Ossus Library Index Non-Fiction Index


By Ed Naha (1984, Berkeley Books)

A description of the pre-production, the filming, and the post- production of the 1984 theatrical film.



3 stars

Read December 13th 2001 to January 13th, 2002  
    There were a lot of good moments in this book, punctuated with a lot of grandiose statements, a good description of the goofing around that goes on in making a movie, as well as the headaches.

The book ended the way it began -annoying and uninteresting.  It began by making huge statements, trying to sell the movie as the biggest thing ever done, trying to distance itself from Star Wars and other SF and special effects movie.  At $40 million, it may have been the most expensive movie to date, but it was hardly going to be the most expensive movie ever!  And the author kept repeating it over and over and over again.  

The book ended the same way, with people making grand statements about the special effects.  As I have mentioned before, mainly for Star Wars technical guides, I have much less interest in the technical aspect, and tend not to get very impressed when somebody tries to describe the process.  Thus the ending was much less interesting for me, personally.  

It seems like the beginning and the ending gave the author very little material to work with, because the middle section, Production, was much more fun to read than Pre-production or Post-production.  

The author made it sound like he was making a long video.  Most of the chapters were merely snippets of whatever was happening on the set at the time.  They showed a good cross-section of action, drama, special effects, practice, location shoots, and so on.  Most of what intrigued me dealt with the humor the people had and their ingenuity in making the scenes work.  

Director Lynch seems like a great guy.  He seemed friendly, he knew how to laugh at the situations, but could still inspire the actors to do their best work.  But he is considered a fringe director, and it can really be seen in the finished movie, and in some of the ideas described in this book.  But the book never explains where he gets so many of the ideas that he had, like the Baron being such a slob, the heart plugs, or even the guns that could kill with a single word.  None of these were in the novel, and I wish the author would have touched on this some more reasons for the changes.

I also wonder about problems on the set.  Real problems, not just problems with the extras not being where they were supposed to be, special effects screw-ups or other mix-ups.  But what about the character who was recast?  Give us the original actor and why it didn't work out, instead of tantalizing us with the fact that there was a cast member replaced.  I know that the book was trying to show us how good the movie was, so they wouldn't show us the disgruntled people, but it's frustrating.  The only time we hear about big disappointments is from the star, who plays Paul; he mentions that the script didn't delve into the book as much as he would have liked.  But that is mentioned in passing, where I would have liked more details.

The tone of the book changed about a third of the way in, from trying to sell the movie to a more laid back tone, where the author just went with the flow, wherever events took him.   In fact, I loved the way the author seemed to meander around the set, in no real pattern, just talking to whomever was available.  A shot is postponed -great!  Let's talk to some of the actors while the explosives are reset.  The director has a few minutes waiting for his taxi -talk to him, too.  Most of the middle section of the book was very light, bringing us into a shot, then leaving even before it was finished.  It seemed very conversational, like we were watching bits of home video.

From the description, it sounds like they had a lot of fun, and that everybody became close friends for the duration.  But I would certainly not have enjoyed doing what they ended up doing.  The producers had a nightmare on their hands.  I can't imagine why any other movies would go to Mexico after hearing about their experiences.  Customs agents who would not let film into the country on a whim, forcing the producers to have actors smuggle things in with their luggage, and so many other problems.  Mexico seemed like a backwards place to make a high-tech movie.  

And the work they put into making the desert pristine?  Why not find another desert!  To clean up an old and well used dump, sifting through the sand for glass fragments...  it seems like an awful lot of effort when something like the California deserts could be used in Return of the Jedi, and the Tunisian deserts for Star Wars and The Phantom Menace.  But the producers would say that's the point, I guess...

The book was less of a "how the movie was made" and more of a "what was done in the movie", showing us how different shots were played through, some of the problems encountered, and sometimes (not always) the way they solved the problems.  For the most part, enjoyable -many scenes were easy to relive, others simply showed the emotional state of the actors, and the way they handled the pressures and pleasures of the scenes.


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