The blog of one Michael Heilemann, expatriated Dane coming to you out of New York City. Half machine, half grapefruit, Interface director at Squarespace, design lover, film enthusiast, Star Wars historian, creator of the Kubrick and K2 themes, and holder of opinions, many of which are shared on his Twitter account.
Even if it’s cheating, it’s still a great look at the roots of the particular strain of adventure film Indy came from, down to the individual traps and gags.
Related to that, to those few of you wondering what’s going on with Kitbashed, my Star Wars project, it’s doing well. It’s comprehensive, and it’s coming next year, having taken a backseat to my work on Squarespace 6 for now. Which is good news; because it in turn will allow me to do things with it that would otherwise have been neigh impossible.
We visited the Ranch during our three-week US roadtrip a few months ago, and I’ve been longing to go back ever since. Nestled in the hills a 40-minute drive north of San Francisco, hidden from view of the road and comprising all the land around it, as far as you can see, and about ten times more, Skywalker Ranch is without a doubt the geek haven.
You take a turn from the aptly named, but otherwise unrelated, Lucas Valley Road, pass through a security checkpoint—yes, the guards arm-patch has an X-Wing on it—where you’re given a small map of the area, and then a winding forest road, complete with 1920’s harvesters nostalgically littered by the roadside to give the impression of a long and all-american history (which never was), takes you around Lake Ewok and up to the main house.
It’s beautiful. Quiet. Standing there, you instantly ‘get’ why Lucas decided to skip LA and build the ranch for the money from Empire and Jedi; here you can think and talk and go about your business undisturbed by the stress and superficiality of Hollywood.
And it really is nestled in amongst the hills, the backs of which rise up all around, and on which the cattle—yes, it’s a fully working farm, complete with livestock and crops—roam free, content and ignorant of them getting to live in the geek-Xanadu of the planet.
A lot can be said, and lot has, about George Lucas, but despite the scope of this place and what it represents, if it is in any way ‘extravagant’, it would be in how it isn’t extravagant. Yes, it’s large and it has everything from an observatory to one of the most amazing and beautiful research libraries in the film industry and the best sound editing facilities, including what is perhaps one of the best theaters in the world, as well as an inn, a complete fitness center, a café and a restaurant and even a general store… Oh, and its own fire station. And a 200-lot underground parking garage.
But it’s exactly because it has all of this, yet flaunts none of it, that it is so impressive.
For instance, as we were leaving, we wanted to make one last stop at the store; you know, to score some loot (pens, t-shirts, chili sauce—the usual). But to get to it we had to park by the side of the road, and walk through a small stretch of forest, cross the bridge over a small stream and up a small path until suddenly we were mere meters from the building. There it was. And you couldn’t see it from looking at it, but it had a tennis court and swimming pool as well as a restaurant. Nestled; I’m telling you.
Incidentally, as we returned to the car, our arms filled with aforementioned loot; we saw a sight I wish to this day we had captured on video. It would have gone viral in ways I can only dream long wet dreams of.
You see, the Ranch is nothing if not cozy and homely. An old plow here, a gate covered in vines there. And by the side of the road next to our car there was an honor-system produce stand—the kind that would make Martha Stewart soft in her knees. Bell pebbers, lettuce, garlic and cucumbers as far as the eye could see. And tomatoes. And a deer. Eating the tomatoes. Not just eating though, but carefully, thoughtfully and with the greatest of non-chalance cherry-picking them one at a time. It sees us, and we see it. And it slowly lowers its head, the tongue comes out, feels its way around the tomatoes; ow-there’s a good one. Yoink. The nerve of this deer. It glances at us with a look that can only be described as the ‘what?’-look, and continues to chew the tomato leisurely and thoroughly, before its tongue goes to search for another. No, not that one… No… Yeah, that’s the stuff.
Our photo seance was soon interrupted by the groundsman, as he came waltzing over the road, and in the tone one would use with a disobedient, but utterly adorable child exclaimed: “Noooo, that’s not for you! Go on, get out of here.” After which the deer, slightly annoyed, but still sporting a healthy attitude, prances across the road and into the bushes.
He would be back, I could tell.
If I hadn’t already fallen in love with California and the ranch before, I did then and there.
And Rikke, she was well sold by the time we made it to the research library, which deserves an honorary mention all of its own.
You can enter it from the main house, the bottom floor of which consists of a café, a meeting room or two as well as the famous display case with the lightsabers, AT-AT’s and that damned crystal skull. But from the moment you step foot in it, contrary to the rest of what we saw of the main house, it feels ‘real’. Lived in. The rest is all very neat and tidy and almost too museum-like for it too feel homely; but the library is all its own. A stroll over to an entirely arbitrary shelf revealed a healthy tome on ‘Mythology’, ‘Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets’, ‘A History of Religious Ideas’ and the like. Another shelf held ‘Cults, Customs and Superstitions of India’, a well-worn gold embossed title worthy of Indy himself, as well as ‘The Coasts of India and ‘The Last Maharajas’.
You get the point. It was like stumbling into a live set, bathed in the light from the famous glass domed ceiling. Or infamous, if you count the fact that Marcia Lucas had an affair with the man who designed said dome, which subsequently led to their divorce; an annoying little nugget of history inexorably tied to the Ranch.
The library is, as mentioned an actual research library, and holds considerably more books than in the main house, most of which have come from old studio libraries—Paramount in the late 80’s and Universal in 2000—put up for sale and snatched up by Lucas. The stories I’ve heard told of the collection are considerable and impressive. Michael Rubin did much of his research for DroidMaker down there, and enthusiastically retells the story of how he was left alone with a stack of boxes while the staff were busy prepping for Episode III. The town was went to, and then some. Reportedly Lucas dragged all of his notes, files and folders in there and there they remain.
