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Archive for the ‘Star Wars’ Category

We have spent a lot of the 21st century gazing at the stars, or at least CGI versions of them.  The century started with the second and third movies in the Star Wars prequels trilogy, Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).  A series of films that are constantly being revaluated, I’m not sure if they are officially good or bad at the moment.  Star Trek ran out of steam, with the last movie from the Next Generation Crew Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) not being very good.  But then in J. J. Abrams came along and with the help of some wibbily wobbly timey wimey stuff (if I may quote a TV series in an article about movies) created a new timeline to retell the story of the original crew of the enterprise.  The first film Star Trek (2009) was excellent, the second Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), then Abrams jumped ship and the third film Star Trek Beyond (2016) directed by Justin Lin was a partial return to form.  There may be a fourth film in the series eventually, it keeps getting pushed back or going into turnaround.  There may also be a further film in the universe that by Quentin Tarantino, that is looking less and less likely. Star Trek Wars

The reason J. J. Abrams jumped (space)ship, was to go and work for the enemy, Star Wars.  The director of the first and final movies in a new trilogy, a third and final trilogy to bring the Skywalker saga to an end.  The films came about after Disney’s acquisition of Lucas Film (for a staggering amount of money).  All three films have their fans and detractors in a hugely polarized and quite amusing social media battle among a certain type of fanboy.  For me, the middle film, The Last Jedi (2017) written and directed  by Rian Johnson is the best (and the most controversial).  The Force Awakens (2015) is the safest of the three, but good fun and it introduces some great characters, and brings back some old favourites.  The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is certainly the weakest but is still good fun and gets to a satisfying end (except for that certain group of fanboys).  Along the way, we also got two Star Wars Anthology films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) tells the story of the events leading up to the origonal 1977 film, and for me is the best film outside the original trilogy.  The flipside to that, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is totally unnecessary origin story of fan favourite Han Solo.  it isn’t terrible, just pointless.The end of the Skywalker sagaNot satisfied with just Star Wars, Disney went to space with their other big acquired property: Marvel.  They started in 2014 when they took a less well know Marvel property Guardians of the Galaxy and had a smash hit with a more, fun and comic take on the superhero genre.  a sequel Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017) followed.  To be fair parts of The Avengers movies were also set in space, and Thor is from another planet.  It wasn’t until Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Taika Waititi’s brilliant but bonkers take on the character that you would call it a space adventure.  After a decade, and about 20 movies Disney finally gave a woman a leading role in a Marvel movie.  While a lot of the movie is based on earth, Captain Marvel (2019) is an intergalactic character, as is Marvels big bad Thanos.  All the characters of the MCU came together to fight an intergalactic battle with the big purple one in Avengers Infinity War (2018) and the biggest film of all time (if you don’t adjust for inflation) Avengers Endgame 2019.  That brings us nicely onto Avatar (2009), with an even higher boxoffice if you adjust for inflation.  James Cameron’s first movie since 1997 when he made a little film about a shipwreck.  As you would expect from Cameron, it made great advances in effects and technology, especially in 3D.  I am not a fan.  As yet he hasn’t made another film yet, but understand he is filming about 100 sequels back to back with the first due for release in about two years. Marvel goes to spaceDC’s ventures into space were less successful.  The Green Lantern (2011) about a group of intergalactic supper powered policemen was rubbish.  Man of Steel (2013) was a reboot of a 1970’s movie about a man called Kal-El who is sent to earth as a baby before his home planet is destroyed.  He ends up fighting against bodies from his home world.  It isn’t bad, but not as good as the 1978, and 1980 movies, and like those movies, all subsequent sequels are terrible. DC and AliensRidley Scott decided that we were all wrong, the most interesting thing about his Movie Alien (1979), and James Cameron’s sequel to it Aliens (1987), wasn’t the Xenomorph, or Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.  It wasn’t the brilliant world building of the story where corporations are more powerful than countries.  He decided the derelict alien ship, and how the Aliens got there was more important.  He then gave us two extremely average films, Prometheus (2012), and Alien Covenant (2017).  There are some excellent characters that aren’t used very well, and some who don’t know how to run to the side.  almost realLets not be too tough on Ridley Scott, he has given us an excellent movie in the genre, The Martian (2015).  