With the Star Wars Blu-Rays and their new wave of changes and alterations fresh in our minds, there's little need to explain the premise of a documentary like The People vs. George Lucas. And really, the film, by Alexandre O. Phillippe and a number of companions, is a documentary in the truest sense of the word: it's little more than a snapshot of this slice of popular culture, which has taken Star Wars in and spit it out in new forms that represent every other pop culture outlet known to man.
Phillippe starts by painting a picture of the George Lucas that would choose to make Star Wars as his next project, and the fans whose embrace would turn it into a pop culture phenomenon. People ranging from Chris Gore to Neil Gaiman chat about their introduction to the series, coupled with a good dose of vintage footage. Although many of these people generally don't have any testimonials or personal stories any different from the ones the viewers might have, Phillippe is able to capture their pure, earnest enthusiasm in a way that feels encouraging and knowing, and does a decent job of filling in the environment that was like gas on the film's flame. The second half delves next into the 1997 Special Editions, followed by a third chapter on the prequels, and finally concluding with an overall assessment of where things stand.
Although the movie was finished in 2010, The People vs. George Lucas already feels out-of-date. Star Wars saturation has only gotten more and more extreme, and Lucas has altered the films even more significantly, creating a major hole throughout the documentary. Even if it wouldn't have changed the overall tone or thrust of what Phillippe has put together, there's no denying many of these people would say different things were the interviews conducted now as opposed to then -- a short sequence of people complaining about Vader's "Noooo!" in Episode III jumps out as a high (or low) point.
The documentary is crowd-sourced, which is good and bad -- although researching fan analysis of Star Wars would be an infinite and impossible task, they may still be guilty of not delving any deeper than what they already knew and what they were given. For example, several interview subjects wonder about the condition of the original negative, a significant topic worth diving into; instead, it's presented as an unsolved mystery when at least one fan has done an extensively researched and reasonably well-known piece on the subject. A couple glaring factual errors also appear (DVD footage is identified as being from 2001), and the doc very conflictingly fudges the existence of authorized releases of the unaltered trilogy. There's several minutes worth of people indicating an official release is missing/necessary, but also footage of www.originaltrilogy.com founder Jay Sylvester reading the PR letter sent by Lucasfilm regarding 2006's non-anamorphic "Limited Edition" discs. When a huge part of the complaints have to do with the availability of the originals, ignoring the existence of a recent official option (even an inferior product by today's standards) is a pretty big oversight.
There's also the fact that the ongoing arguments over Star Wars aren't at all new to anyone with more than a casual interest in the series (or even film history). It's likely most of the people who'd have their curiosity piqued by this movie's title have already had the debate themselves (I know I did, on Twitter, all through August), and although Phillippe's film contextualizes and summarizes the situation for the unaware and captures the enthusiasm of the fans, it doesn't really have anything to add to a discussion that hasn't had new talking points since it began. Lucas' testimony against the colorization of films, his comments about the prequels being for kids, whether he should be altering film history and/or other filmmakers' films -- all of these are not only covered here, but in hundreds of online articles and message boards, many of them just a few weeks old, thanks to the Blu-Rays. Without an interview from Lucas himself, or the various film preservation societies the film was unable to pin down despite various requests, the doc is forced to cover well-tread ground. It's far from a failure, summarizing years of surprises and disappointments, but when push comes to shove, The People vs. George Lucas has plenty from the people, and not enough on George Lucas.
Note: The packaging erroneously identifies the 1 hour, 33 minute movie as running 133 minutes, which it doesn't.
A photo-cartoon cover of Lucas shrugging and two complaining (or bowing?) fans beneath him is adequately eye-catching, although the "Filed Mar 13" "court stamp" might seem a little out of place now that it's not on the poster for a March 14th screening. The back cover is much cheesier, with space fonts and whatnot. The disc comes in an eco-case with holes punched in it, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, The People vs. George Lucas looks perfectly respectable. Interview segments are clean and presented with good colors, and I didn't notice any significant aliasing or artifacting. Similarly, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track is more than sufficient to crisply and cleanly provide the chatter that goes with the pictures, which is basically just people talking, with occasional music. Of course, a good portion of the doc is sourced from any number of places, meaning the image and sound quality technically varies wildly, but this is a perfectly adequate presentation for a crowd-sourced documentary like this one. English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
An audio commentary by director Alexandre O. Phillppe, director of photography Robert Muratore, and editor Chad Herschberger kicks off the extras on a reasonably high note. Although the group spends the majority of the track expressing their own thoughts on the issue at hand as opposed to talking about the film, I can't see why anyone would enjoy the film and then dislike their track. The end of the track is also quite interesting, as the filmmakers defend their decision to end the film on a positive note. (Skip down to the Conclusion for some related thoughts.)
The rest of the extras are hit and miss. The worst of the extras -- perhaps one of the most annoying extras I've ever seen on a DVD -- is "The People vs. Star Wars 3D" (13:37), which features a number of obnoxiously self-assured talking heads complaining about the idea of Star Wars in 3D. Not only do their pre-existing opinions of 3D and George Lucas heavily shade their comments, but they're not even contained, with the piece frequently just switching to those topics entirely. Of course, I have my own biases: I first heard about Star Wars in 3D almost a decade ago after Lucas had a scene converted and showed it to some industry folks, and their awe of the idea has stuck with me...although I dislike the idea of going I-VI, and I have my reservations about the 3D craze, it's hard not to dismiss these arguments when they're all inaccurately framed as this being a new idea solely to capitalize on a fad. On the other hand, I can objectively say these arguments are far more whiny than anything included in the feature, so I feel confident in fully bashing this extra. After that, "George Lucas Raped My Childhood" is included in the most heavily-blurred music video (3:30) presentation I've ever seen, followed by three poetry slam videos (2:10, 4:06, 5:51). I admit I did a full-body cringe upon reading the words "poetry slam," but these aren't too painful. Finally, the full interview with Star Wars / Empire producer Gary Kurtz (21:15) is included, although it's not as edifying as I would've hoped. Kurtz touches on why he left before Jedi, his complaints about the Special Editions, and what he felt about the prequels, but doesn't go particularly in-depth on any of the topics.
The disc opens with trailers for The U.S. vs. John Lennon, Religulous, Replicant, Highlander 2, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu. No trailer for The People vs. George Lucas has been included.
Late in the commentary, one of the filmmakers confesses that he feels the same way I felt watching the film: that, despite four years of time and money invested into a project about him, Lucas remains an enigma. If only the filmmaker would open a complete and unrestricted dialogue with his fans, I think it might have a big impact on Star Wars, and the discussion of creativity, even if he stands his ground. Until then, the best we've got is The People vs. George Lucas, an interesting but relatively unrevealing summary of the issues at stake. Worth a rental, if Star Wars is important to you, but I'd invite some like-minded friends to take the debate off the screen once the movie is over.
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