Thursday, December 10, 2015

I was the first person to see Star Wars

Well maybe not the first in the world, but I did see it at the Edmonton Meadowlark Cinema theatre in 1977, the day it opened, and I can tell you, there weren't many people at the theatre.

My Dad's worked at CFRN, Edmonton's CTV affiliate, where film reviewer George Kelso told him I might like to see this new movie - kind of a space cowboys movie, he called it, after seeing the review screening the day before.  George knew I was a science-fiction nut, and having just returned from a three-month trip through Israel and Europe, I had some free time while I looked for a summer job before going to UBC the next fall.

Meadowlark's Cinerama theatre was my favourite movie location. Opened in 1969 with Krakatoa East of Java, it went on to play movies that were highly influential in my film appreciation.  The legendary print of 2001:A Space Odyssey in 70mm with the first magnetic sound strip in production was a huge event. 2001 also set the bar for state of the art optical effects and highly detailed models, a standard I though was unassailable until Star Wars took it to the next level.

And I knew about what it took to create special effects in movies - somehow it was an ongoing source of fascination to me, and also it seems to my cousin Stu Bass, who has gone on to edit numerous TV shows. Optical printers, travelling mattes, all that stuff came from perusing Dad's books on special effects. So after seeing the crawl and the tilt down to the planets, I thought that after almost ten years, the effects were not going to be much better than what Kubrick could do in 1968.

Until I saw the star destroyer. It was pretty clear right then that Industrial Light and Magic had done something only dreamed about in film production - a motion controlled camera that could repeatedly reproduce the same sequence of moves. Motion control is key to photographing miniatures, where the camera usually is the one that moves around the model, and in a way to be able to later blend background, foregrounds, and multiple objects in the frame from the correct camera position.

Now, almost 40 years later, we have tickets to go see Episode VII. Little did the 19-year old me imagine I'd be going to a new Star Wars movie with my wife and son 40 years from then.

Some things are sweet on every level.

May the Force be with you.

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