The story of a man left behind on Mars.  This is part of a crop of Sci-Fi movies that feel more realistic and closer to where we are now than Star Wars or Star Trek.  The pick of these for me was Gravity (2013).  A film so spectacular in IMAX 3D (the only good 3D experience I have had) that I have not re-watched it again, it just won’t be the same on TV.  Other films in this sub genre could include Christopher Nolan’s excellent Interstellar (2014), Danny Boyle’s underrated Sunshine (2007), Claire Denis bleak but brilliant High Life (2018), and James Gray’s disappointing Ad Astra (2019).   A film doesn’t have to be fiction, or particularly outlandish to be compelling, providing it is told well, and there are two such examples from the last two years: Damien Chazelle’s telling of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong in the film First Man (2018), and the documentary on the same subject: Apollo 11 (2019).  The latter is breathtaking look at the mission using stunning NASA images, no talking heads, or voiceover. smerfs monkeys aliens and the sunI wouldn’t include Passengers (2016) in the list of realist sci-fi movies, as it is too glossy and Sci-Fi, it is however worth seeing for the interesting plot, that is more disturbing the more you think about it.  Part of the premise of the film is people in hypersleep on their way to a distant planet.  Obviously something always goes wrong in these movies.  Others worth watching are: Pandorum (2009) a film that takes these ideas, and gives them a horror and survival adventure spin.  Pitch Black (2000) is an even better take on the horror space adventure, possibly the best and most original since the first two Alien films.  It’s sequel The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), was terrible, but the third film Riddick (2013) isn’t bad, although its attempt to recreate the original are a little forced.  Life (2017) has the almost real world setting, a fictionalised version of The International Space Station, it rapidly turns into Alien when an alien life form gets loose.  It isn’t Alien, but it isn’t bad. Horror in spaceThe man who gave us The Fifth Element (1997) Luc Besson, was back this century, with another bold and bonkers tale: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017).  The film had mixed reviews, as Besson’s work often does, I liked it.  The title is a little misleading and under serves one of its characters, based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline; Laureline is the more interesting character and probably has a larger part in the story than Valérian.  That asside, it is bright and bold and like nothing else, except maybe The Fifth Element!a mix of fact and fantasy (1)Saving the best for last.  When I went to see Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005), I had not seen (or even heard of) Firefly, I have since watched the whole (short) series more than once.  The movie is nothing short of a masterpiece.  It works whether you have seen the TV show or not.  It is all the more impressive, as it was Whedon’s feature debut as a director.  The budget was less than $40million or about a quarter of Revenge of the Sith that came out the same year.  This doesn’t show, as the film looks amazing, largely thanks to clever photography and practice sets/effects over CGI.  Ticking every box for a space adventure, and a western, the film is fun, and often very funny, but there is a far deeper message about society, about right and wrong, but it is far more nuanced than anything you will get from Disney or Star Wars, it isn’t black and white, or light and dark, The Alliance is not The Empire!SerenityI have probably missed lots, but these are the ones that spring to mind.  I pleased to say the genre is in good health at the movies, and on TV, but that will have to be an entire article in itself. 

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The rise of skywalker posterBe careful what you wish for!  There was a small but very vocal group of fans who called for The Last Jedi to be remade, and, or expunged from Star Wars canon.  To a certain extent, The Rise Of Skywalker does that, winding back on some plot points, and conveniently forgetting others.  It is certainly a film that doesn’t seem to like Rian Johnson’s entry into the series.  Chances are if you are reading this you have seen both The Last Jedi, and Rise of Skywalker, if you haven’t be warned there are SPOILERS ahead.  For the record I really like The Last Jedi, it is bold, brave, and my favourite of the three sequels.  The Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.  It is largely a fun watch.  To begin, here is a brief synopsis:

An unmentioned time after the events of The Last Jedi, the resistance have regrouped.  Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), now Supreme Leader of The First Order is hunting for Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who appears to have survived the events of Return of the Jedi.  Rey (Daisy Ridley), breaks off from her Jedi training with Leia (Carrie Fisher) to go on a quest with Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), also to find Palpatine , and save the universe one last time!

