Todd Alcott
24 May 2010 @ 04:28 am
In honor of the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, I'd like to offer one of my most popular posts from days of yore.

I wish I could quit you, Lord Vader.

So, Darth Vader is looking for Luke Skywalker. He doesn't have a chance of finding him (in spite of being able to sense his presence a galaxy away when the plot demands it), but he can, theoretically, find Luke's friends Han and Leia (and Chewbacca, of course). Han, Leia, Chewbacca (and C-3PO, you know, the robot that Darth Vader built when he was 9 years old) are in Han's ship the Millenium Falcon. The Millenium Falcon is a fast ship with many tricks up its proverbial sleeves, so it's very difficult to catch. To catch the Millenium Falcon, Darth Vader can't rely on his ill-informed, bumbling Imperial forces -- he must turn to bounty hunters. "We don't need that scum," mutters Imperial Guy under his breath when he sees the dregs of the universe cluttering up his Star Destroyer.

So, the official Imperial stance on bounty hunters is: we don't like you. So it seems that Vader has taken it upon himself to hire the bounty hunters himself, in spite of his officers' disapproval. Who knows, maybe the bounty he's offering is out of his own pocket.  Point is, Vader has a much different opinion of bounty hunters than the Empire does.

Many bounty hunters apply for the job; only one can catch the wily Han Solo and friends. Scaly reptile in yellow flight-suit Bossk can't hack it, half-droid-half-insect 4-LOM is a failure, stubby whatsit Zuckuss hasn't a clue, renegade assassin droid IG-88 couldn't find his ass with both hands, a map and a flashlight. Only master bounty hunter Boba Fett has what it takes to track down and capture Han Solo in his super-wily Millenium Falcon.

Here's my question -- what's up with Darth Vader and Boba Fett?
 He's all yours -- bounty hunter.

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Todd Alcott
25 August 2008 @ 03:53 am

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I took my kids Sam (7) and Kit (5) to see The Clone Wars. I've been reading so much invective directed against this movie, I honestly didn't know what to expect. Online voices are torn: some people seem to hate it, some people seem to merely dislike it, some people feel it is a monstrous act of betrayal. My favorite, a hysterical non-review by "Moriarty" at Ain't-It-Cool-News, is so full of hurt and anger that it goes so far as to insist that the reviewer will never write about Star Wars ever again -- You hear him? Never!  Take that, George Lucas!  Moriarty shuts the Iron Door.

I went in fully braced for an atrocity, a soul-scorching, childish, grating, dead-end cinematic nightmare.

Sorry haters -- it's actually not bad. It's actually pretty good.

Todd Alcott

Some photos I took of Sam's Star Wars toy collection.

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Todd Alcott
23 April 2008 @ 07:51 am

My apologies to my readers who wait with bated breath for my analysis of The Color Purple.  My son Sam (6) had a day off from school, and my daughter Kit (5) has a school that consists primarily of her being out of the house for four hours, so my wife and I decided to take them to Disneyland.

Todd Alcott
22 March 2008 @ 06:42 am
Say what you want about the Star Wars prequels, they are excellent tools for teaching a six-year-old boy about the basics of democracy.

Yesterday I was in a post office with my son Sam (6) and he saw a big cardboard standup for the HBO John Adams bio-pic, and he said "Who is that guy? I'm seeing this poster everywhere!" So I started to explain to him who John Adams was and what he did and what his role was in the formation of the United States, and that necessitated an explanation of monarchy vs. democracy, and at that point Sam chimed in and said "Yeah, like in Episode III, Chancellor Palpatine is supposed to be the leader of the Senate, where people are supposed to get together and talk about what's best for everyone, but instead he's just making everyone fight each other and sitting back and laughing at them all because he's really controlling everything." Then I blinked a few times and decided Sam didn't need to know that much more about John Adams for a while.

