Tuesday, August 15, 2006

So two Lex's walk into a bar...

First off, I enjoyed the new Superman movie. Not as much as my sister did, but I liked it. Singer did a good job of making ties to the original series in a way that established a nice atmosphere for the film, from the opening title style to the John Williams soundtrack cues. I always thought the Star Wars prequels needed a little more of that...that's the big reason I thought the third prequel was so much better than the other two.

But I digress...

The issue I left the new Superman movie with was this: how does Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor measure up next to Gene Hackman's? Spacey is a fantastic actor; I've enjoyed him in everything I've seen him do, and I think he's one of the best actors out there today.

But we're talking about Gene Hackman here...possibly my favorite actor of all time.

It got me thinking about that original Lex; specifically: why do I like him so much? Is he really funny? Is he well-written? Do I empathize with the baldness, or is it just the 70's kitsch that I dig?

Here's what I came up with:

Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor is a classic villain. He's evil, malicious, sarcastic, and mean. He'll do anything to anybody in order to get what he wants, and he's usually the smartest guy in the room. Naturally, he has his blind spots, and there's that little thing about Superman being a Superhero and all, which combine to give the man in tights the victory by the end of the night.

Gene Hackman's Luthor is also evil, sarcastic, mean, and the smartest guy in the room. He's also funny, but that's not why I relate to him. See, that's just it: the reason I like Hackman's Luthor so much is that I relate to him, and here's why: The Lex Luthor of 1978 is simply a mad genius that's exasperated with the incompetence he's surrounded with. It reminds me of Paul Newman's line in "Butch and Sundance": "I've got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals." Lex '78 is the guy in the fast lane who's mad at the dude in the Caddy in front of him who won't yield; he's the guy in the express grocery line behind the woman with 40 items...and a blank check that hasn't been filled out. The only difference between Lex '78 and you and me is that he's become exasperated with it all to the point that he's willing to wipe out half of California in order to obtain what he believes his superior intelligence merits him. Naturally the irony of all this is that his closest accomplices are the same idiots that are the source of his world-hate in the first place.

Plus Hackman's just a great actor. He understood this about the character. You could see it in every resigned look, every slouched shoulder. Come on...this guy came off like a game show host...how could you hate him? Best comic movie villain ever, including Jack's Joker.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The lost "dinner scene" from Empire Strikes Back

Last weekend I fired up my DVD copy of "Empire Strikes Back" for the first time in a year or so. As many times as I have seen it, there was one thing I noticed that caused me a bit of concern.

When Lando sells out Han to Darth Vader, they are in a vast dining room, with full accommodations. As the scene closes, Han, Leia and Chewie enter the room mournfully, and as the door slides shut, you can see Vader sitting down at the table, suggesting that he really did want his prisoners to join him for "a little refreshment", as Lando put it.

I wondered what would have taken place at such a dinner, and after firing off a quick e-mail to Uncle George, I learned that back in '79, Irving Kirshner had actually shot a dinner scene with the whole cast, but George decided to pull it for time reasons. With a little persuading, I managed to get a copy of the script. Apparently the original footage was destroyed in the same fit of rage that followed The Star Wars Christmas Special.

Naturally, I've decided to post it here...

Scene 83

Int. Cloud City Dining Room--Day

Darth Vader sits at the head of an expansive dining room table, lavishly decorated and adorned with all manner of exquisite foods. Han Solo's laser blaster rests at the side of Vader's plate. At Vader's left, Boba Fett sits awkwardly, his rocket pack jammed against the back of his chair. At Vader's right, Lando sits humbly. Reluctantly, Han Solo sits several seats down from Lando, and Leia and Chewie take up places next to him. Two Stormtroopers stand guard at the door.

Han and the others stare silently at their plates and Boba Fett adjusts constantly, trying to find a comfortable position in his chair. Vader stares expectantly at his guests, and finally speaks.

Vader: You should try the pulled pork--it's fantastic.

No one moves. Vader looks at Lando.

Vader: Isn't it, Calrissian?

Lando nods quickly and begins piling some on his plate.

Han: (muttering) Coward.

Lando looks up at his old friend.

Lando: What?

Han: You heard me.

Vader: The corn is fresh. Don't Wookiee's like corn?