Lucasfilm, Like Marvel Studios is now owned by Disney, there is significant difference with the way they are run.  Kevin Feige President and CCO of Marvel Studios oversees all Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  While each film is written and directed as a standalone film, they all have to fit in with Feige’s overriding vision.  This has resulted in very few missteps, and less militant fans than Star Wars have experienced in recent films.  The whole approach to the Star Wars sequels has been somewhat haphazard.  J. J. Abrams was hired to write and direct The Force awakens, a satisfying if unadventurous start.   Rian Johnson, was then hired to write and direct The Last Jedi, and write a story treatment for the then unnamed Episode IX. Colin Trevorrow was announced as the director, and was also to write a script based on Johnsons treatment.  Then things started to go wrong, it was announced that Johnson wasn’t involved in the writing and Trevorrow had left following “creative differences” to be replaced by J. J. Abrams.  The result of this is a very disjointed trilogy.  To be clear I enjoyed all three movies taken on their own merits, but they don’t work together the way the original trilogy, ore dare I say it, the prequels do.Endgame Portals

Going back to the original Star Warts from 1977, sequels were not a guarantee, the film had to exist on its own merits and have a self contained story.  I remember back in the 1980’s around the time of the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) George Lucas saying he always intended Star Wars to be three trilogies.  By the time of the prequels (1999 – 2005) he hat retconned this and said that it could only ever be two trilogies, the story was complete, and the story was always going to be the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.  Despite this rather fluid attitude to the truth of the matter, Lucas did always have a through narrative, he may not have been sure where he would stop along the way but he seemed to know where the story was going – how it got there was sometimes better than others!  What would the harm of Disney giving one person (possibly Abrams, or Johnson) the job a writing a treatment for the trilogy giving the other writer directors a clear point where their movie needed to start and end to fit with the overarching narrative?return of the jedi

As mentioned, I did enjoy Rise of Skywalker, so let’s begin with the film does get right? The first thing is the characters.  Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), have always been excellent characters.  Finn (John Boyega), was great in The Force Awakens but had outgrown his usefulness by The Last Jedi.  Finn benefits most from keeping the triumvirate together for prolonged sections of the film.  Given the small amounts of unused footage from previous films, Leia (Carrie Fisher) is used well within the narrative.  Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) works well as the big bad following the removal of Snoke (Andy Serkis) from the table in the previous film.  Snoke wasn’t the most animated of characters (pun totally accidental), so is largely interchangeable with the new incarnation of Palpatine.  There is an issue with the cast, there are lots of new faces, and some returning from past movies, many of these are unnecessary, and are wither cheesy fan service, or who hint at stories that are not developed.  The biggest looser is Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who could be an amazing character, but is given little to do.  While is Jannah (Naomi Ackie) is a strong presence with a couple of good scenes, most her characters part could have been taken by Rose, trimming a little of the runtime in the process.  Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) is also an interesting inclusion,  aside from an excellent silent exchange with Poe, she again has little to do.  She could however make an interesting spinoff character in her own movie/tv show?  All in all, the plot moves at such a breakneck pace that there is no time to develop characters or relationships.  This shouldn’t be a problem, we are in the final act, it’s a little late for character development.  This goes back to the disjointed shift in narrative between the three movies.  Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is just a few beets away from being the most interesting character in the Star Wars universe, he along with Rey suffer the least from the narrative inconsistency, as they are torn characters who are drawn, not just to each other, but to the others side of the force.  In the week since the movie came out twitter has been awash with Ben/Ren fans unhappy with his demise.  This for me in lunacy, given his role in mass genocide, his personal sacrifice was the characters only hope of redemption!the rise of skywalker rey fin poe

