After a week of interview clips promoting Hughes the Force, it seemed only fair that I weigh in with a proper review.
Like I said earlier this week, a good film cannot exist without a strong concept. That holds true of both short and feature-length films. Fortunately Hughes the Force has a rather novel concept that should appeal to anyone who grew up with the films of the 80s. Two high school geeks, Henry (Justin Okin) and Simon (Nathaniel Weiss) are determined to go to the big end-of-the-year party. Simon in particular has a major crush on Jennifer, but in order to get into the party, they need a hot girl. To that end, the guys decide to make their own hot girl, Weird Science-style and bring a Slave Leia action figure to life (Taylor Treadwell).
The idea of a John Hughes/George Lucas mash-up is so clever, I'm rather surprised it hasn't been done before. As a geek for the works of both filmmakers, I found it to be an irresistible hook. Naturally, that's what director J.C. Reifenberg and his team are banking on.
But the filmmakers are just riding on a strong premise - they bring some production savvy to the mix as well. By soliciting the services of a local Star Wars costuming guild, Reifenberg and his producers populated the film with costumes and characters that couldn't have appeared more authentic if they were stolen right off of Skywalker Ranch. So much of what you'll find on YouTube seems to be hastily-shot, cheaply-produced garbage. From a visual standpoint, Hughes the Force can stand with the better of the fanfilms in release.
The value added elevates the film and really helps sell the magic used by the Leia genie, coming in a scene where she transforms the patrons into a Barney's Beanery into beings one might expect to find at the Mos Eisley cantina and Jabba's Palace. Among the crowd are pool-playing stormtroopers, a Boba Fett, Darth Vader and even a mostly-naked green Twi'lek dancer. (For the layperson, that's the first character to meet her end at the hands of the Rancor in Return of the Jedi.)
Another bonus: the bar scene features cameos from a couple of Star Wars-affiliated actors. The performer behind the Chad Vader videos lends his voice, while Star Wars: The Clone Wars actors Catherine Taber and James Arnold Taylor appear in costumes as characters they've only played in voice - Padme and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The later straight-up steals the film, playing Obi-Wan with a relish that would make one think he'd just signed a contract for an entire trilogy of movies in that part. Brief though his appearance is, I found myself wishing he could come along for the rest of the adventure. Kevin Smith also makes a fun cameo that probably is even funnier if the viewer is unspoiled. (Ooops... sorry about that.)
So did Hughes the Force reach the heights of my gold-standard, George Lucas in Love? Not quite. At over 30 minutes, the pacing is a bit of an issue. Even though Reifenberg explained his rationale in our interview, I did still find myself yearning for a brisker pace at times. I suspect it's less of an issue when watching this film with a group of like-minded Star Wars fans. So if possible, gather your friends and watch this as a group.
I also felt that the characters showed the strains of carrying such a long short. Had there been greater contrasts between Simon and Henry's characterizations, this could have been alleviated somewhat. After a while, I couldn't escape the feeling that the characters were rather similar in a way that may have inhibited some comedic chemistry.
As for Leia herself, while I can't deny the logic of Reifenberg's explanation in our interview that this Leia isn't really Leia, but just "the embodiment of their perfect woman put into a plastic action figure," I would have liked to have seen Leia written with a little more of her trademark spitfire. Treadwell plays the character with a bit of a flirtatious side, but a little more sass and spunk could have enlivened things even more.
Still, Hughes the Force is worth checking out. It's clearly a labor of love for everyone both in front of and behind the camera. There's little doubt that this was made by talented people passionate about what they were doing.
From the filmmakers press release:
Hughes the Force is available for download at www.hughestheforce.com and on SiT - SModCast Internet Television.
The film will be freely available to all for download in a number of digital formats for both PC and Mac, as well as mobile versions for Android and iPhone.
Also available are Blu-ray and DVD files complete with menus and bonus content for burning to your own discs.
A galactic number of bonus features, including:
· The Making of Hughes the Force featurette – behind-the-scenes footage from the set and interview clips with the Director J.C. Reifenberg, Producer Ruark Dreher and actor, James Arnold Taylor.
· Commentary Tracks – multiple tracks featuring the lead actors and the production staff covering a range of topics including the writing, cinematography, production work, and acting.
· Pop-Up Video Track – behind-the-scenes trivia throughout the film.