Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Irvin Kershner, RIP

Director Irvin Kershner also passed away this weekend.  While the name may not be familiar to you, if you love the Star Wars saga, it's likely because of him.  Following on the heels of the out-of-nowhere success of the first Star Wars film in 1977, George Lucas brought on Kershner, then a working director who'd amassed a steady, if unremarkable, list of credits up to that point, to shepherd the highly-anticipated sequel in England while he handled the administrative end stateside.  I'm not sure if Lucas thought he'd get a "shoot what I tell you to shoot" director, but it's to the franchise's eternal benefit that he didn't.  The resultant mix of Kershner's introspective, character-based vision atop Lucas' blockbuster edifice provides the beating heartbeat of the entire series.  The Empire Strikes Back is that rarest of beasts in Hollywood: the perfect movie.  It's a powerful, resonant film that provides the context to increase our love of its predecessor and tolerate its successors.

So successful was Kershner with what he set out to accomplish in Empire that it almost seems inevitable that nothing else in his catalogue could measure up to it.  Two years after Empire's 1980 release, he helmed the James Bond rival production Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball that was memorable for Sean Connery's (final) return to the role, but little else.  In 1990 he tackled the first sequel to RoboCop, and whatever humanistic touches he might have lent the proceedings were lost in an array of grotesque violence that lacked both the subtlety and dark humour that Paul Verhoeven lent the original.  His final directing credits were for a few episodes (including the pilot) of the mostly-forgotten NBC sci-fi series SeaQuest DSV, which starred Roy Scheider and was executive produced by Steven Spielberg.  That he never quite left the shadow of The Empire Strikes Back says less about the man's unquestionable talent then about how that talent, paired with just the right parts, allowed for the creation of something exceptional.

For more on the man and his work, click over here to read Drew McWeeny's terrific remembrance.

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