Back to the positive, the film also looks and sounds amazing.  Both the score (John Williams music has all the pomp you would expect) and the sound design are spectacular.  The look of the film is up with the best Star Wars has to offer.  It is as much about the production design as the effects and photography.  The Lightsaber against the Knights of Ren is a nice counterpoint to the throne room fight in The Last Jedi, and looks almost as good.  The final space battle recaptures the excitement of attacks on the Death Star’s in the first and third movies, but with better effects.  However, they don’t match the tension of the ticking clock of A New Hope, or the potential despair of Return of the Jedi.  The arrival of the rebel fleet looks spectacular, but doesn’t have the emotional heft of the similarly constructed portals scene from Avengers Endgame, simply because it doesn’t earn it!Luke Stywalker

The real issue goes back to what I mentioned before about no overriding narrative for the trilogy.  Not only is it disjointed as a trilogy, but The Rise of Skywalker has enough plot for a trilogy on its own.  The original Star Wars aka A New Hope is a classic example of a Hero’s journey:

  1. Departure – Luke sets out on adventure prompted by the message held within R2D2
  2. Initiation – Initially refusing the call to adventure, he faces loss and adversity (his first step into the unknown, and the start of his transformation to hero).  He rescues Leia, and faces more loss.
  3. Return – He destroys the Death Star completing his journey and returning to his (new) home.

The beauty of it is that you could break the original trilogy up the same way

  1. Departure – A New Hope – Luke (and friends) rescue the princess and win a battle against a feared enemy .
  2. Initiation – Empire Strikes Back – The group are divided, they face loss and adversity.
  3. Return – Return of the Jedi – The group reunite to fight a final battle before returning home victorious.

Try and fit this film, or this trilogy to that structure, you will be jumping backwards and forwards all over the place, it simply doesn’t fit.  You may be asking why it should?  The reason is simple, that is what Star Wars is, was, and should be.  The origin of the idea goes back to George Lucas wanting to make an epic space adventure like the Saturday Matinees he used to watch as a kit.  He wanted to make Flash Gordon, or Buck Rogers.  Fortunately the rights weren’t available so he had to come up with a new adventure.  Whether intentional or not this classical structure made the story work, it grounded the  fantastical and made it something everyone could understand and more importantly love.  Never underestimate the power of simplicity.

So where does that leave us?  In truth I’m not sure!  The final outcome of the movie is about where you would expect it to be, and probably where it needed to be following the events of The Force Awakens, but could its journey to this end have been better? Almost certainly!  To put it another way, I enjoyed the film and the trilogy, but with reservations.  It could have been better, but the thing I can’t reconcile, does the fact I can see where it should have been better mitigate or enhance the issues?  I just don’t know.  Unlike the Skywalker Saga, this question is:

To Be Continued!

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“There has been an awakening, have you felt it?”

The first teaser trailer for The Star Wars The Force Awakens has hit and the buzz is huge.  I’m sure there are people who have analysed it in far more detail than me, but there are a couple of points I have noted. 

It has been suggested that John Boyega (best known for Attack the Block (2011)) and Daisy Ridley (who has been in a few TV shows) are the Han/Luke and Leia of the story.  They both appear to be on Tattooine or a similar “outer rim planet”.  The story will surely contrive to throw them together on an adventure.  Whatever the plot he is unlikely to remain stormtrooper.  Meanwhile on a very different looking planet we see a Sith Lord (red lightsaber!).  Endor in winter? Hoth? The Sith is carrying a very different looking lightsaber, longer and with laser hilt, it looks almost like a claymore.  This is reminiscent of the moment we first saw Darth Maul’s bo staff/lightsaber in The Phantom Menace.  But who is the Sith?  The three big names in the cast we don’t see in the trailer are Adam Driver, Andy Serkis and Domhnall Gleeson (Oscar Isaac appears to be piloting an X Wing).  The other question, is he the Master or the Apprentice, we know there must be both thanks to Yoda’s explanation.The Star Wars Force Awakens Cast