Chewbacca wails dramatically. Vader turns to Boba Fett, who is still squirming.

Vader: What did he say? Did you understand that?

Boba Fett: I wasn't listening.

Vader turns to Leia.

Vader: I don't think I've seen that hairstyle on you before. Have you had it done?

Leia flashes a defiant glance at Vader and turns back to her plate.

Boba Fett finally stands up and fires a series of shots at his chair. As smoke rises from his target, he bends over and rips the back off the smoldering piece of furniture, tossing it aside. He then turns and sits down squarely on his new backless chair, and emits a satisfied sound before reaching across the table to load up his plate.

Boba Fett: It’s a good feed.

Vader reaches across the table and pours a glass from an exotic-shaped wine bottle. Grasping the glass in his gloved hand, he tips it back and pours the wine into the mouth vent of his helmet, dribbling most of it over his armor and causing several sparks to shoot from his mask and chest.

With smoke seeping from under his helmet, Vader turns to Lando.

Vader: Calrissian, this is some great stuff. Where did you get it?

Lando is flattered but cautious.

Lando: It’s an Alderran ’77. One of our miners was able to secure seventeen cases of the last shipment before the planet was…destroyed.

Lando chokes on the last word and Vader stares at him, contemplating the irony.

Vader: Have all seventeen cases transferred to my ship. I’m altering our deal.

Lando: But—

Vader: You have a problem with my new terms? Maybe you’d like to file a complaint with my assistant?

Vader jerks a thumb at Boba Fett, who has a long striped straw sticking out of his helmet and into a glass of blue liquid. He slurps noisily.

Lando looks down at his plate and stabs a fork in his pulled pork in frustration.

Vader: That was a cute little stunt you pulled on Captain Needa, Solo. Hiding right on top of his ship like that.

Han looks up smugly.

Han: Oh yeah? Did he like that?

Vader: He’s dead.

Chewbacca wails again.

Vader turns to Fett, who is busy mashing his food into a thick creamy goo on his plate.

Vader: There! Did you hear that? Is that supposed to mean anything?

Fett begins slurping his liquefied meal through is straw and shrugs his shoulders at Vader. Vader turns to Han.

Vader: What is he saying, Solo? Do you really understand him?

Han smirks at Leia. Vader looks at Chewbacca.

Vader: Do you need to go outside? Have you been fed? Is it poo-poo time for Chewie?

Chewbacca wails and throws a whole chicken at Vader, who freezes it midair with a simple uplifted hand, and deflects it to the wall harmlessly.

Vader: Get Sasquatch out of here!

The Stormtroopers move to put handcuffs on Chewie, who protests loudly.

Vader: And take a scooper with you!

Chewie yells as the Stormtroopers escort him out of the dining room. Han scowls at Vader.

Han: You want to know what he’s saying?

Vader: Don’t push me, Solo! You know how much it’s going to cost me to re-finish the hull on the Executor after chasing that rust bag of yours through that asteroid field? You think that kind of thing is under warranty?

Leia stands up suddenly.

Leia: You can keep your precious meal, Vader. I hope you choke on it with your little stooge friends here.

Leia proceeds to hock a surprising loogie into Lando’s perm.

Lando: Bah!

Boba Fett: Sweet as!

Han laughs as Lando stands up from the table and gropes his hair, mussing it up and causing much more damage than good. He glares incredulously at Leia, then turns to Han.

Lando: You’ve got a lot of nerve for a guy with yellow stripes on his pants!

Han: She’s got a lot of spunk for a Princess, huh?

Lando: You win her in a bet, too?

Han jumps from his chair and moves towards Lando, but is restrained by Boba Fett’s wrist-mounted harpoon-cable. As Han writhes, Boba is pulled into the table, where he falls on top of his meal.

Boba Fett: Crikey dick!

Vader rises to his feet.

Vader: That’s it! Calrissian, take the Princess to my chamber, and get her in something more casual.

Han continues to lurch around. Lando grasps Leia and moves her towards the door.

Vader: Bounty Hunter! Get Solo under control and take him down to prep!

The door opens, revealing more Stormtroopers.

Vader: And Calrissian—

Lando and Leia stop and turn.

Vader: Get me some containers for leftovers!