Rian Johnson is an old favorite of Filmspotting, who loved his freshman film Brick so much, they named an annual award after it. He’s done guest appearances on the podcast and had agreed to guest again for their 500th live show – but that was before he became the writer/director for Star Wars VIII. Still, Johnson is a man of his word, and though he’s clearly deep in development, he kept his promise by Skyping in to the live show. He had a few cute things to say (he is endlessly adorable):
I’m really excited about all the things I can’t tell you.
I wanted to to play in this world, of literally the first movie my dad put me in the car to see.
I can only assume it was a clerical error, like in the movie ‘Brazil.’ There’s a Brian Johnson out there who is really mad.
But where fans should really take note is the spot where he reveals the last couple of the films he and his crew have watched in preparation: Twelve O’Clock High and Letter Never Sent.
Twelve O’Clock High is a WWII flick about a harried bombing unit sent on four missions against Nazi Germany in four days. Exhausted and lacking morale, a hard-as-nails commander comes in to whip them into shape. However, as he molds these men into confident soldiers, he finds himself shouldered with the responsibility of caring for these men while also sending them to their deaths. Twelve O’Clock is available for streaming on Netflix Instant- I’ve already added it to my Queue (I refuse to call it ‘My List’).
The trailer shows at least one key reason Johnson and crew screened this 1949 classic. I suspect this is a film that inspired the film-school student George Lucas when he first imagined Star Wars as “Blue Harvest”. The dogfight footage shares a shot and edit style with that of the Death Star run in Star Wars: A New Hope. The domes atop the bombers even look like astromech droids. I would love it if Johnson reintroduced this style of coverage of space battles. The tight shots and quick edits are exciting and bring the audience in to point-of-view position. There’s a bit less of the epic scale that was highlighted in the prequels, but far more kinetic energy.
What else might Johnson pull in? As a sequel to J.J. Abram’s reboot, we can expect VII to be darker, in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back, so a story about a group of fighters out of energy and hope would fit well. Plus, there’s the character development of the general who attempts to lead this group, which would make for effective gravitas.
The second film, Letter Never Sent, is a Russian adventure-drama about three geologists and a guide who go searching for diamonds in the Central Siberian Plateau. The first half is an exploration film; however, as soon as they complete their mission, a forest fire cuts them off from their supplies and canoe, and the film becomes their fight for survival. The film is hailed for its inventive and evocative cinematography. Letter Never Sent is in the Criterion Collection and thus available through Hulu Plus – we’ll be watching it in September when we renew our subscription because The Vampire Diaries and Once Upon a Time are airing new episodes.
The shot featured in the clip is the first of five long takes that open the film. It sets up their situation and their struggle. The four are left alone by the helicopter pilot and become smaller and smaller in the growing wilderness around them.
This film is more ambiguous in its worth to Johnson. Certainly, the daring cinematics would be welcome, and the story arc of exploration falling to survival would make for an exciting trajectory for any film.
I can’t wait to actually watch these films in my own preparation for Episode VIII. Rian Johnson can pad my Queue any day.