The interesting thing, we don’t see any of the returning original cast.  This is a bold but sensible choice.  It would be difficult to see them without giving away where they are and what they are doing.ap_star_wars_cast_jef_130503_wmain

But we do have a link to the old movies.  We know that the Millennium Falcon was an old ship in the original trilogy, it wouldn’t be out of place to have given it a cameo in one of the prequel trilogy, sadly that didn’t happen, however there are no such worries here.  We get to see all the old favourites: the Millennium Falcon, a pair of TIE fighters and a squadron of X-wings.The Star Wars Force Awakens Ships

We only have a year to wait!

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“I’ve got a very bad feeling about this.” Han Solo, Star Wars (1977)

 With the news that Disney is to acquired Lucasfilm for a reported $4billion and that a new Star Wars movie series is on the way speculation is mounting as to how it will work. The first thing that springs to mind is what is George Lucas thinking? I remember seeing an interview with him around the time of return of the Jedi where he suggested that he always saw the saga as nine films, three before and three after the original trilogy. Then around the time of Revenge of the Sith he had changed his mind saying that the saga had always been about the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker/ Darth Vader and that there was nowhere else for the story to go adding that he was too old to do it all again. Far be it from me to say that he has sold out or cashed in, but it does appear that that is what is happening. This in itself isn’t a problem providing it is done well. We have already seen with the prequels that George Lucas is capable of screwing up his own franchise an that other new talent can reinvent a previously stale one: J.J. Abrams with Star Trek springs to mind.

It has been suggested the first new film will be called Star Wars: Episode VII. This suggests following on from Return of the Jedi is what they have in mind. A setting around thirty years after Jedi would work both with the gap between episode III and IV and with the age of the original cast if they are to be used. A thirty year gap will also give the opportunity for Han and Leia to have kids who will now be in their twenties and can play a significant part in the story. Luke could have started to rebuild the Jedi finding and training new young gifted apprentices. A possible plot that could spring from this could involve an apprentice (or group of apprentices) exploring the dark side of the force creating a new threat. This could be attributed to Luke taking on and training multiple pupils instead of the traditional single master and pupil relationship. There have also been suggestions for a film set just after Jedi, this would be a bad idea as it would mean recasting the original characters or using some horrible CGI to make the old actors look young, does anyone remember Patrick Stewart at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

This leads us onto other ideas, first the possibility of going years into the future; I have heard the name The New Jedi Order suggested. This would possibly amount to a reboot of the original idea set in the future with new characters. I personally favour a different option. Going back to an older time. I seem to remember Ben/Obi-Wan Kenobi telling Luke that the Jedi were guardians of the universe for a thousand generations. This gives us anything up to 50,000 years play with. Although I am more than familiar with the six existing movies, I have never read any of the spin-off literature or played any of the games relating to Star Wars. With this in mind two titles that I have heard mentioned are Dawn Of The Jedi and Knights of the Old Republic, I have no knowledge of their stories, but the titles sound good. It is conceivable that over time more than one of these ideas could be explored. The one I would most like to see would be the origin of the Jedi and the Sith set in an older simpler time. Were the Jedi formed to combat the dark side of the force or were the Sith an offshoot of the Jedi as some of the order were corrupted by the search for greater powers? Are the Jedi less honourable and good than we think? Were they an attempt by a government to control anybody who is different, anyone with special powers? All these ideas could be explored. However, if we are going to have original cast members in the movie they need to do it now, Mark Hamill is 61, Carrie Fisher is 56 and Harrison Ford is 70.

One thing they should look at in any new saga is a strong female character, possibly a leading Jedi or Sith. Although Natalie Portman’s Padmé had her moments, the prequels lacked anyone with the presence of Leia when they really should have had a stronger character. I’m sure there is a law somewhere in Hollywood stating that Jennifer Lawrence has to be at least “attached to” every new film so just give her lightsaber and see what happens! There has also been suggestion for some time of a TV show set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope featuring some of the secondary characters such as The Hut and fanboy favourite Boba Fett. There has to be some mileage in this as well as the X-Wing novel series that started with Rogue Squadron just after Return of the Jedi.