If ever there was a nexus for geekdom, it’s in that library.
But I digress.
Our time was short, and we too soon left the Ranch behind—as well as the visitors map, unfortunately, a prime souvenir if there ever was one—and started the winding trip back to San Francisco to drop off our gracious hosts Tara and Leslie at Lucas’s other campus in San Francisco
Thank you again guys, you rock!
Anyway, I was reminded by and decided to finally get around to doing this write-up because Philip Bloom, whose work I’ve envied for some time, recently visited Skywalker Ranch and shot this extraordinary mood-piece there, which stands in sharp contrast to how sweltering it was when we visited.
Next time I hope to stay at the inn and peruse the library for a few hours… One can dream.
Update, March 17th, 2010: A couple of years ago two guys from Io went to visit Skywalker Ranch as guests of Matthew Wood. I convinced them to let me post this video of theirs, from the visit:
Now, what is relevant, whether Microsoft wants to stand by it or not, is them partaking in prolonging the HD format war. One thing is technically crippling the 360 by allowing people to buy it without a built-in HDD or even an optical HD drive. If you’ve played the stream-fest that is Mass Effect, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The horror. The horror.
But now that Warner Brothers, and by proxy, New Line Cinema, a subsidiary of Time Warner, have dedicated themselves to Blu-Ray, swinging the market to 70% in favor of Sony’s horribly named format, could Microsoft possibly be expected to still cling to the sinking ship, the SS HD DVD? The answer is: of course.
While the article states that Microsoft might possibly look into Blu-ray, we just want to emphasize that there are no current plans to consider Blu-ray as an option. Microsoft continues to be dedicated to the HD DVD format
And this, just as everyone breathed a sigh of relief of not having to once again choose sides, because after all, Paramount, the owner of among many other things, Indiana Jones, had chosen Blu-Ray as well. The war was, as John and Yoko sang it, over. If they wanted it. But they didn’t.
Now Michael Bay might be many things, and this might very well be nothing more than a conspiracy theory, but doesn’t it feel just a bit too plausible?:
Microsoft wants both formats to fail so they can be heroes and make the world move to digital downloads. That is the dirty secret no one is talking about. That is why Microsoft is handing out $100 million dollar checks to studios just embrace the HD DVD and not the leading, and superior Blu Ray. They want confusion in the market until they perfect the digital downloads. Time will tell and you will see the truth.
Despite omitting HD DVD in his speech, Gates did respond to a question about the format war in an interview with USA Today. However, he did not specifically address the newspaper’s question as to whether the Warner endorsement would “kill” HD DVD.
Instead, he told the newspaper that Paramount’s decision to endorse HD DVD last August helped the format do well during the holidays.
And then he added that movie downloads will eventually “be the dominant way that people get their movies.”
Now I’m all for digital distribution. I wanted it 10 years ago. But living not only in Europe, but on a small spec of German buffer territory called Denmark, I also know the odds of proper digital distribution hitting us within the next 5 years. Namely none.
For all intents and purposes, the two formats are similar. Playing next to each other, you couldn’t tell them apart if your life depended on it. So why can’t we all just be friends, choose one of the two formats and get on with our lives?
Blu-ray: 5.7 million (64% or $172.8 million) HD DVD: 3.2 million (36% or $97.2 million)
Discs sold since inception:
Blu-ray: 6.1 million (62%) HD DVD: 3.7 million (38%)
And it should be noted in the same breath that there are probably more Blu-Ray players in the world because of the PS3, which contrary to the 360 did ship with both a HDD and an optical HD format (oh, and HDMI). Not only that, but the Blu-Ray is a superior format to boot! Not to mention that more titles are currently available on Blu-Ray than HD DVD, 415 vs. 344.
About the only thing the HD DVD format has on Blu-Ray is a total lack of region encoding. Yes, you read that right. No region encoding. Coming from a man who recently lost his only region-free DVD player and thusly has no way of playing his Apocalypse Now: Redux (The Complete Dossier) or Hearts of Darkness, neither of which are available on region 2, you best believe that is a selling point worthy of being shouted from the mountain. Luckily, the majority of Blu-Ray movies lack region encoding as well.
But despite this advantage and the apocalyptically ugly blue transparent cases apparently mandated for Blu-Ray movies, that is nonetheless where I’ve decided to put my money.
So please, Paramount, and sure, yeah, Microsoft, for the sake of consumers everywhere. War is over. If you want it.
I just watched Temple of Doom, and I could have sworn that the movie was more graphic when I saw it as a kid/teen. Well, guess what:
The film was released on VHS several times in the 1980s and 90s and then on DVD in October 2003. It was packaged with the previous and later films in the series; however, the Region 2 version of the film was heavily censored. The BBFC says that this was because they did not get Spielberg’s permission to restore the edited footage, which includes more violence and gore. Noticeably, the main scene that was cut for the UK release was a close up of the removal of an unfortunate victims heart at the ceremony which was too graphic for a PG rating. The music tends to jump in-between scenes that were trimmed. Also Mola Ram’s line “Soon, Kali Ma will rule the world…” has been cut during the scene where Indy is forced to drink the blood of Kali. #
Now guess which edition I have… ARGH! FOILED AGAIN! The same damn thing happened with the Lord of the Rings extras material.
Living in the shadow of the BBFC sucks big time… Yet more encouragement for piracy.