WEEKS OF WORK GONE IN A BLINK OF THE EYE
Irvin Kershner begs you. Please don't blink. For six months he put up with just five hours of sleep a night -- "every single night," he says with emphasis, shaking his head in disbelief -- with the rest of his day filled with nonstop hectic work. Then there were the humidity- soaked temperatures of 100-plus degrees matched for discomfort only by the howling blizzards ripping through subzero days, freezing his cameras, caking his beard with ice, and, at times, weakening his determination with do-sane-men-really-do-these-things doubts.Skip to next paragraph
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Of course sane men don't. Only people from Hollywood engage in such bizarre activities and then only while they are making movies, which is what Mr. Kershner was doing.
The reason you shoudn't blink, he worries, is that "you will miss something. There is so much going on in that movie that even if you keep your eyes open, you'll only see a third of it." Which, actually, would suit mr. Kershner just fine.
After all, as director to "The Empire Strikes Back," he would just as soon have movie audiences coming back for each of the remaining two-thirds, propelling "Empire" one hyper-step beyond "Star-Wars," the biggest moneymaking movie ever made. All the same, save your blinks for the credits.
"The Empire Strikes Back" is, in a sense, the ultimate in moviemaking, or at least one aspect of it: the art of creating the appearance of reality from the lack of it. Most films function in more or less real-life situations and rely on real-life actors for believability.
Films like "Star Wars" and "Empire," however, snatch their scenes from the thin air of pure fantasy and depend on the wizardry of special effects men for believability. In the case of a movie such as "Empire," 80 to 90 percent of what the movie audience sees is, in one way or another, a special effect, and the moviemakers, such as Mr. Kershner, go to extraordinary lengths to achieve even the slightest effect. The behind-the-scenes efforts to create the 722 special effects in "Empire" range from bits of sheer technical magic to backbreaking, tedious work.
For example, one scene in "Empire" calls for a remarkable small green creature named Yoda to raise -- via "The Force," of course -- Luke Skawalker's spaceship out of total submergence in the murky swamps of Dagobah, an island clogged with strange jungles and creatures far less amiable than Yoda. Since "The Force" would stoop to nothing so lowly as lifting, Yoda performs this feat with no hands. In the movie, the whole sequence takes all of 6 seconds and possesses nowhere near the razzle-dazzle of a dogfight between spaceships.
On the set, the sequence took 10 hours, Mr. Kershner said in an interview. Skywalker's X-wing fighter was a life-size model, about 35 feet long. "We had to raise it out of the water [the Dagobah swamp was an actual set built in the studio, complete with a pool of water and 50-foot trees]. So that it stayed completely level the whole time, it had to come up smoothly, with no jerky movement whatever, and then it had to glide evely over the water and settle on the shore. The whole thing had to look effortless."
How Yoda and Mr. Kershner accomplished this hocus-pocus is not so much a matter of magic as hard work. It required a small army of technicians -- pulling on cables (specially painted to be invisible on film), pouring water into the ship so that it would gush out -- "and a lot of tedious care," said Mr. Kershner. It worked, and it worked in just one take. It is a tribute to Mr. Kershner's prowess as a director that the majority of scenes were shot in one or two takes.
"I really did not have any choice. I had six months to shoot the film, and several takes per scene would have taken me way over that as well as way over budget."