Astral peeks

 

"Star Wars" (Gen) Ambassador, Savoy, Virgin, Omniplex, UCIs

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a young movie brat called George Lucas set out to make a science fiction adventure movie which would fuse state-of-the-art special effects with comic-strip action-filled adventure. A generation later, we are still living (some might say lumbered) with the fruits of Lucas's vision. Star Wars is the template for the Hollywood blockbusters of the last two decades, and now Lucas has astutely decided to release all three parts of the original trilogy in advance of the new "prequel" going into production this summer.

Sitting down in a cinema to watch Lucas's movie for the first time in 20 years, the excitement over this reisssue is hard to understand at first. Certainly, some of the lighting, design and acting has an appealingly tacky 1970s feel to it, recalling all those copycat movies and TV shows which came flooding out in the wake of the original film's success, but retro charm is hardly going to be enough to break box office records.

Within 10 minutes, though, it becomes clear that the narrative flow of Star Wars still packs considerable punch, and that its sheer simplicity is likely to win it new converts. The action is also terrific, especially in the famous climactic attack on the Death Star. Lucas has jazzed up proceedings with souped-up digital sound and images, adding new spaceships, making the laser bursts more impressive, and even inserting new creatures in the background. Purists may see this as the short end of the stick, interfering technologically with the sacred original negative, but Lucas, after all, is more responsible than anyone else on the planet for film's inexorable drift towards digital technology, with all the possibilities for alteration and manipulation which that implies.

Star Wars is no masterpiece; it's most notable for its iconic status and its landmark position in the history of cinema. But it's also a highly enjoyable roller coaster ride, and there's a sort of innocence about the story that seems refreshing in these days of self-referential, over-hyped products. The innocence, of course, is misleading: this is just the first salvo in a five-year marketing campaign which will squeeze this particular franchise dry all over again. It's still rather enjoyable, though, just to lie back and enjoy the ride.

"Space Jam" (Gen) Savoy, Virgin, Omni UCIs

If it hadn't been for Star Wars, it certainly wouldn't have been possible to make Space Jam, in which the basketball star Michael Jordan costars with Bugs Bunny and other members of Warner Brothers' Loonie Tunes repertory company. Bugs and his pals (Daffy Duck, Roadrunner, Elmer Fudd etc) find themselves threatened by an interplanetary theme park proprietor (voiced by Danny DeVito) who wants to kidnap them into slavery. To regain their freedom, they must win a basketball match against the evil aliens, and they call in Jordan to help.

This is definitely one of those films where the marketing opportunities came before the script (Jordan's "personal attorney and business manager" gets a producer's credit), but director Joe Pytka actually handles it rather well, with plenty of ingenious gags and a good mix of animation and live action. Bill Murray is amusing in a small cameo role, and Jordan doesn't embarrass himself, but the real stars are the Loonie Tunes. Brash, noisy and colourful, Space Jam should appeal to young basketball and cartoon fans alike.