The Corner

Rick On Star Wars Etc.

Okay, I gotta get back to paying work in a second. But here we go.

Here’s Rick’s original post, which I will quote in full:

I offer my opinion re: George Lucas. He and Steven Spielberg are two of the most disastrous pop cultural figures of the last thirty years. They converted an entire medium to childishness–scary sharks, space men, Indiana Jones. Star Wars is bits of plastic put together with Scotch tape. There were clever moments here and there, and more often cheap thrills. But anything adult was banished.

Spielberg so lowered the bar that when he turned around and did Schindler’s List he was hailed as some sort of Dante. But who had turned Nazis into thick-accented goons pursuing the Ark of the Covenant?

Me:I’ll get to his follow-up post in a minute.

My short response is: Was it not ever thus? In 1976 — the year before Star Wars was released — the top three domestic films were Rocky, Logan’s Run and The Pom Pom Girls.

In 1974 — the year before Jaws was released — the top 10 films were, in order:

Blazing Saddles

The Towering Inferno

Young Frankenstein

Earthquake

The Godfather Part II

Benji

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Man With The Golden Gun

The Groove Tube

Macon County Line

Now, Rick may be able to tease out of this data the notion that Star Wars and Jaws were sudden and shockingly immature breaks with the more mature cinematic trends of the day. I do not see it. Obviously, there are some very good “grown-up” movies in this mix — Godfather Part II and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came out in 1975 — but Benji, Pom Pom Girls, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Logan’s Run, Earthquake and Towering Inferno do pop-out, don’t they? Rocky was a good movie, though it was hardly a novel or particularly “adult” storyline — it’s real success was derived from the editing.

It seems to me that against this backdrop, Star Wars and Jaws raised the overall cinematic quality. Indeed, I think Jaws stands up very well and was a better monster movie than almost anything that came in the decade before it came out and is still much better than what has come out since.

In his follow-up post, Rick says that Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Jaws had terrible music. I’m woefully ignorant about music, but this strikes me as a bizarre statement. From everything I’ve read and heard — and my own meager judgement — I would say that John Williams dramatically improved the quality and importance of soundtracks in this country. Were there sci-fi movies or fantasy movies prior to Lucas and Spielberg with demonstrably better music? Personally, I don’t know, but I’d surprised if that was the case.

It seems to me that Rick’s real complaint isn’t with the movies themselves but with their success. I agree that Lucas and Spielberg encouraged some awful copycats. But, that is an unfair criticism. Many great books have spawned some awful copycats as well. We don’t hold that against the author, why should we hold it against Lucas and Spielberg?

As for Rick’s longer follow-up comments, I think he defends himself against charges of snobbery and the like it would never occur to me to level at him so I will let them go uncontested. Still, I think he’s still complaining about the films’ success rather than their content. I don’t think you can blame Spielberg and Lucas for what has happened to Hollywood so much as credit them for taking advantage of it. One major problem is globalization. Hollywood is making movies for a world audience more than a domestic one (which I wrote about for the print NR in 1998, alas it’s not online). This means movies are geared to an even lower common denominator than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. That one could have such success with certain kinds of movies, was demonstrated by Lucas and Spielberg. But if they hadn’t done it, someone else would have.

I don’t see the point in debating the merits of the original Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back. I think they were very impressive bits of filmmaking for their time. That Rick disagrees is obvious. But I don’t see how I could persuade him otherwise.

I think the giveaway is in Rick’s statement that he was not in “awe of the preceding era of movies” either. Fair enough. Maybe Rick just doesn’t like movies that much? All of these films — Indiana Jones, Star Wars & Empire and Jaws — were certainly better and more entertaining than much that could be found amidst the genres they were reinventing (even if I agree with Derb that we could use more thoughtful sci-fi in general). I think that’s self-evident. If not Rick can tell me which great sci-fi and monster movies I’m forgetting.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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