And finally who could do justice to this most treasured franchise? Two names already working within the Disney family spring to mind: Joss Whedon and Bryan Singer.

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phantomThis July will be the tenth anniversary of the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace so it seemed to be a good time to look back at how, what at the time was the most anticipated film of all time has aged. I actually went to a midnight screening the day the film came out, sad I know! My impressions at the time were somewhat mixed. Looking back I still think the same. 

phantom2The casting of Liam Neeson, Ewan Mcgregor, Natalie Portman and Terence Stamp is great and Jake Lloyd was okay as the young Anakin. There were two fantastic set pieces, the pod race and the final battle. The lightsabre fights are excellent giving a new dimension not seen in the original trilogy.  The rest of the plot was a little strung out and a bit over padded.  The mysticism goes too far mainly the whole immaculate conception of Anakin concept. The designs of the ships and buildings are excellent showing a shiny and new pre war look in contrast to the old dirty and damaged look of the original trilogy. Queen Amidala’s ship was inspired by the Lockheed “Blackbird” jet and looks stunning. The Naboo star fighters are also perfect, reminiscent of X-wings but in keeping with the rest of the design more streamline. They did however miss an opportunity to show a shiny straight from the factory Millennium Falcon.

yodaGeorge Lucas has claimed that the script contains aspects of his first draft for A New Hope (the original Star Wars from 1977). He has also claimed that he had the story ark from episode I to VI worked out from the start. Both these claims seem a little stretched although I’m sure he had some ideas and concepts that he wanted to use. When comparing episodes I and IV some of the connections in the storyline feel a little forced suggesting the story arc was not as evolved as he would have us believe.

jarjarThen we come on to the big problem Jar Jar fucking Binks. Was this character created as comic releif or to entertain kids? It is as if the film makers didn’t know who their target audience was! Did they want to appeal to the kids who had loved the original films and grown up with it. Or did they want to bring a new group of kids in. the result was the kids film and the fans film linked by the floppy eared clown. The problem isn’t limited to JarJar, the entire Gungan race is a problem. Their dialogue is annoying at best, the society they live in doesn’t seem to make sense and is not believable within the context of the film. Queen Amidala’s constant change of outfits and the over the top design of the outfits is a joke. They are clearly designed to make the decoy queen plotline work. Unfortunately it fails; anyone who had looked at a review of the film knew that Queen Amidala was played by Natalie Portman. that’s when the concept failed as it was clear the handmade sent by the queen to observe Qui Gon was Natalie Portman. The characters can be a bit wooden, I refer to the dialogue not the delivery. This I suspect is the reason for Darth Mauls lack of dialogue, it was cut because it wasn’t very good.

But the problem starts before that. The introduction so called credit crawl scrolling up the screen. In the original film we had:

“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire…….”

This is followed by the rebels running for their lives chased by the evil empire and one of the most sinister villains in movie history. Darth Vader. In The Phantom Menace we get:

“Turmoil has engulfed the galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute….”

We are not kids like we were in ‘77, we now have to earn money and pay taxes, we don’t want our fantasy escapism to be about a tax dispute.

queen1In conclusion taken on its own merits it is a good solid film enjoyable film. The first in a trilogy that gradually gets better culminating in Revenge of the Sith . Taken from the point of view of a fan of the first three films it is a bit disappointing and the best of the trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is at best on a par with the weakest of the original films Return of the Jedi. Like the trilogy as a whole it isn’t bad but it could have been so much more. George Lucas has one last shot at redemption. He has stated that the story finishes with the redemption of Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi so the story can not go beyond that point so he has to go back generations to the start of the Jedi and find out how and why the Sith were wiped out. But he won’t do it so we will have to settle for the six films we have. The possibilities for this film could be endless but I know it will never get made.

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