spielberg to direct Jaws 2, but he refused. Spielberg did not want to go through another difficult on-location shoot at sea and deal with balky mechanical sharks again. He also believed that Jaws was the definitive shark movie and that doing a sequel would be a cheap parlor trick.

Undeterred, the producers hired John D. Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly) to direct, but he was fired in June of 1977 because his take on the story was too dark and serious, French director Jeannot Szwarc was chosen to replace Hancock, and Jaws scribes Harold Sackler and Carl Gottlieb co-wrote the final script that became Jaws 2.  

Len Peterson: Brody, this is nothing! Seaweed, mud, something on the lens...
Martin Brody: Lens my ass!
Len Peterson: You're damn right it's your ass!

Set four years after the first movie, Jaws 2 takes viewers back to the fictional summer resort town of Amity Island. Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is still mayor, apparently none the wiser after the Summer of the Shark nearly wrecked Amity’s tourist-dependent economy.
He’s still at odds with his police chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), regarding the town government’s mishandling of the shark attacks that put Amity on the map four years before. Brody, a former New York City police officer, believes Vaughn and the town council placed economic concerns ahead of public safety then, and would do it again in the future.

Unfortunately, Brody’s suspicions prove correct. After two divers and a water skier are killed in the waters off Amity, the town’s top cop tells Vaughn and his cronies that another shark is staking out a hunting ground.

As George Santayana said: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So it is with Amity’s politicians. Once again, public safety issues take a back seat to economic interests; Vaughn poo-poohs Brody’s suggestion to close the beaches so that a pending property development deal does not fall through.

My Take
Released in June of 1978, Jaws 2 was a commercially successful project for Universal. It earned $102, 922,000 in the U.S. Though it did not earn as much as Jaws, it became the top-earning sequel in movie history until 20th Century Fox released The Empire Strikes Back two years later.

Jaws 2 is also the best of the three sequel movies made between 1978 and 1987, even though it is essentially a rehashed version of Jaws  combined with elements of teen slashers a la Friday the 13th and Halloween.

Although Szwarc was able to reproduce the look of Spielberg’s now-classic horror-adventure thriller thanks to the participation of Jaws production designer Joe Alves, Jaws 2 fails to rise to the franchise “mother ship’s”  high level of storytelling.

Szwarc gets kudos for following Spielberg’s lead and shooting Jaws 2 on location in Martha’s Vineyard, giving his movie a visual and emotional connection to its predecessor.

Szwarc also gets reliable performances from his cast, which includes Jaws veterans Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and Jeffrey Kramer. Their presence in Jaws 2 is the emotional anchor that makes the movie at least bearable.

However, the director is tripped up by the script’s uneasy blend of teens in danger and the writers’ lazy rehashing of Jaws’ plot. This wasn’t Szwarc’s fault. Universal had nixed Howard Sackler’s original idea to make Jaws 2 a prequel about a young Quint (Robert Shaw’s character in Jaws) and the USS Indianapolis and asked for a direct sequel.    
Thus, instead of an original and potentially powerful story, Jaws 2 is simply an exercise in variations on Jaws’ established themes. Plot points such as Brody’s futile efforts to get his bosses to see reason and close the beaches are repeated, and some of Jaws’ iconic scare-scenes and lines are shamelessly ripped off.

Sean Brody: What's after Cable Junction?
Bob: The Atlantic. Then Ireland.

The makers of Jaws 2 also err badly by forgetting that Spielberg’s original movie is scary because he doesn’t show the great white shark until Jaws’ third act. While this use of a Hitchcockian device was mostly caused by technical problems on location,it works well. After all, the thought of an unseen predator stalking its prey in the ocean is more unnerving than the sight of an obviously man-made mechanical shark.

In Jaws 2, Szwarc and cinematographer Michael Butler ignore the “less is more” philosophy of visual titillation and show the shark far too often, perhaps in the belief that “more is better.”

The film makers’ over reliance on mechanical shark footage  may have worked out better had Jaws 2 been produced in the late 1990s. At least then Universal could have hired a special effects company to create more lifelike digital sharks.

Jaws 2, however, was made in the late 1970s and had to use to combine on-location shots of several mechanical sharks with live-action footage of great white sharks filmed by Ron and Valerie Taylor.  

Spielberg used the same techniques in Jaws, but although Jaws 2’s sharks were more advanced than 1975’s “Bruce,”  they look fake. Worse, they’re seen so often and in too many close-up shots that their obvious fakeness distracts from the story the movie tries to tell.

The only perfect element in Jaws 2 is Academy Award-winning composer John Williams’ score. Williams had also scored the original movie and won his second Oscar (of four overall) for Best Score (1975), and he combined some of his Jaws material with several new musical themes.

All in all, Jaws 2 is a watchable if rather formulaic film that is best seen if the viewer does not compare it to Spielberg’s classic. As anyone who’s seen Somewhere in Time can attest to, Szwarc is not a bad director when he is given good material to work with. In Jaws 2, he does what he can with the so-so script and a trio of mechanical sharks.

The result, a big money-winner for Universal, but a soggy and subpar sequel for the rest of us.  

DVD Specifications

Special Features

The Making of Jaws 2
Jaws 2: A Portait by Actor Keith Gordon
John Williams: The Music of Jaws 2
The "French" Joke
Deleted Scenes
Production Photographs
Shark Facts
Theatrical Trailer
Production Notes
Cast and Filmmakers

  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • Encoding format: 16:9
  • Resolution: 480i (NTSC)
  • Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

  • English: Mono
  • French: Mono

  • English SDH, Spanish

  • DVD-9
  • Single disc (1 DVD)

Region 1