This Week in 1976: 'Star Wars' Begins Filming
A long time ago, in a desert far, far away ...
Thirty-five years ago this week, on March 22, 1976, the cameras began rolling on 'Star Wars' in the Tunisian desert that stood in for the planet Tatooine. The shoot was an instant disaster. On Day 2, the region experienced its first winter rain in 50 years. Sand got into the equipment, the robots barely worked, and windstorms destroyed expensive sets. The production eventually moved to a studio in England, but things didn't go much better there. A reluctant crew grumbled over having to work on what they saw as a silly children's movie, and even the actors (notably, Harrison Ford) balked at the dialogue George Lucas had written for them. Even in post-production, the hundreds of effects shots needed forced the budget to balloon from a then-exorbitant $8.5 million to more than $10 million. The whole thing seemed like a cosmic flop in the making.
Well, as we all know, it didn't turn out that way. For 35 years, 'Star Wars' and the franchise it launched have been a money spigot that shows no signs of slowing to a trickle any time soon (not with next year's 3D reissue of the six episodes in the works). There's no overestimating its impact on science fiction, Hollywood filmmaking, popular culture, and even politics. Oh, and as this video shows, linguistics.
'Star Wars' video montage edited by Oliver Noble
Maybe that's why it's so much fun to learn what long odds the original movie overcame on its way to theaters. Whether you're a casual or hardcore fan, you'll be tickled by 'Star Wars Begins,' a remarkable, exhaustive fan-made documentary (streaming in chapters on YouTube) of the obstacle-strewn production of that first film. You should also revisit Cinematical's interview with "Star Wars Begins' creator Jamie Benning and the accompanying list of 10 Things You Didn't Know About 'Star Wars.'
1981 (March 20): Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange's remake of 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' is released. The film sets a new standard for steaminess in mainstream movies, launches playwright David Mamet's screenwriting career, and puts 'King Kong' starlet Lange on the map as a serious dramatic actress.
1998 (March 23): 'Titanic' wins a record-tying 11 Oscars, including Best Picture. "I'm king of the world!" declares James Cameron, echoing the film's most famous line of dialogue.
2002 (March 24): "This moment is so much bigger than me," says a tearful Halle Berry as she becomes the first African-American performer to win a Best Actress Oscar (for 'Monster's Ball'). It's a landmark night for black stars, as Denzel Washington wins Best Actor (for 'Training Day') and Sidney Poitier (the first black star to win Best Actor, in 1964) earns an honorary Academy Award for his trailblazing career.
2007 (March 22): NBC and Fox parent News Corporation announce a joint web venture that results in the creation of Hulu, paving the way for big Hollywood studios make movies available online for free or low-cost legal streaming.
Reese Witherspoon and Michelle Monaghan both turned 35 on March 23. (March 23 is also the day Matthew Modine turned 52 and William Shatner hit the big 8-0.) Matthew Broderick and Rosie O'Donnell both turned 49 on March 21. (That date also marks Gary Oldman's 53rd birthday and Timothy Dalton's 67th.) Broderick's wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, turns 46 on March 25. Shatner crewmate Leonard Nimoy turns 80 four days after his captain does. Keira Knightley, who turns 26 on March 26, shares a birthday with five other stars. Among movie immortals, Steve McQueen would have been 81 on March 24, while March 23 would have marked the 101st birthday of Akira Kurosawa and the 107th birthday of Joan Crawford.
'Sucker Punch' (PG-13)
Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung
Directed By: Zack Snyder
What's It About? In this elaborate, genre-bending fantasy, captive Babydoll (Browning) and four galpals band together to fight and shimmy their way to freedom.
Why Should You See It? Girl-gang movies are a rarity, and this one even more so, coming from the pop culture magpie sensibility of Snyder ('Watchmen,' '300'). Fanboy buzz on is strong for this hybrid of martial arts movies, comic book films, fantasy epics and musicals.
You Might Like It If You Like: 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' 'Charlie's Angels,' 'Burlesque'
On the Set with the director and stars of 'Sucker Punch'
Exclusive Images from 'Sucker Punch: The Art of the Film'
'Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules' (PG)
Starring: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn
Directed By: David Bowers
What's It About? Greg Heffley (Gordon) must brave the terrors of both seventh grade and his sadistic big brother, Rodrick (Bostick).
Why Should You See It? The first 'Wimpy Kid' movie last year was an unexpected treat as a clever family comedy. With almost all of the original cast returning, hopes are high for the sequel.
You Might Like It If You Like: 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid,' 'Max Keeble's Big Move,' 'Holes'
Trailers and Clips
'Win Win' is a comedy and recent Sundance hit starring Paul Giamatti as a scheming lawyer and high school wrestling coach.
Showtimes & Tickets | Watch the Trailer | Read Cinematical's Review
'Peep World,' an ensemble comedy that sees a dysfunctional family's dirty laundry aired through one son's bestseller-turned-movie, has a cast that includes Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, and Michael C. Hall.
Showtimes & Tickets | Read our Sarah Silverman interview
•'Limitless' - In which Bradley Cooper finally proves he's a leading man with the charisma to carry a movie. Bad guy Robert De Niro is no slouch, either. Showtimes & Tickets | Watch the Trailer
•'The Lincoln Lawyer' - In which Matthew McConaughey, playing a rule-bending defense attorney, finally proves he's a leading man who can carry a movie even when he keeps his shirt on. Showtimes & Tickets | Watch the Trailer
•'Paul' - In which 'Shaun of the Dead' jokers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost prove they can carry a mainstream Hollywood hit, as long as a little grey alien voiced by Seth Rogen is along for the ride. Showtimes & Tickets | Watch the Trailer
New on DVD: As far as apocalyptic aliens-invade-L.A. thrillers go, a lot of sci-fi fans preferred last fall's ''Skyline'' to the current 'Battle: Los Angeles.' (As it happens, 'Skyline' directors Colin and Greg Strause did the special effects for 'Battle: Los Angeles.') With its focus on alien-fighting Marines, 'Battle' turns out to be more of a traditional combat film with an unusual enemy, while 'Skyline,' with its emphasis on civilians struggling to survive, is more like 'War of the Worlds.' Take your pick. Buy or rent the DVD | More new DVD releases
On Our Netflix Queue: The beginning of spring this week inspires us to marvel at nature's rebirth by revisiting 'Charlotte's Web.' E.B. White's beloved pig tale observes the circle of life by beginning and ending with the arrival of springtime, following the cycle of life and death in the barnyard over the course of one year. Our preferred version is the enchanting 1973 cartoon musical, with Henry Gibson as the naive piglet Wilbur, snarky Paul Lynde as Templeton the Rat, and Debbie Reynolds as the Earth-mother spider of the title. Buy or rent the DVD
On TV: Sure, watching the 'Back to the Future' trilogy has itself become something of a time-travel adventure, especially if you're old enough to have seen the 1985 movie and its 1989 and 1990 sequels when they first came out. Still, it's worth watching all three movies at once to see how cleverly they recycle the same plot via different genres ('50s nostalgia comedy, futuristic sci-fi, Western), with the series folding back on itself until it becomes a hall of mirrors. ABC Family is showing the whole trilogy back-to-back starting Saturday at 3PM. Gas up your DeLorean, pop open a Pepsi Free, and enjoy. Check your local listings
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.