June 5, 2005
Shane Felux has a name fit for a rebel leader. Felux is a desktop auteur, the producer of the 47-minute "Star Wars" fan film "Revelations." He and his wife spent the last three years and $20,000 building, frame by computer-generated frame, their downloadable epic in their basement in northern Virginia.
Like hundreds of other "Star Wars" fan films—a misnomer, since film is almost never involved—Felux's may be read as a devotional tribute to George Lucas' beloved empire, a monument to misspent geek energy. Check out http://www.atomfilms.com , the Lucasfilm-sanctioned home for fan films on the Internet, and view—free of charge—the winners of the 2005 Star Wars Fan Film Awards. Among them: "Anakin Dynamite," a laser-targeted spoof of Lucas' seething, Sith-ing teen, who gets shoved into a lot of high school lockers.
You may also enjoy "Sith Apprentice," in which the Emperor (à la Donald Trump) requires Darth Maul, Darth Vader and Count Dooku to compete in a talent contest. A Riverdancing Darth Vader wins and is declared "dark lord of the dance."
Felux's film, on the other hand, is so serious it's scary—a moody, mythic tale of Jedi clairvoyants racing agents of the Emperor to find a powerful artifact at the dawn of the Rebellion (watch it at http://www.panicstruckpro.com/revelations ). The narrative is situated between the events of the new movie, "Episode III—Revenge of the Sith," and the original "Star Wars," which Lucas likes to call "Episode IV—A New Hope."
"Revelations" also may be the most technically ambitious fan film ever made, a seamless synthetic tapestry of computer-generated star cruisers and howling tie fighters, crystalline cityscapes swimming with spacecraft, impertinent security droids and twirling light sabers.
And all of it a collaboration among scores of volunteer actors, set builders, semipro animators and technicians. Computer graphics and sound were cobbled together over the Internet. Among their achievements: turning a rock quarry in Virginia into a persuasively unpleasant penal colony on the Outer Rim, and converting Shenandoah Caverns into the deep recesses of a Jedi monastery.
I wonder: If a handful of overachieving basement dwellers armed with a consumer-quality digital camera and some inexpensive 3D animation and video-editing programs can produce such a finely lacquered bit of sci-fi cinema, what precisely do we need Hollywood for?
Let the Rebellion begin.
I downloaded "Revelations" before I saw "Revenge of the Sith," and my presumption going into the theater was that, while cyber-productions such as Felux's might be able to approach the technical gloss of the Lucas films, the dramatic elements—acting, script writing, direction—would remain beyond the reach of amateurs.
This turned out not to be the case. The "ROTS" dialogue seems hewn from the forests of Endor and splinters in the mouths of even Samuel L. Jackson, Ian McDiarmid and Ewan McGregor. The oath-uttering Jedi knights talk as if they are just back from a renaissance faire.
"Revelations," meanwhile, is conjured in a more or less terrestrial idiom that its actors sell for all they are worth. Also, unlike the distaff-disempowered world of Lucas' imagining, "Revelations" puts at the heart of the action two sisters and a woman called "the Emperor's Hand," which sounds like the crummiest job in the galaxy.
I wouldn't want to hit this comparison too hard. After all, "Revelations" was made for what Lucas spent on one day's craft services. Also, the highly accomplished mounting of "Revelations" only underscores its actors' plain-folks, see-'em-at-the-mall appearance. There is a reason beautiful people such as Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen get to make movies. There must be.
And yet, as I ruefully consider the summer blockbuster season, full of noisy green-screen fantasias such as the "Fantastic Four" and "War of the Worlds," I wonder what would be lost by turning such productions over to highly motivated amateurs, in a rather more attenuated version of community theater.
At a time when so much film entertainment consists of the empty illusionism rendered by anonymous armies of technicians, why not construct them in cyberspace? Does it really matter if it's Tom Cruise or the cute IT guy from the office who's screaming and running away from space invaders?
Other forms of expression have been democratized by technology. Tom Scholz's production of the first Boston album in the 1970s proved it was possible to make a commercial-quality album in a basement. These days, a Macintosh running ebony porn ProTools software replaces a room full of studio mixing boards. Just ask Moby.
Pirate radio. E-zines. The blogosphere.
Proof that dissatisfied customers of any institution will, if the tools are at hand, build their own substitutes.