Anyway, we were watching Revenge of the Sith the other day, and if you ever need to explain what is going on in this country right now to a six-year-old boy, you could certainly find worse teaching tools than this movie. All the players are there and the political delineations are as clear as could be. Palpatine is a corrupt, cynical politician scheming to become an emperor, starting a war to give himself expansive executive powers, controlling the Senate and the courts to make sure no one can oppose him, et cetera ad infinitum. This is not news, it's pretty obvious that the movie is intended as a criticism of the Bush/Cheney doctrine.

And then, about 2/3 of the way through the movie, Sam, apropos of nothing, says "I think Mace Windu should be elected Chancellor." Which kind of created a moment of clarity for me. Mace Windu (the "stoic" Jedi, according to is a wise, well-spoken, incorruptible warrior-priest, who sees (eventually) what Palpatine is and seeks to remove him from power. He fails, and dies, but Sam is correct -- none of this would have happened if Mace Windu had been Chancellor. Which inspired me to make this:

click for larger view.

Inspiration here.

UPDATE: Sam just walked in, saw this entry on my computer, and said "That guy with 'HOPE' on him?  Is either Mace Windu or God."

Oh, and honestly, I am going to do a post on 1941, and it honestly will be worth it.hitcounter
Todd Alcott
16 December 2007 @ 03:17 am

Produced, written and directed by Sam Alcott (6). Edited by Todd Alcott. Performers: Sam Alcott and Todd Alcott.

This movie was created under the strict supervision of Sam. The shot list, scene order and camera placement were all his (with occasional input from me). When you hear me say a line of dialog, I am saying only and exactly what Sam has directed me to say. (In certain cases we had to do several takes of a scene because my voice was not right or I improvised too much with Sam's dialog.) It was shot entirely on a Sony Cybershot, a digital camera designed to take still photos and short movies.

Sam has picked up the lingo of moviemaking very quickly. He will ask if we're rolling and understands the commands "Action," "Cut" and "Pull back," and soon I'm sure will be saying things like "Okay, now I want a steady tracking shot along this way, then push in close to here, then we'll cut to a close-up of the girl's face reacting." He has an innate, if incomplete, understanding of cutting techniques and carries the whole movie inside his head. On occasions when I left out a scene I thought was confusing or dragged the narrative, he would see the gap immediately and instruct me to put it back in. As a result, I felt it would be best to insert some titles to help explain the action, which might not be immediately apparent to non-aficionados.

PLOT SYNOPSIS: General Grievous is planning some kind of attack on Kashyyyk.  The Clone Army arrive and foil his plans.  Grievous sends his troops to fight the clones but they fail (these scenes were not shot).  Grievous then attacks the Jedi himself, killing several of them.  The Clones then receive "Order 66" from Darth Sidious, which causes them to attack the Jedi.  Yoda and Obi-Wan fight the Clones, and Obi-Wan  kills General Grievous and wipes out the remainder of his forces.  Then, for reasons that elude me, the ending of Episode III is recapitulated.

(I am being disingenuous -- I know why the ending of Episode III is recapitulated -- it's Sam's favorite part of the whole Star Wars saga, specifically the fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin on Mustafar.  The mining apparatus and volcanic surface of Mustafar are here represented by a credenza, a chair and a Disney Princess scooter (belonging to Sam's little sister).

Sam was disappointed with the final cut only because he hadn't thought his hands would be so visible in the shot. In his mind, the characters moved and acted the way they do in the movies. He instructed me to digitally remove his hands and body from the shots. When I explained that that is possible but cost-prohibitive, he said "But we could scan the movie into Photoshop and erase all the parts we don't want." When I told him that that would involve working on literally thousands of individual still frames, he relented. But I think the boy has a future.

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Todd Alcott
08 December 2007 @ 11:48 pm

My son Sam (6), if I haven't mentioned it before, loves Star Wars. He's watched all six of the movies numerous times (Episode III is his favorite, followed by Episode II), owns over a hundred action figures (many of them hand-me-downs from Dad) draws pictures of the characters every chance he gets, and has recently completed a movie (which Dad is now editing -- it has, I'm afraid, many longueurs). It was inevitable that he would turn to writing scenarios for imaginary Star Wars stories. I don't have the heart to tell him that he could probably make good money at doing this work.

