For the first three episodes, Light & Magic re-treads largely familiar ground and sticks too closely to a galaxy far, far away. However, the fourth episode makes it very clear right off the bat that Star Wars will have minimal focus in the episode. It dives straight into the collaborative work of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
While at first glance the film looks as though not a lot of special effects were used, matte paintings were used quite a bit, including one at the very end of the film, which audiences might not have noticed before. That’s the genius of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), some of their simple effects hold up to this day. Then the face melting scene is explained, along with the ghost effects. The latter are created in an ingenious manner, using a cloud tank.
ET is shown, but it isn’t explored as much as Raiders or Star Wars. It’s a segue for the brilliant Dennis Muren and Richard Edlund. Spielberg perfectly describes the pair as “kids”. Certainly, to work at ILM, a kid’s imagination is needed. They show an explanation of how they caused the house in Poltergeist to implode, which is fascinating. The device they create isn’t remotely logical, it’s something that only a kid could make, which is why Dennis and Richard are great artists..
Rose Duignan explains the momentous direction that Lucas took the company. To keep the crew together, Lucas allowed his friends to use ILM, and then any director. But this decision had huge effects on the film industry as a whole, because it didn’t keep such brilliant technology behind closed doors. This aspect deserved to be mentioned outright, but was implied in the show.
This starts the story about computer graphics. Lucas was a huge proponent of this technology, and threw his full force behind it. And it produced amazing results. The documentary goes into a huge amount of detail about this, and Lucas’ invention – PIXAR – and how the department became interested in animation over live-action. This resulted in their sale to Steve Jobs, and the creation of an animation studio – PIXAR. This section of the documentary is by far the most engaging and interesting, as PIXAR are an extremely well regarded studio and wouldn’t be what they are without any of this.
Star Wars does make a brief appearance in the show, explaining parts of Return of the Jedi. It’s presented in such a fun and musical way that it commands attention. An in-depth look explains the Rancor, which is highly entertaining, the speeder chase on Endor is explained, though how they achieved the highspeed POV bits. While perhaps the shortest bit, the space battle of Endor, is actually given perfect time to point out some unique aspects of the battle, instead of retreading explanations of models again.
The final bit of note is a segment about Joe Johnston. He explains how, when he was on the brink of leaving the film industry, Lucas convinced him to go to film school (fully paid for by Lucas), and probably convinced Disney to give him a shot at directing. A montage of films Johnston directed shows, with well known movies such as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the original Jumanji, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Lucas knew the talent Johnston had, and didn’t want to see it wasted. It also highlights the incredible generosity Lucas has.
Overall, the fourth instalment of the Light and Magic documentary manages to largely get away from Star Wars, which is to its benefit. It presents a wide range of topics that, for the most part, have justice done to them, and also manages to focus on people and film. They’re also presented in a more engaging manner, with the musical tracks adding to the experience.
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