Monday, August 3, 2015

Kurosawa/ J.J. Abrams/ Average Shot Length/ Star Wars

A most likely unoriginal thought that I have had for some time regarding J.J. Abrams Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is that a) Abrams has the most pressure in U.S. pop culture history as far as pleasing fans who love a preexisting franchise goes, and b) his success will possibly be measured by the extent to which he breathes new life into the Star Wars universe while retaining a favorable amount of continuity with the previous films--like popular television shows that are 90% predictable (same characters, stories, settings, etc. which brings back return customers) and 10% original (which leads people to watch the new episode).

One strategy to accomplish this predictable/original balance in Star Wars VII would be to use the same editing strategies (pacing, rhythm, and duration) used in the previous Star Wars films. This would allow the new film to feel the same, even when visually original.

To do so, Abrams could use the same average shot length Lucas used in his films (Star Wars IV: A New Hope: ASL 4.2; Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith: ASL 3.8--according to Cinemetrics Lab)...

 ... and/or, he could rewatch the Lucas's inspirational source material to mirror their editing strategies: Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962), and others (recognizing films like
John Ford's The Searchers [1956] were also important to Lucas). Doing so would arguably ensure that Abrams' film is one step removed from the source material of the original films, rather than two steps removed if he follows Lucas alone.

Today I watched Ran (Kurosawa, 1985) again and couldn't help but notice that the editing rhythm Kurosawa uses in battle scenes seems especially similar to the Star Wars films (keeping in mind that, as a whole, the ASL of Ran is 10.5 according to Cinemetrics Lab). 

And maybe Abrams has already used this strategy of rewatching Kurosawa, the great master's, films. The image below, which concludes Ran, seems strikingly similar to me when compared with the new Star Wars trailer's image of a crashed Star Destroyer, albeit mirrored images of each other visually in terms of positive and negative space.

Concluding image in Ran: an army marches towards screen right

 Screenshot from the new Star Wars VII trailer: a landspeeder moves towards screen right

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