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Todd Alcott
21 October 2007 @ 02:24 pm

In the past, I've discussed Return of the Jedi and compared its plot to the plot of The Empire Strikes Back.  I thought I was done with it, but it turns out the movie has more to offer than I have previously noticed, probably because I in the past I have spent too much of the running time looking at the seams on the backs of the Ewok costumes.

The other day, my son Sam (6) requested to watch it again and kept marveling at how swiftly it moved. No sooner had the good guys escaped from Tatooine than Sam exclaimed "Wow! The movie's already at the ending!" What he was picking up on was the trifurcated nature of ROTJ's plot: it's a 40-minute movie about the rescue of Han Solo, then its a 40-minute movie about the good guys' adventures with the Ewoks, then it's a 40-minute movie about the two-pronged attack on the forces of the Empire. Each one of these featurettes is tight, entertaining and beautiful to behold and no, I'd have to say that, taken as a whole, ROTJ is not a chore to sit through.

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Todd Alcott
17 July 2007 @ 11:35 am

Because of images like this (courtesy of ninjaguydan ), Sam (6) is under the impression that Buddhists once lived on Naboo. We attended a wedding over the weekend at a Zen temple and all Sam saw in the garden was "Buddha statues, you know, like on Naboo." So for him, that's pretty much where Buddhism started -- a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

I see no reason to contradict him -- as far as I know, there is no rule against bodhisattvas showing up on other planets in ancient history. Anyone know who these ancient statues are supposed to be? When were they built (in Star Wars time), who built them, why? And is it sacrilege for a Gungan to perch on one when calling his army to battle a bunch of robots?

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Todd Alcott
16 July 2007 @ 09:38 am

So, a few months ago Sam (6) comes toddling into my office and says "Can we make a TIE fighter?"

And I say "You mean like get a modeling kit, where you put it together?"  And he says "No, I mean make it."  And I say "You mean, like, make a TIE fighter?"  And he says "Yeah, like make one."  And I'm like "Like, make it out of -- what, exactly?"  And he's like "Well, what are they made out of?"  And I'm like "Well, they're made out of some kind of metal from another planet, dude."  And he's like "Well, but what could we make it out of that we have around here?"  And I'm like, "I don't know -- cardboard?"  And he's like "Sure, cardboard, we could do that, right?  And tape.  And glue, right?"

Anyway, many months later, here is our TIE fighter, after countless production delays.  It wouldn't fool a stormtrooper, but I think it looks pretty good for a cardboard TIE fighter made by someone who's never made anything crafty before in his life (by which I mean me, not Sam).


For those of you troubled by the color scheme, there was a long discussion between the client (Sam) and the builder (me) about what color to make it.  In the movies, the TIE fighters are shown to be a pale bluish-gray.  The toy TIE fighter we own (a 1997 re-release item) is a tad more bluish, but the TIE fighters shown in Sam's Lego Star Wars video game are shown to be a dark cobalt blue.  Then we found out that George Lucas actually wanted the TIE fighters to be the cobalt blue, but it was too close to the blue of the blue screens he was using for his special effects of the time so they had to make them gray.  Sam is a stickler for accuracy, so for him the gray of the movies isn't accurate and neither is the bluer gray of the toys -- the cobalt blue of the video game is the most accurate color scheme.

Sam's initial plan was to have a working hatch on his TIE fighter, and an actual cockpit inside with controls and things for the pilot to operate.  Months of delays (while the builder worked on a TV show) forced him to accept a simpler version, and when he saw this mean-looking pilot hunkered down in his forced-perspective cockpit, all was forgiven.  One of these days I'll buy a ruler and I'll be able to accurately paint an octagon.

Watch out, Santa Monica!  There's a rogue TIE fighter loose among your suburban palms! hit counter html code